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Wired USA - November 2019

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Published by Testing magazines, 2019-11-09 05:58:42

Wired 201911

Wired USA - November 2019

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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Joy
Buolamwini

FOUNDER /

Algorithmic Justice League

Calling out bias
hidden in tech tools.

I N 2 0 1 5 , MIT Media Lab master's student Joy Buolam- biases in facial-analysis algorithms from Amazon, IBM,
wini gazed, puzzled, into her webcam. She was work- and Microsoft. She showed that the services frequently
ing on an art piece to project digital masks on faces, but saw women with dark skin as men but made few errors
her own was invisible to the off-the-shelf face-tracking on men with light skin. (All three companies say their
software she was using. She scrawled a face on her tech is now more accurate.)
hand in marker. Face detected. Hmm. She covered her
dark skin with a white mask left over from Halloween. Buolamwini believes that people developing AI tech
Face detected. Oh. should check their inventions for bias and other harms
before launch, not rely on Good Samaritans like her to
Buolamwini had come to MIT to explore how people audit them later. She spearheaded the Safe Face Pledge
could use technology for social change. The algorithm with Georgetown Law—a call for companies to agree
that couldn’t see her face set her on a new path: explor- to take steps aimed at mitigating the harms of facial
ing how tech could be misused and abused. When she analysis. She’s also pushing for a moratorium on police
learned how facial recognition is used in law enforce- and government use of facial recognition to allow time
ment, where error-prone algorithms could have grave for debate and possibly the creation of regulations. “We
consequences, she says, “that’s when it became urgent.” need public deliberation,” Buolamwini says. Her own
deliberation takes place in scientific papers, congressio-
Buolamwini, now working on a PhD at MIT, is among nal testimony, and spoken word poetry. “It’s our stories
those pressing companies and governments to be more that lead to change,” she says. —TOM SIMONITE
cautious in their embrace of AI. Her work has revealed

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FILTER BUBBLES I U S E D T O W O R K at Google, but I had a more positive impact on it after I left.
When I started at the company in 2010, I had recently completed a PhD in artificial
Guillaume
Chaslot intelligence, and I joined a team working on new algorithms to recommend YouTube vid-
eos. Our work centered on increasing a single number—the amount of time people spent
F O U N D E R / AlgoTransparency watching videos. That was seen as the way to compete with Facebook and gain audience
from TV. In my experience, every other idea or creative thought was dismissed.
Pushing Big Tech to
clean up its algorithms. Our team had a handful of people, but I’d say our recommendations increased watch
time by millions of hours. They were designed to suggest videos that a person was likely to
watch, based largely on their past activity on the service. But we had no idea what people
were watching. We assumed that because watch time was moving in a positive direction,
the impact on the audience was also positive.

Still, I began to worry that the system we built could trap people inside filter bubbles,
pushing them to experience the same type of content over and over. I helped prototype
new ways to offer recommendations that would diversify what people saw, but those sys-
tems were never implemented. I was eventually fired for performance issues.

After leaving Google I joined a startup, then did some consulting before going to a non-
profit. But I kept worrying about the power of YouTube’s recommendations. I decided
to test them with a robot—a piece of software that watches lots of videos and follows
recommendations.

The 2016 presidential election was approaching, so I directed the robot to watch videos
about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. What I discovered was frightening. My analysis
showed YouTube’s recommendation system was helping videos promoting political con-
spiracy theories—like those from right-wing radio host Alex Jones—to get millions of views.

I was shocked, and launched a website called AlgoTransparency that shows live data
on what my robot discovers about YouTube recommendations. Journalists started writ-
ing about what I found, and YouTube finally acted. The company began adding Wikipedia
links below conspiracy theory videos to help people recognize them. This January, the
company changed its recommendation algorithms to limit the spread of conspiracy the-
ories. My data suggests this could reduce the number of times the site recommends con-
spiracy videos each year by the billions. Recommendations are responsible for more than
70 percent of time spent on YouTube, so the effect could be dramatic.

My experience shows that we can hold giant technology companies to account if we
have the right tools. I’m now upgrading AlgoTransparency to display richer data, and I’m
building a browser extension that will warn you about the algorithms trying to manipulate
you as you browse the web. Its advice will be a bit like health ratings on food—some of the
things you enjoy you shouldn’t eat every day. For YouTube’s recommendations, it might say,
“This algorithm is made to make you binge-watch, not to recommend things that are true.”

Longer term, I hope work like mine can allow new technology companies to emerge
that make ethics their first priority. Facebook and Google claim to have reformed, but
large companies won’t change their business models and values. Users don’t realize how
much power they would have if they were paying for a service. Signal, a free messaging
app, enables you to communicate with anybody, similar to Facebook’s WhatsApp, but
doesn’t rely on ad revenue. A complex service like Facebook could be run in its users’
interest, without ads, if people paid a small amount, say a dollar a month. If consumers
can be helped to see the problems with existing, ad-driven services, they may support
companies that operate differently. —AS TOLD TO TOM SIMONITE

(YouTube questions the accuracy of the AlgoTransparency tool and says its service now optimizes for user
satisfaction and information quality in addition to watch time.)

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CYBERSECURITY E V A G A L P E R I N D I V I D E S the targets of state-sponsored hackers into two categories: First,
there are the corporations, government agencies, and billionaires that can afford to pay
Eva expensive cybersecurity consultants, staff 24/7 security operations centers, and hire inci-
Galperin dent responders after a breach. Then there’s everyone else—an underclass of victims who
enjoy virtually none of those pricey protections. But now they do, at least, have Eva Galperin.
HEAD OF THREAT LAB /
Earlier this year, Galperin, the head of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Founda-
Electronic Frontier Foundation tion, formed a new and unusual team within the venerable digital rights group. For nearly
three decades, the EFF has acted as a kind of geeky nonprofit law firm, fighting to protect
Protecting the rest of us online privacy and free expression in court, defending security researchers, and launching
from hackers and spies. lawsuits against everyone from patent trolls to warrantless-wiretap enablers. But Galp-
erin’s new initiative, called the Threat Lab, is more like a small, nonprofit cybersecurity
consulting firm—a sort of CrowdStrike or FireEye for the little guy.

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Galperin and her team focus on protect- try, which has long neglected stalkerware,
ing the activists, dissidents, lawyers, journal- to take it far more seriously. Several com-
ists, and civilians who find themselves in an panies have since pledged to catalog and
increasingly lopsided conflict with entities eradicate the apps just as thoroughly as they
that hack, surveil, and sabotage them—or do traditional malware. “Stalkerware is con-
better yet, equipping them to protect them- sidered beneath the interest of most secu-
selves. “I think that empowering people to rity researchers,” Galperin says. “Changing
confront power is good,” she says. “That’s norms takes time. But it starts with someone
how change happens.” standing up and saying ‘This is not OK, this
is not acceptable—this is spying.’”
In part, Galperin aims to create tools that
level the playing field for surveillance vic- Galperin, who has silvery-violet hair and
tims. In its first months, for instance, the a cyberpunk aesthetic, got her start as a sys-
Threat Lab’s tiny team of three full-time tems administrator, attending security con-
staffers has been building a device to detect ferences and being treated, she says, like
a common form of police surveillance: fake “some hacker’s girlfriend who looks after
LTE cell towers that trick phones into con- Solaris boxes.” In 2007 she joined the EFF,
necting to them, enabling police to pinpoint where her first job was to answer the 50-plus
the location and track the identities of pro- calls and emails that came in every day from
testers and other surveillance targets. people seeking help. The organization had
recently filed a lawsuit against AT&T for aid-
The Threat Lab also does detective work ing warrantless NSA spying, and Galperin
to expose perpetrators of state-sponsored was flooded with messages from people who
surveillance. For years, even before the had been targeted for surveillance. Her desk
team’s creation, Galperin and fellow EFF became a kind of security crisis hotline.
researcher Cooper Quintin investigated a
hacking operation that planted spyware on According to Danny O’Brien, Galperin’s
the computers of journalists and opposi- former boss at the EFF, the experience gave
tion figures in Kazakhstan. Working with her a strong sense of the victim’s perspec-
the mobile security firm Lookout, Galp- tive—something that’s often overlooked
erin’s team found that some of the same by the cybersecurity research community,
tools—perhaps made by the same for- which tends to focus more on sexy new
hire hackers—were being used in a mas- hacking techniques than on the people who
sive campaign to spy on civilian targets in suffer from their use. “Eva isn’t afraid to plot
Lebanon. At one point during that investi- out the consequences of hackers’ actions,”
gation, the EFF had a researcher walk the O’Brien says, “to stare those consequences
streets of Beirut with a smartphone to find down until the problem is solved.”
the Wi-Fi network they’d linked with the
hackers. The researcher discovered it was She’s also good at plotting out, and max-
emanating from inside the headquarters of imizing, the consequences of her own
the Lebanese General Security Directorate. actions. Galperin says she has no illusions
that she or her small team alone can tip the
Galperin’s own obsession is the scourge balance of security for vulnerable people
known as spouseware, or stalkerware: worldwide. But in line with the EFF’s long-
hidden apps installed on a smartphone time tactic of choosing cases that can set
by someone with physical access to the legal precedents, she says she chooses proj-
device—often a domestic abuser—that let ects that promise to have cascading effects,
them spy on the phone’s owner. Since early that will force the industry to change its pri-
2018, Galperin has offered her services as orities or inspire other researchers. “You
a kind of first responder, security consul- figure out the place where you need to
tant, and therapist for stalkerware victims. push,” she says, “not just to help the people
you help every day, the individuals, but to
But Galperin wasn’t satisfied with the scale change the game. To change the system.”
of that hands-on approach. So she began
shaming and pressuring the antivirus indus- —ANDY GREENBERG

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IN 2013, CHAD RIGETTI became aware that zip through calculations that would trouble SUSTAINABILITY
the field of quantum computing was enter- a conventional machine. Rigetti’s processors
ing a kind of adolescence. Sketched out in the are being designed as add-ons: They’ll take Lisa
1990s, the technology was supposed to leap- a regular computer and give it a quantum Jackson
frog conventional computing by tapping into boost, creating a best-of-both-worlds hybrid.
the weird physics of subatomic particles. For V P O F E N V I R O N M E N T, P O L I C Y,
years, researchers had been held up by the Some of Rigetti’s customers are already
devilish unreliability of qubits, the devices test-driving its hardware over the cloud. Oth- AND SOCIAL INITIATIVES /
needed to perform quantum manipulations ers are exploring software applications. The
on data. But now, finally, they were finding pharmaceutical giant Merck, for instance, is Apple
new ways to tame them. “It was black magic, investigating ways to streamline drug pro-
and then a framework emerged,” Rigetti says. duction. NASA is looking to speed up the Building a fully recycled and
“You could start to see all the pieces coming search for new planets in telescope data.
together.” That’s when he quit his job at IBM Rigetti’s chips aren’t consumer gadgets (for recyclable supply chain.
and struck out on his own. Six years later, in one thing, their operating temperature is
labs stocked with steampunky equipment colder than any natural place in the known In Lisa Jackson’s first year at
and liquid helium, Rigetti Computing is man- universe), but they could still change your life. Apple, fresh off a stint as Pres-
ufacturing small quantum processors. ident Obama’s administrator of
Unlike its rivals—Google, IBM, Intel, Mic- the Environmental Protection
The machines on our desks and in our rosoft—Rigetti can’t count on profits from Agency, she took over a campaign
pockets solve problems by flipping bits from online ads or workplace software. That’s to transition all company facil-
0 to 1, or vice versa. Qubits use the same partly why it’s pushing the hybrid model, ities to 100 percent renewable
binary format, but they can also ascend into which should be quicker to bring to market energy. But before Apple hit that
a third state, called a superposition—neither than stand-alone quantum computers. As goal in April 2018, Jackson rolled
0 nor 1 but both simultaneously (well, sort of). Rigetti sees it, his team benefits from being out an even more audacious
Thanks to this trick, a quantum computer can untethered to older ways of thinking. “We’re plan: designing an iPhone made
free from history,” he says. —TOM SIMONITE entirely from recycled materials.

Three questions for … that model. The alternative record in terms of technol­ Since then, Jackson and her
is closer to China’s. China ogies like encryption. But team have come up with new
Matthew Prince treats the internet the way it has the fastest­growing methods of recycling aluminum
the US treats radio stations, internet user base and and recovering tin, engineering
COFOUNDER & CEO / where you need a license some incredibly innovative faster circuits that use less sili-
to put content on it. The business models. con, and building robots that can
Cloudflare bad news is that I think we strip down 200 iPhones an hour.
will move toward that more 3 How do we guard
1 Recently, Cloudflare acted permissioned model, which against unintended These advances bring Apple
under pressure to kick bad constrains innovation. consequences? closer to what Jackson calls a
actors off its service—the I don’t know that there’s any “moon shot” goal: to make all
Daily Stormer, then 8chan. 2 Where’s the biggest perfect answer to that, but of its products using renewable
What concerns you most impact of this shift? I think being more modest resources and recycled materi-
about tech right now? I’m thinking a lot about is important. Taking smaller als. She and her team began by
The internet is at a cross­ India. Whatever internet steps. Does a situation evaluating each of Apple’s pro-
roads. Most of the globe has policy India sets is likely really require a radically dif­ duction materials for its environ-
followed the model set by the to be adopted by the rest ferent approach, or can we mental and social impact, along
US, where anybody can post of the world. India has the rely on existing principles? with the vulnerability of its sup-
online and content is gener­ critical mass to do that. ply, and identified 14 elements
ally available to all. But a lot It doesn’t have the best —LILY HAY NEWMAN to start with. To date, they’ve
of the world has lost faith in upgraded 11 iPhone models with
main logic boards soldered using
only recycled tin.

This isn’t enough for Green-
peace, which remains fairly unim-
pressed with the company’s
efforts. But the environmental
group also ranks Apple as green-
est among large tech companies
for its recycling efforts and its
shift to renewable energy. Jack-
son’s fully recycled supply chain
is still years away, but according
to colleagues, the word impos­
sible is not in her lexicon. If that’s
so, we have a challenge for her:
Can she recycle some old head-
phone jacks into the next-gen
iPhone? —Meghan Herbst

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RARE EARTHS TIN
The Taptic At least 15 Apple
engine—Apple’s products use 100
key component percent recycled
for producing tin in the solder
haptic feedback— for their main
in the iPhone 11 logic boards and
models uses 100 some power
percent recycled adapters.
rare-earth metals.
ALUMINUM
COBALT In 2018, Apple devel-
A disassembly oped a process for
robot called smelting recycled
Daisy extracts aluminum that pro-
cobalt from recy- duces a much higher
cled iPhones. quality finish. The
The company is company is also
now producing investing in greener
batteries with smelters, intended
the reclaimed to eliminate carbon
material. dioxide emissions.

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Tia Hatton, AGE 22

When Hatton was young,
she and her family weren't
necessarily convinced by
scientists’ claims about cli­
mate change. But when ris­
ing temperatures threatened
her beloved pastime as a
cross­country skier, Hatton
dug into the data. She now
has a degree in environmen­
tal sciences and works for a
land trust in a conservative
part of rural Oregon. “This is
something that should have
been resolved 50 years ago,”
she says. “It totally pisses
me off that our government
knew about it.”

Avery M., AGE 14 Nathan Baring, AGE 20

Avery identifies as a “very big Baring grew up in Fairbanks,
animal person.” When she was Alaska. He worries that the
in kindergarten, she raised formative experiences of his
$200 for the Snow Leopard youth—huddling by a wood
Trust. Later she did the same stove at 40 below, shovel­
thing for wolves, then salmon. ing himself out of snow—are
At 9 years old, she testified under threat. “We’ve had to
before her city council in Ore­ repair roads almost every
gon in support of a climate year because of permafrost
ordinance. The following year, melt,” he says. “The Arctic is
she signed on to Juliana v. never going to be the same.”
United States. “I had no idea Baring’s parents are state
what I was getting into,” she employees, which means
says. “It’s kind of disgusting their salaries are tied to oil
how slow everything is. We revenues. As the US works
have the world on the line, and to end its reliance on fossil
it’s been four years.” fuels, he says, it can’t “just
let these oil towns screw
themselves. These are my
neighbors.”

ACTIVISM IN 1996, THE UN'S Intergovernmental Panel on first wild huckleberries, peered into her first
Climate Change issued the second in a series tidal pool, and first went backpacking in the
The youth of increasingly dire reports. More frequent wilderness with her dad—the climate crisis
plaintiffs in heat waves, floods, droughts, fires, and pest deepened. US carbon emissions rose by 91
Juliana v. outbreaks were on the way, scientists said. billion tons; the fracking boom got under
United States The time to act was now. way. When Juliana was 15, she sued the
governor of Oregon, demanding a carbon-
Suing for climate justice. That same year, in a small forested town reduction plan. (The state supreme court
in Oregon, Kelsey Cascadia Juliana was born. will hear the case later this year.)
Her parents, who met at an anti-logging
demonstration, named her after the nearby By 2015, Juliana had had enough. She’d
Kelsey Creek and the Cascadia bioregion. heard that a local legal nonprofit, Our Chil-
They took her to her first environmen- dren’s Trust, was mounting a climate suit
tal protest when she was two months old. against the federal government. Together
Over the next 14 years—as Juliana tasted her with 20 other young people, ranging in age

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Kiran Oommen, AGE 22

Oommen fears for their rela­
tives in hurricane­prone Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, and in
coastal India, where last year
more than 480 people died in
flooding and landslides from
an exceptionally devastat­
ing monsoon season. What
scares Oommen most about
climate change is its dispro­
portionate effect on margin­
alized communities. “Having
loved ones in these places,
it doesn’t feel great,” they
say. “What makes it worse is
knowing that it’s not just nat­
ural changes in the environ­
ment; it’s human­caused.”

Levi D., AGE 12

Levi is the youngest plaintiff
in the case. He grew up on a
barrier island on the eastern
coast of Florida; each year, he
and his mother plant beach
grass to shore up the dunes.
“Every time I see the street
flood outside my house, I think
about how fragile our barrier
island is,” he says. “If sea­level
rise continues, that means
the island I spent my whole
entire life on will eventually go
underwater.”

78 9 20
11
10 12 13

from 8 to 19, she joined as a plaintiff. Citing “At stake are the lives and safety of these 12 3 45 6
harms such as worsening respiratory ill- young people,” says Julia Olson, the lead
nesses, forced relocation due to water scar- attorney in the case. “This is really their KEY
city, and the threat of losing their homes last stand.”
to rising seas, Juliana and her coplaintiffs 1 Nathan Baring 2 Avery M. 3 Miko Vergun
argue that elected officials have failed to Juliana, who is now 23, agrees. “I want to 4 Kiran Oommen 5 Hazel V. 6 Levi D. 7 Nick
protect their constitutional rights. Their be a parent and have a family,” she says. “I Venner 8 Isaac V. 9 Tia Hatton 10 Jacob Lebel
case, which has survived a number of legal don’t know if I’d be able to do that unless 11 Vic Barrett 12 Sahara V. 13 Xiuhtezcatl
challenges from both the fossil-fuel industry I felt like our leaders did everything they Martinez 14 Alex Loznak 15 Zealand B.
and the Obama and Trump administrations, possibly could to ensure a livable future.” To 16 Journey Zephier 17 Kelsey Juliana 18 Sophie
demands nothing less than a sweeping court lose this case, she adds, “would be a huge Kivlehan 19 Jaime Butler 20 Aji Piper 21 Jayden F.
order on the scale of Brown v. Board of Edu- blow to myself and to my peers who are
cation—one that will affirm the fundamen- still holding on to this belief in democracy
tal right to a stable climate system for all. and justice.” Five of her coplaintiffs weigh
in above. —SARASWATI RATHOD

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W H E N J A S O N B U E N R O S T R O started grad- wound regions of DNA (inside a nucleus) to a more effective or narrowly targeted drug
uate school at Stanford, he became capti- glimpse active, open genes. Even the best or gene therapy.
vated by a problem that had long frustrated technology could get a signal only from
researchers. At the time, Buenrostro was comparatively large samples—millions of But Buenrostro’s invention also sparked
already something of a prodigy: A child of cells, not all the same kind—and find the more sweeping and fundamental changes,
immigrants without high school diplomas, average activity. But that’s a bit like aver- especially in cellular taxonomy. Cells had
he had attended a small liberal arts college aging the behaviors of a cat, a dog, a giraffe, long been classified based on their loca-
and then worked in a lab where he helped and a shark: How can you tell what’s doing tion in the body, along with a handful of
invent a new tool for diagnosing cancer and what? “You were literally taking chunks of identifying markers—a bit like fingerprints.
other diseases. skin or chunks of brain or chunks of heart But, like fingerprints, it was only possible to
and then asking, ‘What’s the heart’s genetic match prints already on file, not new ones.
Within weeks of his arrival, though, activity profile? What’s the brain’s profile?’” Single-cell ATAC-seq made it possible to
Buenrostro was singularly focused. The Buenrostro recalls. Because the chunks sort cells according to their genetic activity
human body is made of trillions of cells, contained so many different cell types, in instead, upending old categories. Not long
nearly all carrying the same DNA. What other words, it “was pretty meaningless.” As ago researchers estimated that the body
makes a kidney cell different from a brain a result, researchers were effectively blind contained roughly 200 cell types; now it’s
cell lies in which set of genes—out of the not only to the fundamental genetics that clear there are far more—probably thou-
roughly 25,000 in the human genome—are made cells different but also to the ways sands. (One group recently identified 75 cell
active, meaning turned on and doing stuff cells can malfunction to cause diseases like types in a tiny piece of tissue in the neocor-
(undergoing methylation, interfacing with leukemia, cystic fibrosis, or diabetes. tex alone.) And even seemingly identical
RNA, and so on). If you think of each indi- cells are turning out to have subtle differ-
vidual gene as a single book in the library of Buenrostro changed that. In his first ences. Buenrostro noted that one cell might
our DNA, active genes are the books that are year of grad school, he and two mentors be more likely to respond to an infection
open and being read—and those determine adapted a standard technique for sequenc- than another, while others seem to pop into
not only what a cell becomes (part of your ear ing genes so that it would mark only a cell’s existence only under certain circumstances,
or part of your heart) but what it does (e.g., open genes, rather than the entire genome. like when you have the flu.
make a certain set of proteins that prevent It was like turning on a light in a pitch-black
cholesterol from sticking to an artery wall). room. Within months, the tool, called ATAC- Those insights could eventually help refine
seq, had taken off. our understanding of what happens when
The problem, Buenrostro discovered, was the body gets out of balance. Pott is currently
that scientists had no way to see into tightly “It really opened the door,” says Univer- studying patients with inflammatory bowel
sity of Chicago geneticist Sebastian Pott, who diseases such as ulcerative colitis, looking
has since developed a sequencing method at how the proportion of different cell types
similar to Buenrostro’s invention. Because changes with illness. Buenrostro, who is now
Buenrostro’s tool was both easy to use and an assistant professor at Harvard, has started
quick—an experiment could be done in half using single-cell ATAC-seq to see how differ-
a day—questions that had long been impossi- ent cells contribute to certain cancers, and
ble to study suddenly became accessible. One also to study how changes in a cell’s genetic
of the most pressing was how different kinds activity could affect its ability to self-repair
of cells were affected by a specific mutation. or regenerate as a body ages.

“For years, we’ve had a lot of informa- Last year, he also partnered with the
tion about how genetic variants are asso- life-science company Bio-Rad to cre-
ciated with certain diseases,” Pott noted. ate a radically upgraded version of sin-
The problem was that it was hard to know gle-cell ATAC-seq, which researchers can
which variants were associated with which buy as an off-the-shelf kit. “Growing up as
cells—and with what result. a first-generation student, and as an under-
represented minority in particular, you don’t
Just recently, for instance, a group of really think of yourself as having the chops
researchers discovered that in the lung, the to be an inventor,” Buenrostro tells me. “But I
genetic mutation responsible for cystic fibro- always wanted to work on a technology that
sis may affect just a single kind of lung cell: a could change health care.” He shrugs, wryly.
rare structure known as a pulmonary iono- “You know, big dreams.” —JENNIFER KAHN
cyte. Simply knowing that could help create

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BIOTECH

Emily
Leproust

C E O / Twist Bioscience

Engineering DNA to store
data—forever.

E M I LY L E P R O U S T F I S H E D around in her pocket until Microsoft are funding DNA storage projects. But perhaps
she found what she was seeking: a stainless steel tube, no company is pushing harder than Twist.
about the size of a large pill capsule. She set it on the
table with a metallic ping. “In this you can put dozens of Six years ago Twist figured out how to ramp up the
Google data centers,” she says. “If not hundreds.” process of making bespoke DNA. While many traditional
machines make 96 short strands of DNA at a time, Twist’s
Leproust’s company, Twist Bioscience, makes what robots can make a million, depositing microscopic drops
goes in that capsule: DNA. Hyperdense, easy to replicate, of DNA’s building blocks onto silicon chips. But at $1,000
and stable over millennia, it’s close to an ideal archival per megabyte, it’s still too costly for storing data at scale.
storage medium. Twist engineers the DNA to repre-
sent the data, translating the binary code of machines As of September, Twist was finalizing a two-year con-
into the genetic code of life (for example: 00=A, 01=G, tract with the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects
10=C, 11=T). If you want to read that data, say, two cen- Activity, an organization within the Office of the Direc-
turies later, you sequence the DNA and translate it back tor of National Intelligence. The objective: to lower the
to binary. Silicon Valley is investing in DNA storage to cost of DNA data storage to as little as $100 per giga-
replace the short-lived magnetic tape and flash drives byte. Twist’s ultimate goal? $100 per terabyte. Leproust
housing much of the world’s data. By 2040, researchers says that's at least three years out. “We’re at the point
estimate humans will generate so much data there won’t in society where we’re throwing away stuff because we
be enough silicon chips to hold it all. Both Micron and can’t afford to store it,” she says. “But if you put it in DNA,
then it will last forever.” —MEGAN MOLTENI

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ANTITRUST

Lina Khan

MAJORITY COUNSEL /

The US House Subcommittee
on Antitrust, Commercial, and
Administrative Law

Laying the foundation for
breaking up Big Tech.

AT A C N N T O W N H A L L meeting this April, Elizabeth move Pet Pillows from the front page.” (Amazon dis-
Warren fielded a question from an audience member. putes this characterization of its business practices.) In
The questioner, named Meghan, extolled the conve- the name of fair competition, Warren concluded, Ama-
nience of Amazon and then asked Warren—who had zon’s two businesses had to be split up.
recently proposed a plan to cut online platforms down
to size—“How is breaking up Big Tech good for me?” “Elizabeth Warren’s Really Simple Case for Breaking
Up Big Tech,” ran the headline of a story that night on
The candidate launched in. “A lot of these giant tech Vox. The article gave Warren props for being “crystal
companies, they actually run two businesses,” she said: clear on a topic that often feels abstract.” But if Warren
They run a platform that connects buyers and sellers, has become particularly lucid on the issue of antitrust
and they compete on that platform as vendors them- enforcement, she owes much of that clarity to a millen-
selves—while collecting near-omniscient data on their nial from Mamaroneck, New York, named Lina Khan.
rivals. Warren then described how Amazon might use
this intel to quash a hypothetical brand called Pet Pillows In 2017, when she was a 27-year-old law student, Khan
after it starts to take off: “I know what we’ll do,” Warren wrote a paper for theYale Law Journal called “Amazon’s
said, imagining the behemoth’s thoughts. “Let’s jump Antitrust Paradox.” The 24,000-word article offered a
in front of Pet Pillows and do ‘Amazon Pet Pillows’ and careful anatomy of Amazon’s market power and called
for a wholesale reassessment of antitrust jurisprudence.

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For 40-odd years, she noted, US PRIVACY
authorities have hewed to the the-
ory that they should only take action Dawn Song
against monopolies that harm “con-
sumer welfare”—essentially, ones COFOUNDER & CEO /
that raise prices. Amazon, she sug-
gested, had stretched the natural Oasis Labs
limits of anticompetitive behavior
in every sense but that one: “It is Helping people control—
as if Bezos charted the company’s and profit from—their data.
growth by first drawing a map of
antitrust laws, and then devising L AT E LY, “ O W N I N G ” Y O U R data has emerged as an ideal state.
routes to smoothly bypass them.” It's seen as a remedy to the rampant collection, leaks, deals,
and hacks that compromise our privacy at every turn, and a
Khan’s article made her the face way to give ordinary users a piece of the action in a hot market.
of a broad movement to revive But there’s a problem: Share your data with the companies that
trust-busting. “Lina’s work gave can put the information to use and it will slip from your grasp,
people something you could point reshared and copied until its value to you is nil. Guard your
to and say, ‘Read that and you’ll data jealously and it’s just as worthless—because nobody can
understand,’” says Barry Lynn, a for- do anything with it. “I think most people don’t even know that
mer employer of Khan’s who runs their data can be valuable,” says UC Berkeley computer scien-
the anti-monopoly Open Markets tist Dawn Song. She wants to change that.
Institute. “It’s a document that has
become foundational.” Her startup, Oasis Labs, is built on the idea of differential pri-
vacy—cryptographic techniques that allow companies to incor-
Khan certainly seems to have porate data into their algorithms without seeing the individual
been foundational for Warren. data points. It’s the technique Apple uses to collect information
The two met in 2016, and Warren’s on your iPhone without collecting data on you. Song believes
thinking has often paralleled Khan’s blockchain technology can help to push that idea further, offer-
since. Khan’s 2017 article discusses ing a secure home for data that doesn’t require trusting any one
the case of a real company called company with the keys to it. That might open up new models
Pillow Pets—which faced much the of data ownership.
same dilemma as Warren’s belea-
guered Pet Pillows. And Khan pro- Take health care. Medical researchers would love to use AI to get
poses the same policy response that a better grip on how to cure diseases. However, the data they need
Warren rattled off on CNN: forcing is often trapped in hospital and pharma company servers. But you,
Amazon “to split up its retail and as a patient, have access, and Song’s system would enable you to
marketplace operation.” copy your medical data onto the Oasis blockchain. There, research-
ers could use it to train their AI algorithms, but they couldn’t snoop
After her article blew up, Khan through the information or tie it to your identity. You retain control
was dismissively pegged as a leader of your data—and can even put a price on it. —GREGORY BARBER
of a “hipster antitrust” movement,
but her next moves were anything Three questions for … 2 How can genre whether it’s a good thing
but hipsterish. In 2018, she became fiction help? for everybody or just for
an adviser to Rohit Chopra, a com- N. K. Jemisin Simply by portraying the some. Science fiction
missioner at the FTC. And she’s now world and humanity accu- tends to exalt technol-
the majority counsel to the House AWA R D-W IN NIN G S CI-F I A U T H O R rately. What we see in ogy as the solution to all
Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee. real life is that technology of our problems, but
In September, that subcommittee 1 What concerns you is just a tool, which can we are the solution. The
asked more than 80 companies for most right now? be used or abused. So as tech will follow.
accounts of how they’d been harmed Lack of forward-thinking writers and readers, we
by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and leadership in key positions need to be realistic about 3 What excites you
Google. Maybe Pillow Pets is one of of our society. We're facing our engagement with about the future?
them. —J. BRIAN CHARLES a climate crisis, and the “pro- technology—how quickly The possibility that we
gressive” members of our we acknowledge its limi- might survive it—and
government seem committed tations and dangers, how become better people.
to the status quo, while the rapidly our laws and sys-
radical right wing seems tems of access adapt to it, —JASON KEHE
nihilistically committed to
making things worse. We as
a species have the intelli-
gence to resolve this.

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FARM AID A T Y R A N T G U A R D S the gate to outer space, and that tyrant’s name is the rocket
equation. It states, quite simply, that the heavier your rocket is, the more fuel
Laura Boykin you’ll need to launch it into orbit. That’s a problem, because the more fuel you
add, the heavier your rocket gets. No amount of calculus can change this stub-
COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGIST/ born fact: For every ton of payload your rocket carries, it will have to burn nearly
25 tons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Short of disrupting gravity itself, what’s
Cassava Virus Action Project a tech ideator to do?

Diagnosing crop disease in Jonathan Yaney and his colleagues at SpinLaunch, a startup based in Long
Beach, California, believe they’ve found the answer. Their nearly fuel-free sys-
the field to stop its spread. tem, known as a mass accelerator, will use a giant vacuum-sealed centrifuge
to spin a payload to more than 4,000 mph. Once released, the payload will go
Cassava is an obliging plant. The screaming through the atmosphere, coasting nearly 30 vertical miles before
tuber can be turned into flour, paper, propelling itself the rest of the way to orbit by means of a small rocket. The
adhesives. It can be steamed, fried, company already has a working prototype; Yaney calls it “science fiction stuff.”
roasted, boiled. Sweet or bitter. In
Africa, it feeds more than 500 mil- Eventually, Yaney claims, SpinLaunch will be able to fling several 200-pound
lion people daily. Cassava can endure payloads into space every day, at a cost of less than half a million dollars each—
long periods of drought and abide five or 10 times cheaper than the competition. Human passengers are out of the
plenty of rain, making it ideal for question; the accelerator would turn their bodies to mush. Even satellites must
a changing climate. But for years, be specially hardened to survive the ride. But that’s a small concession, Yaney
viruses have been decimating the argues, when you’re talking about putting together, say, a constellation of inter-
tubers. Cassava is dying. net satellites in a matter of days rather than months.

In 2013, Laura Boykin didn’t know Yaney and his colleagues recently broke ground on a facility at Spaceport
much about that. She had stud- America, south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they expect to begin flight
ied whiteflies—a vector for cassava tests by the end of next year. If all goes well, they may finally break the strangle-
viruses—and was head-down at her hold of the rocket equation. Sic semper tyrannis! —DANIEL OBERHAUS
desk at the University of Western
Australia, doing computational work 1 SpinLaunch’s vac- 100 M 4 The payload is
on the evolution of various plants, uum chamber will be 5 wrapped in a bullet-
when she was asked to join a team of angled upward at 35 1 3
East African scientists tackling the to 40 degrees, for an 2 4 shaped “aeroshell,”
problem in their countries. ideal launch trajec- which protects the
tory. It takes about an satellite and the
So off Boykin went to start collect- hour to pump all the small rocket inside
ing DNA from cassava. Turns out air from the chamber. like a “violin in a violin
there were mulitple viruses killing case,” Yaney says.
the plants and, with enough com-
puter processing power, she could
identify the pathogens. But getting
an answer took six months, and the
diseases were spreading.

Then, in 2015, a company called
Oxford Nanopore Technologies built
the MinION, a pocket DNA sequenc-
ing device that connects to a small
supercomputer for data analytics.
Boykin got her hands on one.

Today, in just about three hours,
Boykin and team can find their
pathogen—and help farmers get
virus-resistant strains of cassava to
plant after they burn their fields. A
year ago, the team found the virus
that was killing a Tanzanian farmer’s
crops; the farmer then shared the
information with her village. “When
we went back months later, 3,000
people had more food,” Boykin says.

The Cassava Virus Action Project
is only 30 people in six countries, but
Boykin isn’t deterred. “When you
bring the data closer to the problem,”
she says, “you solve the problem
faster.” —Maria Streshinsky

2 The accelerator’s 35–40˚ 3 The system’s arm, 5 A mechanical air
electric motor spools LAUNCH called the tether, lock at the end of the
up to launch velocity in ANGLE reaches a top rota- launch tunnel opens
90 minutes. At its cen- tional speed of 450 milliseconds before
ter is a bearing—large rpm. By comparison, the payload takes
enough for a human the centrifuge that flight. SpinLaunch
to walk through—that NASA uses to stress- will install sonic baf-
reduces friction and test payloads tops fling to dampen the
vibration. out at about 50 rpm. ear-splitting boom.

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ECONOMICS

Mariana Mazzucato

FOUNDER & DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR INNOVATION AND

P U B L I C P U R P O S E / University College London

Setting us up for a green moon shot.

A few years ago, when governments across the globe were responding to the financial crisis by
embracing fiscal austerity, Mariana Mazzucato assigned herself an odd accounting task: She
began tallying all the public investments that had given rise to the iPhone. The internet, GPS, touch-
screens, Siri: All that tech had originally been commissioned by either the Pentagon, the National
Science Foundation, or the CIA. So why were today’s leaders excoriating government spending?

In 2013, Mazzucato published her findings in The Entrepreneurial State, a book that describes
how governments have been a primary investor in innovation. Since then, she’s become one of the
world’s most influential economists, advising leaders at the UN, in the EU, and in the US on how to
renew the tradition of the government moon shot—just barely in time for the climate emergency.
—John Gravois

WIRED: You’re part of a group of economists create markets, then it’s very hard for start- As the former cybersecu-
that’s reviving an interest in industrial pol- ups to scale up. In the IT revolution, ven- rity chief for both Yahoo
icy—strategic, state-driven economic devel- ture capitalists followed the wave of patient, and Facebook, Alex Sta-
opment. What’s the right way to do that? long-term finance provided by the govern- mos knows something about
ment. Currently, there’s a risk that the big the power—and pitfalls—of
MARIANA MAZZUCATO: To think in terms of wave that VCs surfed in the IT revolution sheer size. Which is why his
missions. This year was the 50th anniver- is not happening in the green revolution. next act doesn’t involve pro-
sary of the Apollo 11 mission: That required You just have a lot of surfers and no wave. tecting any single compa-
dozens of different sectors and hundreds ny’s users. It aims instead
of homework problems—and who knows You argue that, because the government to shield even larger online
how many attempts to solve those prob- takes big risks when it invests in early inno- populations. How? By giv-
lems failed? There was a willingness to vation, it should also expect to see big ing researchers around the
take risks and use government instruments upsides from those investments. What would world what they need to
to drive bottom-up experimentation. Right those returns look like? study the scourge of disinfor-
now, the climate emergency is a challenge. mation, security breaches,
It’s important to turn it into missions, like There are lots of ways you can give the and propaganda, particularly
building 100 carbon-neutral cities across public—literally meaning people—a return on social media. Launched
the US. But as an economist I’m not the one for public investment: In the health sec- earlier this year and funded
to decide what the mission is; the more tor, where you have $39 billion a year being with $5 million from Craig
we can get different voices at the table, spent by the NIH, it’s ridiculous that you have Newmark’s foundation, the
the more resilient these missions will be. drug prices set by the pharmaceutical indus- Stanford Internet Observa-
try. The prices could be made to reflect that tory, which Stamos leads,
You helped advise Alexandria Ocasio- public investment, and the patent system hopes to act as a clearing-
Cortez in formulating the Green New Deal. should be better governed to prevent pure house for data about all
Is that “mission-driven” policy? rent-seeking. Also, you can set conditions those abuses—both real-
that require companies to reinvest profits time and historical—from
The idea behind the Green New Deal is you back into the economy instead of spend- across the web. Rather than
need an economy-wide transformation. ing trillions to buy back shares of their own spend months wrangling
But it’ll be hard for that to happen without stock. To retain its monopoly status, AT&T data themselves, social sci-
some concrete green missions. My point to was forced to reinvest its profits—and that’s entists could instead put
her was that you have to reframe your view where Bell Labs came from! in a call to Stamos and his
of government as not just a regulator and team. Plenty of work remains
market fixer but as an active investor with People have called you the world’s scariest before the project is hum-
a portfolio, having to make bets across dif- economist. Why? You seem very nice. ming, starting with attract-
ferent sectors. And you have to learn from ing the full cooperation of
history. When women economists have something giants like Google, Twitter,
to say, they become scary. Having said that, and his former employers.
Procurement policy, for example, was my other answer is: The situation is scary, But if anyone can map the uni-
pretty much what allowed Moore’s law to but we can’t confront it with being scared. verse of digital woes, it’s the
happen: Semiconductor chips were bought We have to turn global warming into an guy who has spent his entire
en masse by the government. If the govern- opportunity to reimagine our economies. career fighting them up close.
ment doesn’t use its purchasing power to —Brian Barrett

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ELECTION SECURITY

Dana
DeBeauvoir

COUNTY CLERK /

Travis County, Texas

Saying “enough” to lousy
voting technology.

T H I S C O U N T R Y ' S S Y S T E M for running elections is about says. So a motley squad of cryptographers and engineers
as decentralized as its system of local public libraries. descended on Austin to design an impregnable voting
When Americans go to cast their ballots in November system from scratch. They left with a dense white paper
2020, they’ll file into polling places administered by a and a name: STAR-Vote. Their designs call for encrypting
sprawling archipelago of more than 10,000 county, town, the vote using an application of pure math called homo-
and precinct authorities. Or, as Dana DeBeauvoir puts it, morphic cryptography. There’s also a built-in paper trail
it’ll be “Aunt Sally and Uncle Bob” against the Russians. and a system of automatic audits designed to ensure
an election’s accuracy with unprecedented certainty.
DeBeauvoir happens to be one of those local officials
herself. For more than 30 years, she’s been the Travis The trouble was that DeBeauvoir couldn’t find any-
County Clerk in Austin, Texas. And for much of that time, one to build it. But then this year, Darpa and Microsoft
she’s been caught in a bind: forced to purchase clunky, separately revived aspects of the concept under new
expensive voting machines from the three big vendors names, each aiming to develop a prototype within the
in the cartel-like election industry, while simultane- next few years. The designs will be open source, open-
ously catching hell from concerned computer scien- ing the way for future companies (or tinkerers) to manu-
tists in Texas for buying woefully insecure technology. facture cheap, secure systems that liberate officials like
DeBeauvoir from the tyranny of high-priced, hidebound,
In 2011, DeBeauvoir curtly responded to her critics: hackable technology. Soon, thanks to her initiative, any-
Why not come to Austin and help her design a better one may be able to build a barn. —BENJAMIN WOFFORD
voting machine? “Anyone can tear down a barn,” she

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P AT R I C K C O L L I S O N , the 31-year-old cofounder and chief executive of Stripe, is an
exceedingly careful thinker. In his Twitter bio, he identifies himself as a “fallibilist,” by
which he means he likes to probe every system of ideas, looking for its bugs. Collison
fits a Silicon Valley archetype: a programming whiz who dropped out of college (MIT)
and started a company now worth a stratospheric sum ($35 billion, on paper). But unlike
others in his cohort, he speaks in strikingly self-effacing terms. At a conference in May,
he described Stripe as “a hard-to-understand and maybe boring company.”

Well, fair enough. But let’s give it a whirl. There is a piece of plastic in your pocket.
Every time you enter the number on it into a website or app and click Buy, money moves
from you to the vendor. The process is fast but not instantaneous. The payment travels
through a hidden domain of processors and merchant banks, each of which charges fees

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and requires vendors to do lots of paper- is reading on his personal website.) Cowen For artists, singers, writers, and
work. For young companies that want to had come with a stack of books. Collison other creative types who are
accept payments—especially tech startups, went through the volumes, lingering over nice to have around if you enjoy a
which are Stripe’s core clientele—that can one about the British East India Company. flourishing civilization, the inter-
be a costly time suck. By using Stripe’s soft- net has been a mixed bag. Yes,
ware, they essentially outsource the has- “I would love to read this. I find it super it provides a bottomless well of
sle. Stripe acts like an E-ZPass, allowing its interesting, the East India Company,” Colli- collaborators and ideas, along
clients to skip the tollbooths and charging son said, “because they’re an organization with the power to reach a nearly
a flat fee, usually around 3 percent of every that really had to operate through values.” unlimited audience. But pesky
transaction. thing, the internet also keeps
“And they were doing everything for the finding new ways to destroy the
Collison describes the financial system first time,” Cowen said. economic basis for these folks
that his company navigates as a clunky to make a living, replacing it
piece of legacy infrastructure that needs to “And though none of them acquitted with flimsy ad-revenue-sharing
be modernized. But he doesn’t rail against themselves well,” Collison said, “the East deals. “A creative person can
it or advocate starting from scratch, as India Company was not primarily predi- be reaching millions of people
cryptocurrency enthusiasts do. Stripe cated on slavery, unlike the others.” through this free distribution
employs hundreds of workers to comply architecture and getting paid a
with complex rules in many jurisdictions Many of the titles on Collison’s reading few hundred bucks,” says Jack
and to monitor for fraud and money laun- list focus on the mystery of progress. He Conte, a YouTube musician
dering. “Just to state the obvious, regulating and Cowen would soon cowrite an essay turned tech CEO. “It sucks.” (See
finance is a good idea,” Collison says. “It’s forThe Atlantic, calling for the creation “The Alchemist,” issue 27.10.)
people’s money.” He wants to renovate, not of an academic discipline called Prog-
demolish. “We’ve always been very incre- ress Studies to search fields like busi- Conte’s company, Patreon,
mental in our strategy,” he says. “We’re ness, art, and medicine, with the aim of aims to rescue the creative
really not believers in radical disruption improving the productivity of society as a class from economic oblivion.
or epochal transformation.” Strange words whole. Collison’s obsession with the idea “What we want to do is rebuild
in Silicon Valley. even shapes his recreational time. He has the infrastructure of the web so
helped to organize an invitation-only there’s a better financial mech-
He does believe, however, that incre- conference for scientists and technolo- anism to—I guess to be crass
mental change can have epochal conse- gists called Borlaug Camp, named for the about it—convert art into dol-
quences. Collison lives in San Francisco agronomist responsible for the Green Rev- lars.” His proposition: Turn your
now, but he’s from Ireland, and he wants olution. Over the Thanksgiving holiday most passionate fans into sub-
Stripe to facilitate global trade. A service last year, he jetted across four countries scribers, or members of a club,
called Stripe Atlas allows a company any- in Africa so he could “see places where the and let Patreon facilitate that
where in the world to incorporate in Del- Western notion that progress is inevitable relationship. Since its found-
aware, so it can more easily access the US is up for grabs,” said Cowen, who drew up ing in 2013, the company has
market and banking system. In Collison’s the itinerary for the trip. sent nearly $1 billion from fans
view, these small interventions should add to creators, which suggests, if
up to fulfill Stripe’s mission: “to increase Stripe Press (motto: “Ideas for Prog- not a wholesale new model for
the GDP of the internet.” ress”) emerged two years ago. It publishes supporting all artists, at least
books that appeal to Collison’s imagina- a very substantial lifeboat.
Last spring I met Collison for lunch at an tion, like The Dream Machine, a formerly —John Gravois
Indian restaurant in Washington, DC. He out-of-print biography of internet pio-
is skinny and fair, with strawberry blond neer J. C. R. Licklider. In his immodest
hair, and he speaks in a gymnastic patter, moments, Collison suggests that Stripe
leaping rapidly across fields of knowledge. aims to complete the work begun by such
Collison had also invited Tyler Cowen, a early visionaries, by allowing people to
George Mason University economist who transmit money as easily as ideas. Stripe’s
wrote the book The Great Stagnation. He edition of The Dream Machine is a beau-
and Cowen share an incrementalist way of tiful, hardbound artifact, and there is
looking at the world, often trading read- something nostalgic, too, in his venera-
ing recommendations. (Since 2011, Colli- tion of an old view of progress, in which
son has been posting lists of the books he globalization and technology will inevi-
tably result in betterment for the world.

—ANDREW RICE

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I N T H E M I D -1 9 9 0 S , when the internet was Williams’ startup, Dfinity, will be a member) ROBOTICS
in its infancy, some companies thought they and powered by independent data centers
could build a better version of it. One of them worldwide. To preserve order (and secu- Kate
was Microsoft, which envisioned a network rity) in this decentralized system, Williams Darling
that would be faster and more capacious, is using elements of blockchain technology.
able to handle a new thing called multimedia. RESEARCH SPECIALIST /
This was the infamous Information Super- The idea is that little guys should be less
highway. There was just one hitch: It likely dependent on Big Tech for computing infra- MIT Media Lab
would have been a proprietary network—a structure. But Williams goes further. He
toll road. “Can you imagine how horrible that thinks the Internet Computer could spawn Preparing humans for life
would have been?” says Dominic Williams. consumer tech companies that will build
open services to mirror (and rival) tech with robots.
We escaped that nightmare, but Williams giants. It’s a fix, he says, for “platform risk”:
says we’ve stumbled straight into another: when a big company lures in startups to build A decade ago, Kate Dar-
cloud computing. The cloud is now nearly products that rely on the giant’s troves of user ling asked a friend to hold
as crucial as the internet itself, key infra- data, only to cut off access to that data later. a Pleo toy dino-bot upside
structure for data storage and high-powered down until it squirmed and
processing. And it’s dominated by tech giants Taking on Amazon Web Services and Goo- whined. Because Darling isn’t
like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. gle Cloud? Overhauling the web’s infrastruc- a sociopath, it upset her—and
ture? A skeptic could point out that it has spurred her to begin explor-
Williams believes there should be a public already taken years, lavish funding, and top ing the strange new frontier of
option. He calls his plan the Internet Com- cryptography talent to design a system that’s human-robot interaction. Now
puter. Think of it as an extension of the secure and usable enough to have a prayer an outspoken researcher at
internet, with the tools of cloud computing at taking on Big Tech. But Williams is unde- MIT, she is writing a book, The
baked into the protocol. And, like the web, terred: “It’s what we feel the world needs.” New Breed, about our budding
it won’t be controlled by a single company. He’ll soon get a sense of what the world relationships with robots in the
Instead, it will be open, maintained by a wants: A test version of the Internet Com- context of how we’ve treated
Switzerland-based foundation (of which puter goes live this fall. —GREGORY BARBER animals throughout history.

Consider that in the Mid-
dle Ages, Europeans put
cows and other animals on
trial for killing people. They
believed animals had moral
agency. The temptation, as
robots become more sophisti-
cated and social, is to assume
they’re working with similar
agency when really they’re
just a collection of 1s and 0s. “I
don’t think anybody wants to
put robots on trial for crimes
they’ve committed,” Darling
says, “but it shows we’ve
had different solutions to this
throughout history.”

Darling wants us all to
start grappling with the novel
and powerful bonds that are
sure to develop between
humans and robots. “Do we
need things like laws around
assigning responsibility for
harm because people have
biases when interacting with
robots that they don’t have
with other devices?” she asks.
Best to find common ground
now, because it’s not so hard
to imagine a future in which
the bots are holding us upside
down. —Matt Simon

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CONNECTIVITY

Unicef Ventures

Bringing broadband internet to underserved parts of the globe.

I T I S A T R U T H universally acknowledged— ing. Before a telco can be talked into turn-

by the Allbirds-wearing set, at least—that a ing the red dots green, it needs a guarantee.

technological problem must be in want of a “ ‘Do good’ doesn’t usually fly,” says Sunita

technological fix. So when a tech CEO hears Grote, the manager of Unicef’s Innovation

that nearly 3.7 billion people around the Fund. A group of countries in, say, Central

world lack access to the internet, he gets to Asia will put together a joint bid, bankrolled

solutioneering. If the problem is that some with some combination of public funds, low-

regions are just too remote or too impover- interest loans, debt and equity financing, and

ished for telecom operators to cover profit- a sliver of cryptocurrency. Fabian acknowl-

ably, he asks, then why not launch satellites edges that crypto talk invariably “makes you

to beam broadband to the masses from on sound really nutty,” but the advantage is that O U T E R S P A C E M AY be infinite,
but these days it’s starting to feel
high? All it’ll take to close the digital divide blockchain transactions are trackable and a little crowded. An estimated
500,000 human-made objects
is billions of dollars in R&D. auditable. If a service provider fails to hold are hurtling around our planet
right now. Some of them beam
That’s the tack SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, up its end of the bargain, everyone knows it. GPS signals to our phones or
premium programming to our
and other companies are taking. But Chris- Once the school is connected, the rest of TVs; others fill scientists’ hard
drives with up-to-the-minute
topher Fabian and his colleagues at Unicef the community can piggyback off of it, buy- climate readings and glamour
shots of the cosmos. More than
Ventures, a kind of tech incubator within the ing a share of the available bandwidth. (In 99 percent of what’s up there,
however, is just plain junk—
United Nations, have a more earthbound especially far-flung areas, Fabian says, the spent rocket boosters, exploded
satellites, runaway flecks of
approach. Their solution to universal con- bandwidth may come from those tech com- paint. NASA and the Depart-
ment of Defense don’t know
nectivity is a program called GIGA, whose panies in orbit, whose signals can go where what, or where, much of it is.
That makes getting to space a
initials currently don’t stand for anything. utility trucks can’t.) bit like merging onto the high-
way without using your mir-
(“Isn’t that nice?” Fabian says.) This being The next phase of the project really rors. Also, all the other cars are
going more than 6,700 mph.
Unicef, the mission starts with kids: bring excites Fabian. With funding from the
“I predict really bad things
internet access first to schools and then, if all government of Norway, his team is build- happening if that does not
change,” says Moriba Jah, the
goes well, to the surrounding communities. ing a kind of nonprofit App Store stocked 48-year-old director of Astria,
the Advanced Sciences and
GIGA grew out of Project Connect, a with free pedagogical software and “nerdy Technology Research in Astro-
nautics program at the Univer-
machine-learning tool that combs through little open source projects.” As connectiv- sity of Texas at Austin. Even
those flecks of paint, moving
satellite imagery, identifies schools, and ity expands, the customer base for these at orbital speeds, are enough
to seriously damage a space-
displays them on a map. (Schools every- “digital public goods” will swell. An educa- craft. Jah, a beachcomber for
the space age, uses big-data
where have certain tells—soccer fields, tion minister in the Caribbean, for instance, analysis to locate and iden-
tify larger debris. Last year, he
early-morning lines of stu- might go to the GIGA store for and his colleagues launched a
demo version of AstriaGraph,
dents.) The schools with con- a VR training tool, because it’s a kind of open source traf-

sistent internet access get a too expensive to fly students

green dot, while those with- to a neighboring island for

out it show up as red. engineering classes.

That’s where the tech fixes GIGA’s goal of universal

end and the diplomatic ones connectivity is years away,

begin. First, Unicef Ventures but Fabian and his colleagues

will approach a head of state, remain energized. Some of

or perhaps several from the the staff in New York—26

same region, and offer to C H R I S T O P H E R FA B I A N people holding 20 different

map all of their schools for passports, he boasts—joined

free. This is a more tempting the team from Facebook,

proposition than you might Google, and other corporate

think: In Colombia, the tool juggernauts. “We have a pur-

spotted some 6,700 schools pose for being here, and that’s

that weren’t on official maps. really nice,” he says. A project

The team’s goal is to reach 130 like GIGA is a bottom-up anti-

countries by the end of 2021, dote to Silicon Valley’s busi-

at a cost of about $30 million. ness model. “This,” he adds,

They’ve mapped 15 so far. “is rewriting the internet.”

Next comes the financ- SUNITA GROTE —ANTHONY LYDGATE

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AN ESTIMATED fic monitor for the heavens that takes the key to ensuring the sustainability of space
often conflicting data from satellites and exploration. After all, it’s not just national
500,000 HUMAN-MADE OBJECTS ground-based sensors and combines them space agencies contributing to the con-
into a 3D display. gestion anymore. Private companies plan
ARE HURTLING AROUND to deploy thousands of small satellites in
OUR PLANET RIGHT NOW. Born in San Francisco to immigrant par- the coming years, at least tripling the total
ents, raised in Venezuela, and trained at number in orbit and greatly increasing the
MORE THAN 99 PERCENT NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Jah didn’t risk of a collision. Jah can’t enforce the rules
expect to spend his career tracking space of the road for these new operators, but
OF THEM ARE JUNK. trash. It seemed like “the most unsexy, he can, at least, give them a map of where
unappealing thing you could do in life,” he they’re going. —DANIEL OBERHAUS
says. But 20 years later, Jah sees it as the

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I N 2 0 0 1 , H A N Y F A R I D was frustrated. demics, and entrepreneurs have made
He just couldn’t beat his long-standing AI fakery much more convincing, and
tennis buddy. To make light of his hope- deepfakes have become a tool of online
lessness, Farid, then a computer science harassment. With the 2020 presidential
professor at Dartmouth, made a fake. He election approaching, Farid and others
used Photoshop to paste his friend’s head are concerned that these manipulations,
onto the shoulders of a professional tennis spread on social media, could enable mass
player. (He thinks it was Andre Agassi.) As he deception—potentially skewing elections
stretched the face to make it fit its new phy- by showing a candidate saying or doing
sique, he realized that the algorithm Photo- something they did not. “This used to be a
shop used to perform the operation would boutique little field, but now we’re defend-
leave a characteristic signature on that part ing democracy,” Farid says. “What happens
of the image. Farid had previously special- when more than half the content you see
ized in computer vision, getting comput- and hear online is fake?”
ers to understand pictures more as humans
do. But now he set about establishing a new One of Farid’s favorite clips in his per-
field of image science, developing meth- sonal library of deepfakes underlines
ods to detect when digital photos had been that troubling question. It shows Hillary
manipulated. Today, he’s one of the leading Clinton standing at a podium and making
authorities on detecting fake photos. campaign pledges she never made. As she
utters lines like “Vote for me and I promise
Farid sensed all those years ago that as I will be a stone-cold B,” winking archly,
digital cameras became more common, not-Clinton’s face appears indistinguish-
photos would become less trustworthy. able from the real thing.
Computer files, so easily modified, were
more corruptible than film negatives. A
succession of techniques he invented to
spot fakery were quickly pressed into use.
Farid worked with prosecutors to convict
child abusers and helped fishing contests
spot when anglers had faked the true size
of their catch.

In 2017, Farid’s satisfying but niche spe-
cialty took on new significance. A Reddit
account called deepfakes posted por-
nographic clips with the faces of actresses
like Gal Gadot pasted on other bodies. The
videos were made using a tool—which the
account soon released online—based on
machine learning.

Deepfakes quickly became a catchall
term for any image, video, or audio fab-
ricated or altered by machine learning.
In the past two years, hobbyists, aca-

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That clip was made by com- I N A U G U S T 2 0 1 6 , a group called the the Department of Defense and Navy.
puter graphics researchers at Shadow Brokers popped up on Twitter tout- The daughter of a Hungarian Jewish refu-
the University of Southern Cal- ing a brazen cybertheft: It linked to a trove gee, she grew up in an Orthodox commu-
ifornia. They added a photo- of hacking tools stolen from the National nity in Brooklyn. There, she once said, she
real re-creation of Clinton’s Security Agency. The know-how of one of saw “women who raised large families,
visage over the face of actress the top intelligence agencies in the US had ran community organizations,” and they
Kate McKinnon in a Saturday been released into the wild. Criminals and inspired her to “just not talk, get it done.”
Night Live skit. The USC group foreign government hackers seized on the
is trying to make better digital tools, and within months North Korea was Neuberger helped establish US Cyber
manipulations for the enter- weaponizing them to inject ransomware Command, which conducts digital combat
tainment industry, but they onto 300,000 computers in hospitals, tele- operations. And she was working at the NSA
also send their best work to coms, and energy firms around the world. when Edward Snowden leaked information
Farid, who is now at UC Berke- about the agency’s mass surveillance initia-
ley, so he can test the power of Now, three years after that disastrous data tives. That event led Neuberger to be named
his detection tools. dump, the NSA has established a Cybersecu- the NSA’s first chief risk officer.
rity Directorate. Its leader, Anne Neuberger,
Farid’s latest detection is tasked with creating a conduit between The Cybersecurity Directorate is part of a
method can easily see through siloed parts of the agency. By sharing infor- larger shift in the intelligence world. Once
the fake Clinton. It works by mation about threats and new hacking tech- a sideshow, cyberspace operations have
analyzing verified videos to niques used by adversaries, the agency moved to center stage. The safety of every-
build up a signature of a partic- hopes, among other things, to protect itself thing from electric grids to voting records is
ular person’s habitual, charac- against new types of attacks. at stake, and digital defense needs to keep
teristic facial movements. New pace. As Neuberger told wired, “We’re
clips can then be compared Neuberger came to the NSA in 2009, focused on security of the nation’s most sen-
with that signature to see if having worked in the private sector and sitive networks.” —LILY HAY NEWMAN
they contain the same pattern.
McKinnon is a good mimic, Three questions for … give up a lot of their quality 3 How can X projects
but she doesn’t move her face of life. That’s not realistic, like molten-salt energy
exactly as Clinton does. Astro Teller which is why technology storage and a wind-
has to be an important part harvesting kite make
Technical tools alone can’t CAPTAIN OF MOONSHOTS / X of the solution. a big impact?
stop deepfakes, though, and Microgrids would open up
the false images will only grow 1 X is all about far-out ideas 2 What about geoengi- a lot of opportunities for
more sophisticated. Farid is that solve massive prob- neering schemes, like things like energy kites in
talking with policymakers lems. How might tech help spraying aerosols in the remote areas. Rather than
in the US and Europe about us fix the climate crisis? atmosphere to reflect spending lots of money
how new laws could crimi- Radical improvements to, the sun’s energy? to do things in the tradi-
nalize malicious deepfakes or radical creative reuses of, We learn by sandboxing tional way, especially on
or force internet companies technology are necessary but so we can try things safely. infrastructure, bet on new
to work harder at detecting not sufficient to solve the cli- A lot of geoengineering technologies and you’ll
them. Despite the gloomy por- mate crisis. If you were to try tends to get ruled out. Any- end up getting a better
tents, though, Farid still finds to solve the problem purely thing that has to be done outcome at a tiny frac-
fun in fakes. He recommends through public policy and at a planetary scale and tion of the cost and car-
a YouTube clip in which Nico- social solutions without any can’t be rolled back is not bon footprint.
las Cage’s face replaces that of real changes in technology, amenable to “Well, let’s try
Julie Andrews in the opening you would be asking people to it and see.” —MATT SIMON
scene of The Sound of Music.
(w ir ed does too.) “They’re
hysterical—we should wel-
come and encourage it,” Farid
says. “But let’s put safeguards
in place.” —TOM SIMONITE

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FLESHED OUT

The modern livestock industry
is one of the most resource-
intensive and ethically fraught
sectors of the global econ-
omy. The extraordinary land
use and methane gases pro-
duced by the beef industry in
particular will rise to unsus-
tainable levels, as more people
in the developing world add
meat to their diets. That’s why
Pat Brown and Uma Valeti are
each blazing their own path to
eliminating the livestock busi-
ness as we know it. Whether
it’s Brown’s plant-based meat
alternatives or Valeti growing
meat in tanks, we’re rooting
for both of them.

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B A C K I N 2 0 0 9 , Pat Brown set To nail the flavor factor for U M A V A L E T I L O V E D meat. But he didn’t eat it. Cru-
off on a sabbatical from the a plant-based meat substitute, elty to animals was something he just couldn’t stom-
department of biochemistry the team came up with one key ach. Fortunately, Valeti was also a cardiologist who
at Stanford, intent on identi- ingredient: heme, a molecule worked on regenerating human heart muscle with
fying the most important prob- containing iron that’s found in stem cells. So he cinched up these two parts of his life
lem in the world that he could animal blood but also exists in and became cofounder of the first cell-based meat
help solve. That, he eventu- plants. Impossible’s version is company, Memphis Meats.
ally decided, was the impact produced by genetically mod-
of animal agriculture on the ified yeast. With cell-based meat, conscientious carnivores can
environment. By July 2011, have their steak and eat it too: real animal flesh, no
Brown had founded Impossi- Quantis International, a sus- slaughter necessary. Muscle cells from animals are
ble Foods, hired a team, and tainability consulting firm, ana- placed in a bioreactor—similar to the tanks used to brew
set off on a five-year journey to lyzed the Impossible Burger beer—and supplied with a combination of nutrients,
develop a plant-based replace- production process and found vitamins, and minerals to help them grow and multiply.
ment for meat. that it uses 87 percent less Three to six weeks later, the raw meat is pulled from
water, creates 92 percent less the tank, ready to be seasoned and cooked.
The big hurdle, of course, was water pollution, emits 89 per-
making something that tastes cent fewer greenhouse gases, The challenge, though, is scale. Memphis Meats’ first
so good people would give up and requires 96 percent less meatball cost about $1,200 to make. Valeti says that
the real thing: “The most urgent, land than the traditional pro- improvements in the production process have low-
important scientific question in duction of beef. That bit is cru- ered that figure by “multiple orders of magnitude.” (The
the world is what makes meat cial; clearing land for livestock company also has a proprietary soup of nutrients.) Valeti
delicious,” Brown says. Off the is the leading driver of habitat won’t yet share the current cost, but he says his product
bat, the team at Impossible loss around the world and has would not be the most expensive meat on the menu if
dove into the science behind been connected to the devas- it went to market today. Memphis expects to start ship-
meat’s flavor, texture, and juic- tating fires in Brazil’s Amazon ping its meat to stores in the next few years.
iness, and how those properties rain forest—more than 90,000
change as it’s cooked. blazes so far this year. Global meat production is expected to almost dou-
ble by 2050, and the resulting toll in land, water, and
Since 2016, the Impossible fossil fuel use under traditional methods of produc-
Burger has appeared on the tion would destroy ecosystems and hasten climate
menus of select restaurants, change. That’s one reason agribusiness giants Tyson
like David Chang’s Momofuku and Cargill have invested in Memphis Meats. The long-
Nishi, but it hit the mainstream term potential for actual cost savings is, of course,
when White Castle put it on another. (It’s hard to pin down the environmental
the menu in April 2018. Then, footprint of cell-based meat—none of the compa-
Burger King introduced the nies are producing at scale—but it’s expected to be a lot
Impossible Whopper earlier smaller than that of Big Ag, and a lab uses a lot less land
this year, driving up the fran- than a pasture.)
chise’s foot traffic by 18 per-
cent, according to consumer “We’re not asking people to switch their behavior,”
data firm inMarket inSights. Valeti says. “We’re all in this to feed the world.” A wor-
Grocery stores in Southern thy goal, as long as the world can get used to the idea
California started selling the of eating meat from a tank. —M.F.
product this fall. Brown says
he hopes his alt-meat will one
day totally replace animals as
food. He wants his company’s
burger to be better than the
real thing. “We can continue
to innovate forever,” he says.
“The cow stopped innovating
years ago.” —MEREDITH FORE

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THE
MOST
DECEPTIVE
HACK IN
HISTORY

BY
ANDY
GREENBERG
...

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.

Inside the
hunt for
THE
HACKERS
who nearly
took down
the Olympics.
And why
the next big
cyberattack
will be even
harder
to crack.

ILLUSTRATIONS
BY

JOAN WONG

...

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.... with the entire world watching, the com-
pany was still working out its bugs?
JUST BEFORE
8 PM ON The data centers in Seoul, however,
weren’t reporting any such problems, and
JFEBRUARY9,2018, Oh’s team believed the issues with the con-
tractor were manageable. He didn’t yet
high in the northeastern mountains of South Korea, Sang-jin Oh was sitting on know that they were already preventing
a plastic chair a few dozen rows up from the floor of Pyeongchang’s vast, pen- some attendees from printing tickets that
tagonal Olympic Stadium. He wore a gray and red official Olympics jacket that would let them enter the stadium. So he’d
kept him warm despite the near-freezing weather, and his seat, behind the press settled into his seat, ready to watch a high-
section, had a clear view of the raised, circular stage a few hundred feet in front light of his career unfold.
of him. The 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony was about to start.
Ten seconds before 8 pm, numbers
As the lights darkened around the roofless structure, anticipation buzzed began to form, one by one, in projected
through the 35,000-person crowd, the glow of their phone screens floating light around the stage, as a choir of chil-
like fireflies around the stadium. Few felt that anticipation more intensely than dren’s voices counted down in Korean to
Oh. For more than three years, the 47-year-old civil servant had been direc- the start of the event:
tor of technology for the Pyeongchang Olympics organizing committee. He’d
overseen the setup of an IT infrastructure for the games comprising more than “Sip! … Gu! … Pal! … Chil!”
10,000 PCs, more than 20,000 mobile devices, 6,300 Wi-Fi routers, and 300 In the middle of the countdown, Oh’s
servers in two Seoul data centers. Samsung Galaxy Note8 phone abruptly
lit up. He looked down to see a message
That immense collection of machines seemed to be functioning perfectly— from a subordinate on KakaoTalk, a pop-
almost. Half an hour earlier, he’d gotten word about a nagging technical ular Korean messaging app. The message
issue. The source of that problem was a contractor, an IT firm from which the shared perhaps the worst possible news Oh
Olympics were renting another hundred servers. The contractor’s glitches had could have received at that exact moment:
been a long-term headache. Oh’s response had been annoyance: Even now, Something was shutting down every domain
controller in the Seoul data centers, the
servers that formed the backbone of the
Olympics’ IT infrastructure.
As the opening ceremony got underway,
thousands of fireworks exploded around the
stadium on cue, and dozens of massive pup-
pets and Korean dancers entered the stage.
Oh saw none of it. He was texting furiously
with his staff as they watched their entire IT
setup go dark. He quickly realized that what
the partner company had reported wasn’t a
mere glitch. It had been the first sign of an
unfolding attack. He needed to get to his
technology operations center.
As Oh made his way out of the press sec-
tion toward the exit, reporters around him
had already begun complaining that the
Wi-Fi seemed to have suddenly stopped
working. Thousands of internet-linked TVs
showing the ceremony around the stadium
and in 12 other Olympic facilities had gone
black. Every RFID-based security gate lead-
ing into every Olympic building was down.
The Olympics’ official app, including its dig-
ital ticketing function, was broken too; when
it reached out for data from backend serv-
ers, they suddenly had none to offer.
The Pyeongchang organizing commit-
tee had prepared for this: Its cybersecurity
advisory group had met 20 times since
2015. They’d conducted drills as early as

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the summer of the previous year, simulat- All nine of the Olympic staff’s domain controllers, the powerful machines that
ing disasters like cyberattacks, fires, and
earthquakes. But now that one of those governed which employee could access which computers in the network, had
nightmare scenarios was playing out in
reality, the feeling, for Oh, was both infuri- somehow been paralyzed, crippling the entire system. The staff decided on a
ating and surreal. “It’s actually happened,”
Oh thought, as if to shake himself out of the temporary workaround: They set all the surviving servers that powered some
sense that it was all a bad dream.
basic services, such as Wi-Fi and the internet-linked TVs, to bypass the dead
Once Oh had made his way through
the crowd, he ran to the stadium’s exit, gatekeeper machines. By doing
out into the cold night air, and across the
parking lot, now joined by two other IT 0 so, they managed to bring those
staffers. They jumped into a Hyundai SUV
and began the 45-minute drive east, down bare-minimum systems back
through the mountains to the coastal city of 7 7 online just minutes before the
Gangneung, where the Olympics’ technol-
ogy operations center was located. end of the ceremony.

From the car, Oh called staffers at the Over the next two hours, as
stadium and told them to start distribut-
ing Wi-Fi hot spots to reporters and to tell they attempted to rebuild the
security to check badges manually, because
all RFID systems were down. But that was domain controllers to re-create
the least of their worries. Oh knew that
in just over two hours the opening cere- a more long-term, secure net-
mony would end, and tens of thousands
of athletes, visiting dignitaries, and spec- work, the engineers would find
tators would find that they had no Wi-Fi
connections and no access to the Olympics again and again that the servers
app, full of schedules, hotel information,
and maps. The result would be a humiliat- had been crippled. Some mali-
ing confusion. If they couldn’t recover the
servers by the next morning, the entire IT cious presence in their systems
backend of the organizing committee—
responsible for everything from meals remained, disrupting the machines faster than they could be rebuilt.
to hotel reservations to event ticketing—
would remain offline as the actual games A few minutes before midnight, Oh and his administrators reluctantly decided
got underway. And a kind of technologi-
cal fiasco that had never before struck on a desperate measure: They would cut off their entire network from the inter-
the Olympics would unfold in one of the
world’s most wired countries. net in an attempt to isolate it from the saboteurs who they figured must still have

.... maintained a presence inside. That meant taking down every service—even the

OH ARRIVED Olympics’ public website—while they worked to root out whatever malware

at the technology operations center in infection was tearing apart their machines from within.
Gangneung by 9 pm, halfway into the
opening ceremony. The center consisted For the rest of the night, Oh and his staff worked frantically to rebuild the
of a large open room with desks and com-
puters for 150 staffers; one wall was cov- Olympics’ digital nervous system. By 5 am, a Korean security contractor, AhnLab,
ered with screens. When he walked in,
many of those staffers were standing, had managed to create an antivirus signature that could help Oh’s staff vaccinate
clumped together, anxiously discussing
how to respond to the attack—a problem the network’s thousands of PCs and servers against the mysterious malware that
compounded by the fact that they’d been
locked out of many of their own basic ser- had infected them, a malicious file that Oh says was named simply winlogon.exe.
vices, like email and messaging.
At 6:30 am, the Olympics’ administrators reset staffers’ passwords in hopes of

locking out whatever means of access the hackers might have stolen. Just before

8 that morning, almost exactly 12 hours after the cyberattack on the Olympics

had begun, Oh and his sleepless staffers finished reconstructing their servers

from backups and began restarting every service.

Amazingly, it worked. The day’s skating and ski jumping events went off

with little more than a few Wi-Fi hiccups. R2-D2-style robots puttered around

Olympic venues, vacuuming floors, delivering water bottles, and projecting

weather reports. A Boston Globe reporter later called the games “impecca-

bly organized.” One USA Today columnist wrote that “it’s possible no Olympic

Games have ever had so many moving pieces all run on time.” Thousands of ath-

letes and millions of spectators remained blissfully unaware that the Olympics’

staff had spent its first night fighting off an invisible enemy that threatened to

throw the entire event into chaos.

....

WITHIN HOURS OF

the attack, rumors began to trickle out into the cybersecurity community about

the glitches that had marred the Olympics’ website, Wi-Fi, and apps during

the opening ceremony. Two days after the ceremony, the Pyeongchang orga-

From the book SANDWORM, by Andy Greenberg, to be published on Novem-
ber 5, 2019, by Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Group, a divi-
sion of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Andy Greenberg.
Greenberg is a senior writer for wired.

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nizing committee confirmed that it had indeed been the target of a cyberat- find in its code not merely a single false flag
tack. But it refused to comment on who might have been behind it. Oh, who but layers of false clues pointing at multiple
led the committee’s response, has declined to discuss any possible source of potential culprits. And some of those clues
the attack with wired. were hidden deeper than any cybersecurity
analyst had ever seen before.
The incident immediately became an international whodunit: Who would dare
to hack the Olympics? The Pyeongchang cyberattack would turn out to be per- From the start, the geopolitical motiva-
haps the most deceptive hacking operation in history, using the most sophisti- tions behind the Olympics sabotage were
cated means ever seen to confound the forensic analysts searching for its culprit. far from clear. The usual suspect for any
cyberattack in South Korea is, of course,
The difficulty of proving the source of an attack—the so-called attribution North Korea. The hermit kingdom has tor-
problem—has plagued cybersecurity since practically the dawn of the inter- mented its capitalist neighbors with mili-
net. Sophisticated hackers can route their connections through circuitous tary provocations and low-grade cyberwar
proxies and blind alleys, making it almost impossible to follow their tracks. for years. In the run-up to the Olympics,
Forensic analysts have nonetheless learned how to determine hackers’ iden- analysts at the cybersecurity firm McAfee
tities by other means, tying together clues in code, infrastructure connections, had warned that Korean-speaking hack-
and political motivations. ers had targeted the Pyeongchang Olympic
organizers with phishing emails and what
In the past few years, however, state-sponsored cyberspies and saboteurs appeared to be espionage malware. At the
have increasingly experimented with time, McAfee analysts hinted in a phone call
another trick: planting false flags. 0 with me that North Korea was likely behind
Those evolving acts of deception, the spying scheme.
designed to throw off both security 7 8
analysts and the public, have given rise But there were contradictory signals on
to fraudulent narratives about hack- the public stage. As the Olympics began, the
ers’ identities that are difficult to dis- North seemed to be experimenting with a
pel, even after governments announce friendlier approach to geopolitics. The North
the official findings of their intelligence Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, had sent his
agencies. It doesn’t help that those sister as a diplomatic emissary to the games
official findings often arrive weeks or and had invited South Korea’s president,
months later, with the most convincing Moon Jae-in, to visit the North Korean cap-
evidence redacted to preserve secret ital of Pyongyang. The two countries had
investigative techniques and sources. even taken the surprising step of combining
their Olympic women’s hockey teams in a
When North Korean hackers breached Sony Pictures in 2014 to prevent the show of friendship. Why would North Korea
release of the Kim Jong-un assassination comedy The Interview, for instance, launch a disruptive cyberattack in the midst
they invented a hacktivist group called Guardians of Peace and tried to throw of that charm offensive?
off investigators with a vague demand for “monetary compensation.” Even
after the FBI officially named North Korea as the culprit and the White House Then there was Russia. The Kremlin
imposed new sanctions against the Kim regime as punishment, several security had its own motive for an attack on
firms continued to argue that the attack must have been an inside job, a story Pyeongchang. Investigations into doping
picked up by numerous news outlets—including wired. by Russian athletes had led to a humiliat-
ing result in advance of the 2018 Olympics:
When state-sponsored Russian hackers stole and leaked emails from the Russia was banned. Its athletes would be
Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016, we allowed to compete but not to wear Russian
now know that the Kremlin likewise created diversions and cover stories. It flags or accept medals on behalf of their
invented a lone Romanian hacker named Guccifer 2.0 to take credit for the country. For years in the lead-up to that ver-
hacks; it also spread the rumors that a murdered DNC staffer named Seth Rich dict, a state-sponsored Russian hacker team
had leaked the emails from inside the organization—and it distributed many known as Fancy Bear had been retaliating,
of the stolen documents through a fake whistle-blowing site called DCLeaks. stealing and leaking data from Olympics-
Those deceptions became conspiracy theories, fanned by right-wing commen- related targets. Russia’s exile from the games
tators and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. was exactly the sort of slight that might
inspire the Kremlin to unleash a piece of
The deceptions generated a self-perpetuating ouroboros of mistrust: Skeptics
dismissed even glaring clues of the Kremlin’s guilt, like Russian-language for-
matting errors in the leaked documents, seeing those giveaways as planted
evidence. Even a joint statement from US intelligence agencies four months
later naming Russia as the perpetrator couldn’t shake the conviction of disbe-
lievers. They persist even today: In an Economist/YouGov poll earlier this year,
only about half of Americans said they believed Russia interfered in the election.

With the malware that hit the Pyeongchang Olympics, the state of the art in
digital deception took several evolutionary leaps forward. Investigators would

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disruptive malware against the opening ceremony. If the Russian government toward any single false answer but to a col-
couldn’t enjoy the Olympics, then no one would. lection of them, undermining any partic-
ular conclusion. The mystery became an
If Russia had been trying to send a message with an attack on the Olympics’ epistemological crisis that left researchers
servers, however, it was hardly a direct one. Days before the opening ceremony, doubting themselves. “It was psychological
it had preemptively denied any Olympics-targeted hacking. “We know that warfare on reverse-engineers,” says Silas
Western media are planning pseudo-investigations on the theme of ‘Russian Cutler, a security researcher who worked
fingerprints’ in hacking attacks on information resources related to the hosting for CrowdStrike at the time. “It hooked into
of the Winter Olympic Games in the Republic of Korea,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry all those things you do as a backup check,
had told Reuters. “Of course, no evidence will be presented to the world.” that make you think ‘I know what this is.’
And it poisoned them.”
In fact, there would be plenty of evidence vaguely hinting at Russia’s respon-
sibility. The problem, it would soon become clear, was that there seemed to be That self-doubt, just as much as the sab-
just as much evidence pointing in a tangle of other directions too. otage effects on the Olympics, seemed to
have been the malware’s true aim, says
.... Craig Williams, a researcher at Cisco. “Even
as it accomplished its mission, it also sent
THREE DAYS AFTER a message to the security community,”
Williams says. “You can be misled.”
the opening ceremony, Cisco’s Talos security division revealed that it had
obtained a copy of Olympics-targeted malware and dissected it. Someone ....
from the Olympics organizing committee or perhaps the Korean security firm
AhnLab had uploaded the code to VirusTotal, a common database of malware THE OLYMPICS
samples used by cybersecurity analysts, where Cisco’s reverse-engineers
found it. The company published its findings in a blog post that would give organizing committee, it turned out, wasn’t
that malware a name: Olympic Destroyer. Olympic Destroyer’s only victim. According
to the Russian security firm Kaspersky, the
In broad outline, Cisco’s description of Olympic Destroyer’s anatomy called cyberattack also hit other targets with con-
to mind two previous Russian cyberattacks, NotPetya and Bad Rabbit. As with nections to the Olympics, including Atos,
those earlier attacks, Olympic Destroyer used a password-stealing tool, then an IT services provider in France that had
combined those stolen passwords with remote access features in Windows supported the event, and two ski resorts
that allowed it to spread among computers on a network. Finally, it used a in Pyeongchang. One of those resorts had
data-destroying component to delete the boot configuration from infected been infected seriously enough that its
machines before disabling all Windows services and shutting the computer automated ski gates and ski lifts were tem-
down so that it couldn’t be rebooted. Analysts at the security firm CrowdStrike porarily paralyzed.
would find other apparent Russian calling cards, elements that resembled a
piece of Russian ransomware known as XData. In the days after the opening ceremony
attack, Kaspersky’s Global Research and
Yet there seemed to be no clear code matches between Olympic Destroyer Analysis Team obtained a copy of the
and the previous NotPetya or Bad Rabbit worms. Although it contained simi- Olympic Destroyer malware from one
lar features, they had apparently been re-created from scratch or copied from of the ski resorts and began dusting it for
elsewhere. fingerprints. But rather than focusing on the
malware’s code, as Cisco and Intezer had
The deeper analysts dug, the stranger the clues became. The data-wiping done, they looked at its “header,” a part of
portion of Olympic Destroyer shared characteristics with a sample of data- the file’s metadata that includes clues about
deleting code that had been used not by Russia but by the North Korean hacker what sorts of programming tools were used
group known as Lazarus. When Cisco researchers put the logical structures of to write it. Comparing that header with oth-
the data-wiping components side by side, they seemed to roughly match. And ers in Kaspersky’s vast database of malware
both destroyed files with the same distinctive trick of deleting just their first samples, they found it perfectly matched
4,096 bytes. Was North Korea behind the attack after all? the header of the North Korean Lazarus
hackers’ data-wiping malware—the same
There were still more signposts that led in completely different directions. one Cisco had already pointed to as shar-
The security firm Intezer noted that a chunk of the password-stealing code in ing traits with Olympic Destroyer. The North
Olympic Destroyer matched exactly with tools used by a hacker group known
as APT3—a group that multiple cybersecurity firms have linked to the Chinese
government. The company also traced a component that Olympic Destroyer
used to generate encryption keys back to a third group, APT10, also reportedly
linked to China. Intezer pointed out that the encryption component had never
been used before by any other hacking teams, as far as the company’s ana-
lysts could tell. Russia? North Korea? China? The more that forensic analysts
reverse-engineered Olympic Destroyer’s code, the further they seemed to get
from arriving at a resolution.

In fact, all those contradictory clues seemed designed not to lead analysts

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Korean theory seemed to be confirmed. malware, Soumenkov had found one flag that was provably false. It was now

But one senior Kaspersky researcher clear that someone had tried to make the malware look North Korean and

named Igor Soumenkov decided to go a failed due to a slipup. It was only through Kaspersky’s fastidious triple-check-

step further. Soumenkov, a hacker prod- ing that it came to light.

igy who’d been recruited to Kaspersky’s A few months later, I sat down with Soumenkov in a Kaspersky conference

research team as a teenager years ear- room in Moscow. Over an hour-long briefing, he explained in perfect English

lier, had a uniquely deep knowledge of file and with the clarity of a computer science professor how he’d defeated the

headers, and he decided to double-check attempted deception deep in Olympic Destroyer’s metadata. I summarized

his colleagues’ findings. what he seemed to have laid out for me: The Olympics attack clearly wasn’t

the work of North Korea. “It didn’t look like

them at all,” Soumenkov agreed.

.... And it certainly wasn’t Chinese, I sug-
gested, despite the more transparent false

code hidden in Olympic Destroyer that

“IT WAS PSYCHOLOGICAL fooled some researchers early on. “Chinese
WARFARE ON code is very recognizable, and this looks dif-
ferent,” Soumenkov agreed again.
R E V E R S E - E N G I N E E R S .”
Finally, I asked the glaring question: If
not China, and not North Korea, then who?
It seemed that the conclusion of that pro-

cess of elimination was practically sitting

there in the conference room with us and

yet couldn’t be spoken aloud.

“Ah, for that question, I brought a nice

game,” Soumenkov said, affecting a kind

of chipper tone. He pulled out a small

A tall, soft-spoken engineer, Soumenkov black cloth bag and took out of it a set of dice. On each side of the small black

had a habit of arriving at work late in the cubes were written words like Anonymous, Cybercriminals, Hacktivists, USA,

morning and staying at Kaspersky’s head- China, Russia, Ukraine, Cyberterrorists, Iran.

quarters well after dark—a partially nocturnal Kaspersky, like many other security firms, has a strict policy of only pinning

schedule that he kept to avoid Moscow traffic. attacks on hackers using the firm’s own system of nicknames, never naming

One night, as his coworkers headed the country or government behind a hacking incident or hacker group—the

home, he pored over the code at a cubi- safest way to avoid the murky and often political pitfalls of attribution. But the

cle overlooking the city’s jammed Lenin- so-called attribution dice that Soumenkov held in his hand, which I’d seen

gradskoye Highway. By the end of that night, before at hacker conferences, represented the most cynical exaggeration of

the traffic had thinned, he was virtually the attribution problem: That no cyberattack can ever truly be traced to its

alone in the office, and he had determined source, and anyone who tries is simply guessing.

that the header metadata didn’t actually Soumenkov tossed the dice on the table. “Attribution is a tricky game,” he

match other clues in the Olympic Destroyer said. “Who is behind this? It’s not our story, and it will never be.”
code itself; the malware hadn’t been written
with the programming tools that the header ....

implied. The metadata had been forged. MICHAEL MATONIS WAS
This was something different from all the

other signs of misdirection that research- working from his home, a 400-square-foot basement apartment in the

ers had fixated on. The other red herrings Washington, DC, neighborhood of Capitol Hill, when he first began to pull at

in Olympic Destroyer had been so vex- the threads that would unravel Olympic Destroyer’s mystery. The 28-year-

ing in part because there was no way to old, a former anarchist punk turned security researcher with a controlled

tell which clues were real and which were mass of curly black hair, had only recently moved to the city from upstate

deceptions. But now, deep in the folds of New York, and he still didn’t have a desk at the Reston, Virginia, office of

false flags wrapped around the Olympic FireEye, the security and private intelligence firm that employed him. So on

the day in February when he started to examine the malware that had struck

Pyeongchang, Matonis was sitting at his makeshift workspace: a folding metal

chair with his laptop propped up on a plastic table.

On a whim, Matonis decided to try a different approach from much of the

rest of the perplexed security industry. He didn’t search for clues in the mal-

ware’s code. Instead, in the days after the attack, Matonis looked at a far more

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mundane element of the operation: a fake, malware-laced Word document off the hackers to their tell. But he could see
that had served as the first step in the nearly disastrous opening ceremony sab- that, like teenage punks who all pin just the
otage campaign. right obscure band’s buttons to their jack-
ets and style their hair in the same shapes,
The document, which appeared to contain a list of VIP delegates to the games, the attempt to make the encoded files look
had likely been emailed to Olympics staff as an attachment. If anyone opened unique had instead made one set of them
that attachment, it would run a malicious macro script that planted a backdoor a distinctly recognizable group. He soon
on their PC, offering the Olympics hackers their first foothold on the target net- deduced that the source of that signal in
work. When Matonis pulled the infected document from VirusTotal, the malware the noise was a common tool used to create
repository where it had been uploaded by incident responders, he saw that the each one of the booby-trapped documents.
bait had likely been sent to Olympics staff in late November 2017, more than two It was an open source program, easily found
months before the games began. The hackers had laid in wait for months before online, called Malicious Macro Generator.
triggering their logic bomb.
Matonis speculated that the hackers had
Matonis began combing VirusTotal and FireEye’s historical collection of mal- chosen the program in order to blend in
ware, looking for matches to that code sample. On a first scan, he found none. with a crowd of other malware authors, but
But Matonis did notice that a few dozen malware-infected documents from the it had ultimately had the opposite effect, set-
archives corresponded to his file’s rough characteristics: They similarly carried ting them apart as a distinct set. Beyond their
embedded Word macros and, like the Olympics-targeted file, had been built to shared tools, the malware group was also
launch a certain common set of hacking tools called PowerShell Empire. The tied together by the author names Matonis
malicious Word macro traps, however, looked very different from one another, pulled from the files’ metadata: Almost all
with their own unique layers of obfuscation. had been written by someone named either
“AV,” “BD,” or “john.” When he looked at the
Over the next two days, Matonis searched for patterns in that obfuscation that command and control servers that the mal-
might serve as a clue. When he wasn’t at his laptop, he’d turn the puzzle over in ware connected back to—the strings that
his mind, in the shower or lying on the floor of his apartment, staring up at the would control the puppetry of any successful
ceiling. Finally, he found a telling pattern in the malware specimens’ encoding.
Matonis declined to share with me the details of this discovery for fear of tipping

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infections—all but a few of the IP addresses collection Matonis had unearthed seemed to target victims in the Russian busi-
of those machines overlapped too. The fin-
gerprints were hardly exact. But over the next ness and real estate world. Had a team of Russian hackers been tasked with spying
days, he assembled a loose mesh of clues that
added up to a solid net, tying the fake Word on some Russian oligarch on behalf of their intelligence taskmasters? Were they
documents together.
engaged in profit-focused cybercrime as a side gig?
Only after he had established those hid-
den connections did Matonis go back to the Regardless, Matonis felt that he was on his way to finally, definitively cut-
Word documents that had served as the vehi-
cles for each malware sample and begin to ting through the Olympics cyberattack’s false flags to reveal its true origin:
Google-translate their contents, some writ-
ten in Cyrillic. Among the files he’d tied to the Kremlin.
the Olympic Destroyer bait, Matonis found
two other bait documents from the collec- ....
tion that dated back to 2017 and seemed to
target Ukrainian LGBT activist groups, using AFTER MATONIS
infected files that pretended to be a gay
rights organization’s strategy document and had made those first, thrilling connections between Olympic Destroyer and a
a map of a Kiev Pride parade. Others targeted
Ukrainian companies and government agen- very familiar set of Russian hacking victims, he sensed he had explored beyond
cies with a tainted copy of draft legislation.
the part of Olympic Destroyer that its creators had intended for researchers to
This, for Matonis, was ominously familiar
territory: For more than two years, he and see—that he was now peering behind its curtain of false flags. He wanted to
the rest of the security industry had watched
Russia launch a series of destructive hack- find out how much further he could go toward uncovering those hackers’ full
ing operations against Ukraine, a relentless
cyberwar that accompanied Russia’s inva- identities. So he told his boss that he wouldn’t be coming into the FireEye office
sion of the country after its pro-Western
2014 revolution. for the foreseeable future. For the next three weeks, he barely left his bunker

Even as that physical war had killed apartment. He worked on his laptop from the same folding chair, with his back
13,000 people in Ukraine and displaced
millions more, a Russian hacker group to the only window in his home that allowed in sunlight, poring over every data
known as Sandworm had waged a full-
blown cyberwar against Ukraine as well: It point that might reveal the next cluster of the hackers’ targets.
had barraged Ukrainian companies, gov-
ernment agencies, railways, and airports A pre-internet-era detective might start a rudimentary search for a person
with wave after wave of data-destroying
intrusions, including two unprecedented by consulting phone books. Matonis started digging into the online equiva-
breaches of Ukrainian power utilities in
2015 and 2016 that had caused blackouts lent, the directory of the web’s global network known as the Domain Name
for hundreds of thousands of people. Those
attacks culminated in NotPetya, a worm that System. DNS servers translate human-readable domains like facebook.com
had spread rapidly beyond Ukraine’s bor-
ders and ultimately inflicted $10 billion in into the machine-readable IP addresses that describe the location of a net-
damage on global networks, the most costly
cyberattack in history. worked computer that runs that site or service, like 69.63.176.13.

In Matonis’ mind, all other suspects for the Matonis began painstakingly check-
Olympics attack fell away. Matonis couldn’t
yet connect the attack to any particular 0 ing every IP address his hackers had used
hacker group, but only one country would 83 as a command and control server in their
have been targeting Ukraine, nearly a year campaign of malicious Word document
before the Pyeongchang attack, using the
same infrastructure it would later use to hack phishing; he wanted to see what domains
the Olympics organizing committee—and it
wasn’t China or North Korea. those IP addresses had hosted. Since those

Strangely, other infected documents in the domain names can move from machine to

machine, he also used a reverse-lookup

tool to flip the search—checking every

name to see what other IP addresses had

hosted it. He created a set of treelike maps

connecting dozens of IP addresses and

domain names linked to the Olympics

attack. And far down the branch of one tree, a string of characters lit up like

neon in Matonis’ mind: account-loginserv.com.

A photographic memory can come in handy for an intelligence analyst. As

soon as Matonis saw the account-loginserv.com domain, he instantly knew he

had seen it nearly a year earlier in an FBI “flash”—a short alert sent out to US

cybersecurity practitioners and potential victims. This one had offered a new

detail about the hackers who, in 2016, had reportedly breached the Arizona and

Illinois state boards of elections. These had been some of the most aggressive

elements of Russia’s meddling in US elections: Election officials had warned in

2016 that, beyond stealing and leaking emails from Democratic Party targets,

Russian hackers had broken into the two states’ voter rolls, accessing comput-

ers that held thousands of Americans’ personal data with unknown intentions.

According to the FBI flash alert Matonis had seen, the same intruders had also

spoofed emails from a voting technology company, later reported to be the

Tallahassee, Florida-based firm VR Systems, in an attempt to trick more elec-

tion-related victims into giving up their passwords.

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Matonis drew up a jumbled map of the connections on a piece of paper that hacker persona that had claimed credit for
the intrusions and given the Democrats’
he slapped onto his refrigerator with an Elvis magnet, and marveled at what stolen emails to WikiLeaks.

he’d found. Based on the FBI alert—and Matonis told me he confirmed the Kovalev, listed as 26 years old, was also
accused of breaching one state’s board of
connection with another human source he declined to reveal—the fake VR elections and stealing the personal infor-
mation of some 500,000 voters. Later, he
Systems emails were part of a phishing campaign that seemed to have also allegedly breached a voting systems com-
pany and then impersonated its emails in
used a spoofed login page at the account-loginserv.com domain he’d found an attempt to hack voting officials in Florida
with spoofed messages laced with malware.
in his Olympic Destroyer map. At the end of his long chain of internet-address An FBI wanted poster for Kovalev showed
a picture of a blue-eyed man with a slight
connections, Matonis had found a fingerprint that linked the Olympics attack- smile and close-cropped, blond hair.

ers back to a hacking operation that directly targeted the 2016 US election. Not Though the indictment didn’t say it
explicitly, Kovalev’s charges described
only had he solved the whodunit of Olympic Destroyer’s origin, he’d gone fur- exactly the activities outlined in the FBI flash
alert that Matonis had linked to the Olympic
ther, showing that the culprit had been implicated in the most notorious hack- Destroyer attack. Despite all of the mal-
ware’s unprecedented deceptions and mis-
ing campaign ever to hit the American political system. directions, Matonis could now tie Olympic
Destroyer to a specific GRU unit, working at
Matonis had, since he was a teenager, been a motorcycle fan. When he was 22 Kirova Street in Khimki, Moscow, a tower
of steel and mirrored glass on the western
just barely old enough to ride one legally, he had scraped together enough bank of the Moscow Canal.

money to buy a 1975 Honda CB750. Then one day a friend let him try riding his ....

2001 Harley-Davidson with an 1100 EVO engine. In three seconds, he was fly- A FEW MONTHS

ing along a country road in upstate New York at 65 miles an hour, simultane- after Matonis shared those connections
with me, in late November of 2018, I stood
ously fearing for his life and laughing uncontrollably. on a snow-covered path that wound along
that frozen waterway on the outskirts of
When Matonis had finally outsmarted the most deceptive malware in history, Moscow, staring up at the Tower.

he says he felt that same feeling, a rush that he could only compare to taking off I had, by then, been following the hack-
ers known as Sandworm for two full years,
on that Harley-Davidson in first gear. He sat alone in his DC apartment, staring and I was in the final stages of writing a
book that investigated the remarkable arc
at his screen and laughing. of their attacks. I had traveled to Ukraine to
interview the utility engineers who’d twice
.... watched their power grids’ circuit breakers
be flipped open by unseen hands. I’d flown
BY THE TIME to Copenhagen to speak with sources at the
shipping firm Maersk who whispered to me
Matonis had drawn those connections, the US government had already drawn about the chaos that had unfolded when
its own. The NSA and CIA, after all, have access to human spies and hacking NotPetya paralyzed 17 of their terminals
abilities that no private-sector cybersecurity firm can rival. In late February, at ports around the globe, instantly shut-
while Matonis was still holed up in his basement apartment, two unnamed ting down the world’s largest shipping con-
intelligence officials told The Washington Post that the Olympics cyberattack glomerate. And I’d sat with analysts from
had been carried out by Russia and that it had sought to frame North Korea. The the Slovakian cybersecurity firm ESET
anonymous officials went further, blaming the attack specifically on Russia’s in their office in Bratislava as they broke
military intelligence agency, the GRU—the same agency that had masterminded down their evidence that tied all of those
the interference in the 2016 US election and the blackout attacks in Ukraine, attacks to a single group of hackers.
and had unleashed NotPetya’s devastation.
Beyond the connections in Matonis’
But as with most public pronouncements from inside the black box of the branching chart and in the Mueller report
US intelligence apparatus, there was no way to check the government’s work. that pinned the Olympics attack on the
Neither Matonis nor anyone else in media or cybersecurity research was privy
to the trail the agencies had followed.

A set of US government findings that were far more useful and interesting to
Matonis came months after his basement detective work. On July 13, 2018, spe-
cial counsel Robert Mueller unsealed an indictment against 12 GRU hackers for
engaging in election interference, laying out the evidence that they’d hacked the
DNC and the Clinton campaign; the indictment even included details like the
servers they’d used and the terms they’d typed into a search engine.

Deep in the 29-page indictment, Matonis read a description of the alleged
activities of one GRU hacker named Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev. Along with
two other agents, Kovalev was named as a member of GRU Unit 74455, based
in the northern Moscow suburb of Khimki in a 20-story building known as
“the Tower.”

The indictment stated that Unit 74455 had provided backend servers for
the GRU’s intrusions into the DNC and the Clinton campaign. But more sur-
prisingly, the indictment added that the group had “assisted in” the operation
to leak the emails stolen in those operations. Unit 74455, the charges stated,
had helped to set up DCLeaks.com and even Guccifer 2.0, the fake Romanian

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GRU, Matonis had shared with me other ....
details that loosely tied those hackers
directly to Sandworm’s earlier attacks. In IN EARLY
some cases, they had placed command and
control servers in data centers run by two April of this year, I received an email via my Korean translator from Sang-
of the same companies, Fortunix Networks
and Global Layer, that had hosted serv- jin Oh, the Korean official who led the response to Olympic Destroyer on the
ers used to trigger Ukraine’s 2015 black-
out and later the 2017 NotPetya worm. ground in Pyeongchang. He repeated what he’d said all along—that he would
Matonis argued that those thin clues, on top
of the vastly stronger case that all of those never discuss who might be responsible for the Olympics attack. He also
attacks were carried out by the GRU, sug-
gested that Sandworm was, in fact, GRU noted that he and I wouldn’t speak again: He’d moved on to a position in South
Unit 74455. Which would put them in the
building looming over me that snowy day Korea’s Blue House, the office of the president, and wasn’t authorized to take
in Moscow.
interviews. But in our final phone conversation months earlier, Oh’s voice had
Standing there in the shadow of that
opaque, reflective tower, I didn’t know still smoldered with anger when he recalled the opening ceremony and the 12
exactly what I hoped to accomplish. There
was no guarantee that Sandworm’s hack- hours he’d spent desperately working to avert disaster.
ers were inside—they may have just as
easily been split between that Khimki “It still makes me furious that, without any clear purpose, someone hacked
building and another GRU address
named in the Mueller indictment, at 20 this event,” he’d said. “It would have been a huge black mark on these games
Komsomolskiy Prospekt, a building in
central Moscow that I’d walked by that of peace. I can only hope that the international community can figure out a
morning on my way to the train.
way that this will never happen again.”
The Tower, of course, wasn’t marked
as a GRU facility. It was surrounded by Even now, Russia’s attack on the Olympics still haunts
an iron fence and surveillance cameras,
with a sign at its gate that read glavnoye 0 cyberwarwonks. (Russia’s foreign ministry didn’t respond
upravleniye obustroystva voysk—roughly, 85 to multiple requests for comment from wired.) Yes, the US
“General Directorate for the Arrangement government and the cybersecurity industry eventually
of Troops.” I guessed that if I dared ask the
guard at that gate if I could speak with solved the puzzle, after some initial false starts and con-
someone from GRU Unit 74455, I was
likely to end up detained in a room where I fusion. But the attack set a new bar for deception, one that
would be asked hard questions by Russian
government officials, rather than the other might still prove to have disastrous consequences when its
way around.
tricks are repeated or evolve further, says Jason Healey, a
This, I realized, might be the closest I
had ever stood to Sandworm’s hackers, cyberconflict-focused researcher at the Columbia School
and yet I could get no closer. A security
guard appeared on the edge of the park- for International and Public Affairs
ing lot above me, looking out from within
the Tower’s fence—whether watching me or “Olympic Destroyer was the first time someone used false flags of that kind of
taking a smoke break, I couldn’t tell. It was
time for me to leave. sophistication in a significant, national-security-relevant attack,” Healey says.

I walked north along the Moscow Canal, “It’s a harbinger of what the conflicts of the future might look like.”
away from the Tower, and through the hush
of the neighborhood’s snow-padded parks Healey, who worked in the George W. Bush White House as director for cyber
and pathways to the nearby train station. On
the train back to the city center, I glimpsed infrastructure protection, says he has no doubt that US intelligence agencies can
the glass building one last time, from the
other side of the frozen water, before it was see through deceptive clues that muddy attribution. He’s more worried about
swallowed up in the Moscow skyline.
other countries where a misattributed cyberattack could have lasting conse-

quences. “For the folks that can’t afford CrowdStrike and FireEye, for the vast bulk

of nations, attribution is still an issue,” Healey says. “If you can’t imagine this with

US and Russia, imagine it with India and Pakistan, or China and Taiwan, where a

false flag provokes a much stronger response than even its authors intended, in a

way that leaves the world looking very different afterwards.”

But false flags work here in the US, too, argues John Hultquist, the director

of intelligence analysis at FireEye and Matonis’ former boss before Matonis left

the firm in July. Look no further, Hultquist says, than the half of Americans—or

73 percent of registered Republicans—who refuse to accept that Russia hacked

the DNC or the Clinton campaign.

As the 2020 election approaches, Olympic Destroyer shows that Russia has only

advanced its deception techniques—graduating from flimsy cover stories to the

most sophisticated planted digital fingerprints ever seen. And if they can fool even

a few researchers or reporters, they can sow even more of the public confusion

that misled the American electorate in 2016. “The question is one of audience,”

Hultquist says. “The problem is that the US government may never say a thing, and

within 24 hours, the damage is done. The public was the audience in the first place.”

The GRU hackers known as Sandworm, meanwhile, are still out there. And

Olympic Destroyer suggests they’ve been escalating not only their wanton acts

of disruption but also their deception techniques. After years of crossing one red

line after another, their next move is impossible to predict. But when those hack-

ers do strike again, they may appear in a form we don’t even recognize.

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_2 1 WITH RON MOORE’S
SPACE-RACE DRAMA
71 FOR ALL MANKIND,

LAUNCH APPLE IS BETTING ON
MARQUEE NAMES AND

LUSH PRODUCTION TO
GET ITS TV+ SERVICE

OFF THE GROUND.

CAN IT ACHIEVE ORBIT?

_Sequence

BY

PETER RUBIN

PHOTOGRAPHS BY

MICHELLE GROSKOPF

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MORE
THAN

50

buildings and soundstages sprawl across the 44 After the journalists handed their phones
acres of the Sony Pictures lot. That’s a lot of window- to Apple staffers to be taped up with
less oblongs, and even more distance between them. camera-blocking stickers, the vans shut-
If you need to get from, say, the Jimmy Stewart tled the group to Stage 15. (The Sony com-
Building to Stage 15, golf carts and Sprinter vans plex is also home to HBO’s Insecure and
are the customary mode—even on sunny days. On Showtime’s Ray Donovan. Apple may have
a particular Saturday in February, while an atmo- a near-trillion-dollar market cap, but it
spheric river settled over Los Angeles, those vehi- still leases soundstages like everyone else
cles were a necessity. The downpour was bad luck in Hollywood.) Dryness maintained, we
for the dozens of journalists there that day, but it walked into the control room of NASA’s
was also a touch allegorical. After what felt like Manned Spacecraft Center circa 1969.
years of anticipation, Apple was about to take us
behind the scenes of a show it was making for its Mission Control, as it’s more commonly
still mysterious, still unnamed subscription stream- known, was painstakingly refurbished by
ing service. We were going to find out if Apple, NASA in its original Houston location and
maker of so many devices that have redefined the reopened to the public earlier this year. The
way we consume content, could finally make con- Hollywood version in front of us, taking up
tent—good content—of its own. almost 8,000 square feet of Stage 15, is its
utter replica, from the soft packs of Kools
strewn on long tiers of desks to the million-
buttoned BOOSTER consoles that tracked the
Saturn V rockets powering the Apollo space-
craft into orbit. Rotary phones. Horn-rimmed
glasses. Even the ceiling tiles have been
custom-made to match the ones in Houston.

Such millimeter-perfect verisimilitude is
to be expected. After all, we’re standing in a
Ronald D. Moore project. A veteran of mul-

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ASTRONAUT MEETING tiple Star Trek series and creator of numer-
ROOM FROM THE SET ous other shows, including the beloved
OF FOR ALL MANKIND. mid-’00s space opera Battlestar Galactica,
BELOW, ACTOR JOEL Moore is known for paradigm-busting genre
KINNAMAN television, creating worlds that are meticu-
lously designed and populated by fully real-
ized characters. This newest project, a series
called For All Mankind, imagines how our
society might look today had the space race
never ended. It’s at once rueful and optimis-
tic, a journey that undoes decades of declin-
ing ambition by imagining how an alternate
past spawns a new future.

For all its attention to the little things,
though, For All Mankind is bigger and risk-
ier than anything Moore has created. The
show is one of the first series appearing on
the (now named) Apple TV+ streaming ser-
vice, a multibillion-dollar push that includes
projects from Steven Spielberg and Oprah
Winfrey. And Mission Control is more than
the simulated nerve center for the zero-g
space walks and lunar landings of For All
Mankind. It’s also the launchpad for Apple’s
own moon shot. The company sits at a
crossroads, its hardware approaching mar-
ket saturation and its updates increasingly
incremental; part of the path forward, by its
own admission, involves being a purveyor
of services. So, after Apple’s two decades of
windfall as a manufacturer and distributor,
TV+ is the company’s highly anticipated—
and very expensive—attempt to become an
entertainment studio, one that competes
not just with the upstarts that inaugurated
the streaming wars (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon)
but also with the old hands that are now
trying to muscle in (Disney, Warner Bros.,
NBCUniversal). The landscape is crowded,
but there’s room among the stars.

Cupertino, we have liftoff.

T WENTY YEARS AGO, with three
simple words, Steve Jobs changed
the way the public saw Apple. One
more thing … read the screen at the end of
his Macworld Expo keynote speech in San
Francisco that January. It was actually five
more things—blueberry, grape, tangerine,
lime, and strawberry, the colors of the new
translucent iMacs he announced—but the
construction stuck. For the next 12 years, the
line became Jobs’catchphrase, the showman’s
wink at Apple’s cycle of secrecy and surprise.

By the time Tim Cook replaced Jobs as
CEO in 2011, Apple had thrust most of its

089

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IF APPLE WERE A PERSON— after the pitcher of mojitos was drained,”
IF I T T RU LY T O O K M O R TA L wrote Variety. Among a sea of headlines like
FO RM —T H AT F O R M M I G H T B E “I Watched Planet of the Apps So You Don’t
RONALD MOORE. Have To” and “Apple’s Planet of the Apps Is
Even Worse Than You Thought,” Variety’s
best secrets into daylight—iTunes, iPhones, legend Dr. Dre (cofounder of headphone was one of the kinder sentiments.
iPads—but one rumor Cook could still dance maker Beats, which Apple bought in 2014).
around was the company’s plans for tele- The show, which reportedly contained Carpool Karaoke: The Series landed
vision. (Apple had released a Macintosh sex and violence, would be watchable via on iTunes and Apple TV shortly thereaf-
back in 1993 that could display a TV feed, iTunes and Apple TV boxes. Soon, Apple also ter, and while it didn’t invite the same
but the curio lasted only a few months on developed a Shark Tank–style reality show rancor as Planet of the Apps, it also did lit-
the market.) Industry watchers had long called Planet of the Apps, which the com- tle to distinguish itself. The original talk-
wondered what the company might have pany began casting in the summer of 2016; show segment relied on Corden’s ability
in store. “Intense interest” became Cook’s then a series based on Carpool Karaoke, a to bridge the gap between viewer and
favorite side step—as in, TV was “an area perma-viral segment from James Corden’s celebrity; Apple’s version simply put two
of intense interest for us.” In those days, he late-night NBC talk show. celebrities in a car and turned on the dash-
was referring to the experience of watch- cam. Seth MacFarlane and Ariana Grande?
ing television. The Apple TV set-top device, In October 2016, during a quarterly Billy Eichner and Metallica? When Apple
which launched in 2007, was beginning to earnings call with investors, Cook’s rheto- renewed the series, TechCrunch went
gain some sales steam by its third genera- ric finally changed. When an analyst asked with the headline “Sorry, Apple’s Carpool
tion, and the company was widely believed him about the productions, he responded: Karaoke Gets a Second Season.”
to be prototyping an Apple-branded TV set. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us both
from a creation point of view and an own- What’s more, the company’s content
Over the years, though, Cook’s intense ership point of view.” Mostly tap dancing, trouble extended beyond ill-conceived
interest began to shift. According to The to be sure, but “creation” and “ownership” reality shows. As The Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal, Apple approached were new words in Apple’s vocabulary. And would later report, Apple scrapped its plans
Time Warner about acquisition in mid-2016; none too soon. Not only would Apple miss its for Vital Signs around the same time. The
some even suspected the company might own revenue target in 2016, in large part due issue was Tim Cook’s discomfort with the
make a bid for Netflix. Neither happened, to slowing sales of iOS devices, but its share show’s graphic content. Violence and sex
but by then what was once called “web tele- of the movie-rental market—which, thanks might have been a ratings-boosting recipe
vision” had come into its own, and stream- to iTunes, had been more than 50 percent— for HBO or Netflix, but Apple was trying to
ing content took on a new urgency. Amazon was tumbling, cannibalized by smart cable be a content company that was also depen-
had won multiple Emmys for its original boxes and Amazon. Apple’s services division dent on its consumers continuing to buy
show Transparent, and Hulu had evolved needed an extra boost if it was going to help phones and computers. Prestige was fine.
from a platform that just delivered the pre- the company offset such setbacks. Prurience was not.
vious day’s cable shows to one with its own
slate of original programming. Planet of the Apps premiered on June 6, T EN DAYS AFTER Planet of the Apps
2017. In it, contestants were given 60 sec- premiered, Apple announced
Apple seemed ready to jump into the onds to pitch their app idea—while on a that it had hired two television
pool. Cook began trumpeting the perfor- moving walkway—to a panel of judges that veterans to head up “video programming
mance of the company’s “services” divi- included Jessica Alba, will.i.am, Gwyneth worldwide.” Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van
sion, which included iTunes, Apple Music, Paltrow, and tech entrepreneur Gary Amburg had been copresidents of Sony
Apple Pay, and the App Store. Services were Vaynerchuk, author of such books as Crush Pictures Television for a decade. The two
by then second only to the iPhone in gen- It! and Crushing It! The ensuing reviews were known for rescuing the division from
erating revenue for Apple, and Cook said also crushed it, the “it” in this case being early-2000s dreck like Shasta McNasty
he saw more growth for that group ahead. any hopes of a second season. “Apple’s first and Madigan Men, replacing it with shows
Part of it, it seemed, would come from tele- offering … feels like something that was that fit the burgeoning age of so-called
vision; Apple quietly began filming Vital developed at a cocktail party, and not given prestige TV: Breaking Bad, Community,
Signs, a show based on the life of hip hop much more rigorous thought or attention Damages, Masters of Sex. At Apple, report-
ing to the company’s head of services,
Eddy Cue, they would try to help one of the
richest companies in the world do televi-
sion the right way.

Though the timing of Apple’s announce-
ment seemed comically coincidental, Erlicht
and Van Amburg had been talking to Apple
for some time. In its quest to develop con-
tent that could hold up to fare from Netflix

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09 1

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and Hulu, the company had been discussing and wondering why he couldn’t see Neil _
possible partnerships with numerous stu- Armstrong up there. As a teen, he planned
dios, including Sony. “Obviously we were on entering the Navy and applying to flight NASA’S BACKUP
intrigued,” Erlicht says. At the time, “there test school to be an astronaut himself. “Then CONTROL ROOM
wasn’t an agency, production company, or I started wearing glasses,” he says now, sit- FROM THE TV
studio that wasn’t trying to hunt down what ting in his office outside the Mankind writ- SHOW’S SET
Apple would be doing.” When they were ers’ room. “And poof, it was gone.”
eventually offered the job (and accepted),
one of their first calls went to Van Amburg’s We’re in an unassuming, dated-looking,
old friend: Ronald Moore. three-story stone building on an even
less assuming street in that liminal space
If Apple were a person—if it truly took between Los Angeles and Burbank, Moore
mortal form—that form might be Ron sporting the habitual mane of hair and
Moore. Like Apple, Moore has created open-collar shirt that make him look like
epochal works that improve on the halt- he stepped off the cover of a romance novel
ing steps of their predecessors. And like for the bookish. His office accoutrements
Apple, he imagines a future that meshes evince a similar flair: a framed shot of Errol
with how humans actually behave and what Flynn from 1938’s The Adventures of Robin
they expect. Apple might call that Human Hood, an Apple IIe just like the one he wrote
Interface Design; Moore has called it “natu- his first Star Trek spec script on, old maps
ralistic science fiction.” and employee patches from Disneyland.
“Star Trek, Disneyland, and NASA,” he says,
The concept began with Moore’s ticking off his obsessions.
Battlestar Galactica miniseries. That four-
hour show ran on the Sci-Fi Channel (now Those obsessions informed Battlestar’s
Syfy) in 2003 and updated the single-season atmosphere, but it was Moore’s prioritiza-
1978 cult classic into an epic for the 21st cen- tion of soul over special effects that helped
tury. Like the original, it focused on the last the show entrance both fans and critics over
vestiges of humanity fleeing murderous its four-season run. The crewmembers of the
robots called Cylons; in the Moore mini- Galactica weren’t archetypes—they were
series, the Cylons looked just like those they people (and Cylons) who knew trauma and
stalked across the galaxy, infusing a fusty anxiety, who knew jealousy and pride and
premise with simmering dread. The mini- deceit and redemption. In a decade that
series ended on the holy-shit cliff-hanger beganwith The Sopranos andwould endwith
revelation that a crew member was actu- Mad Men, Battlestar told human stories that
ally a Cylon. So the network green-lit a full felt, in spite of their cosmic setting, grounded.
series, and Moore articulated his vision in
the show’s 49-page bible:

We take as a given the idea that the traditional
space opera, with its stock characters, techno
double-talk, bumpy-headed aliens, thespian his-
trionics, and empty heroics has run its course and
a new approach is required. That approach is to
introduce realism into what has heretofore been
an aggressively unrealistic genre.

Indeed, Galactica felt as if it had beamed
down from the Enterprise itself. Not Jean-
Luc Picard’s—though Moore had cut his
teeth on Star Trek: The Next Generation—
but NASA’s. Gone was the stilted pseudo-
science of Trek; in its place was an analog,
organic, inhabited sci-fi. This was space as
humans would really live in it, with dirt and
claustrophobia and hard, hard drinking.
Much of the sensibility, if not the drinking,
was steeped in Moore’s lifelong fascination
with the US space program. As a 5-year-old
in 1969, Moore had stood in his backyard in
Chowchilla, California, looking at the moon

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THE FIRST SEASON, It also rocketed Moore squarely into
SPANNING FROM Sought-After Creator territory, and in 2010,
1969 TO 1974, after BSG ended, he signed a development
WOULD UNSPOOL deal with Sony Pictures Television—bringing
WHAT MIGHT HAVE him into Van Amburg and Erlicht’s orbit. The
HAPPENED HAD juiciest fruit to sprout, in 2014, was an adap-
THE SOVIETS BEATEN tation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander fan-
APOLLO 11 tasy novels, now heading into its fifth season
TO THE MOON. on Starz. It was during Outlander’s early
days that Van Amburg approached Moore
with the idea of doing a show about NASA
in the ’70s for NBC. Moore figured it was
a “momentary blip” that would never get
made; then Van Amburg and Erlicht got the
job at Apple. They officially began in August
2017, at which point Van Amburg called to
see if the premise still held interest. “I still
think about that NASA-in-the-’70s idea,” he
told Moore. “What do you think about doing
a Mad Men sort of thing?”

As much as he was captivated by the
thought, Moore quickly realized: This has a
fatal flaw. By the 1970s, the space program
simply wasn’t inspiring. “The Apollo mis-
sions were over,” Moore says. “There was
this broken-dream quality to it, and that’s
not a heroic adventure. It’s a sad story of
declining ambition.” Instead, he said to Van
Amburg: What if NASA had kept going? Van
Amburg countered with his own question:
Why would NASA have kept going? Moore
didn’t know, but he thought his friend
Garrett Reisman might.

The two had met back in 2008, when
Reisman was living 220 miles above Earth.
As an astronaut on the International Space
Station, Reisman could request a call from
anyone—and he chose the creators of his
favorite show, Battlestar Galactica. That vid-
eoconference across orbital altitude began
an exchange program of sorts. Moore invited
Reisman to the BSG set for the series finale;
Reisman invited Moore to Cape Canaveral
for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis
(upon which Reisman rode). By the time
Moore called Reisman about the new Apple
idea, the astronaut was the director of space
operations at SpaceX. Moore paid him a visit
at the company’s Southern California head-
quarters that August and, over lunch, laid
out his quandary. “You could do the his-
torical version,” Moore said, “but I’m really
intrigued by this other version. Why couldn’t
we have kept going in the ’70s?”

Reisman responded by telling Moore the
tale of a failed Soviet lunar mission. “Most
people don’t know how close they came,”

093

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he said. The Russians had denied it for years, E VEN THOUGH For All Mankind seemed, the company was going to give the
but if the development of their rocket had feels like the most Apple of Apple public a taste of what was to come.
gone just a little bit differently, he explained, shows, it was actually the third
they might have gotten to the moon before show that Van Amburg and Erlicht green-lit, Not so. Instead, Apple opted to talk.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. after a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Celebrity after celebrity—Spielberg, Kumail
Stories and The Morning Show, a drama Nanjiani, Abrams, Oprah, Big Bird—walked
Moore had his why. For two months, starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer out from the wings to the stage, where, to a
he and his writing team plotted the arc of Aniston. Many more followed in rapid suc- one, they described their Apple TV+ project,
For All Mankind. The 10-episode first sea- cession: a fantasy epic starring Jason Momoa how thrilled they were to be working with
son, spanning from 1969 to 1974, would and Alfre Woodard called See; an adapta- the company, and how excited they were
unspool what might have happened had tion of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation; Servant, for people to get to see it. That was it. Not
the Soviets beaten Apollo 11 to the moon. a psychological thriller from M. Night a single frame of footage, save a quick-cut
Congressional hearings, for one, which Shyamalan. J. J. Abrams and Oprah signed montage that revealed precisely nothing.
young senator Ted Kennedy attends in the on to executive-produce projects. There No details about how the service was going
summer of 1969—meaning he doesn’t go to were documentary series too, like one about to work. Stranger still, no one mentioned
Chappaquiddick, meaning he runs against spectacular houses and their designers. With For All Mankind, and Moore was nowhere to
Nixon in 1972. For another, the government each new acquisition or order throughout be seen onstage. It wasn’t until June, when
goes all-in on establishing a foothold on 2018, Apple’s stockpile looked more robust. Apple released a trailer for his show, that
the moon, meaning that the US pulls out of Maybe not as vast as Netflix’s, but enough anyone who didn’t obsessively read trade
Vietnam in 1970. to compete. publications knew the series even existed.

But that wasn’t all that was in Moore’s But trouble wasn’t over. Maybe because The company originally appeared ready
head. Around Halloween, when he pitched of the same content conservatism that had to launch Apple TV+ late in 2018. The goal-
his story line to a small group of Apple exec- scuttled Vital Signs, executives report- post then moved to before the March 2019
utives in the company’s Culver City outpost, edly asked Shyamalan to remove cruci- event. Yet, through the summer of 2019,
Van Amburg was shocked by the way Moore fixes from his characters’ houses. Some uncertainty lingered. All the while, other
launched headlong into the show. “When high-profile staff departures also created new streaming services were promoting
you’re making television shows, the idea an air of uncertainty. Amazing Stories high-profile acquisitions and too-good-
of something is usually much greater than and The Morning Show lost their original to-be-true pricing. For $6.99, the new
the execution,” he says. “But Ron hadn’t showrunners due to what Variety termed Disney+ service would offer massive con-
just thought about what the first hour of TV “creative differences.” The actress Kristen tent libraries from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar,
was—he had thought about hour 40.” Wiig dropped out of a project because of a and its other IP empires—as well as develop
scheduling conflict. numerous original series and movies, many
On the wall, a series of timelines and char- of which were unveiled to a rapturous crowd
acter profiles helped illustrate how the show In March 2019, scrutiny accumulating, at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
might progress over the seven seasons that Apple sent out invitations for a “special event” NBCUniversal paid $500 million to regain
Moore and his writers had broken down. “The to be held at the Steve Jobs Theater, an iPod the streaming rights to The Office, famously
level of detail was overwhelming,” Erlicht Nano’s throw from the colossal circular build- the most-watched show on Netflix, for
says. “Every aspect of the butterfly effect that ing at the center of the company’s Cupertino its own forthcoming streaming service.
would happen from the slightest change in campus. “It’s show time,” the invitation said, WarnerMedia shelled out $425 million to
that event.” The executives walked out into below a flickering countdown film leader. It do the same with Friends.
the hallway, grinned at each other, and nego- was the perfect opportunity for a course cor-
tiated which one of them was going to give rection. After nearly three years of secrecy, it For two decades, Apple had single-
Moore the good news. handedly changed how people consumed
entertainment. The iPod made listening
APPLE HADN’T INVENTED MP3S to music a playground of infinite playlists;
OR SMARTPHONES. RATHER, IT HAD iTunes took lethal aim at Blockbuster long
FOUND A WAY TO DO THEM BETTER, before Netflix finished it off; the iPhone
ignited whole new categories of experi-
TO CHANGE THE LANDSCAPE ences. The company hadn’t invented MP3s
AROUND THOSE BUSINESSES. or smartphones. Rather, it had found a way
to do them better, to change the landscape
around those businesses. But in the time
it took Apple to draw up plans for original
content, the landscape had changed around
them. Even without Disney+ and other new-
comers, Apple was stepping onto a battle-
field full of experienced fighters: Netflix was
focusing on an ever-expanding global reach,
Amazon offered its programming as yet

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another perk for Prime members, Hulu had developed live-TV func- Facts that helped get this
tionality that made it an all-in-one replacement for cable. All of a sud-
den, the well-worn Apple Way—keeping quiet until aworld-changing issue out:
device or service was ready for consumers—looked like a road to ruin
for the company’s newest product. A supernatural ability for searching the FAA da-
tabase is key to breaking news on criminal inves-
A ND YET. YET! This is Apple. Even as business and entertain- tigations; the US uses about as much electricity
ment pundits wondered aloud why the company seemed for air-conditioning as Africa uses for all purpos-
to be floundering in its attempt to go Hollywood, Ron es; Marie’s Crisis Café is the best place in New
Moore kept his head down, working to make For All Mankind into York City; napkin-hoarding pays off eventually;
an unrestrained, uncompromising thought experiment. Not just the it’s possible to make a cookie so delicious that if
Mad Men stuff, either—the accuracy of the ceiling tiles, the exhaus- everyone on Earth tasted it, it would bring world
tively researched period clothing. He was consumed by how the peace; September is never too early to start
made world might have become better than the one we have today. listening to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio; she is
Battery research pushes solar energy into the mainstream. NASA an accomplished pianist and singer, has terrible
starts recruiting women astronauts earlier, putting them in space handwriting, has been to the Academy Awards,
and turning them into global icons. The US sets up a lunar base as and will keep you calm and procedural in a crisis;
early as the 1970s. An alternate history in progress, one rooted in a most books are not fact-checked; Wikipedia is
fundamental optimism. “It’s an aspirational show,” Moore says. “It not a source; be prepared to show your notes;
says, ‘Wouldn’t this have made us a better country and a better world her relationship with cheese is complicated; sea
if we had done all these things?’ Not just more Apollo missions, but otters spend about five hours a day on hair care;
the way we treated one another as human beings.” stone-fruit season is the best time of year; the
conversation is over when anyone says the word
On September 10, Tim Cook once again took the stage at the Steve lawyer; maybe one particular elite Los Angeles
Jobs Theater for Apple’s annual iPhone event. Gone was the pag- private school was better when it was two elite
eantry, and the secrecy, around TV+, and in its place came a giddy, private schools; Joanna Pearlstein has been a
you-asked-for-it forthrightness. And this time, gamesmanship: The champion of wired for the past 16 years!
platform would launch November 1 (11 days before Disney); it would
cost $4.99 a month (less than any other major streaming service). If wired is a registered trademark of Advance
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“We’re not doing demographic programming,” Van Amburg says.
“No one here is sitting around saying we need to find the next show POSTMASTER: Send all UAA to CFS (see DMM
for males 18 to 34, or the next show for females older than 32. We’re 707.4.12.5); NONPOSTAL AND MILITARY
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PETER RUBIN (@provenself) is wired’s senior correspondent. after receipt of order. Address all editorial, busi-
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095

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SIX-WORD SCI-FI: STORIES BY WIRED READERS

PREDICT A SCANDAL AT THE 2040 SUMMER OLYMPICS:

PHELPS CLONE SWEEPS
ENTIRE SWIMMING EVENT. —@seanmizerskiviaInstagram

HONORABLE MENTIONS: FIVE-YEAR-OLD WINS FORTNITE GOLD. BRENDON HOOPER VIA FACEBOOK // NANOBOTS Each month we publish a six-word story—and
FOUND IN GOLD MEDALIST’S URINE. @ABERNALESTEVEZ VIA INSTAGRAM // TEENAGE GOLD MEDALIST IS ACTUALLY it could be written by you. Submit your story
60. @CHLOEJAYNEASKEW VIA INSTAGRAM // GENETICALLY ENGINEERED OLYMPIANS PROTEST SEGREGATED GAMES. on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, along with
@ADMBRADFORD VIA INSTAGRAM // REIGNING SCOOTER CHAMPION ADMITS DNA MOD. @MATTHEW.GILSON VIA #WIREDBACKPAGE. We’ll pick one to illustrate
INSTAGRAM // FIRST ALL-HUMAN WINNER IN AGES! ANWAR MISMAR VIA FACEBOOK // BLACKWATER FIRST, PFIZER here. Your next assignment: In six words,
SECOND, AMERICA LAST. @JAY_HERNANDEZ VIA TWITTER sketch the plot of Star Wars: Episode XXI.

096 ILLUSTRATION / MAXIME MOUYSSET

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Craig DeMartino
Climber

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