Technology is a funny thing: sometimes you see a story and you can’t help thinking wow, that’s really going to make the world a better place. Other times it takes just one glimpse of a headline and you’re doing real-life face palms like no Emoji could replicate.

So, with this in mind, we’re kicking off a new series of articles looking at the latest tech news. The theme is good vs evil: a mix of headlines from each month that show the best and worst of technology as it’s develops. So here goes.

‘Good’ tech news from August

It only seems right we start of with an optimistic tone and look at some of the positive stories to come out of the tech industries this month – and we’ve got some pretty good examples.

Earthquake-proof buildings

We’re off to a strong start with our ‘good’ tech stories for August and it all stems from some iconic Back to the Future technology. Arx Pax – one of the leading firms to making hoverboards a reality – wants to use a similar approach to make buildings earthquake-proof.

The firm intends to use the same magnetic levitation technology that powers its hoverboards to lift building off the ground when an earthquake is detected. The buildings are then disconnected from the ground, protecting the structure and anyone inside it for two full minutes.

You have to say that’s a pretty big step towards creating a better world with technology. Many journalists claim earthquakes are becoming stronger and more frequent – something backed up by various scientists, too. But who cares if all our homes and other stuff can levitate their way to safety?

Preventing suicides with blood samples

Sticking with the theme of saving lives (a pretty damn good use of technology), we’ve also got the National Institutes of Health (NIH) telling us it can prevent suicides. That’s a pretty big claim for the only form of death that’s not only premeditated but also self-inflicted. So how does the NIH plan to prevent them?

Well, the answer lies in blood samples. The organisation has patented a breakthrough technology that promises to ‘predict’ suicidal tendencies. It does this by measuring a compound known as biomarkers in the bloodstream, which can lead to suicidal urges when they reach a certain limit.

See how much your addictions are killing you

A very different, but equally tragic cause of death is addiction. The sad truth is we’re all addicted to more things than we’d like to admit – with alcohol and cigarettes probably topping the list for most. Well, the team over at Omni Calculator has developed a web app that shows how many years you’re trimming off your life with these indulgences.

addiction

It’s not just booze and cigarettes the calculator will tell you about, either. You can also see how many years cocaine, meth and heroine cost – just in case you’ve led a particularly colourful life.

Sadly, there’s no option to see how many years smartphones or Pokémon Go addiction take off your life expectancy – but we’re hoping for more in the next update.

Stop cars mowing down smartphones addicts

While our friends over at Omni Calculator tirelessly work on adding smartphone addiction to their app, other firms are already doing their part. It’s a serious issue, too, as mobile devices become a modern day health epidemic.

“A14-year-old boy was injured when he walked off a six-foot-high bridge into a ditch while talking on his phone. A 23-year-old man was hit by a car while walking down the middle of a road talking on his phone.” – The Washington Post

Luckily, various types of technology are in the works to protect us from the dangers of our favourite little screens. Like this Smart Tactile Paving from Büro North that warns mobile users of impending danger.

So now you don’t have to inconveniently look up for the little green man before crossing the road. And it’s about bloody time. The only problem is I’m not sure if this counts as a ‘good’ tech story or a sign of how ridiculous society has become.

Evil tech news from August

If relying on flashing curbs to save us from smartphone oblivion isn’t cheery enough for you, let’s move on to some of the darker tech stories from August.

Businesses are getting smashed by ransomware

Apparently, a whopping 40% of all businesses have been hit by the growing trend of ransomeware. There’s nothing cryptic about the name; this is malicious software that cripples corporate systems and demands a handsome fee to release them.

The UK is fairing even worse than the global average, according to the same report. A 54% majority of businesses in Britain have been hit in the last year alone, which only goes to show how common this is.

The software tends to encrypt data, freezing businesses out of their own systems. Companies are typically told to pay up in digital currencies like bitcoin, in exchange for the encryption keys. Demands can range from anything between $500 and $50,000 in the cases being reported.

Popular keyword app is leaking everyone’s details

With online security being such an issue these days (see above), it’s reassuring to know you can at least trust the tech giants to keep you safe. Right? Well, not if your one of the 300m or more people who use SwiftKey keyboard on Android or iOS.

It turns out one of the most popular mobile keyboards around has is leaking user data. Apparently, users have been discovering numbers and email addresses from people they don’t know in SwiftKey suggestions – a pretty unique feature to say the least.

This one may have even hit me directly. I’m a SwiftKey user and I’ve suddenly been bombarded with spam emails. This particular email account has been clean for five years – since I first opened it – and I’m a very cautious cat about giving away my details. I’ve been scratching my head, trying to figure out what could have happened and I’m now wondering if SwiftKey might be the cause.

Pokémon Go shows how close virtual reality is to enslaving us all

Pokémon Go feels like a real shift in the social/tech relationship – something very similar to when Facebook first took off. I have to admit the prospect of Facebook depressed the hell out of me when I first heard of it and I’ve got a similar feeling about Pokémon Go.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t got anything against Pokémon itself. It’s the wave of zombies walking around with their retinas glued to a phone screen that concerns me.

Players have already fallen off cliffs, been shot, lured into muggings and hit by cars while playing the game. And the sight of Pokémon Goers mindlessly bumping into each other as they swarm around the same location, heads buried in smartphones, is more terrifying than any zombie apocalypse movie I’ve seen.

I think my favourite comment on the whole saga is also the most simplistic, courtesy of Sgt. Rich Eaton of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department:

“I think people just need to realize this is a game. It’s not worth your life. No game is worth your life.”

I thought we lived in a world where such obvious statements were unnecessary – patronising even. It turns out I was wrong. Which has me doubting my scepticism that virtual reality (which Pokémon Go doesn’t even really qualify as) will ever take off. Now I see how little it might take for the technology to enslave us all.

So, there you have it – our pick of the good and bad from August’s technology headlines. I tried to keep things light-hearted for the first article, especially on the subject of ‘evil’ tech. I don’t want to start preaching about the demise of mankind or venture into conspiracy theories – just bring you guys tech headlines with a little twist.

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