The Big Idea: Should the U.S. 'airdrop' millions of phones into Syria?
This photo, of a rally in Syria in April, was shot with a mobile phone.
May 29th, 2012
10:25 AM ET

The Big Idea: Should the U.S. 'airdrop' millions of phones into Syria?

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Can communication tools stop a war?

That's basically the idea one CNN commenter put forward on Monday. Responding to a story about citizen journalists in Syria, who risk their lives to upload videos and photos of gruesome massacres by the government, a commenter called goingmeta had this to say:

Rather than bombing by air or invading by land or even sending in international observers, we should airdrop about 20 million video cell phones. If there are excesses and abuses, nothing would turn the tide so quickly as giving each man, woman, and child in Syria the opportunity to record them and hold the authorities accountable for their actions. FULL POST

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Filed under: Crowdsourcing • Innovation • Internet • Smartphones • Social change
May 25th, 2012
02:54 PM ET

'Space archeologist' uses satellites to peer into the past

Editor's note: Sarah Parcak has been dubbed the "real-life Indiana Jones," but she prefers to be called a "space archaeologist." From her lab at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Parcak analyzes infrared satellite imagery to map lost cities thought gone forever.

By Sarah Parcak, Special to CNN

(CNN) - As children, everyone dreams of finding a long-lost city, or countless archaeological treasures much like the ones discovered by Howard Carter in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Some of us never outgrow that desire to seek out and explore ancient ruins. And, as it turns out, much of the ancient world remains unexplored and undiscovered.

I am a “space archaeologist,” a new subfield of archaeology where satellite imagery is used to map and locate ancient archaeological sites and features across the globe. Satellite imagery is helpful because it allows us to see beyond the visible light spectrum, and thus see features partially buried by modern vegetation or soil. From thousands of miles away in our university labs, we can map these features and then use the precise data in the field in time- and cost-efficient ways.

The most important thing is to survey or excavate the features to confirm they are actually there.

Ultimately, this is not about finding new sites, tombs or pyramids (although that is certainly a cool part of my job). What is important is using the new information to answer bigger questions about our past. For example, how did people in the past react to wide-scale changes in climate? We can examine settlement pattern changes over time in relationship to climactic data to examine ancient human-environment interactions. This is where we learn that people thousands of years ago dealt with similar issues as the people of today.

Nothing changes about human nature. The people of antiquity did not have iPads, electric cars or the Internet, but they did have issues with mother-in-laws, being hung over, and with corrupt politicians. This also makes it crucial to use the most advanced science possible to map our past before it is gone forever. Satellites are an essential part of mapping and understanding our past, and to help us to realize that the real treasure of antiquity is not gold, but the information that helps us to understand the past better, and hence, ourselves.

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Filed under: Archaeology • Innovation • Tech • The Next List • Video
May 23rd, 2012
11:36 AM ET

Digital avatars to guide travelers at New York airports

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - First Tupac. Now this.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey announced this week that digital projections of "virtual customer care representatives" will appear this summer in three New York-area airports, guiding flyers to their gates and providing other logistical info.

The 2-D projections can't respond to travelers who ask them questions, said Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the authority. But that kind of technology may be added if the 6-month pilot project goes well, he said in a phone interview. "We’ll see if it works, you know," he said. "If people keep walkin' by it, then we wouldn’t renew (the contract for the avatars)."

He added: "Maybe customers will feel more comfortable listening to an avatar than a live person." FULL POST

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Filed under: Future • Innovation • Tech
May 22nd, 2012
01:26 PM ET

This week on 'The Next List': a space archaeologist

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - She's been called a real life Indiana Jones but Sarah Parcak, a self-described "space archeologist," says Indy has nothing on her.

“I’d take him on in a search for archeological sites and I’d win,” the 33-year-old says.

Parcak uses infrared satellite imagery to uncover Egyptian ruins –pyramids, palaces, and tombs; ancient civilizations thought buried forever. Her work is mind-boggling and is literally transforming the field of archaeology. From her research lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Sarah analyzes satellite images from space to reveal ancient structures hidden beneath the surface of Earth. FULL POST

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Filed under: Archaeology • Innovation • The Next List • Video
May 21st, 2012
02:52 PM ET

Should face-detection be used in San Francisco bars?

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Check out this video from CNN affiliate KGO, which profiles an app called SceneTap.

The gist is that the app works with surveillance cameras in bars to report the number of men and women who are at a  watering hole at any given time - and their average ages. The upside: You could go to the bar that has the mix you're interested in. The downside, as an Electronic Frontier Foundation representative tells the station, is that this could cut down on privacy.

The app's creator says he doesn't store face-detection data - only the gender profiles of bar patrons.

Creepy or helpful? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Filed under: Culture • Innovation • Smartphones • Tech • Video
What's the next Facebook (or is there one)?
May 18th, 2012
07:22 AM ET

What's the next Facebook (or is there one)?

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Facebook is trying to be the "forever network."

When the company's hoodie-wearing CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced a new feature called Timeline in September, he proclaimed that Facebook would be the website - or social network or app or whatever - to catalogue life from birth to death. The site even created a place for users to upload their baby photos, to signify the start of their Facebook lives.

This, of course, has happened in Internet history before. There was a time when tech pundits thought MySpace, Friendster and AltaVista would be around (and relevant) forever, too. But what's strange about Facebook's audacious birth-to-death claim is that, to many people, it didn't seem all that strange.

Maybe Facebook can last forever. Maybe, 901 million users later, it truly is something different. FULL POST

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Filed under: Innovation • Internet • Tech
May 15th, 2012
01:20 PM ET

Manhattan's busiest beekeeper is a man with a mission

“It’s like crack.”

That’s how Andrew Cote describes his obsession with beekeeping, a career that keeps him buzzing from the heights of Manhattan’s most famous rooftops to the far reaches of the African bush.

As a founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association, Cote helped legalize beekeeping in the city, working with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop a best-practices guide for tending hives in the five boroughs. The NYCBA’s mission is to promote safe and responsible beekeeping - an important task at a time when bees are disappearing from parts of the planet.

“Particularly in an urban environment,” he explains, “people need to be very, very good stewards of their bees. They need to tend to them well, inspect them regularly, make sure that they have room to grow and that they’re not going to swarm.”

Of course, when New York City bees do swarm, Cote is the NYPD’s go-to bee guy. This spring alone, he’s been called to wrangle swarms in Staten Island, Harlem, Queens and on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.


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Filed under: The Next List • Video
May 11th, 2012
03:41 PM ET

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Bees

Editor's note: Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D. is the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Best Bees Company™ . Best Bees™ delivers, installs, and manages honey bee hives to residents of eastern Massachusetts. 100% of their profits go to fund their research to improve honey bee health through their Apivax™ line of products. Their motto is, “Together, we can save the world, one honey bee at a time.” 

By Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D., Special to CNN

To all of the readers who don’t think that honey bees are one of the most important concerns of our modern times, let me admit that I know where you’re coming from. I wasn’t the sort of kid who played in the dirt. I was terrified of insects (ew! bugs!), and never forgot my first run-in with a bee that stung me on my sacred pillow as a toddler. But if you eat food and if you enjoy flowers, then you need to pay attention to this.

Honey bees are of vital importance, and their declining populations are an incredibly critical issue. As pollinators, they are responsible for over 130 different fruit and vegetable crops that we eat. As an economic commodity, the cost of some of these crops has already increased because the numbers of honey bees has gone down. This basic supply and demand tilt has already impacted the over $15 billion dollar industry.
Historical context


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Filed under: Environment • Innovation • The Next List • Video
May 9th, 2012
01:30 PM ET

Jad Abumrad: radio that's close to filmmaking

When's the last time someone told you about something they heard on the radio?

In an age of constant connectivity, social media and instant-access video, radio seems to literally be old news – a relic of past generations.

But the innovative, wildly popular WNYC-produced show Radiolab is looking like the exception.

"Being on the Internet has only increased our reach and the number of people who consume public radio," says Ira Glass, who hosts NPR's "This American Life," arguably the most popular radio show currently produced.

The Internet has transformed radio into live streams and podcasts. The inherent nature of radio has transitioned from ephemeral to enduring.

Think about it. A podcast by its very nature is permanent. It has an address – a url. It can be searched and, more importantly, downloaded. Listeners can 'own it,' play it repeatedly and share it with friends.

Traditionally radio has also been a social binder – families gathered around the radio to listen to the lastest news, fisted-clinched sports fans  listening with eager ear to last inning of the ballgame. But today its digitalization is making radio a more personal experience.

"When you're on a podcast you're deep into someone's ear canal. Maybe they're on the subway, maybe they're jogging, or maybe they're just sitting there," says Jad Abumrad, co-creator and host of Radiolab.

"Somehow you own them in a way you don't on the radio," says Jad Abumrad about how his work can engage his audience more deeply. "So subconsciously that gives us permission to do all kinds of things."


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Filed under: Art • Film • Geek Out • Innovation • The Next List • Video
May 8th, 2012
04:11 PM ET

This week on 'The Next List': Andrew Coté, of Bees Without Borders

Urban beekeeping. It’s been described as a surprisingly addictive trend - one that's taking over rooftops from Manhattan to Shanghai. But few beekeepers have the global reach of Andrew Coté.

From the heights of New York’s most luxurious hotels to the far reaches of the African bush, Coté is spreading his fascination with bees
to people throughout the world.

He has his hands in many hives. He is a founder of both the New York City Beekeepers Association and Bees Without Borders, a charitable
organization teaching beekeeping as a means to alleviate poverty in third-world countries. He’s a beekeeping consultant to several private customers and businesses throughout New York and Connecticut, including the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, The Bridge Café and York Preparatory School.

Coté also maintains his own hives, bottling his honey to sell each week at the Union Square Farmers Market.


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Filed under: Environment • The Next List • Video
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