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The Future of Military Technology is Intense

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Railguns sound like they’re straight out of a Schwarzenegger action movie.

Well, they are – but the reality is that railguns, along with other high-tech weapons such as lasers or hypersonic weapons, are already here.

The U.S. military has actually been testing lasers and railguns for some time, and has now started to mount 30-kW infrared solid-state laser systems on aircraft and gunships. Lockheed has also signed a $147 million contract to build hypersonic weapons that will fire at Mach 20, intercepting targets in under an hour using pure kinetic force.

Visualizing the Future of Military Technology

Today’s infographic comes from Futurism, showing the technological advancements we can expect to materialize in the battlefield over the coming decades.

The Future of Military Technology is Intense

The future of military technology is here, and it seems to borrow ideas right out of well-known movies such as Star Trek or Eraser.

Here’s the scoop on the advanced weapons systems of tomorrow:

Lasers: The military refers to these as directed-energy weapons (DEWs), and they are exactly what they sound like – lasers that emit highly focused energy to damage or incapacitate a target. In development for 20 roughly years, the circumstances seem to be more promising than ever for DEWs. The need is there, as targets such as groups of small drones could become common in the future. Meanwhile, the technology has finally caught up to the concept – using fiber instead of chemicals means military lasers can be smaller and more powerful.

Railguns: Electromagnetic railguns can fire projectiles at a speed of 4,600 mph (Mach 6). These projectiles use no explosive warheads or payloads, relying solely on extreme kinetic force to damage a target. Current ships, such as the Zumwalt-class destroyers are being designed to accommodate these weapons, and they could also be potentially scaled down for use in tanks.

Hypersonic weapons: Launched from land, sea, or air, hypersonic weapons are intended to be used for first strike applications, hitting targets in under an hour. Using Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) technology, hypersonic weapons are boosted to very high altitudes, where they are then accelerated to speeds of 21,000 mph (Mach 20). It should be noted that China and Russia are both also testing similar weapons systems.

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China

The Game of Life: Visualizing China’s Social Credit System

This infographic explores how China’s proposed social credit system will monitor and surveil citizens, and how it’ll be used to reward or punish them.

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The Game of Life: Visualizing China’s Social Credit System

In an attempt to imbue trust, China has announced a plan to implement a national ranking system for its citizens and companies. Currently in pilot mode, the new system will be rolled out in 2020, and go through numerous iterations before becoming official.

While the system may be a useful tool for China to manage its growing 1.4 billion population, it has triggered global concerns around the ethics of big data, and whether the system is a breach of fundamental human rights.

Today’s infographic looks at how China’s proposed social credit system could work, and what the implications might be.

The Government is Always Watching

Currently, the pilot system varies from place to place, whereas the new system is envisioned as a unified system. Although the pilot program may be more of an experiment than a precursor, it gives a good indication of what to expect.

In the pilot system, each citizen is assigned 1,000 points and is consistently monitored and rated on how they behave. Points are earned through good deeds, and lost for bad behavior. Users increase points by donating blood or money, praising the government on social media, and helping the poor. Rewards for such behavior can range from getting a promotion at work fast-tracked, to receiving priority status for children’s school admissions.

In contrast, not visiting one’s aging parents regularly, spreading rumors on the internet, and cheating in online games are considered antisocial behaviors. Punishments include public shaming, exclusion from booking flights or train tickets, and restricted access to public services.

Big Data Goes Right to the Source

The perpetual surveillance that comes with the new system is expected to draw on huge amounts of data from a variety of traditional and digital sources.

Police officers have used AI-powered smart glasses and drones to effectively monitor citizens. Footage from these devices showing antisocial behavior can be broadcast to the public to shame the offenders, and deter others from behaving similarly.

For more serious offenders, some cities in China force people to repay debts by switching the person’s ringtone without their permission. The ringtone begins with the sound of a police siren, followed by a message such as:

“The person you are calling has been listed as a discredited person by the local court. Please urge this person to fulfill his or her legal obligations.”

Two of the largest companies in China, Tencent and Alibaba, were enlisted by the People’s Bank of China to play an important role in the credit system, raising the issue of third-party data security. WeChat—China’s largest social media platform, owned by Tencent—tracked behavior and ranked users accordingly, while displaying their location in real-time.

Following data concerns, these tech companies—and six others—were not awarded any licenses by the government. However, social media giants are still involved in orchestrating the public shaming of citizens who misbehave.

The Digital Dang’an

The social credit system may not be an entirely new initiative in China. The dang’an (English: record) is a paper file containing an individual’s school reports, information on physical characteristics, employment records, and photographs.

These dossiers, which were first used in the Maoist years, helped the government in maintaining control of its citizens. This gathering of citizen’s data for China’s social credit system may in fact be seen as a revival of the principle of dang’an in the digital era, with the system providing a powerful tool to monitor citizens whose data is more difficult to capture.

Is the System Working?

In 2018, people with a low score were prohibited from buying plane tickets almost 18 million times, while high-speed train ticket transactions were blocked 5.5 million times. A further 128 people were prohibited from leaving China, due to unpaid taxes.

The system could have major implications for foreign business practices—as preference could be given to companies already ranked in the system. Companies with higher scores will be rewarded with incentives which include lower tax rates and better credit conditions, with their behavior being judged in areas such as:

  • Paid taxes
  • Customs regulation
  • Environmental protection

Despite the complexities of gathering vast amounts of data, the system is certainly making an impact. While there are benefits to having a standardardized scoring system, and encouraging positive behavior—will it be worth the social cost of gamifying human life?

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Misc

How Many Music Streams Does it Take to Earn a Dollar?

Streaming has breathed new life into the music business, but as new data shows, these services pay out wildly different rates per stream.

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How Many Music Streams Does it Take to Earn a Dollar?

A decade ago, the music industry was headed for a protracted fade-out.

The disruptive effects of peer-to-peer file sharing had slashed music revenues in half, casting serious doubts over the future of the industry.

Ringtones provided a brief earnings bump, but it was the growing popularity of premium streaming services that proved to be the savior of record labels and artists. For the first time since the mid-90s, the music industry saw back-to-back years of growth, and revenues grew a brisk 12% in 2018 – nearly reaching $10 billion. In short, people showed they were still willing to pay for music.

Although most forecasts show streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music contributing an increasingly large share of revenue going forward, recent data from The Trichordist reveals that these services pay out wildly different rates per stream.

Note: Due to the lack of publicly available data, calculating payouts from streaming services is not an exact science. This data set is based on revenue from an indie label with a ~150 album catalogue generating over 115 million streams.

Full Stream Ahead

One would expect streaming services to have fairly similar payout rates every time a track is played, but this is not the case. In reality, the streaming rates of major players in the market – which have very similar catalogs – are all over the map. Below is a full breakdown of how many streams it takes to earn a dollar on various platforms:

Streaming serviceAvg. payout per stream# of streams to earn one dollar# of streams to earn minimum wage*
Napster$0.0195377,474
Tidal$0.012580117,760
Apple Music$0.00735136200,272
Google Play Music$0.00676147217,751
Deezer$0.0064156230,000
Spotify$0.00437229336,842
Amazon$0.00402249366,169
Pandora**$0.001337521,106,767
YouTube$0.000691,4492,133,333

*U.S. monthly minimum wage of $1,472 **Premium tier

Napster, once public enemy number one in the music business, has some of the most generous streaming rates in the industry. On the downside, the brand currently has a market share of less than 1%, so getting a high volume of plays on an album isn’t likely to happen for most artists.

On the flip side of the equation, YouTube has the highest number of plays per song, but the lowest payout per stream by far. It takes almost 1,500 plays to earn a single dollar on the Google-owned video platform.

Spotify, which is now the biggest player in the streaming market, is on the mid-to-low end of the compensation spectrum.

The Payment Pipeline

How do companies like Spotify calculate the amount paid out to license holders? Here’s a look at their payout process:

artist spotify streaming payouts

As this chart reveals, dollars earned from streaming still don’t tell the full story of how much artists receive at the end of the line. This amount is influenced by whether or not the performer has a record deal, and if other contributors have a stake in the recorded work.

The Pressure is Heating Up

When Spotify was a scrappy startup providing a much needed revenue stream to the music industry, labels were temporarily willing to accept lower streaming rates.

But now that Spotify is a public company, and tech giants like Apple and Amazon are in the picture, a growing chorus of industry players will likely dial up the pressure to increase compensation rates.

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