TIME Business

Big Idea 2015: The Coming Micropayment Disruption

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Walter Isaacson is the author of “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.” Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has also been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine.

A flourishing digital economy based on easy payments could help save journalism and encourage the invention of new forms of media

The innovation that will shape the coming year, I think, will be the consumer use of digital currencies, such as bitcoin and its derivatives. Companies such as ChangeTip, BitWall, BitPay, and Coinbase – as well as other digital wallets that make use of cyber currencies or loyalty-points/miles currencies – will empower creators and consumers of content and wrest some power from the Amazons, Alibabas, and Apples. This will upend our current kludgy financial system and ignite an explosion of disruptive innovation.

Our current way of handling small transactions is a brain-dead anachronism. Even Apple Pay and other NFC systems, alas, require that payments go through the current banking and credit card systems. This adds transaction costs, both financial and mental, that make small impulse payments less feasible, especially for digital content online.

Likewise, instantly transferring money to friends, even those who have PayPal or Popmoney accounts, is more difficult than it should be. That’s why I have become addicted to my Akimbo card, which makes instant money transfers from my phone to friends and workers simple, and why I have invested in it and other disruptive money-transfer mechanisms.

An easy micropayment system for digital content could help save journalism. At the moment, most news sites are either beholden to advertisers or force readers to buy a subscription. Digital coins would add another option: people could click and pay a few pennies for an article. Frictionless coin systems that allowed us to buy digital content on impulse would support journalists who want to cater to their readers rather than just to advertisers. It would encourage news sites to produce content that is truly valued by users rather than churn out clickbait that aggregates eyeballs for advertisers

In my new book, The Innovators, I report on how the creators of the web envisioned protocols that would allow digital payments, and I argue that this would benefit individual artists, writers, bloggers, game-makers, musicians, and entrepreneurs. Ever since the British parliament passed the Statute of Anne four hundred years ago, people who created cool songs, plays, writings, and art had a right to get paid when copies were made of them. A flourishing cultural economy ensued. Likewise, easy digital payments will enable a new economy for those who sell such creations online.

A flourishing digital economy based on easy payments might also encourage the invention of new forms of media: collaboratively created role-playing games, interactive online plays and novels, and new ways to combine art and music and narrative.

In addition, it would expand the realm of crowdsourcing. At the moment, people make additions to Wikipedia or improvements to Linux out of the joy of contributing. That’s cool. But imagine a world in which non-fiction books, in-depth reporting, and various other creations could be done collaboratively, with a digital micropayment system that divvied up the revenues based on the use of each person’s contributions. I would love to curate the crowdsourced writing of a book this way.

That’s why I believe that digital currencies and micropayments are likely to be the disruptive innovation of 2015. Then we can move on to the big disruption of 2016, which will be breaking the stranglehold that monopolistic cable companies have over the way content is bundled and distributed for our televisions, so that we pay for only what we want, from wherever we want, and watch it when we want.

This Influencer post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Walter Isaacson shares his thoughts as part of LinkedIn’s Influencer series, “Big Ideas 2015” in which the brightest minds in business blog on LinkedIn about their predictions on ideas and trends that will shape 2015. LinkedIn Editor Amy Chen provides an overview of the 70+ Influencers that tackled this subject as part of the package. Follow Walter Isaacson and insights from other top minds in business on LinkedIn.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Being American Means Never Having to Fret Over Your Legal Documents

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Paperwork was a matter of life and death when I was a refugee — now, it’s just an annoyance

Last year, when my driver’s license was set to expire, I went online to apply for a renewal but was thwarted by error messages. Exasperated at the time I had to spend entering my information and getting nowhere, I called the help hotline only to be informed, after a 20-minute holding time, that because I had gotten eyeglasses since my last license was issued, I was ineligible for online renewal and would have to go to my nearest Department of Motor Vehicles office.

Like all other motoring Americans, I know full well what a visit to the DMV entails. You pull a number to wait in lines to pull more numbers to wait in more lines, all the while avoiding eye contact with your fellow motorists. To kill time, you might scrutinize the portrait of the governor on the wall, looking benignly down at you. As a student, I suppose I have the luxury of time, and could have gone to the DMV almost any day of the week. But, somehow May rolled around, and there I was driving around with a license that was about to expire. It’s hard to motivate yourself to spend a whole morning or afternoon waiting in line.

What got me to take my number at the DMV wasn’t the fear of being stopped by the police, but rather the thought that I might be turned away from a bar for having an expired license. I know, I know; we all have our priorities. So I finally made my way to the DMV and took a number to get a new license.

All of which is to say, I have come a long, long way. Such a cavalier attitude toward my “documents” and officialdom is a recently acquired privilege.

For most of my life, identification documents, especially their expiration dates, were a serious, life-altering business that left no room for nonchalance. I was born in Bosnia and fled the country with my family during the civil war of the 1990s. I was only in second grade, but one of my clearest memories of that time was waiting in a long line in Zenica so that my mother, sister, and I could get the required documents to join our father who, like many Bosnians, had already fled to Hamburg, Germany. It’s a strange childhood memory to hold on to since waiting in a line and filling out paperwork is nothing remarkable. But even as a second grader, I knew that this line and paperwork was not just any line and any paperwork. There were lots of questions about whether or not we would be able to get the papers. The stakes were palpably high.

I didn’t know it then, but waiting in lines for important and potentially life-changing paperwork was going to define my life for a while. My family and I spent the next six years living in Hamburg, where several times a year Bosnian refugees would have to report to the local refugee authorities, who would tell us that we could either spend several more months in Germany or that we would have to go back to Bosnia. We would line up as early as 5 a.m. and spend all day going through various offices, standing in long lines, and filling out what seemed to be mountains and mountains of paperwork to find out if our life would go on as it had, or if things would abruptly reverse course.

In the last couple of years that we lived in Germany it became increasingly common for families to be deported and sent back to Bosnia, or other parts of the former Yugoslavia, on the spot, with less than a couple of hours to gather their belongings. It was like a horrid game of bureaucratic roulette: black, you stay; red, you go.

Two months prior to getting the letter that we would be resettled to the United States, my family and I almost lost the game. As usual, we were waiting to hear how long we would be able to stay in Germany when an official called us into his office and told us we had two hours to prepare to be sent back to Bosnia. My parents pleaded with him that we only needed a couple more months because we had applied to a refugee resettlement program and were waiting to find out the date of our departure. He was unconvinced, but after some more pleading, he gave us an hour to produce the required papers or be deported that day. My mother had to run across the city to get the document confirming that we needed to stay in Germany because we were awaiting resettlement. Meanwhile, my sister, father, and I stayed in the official’s office as collateral.

When we were resettled to Boston, it seemed to me that the same pattern of long lines and worry over paperwork was awaiting us here. Social security numbers, work permits and, eventually, green card applications—each document hard to obtain, but holding out its own promises about what the future might hold, a hopefully less tenuous future. Even when things proceeded smoothly, I always felt a great anxiety about the next paperwork hurdle and the possibility that the next visit to the downtown immigration office could turn south.

Each additional document we secured meant we were closer to being eligible to apply for citizenship, but it was all too reminiscent of life in Germany for me. I was always afraid that something would be wrong, and we would somehow end up being sent to yet another place where we’d have to start over again.

It was mostly this fear that drove me to apply for my American citizenship on the very first day that I was legally allowed to do so in 2005. I wanted to belong, permanently. I spent the months leading up to that first date of eligibility researching all the requirements and putting my application packet together. I went to the post office several days earlier and even paid extra for the confirmation of delivery option. While I was able to overcome my tendency to procrastinate, there was still my inner klutz. In my eagerness, I neglected to sign the check that I sent along with my application, and the package came back to me several weeks later. I was horrified, worried that this would negatively affect my chances of citizenship, and might condemn me to expulsion from the union. I signed the check and mailed the citizenship application package back at once, and didn’t sleep soundly for days. But finally, the green card came.

For me, becoming an American has brought, among many other things, the comfort of knowing that nothing irrecoverable will happen if I don’t submit a form on time, forget to sign a check, or allow a document to expire. I can, finally, walk around with the same casual attitude toward officialdom that has long distinguished Americans.

Sanja Jagesic is a fellow with the Strategic Data Project at the Center for Education Research Policy at Harvard University. She is a recipient of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

You Don’t Have To Understand Music To Feel Its Power

The Sonic Boom
The Sonic Boom

Joel Beckerman is an award-winning composer and producer for television and the founder of Man Made Music, a company specializing in sonic branding. Beckerman has worked with John Legend, will.i.am, Moby, OK Go, Morgan Freeman, and the composer John Williams. Tyler Gray is an editorial director for Edelman in the New York City office. He was recently editorial director for Fast Company and is the author of The Hit Charade.

Musical moments let you keep track of the drama even when you’re not looking at the screen.

You might know that the Super Bowl on NBC has its own theme. You might even be able to hum regular-season game-night music from Fox, NBC, or ESPN, but odds are you’re not paying strict attention to all of the supporting pieces of music in those broadcasts. You might realize you’re hearing versions of the Super Bowl on NBC theme pop up before commercials or as the show returns from a commercial break, but you probably aren’t aware of how instrumental those bits of music are in keeping you engaged and transforming the Super Bowl into a universally relatable drama. You don’t have to understand it to feel its power.

“Music is one of the highest forms of entertainment that I know,” Fred says. Neuroscience and brain imaging back this up. Sukhbinder Kumar, a staff scientist with Newcastle University’s Auditory Cognition Group whose interest is sound and emotion, has repeatedly found in studies that music is a powerful trigger in all kinds of experiences. “There’s nothing like it that evokes such strong emotions,” he says.

You might not even realize you’re hearing them, but key moments of music are setting expectations and telling you what’s at stake. They’re establishing mini-cliffangers and recapping and reinforcing important plot twists. That way, even viewers who never watch a single regular-season football game don’t feel lost and still want to come back after those four-million-dollar commercial breaks. On a functional level, musical moments let you keep track of the drama even when you’re not looking at the screen. The Super Bowl fanfare cuts through a room, finds you in the kitchen, and tells you: Drop the nachos; the action’s back.

On a deeper level, music highlights and elevates the moments that build on the Super Bowl legacy, so you feel them as they happen. The right music at the right time takes a play you just saw and makes you feel like you’ve witnessed history. And it makes you feel all of this precisely when you need a reason to stay in the story. It’s the same tool directors use to keep you on the edge of your seat during a film or to support key emotional moments that drive the most complex plots forward. “If you talk to any director, they’ll say music is fifty percent of the movie,” says the film composer Hans Zimmer.

His score played a vital role in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a movie, coincidentally, about implanting ideas in people’s minds. The 2010 film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won for cinematography, visual e)ects, sound mixing, and sound editing, despite having an intricate plot that involved alternate realities, time-shifted dimensions, and dreams within dreams within dreams.

“Music is how you can get away with a very abstract story liked that,” Zimmer says. “It was a subliminal way to take you on that journey. It was emotionally comprehensible even if you somehow missed the odd line or intellectually you have a problem rolling with it, which is okay. Music just turns everything into an emotional experience.”

On NBC, the Super Bowl becomes Star Wars. That’s mostly because of its theme, “Wide Receiver,” composed by John Williams, who scored Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, and just about every other award-winning film that generations of people remember. You need to hear only a note or two to recognize it. As Fred Gaudelli put it, “Right off the bat, you’re starting with a pretty heavy piece of music.”

That’s also where I come in. For the 2012 broadcast, NBC asked me and my company, Man Made Music, to give Williams’s beloved score a number of overtly modern twists.

In 2012, the ad prices were higher and the ratings expectations were larger. NBC execs were looking to retain the DNA and the popularity of the original score but modernize the style and extend the theme. They had their regular-season music but needed more to draw from for the Super Bowl, which told a dramatically bigger story with an epic scope. Williams had written a beautiful and timeless theme. My job was to make it of the moment. The Super Bowl itself is timeless, but with every new Roman numeral, it builds on the collection of moments. It is a real-time unveiling of players on their way to becoming MVPs or even the greatest of all time. And it’s not just their Hail Marys and game-changing marathon runs but all of the universal emotions that go along with those plays. Those moments had to instantly make sense to viewers who didn’t know a noseguard from a tight end.

Emotionally moving sounds have to fit in three-to-fifteen-second spaces during the broadcast. In those snippets, they have to spark feelings and memories you associate with years’ worth of Super Bowl experiences — not just what happened onscreen but the time of year, the lingering winter chill in the air, the friends gathered around a single TV, the celebrations before and a&er the game. Sound like a tall order? It’s not for music, even in those short-form bursts. Cognitive psychologist and Western Washington professor Ira Hyman has published research on this particular power of music, memory, and emotion, and he has written regularly on the topic for Psychology Today.

“Songs that are distinctively associated with a time period or a series of events . . . can act as wonderful memory cues to both bring to mind those memories and then to also bring to mind not only the emotion experience of the time but that sense of nostalgia,” Hyman says, citing studies that have found positive correlation between emotion and memory.

Not only is music an emotional engine, it’s a Magnum V-8 that gets mileage like an EV.

But for the Super Bowl on NBC, we couldn’t just come up with more music. My team and I had to tap into the right styles of music that would acknowledge a new generation of watchers. The new styles would build on a sonic vocabulary. And it couldn’t sound like pandering. We had to connect with new viewers and be relevant in that cultural moment, meaning we had to infuse a whole range of musical styles into John Williams’s original composition and extend it with rock guitars, hip-hop drums, electro beats, and, yes, dubstep.

But most important, we had to be true to the work and evoke a wide variety of emotions to cover all the anticipated story points of the game: tension, triumph, optimism, driving energy, and others. It was like scoring a movie before it’s been filmed. On top of everything, our music would have to cut through the roar of a crowd and sync with the narration of commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. And we had relatively few chances in a mere two-hour, thirteen-minute, forty-four-second broadcast (not including commercials) to drive forward an entire spectrum of emotions.

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Welcome Home

King from History

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NBC Properties NBC Nightly News

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NBC Superbowl Epic Matchup

NBC Superbowl Play Action

NBC Superbowl Red Zone

Superbowl XLVI – Epic Matchup – Theme

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Excerpt from The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy by Joel Beckerman with Tyler Gray, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Copyright © 2014 by Man Made Music, Inc. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Joel Beckerman is an award-winning composer and producer for television and the founder of Man Made Music, a company specializing in sonic branding. Beckerman has worked with John Legend, will.i.am, Moby, OK Go, Morgan Freeman, and the composer John Williams.

Tyler Gray is an editorial director for Edelman in the New York City office. He was recently editorial director for Fast Company and is the author of The Hit Charade.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Terrorism Isn’t Madness

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Conflating terrorism and madness is a very old mistake, with a special history in France

Each time a terrorist act occurs in the world, the specter of madness looms on the horizon.

On Oct. 22, 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally wounded a soldier on Parliament Hill in Ottawa before being shot by the police. A Muslim convert and a drug addict, he didn’t have any psychiatric record, but his mother confirmed he was mentally deranged. Two days later, Zane Thompson, a Muslim convert, described as a “recluse” with mental problems, attacked four policemen in New York City with a hatchet, a “terrorist act” according to the NYPD commissioner. On Dec. 15, 2014, Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed Iranian Sheikh, who was suspected of murdering his wife and had been charged with 40 sexual offenses dating back a decade, took hostages in a café in Sydney during 16 hours, before being shot dead by the police – two hostages died in the raid. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the gunman had “a long story of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability”.

This may sound like a modern epidemic, but, as I know from my experience studying French history, connecting terror and madness is a very old story.

In 19th-century France, psychiatrists and politicians were particularly quick to accept the analogy between revolutionary terror and madness, leading psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to say later that the French were a “people of psychical epidemics, of historical mass convulsion.” Psychiatrists coined new diseases such as “political monomania,” “revolutionary neurosis,” “paranoia reformatoria,” and even “morbus democraticus” (democratic disease). Theorists and writers concurred. Addressing readers potentially nostalgic of revolutionary spirit, the diplomat and historian Chateaubriand wrote that the Reign of Terror (1793 to 1794), a policy of political repression, “was not the invention of a few giants; it was quite simply a mental illness, a plague.”

But what does systematically combining political violence and madness mean? Not much, since it takes two complex terms and, by combining them, offers a simple explanation.

Scientists can fall into the same tempting trap. Théroigne de Méricourt, a feminist supposedly leading a group of armed Amazons during the Revolution, ended her life in a lunatic asylum, where she was diagnosed with dementia due to her political convictions. This clinical demonstration was full of factual errors and approximations, and based on plagiarism of a sort, as a sick condition was portrayed as the result of sick ideology. Of course, Théroigne may have been insane. But was her madness necessarily related to her beliefs or did the doctor’s opposing political (royalist) beliefs orient the diagnosis?

Beside politics, religion (and the acceptable “limits” of its practice) often interferes in diagnosis. On February 14, 1810, Jacob Dupont, a famous thinker who had advocated atheism, was institutionalized at Charenton, a lunatic asylum founded in the 17th century. Dupont’s medical file reads:

“Former Doctrinaire [i.e., former member of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine], former representative in the Legislative Assembly and the Convention; withdrew to a small village near Loches, where he lived for eight years with a sister who died six months ago. Metaphysical and revolutionary reveries, notorious advocacy of atheism in the Convention; publicly gave a course on that subject on Place Louis XVI seven years ago. Many writings full of the same madness. No violence, no delusions on other subjects.”

Here it is spelled out: atheism is madness. The assertion itself is not surprising in a society that shared Louis Sébastien Mercier’s opinion that atheism was “the sum total of all the monstrosities of the human mind” and “a destructive mania … that is very close to dementia.” This time, however, the judgment served as a diagnosis penned by a physician who, even though he was using the term “madness” in a colloquial sense, admitted that Dupont had “no delusions on other subjects.”

This point is crucial, because it proves, black on white, that religious beliefs constituted a sufficient basis for confinement. If the doctor, Antoine-Athanase Royer-Collard, had known that Dupont had been forced to resign his seat in the Convention 1794 due to his mental state, and was arrested the following year for raping a blind old woman, he would have felt even more justified in his diagnosis. Though Royer-Collard had only looked at Dupont’s openly declared atheism to make his decision, the background information would have underscored how it was only part of a larger pathology.

What do we learn from history? That a plausible conflation of terms, if not carefully scrutinized and documented, often turns to be a very harmful confusion.

If we go back to our contemporary examples, it appears that the three men (at least according to what newspapers tell us) share some common traits: Islam, violence and hypothetical madness. In other words: religion, political extremism, and medical condition. The three men are considered lone-wolf jihadists, who live “on the fringe of the fringe,” as the Sydney hostage-taker’s attorney characterized his client.

Isolated, frustrated, unable to join any terrorist organization, these so-called jihadists are first and foremost social misfits, galvanized by causes that get daily media attention. No anti-terrorist laws could ever apply to them, unless you could put the entire population of the world under continuous surveillance. Recent studies from Indiana State University and University College London have demonstrated that 32 to 40 percent of lone-wolf attackers suffered from mental problems, while, actually, “group-based terrorists are psychologically quite normal.”

What can we take away from this? We must be more careful about differentiating solo attackers from organized political forces – just as we must be more careful about using the word “madness.” In other words, let’s restore the full meaning of complicated concepts. And let’s remind ourselves that terrorism is a real threat of political thought, that religion is not fanaticism, and that madness is a very serious social issue that deserves more attention in countries that have failed to create effective mental health policies.

Laure Murat, a historian, is a professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA. Her last book is entitled: The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon. Towards a Political History of Madness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014). She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 19

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. America needs a new testament of hope: “Demanding that we trade confusion and bewilderment for a fight for change that only hope and radical optimism can sustain.”

By Darren Walker in Human Parts on Medium

2. Data Integrity Unit: A team of detectives and data analysts is boosting the accuracy of crime statistics in Los Angeles.

By Joel Rubin and Ben Post in the Los Angeles Times

3. This remarkable community gives autistic children a connection inside the world of Minecraft — and might save their lives.

By Charlie Warzel in BuzzFeed

4. Experts are debating whether artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity. It’s very possible that machines with far less intelligence will cause us harm.

By Mark Bishop in New Scientist

5. The Innovative State: Governments should make markets, not just fix them.

By Mariana Mazzucato in Foreign Affairs

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 18

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. By breaking with the Cuba lobby, President Obama could massively disrupt American interest group politics.

By Noah Feldman in the Salt Lake Tribune

2. Sony can take a stand against the hackers whose threats have forced them to pull “The Interview” by giving the movie away online.

By Bryan Bishop in the Verge

3. Could the West help save the ruble without throwing Putin a lifeline?

By Juliet Johnson in the Globe and Mail

4. By tracking rising global temperatures, satellites can predict cholera risk.

By Dr. Kiki Sanford in BoingBoing

5. After the Taliban’s shocking attack on a school in Pakistan, the military there understands “the Frankenstein that it helped to create must now be killed.”

By Peter Bergen at CNN

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

These Jeans Block Hackers From Stealing Your Stuff

BetaBrand RFID blocking pants
Jason Van Horn—Betabrand BetaBrand RFID blocking pants

Norton anti-virus technology is now available in stretch denim

A wearable tech firm has joined forces with Norton to develop a new pair of jeans that prevent “digital pickpockets” from scanning your credit cards and passports as you walk by.

The pockets in Betabrand’s “Ready Active Jeans” are lined with a specially designed fabric that blocks RFID (radio-frequency identification) signals, which are used in a growing number of credit cards and passports to enable secure wireless scanning. Betabrand, however, says identity thieves armed with handheld scanners have exploited the technology in upwards of 10 million heists a year.

“That’s why we partnered with with global information-protection authority Norton to create the world’s first RFID-blocking jeans,” Betabrand wrote in an announcement of the new jeans.

The jeans are currently selling for $151, and can be purchased with a matching, RFID-repellant blazer. Machine wash cold.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Independent and third party candidates could break D.C. gridlock — if they can get to Washington.

By Tom Squitieri in the Hill

2. A new software project has surgeons keeping score as a way to improve performance and save lives.

By James Somers in Medium

3. The New American Workforce: In Miami, local business are helping legal immigrants take the final steps to citizenship.

By Wendy Kallergis in Miami Herald

4. Policies exist to avoid the worst results of head injuries in sports. We must follow them to save athletes’ lives.

By Christine Baugh in the Chronicle of Higher Education

5. Sal Khan: Use portfolios instead of transcripts to reflect student achievement.

By Gregory Ferenstein at VentureBeat

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Micropayments and digital currencies will ignite an explosion of disruptive innovation.

By Walter Isaacson in LinkedIn

2. Latin America is taking the lead with progressive food policies — and putting public health above the interests of the food industry.

By Andy Bellatti in Civil Eats

3. To preserve biodiversity and lift up communities facing hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, indigenous plants might provide a solution.

By Amy Maxmen in Newsweek

4. Teacher preparation programs seek change with a pinpoint innovation approach. It’s time for a broad scale transformation of teaching.

By Kaylan Connally in EdCentral

5. Making clean plastics from biofuel waste could free up valuable farmland for food crops.

By Matt Safford in Smithsonian

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Skype Debuts Instant Translation Feature

A woman communicates with her family abroad by using the Internet telephone system Skype on August 26, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden.
Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images A woman communicates with her family abroad by using the Internet telephone system Skype on Aug. 26, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Que? Si.

Skype debuted a hotly anticipated translation program Monday that can translate a conversation between an English and Spanish speaker in real time.

“Skype is now removing another barrier to make it possible for people to communicate irrespective of what language they speak,” announced Skype’s corporate vice president Gurdeep Pall on the company’s official blog.

The program is immediately available to anyone who has a Windows-enabled device and has registered their interest in advance via the Skype Translator sign-in page.

In addition to translating voices and capturing them in text, the program can also instantly translate text messages in more than 40 languages. Skype released a demonstration video of students in the U.S. and Mexico donning headsets and striking up a conversation.

Still, the team noted that the feature is still in “preview mode” and operates by self-learning algorithms that will sort out its translation errors through continual use.

“Our long-term goal for speech translation is to translate as many languages as possible on as many platforms as possible,” Pall wrote.

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