TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 22

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

1. To meet the growing need for marketable skills in college, technology companies are launching metric-driven accelerated learning programs.

By Shawn Drost in TechCrunch

2. NASA just e-mailed a wrench to the International Space Station.

By Mike Chen in Medium

3. By analyzing Twitter content, researchers are gaining a better understanding of mental illness trends.

By Phil Sneiderman at Johns Hopkins University

4. Law schools are struggling to teach students how to deal with rape, and survivors of sexual assault could suffer.

By Jeannie Suk in the New Yorker

5. As USAID is employed around the world to address political crises, the agency’s true mission might lose focus.

By Nathaniel Myers at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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 technology

Here’s What Happens When You Boil an iPhone 6 in Coca-Cola

You just can't stop watching it

In a video that will make everyone coveting an iPhone 6 cry a little bit, Ukrainian YouTube celebrity TechRax drops a supposedly “brand new” one into a pan of boiling Coca-Cola.

While you will not hear the voice of Siri crying out for help in this clip, you will see a fair amount of phone’s material slowly melt away.

“The results made my house smell like smoke for 2 hours,” the tech blogger writes in the stunt’s description on YouTube, “I would NOT recommend trying this at home.”

The footage has racked up more than 1.8. million YouTube views so far since it was uploaded a couple of weeks ago. Turns out this mad scientist-type blogger has also baked an iPhone 6 inside a turkey for four hours and drilled a hole into one with a power tool.

Although, we could see parents using this video as a threat to sons and daughters who will not stop texting during family meals over the holidays.

TIME Healthcare

Should You Video Chat With Your Doctor?

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When to embrace the digital doc

In a world where you can manage your money, order a ride to the airport, and shop for pretty much everything via your phone, going to the doctor’s office is probably one of the only things you still do face-to-face. For the most part, that’s for a good reason. Your medical care requires much more specialized expertise than depositing a check, after all.

But if you’ve ever waited more than an hour at an urgent care clinic for a sore throat, you know that the whole business of going to a doctor can seem frustratingly antiquated. How many times have you wanted to see a doctor, but decided to postpone it for as long as possible on account of the hassle? The trek there, the rude receptionist, the waiting room—all for just three minutes of doctor time. Oy.

Well, it looks like change might finally be on the horizon: Thanks to the growing availability of telemedicine or telehealth services, you can now skip all of that noise and video conference with a doctor from home any time–even in your pajamas. Sounds amazing, if also a little too good to be true. We talked to experts to find out whether it’s worth a try.

HEALTH.COM: 7 Women’s Health Problems Doctors Miss

Is it safe?

Telemedicine has actually been around for some time. Right now there are about 200 telemedicine networks and more than half of U.S. hospitals are using it in some way to better connect doctors with patients with chronic illnesses like heart disease, according to the American Telemedicine Association. Certain health insurance companies are also hopping on-board to reimburse for online visits. But because of the wide availability of smartphones it’s only now that we’re starting to see new services for everyday health complaints.

Even the always conservative American Medical Association agrees that it can be helpful, though it’s not a total substitute for in-person care.”We need more research, but there are plenty of circumstances where a video call with a doctor could work,” says Robert M. Wah, MD, president of the American Medical Association and a reproductive endocrinologist in McLean, Va. That said, he adds: “Better information is what leads to better decisions, so on balance, face-to-face is best. Being in the office with your doctor offers a more complete picture of whatever is going on.”

HEALTH.COM: Scary Symptoms You Can Relax About

But according to some of the brains behind the phenomenonexecutives who see a business opportunity in making healthcare more accessible, and yes, the physicians moving their practices onlinewhen used appropriately, telemedicine is not only safe, it’s a much-needed option.

“The fact is my doctors are treating patients every day who have gaps in their care,” says Peter Antall, MD, a pediatrician in Thousand Oaks, Calif. and president and medical director of the Online Care Group, which provides doctors for patients to see online via Amwell. “We don’t aspire to be your primary care physician, but we recognize that many people don’t have a primary care doctor. Even if they do, it’s not convenient or even feasible for that primary care doctor to be available 24-7.”

On top of that, “using a whole afternoon to see a doctor in-person is in many cases, unnecessary,”says Ron Gutman, the CEO of HealthTap, an app and healthcare platform that like Amwell, allows you to log in, choose a doctor, and see him or her via video within minutes. According to Healthtap’s research, “between 35 and 40% of visits are for simple issues that can be solved with a conversation. But doctors ask you to come in because of the way payment works: the only way they will get reimbursed by your insurance is if you make the trip.” (With Healthtap, you pay $44 per visit via their concierge service, or for unlimited access to on-call doctors for $99 per month with Healthtap prime. They don’t take insurance, but some platforms, like Amwell, do.)

HEALTH.COM: Want to Skip The Doctor? Try This

And if you’re worried about who you’ll meet on the other end: “We’re working with real, board-certified doctors that we’ve vetted for you,” Gutman continues. “They are very protective of their medical licenses. If you’re dialing in for a scary situation they will say, get to the ER now. They will tell you when you need in-person care.”

When can I use it?

As Dr. Wah says, online visits aren’t going to replace seeing your doctor in real life. But it may be helpful to have the option in your back pocket when certain situations arise.

Let’s say you wake up one morning and your eye is red, puffy, and oozing. For something like that, Dr. Antall explains, you can be connected within minutes with a doctor who can confirm whether you have pink eye and send a prescription for eyedrops to your local pharmacy, if needed. Same goes for when you have say, a lingering cough or a sinus infection.

If you have a chronic condition like diabetes or asthma, you might want to look into it as an extra resource. “It’s useful when it’s a Friday night. Your sugars are out of whack and you can’t figure out why, and the regular doctor is unreachable until Monday,” Dr. Antall explains. “Or maybe you’re an asthmatic who’s out of your inhaler refills.” It’s also helpful for skin issues: A new study published in JAMA Dermatology found that people with eczema who were treated remotely by sending pictures to dermatologists fared just as well as those treated in-person.

HEALTH.COM: 5 Ways to Tell if You Need Antibiotics

You can also easily get a second opinion. Maybe you have fibroids and your doctor has recommended a certain type of surgery. Signing up for something like Healthtap, which has a database of more than 64,000 doctors in 137 specialties, can be an easy, convenient way to get advice from a handful of experts. You can spend an afternoon asking all the questions you want before making your final decision.

And finally, you know those times when you’re in some pain or have a weird symptom, but you’re not quite sure if you need to see a doctor or not? You can use one of these apps to ask a few questions, explains Buck Parker, MD, a general surgeon who sees patients via HealthTap eight hours a week. “A lot of what I’m doing is simply answering basic questions: ‘I smashed my finger in the door, does it look broken?’ for example. It’s almost like ‘pre-doctor’s visits’ where we can really save people a lot of hassle by counseling them on whether they need to see a doctor in-person or not.”

But how much can you really do over video?

You can’t do blood tests or urinalysis, that’s for sure. “But you can direct the patient to push on lymph nodes or a swollen ankle in the right spot (so the doctor can see how it reacts), and you can ask all the necessary questions,” Dr. Antall says.

To stretch the video capabilities, there are also solutions like HealthSpot, which creates kiosks that are sort of like the medical version of an ATM, says the company’s CEO Steve Cashman. Staffed with doctors from big health systems like the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente and located in places like community centers and strip malls, all you do is step inside and the doctor appears on screen. The kiosk is equipped with diagnostic devices like a digital stethoscope and thermometer as well as digital scopes for looking in ears, throat and getting close-ups on your skin.

Right now Healthspot only has about 20 stations across the country, but soon you might see them at a Rite-Aid near you.

HEALTH.COM: What to Do When You Disagree With Your Doctor

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME technology

People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves

LinkedIn
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product

There is the famous story about Steve Jobs when he invented the iPod and everyone in the news and the rest of the tech industry scratched their head a little. MP3 players had been around for quite a while, what was so different about the iPod?

Of course, people argued many things were different, but one of the key aspects was how Jobs marketed and presented it:

“1,000 songs in your pocket”

When everyone else was saying “1GB storage on your MP3 player”, telling people about the product, Apple went ahead and made you a better person, that has 1000 songs in your pocket.

Our friends over at User Onboarding wrote an incredible post and graphic, showcasing how this framework looks on a higher level.

In particular, the image itself proved to be popular—understandably. It’s a great way to describe clever marketing that focuses on benefits rather than features.

I’ve heard people talk about using benefits instead of features in marketing, but I’ve always struggled to understand the difference. For this post, I explored this in a bit more detail and dug up some examples of companies who do this well.

Features vs. benefits – how to grasp the difference

Here’s how our friends at User Onboarding explained features vs. benefits:

People don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves. When you’re trying to win customers, are you listing the attributes of the flower or describing how awesome it is to throw fireballs?

It also included this Tweet from Jason Fried on the topic:

When I read about this some more, I found some great blog posts that broke it down even further. One from the ideacrossing blog describes features as “what your product or service has or does” and benefits as “what the features mean and why they are important.” In fact, oftentimes products contain features, that are absolutely unused, which can be a big source of waste.

So, it seems like features are the “what” of your product or service, while benefits are the “why” behind it.

I also found a really neat, old marketing quote that’s often attributed to Theodore Levitt (he attributes it to Leo McGinneva in this paper), on why people buy quarter-inch drill bits:

They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.

So, the customer wants to make a quarter-inch hole for some reason. They buy a quarter-inch bit for their drill in order to achieve this. Marketing the drill bit based on its features (it fits into your drill) wouldn’t be as successful in this case as marketing it based on the benefits (you can create a quarter-inch hole).

So after all of this reading, I finally distilled the difference into a sentence that I think makes it easy to distinguish between features and benefits:

A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.

But hey, enough the theory, let’s dig up some amazing examples from some of the best companies out there:

Some great examples of companies making you a better version of yourself

To get a better idea of how this works in practice, I thought it would be useful to take a look at some well-known companies who use benefits in their marketing strategies. Here are a few that I found:

Evernote: Remember Everything

Evernote can’t remember everything for you. In fact, it can’t remember anything—it’s software. What it does is offer features to let you save and organize things. Remembering everything is what you can do with Evernote—the benefit!

Twitter: Start a conversation, explore your interests, and be in the know.

Twitter has used a few different benefits in their tag line on the homepage but they’re still focused on benefits. Each of these three things is something you can do with Twitter. Not a feature of the product. Of course, for saving time on Twitter with scheduling your Tweets and seeing analytics, I hope you’ll still find Buffer useful.

Nest Thermostat: Saving energy is a beautiful thing.

I love this one, because it’s so clever. In just six words, the Nest Thermostat tagline tells you what the biggest benefit is (you’ll save energy), and something about what makes the product unique (it’s well-designed; it’s “a beautiful thing”).

LinkedIn: Be great at what you do.

LinkedIn has gone even further by referencing the customer in their tagline. Saying “Be great at what you do” makes it clear that the idea is you’ll be great at what you do if you use LinkedIn. It’s very customer-focused, rather than pushing features of the product or company mottos front-and-center.

Github: Build software better, together.

Another super simple, but clear tagline. Github has a really obvious benefit to sell to customers, and features don’t even play a part in the tagline.

I’m sure there are lots more companies doing this well. Do you have a great example?

Oh and if you liked this post, you might also like 5 ways to get through writer’s block or content marketing fatigue and 6 Powerful Communication Tips From Some of the World’s Best Interviewers, which are right in the same direction of coming up with a better way to communicate with your customers.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

TIME ebola

How Your Tablet Can Help Find an Ebola Cure

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Photodisc—Getty Images

Anyone with a computer or Android smartphone can perform cutting edge research on the formidable virus

Mark McCaskill’s daughter is only 11 years old and so far knows only the most basic things about viruses and how they work. But she’s conducting pioneering biological experiments to find a treatment for Ebola. Or at least her Kindle is. When she’s not using it to listen to her favorite singers or watch the latest TV shows, her tablet is scanning thousands of chemical compounds, any one of which could turn out to neutralize, or even destroy Ebola and save thousands of lives.

That’s because her father, Mark, a transportation planning expert for Roanoke Valley in Virginia, signed up her Kindle, two of his own PCs and his mother’s computer to IBM’s World Community Grid (WCG), an innovative mass computing network that allows anyone to contribute in the fight against everything from brain cancer to polluted water and now, Ebola, by essentially offering to WCG their computer’s processing power when it’s not otherwise being used. Nearly 700,000 people have registered their Android phones or PCs on the WCG (the grid isn’t compatible with iOS yet, but IBM says it’s working on it).

“Some people volunteer in a traditional sense with Meals on Wheels. I think of this as my own personal form of volunteering, a new high tech way of volunteering,” says McCaskill.

There’s massive amounts of data out there that could prove revolutionary, but sifting through thousands—or millions—of compounds takes a whole lot of computing power. So every time McCaskill and his family members aren’t on their computers or tablet, their processing power is shunted to combing through the millions of compounds that exist in drug libraries that could be the answer to stopping Ebola in its tracks. Computational engineers call it “distributed computing,” but for the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to make like a world class biologist or immunologist or environmental scientist and indulge our inner science geek. In 1999, the team behind SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, began using a similar strategy to analyze reams of radio signals from telescopes for possible extraterrestrial communications.

WCG essentially turns each device into a circuit in a massive virtual supercomputer. Each supercomputing task, such as vetting millions of chemical compounds for any potential activity against Ebola, is broken down into more manageable chunks and shunted to individual devices. The data, which is downloaded to the WCG in real time, is then collected, digitally ‘cleaned’ and delivered to the researcher like a birthday gift, neatly packaged and containing valuable and eagerly awaited information.

The idea for the WCG was born at IBM Foundation, when Stanley Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, began getting numerous requests from desperate scientists for IBM to donate supercomputers for their work. Declines in federal science grants meant that few institutes could afford the cost of a supercomputer at the same time that many of the most critical scientific projects—such as querying enormous databases of chemical compounds for potential cancer treatments and compounds that can fight emerging diseases like Ebola—required massive computing power. “We came to the conclusion that it would be possible to try to solve this problem with a virtual super computer using grid technology if we could get enough people to sign up to combine their computing power,” Litow says.

People were more than willing to chip in. More than 3 million devices from 680,000 donors are registered on the WCG. One of the grid’s projects, Help Fight Childhood Cancer, conducted 9 million virtual chemistry experiments in five years and found seven promising agents that are being studied to fight a common childhood brain cancer. The Clean Energy Project evaluated 100,000 molecular shapes of organic molecules to identify formations most suitable for becoming organic solar cells that may emerge as alternative sources of energy. And FightAIDS@Home was launched in 2005 and enlisted individual computers to collectively scan chemical compounds to find new drugs against HIV; it’s 90% complete. The Ebola project, which debuted on the grid the first week of December, completed in one week what it would have taken a PC with a single processor about 35 years to accomplish.

“My biologists cannot look at a million compounds, for one, and even if they could, we couldn’t afford to buy them all. And even if we could, there just isn’t enough time to screen them all,” says Erica Ollmann Saphire from the Scripps Research Institute who is scanning chemical databases for possible Ebola therapies.

Saphire has two Ebola-related projects that she’s hoping the network of devices out there will solve. In 2013, she and her team discovered that the wily Ebola virus actually existed in three different structural forms during its life cycle, changing from a holiday wreath structure to a zig-zagging matrix to a butterfly-like shape, each uniquely designed to optimize its journey from budding new virus to finding cells to infect and finally invading those cells. “It’s like having thread that can be yoga pants in the morning, unraveled and reknitted into a shirt for work, then unraveled and reknitted into slippers for the evening when you go home,” says Saphire.

But understanding how these three complex structures form, and what signals them to materialize at specific times, is a “really complex computational problem,” she says. “The level of complexity of the three entirely different structures is each so big that you can’t even say it might take hundreds of years for a computer to accomplish; it would just be impossible to accomplish since there are just too many atoms and too many variables,“ says Saphire.

But with thousands of people chipping away at a small part of the problem, the large, complex, nearly impossible problem becomes potentially manageable. At least that’s what Saphire and the scientists at IBM are hoping.

And people like McCaskill are happy to do their part. Has the heavy lifting for science put a dent in his computing power? Not at all, he says. Cyber security hasn’t been a concern since IBM monitors the grid and ensures that any private information on PCs isn’t accessed or downloaded. And his daughter hasn’t complained about the grid draining her battery power, since the Kindle is set up to do most of its computing while the device recharges at night.

“You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley, or some megalopolis, you can be in an area like we are, and be doing creative stuff and cutting edge research,” McCaskill says.

TIME technology

Don’t Fear Artificial Intelligence

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Kurzweil is the author of five books on artificial ­intelligence, including the recent New York Times best seller "How to Create a Mind."

Two great thinkers see danger in AI. Here’s how to make it safe.

Stephen Hawking, the pre-eminent physicist, recently warned that artificial intelligence (AI), once it sur­passes human intelligence, could pose a threat to the existence of human civilization. Elon Musk, the pioneer of digital money, private spaceflight and electric cars, has voiced similar concerns.

If AI becomes an existential threat, it won’t be the first one. Humanity was introduced to existential risk when I was a child sitting under my desk during the civil-­defense drills of the 1950s. Since then we have encountered comparable specters, like the possibility of a bioterrorist creating a new virus for which humankind has no defense. Technology has always been a double-edged sword, since fire kept us warm but also burned down our villages.

The typical dystopian futurist movie has one or two individuals or groups fighting for control of “the AI.” Or we see the AI battling the humans for world domination. But this is not how AI is being integrated into the world today. AI is not in one or two hands; it’s in 1 billion or 2 billion hands. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has more intelligent access to knowledge than the President of the United States had 20 years ago. As AI continues to get smarter, its use will only grow. Virtually every­one’s mental capabilities will be enhanced by it within a decade.

We will still have conflicts among groups of people, each enhanced by AI. That is already the case. But we can take some comfort from a profound, exponential decrease in violence, as documented in Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. According to Pinker, although the statistics vary somewhat from location to location, the rate of death in war is down hundredsfold compared with six centuries ago. Since that time, murders have declined tensfold. People are surprised by this. The impression that violence is on the rise results from another trend: exponentially better information about what is wrong with the world—­another development aided by AI.

There are strategies we can deploy to keep emerging technologies like AI safe. Consider biotechnology, which is perhaps a couple of decades ahead of AI. A meeting called the Asilomar ­Conference on Recombinant DNA was organized in 1975 to ­assess its potential dangers and devise a strategy to keep the field safe. The resulting guidelines, which have been revised by the industry since then, have worked very well: there have been no significant problems, accidental or intentional, for the past 39 years. We are now seeing major ad­vances in medical treatments reaching clinical practice and thus far none of the anticipated problems.

Consideration of ethical guidelines for AI goes back to Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, which appeared in his short story “Runaround” in 1942, eight years before Alan Turing introduced the field of AI in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” The median view of AI practitioners today is that we are still several decades from achieving human-­level AI. I am more optimistic and put the date at 2029, but either way, we do have time to devise ethical standards.

There are efforts at universities and companies to develop AI safety strategies and guidelines, some of which are already in place. Similar to the Asilomar guidelines, one idea is to clearly define the mission of each AI program and to build in encrypted safeguards to prevent unauthorized uses.

Ultimately, the most important approach we can take to keep AI safe is to work on our human governance and social institutions. We are already a human-­machine civilization. The best way to avoid destructive conflict in the future is to continue the advance of our social ideals, which has already greatly reduced violence.

AI today is advancing the diagnosis of disease, finding cures, developing renewable clean energy, helping to clean up the environment, providing high-­quality education to people all over the world, helping the disabled (including providing Hawking’s voice) and contributing in a myriad of other ways. We have the opportunity in the decades ahead to make major strides in addressing the grand challenges of humanity. AI will be the pivotal technology in achieving this progress. We have a moral imperative to realize this promise while controlling the peril. It won’t be the first time we’ve succeeded in doing this.

Kurzweil is the author of five books on artificial ­intelligence, including the recent New York Times best seller How to Create a Mind.

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 Cuba

What Washington’s Policy Shift Means for Cuba’s Awful Internet Service

Cuba Internet
A Cuban uses an illegal Wi-Fi connection to surf the internet, on November 28, 2014, in Havana. Adalberto Roque—AFP/Getty Images

Part of the new deal involves efforts to literally bring Cuba up to speed

The United States’ trade embargo against Cuba began on Oct. 19, 1960. That’s almost exactly nine years to the day before the first link was established on what would eventually evolve into the Internet. Since then, the global web has exploded in complexity and content — but Cuba has largely been left behind, with access that’s slow, censored and available only to few.

A new change in U.S. policy announced this week, however, stands to change all that.

About a quarter of Cubans have Internet access, according to the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency that oversees global communications. One in four may seem decent, especially compared to other isolated nations like North Korea, where its netizens are its most elite. But it turns out that 25% figure doesn’t tell the whole picture.

Most connected Cubans only have access to a Balkanized, government-approved version of the Internet, more akin to a heavily restricted web portal than the open browser you and I use. Freedom House describes the typical Cuban connectivity experience as “a tightly controlled government-filtered intranet, which consists of a national email system, a Cuban encyclopedia, a pool of educational materials and open-access journals, Cuban websites, and foreign websites that are supportive of the Cuban government.”

Maps of undersea communications cables tell the story of Cuba’s Internet another way. Only one major submarine cable connects Cuba’s telecommunications networks to the outside world: ALBA-1, owned by a state-run Venezuelan telecom and connecting southeastern Cuba to Venezuela and Jamaica. That cable could be in pretty bad shape, says Fulton Armstrong, a research fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, but Armstrong added that he couldn’t verify that first hand.

Tellingly, cables that connect the southeastern U.S. to Central, South and Latin America completely bypass the island nation:

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TeleGeography

From an engineering perspective, it makes perfect sense to have routed those cables through Cuba. But geopolitics got in the way: the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba meant American companies couldn’t lay pipe into the island, leaving it off the grid as neighbors got online. Cuba has for decades been a member of Soviet/Russian satellite service Intersputnik, but the country didn’t get Internet access until the American telecom provider Sprint set up shop in 1996. Sprint provided a dedicated line connecting the Cuban state Internet provider to Sprint’s U.S. network at 64kbps — just a bit faster than dial-up when running full throttle.

Sprint was able to set up that line thanks to 1992’s Cuban Democracy Act, which authorized American companies “to provide efficient and adequate telecommunications services” between the U.S. and Cuba.” The idea was to ensure that Cubans wouldn’t be entirely cut off from notions of free speech and democracy. But Cuba’s web censorship, combined with its slow speed and high cost, means the Internet hasn’t had a massive impact on its society.

“Only foreign nationals and Castro can afford [Cuba’s Internet],” says Larry Press, a researcher and blogger who covers technology in Cuba. In lieu of the Internet, he says, Cubans buy and sell USB drives loaded with media like American movies and TV shows on the secondary market. New drives with fresh content pop up weekly, Press says. He isn’t sure where the drives come from, but one theory he relayed is that the Cuban government could be allowing them as a means to profit from them. Some Cubans also use illicit Wi-Fi networks to share information locally, but those networks aren’t connected to the wider Internet.

Nevertheless, Cuba’s Internet could be about to get a whole lot better. President Barack Obama unexpectedly announced a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations Wednesday, and part of that deal involves new efforts to literally bring Cuba up to speed. Under the policy change, American companies will be able to not only sell some hardware and software to Cuban customers, but they could be encouraged to make investments in infrastructure, too, whether that means building undersea cables or rolling out mobile broadband across the country. Cuba’s Internet, Press says, is a “greenfield,” meaning whatever networks are built won’t be encumbered by pre-existing infrastructure, because so little of it exists. That means Cuba could bypass older, slower technologies and leapfrog right to ultra-fast fiber, for example, provided the will and the funds are there.

“I hope they consider a wide range of infrastructure ownership and control models, looking toward Europe, China, Singapore, South Korea, Google (free DSL or paid fiber), et cetera,” says Press. American University’s Armstrong, meanwhile, says bringing faster Internet to Cuba will “take some time,” with the speed depending on “how fast [the telecoms] and the Cubans negotiate deals and get them off the ground.”

The White House said its new policy will help Cubans communicate more freely, which could accelerate societal change in the Communist country. But it remains to be seen just how much Cuban officials will be willing to open up. China, in particular, has proven that it’s possible to have a flourishing technology sector while still keeping a tight lid on what citizens search for, say and do online. Still, if Congress approves normalizing trade ties with Cuba, that could give Washington economic leverage to make sure Cuba keeps its Internet open. And there’s a chance, however small, that would mean changes offline, too.

“With greater opening and exposure of the Cubans to American culture, music, movies and way of life, I think there might be more demand for greater freedom, which might then encourage the government to loosen up its practices,” says Sanja Kelly, project director at Freedom on the Net, Freedom House’s Internet freedom project. However, she cautioned that Cuba’s fate remains in its leaders’ hands: “[Cuba’s] future will ultimately depend on the government’s willingness to change its repressive practices.”

Read next: How Venezuela’s collapse helped thaw Cuban-American relations

TIME cell phones

Researchers Find Flaws That Means Anyone Can Listen to Your Cell Phone Calls

Flaws found in global cell network means spies can hack your phone

Security flaws discovered by German researchers could allow hackers to listen in on private phone calls and intercept text messages en masse, the Washington Post reports.

The weaknesses in the global cellular network are to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, by Tobias Engel, founder of Sternraute, and Karsten Nohl, chief scientist for Security Research Labs.

The Post reports that these experts believe that SS7, the global network that allows cellular carriers worldwide to route calls and messages to each other, have “serious vulnerabilities that undermine the privacy of the world’s billions of cellular customers.” Researchers in Germany have discovered that hackers with an in-depth knowledge of SS7’s different features would be able to exploit certain functions to listen to private calls and intercept text messages.

One way that hackers could intercept calls would be to exploit cellular carriers forwarding function — which allows a user to have his calls directed to another number — by redirecting “calls to themselves, for listening or recording, and then onward to the intended recipient of a call. Once that system was in place, the hackers could eavesdrop on all incoming and outgoing calls indefinitely, from anywhere in the world.”

Despite mobile carriers working to secure data, the Post reports that the weaknesses in SS7 have left millions vulnerable:

These vulnerabilities continue to exist even as cellular carriers invest billions of dollars to upgrade to advanced 3G technology aimed, in part, at securing communications against unauthorized eavesdropping. But even as individual carriers harden their systems, they still must communicate with each other over SS7, leaving them open to any of thousands of companies worldwide with access to the network. That means that a single carrier in Congo or Kazakhstan, for example, could be used to hack into cellular networks in the United States, Europe or anywhere else.

It’s unclear how much, if any, data has been intercepted due to these vulnerabilities, but as Engel told the Post, “I doubt we are the first ones in the world who realize how open the SS7 network is.”

[Washington Post]

TIME technology

Most American Kids Are Now Growing Up In a Home Without a Landline

The domination of mobile technology continues

Bad news for Luddites and nostalgics: for the first time ever, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the majority of American children live in homes without landlines.

According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 52.1 percent of all children — more than 38 million children — were living in a home with only cell phones, which is a five percentage point increase from the second half of 2013, reports Market Watch. Around 103 million adults — or 43.1 percent — had only wireless phones in their homes.

The decline in landlines could also spell trouble for the CDC. The survey was conducted because the NHIS tracks how many households are using cell phones and how many are using landlines, in order to determine how the CDC carries out its telephone surveys. According to the co-author of the report, Stephen Blumberg, associate director for science in the division of health interview statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, mobile phones present a challenge when conducting surveys by telephone. Blumberg noted that mobile numbers cannot be electronically dialed, unlike landlines, which increases the “manpower” needed to conduct surveys. What’s more, cell phone numbers are not registered and it’s nearly impossible to determine which individual owns which number.

[Market Watch]

MONEY best of 2014

7 Ways Tech Made Your Life Better in 2014

A new reason to ditch your cellphone contract, safer credit cards, and five more bright ideas that can help you save money in the year ahead.

Every year, there are innovators who come up with fresh solutions to nagging problems. Companies roll out new products or services, or improve on old ones. Researchers propose better theories to explain the world. Or stuff that’s been flying under the radar finally captivates a wide audience. For MONEY’s annual Best New Ideas list, our writers searched the world of money for the most compelling products, strategies, and insights of 2014. To make the list, these ideas—which cover the world of investing, retirement, health care, college, and more—have to be more than novel. They have to help you save money, make money, or improve the way you spend it, like these seven tech innovations.

  • Best Side Effect of the Hacking Mess

    Chip and Pin credit card transformed into a lock
    Image Source—Alamy

    Safer Credit Cards…Finally

    Chip-and-PIN credit cards include a special chip that makes them harder for hackers to replicate. Though you’re legally protected from having to pay most charges when a card number is stolen, more-secure plastic can save you a lot of hassle. Card companies had been slow to roll out chip-and-PIN—until millions of credit card numbers were stolen from major retailers such as Target and Home Depot. “The frequency and size of the breaches absolutely are driving more rapid adoption of the technology,” says Paul Kleinschnitz of First Data, a payment technology firm. Here are two more things to know about the new cards:

    They don’t eliminate all your risk. Chip-and-PIN makes it harder to create fake plastic but doesn’t stop numbers from being used at online stores. So you should still check your statement regularly for weird charges. Chip-and-PIN is already common in Europe; the new cards work in automated machines there that don’t accept old-fashioned plastic.

  • Best Smartphone Savings

    No-Contract Plans

    Old way: Commit to a contract and pay $200 for a smartphone that really costs $650. Of course, you still pay for the phone as part of your monthly bill.

    New way: Wireless companies are making it easier to separate the cost of the phone and the price of service.

    You can shop for a new plan with your old phone. Low-cost players and now the big carriers offer no-contract plans, which may be $100 cheaper per month for a family. Check with carriers for phone compatibility; look up network quality in your area at rootmetrics.com.

    Or get a new phone. You can buy a phone outright or on installment, and combine that with a no-contract plan. Sometimes, but not always, the total price beats the comparable contract option, so run the numbers. If you do go contract, mark your calendar: After 24 months, switch to no-contract if you don’t care to upgrade.

  • Best Reason to Rent, Not Own, Your eBooks

    Amazon Kindle

    All-You-Can Read Subscriptions

    As with music, books are moving toward an all-you-can read subscription model.

    The Services: The service you pick will hinge on the device you prefer to read with. Scribd ($8.99 per month) lets you read an unlimited number of books, and it quintupled its library this year to 500,000, with 30,000 audiobooks. The service now includes many titles from the big publishers Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins. Works on: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire (but not e-ink readers), Nook tablets.

    Though Scribd is the better service overall, it doesn’t work on Kindle e-ink readers. If you’re devoted to that device, Amazon has its own options. With an Amazon Prime subscription, you can choose from thousands of titles to read for no extra charge (one per month). Kindle Unlimited ($9.99) is like Scribd, but customers and reviewers say it’s hard to find books from the “Big Five” publishers. Works on: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Kindle readers.

    The Gadget: Phone and tablet apps are fine for many readers, but e-ink devices provide a more booklike experience. The new Kindle Voyage has a screen that’s 39% brighter than its predecessor.

  • Best Reason to Rent, Not Buy, Your Music

    Streaming Services

    Why buy songs that you’re rarely going to listen to in a few months? What if you could listen to just about anything—except for a few famous holdouts, like Taylor Swift and the Beatles—for less than the price of one CD per month? (Remember those?) A smart new pricing plan could make 2015 the year you make the switch from buying music to legally streaming it.

    The Service: Spotify lets you listen to any song you want in its vast catalogue. A free version, with ads, works on desktops or allows you to play artists or albums on Shuffle on your phone. Paying up for Spotify Premium ($9.99 a month) gets you no ads and total control on any device. Spotify has rolled out a family plan that lets you add new users for $4.99 each; that way two people in your family can play their own tunes at the same time. Works On: iOs, Android, desktop

    The Gadgets to Listen On: Docking stations are easy to use, with no setup or wires required. The $130 iHome iDL48 works with most iPads and iPhones. A portable speaker lets you get your music off your little earbuds and carry it to any room. The reliable Jawbone Mini Jambox ($130) connects to smartphones, tablets, and most computers through Bluetooth. If your existing stereo has an auxiliary input, an easy fix (in you’re not a hi-fi purist) is to run a cable from the headphone or line-out jack on phone, tablet or PC. Cords are $5 to $10 at Monoprice or Amazon.

  • Best Retro Tech

    2015 Ford Focus
    2015 Ford Focus

    Dashboard Knobs are Back!

    For years cars have become more tech-laden, with systems to let you make phone calls, find local pizza joints, or answer email. Which is nice, unless you prefer to keep your focus on driving. Interiors became a maze of numeric keypads and other control points. Ford says its research shows drivers don’t use or want all that tech. Now it’s retro time. For the 2015 model year Ford Focus, the automaker has eliminated many buttons, and added old-fashioned knobs to systems such as heat and A/C. In the next Fusion, the company is even getting rid of touch screens. — Bill Saporito, Time assistant managing editor, car reviewer at Money.com

  • Best Online Security Fix

    Two-Factor Verification

    Worrying about bank and brokerage hacks is understandable. But money can be replaced—and you have legal protections. What you should worry about is a hacker mining your more vulnerable iCloud photos, Facebook page, or email account and impersonating you. Two-factor verification, a login protocol, makes it vastly harder for hackers to steal your digital life. Here’s what you need to do to set it up:

    Select “login approval” or “two-factor verification” under settings at sites you want to protect. The first time you visit that site on a new computer, you will have to enter a code that’s texted to your phone. (You only need to enter this code the first time you log in from a new computer.) In case you lose your phone, you can print out backup codes, which work once. Once you’ve done this, a hacker would need to guess your password and have physical access to your computer in order to steal your data.

  • Best Apps to Get Before You Travel

    Chi Birmingham

    Taxi Apps

    It’s not always easy to scare up a cab in an unfamiliar city. (Where are the best streets to try to hail one? Should I find a taxi stand? Call ahead?) But smartphones are making it much easier to get around. The Uber app can summon a for-hire private car in numerous cities in 45 countries (though the service has recently come under fire in a few cities). In some big towns, like New York, it will also hail a traditional taxi. Curb and Flywheel also grab regular cabs—check first if they work in the town you are visiting. Want help navigating subways and metros? Hopstop has stop-by-stop directions and travel times, as do the transit directions on the Google Maps app.

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