TIME Software

Crazy Siri Hack Brings Voice Commands to Google Maps, Spotify


A new iPhone hack called Googolplex routes around Siri's restrictions, allowing custom voice commands.

Tired of waiting for Apple to open up Siri to more developers? So were a group of college students, who’ve come up with a clever workaround.

Their hack is called “Googolplex,” and it allows users to create custom voice commands for Siri. These commands can even hook into third-party apps, so you can ask Siri to get directions from Google Maps or play a song in Spotify.

Best of all, the setup is extremely simple, and can be done by anyone without jailbreaking:

  1. Head to betterthansiri.com and create an account.
  2. On your iPhone, go to Settings > Wi-Fi and tap the “i” button next to your wireless network’s name.
  3. Scroll to the bottom, and under “HTTP Proxy,” select “Auto” and enter http://totally.betterthansiri.com into the URL field.
  4. Initiate a Siri voice command starting with the word “Googolplex” (or “Google Plex”), and select “Continue” from the box that pops up.
  5. When prompted, enter your username and password from step one.

At this point, you should be able to use custom Siri voice commands beginning with the word “Googolplex.” For instance, you can say “Googolplex, give me directions to the nearest gas station,” and Siri will pull up those directions in Google Maps instead of Apple Maps. Other pre-loaded commands let you pick a song on Spotify, control a Nest thermostat and even unlock a Tesla car.

The trick is that when you say “Googolplex,” Siri interprets it as “Google Plex,” which in turn executes a Google search for the word “Plex” in the Safari browser. Googelplex then routes your request through its proxy server, where your custom commands are interpreted and sent back to the phone.

There’s been some concern about the security of this hack, since it’s basically routing your activity through Googolplex’s servers. But according to the developers, the routing only occurs when you explicitly ask Siri for “Googolplex.” In all other cases, your activity remains secure.

The bigger practical issue is that this hack only works on Wi-Fi networks, and only after you’ve set up the HTTP Proxy. You won’t be able to ask Siri to play a song in Spotify while you’re out on a run, or ask for Google Maps directions from your car.

Still, it’s an impressive hack, and it gives us a little taste of how much better Siri could be.

TIME Video Games

Sony’s PlayStation 4 Was the Top-Selling Console in March, but Titanfall Was the Top-Selling Game

Screenshot from publisher Electronic Arts and developer Respawn Entertainment's massively-multiplayer first-person Xbox One shooter Titanfall (also for Xbox 360 and Windows). Electronic Arts

Microsoft's Xbox One cedes the top console sales spot to Sony's PS4, but takes first in software sales for March 2014 with EA and Respawn's Titanfall.

Xbox One owners, exhale: Microsoft had a very good March. While the company continues to cede the top monthly console sales spot to Sony’s PlayStation 4, its Xbox- and Windows-exclusive massively multiplayer first-person shooter, Titanfall, was tops in software sales.

That’s good news, as is Microsoft’s disclosure of a new sales figure: 5 million, or the number of Xbox Ones sold worldwide since launch. Yes, it’s some 2 million shy of Sony’s 7 million-selling PlayStation 4, but remember that Sony had a one-week lead, the PS4 is $100 cheaper and the company’s currently selling the PS4 in a whopping 72 countries and regions, while Microsoft’s only selling the Xbox One in 13. Microsoft plans to expand the Xbox One’s availability to 39 countries this September, but lopsided hardly begins to describe direct sales comparisons.

Retail (and burgeoning digital) sales tracker NPD Group says hardware sales were up 78 percent over March 2013 — no surprise, since hardware sales have been up year-on-year since the PS3 and Xbox One launched last November. That’s translating to across-the-board gains in hardware, software and accessories, which combined were up 3 percent year-on-year.

NPD confirms that both the PS4 and Xbox One are setting records: add both systems together through their preliminary five months of availability and you’re talking twice the sales of the PS3 and Xbox 360 for the same period. What’s more, if you run the same figure for retail software sales, combined PS4 and Xbox One software is up some 60 percent.

This sort of momentum’s never forever, but to all the naysayers who said this next generation of game consoles was going to flop, at least for now, crow’s still very much on the menu.

Sony hasn’t put up a blog post or dropped a press release yet, but fired this off through the PlayStation twitter account:

Microsoft hasn’t manned the Twitter-cannon yet, but did offer more granular figures in an email, noting that it sold 311,000 Xbox Ones in the U.S. in March (60 percent higher sales than the Xbox 360 for the same period — forget the PS4, who can argue with that?), that it sold 111,000 Xbox 360s for March (holding the top seventh-gen console spot) and that it’s seeing attachment sales of nearly 3 games per Xbox One console sold.

TIME technology

Weibo Chief: We’ll Be Watching Facebook and Twitter

Weibo And Sabre Beginning Trading On NASDAQ
China's Weibo CEO Charles Chao (center) stands with Robert Greifeld, Nasdaq CEO, moments after Weibo began trading on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol WB on April 17, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

During its first day on the market in the U.S, the social network known as the "Twitter of China" saw its shares leap 19 percent Thursday. Weibo will now compete directly with social giants like Facebook and Twitter for the attention of U.S. investors

The social network commonly referred to as the “Twitter of China” saw huge gains during its first day on the market in the U.S amid a particularly rough month for both IPOs and tech stocks. Shares of Weibo, a subsidiary of the Chinese Internet company Sina, leapt 19 percent Thursday, from an IPO price of $17 to $20.24 when markets closed.

Weibo quickly earned back some of the market valuation it had lost by pricing at the very low-end of its IPO range of $17 to $19. The company raised about $285 million Wednesday night in its IPO, less than the $380 million originally anticipated. But caution seemed to pay off with an offering that saw an impressive first-day pop. “The IPO market is kind of soft in the last couple of weeks and the [tech] sector was also hit hard,” Charles Chao, chairman of Weibo, told TIME just before Weibo shares began trading on the Nasdaq. “It’s not perfect in terms of timing, but relatively speaking, we’re pretty happy about this pricing actually.”

Weibo, like Twitter, is a mostly public social network through which celebrities and ordinary Chinese people discuss news and personal happenings in their lives. The platform boasts 144 million monthly active users, 70 percent of whom use the company’s mobile app. Also like Twitter, Weibo has debuted on the public markets as an unprofitable business. The company lost $47.4 million in the first quarter of 2014, though it posted a small profit in the previous quarter.

Weibo will now compete directly with social giants like Facebook and Twitter for the attention of American investors. For now, they operate in different markets, with Facebook and Twitter banned in China and Weibo’s English-language site having only a small presence in foreign countries. But Facebook has expressed interest in China in the past, and Chao wouldn’t rule out a potential expansion of Weibo to appeal beyond Chinese users in the future. “These are great companies with a lot of innovations and powerful user bases,” he said of Twitter and Facebook. “We from time to time will look into their innovations to see whether some of these can be applied to the Chinese market.”

Excitement surrounding Weibo’s IPO had deflated in recent weeks partially due to censorship policies in China that could ultimately stem user growth. Chao dismissed such concerns, noting that Internet companies have to regulate themselves to some extent in every country, not just China. “We always want to be compliant with the laws and regulations in China,” he said. “I don’t see too much problem there.”

More broadly, Weibo was just a victim of bad timing, arriving on the market during an overall downturn in tech stocks that has seen the tech-heavy Nasdaq slide 6.5 percent from its March peak. Earlier Chinese IPOs this year, like the IT training company Tarena, have underperformed.

Weibo, though, managed to fight past these headwinds and achieve a successful offering. The strong IPO may ratchet up the fervor for Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant that is prepping a huge offering in the U.S. later this year. It could also provide some stability to the tech sector, which has yet to have a hugely successful IPO since Twitter’s runaway success last November.


TIME Rumors

Report: iPhone to Get Built-in Song Identification Features

Bloomberg / Getty Images

A report said the next version of Apple's iPhone software will have built-in features to tell you what song is playing within earshot. Such a move would be a bit of catch-up for Apple, as similar song identifying features are baked into Android via the Google Now app

Bloomberg is reporting that the next version of Apple’s iPhone software — iOS 8 — will bring with it the ability to tell you which song is playing within earshot. The feature will reportedly leverage Shazam technology, which is already available as a standalone song-identifying app on several platforms, including Apple’s.

Such a move would be a bit of catch-up for Apple, as similar song identifying features are baked into Android via the Google Now app — you can simply ask Google Now “What’s this song?” — as well as Windows Phone via Microsoft’s new Cortana personal assistant, which features a song-identification button.

Bloomberg merely cites a duo of unnamed “people with knowledge of the product,” so take this news with a grain of salt. However, this seems like a logical extension of Siri’s abilities — the report claims you’ll be able to ask Siri “what song is playing,” which would be similar to how the aforementioned Google Now functionality works — and it help pad Apple’s bottom line by providing direct access to music tracks for purchase through the iTunes store.

Apple is holding its annual developer conference from June 2 to June 6 — we’ll find out more then.


TIME Smartphones

HTC One (M8) Review: Pushing Forward with Everything but Hardware

Jared Newman for TIME

HTC's latest flagship phone has lots of little hardware improvements, and some big promises of long-term software support.

The best things about the HTC One (M8) have nothing to do with the phone itself.

While the hardware is nice, it’s not a major leap over the original HTC One. It has a bigger screen and a faster processor, and its dual-lens camera is sometimes useful, but there isn’t single hardware advancement that will push the industry forward.

Instead, the new HTC One’s most important features are the promises the company has made to its users: HTC says it will keep the phone up to date with the latest version of Android for two years after launch, which is more than what even Google guarantees for its Nexus phones. And if you crack your screen in the first six months of ownership, HTC will repair it for free. Those perks, and others that I’ll explain later, make up for the lack of extra “wow” factor in the hardware.

Aesthetically, I still prefer the design of the original HTC One, a gorgeous phone with slabs of silvery metal sandwiching a layer of white trim. On the new One, a single piece of brushed aluminum wraps around the back and sides of the phone, so instead of seeing nothing but glass over the display, you get a metallic lip surrounding the entire phone. The 5-inch screen is also larger than last year’s 4.7-inch panel, and includes on-screen buttons for home, back and recent apps. Still, HTC has kept the black logo bar beneath the screen where those home and back buttons used to be, making the new One a lot taller than its predecessor.

Jared Newman for TIME

The new look is more industrial than elegant, but it has some practical points in its favor: The rounded edges are more comfortable to grip, and HTC has managed to squeeze in a microSD card slot this time. And while the longer “chin” under the screen is less attractive, it makes the phone easier to grasp for one-handed use. The larger chassis also leaves room for a bigger battery; I never had trouble getting through long days of heavy use.

Many of the 2014 HTC One’s other tech specs are similar to last year’s model. The processor, a 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, is a smidge faster, but RAM is unchanged at 2 GB. (The phone felt snappier to me, but this could have been due to software, or the fact that my original One is bogged down by more apps and media.) Built-in storage is still an extra-generous 32 GB on the U.S. version, and screen resolution is still 1080p. The superb “BoomSound” front-facing speakers are back, but while HTC says they’re louder than the speakers on last year’s One, they don’t sound quite as rich to me. (I wonder if the disappearance of Beats Audio has anything to do with it.)

HTC did bump the front-facing camera up to 5 megapixels, but the rear facing 4-megapixel camera is largely unchanged from last year’s One. HTC continues to argue that more pixels aren’t better, and that its “UltraPixel” technology helps let in more light, but over the last year, other high-end phones have managed to improve their own low-light performance without sacrificing detail. The new One still has fine camera, able to quickly snap lots of good-enough photos in dimly-lit rooms, but it no longer stands out for doing so.

To compensate for the lack of core camera improvements, HTC has slapped an additional lens onto the back of the phone. It won’t make basic photos any better, but it does allow for some impressive focus-based effects. For instance, you can blur the foreground or background of a photo with simulated depth-of-field, or tilt the phone to slightly alter your perspective on the subject.

Jared Newman for TIME

These features don’t always work flawlessly. With the depth-of-field effect, you might notice some blurring around the edges of your subject, or you might have trouble including your entire subject in the foreground. With the perspective shift effect, images can come out distorted at certain angles. But overall, the dual-lens system works well enough to transcend gimmick status, especially because you can apply the effects to photos you’ve already taken. You don’t have to activate these features beforehand, as you do with single-lens phones that claim to offer similar features.

In lieu of any other big hardware changes, HTC has increased its focus on software. The BlinkFeed news ticker is back on the home screen, with a slicker design and more sources of content. The Sense TV app still allows you to control your entertainment center through the One’s IR blaster, but now it includes social feeds and sports stats. HTC has also given a fresh coat of paint to its email and calendar apps.

As with any non-stock Android phone, some things work better than others. I like that HTC includes a scheduled “Do Not Disturb” feature, and that you can jump into your four favorite apps straight from the lock screen. I’m less enthused about “Motion Launch,” which lets you turn on the screen by swiping from any edge or double-tapping on the glass. It’s far too easy to invoke by accident, and would be better if you could disable individual gestures without turning the feature off entirely. But overall, the software seems cleaner, faster and less obtrusive than anything HTC has shipped before.

Jared Newman for TIME

And there’s a difference now: HTC has moved all its apps and services into the Google Play Store, where users can download updates directly. This basically allows HTC to deliver new features for apps such BlinkFeed without going through a lengthy carrier approval process, which can hold up core software updates for months. Google already uses a similar strategy for key Android apps such as Gmail and Maps, and it’s gone a long way toward curbing Android’s fragmentation problem. In theory, HTC’s use of Google Play should result in better built-in apps and services, and it’s the one other way that HTC is being more progressive in its approach to Android. (Motorola, under Google’s ownership, has taken the same approach for its software.)

To be clear, the HTC One (M8) is a fine piece of hardware. It has a sharp display, an attractive design and great speakers, and while the camera isn’t the best in its class, it still runs circles around the basic shooters on cheaper phones.

But if anything, the lack of huge hardware improvements only underscores the importance of software and services, and that’s where HTC has made its biggest leaps. Even as the hardware remains trapped in time, the promise with the new HTC One is that phone will keep getting better.

TIME Video Games

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Won’t Swing onto Xbox One at First — Will It Ever?


Activision says it's working with Microsoft to get the game released, but it's also pulled the Xbox One logo from the game's official website.

File this under nightmare public relations debacles happening right before a major multi-platform game associated with one of Marvel’s oldest and dearest properties is due out in tandem with one of the spring’s biggest films: For reasons unknown, Activision has officially and indefinitely postponed the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on Xbox One.

“We are working with Microsoft in an effort to release The Amazing Spider-Man 2 video game on Xbox One,” an Activision spokesperson told Eurogamer. “Currently, the game will be available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and the PC on 2nd May, 2014 as previously announced.”

This would be something of a first. It’s certainly the case, historically speaking, that platforms are skipped in multi-platform lineups, whether because the platform isn’t popular enough, or it’s simply not capable enough (Nintendo’s Wii U being the most recent and prime example). But delaying one of two premium versions of a multi-platform game based on a triple-A character and film franchise (the movie launched internationally yesterday, and hits the U.S. on May 2) we’ve all been expecting for months? On a system that’s by all accounts selling quite well? At the eleventh hour?

Something’s clearly amiss. It’s no secret that developers have been struggling to get the Xbox One to match Sony’s PlayStation 4 when it comes to render scales and frame rates. Did developer Beenox swim in over its head? Is the game underperforming? Or are there Xbox One-specific features too unfinished at this point to allow the game to launch with its peers? On the game’s official website, the Xbox One version has been removed, which is generally not what you do if you’re simply delaying something’s release date.

It’s hard to imagine Beenox not releasing a version of the game for Microsoft’s flagship gaming console, but who knows: launching movie tie-ins in the vicinity of the movies they’re based on is a big deal. Missing that date, and depending how critics and consumers react to the game itself, the prospects sound iffy. If the game does poorly (the film’s already getting mixed reviews), it’s hard to imagine Activision (it owns Beenox) pumping a ton of money into the Xbox One version to finish it up.

And like anything, even if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 missing Xbox One turns out to be a blip from a sales standpoint, it could do longer-term damage to perceptions about the Xbox One — rightly or wrongly — from a public relations one.

TIME Technologizer

Facebook Adds a Feature That Lets People See Your Location — But It’s Optional, Optional, Optional

Nearby Friends

The social networking site has announced a new feature for its iPhone and Android apps called "Friends Nearby." The feature will notify users when they have friends in their vicinity — but it only works if users turn it on

Facebook is announcing a new feature for its iPhone and Android apps called Nearby Friends. If you choose to turn it on, and have friends who do likewise, you’ll get notified when you’re in the same vicinity — so you could discover you’re both at the same movie theater, for instance, or both happen to be attending the same conference.

In broad strokes, at least, Nearby Friends is conceptually similar to Highlight and other ambient social-networking apps. The category was hot, very briefly, a couple of years ago — at the time, Facebook bought one such app, Glancee — but didn’t turn out to be the next big thing after all.

One reason the idea didn’t truly take off is that many folks aren’t instinctively thrilled by the notion of an app automatically sharing their location with other people. Facebook gets that: It mentions that Nearby Friends is optional in the headline on the blog post announcing the feature, then stresses that it’s turned off by default and only works if both you and other friends have chosen to enable it. You can also choose to restrict your visibility to a specific list of friends, such as family members or close friends.

At the other end of the location-sharing spectrum, it sounds like Nearby Friends never shares your whereabouts with anyone who’s not on your friends list; that’s a fundamental distinction between it and Highlight, which aims to enable serendipitous connections between people who don’t already know each other. That should remove some of the potential privacy-invading creepiness factor, since strangers being able to determine where you are isn’t on the table.

Facebook’s blog post says that you’ll be notified of nearby pals “occasionally” — I’m not sure if that means you sometimes won’t be alerted to their presence, or simply that you won’t be pelted with so many notifications that it becomes irritating. The post also doesn’t specify the how large a geographic radius the feature covers, which has a big impact on what the experience is like. (Here in San Francisco, I might have dozens of friends within a mile or so of me at any given time — but probably only a few, or none at all, within a hundred miles.)

In a rational world, Nearby Friends would be uncontroversial. If the idea appealed to you, you’d switch it on, and if it didn’t, you’d leave it turned off. I’ll be interesting to see how people react as the option shows up in Facebook’s iPhone and Android apps, which the company says will happen in the “coming weeks.”

TIME society

The Rapture of the Nerds

Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor at Terasem, photographed at the Terasem ashram in Melbourne Beach, Florida April 7, 2014
Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor at Terasem, photographed at the Terasem ashram in Melbourne Beach, Florida April 7, 2014 Bob Croslin for TIME

A new religion has set out to store memories for centuries and deliver its believers into a world where our souls can outlive our selves

In the backyard of a cottage here overlooking the water, two poles with metal slats shaped like ribcages jut out from the ground. They look indistinguishable from heat lamps or fancy light fixtures.

These are satellite dishes, but they aren’t for TV. They’re meant for dispatching “mindfiles,” the memories, thoughts and feelings of people who wish to create digital copies of themselves and fling them into space with the belief that they’ll eventually reach some benevolent alien species.

Welcome to the future. Hope you don’t mind E.T. leafing through your diary.

The beach house and the backyard and the memory satellites are managed by 31-year-old Gabriel Rothblatt, a pastor of Terasem, a new sort of religion seeking answers to very old kinds of questions, all with an abiding faith in the transformative power of technology.

“Technology does feel and smell and look and act like a God.”Beneath the cottage is a basement office where the mindfile operation is headquartered. Next door is an ashram, an airy glass building with walls that slide away to reveal a backyard home to a telescope for stargazing and a space to practice yoga. Tucked behind a shroud of greenery, most neighbors don’t even know this house of worship exists.

The name Terasem comes from the Greek word for “Earthseed,” which is also the name for the futuristic religion found in the Octavia Butler sci-fi novel Parable of the Sower that helped inspire Gabriel’s parents, Bina and Martine Rothblatt, to start their new faith. Martine founded the successful satellite radio company Sirius XM in 1990. (Martine was originally known as Martin. She had sex reassignment surgery 20 years ago.)

Organized around four core tenets—“life is purposeful, death is optional, God is technological and love is essential”–Terasem is a “transreligion,” meaning that you don’t have to give up being Christian or Jewish or Muslim to join. In fact, many believers embrace traditional positions held by mainstream religions—including the omnipotence of God and the existence of an afterlife—but say these are made possible by increasing advancements in science and technology.

“Einstein said science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind,” Martine Rothblatt tells TIME. “Bina and I were inspired to find a way for people to believe in God consistent with science and technology so people would have faith in the future.”

Sure, it’s easy to dismiss people who think they can somehow cheat death with a laptop. But Terasem is a potent symbol of a modern way of life where the digital world and the emotional one have become increasingly entwined. It is also a sign, if one from the fringe, of the always evolving relationship between technology and faith. Survey after survey has shown the number of Americans calling themselves “religious” has declined despite the fact that many still identify as “spiritual.” People are searching, and no longer do they look to technology to provide mere order for their lives. They also want meaning. Maybe, it’s time to hack our souls.

While there may seem nothing so new-fangled as thousands of people broadcasting their innermost thoughts to outer space, technology has always played a role in shaping religious practice and belief.

“Technology does feel and smell and look and act like a God, at least sometimes,” says John Modern, a Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College. “So it’s certainly logical that someone would see the power of technology and locate their faith in it.”

Some believers in Terasem are motivated by a longing similar to one shared by followers of more familiar faiths–a desire to be reunited with people who have passed. Linda Chamberlain, cofounder of the cryonics company Alcor Life Extension Foundation and an active Terasemian, anticipates that one day in the future she’ll be reanimated alongside her husband Fred, who passed away a few years ago, and they can explore space together. Giulio Prisco, an Italian physicist who practices Terasem, says he hopes he’ll finally be reunited with his mother.

Though from the outside Terasem might look a little kooky, some ideas at its center resonate with Silicon Valley’s mainstream where millions of dollars are being spent to research how technology can alter the end of life and beyond. People like Google’s Larry Page and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel are investing in projects focused on life extension and rejuvenation.

Bina and Martine Rothblatt
A portrait of Bina and Martine Rothblatt (left to right) photographed in April 2010. George Tolbert

Portraits on the wall of Terasem’s Florida headquarters show people who have attended the organization’s meetings in the past, some of whom are among the tech industry’s most radical thinkers. Marvin Minsky, who helped start MIT’s artificial intelligence lab, is there. So is Google engineer Ray Kurzweil, one of the world’s most prominent proponents of transhumanism, an intellectual movement that shaped Terasem and animates many avant garde ideas in Silicon Valley.

Born nearly a century ago with a spike in popularity in the 1990s, transhumanism advocates for the ethical use of technology to transcend biology and enhance humanity’s physical and intellectual abilities. Google Glass, artificial limbs—even birth control, as one transhumanist told me—are ways in which we can harness technology to upgrade our biology. And one day, if the mindfile system works the way it’s supposed to, we just might be able to leave our physical bodies behind and transmit our brains into computerized vessels.

Johnny Depp puts a face, or at least a voice, to that far-out vision with the release of Transcendence Friday. Depp plays a terminally ill artificial intelligence researcher who uploads his consciousness into a computer, a plot that will land many of the ideas behind Terasem in movie theaters around the world.

“Some folks have seen this coming for 40 or 50 years,” says director Wally Pfister, who won an Oscar as the cinematographer for Christopher Nolan’s mind-bender Inception. “The moment they saw the power of computing they said, ‘Okay, at a certain point this is going to get to the point where we can either transcend the human mind or merge the human mind or build it into something greater, and that’s fascinating.”

The ability to control the universe like some sort of galaxy genie probably isn’t going to happen no matter how many times you watch The Matrix, and even if it does, it’s not going to be any time soon. But though the majority of transhumanists identify as atheists or agnostics, some have flocked to new religions like Terasem, which satisfy a yen for a spiritual sustenance in people whose lives are increasingly devoted to technology.

Terasem counts its Florida cottage and a solar-powered cabin in Lincoln, Vermont as its primary homes. It’s in Vermont that the Rothblatts keep a robot named BINA48. The machine is modeled after Martine’s wife, Bina, and was built to see just how precisely a robot loaded with mindfiles can resemble a living, breathing human being.

Roboterdame Bina48
Bina48 talks to her designing engineer Bruce Duncan at a press date in Wetzlar, Germany, March 15, 2013. Frank Rumpenhorst—DPA/AP

Terasem’s followers are dedicated to studying and raising awareness about what they call “personal cyberconciousness”—the creation of mindfiles. They believe that by ritualistically recording your thoughts and feelings with great detail, you can ultimately assemble a digital copy of yourself, available for future use.

To start, you write down or record a video of you talking about a thought, memory or feeling, and upload it to a website. You can also choose to have each mindfile beamed out into the universe—hence the satellites. So far more than 32,000 people have created free mindfile accounts.

The mindfiles are stored on servers located in both Vermont and Florida, and by using Terasem’s services you accept their promise that they will protect those files for the long-term future, making it possible for some not-yet-invented software to organize those files into an approximation of your consciousness so they can be uploaded into an artificial body 50, 100, 500 years from now.

“A lot of people have problems digesting” the idea, Gabriel says. “Instead of saying ‘mindfiling,’ I say ‘digital scrapbooking.”

The basement of the Terasem Movement Inc. cottage is the heart of its CyBeRev project, housing servers where users’ files are stored and the desk of a full-time programmer who keeps the shop up and running.

The cottage is also where Lori Rhodes, who helps run Terasem Movement Inc., the group’s educational non-profit, and Nikki Knudsen, Terasem’s financial manager, have their offices. The irony that people who smoke cigarettes make up a significant part of the staff for a movement dedicated to life extension isn’t lost on them.

Both Knudsen and Rhodes came to Terasem by happenstance: Knudsen, 38, was introduced through Rhodes’ sister, and Rhodes, 51, who had previously worked as a paralegal, found Terasem in 2005 through an online job advertisement for a compliance manager.

“Most people say, ‘Oh, it looks like a cult,’” Rhodes says. “My older sister did. When she first looked at it, she told me, ‘Don’t work for that organization. It looks like a cult and you’ll be blacklisted in the legal community.”

“But any religion starts with just a few members,” Rhodes says. “And I guess organized religion is cultish.”

Until 2011, Gabriel was a manager at a local pizza restaurant. Now, he spends most of his time running for Congress in a longshot campaign to get on the Democratic ballot to challenge Rep. Bill Posey this fall.

One afternoon this winter, Gabriel set up a small table advertising his candidacy at a home and garden expo. The crowd was made up of mostly white, upper-middle class baby boomers searching for the perfect garden hose or a nice new backsplash for their freshly renovated kitchen.

“When we can joyfully all experience techno immortality, then God is complete.”In a district that went 59 percent for Posey, a Republican, in 2012, Gabriel’s status as a Democrat may be just as much a stumbling block as Terasem. “He’s probably for Obamacare,” said one man as he walked by Gabriel’s table.

“My opponent has already begun using Terasem against me,” Gabriel tells me one night over dinner about Corry Westbrook, a former legislative director for the National Wildlife Foundation. “She says I’m inexperienced and bizarre…that I’m part of a cult.” Later, after giving me a tour of the ashram, he says that Westbrook has taken to telling people he “worships computers.” (Westbrook did not return requests for comment.)

Though one of Terasem’s core tenets is “God is technological,” Gabriel insists that’s not to be taken literally—instead, it’s meant to convey the notion that the way that you envision God directly influences your life.

It’s not exactly difficult to see how someone could misinterpret a bold statement like “God is technological.” It just sounds kind of nuts. Plus, a religion governed by a zealous devotion to technology is bound to attract critics.

Rhodes puts it more bluntly: “Some people call it the rapture of the nerds.”

“For us God is in-the-making by our collective efforts to make technology ever more omnipresent, omnipotent and ethical,” Martine says. “When we can joyfully all experience techno immortality, then God is complete.” (Martine, who rarely speaks to the press, answered questions sent by e-mail.)

When you possess this amount of reverence—and, yes, faith—in the power of science, it starts to mirror religious belief, particularly when the possibilities you believe future technologies will have—like omnipotence and the ability to resurrect the dead—are similar to ones mainstream religions ascribe to God. This is how technology becomes religion, and how God becomes a computer.

Now, in 2014, technology can do almost everything for us—alleviate loneliness, send taxis and hairstylists and groceries to our doorstep, even make people resigned to a life of silence hear again—but it can’t bring the people we love back from the beyond.

At least, the Terasemians say, not yet.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the ownership of the Melbourne Beach home where the Terasem movement operates.

TIME technology

Report Slams Government’s Cybersecurity Fix

James Clapper
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on current and projected national security threats against the US. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Despite warnings from security experts that the nation's critical infrastructure is vulnerable to cyber attacks, the report's authors lambast the government's “rigid” response to a threat they say is overblown

A new study calls the threat of catastrophic cyber-security failures overblown and says the government’s plan for fixes will ultimately make the Internet less secure.

“This is a really complex and dynamic system,” said the study’s lead author Eli Dourado, a tech policy research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank. “What they’re trying to do is just beyond the capacity of humans to plan and control.”

The study lambasts the Commerce Department’s “Cybersecurity Framework,” which was released in February and recommends a series of voluntary measures to help “operators of critical infrastructure”—like power plants, phone networks, financial services—develop better defenses against cyber-attacks. The framework, implemented by President Barack Obama through an executive order, seeks to impose a bit of order on the historically anarchic and ad hoc processes by which the Internet has been secured in the decades since it came into being.

“The framework would replace this creative process with one rigid incentive toward compliance with recommended federal standards,” the study says. In short, the authors argue it would shift the emphasis to complying with a federal standard rather than “the spontaneous, creative sources of experimentation and feedback that drive Internet innovation.”

The plan for a federally sponsored, public-private partnership to establish a national cyber-security protocol grew out of the fear that human society, ever more digitized and interconnected, sits tenuously on the precipice of disaster should the machines ever stop working. The fear of collapse has been stoked by the likes of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—who has warned of a possible “cyber-Pearl Harbor”—and intelligence chief James Clapper, who asserted that cyber-threats “cannot be overstated.”

“There’s not really any good evidence for cyber doom scenarios, the digital pearl harbor that everyone talks about,” Dourado said. “There’s people who benefit, of course, from the perception that there could be cyber doom scenarios, such as government contractors and people who have hitched their wagons to this idea that we need huge programs in order to stop these things from happening.”

Dourado concedes there may be evidence to support “cyber doom” alarmism that is classified. “If it exists it should be declassified,” he said. “This isn’t the cold war. We can have an open conversation about this.”

Among the authors’ recommendations for improving web security in lieu of the Cybersecurity Framework—which they believe, not without reason, may someday become compulsory—is addressing this issue of over-classification.

MORE: Should President Obama be on the 2014 Time 100? Vote now.

The study notes that, according to one research group, 2013 was the worst year ever for data breaches, but not of the sort that might send a wall of water crashing through an incapacitated Hoover Dam. Rather, the U.S. has seen more of the smaller scale security failures like customer credit card data being stolen or the IRS losing track of employee records. The study recommends jump-starting the development of a market for cyber-threat insurance to mitigate the damage from those incidents in addition to more narrowly defining what constitutes “critical infrastructure”

“We’re not saying ‘Stop securing our resources,’” Dourado said. “We’re just saying we need to think about this as a system that can’t be controlled or planned by the government.”

TIME technology

Yahoo Reportedly Has a Bold New Proposal That Could Threaten Google

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

Yahoo, long an also-ran in the search engine business, is working on a bold new proposal that could quickly transform it into a legitimate Google competitor. CEO Marissa Mayer is prepping a pitch to Apple to make Yahoo the default search engine in the Safari browser on iPhones and iPads instead of Google, according to Re/Code.

Yahoo is looking to aggressively expand its advertising business, which showed some small signs of life in the company’s quarterly earnings report this week but is minuscule compared to Google’s. Landing a spot as a default utility on iOS would expose hundreds of millions of users to Yahoo’s search engine and in turn, the ads that are served up along with search results. Users can already toggle their settings to use Yahoo or Microsoft’s Bing as their default search engine in Safari, but it’s likely most people stick with Google.

Apple’s once close relationship with Google has chilled in recent years. The company stopped using Google Maps as its default maps app in 2012, and now the vast majority of iPhone owners use Apple’s own maps product. Apple’s current patent lawsuit against Samsung is really a proxy war against Google and its Android operating system. And the voice assistant technology Siri is powered by Bing, not Google. A diminished Google would benefit Apple as the two compete in more and more sectors.

However, Yahoo would have to offer a high-quality product for Apple to make such a significant change. Yahoo is working on developing contextual search that would be more dynamic than Google’s offering, Re/Code reports. But it will be a tall order to unseat the reigning king of search engines.

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