Pilotless surveillance aircraft are being trialled across Britain

Nicked by PC Drone, robot spy in the sky
Pilotless surveillance aircraft are being trialled across Britain, heralding a new era in the policing of our roads, writes Mark Harris

Speeding tickets from the sky might sound like science fiction, but the robot spy-plane technology that is used in the war on terror in Afghanistan may soon be coming to British roads.

Under a government-funded scheme, a new generation of pilotless drones could be patrolling motorways within the next five years. Although they will initially use cameras to record and monitor accidents and provide traffic-flow data, they have the potential to spot speeding offences and identify reckless or uninsured drivers.

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Bank of America Net Income Falls 77% on Writedowns

April 21 (Bloomberg) — Bank of America Corp., the second- largest U.S. bank, said profit dropped for a third straight quarter as the company set aside $6.01 billion for bad loans.

First-quarter net income declined 77 percent to $1.21 billion from $5.26 billion a year earlier, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank said today in a statement. The results fell short of analysts’ estimates and sent the bank’s stock down 2.5 percent in New York trading.

Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lewis scaled back a January forecast of 20 percent earnings growth this year after reporting the two worst quarters since he took over in 2001. Lewis said he now expects “sequential profit improvement” for the rest of 2008. The bank’s consumer unit, which contributed more than 60 percent of operating income in 2007, faces a nationwide jump in unpaid debt and the highest unemployment rate since 2005.

“The first quarter was much worse than our expectations three months ago,” Lewis said on a conference call. “It’s too early to strike up the band and say that happy days are here again.”

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Lasers used to make female flies act like males

Scientists have used a laser to control a female fly’s mind and make it sing “love songs” which are only ever sung by males. The ground-breaking research, which suggests the difference between the sexes may be much subtler than thought, was conducted using radical new technology which allows scientists to turn individual brain cells on and off by shining a light on them.

The research is predominantly the work of Gero Miesenböck, an Austrian scientist formerly of Yale University who has recently moved to Oxford. Nicknamed “Lord of the Flies” by contemporaries, Professor Miesenböck specialises in controlling fly movements by genetically modifying certain brain cells to make them sensitive to light.

This is the first time an animal’s sexual behaviour has been modified by such “mind control” techniques.

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Unleashing the Bugs of War

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, that secretive band of Pentagon geeks that searches obsessively for the next big thing in the technology of warfare, is 50 years old. To celebrate, DARPA invited Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Defense Secretary well aware of the Agency’s capabilities, to help blow out the candles. “This agency brought forth the Saturn 5 rocket, surveillance satellites, the Internet, stealth technology, guided munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles, night vision and the body armor that’s in use today,” Cheney told 1,700 DARPA workers and friends who gathered at a Washington hotel to mark the occasion. “Thank heaven for DARPA.”

Created in the panicky wake of the Soviets’ launching of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, DARPA’s mission, Cheney said, is “to make sure that America is never again caught off guard.” So, the Agency does the basic research that may be decades away from battlefield applications. It doesn’t develop new weapons, as much as it pioneers the technologies that will make tomorrow’s weapons better.

So what’s hot at DARPA right now? Bugs. The creepy, crawly flying kind. The Agency’s Microsystems Technology Office is hard at work on HI-MEMS (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical System), raising real insects filled with electronic circuitry, which could be guided using GPS technology to specific targets via electrical impulses sent to their muscles. These half-bug, half-chip creations — DARPA calls them “insect cyborgs” — would be ideal for surveillance missions, the agency says in a brief description on its website.

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State busybodies want to pry into your bedroom secrets

Government inspectors are to ask us intimate questions about our sex lives, it was revealed.

More than half a million people every year will be asked about their past and present sexual partners, contraception and how long couples have lived together before marriage.

The 2,000 questions are part of the Integrated Household Survey, and the responses will be logged with respondents’ names and addresses.

Civil servants insist that the sensitive personal information will be made anonymous once the files arrive at the Office of National Statistics, where they will then be held on a secure server.

But campaigners last night branded the survey “intrusive” and another example of Labour’s “surveillance state”.

The survey will cost £3.5 million to carry out each year and will see inspectors randomly visit up to 200,000 homes to question each occupant.

They will ask 35 questions on contraception alone, covering vasectomies, the pill and if respondents have ever used the “morning after” pill.

Other intimate questions include the exact dates when previous relationships ended, precise monthly earnings and details of any second jobs or bonuses.

Investigators will also ask about the health of any children in the household.

One insensitive question asks: “Have you ever had a baby – even one who lived for a short time?”

Interviewers are then told: “Exclude: Any stillborn; include: Any who lived for a short time.”

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Energy producers in driving seat at Rome talks

ROME: Consumer countries and international oil firms keen to gain greater access to the world’s energy resources are likely to walk away empty-handed from talks with producer nations in Rome.

Record high oil, which struck $117 a barrel on Friday, has helped to drive up the profits of oil majors, but it has also increased the spending power of national oil companies and made them ever more reluctant to grant access to their resources.

“The relative positions of international energy companies and national energy companies are changing — and not in our favour,” Paolo Scaroni, chief executive of Italian oil and gas company Eni said in a speech at the opening of the International Energy Forum (IEF).

OPEC member Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, has spearheaded a global trend towards resource-holders seeking to maximise their returns from their energy wealth.

International firms have found themselves faced with tougher terms and shut out of the best energy territory.

During the 1970s, the international oil companies controlled nearly three-quarters of global oil reserves and 80 percent of production, Scaroni said.

Now, they control 6 percent of oil and 20 percent of gas reserves, and 24 percent of oil and 35 percent of gas production, he said. National oil companies hold the rest.

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Rearming America

The military’s plan to regrow body parts.

The regeneration of lost body parts has just moved from science fiction to U.S. military policy.

Yesterday the Department of Defense announced the creation of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which will go by the happy acronym AFIRM. According to DOD’s news service, AFIRM will “harness stem cell research and technology … to reconstruct new skin, muscles and tendons, and even ears, noses and fingers.” The government is budgeting $250 million in public and private money for the project’s first five years. NIH and three universities will be on the team.

The people who brought you the Internet are about to bring you replacement fingers.

If you’ve been following Human Nature for the past three years, you know that tissue regeneration is well underway. The military has been working on regrowing lost body parts using extracellular matrices. Scientists in labs have grown blood vessels, livers, bladders, breast implants, and meat. This year they announced the production of beating, disembodied rat hearts. At yesterday’s press conference, Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker explained that our bodies systematically generate liver cells and bone marrow and that this ability can be redirected through “the right kind of stimulation.”

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British dealers supply arms to Iran

Customs probe reveals sanctions-busting sales of arms, missile technology and nuclear components


Soldiers of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards march during an annual military parade to mark Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty

Investigators have identified a number of British arms dealers trading with Tehran, triggering alarm among government officials who fear Iran’s nuclear programme may be receiving significant support from UK sources.

The probe by customs officers suggests that at least seven Britons have been defying sanctions by supplying the Iranian air force, its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, and even the country’s controversial nuclear ambitions.

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Earth’s Hum Sounds More Mysterious Than Ever

Earth gives off a relentless hum of countless notes completely imperceptible to the human ear, like a giant, exceptionally quiet symphony, but the origin of this sound remains a mystery.

Now unexpected powerful tunes have been discovered in this hum. These new findings could shed light on the source of this enigma.

The planet emanates a constant rumble far below the limits of human hearing, even when the ground isn’t shaking from an earthquake. (It does not cause the ringing in the ear linked with tinnitus.) This sound, first discovered a decade ago, is one that only scientific instruments – seismometers – can detect. Researchers call it Earth’s hum.

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