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Mark Ward | 14:41 UK time, Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Toy robot (BBC)On Tech Brief today: Sergey Brin the robot, cracking quantum codes and African cyberpunks.

• Cyberpunk and North America seem inextricably entwined. It was the stage for some of the defining stories of the genre even though many of its props came from other cultures. Now Jonathan Dotse makes a good case for Africa being its new home:

"[H]ere in Africa, development has been dangerously asymmetrical. By the time any product hits our soil it's already fully-developed and ready to be abused by the imagination. Technology designed for vastly different societies invariably trickles down to our streets, re-sprayed, re-labeled, and hacked to fit whatever market will take it."

Already he suggests, cyberspace is taking over when the physical infrastructure of Africa falls short.

"[T]he Net's architecture fails to reflect the reality on our continent as the expansion of cyberspace exceeds the reach of our road networks. How do you track someone who doesn't have a social security number or a physical address? Someone who never really made it onto the Grid?"

• If you want true security, go quantum, or so the thinking goes. Quantum cryptography is supposed to be secure because it is so good at revealing eavesdroppers. However, Feihu Xu, Bing Qi and Hoi-Kwong Lo at the University of Canada have found a way to compromise even this system. Kentucky FC considers what this means for us mortals.

"But while the known loopholes can be papered over, it's the unknown ones that represent threats in the future. The problem that Feihu and co have opened up is in showing how easy it is with a little malicious intent to bend the assumptions behind perfect quantum cryptography. That will have a few quantum cryptographers losing sleep in the months and years to come."


• Friends and foes are lining up to kick Facebook in its privacy policy, so its no surprise that MySpace has joined in. It has announced that it is to tweak its privacy settings so the default is for friends only. Those who have any item on their MySpace page set to friends only will be switched to the blanket policy soon. Jennifer Van Grove reads between the lines.

"[T]he company has nothing to show just yet - changes are slated for the weeks ahead - which makes the timing of the announcement all the more interesting. The subtext here is that MySpace hopes to position itself as the privacy-conscious alternative to Facebook. We don't think that message will be enough for the company to reclaim its social network throne, but it's a crafty manoeuvre at an opportune time nevertheless. "

For those wanting to stick with Facebook but are worried about what they are sharing, help is at hand. Matt Pizzimenti has put together a browser-based scanner that lets you know what you are sharing.

• Many fear Google is poised to usher in an era of AI overlords. As a harbinger of that time, Sergey Brin, co-founder of the search titan, has been seen stepping out in robotic form. He attended an XPrize science gala via a Willow Garage Texai robot.

"The e-creature has a two-way computer monitor for a head, which displayed a live shot of Brin's face, a long metal 'neck,' and wheels to propel it around a room in response to remote commands."

If you want to suggest links or stories for Tech Brief, you can send them to @bbctechbrief on Twitter, tag them bbctechbrief on Delicious or e-mail them to techbrief@bbc.co.uk.

Links in full
Jonathan Dotse | Afrocyberpunk | Cyberpunk Reborn
Kentucky FC | Arxiv Blog | Commercial Quantum Cryptography System Hacked
Jennifer Van Grove | Mashable | MySpace Positions Itself as Facebook Alternative
Ryan Tate | ValleyWag | Google Founder Transforms Himself Into a Robot

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