What the Rise of Sentient Robots Will Mean for Human Beings

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC MACH)

What the Rise of Sentient Robots Will Mean for Human Beings

Science fiction may have us worried about sentient robots, but it’s the mindless ones we need to be cautious of. Conscious machines may actually be our allies.

Jun.19.2017 / 12:45 PM ET

TERMINATOR GENISYS, Series T-800 Robot, 2015. ph: Melinda Sue Gordon/(C)Paramount Pictures/courtesy :: (C)Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection / (C)Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
The series T-800 Robot in the “Terminator” movie franchise is an agent of Skynet, an artificial intelligence system that becomes self-aware. | Paramount/Courtesy Of Everett CollectionZombies and aliens may not be a realistic threat to our species. But there’s one stock movie villain we can’t be so sanguine about: sentient robots. If anything, their arrival is probably just a matter of time. But what will a world of conscious machines be like? Will there be a place in it for us?

Artificial intelligence research has been going through a recent revolution. AI systems can now outperform humans at playing chess and Go, recognizing faces, and driving safely. Even so, most researchers say truly conscious machines — ones that don’t just follow programs but have feelings and are self-aware — are decades away. First, the reasoning goes, researchers have to build a generalized intelligence, a single machine with the above talents and the capacity to learn more. Only then will AI reach the level of sophistication needed for consciousness.

But some think it won’t take nearly that long.

“People expect that self-awareness is going to be this end game of artificial intelligence when really there are no scientific pursuits where you start at the end,” says Justin Hart, a computer scientist at the University of Texas. He and other researchers are already building machines with rudimentary minds. One robot wriggles like a newborn baby to understand its body. Another robot babbles about what it sees and cries when you hit it. Another sets off to explore its world on its own.

No one claims that robots have a rich inner experience — that they have pride in floors they’ve vacuumed or delight in the taste of 120-volt current. But robots can now exhibit some similar qualities to the human mind, including empathy, adaptability, and gumption.

Related: Will Robots Take Over the World?

Beyond it just being cool to create robots, researchers design these cybernetic creatures because they’re trying to fix flaws in machine-learning systems. Though these systems may be powerful, they are simple. They work by relating input to output, like a test where you match items in column ‘A’ with items in column ‘B’. The AI systems basically memorize these associations. There’s no deeper logic behind the answers they give. And that’s a problem.

Humans can also be hard to read. We spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing ourselves and others, and arguably, that’s the main role of our conscious minds. If machines had minds, they might not be so inscrutable. We could simply ask them why they did what they did.

“If we could capture some of the structure of consciousness, it’s a good bet that we’d be producing some interesting capacity,” says Selmer Bringsjord, an AI researcher at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Although science fiction may have us worried about sentient robots, it’s really the mindless robots we need to be cautious of. Conscious machines may actually be our allies.

Image::Children interact with the programmable humanoid robot "Pepper," developed by French robotics company Aldebaran Robotics, at the Global Robot Expo in Madrid in 2016.|||[object Object]
Children interact with the programmable humanoid robot “Pepper,” developed by French robotics company Aldebaran Robotics, at the Global Robot Expo in Madrid in 2016. AFP-Getty Images

ROBOT, KNOW THYSELF

Self-driving cars have some of the most advanced AI systems today. They decide where to steer and when to brake by taking constant radar and laser readings and feeding them into algorithms. But much of driving is anticipating other drivers’ maneuvers and responding defensively — functions that are associated with consciousness.

“Self-driving cars will have to read the minds of what other self-driving cars want to do,” says Paul Verschure, a neuroscientist at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.

As a demonstration of how that might look, Hod Lipson, an engineering professor at Columbia University and co-author of a recent book on self-driving cars, and Kyung-Joong Kim at Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea built the robotic equivalent of a crazy driver. The small round robot (about the size of a hockey puck) moves on a loopy path according to its own logic. Then a second robot is set with the goal of intercepting the first robot no matter where the first one started, so it couldn’t record a fixed route; it had to divine the moving robot’s logic.

People expect that self-awareness is going to be this end game of AI when really there are no scientific pursuits where you start at the end.

 

Using a procedure that mimicked Darwinian evolution, Lipson and Kim crafted an interception strategy. “It had basically developed a duplicate of the brain of the actor — not perfect, but good enough that it could anticipate what it’s going to do,” Lipson says.

Lipson’s team also built a robot that can develop an understanding of its body. The four-legged spidery machine is about the size of a large tarantula. When switched on, its internal computer has no prior information about itself. “It doesn’t know how its motors are arranged, what its body plan is,” Lipson says

But it has the capacity to learn. It makes all the actions it is capable of to see what happens: how, for example, turning on a motor bends a leg joint. “Very much like a baby, it babbles,” Lipson says. “It moves its motors in a random way.”

After four days of flailing, it realizes it has four legs and figures out how to coordinate and move them so it can slither across the floor. When Lipson unplugs one of the motors, the robot realizes it now has only three legs and that its actions no longer produce the intended effects.

“I would argue this robot is self-aware in a very primitive way,” Lipson says.

Could Robots Create a ‘Jobless Future’ for Humans?

Another humanlike capability that researchers would like to build into AI is initiative. Machines excel at playing the game Go because humans directed the machines to solve it. They can’t define problems on their own, and defining problems is usually the hard part.

In a forthcoming paper for the journal “Trends in Cognitive Science,” Ryota Kanai, a neuroscientist and founder of a Tokyo-based startup Araya discusses how to give machines intrinsic motivation. In a demonstration, he and his colleagues simulated agents driving a car in a virtual landscape that includes a hill too steep for the car to climb unless it gets a running start. If told to climb the hill, the agents figure out how to do so. Until they receive this command, the car sits idle.

Then Kanai’s team endowed these virtual agents with curiosity. They surveyed the landscape, identified the hill as a problem, and figured out how to climb it even without instruction.

“We did not give a goal to the agent,” Kanai says. “The agent just explores the environment to learn what kind of situation it is in by making predictions about the consequence of its own action.”

Related: This Robot Can Compose Its Own Music

The trick is to give robots enough intrinsic motivation to make them better problem solvers, and not so much that they quit and walk out of the lab. Machines can prove as stubborn as humans. Joscha Bach, an AI researcher at Harvard, put virtual robots into a “Minecraft”-like world filled with tasty but poisonous mushrooms. He expected them to learn to avoid them. Instead, they stuffed their mouths.

“They discounted future experiences in the same way as people did, so they didn’t care,” Bach says. “These mushrooms were so nice to eat.” He had to instill an innate aversion into the bots. In a sense, they had to be taught values, not just goals.

PAYING ATTENTION

In addition to self-awareness and self-motivation, a key function of consciousness is the capacity to focus your attention. Selective attention has been an important area in AI research lately, not least by Google DeepMind, which developed the Go-playing computer.

Image::China's 19-year-old Go player Ke Jie prepares to make a move during the second match against Google's artificial intelligence program.|||[object Object]
China’s 19-year-old Go player Ke Jie prepares to make a move during the second match against Google’s artificial intelligence program. AFP – Getty Images / AFP Or Licensors

“Consciousness is an attention filter,” says Stanley Franklin, a computer science professor at the University of Memphis. In a paper published last year in the journal “Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures,” Franklin and his colleagues reviewed their progress in building an AI system called LIDA that decides what to concentrate on through a competitive process, as suggested by neuroscientist Bernard Baars in the 1980s. The processes watch for interesting stimuli — loud, bright, exotic — and then vie for dominance. The one that prevails determines where the mental spotlight falls and informs a wide range of brain function, including deliberation and movement. The cycle of perception, attention, and action repeats five to 10 times a second.

The first version of LIDA was a job-matching server for the U.S. Navy. It read emails and focused on pertinent information while juggling each job hunter’s interests, the availability of jobs, and the requirements of government bureaucracy.

Since then, Franklin’s team has used the system to model animals’ minds, especially behavioral quirks that result from focusing on one thing at a time. For example, LIDA is just as prone as humans are to a curious psychological phenomenon known as “attentional blink.” When something catches your attention, you become oblivious to anything else for about half a second. This cognitive blind spot depends on many factors and LIDA shows humanlike responses to these same factors.

Pentti Haikonen, a Finnish AI researcher, has built a robot named XCR-1 on similar principles. Whereas other researchers make modest claims — create some quality of consciousness — Haikonen argues that his creation is capable of genuine subjective experience and basic emotions.

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This giant mech, made by a mysterious South Korean robotics company, doesn’t exactly have a purpose yet but one can certainly imagine a few uses and most of them involve war, destruction, or both.

INNOVATION
Giant Robot Is Action Movies Come To Life

The system learns to make associations much like the neurons in our brains do. If Haikonen shows the robot a green ball and speaks the word “green,” the vision and auditory modules respond and become linked. If Haikonen says “green” again, the auditory module will respond and, through the link, so will the vision module. The robot will proceed as if it heard the word and saw the color, even if it’s staring into an empty void. Conversely, if the robot sees green, the auditory module will respond, even if the word wasn’t uttered. In short, the robot develops a kind of synesthesia.

Conversely, if the robot sees green, the auditory module will respond, even if the word wasn’t uttered. In short, the robot develops a kind of synesthesia.

“If we see a ball, we may say so to ourselves, and at that moment our perception is rather similar to the case when we actually hear that word,” Haikonen says. “The situation in the XCR-1 is the same.”

Things get interesting when the modules clash — if, for example, the vision module sees green while the auditory module hears “blue.” If the auditory module prevails, the system as a whole turns its attention to the word it hears while ignoring the color it sees. The robot has a simple stream of consciousness consisting of the perceptions that dominate it moment by moment: “green,” “ball,” “blue,” and so on. When Haikonen wires the auditory module to a speech engine, the robot will keep a running monolog about everything it sees and feels.

Haikonen also gives vibration a special significance as “pain,” which preempts other sensory inputs and consumes the robot’s attention. In one demonstration, Haikonen taps the robot and it blurts, “Me hurt.”

“Some people get emotionally disturbed by this, for some reason,” Haikonen says. (He and others are unsentimental about the creations. “I’m never like, ‘Poor robot,’” Verschure says.)

A NEW SPECIES

Building on these early efforts, researchers will develop more lifelike machines. We could see a continuum of conscious systems, just as there is in nature, from amoebas to dogs to chimps to humans and beyond. The gradual progress of this technology is good because it gives us time adjust to the idea that, one day, we won’t be the only advanced beings on the planet.

Image::A child reaches out to a robotic dog at the World Robot Conference in Beijing in 2016.|||[object Object]
A child reaches out to a robotic dog at the World Robot Conference in Beijing in 2016. AP / Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

For a long while, our artificial companions will be vulnerable — more pet than threat. How we treat them will hinge on whether we recognize them as conscious and as capable of suffering.

“The reason that we value non-human animals, to the extent that people do, is that we see, based on our own consciousness, the light of consciousness within them as well,” says Susan Schneider, a philosopher at the University of Connecticut who studies the implications of AI. In fact, she thinks we will deliberately hold back from building conscious machines to avoid the moral dilemmas it poses.

“If you’re building conscious systems and having them work for us, that would be akin to slavery,” Schneider says. By the same token, if we don’t give advanced robots the gift of sentience, it worsens the threat they may eventually pose to humanity because they will see no particular reason to identify with us and value us.

Related: Speedy Delivery Bots May Change Our Buying Habits

Judging by what we’ve seen so far, conscious machines will inherit our human vulnerabilities. If robots have to anticipate what other robots do, they will treat one another as creatures with agency. Like us, they may start attributing agency to inanimate objects: stuffed animals, carved statues, the wind.

Last year, social psychologists Kurt Gray of the University of North Carolina and the late Daniel Wegner suggested in their book “The Mind Club” that this instinct was the origin of religion. “I would like to see a movie where the robots develop a religion because we have engineered them to have an intentionality prior so that they can be social,” Verschure says. ”But their intentionality prior runs away.”

These machines will vastly exceed our problem-solving ability, but not everything is a solvable problem. The only response they could have to conscious experience is to revel in it, and with their expanded ranges of sensory perception, they will see things people wouldn’t believe.

“I don’t think a future robotic species is going to be heartless and cold, as we sometimes imagine robots to be,” Lipson says. “They’ll probably have music and poetry that we’ll never understand.”

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China Is The First Country To Offer Assistance To Nepal With Election Equipment

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

As Nepal steps up efforts to hold polls to local government bodies on May 14 in the face of opposition from the Madhesi Morcha, China has become the first country to offer assistance for the elections.India, which has been pushing for all stakeholders to join the electoral process, is still silent on offering any kind of assistance despite several requests from the Nepalese side.

Besides monetary support of nine million Yuan announced during Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s recent visit to China, a tranche of election-related materials arrived in Kathmandu from Beijing on Monday.

Chinese ambassador Yu Hong handed over election-related materials, including pens, stamp pads, rubber stamps, calculators, scales, punching machines and table watches, during a function in Kathmandu.

Nepal has also purchased 30,000 ballot boxes from China that are set to arrive in Kathmandu in a day or two, the Election Commission of Nepal said.

Read more

The Election Commission said it requires 67 types of election-related materials to conduct the polls. It identified India, China and the UNDP as major sources for these items.

“Nepal had requested for around 1,000 vehicles of various types from India but we are not sure whether we are getting them or not,” said a senior Nepal government official who did not want to be named.

According to officials, the election commission had requested India to provide vehicles and the special ink used to mark the fingers of voters after they cast their ballots. It had sought 11 cars, 35 double cabin pick-up vans, a mini bus, a micro bus, 30 motorcycles and seven scooters.

Officials of the election commission and the home ministry said there had been no confirmation from India on whether it would provide the assistance sought by Nepal.

During the second Constituent Assembly elections in 2013, India had provided 750 vehicles and other election-related materials.

Russian Arrested In Spain ‘Over Mass Hacking’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Russian arrested in Spain ‘over mass hacking’

Computer keyboardImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Much of Pyotr Levashov’s alleged activity involved ransomware

Spanish police have arrested a Russian programmer following US allegations of large-scale hacking.

Pyotr Levashov was held in Barcelona on Friday and is remanded in custody.

Spanish police said Mr Levashov controlled a botnet called Kelihos, hacking information and installing malicious software in hundreds of thousands of computers.

The arrest was part of a “complex inquiry carried out in collaboration with the FBI”, police said.

Mr Levashov is subject to a US international arrest warrant and a Spanish court will hear whether he can be extradited.

Much of his alleged activity involved ransomware – blocking a computer’s access to certain information and demanding a ransom for its release.

Mr Levashov’s wife Maria told Russian broadcaster RT that the arrest had been made in connection with allegations that Russians had hacked the US presidential election.

She said Spanish police had told her the arrest was in connection with “a virus which appears to have been created by my husband and is linked to [Donald] Trump’s victory”.

However, Agence France-Presse news agency quoted a source close to the matter in Washington as saying that Mr Levashov’s detention was “not tied to anything involving allegations of Russian interference with the US election”.

Donald Trump on the campaignImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Levashov’s wife linked the arrest to claims of Russian hacking of the US election

A US intelligence report released in January alleged that Vladimir Putin had tried to help Mr Trump to victory, allegations strongly denied the Russian president.

Mr Trump later commented that the outcome of the election had not been affected.

Several cyber security experts, including Brian Krebs, have also linked Mr Levashov to a Russian spam kingpin, who uses the alias Peter Severa.

SEC Denies A Second Application To List Bitcoin Product

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

SEC denies a second application to list bitcoin product

By Trevor Hunnicutt | NEW YORK

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday denied for the second time this month a request to bring to market a first-of-its-kind product tracking bitcoin, the digital currency.

The SEC announced in a filing its decision denying Intercontinental Exchange Inc’s NYSE Arca exchange the ability to list and trade the SolidX Bitcoin Trust, an exchange-traded product (ETP) that would trade like a stock and track the digital asset’s price. Previously, the regulatory agency said it had concerns with a similar proposal by investors Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss.

“The Commission believes that the significant markets for bitcoin are unregulated,” the SEC said in its filing, echoing language from its decision earlier this month on the application by CBOE Holdings Inc’s Bats exchange to list The Bitcoin ETF proposed by the Winklevoss brothers. On Friday, Bats asked the SEC to review its decision not to allow that fund to trade.

“We are reviewing the SEC’s order and evaluating our next steps,” said Daniel H. Gallancy, chief executive officer of SolidX Partners Inc, a U.S. technology company that provides blockchain services. NYSE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bitcoin had scaled to a record of more than $1,300 this month, higher than the price of an ounce of gold, as investors speculated that an ETF holding the digital currency could woo more people into buying the asset.

But after denial of the Winklevoss-proposed ETF, the digital currency’s price plunged as much as 18 percent. It has rebounded partially since then and was at $1,041 on Tuesday, roughly unchanged from the previous day.

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that can be used to move money around the world quickly and with relative anonymity, without the need for a central authority, such as a bank or government.

Yet bitcoin presents a new set of risks to investors given its limited adoption, a number of massive cybersecurity breaches affecting bitcoin owners and the lack of consistent treatment of the assets by governments.

There is one remaining bitcoin ETP proposal awaiting a verdict from the SEC. Grayscale Investments LLC’s Bitcoin Investment Trust, backed by early bitcoin advocate Barry Silbert and his Digital Currency Group, filed an application last year.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. needs to stop Russian electoral interference, NSA’s top civilian leader says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

U.S. needs to stop Russian electoral interference, NSA’s top civilian leader says

March 25 at 6:48 PM
The U.S. government has not figured out how to deter the Russians from meddling in democratic processes, and stopping their interference in elections, both here and in Europe, is a pressing problem, the top civilian leader of the National Security Agency said.The NSA was among the intelligence agencies that concluded that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin ordered a cyber-enabled influence campaign in 2016 aimed at undermining confidence in the election, harming Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and helping elect GOP nominee Donald Trump.“This is a challenge to the foundations of our democracy,” said NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett, 58, who is retiring at the end of April, in an interview at Fort Meade, Md., the agency’s headquarters. “It’s the sanctity of our process, of evaluating and looking at candidates, and having accurate information about the candidates. So the idea that another nation-state is [interfering with that] is a pretty big deal and something we need to figure out. How do we counter that? How do we identify that it’s happening — in real-time as opposed to after the fact? And what do we do as a nation to make it stop?”The lack of answers, he said, “as an American citizen . . . gives me a lot of heartburn.”

Ledgett, known as a straight-shooting, unflappable intelligence professional, began his NSA career in 1988 teaching cryptanalysis — how to crack codes — and rose to become the agency’s top civilian leader . The NSA, with 35,000 civilian and military employees, gathers intelligence on foreign targets overseas through wiretaps and increasingly by cyberhacking. Its other mission is to secure the government computers that handle classified information and other data critical to military and intelligence activities.

Asked whether the NSA had any inkling that the Kremlin was going to orchestrate the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails last July, he demurred. “I actually don’t want to talk about that.”

At the same time, he said, what Moscow did was “no strategic surprise.” Rather, “what may have been a tactical surprise was that they would do it the way they did.”

Campaigns of propaganda and disinformation, dating back to the Soviet Union, have long been a staple of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Now, however, it is making effective use of its hacking prowess to weaponize information and combine it with its influence operations, or what intelligence officials call “active measures.”

“In general, if you’re responding to nation-state actions like that, you have to find out what are the levers that will move the nation-state actors and are you able and willing to pull those levers?” said Ledgett when asked how the United States should respond.

The Obama administration slapped economic sanctions on two Russian spy agencies involved in hacking the DNC, three companies believed to have provided support for government cyber operations, and four Russian cyber officials. The administration also ordered 35 Russian operatives to leave the United States and shut down Russian-owned facilities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island believed to have been used for intelligence purposes.

Yet, intelligence officials including NSA Director Michael S. Rogers and FBI Director James B. Comey said on Monday that they believe Moscow will strike again — in 2020, if not in 2018.

So should the government mull other options, such as hacking Russian officials’ emails or financial records and releasing them in a bid to embarrass or show corruption? “I think every element of national power is something we should consider,” he said. “That would probably fall under something like a covert action. But if that’s the right answer, that’s the right answer.”

Ledgett is probably most well-known for leading the agency task force that handled the fallout from the leaks of classified information by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. The disclosures prompted a national and global debate about the proper scope of government surveillance and led Congress to pass some reforms, including the outlawing of bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata.

But the disclosures also caused great upheaval in NSA’s collection efforts, hurt morale, and damaged relations with allies and with tech firms that enable court-ordered surveillance, Ledgett said. “It was a terrible time for the agency,” he said.

He oversaw the probe of the internal breach; relations with Congress, the White House, foreign governments and the press; and the effort to prevent a recurrence. “There was a bit of a narrative on the outside about this evil agency that hoovered up all the communications in the world and rooted through them for things that were interesting, and that wasn’t actually true.”

The operational hit was significant, he said. More than 1,000 foreign targets — whether a person or a group or an organization — altered or attempted to alter their means of communications as a result of the disclosures, he said. They “tried with varying degrees of success to remove themselves from our ability to see what they were doing,” he said.

The agency, which has some 200 stations worldwide, reworked capabilities including virtually all of its hacking tools. “In some cases, we had to do things very differently” to gather the same foreign intelligence as before.

Raj De, a former NSA general counsel, said Ledgett was relied on heavily by both Rogers and Rogers’s predecessor, Keith B. Alexander. “He has really been a source of steadiness for the agency,” said De, now head of the Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice at Mayer Brown, a global law firm. “What is particularly notable about Rick is his willingness to engage with all types of people, to keep an open mind.”

In December 2013, Alexander, when he was the NSA director, said that Snowden should be given no amnesty. But Ledgett told CBS’s “60 Minutes” then that “my personal view is yes, it’s worth having a conversation about.”

In his interview earlier this week, however, he said what he meant was that by engaging Snowden in conversation, the agency might have been able to learn what material had not been released and where it was.

Today, he said, there is no longer any need to talk to Snowden. “He’s past his usefulness to us.” Snowden, who is living in Moscow under a grant of asylum, has been charged with violating the Espionage Act, and Ledgett said he should not be pardoned. “I’ve always been of the idea that ‘Hey, I think he needs to face the music for what he did.’ ”

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

President Trump’s Egomania Shuts Down Teenage Girls Animated Kitten Web Site

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MERCURY NEWS)

President Donald Trump has had a lot on his plate in recent weeks — defending his administration from news of a criminal investigation by the FBI for alleged Russia collusion, rallying support for a controversial health care bill.

Somehow amid all that, the president, or his lawyers acting on their own, decided to go after a teenage girl from San Francisco, the Hollywood Reporter said.

Apparently, America’s commander in chief took issue with the girl’s website Kittenfeed.com. Originally called Trumpscratch.com, the site allows users to punch an animated image of Trump’s face with tiny kitten paws. It comes with the tagline: “Trump seems very tough at first but he gets weaker with every scratch.”

The girl, identified as “Lucy,” told the Observer that she developed the site, with its #Trumpcat hashtag, for fun while applying for web developer jobs. Little did she know that her site, which only drew 1700 visitors after its launch in February, had attracted the notice of the most important political leader on earth.

On March 1, she said she received a cease and desist letter from The Trump Organization. The letter claims her site infringed on the “internationally known and famous” Trump trademark.

After Lucy changed the domain name, she received another letter from the Trump Organization because her site linked to an anti-Trump shirt that is available for purchase on Amazon. Lucy told the Hollywood Reporter that she removed the link, and hasn’t heard anything from the campaign since.

Lucy is not alone in thinking that the president should have better things to with his time than to ask his lawyers to go after a teenager for creating a silly website.

“I really just want people to be aware that this is a president who’s clearly more concerned about what people think of him than doing things of substance,” she told the Hollywood Reporter.


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However, she said she’s not surprised he might be so easily provoked by her site, given that he wages Twitter feuds with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over ratings for his former reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.”

“Literally all my site is, is punching him with kitten paws,” she said. “A president should not have the time or care to hire people to shut sites like mine down. He should be running the country, not tweeting about TV ratings or anything else like that.”

Not surprisingly, the moves by Trump’s lawyers have had the opposite effect of their intention. After the Observer originally published its report on Tuesday, the site’s visitors surged from 3,000 to 50,000.

However, the site was down on Wednesday, possibly from so many users trying to access it.

The lesson here is that Trump may talk a tough game as president, but he and his tough, high-priced attorneys are no match for animated kittens.

Hate: Is It Ignorance Being Fulfilled?

 

This afternoon in London England there was another ‘terrorist incident’, this time just outside the entrance to their Parliament Building. The last I heard before I started this commentary there are four dead and about 20 wounded. One of the dead is the attacker, another is a Police Officer.  The other two dead people were killed by being driven over by the attacker. What a typical  example of ones hate being forced upon others lives. Folks, when a person chooses to murder someone, do you think they are doing this because they are ‘happy’ with the one they decide to kill? I tend to think, no, how about you? Killing other people, outside of contract obligations such as when you are in your Nation’s Military, or in the case of self-defence, murder is usually done through or because of hate. So, today the actions of one man ended the lives of three others and harmed and scarred many others. One man’s actions caused a lot of chain reactions not just in heroic goodness of some, but in the actions of the Press there in London informing we the people of the events, step by step. Yes they did a rather good job of informing me of the steps that (England’s) has in place that security protocol is designed to function within. In this case a person filled with hate could best figure out where to form a multi-tiered attack. Think of the pure hate concept of bringing an ambulance to a bomb or mass shooting location, filled with C-4 just so you can kill as many First Responders as you possibly can. Folks, this is not the way of a rational mind, nor of a God! It is not a mind filled with any form of morality, it is a mind filled with Evil, hate. When we humans decide to degrade other human beings to a ‘less than’ human status it becomes easier and easier to degrade, hurt or even kill them.

 

Friends this type of hate that we witnessed this afternoon in London is not just a hiccup in human history that we are living in, this is the reality for humans for ever more. Europe is being forced to deal with this hatred toward their own people and toward their own cultures. Here in the U.S. we have suffered several examples of hatred also toward our people and our chosen ways of life. Yet Europe and her people are a tender underbelly to a region full of hatred, for you and your way of life. I believe that the U.S. and all of the ‘America’s’ are just starting to see the damage caused by hatred. The olden days (our version of the good old days), they’re gone, they are not going to return, but why not? The answer is hatred folks. Hatred has a great helpmate which also causes so much heartache and that is ignorance. No one on this planet will ever have a totally unmonitored lifestyle again, nor will we ever be free of people hating you/us. Welcome to the new world everyone, the one filled with unending security measures brought on because of threats that are real or imagined. You see, fear caused by hatred can easily be  duplicated in the one who fears as a way to grow into another hate filled, ignorant, Satan serving beast. A person who is hate filled creates and early grave for themselves and those around them, and a footstool in Hell.

American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone

When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.

“It just felt like a gross violation of our rights,” said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.

Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.

“One of the officers calls out to me and says, ‘Hey, give me your phone,'” recalled Shibly. “And I said, ‘No, because I already went through this.'”

The officer asked a second time.

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Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend’s face turn red as the officer’s chokehold tightened.

Then they asked McCormick for her phone.

“I was not about to get tackled,” she said. She handed it over.

American citizens Akram Shibly, left, and Kelly McCormick had their phones searched as they reentered the U.S. at Niagara Falls, New York on two separate trips in January 2017. They say Shibly was put in a chokehold when he refused to hand over his phone on the second crossing. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Shibly and McCormick’s experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.

The travelers came from across the nation, naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned

What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

“That’s shocking,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She wrote the rules and restrictions on how CBP should conduct electronic searches back in 2009. “That [increase] was clearly a conscious strategy, that’s not happenstance.”

“This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people,” said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. “Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet.”

“This is just going to grow and grow and grow,” said Senator Wyden. “There’s tremendous potential for abuse here.”

What Changed?

What CBP agents call “detaining” cellphones didn’t start after Donald Trump’s election. The practice began a decade ago, late in the George W. Bush administration, but was highly focused on specific individuals.

The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.

DHS has published 24 reports detailing its extensive technological capability to forensically extract data from mobile devices, regardless of password protection on most Apple and Android phones. The reports document its proven ability to access deleted call logs, videos, photos, and emails to name a few, in addition to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps.

But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.

“The shackles are off,” said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people’s rights.”

And multiple sources told NBC News that law enforcement and the Intelligence Community are exploiting a loophole to collect intelligence.

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals.

“The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn’t apply at the border,” said Callahan. “That’s under case law that goes back 150 years.”

Customs and Border officers can search travelers without any level of suspicion. They have the legal authority to go through any object crossing the border within 100 miles, including smartphones and laptops. They have the right to take devices away from travelers for five days without providing justification. In the absence of probable cause, however, they have to give the devices back.

CBP also searches people on behalf of other federal law enforcement agencies, sending its findings back to partners in the DEA, FBI, Treasury and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.

Callahan thinks that CBP’s spike in searches means it is exploiting the loophole “in order to get information they otherwise might hot have been able to.”

On January 31, an engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was pulled into additional screening upon his return to the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile. Despite being cleared by the Global Entry program, Sidd Bikkannavar received an “X” on his customs form. He is not Muslim, and he is not from any of the seven countries named in President Trump’s original “travel ban” executive order. Half his family comes from India but he was born and raised in California.

Bikkannavar was brought into a closed room and told to hand over his phone and passcode. He paid particular notice to the form CBP handed him which explained it had the right to copy the contents of the phone, and that the penalty for refusal was “detention.”

“I didn’t know if that meant detention of the phone or me and I didn’t want to find out,” said Bikkannavar. He tried to refuse but the officer repeatedly demanded the PIN. Eventually he acquiesced.

“Once they had that, they had everything,” Bikkannavar said. That access allowed CBP officers to review the backend of his social media accounts, work emails, call and text history, photos and other apps. He had expected security might physically search any travelers for potential weapons but accessing his digital data felt different. “Your whole digital life is on your phone.”

The officers disappeared with his phone and PIN. They returned 30 minutes later and let him go home.Sidd Bikkannavar poses for a portrait in 2014. Takashi Akaishi

CBP also regularly searches people leaving the country.

On February 9, Haisam Elsharkawi was stopped by security while trying to board his flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. He said that six Customs officers told him he was randomly selected. They demanded access to his phone and when he refused, Elsharkawi said they handcuffed him, locked him in the airport’s lower level and asked questions including how he became a citizen. Elsharkawi thought he knew his rights and demanded access to legal counsel.

“They said if I need a lawyer, then I must be guilty of something,” said Elsharkawi, and Egyptian-born Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen. After four hours of questioning in detention, he unlocked his smartphone and, after a search, was eventually released. Elsharkawi said he intends to sue the Department of Homeland Security.

The current policy has not been updated since 2009. Jayson Ahern, who served in CBP under both Bush and Obama, signed off on the current policy. He said the electronic searches are supposed to be based on specific, articulable facts that raise security concerns. They are not meant to be random or routine or applied liberally to border crossers. “That’s reckless and that’s how you would lose the authority, never mind the policy.”

The Customs & Border Patrol policy manual says that electronic devices fall under the same extended search doctrine that allows them to scan bags in the typical security line.

“As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

Since the policy was written in 2009, legal advocates argue, several court cases have set new precedents that could make some CBP electronic searches illegal.

Several former DHS officials pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California that determined law enforcement needed a warrant to search electronic devices when a person is being arrested. The court ruled unanimously, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.

“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” wrote Roberts. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

Because that case happened outside of the border context, however, CBP lawyers have repeatedly asserted in court that the ruling does not apply to border searches.

For now a Department of Justice internal bulletin has instructed that, unless border officers have a search warrant, they need to take protective measures to limit intrusions, and make sure their searches do not access travelers’ digital cloud data. The ‘cloud’ is all content not directly stored on a device, which includes anything requiring internet to access, like email and social media.

Former DHS officials who helped design and implement the search policy said they agreed with that guidance.

Wyden Pushes to Change the Policy

On February 20, Sen. Wyden wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding details on electronic search-practices used on U.S. citizens, and referred to the extent of electronic searches as government “overreach”. As of publication, he had yet to receive an answer.

Now Sen. Wyden says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords.

“The old rules … seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can,” said Senator Wyden. “I think it is time to update the law.”

Akram Shibly at home in Buffalo, Sunday March, 12, 2017. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Asked about the Shibly case, a CBP spokesperson declined to comment, but said the Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating. The spokesperson said the agency can’t comment on open investigations or particular travelers, but that it “firmly denies any accusations of racially profiling travelers based on nationality, race, sex, religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs.”

Explaining the sharp increase in electronic searches, a department spokesperson told NBC News: “CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence.” A spokesman also noted that searches of citizens leaving the U.S. protect against the theft of American industrial and national security secrets.

After repeated communications, the Department of Homeland Security never responded to NBC News’ requests for comments. Nonetheless, the Homeland Security Inspector General is currently auditing CBP’s electronic search practices.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also has filed two dozen complaints against CBP this year for issues profiling Muslim Americans. CAIR and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are considering legal action against the government for what they consider to be unconstitutional searches at the border.

Privacy: Is There No Longer Is Such A Thing On Planet Earth?

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Opinion

Living with Our Privacy Violated

The rule has never changed: Every phenomenon or positive change has a tax to be paid, whether we like it or not.This rule also applies to the enormous technological progress we are witnessing and its unlimited positive outcomes on our lives, businesses and communities. Here, the tax users pay is represented by forbidden acts and taboos becoming accepted and incorporated into our lives.

People might not sense this gradual transformation but they eventually accept it in return for using technology. Speaking of attempts to maintain some privacy has become impossible – privacy has been violated with a knockdown.

A group of scientists from Harvard University has developed a mosquito-sized robot that can steal samples of your DNA without you feeling it. Professor of Computer Science Margo Seltzer said that the privacy we used to know before no more exists, adding that current techniques such as credit cards, internet networks, highway radars, cameras in streets, social media and emails can all leave a digital print of us by which we can be followed.

In 2013, more than five billion data records were lost or stolen, according to the Breach Level Index (BLI). This reveals that perhaps only those distant from the world of internet were not subject to violation of privacy– and they did not avoid it for fear or cautiousness but because they weren’t capable of affording such technology – yet, they are certainly on their way there.

Half the world’s population is constantly connected to the Internet while the other half is on its way. According to Gartner, Inc. there will be 25 billion smartphones by 2020. At that time, no one will be safe regardless if he uses a smartphone or not. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a population of 30 million people, having 24 million internet users and 48 million subscribers of mobile telecommunication services.

Violations taking place every second with data and information divulged have become manifest for anyone connected to the internet. And it is impossible to stop or block them.

Take what has been published by founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange in 2013 as an example – he published a huge archive of correspondences for former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger since 1973 till 1976. These correspondences were classified as top secret and totaled 1.7 million, five-fold what has been previously published in WikiLeaks.

Another example is former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Edward Snowden, currently residing in Russia, who has unveiled that the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain have jointly developed a technology that permits access to many global internet activity, call logs, individuals’ emails and a huge content of other digital telecommunications.

Misuse of personal data is a growing challenge all over the world. Requests were made to governments to take charge of protecting the future of citizens’ privacy and their social prosperity. However, it seems that none is capable of that, with governments themselves failing to protect their own classified data. So, how would a normal individual be able to do that?!

Till now there are no realistic solutions that show optimism in ending the violation of our privacy. Given that we have agreed to be connected to the Internet and to use smartphones, we should admit that our privacy has been violated irreversibly, even if we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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Wikileaks: The CIA Is Using Popular TVs, Smartphones And Cars To Spy On Their Owners

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Wikileaks: The CIA is using popular TVs, smartphones and cars to spy on their owners

March 7 2017

Wikileaks posts alleged trove of CIA hacking tools

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Anti-secrecy group Wikileaks on Tuesday said it had obtained a top-secret trove of hacking tools used by the CIA to break into phones, communication apps and other electronic devices, and published confidential documents on those programs. (Reuters)

The latest revelations about U.S. government’s powerful hacking tools potentially takes surveillance right into the homes and hip pockets of billions of users worldwide, showing how a remarkable variety of every day devices can be turned to spy on their owners.

Televisions, smartphones and Internet-connected vehicles are all vulnerable to CIA hacking, according to the Wikileaks documents released Tuesday. The capabilities described include recording the sounds, images and the private text messages of users, even when they use encrypted apps to communicate. The CIA also studied whether it could infect vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks, which Wikileaks said could allow “nearly undetectable assassinations.”

In the case of a tool called “Weeping Angel” for attacking Samsung SmartTVs, Wikileaks wrote, “After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on, In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”

The documents, which The Washington Post could not independently verify and the CIA has declined to confirm, list supposed tools for cracking into such widely popular devices as Apple’s iPhone or the Android smartphones whose operating system is made by Google, but there are marked differences from the 2013 revelations by the National Security Agency’s former contractor Edward Snowden.

His documents largely described mass surveillance of Internet-based communications systems, more often than the individual devices that appear to have been the focus of the CIA. By targeting devices, the CIA could gain access to even well-encrypted communications, on such popular apps as Signal and WhatsApp, without having to crack the encryption itself. The Wikileaks reports appear to acknowledge that difference by saying the CIA “bypassed” as opposed to defeated encryption technologies.

Resignation and frustration rippled through Silicon Valley on Tuesday as technologists grappled with revelations of yet another government attempt to exploit their systems.

“The argument that there is some terrorist using a Samsung TV somewhere – as a reason to not disclose that vulnerability to the company, when it puts thousands of Americans at risk — I fundamentally disagree with it, “ said Alex Rice, chief technology officer for Hacker One, a startup that enlists hackers to report security gaps to companies and organizations in exchange for cash.

Privacy experts say the CIA may have been forced into focusing on vulnerable devices because the Internet overall has become more secure through more widespread deployment of encryption. In this new world, devices have become the most vulnerable link.

“The idea that the CIA and NSA can hack into devices is kind of old news,” said Johns Hopkins cryptography expert Matthew Green. “Anyone who thought they couldn’t was living in a fantasy world.”

Snowden’s revelations and the backlash made strong encryption a major, well-funded cause for both privacy advocates and, perhaps more importantly, technology companies that had the engineering expertise and budgets to protect data as it flowed across the world.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and many other companies announced major new initiatives, in part to protect their brands against accusations by some users that they had made it too easy for the NSA to collect information from their systems. Many Web sites, meanwhile, began encrypting their data flows to users to prevent snooping. Encryption tools such as Tor were strengthened.

Encrypting apps for private messaging, such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp exploded in popularity, especially among users around the world who were fearful of government intrusion. In the days following the U.S. presidential election, Signal was among the most downloaded in Apple’s app store and downloads grew by more than 300 percent.

Open Whispers Systems, which developed Signal, released a statement: “The CIA/Wikileaks story today is about getting malware onto phones, none of the exploits are in Signal or break Signal Protocol encryption.” WhatsApp declined to comment, and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment. Google declined to comment, while Samsung and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. government authorities complained loudly that the new wave of encryption was undermining their ability to investigate serious crimes, such as terrorism and child pornography. The FBI sued Apple in hopes of forcing it to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernadino killers before announcing it had other ways to crack the device amid heavy public criticism.

Against that backdrop, many privacy advocates argued that devices — often called “endpoints” for their place on chains of communications that can criss-cross continents — were the best available target left in a world with widespread online encryption. The Wikileaks documents suggests that the CIA may have reached the same conclusion.

“It would certainly be consistent with the hypothesis that we’ve made real progress in the encryption we’ve been introducing,” said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group. “It’s impossible to be 100 percent certain, but reading the tea leaves, it’s plausible.”

The Wikileaks revelations also will serve as a reminder that, for whatever the political backlash to revelations about digital spying, it is not going away and probably will continue to grow. The focus on hacking into individual devices — rather than the messages traveling between them — is likely to increase pressure on companies to make those devices safer because, as experts have long said, they are the most vulnerable target in a long chain of digital interactions.

That could be especially important for U.S. tech companies, such as Google, Apple and Facebook, that have worked to rebuild their reputations as stewards of their users’ privacy in recent years.

Cybersecurity experts, meanwhile, reacted with alarm to the news of the Wikileaks release.

“This is explosive,” said Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, a cybersecurity firm. The material highlights specific antivirus products that can be defeated, going further than a release of NSA hacking tools last year, he said.

The CIA hackers, according to WikiLeaks, even “discussed what the NSA’s …hackers did wrong and how the CIA’s malware makers could avoid similar exposure.”

Hackers who worked at NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit said the CIA’s library of tools looked comparable. The description of the implants, which are software that enable a hacker to remotely control a compromised device, and other attack tools appear to be “very, very complex” and “at least on par with the NSA,” said one former TAO hacker who spoke on condition his name not be used.

The WikiLeaks release revealed that they have sophisticated “stealth” capabilities that enable hackers not only to infiltrate systems, but evade detection, as well as abilities to “escalate privileges” or move inside a system as if they owned it.

“The only thing that separates NSA from commodity malware in the first place is their ability to remain hidden,” the former TAO hacker said. “So when you talk about the stealth components, it’s huge that you’re seeing a tangible example here of them using and researching stealth.”

Computer security experts noted that the release includes no actual tools or exploits, “so we don’t know if WikiLeaks did not get them or is just not choosing to publish them,” Nicholas Weaver, a computer security researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. “However we should assume that whoever stole this data has access to the exploits and tools.”

He noted that the dates in the files suggest the tools were taken in February or March 2016 and that there are at least two documents marked Top Secret, “which suggests that somebody in early 2016 managed to compromise a Top Secret CIA development system and is willing to say that they did.”

One internal CIA document listed a set of Apple iPhone “exploits” — or tools that can be used to compromise the device by taking advantage of software flaws. Some of the tools are based on “zero-days,” which are software vulnerabilities that have not been shared with the manufacturer. So “some of these descriptions will allow Apple to fix the vulnerabilities,” Weaver said. “But at the same time, they’re out in the public and whoever stole this data could use them against U.S. interests.”

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