The Download: are we alone, and private military data for sale

The quest to determine if anyone or anything is out there has gained greater scientific footing over the past 50 years. Back then, astronomers had yet to spot a single planet outside our solar system. Now we know the galaxy is teeming with a diversity of worlds.

We’re now getting closer than ever before to learning how common living worlds like ours actually are. New tools, including artificial intelligence, could help scientists look past their preconceived notions of what constitutes life. 

Future instruments will sniff the atmospheres of distant planets and scan samples from our local solar system to see if they contain telltale chemicals in the right proportions for organisms to prosper. But determining whether these planets actually contain organisms is no easy task. Read the full story.

—Adam Mann

‘Are we alone?’ is the first entry in our new mini-series The Biggest Questions, which explores how technology is helping probe some of the deepest, most mind-bending mysteries of our existence.

The US military’s privacy problem in three charts

Highly personal and sensitive data about military members, such as home addresses, health and financial information, is easily accessible to anyone who wants to buy it. It’s for sale for as little as $0.12 per record by US-based data brokers. 

Source: Technology Review