Author Archives: jkoebler

Rocko’s Modern Life Predicted Our Lame Future

On this episode of Radio Motherboard, we speak with Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life, about the show’s upcoming hour-long special and how a show about a 90s vision of modern living has stayed relevant today. We also chat with Sean Yeaton, formerly of Motherboard and now of Parquet Courts, about his vision for our technofuture and how cartoon like Rocko will influence our kids.

Inside the Tesla Gigafactory

Elon Musk’s new temple of energy is open for business in the middle of the desert outside Reno, Nevada. A few weeks ago, I went to the opening of the Tesla Gigagfactory, where Musk proposes to ramp up production of car batteries to the point where Tesla can begin to sell an affordable, mass-market electric cars.

Musk’s ideas and Tesla’s futuristic cars get a lot of attention, but the company has still only sold just over 150,000 cars. The good news for Tesla is that many of those 150,000 customers are rabid fans who are happy to evangelize for the company. I went to the Gigafactory’s opening party to meet the people who not only owned a Tesla, but also convinced five of their friends to buy one.

This podcast is meant to be a quick primer on the world of Tesla—what’s it like to own one? Who are these superfans and why do they love the company so much? What’s it like to drive a Model S in “Ludicrous Mode?” What’s inside the Gigafactory? And what is Elon Musk’s long-term vision for the future of transportation and energy?

The Real Impact Your Phone Has on the Earth

*This podcast is presented as a partnership between Radio Motherboard and Douglas Rushkoff’s new podcast, Team Human*

Your phone uses the equivalent of two refrigerators’ worth of electricity every year.

If you add in all of the electricity required to store and move data across high-speed cable and wireless networks and climate-controlled server farms to deliver an hour of video to your phone each week, in the space of a year it adds up to more power than two new Energy Star refrigerators consume in the same time.

This week, Douglas Rushkoff takes over Radio Motherboard in partnership with his brand new podcast,, Team Human. You can find future episodes of Team Human at teamhuman.fm.

Leslie Jones and the Ethics of Amplifying Online Harassment

Soon after news broke that Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones’s website had been hacked and replaced with stolen nude photos and racist memes, I got an urgent email from Whitney Phillips, one of the world’s foremost experts on online trolling and harassment (Phillips quite literally has a doctorate in 4chan). Phillips wanted to know if Motherboard was going to cover the hack, and how we were going to do it.

“I have some thoughts on the ethics of amplification—how, we can’t not comment on stories like this, but commenting perpetuates the disgusting narrative and associated imagery. The question being, what’s the ethical way not just for journalists and academics to respond, but for individuals, as well?” she said.

“Is more harm than good done when the association of Jones with Harambe is given longer life? I’m honestly not sure,” she added. “BUT I WANT TO HAVE THAT CONVERSATION.”

In her book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Phillips explores how early trolls from 4chan’s /b/ board manipulated the media into spreading their message. Though “trolling” is now an outdated, imprecise term, the Twitter harassment and illegal hacking of Jones’s website are amplified the more journalists write about it, the more people retweet it, the more we allow it to stay in our collective consciousness.

Phillips emailed me as I was also considering whether there’s an ethical way to cover abhorrent behavior on the internet—decisions about how and whether to write about racially, sexually, or xenophobically motivated hacks and harassment is a question the Motherboard staff considers all the time, but it’s rarely a conversation that ever makes it to the public.

And so I decided to have that conversation with Phillips and the roles we all play in amplifying questionable or grotesque online behavior.

The Future of Hacking

As our lives become ever more digitized, the security of our data will become ever more important to protect.

So far, judging by the daily routine of data breaches and large scale hacks, it seems like we’re failing to secure our most precious digital belongings. As some in the world of information security say, everything will get hacked. But is that really true?

As part of The Hacks We Can’t See, Motherboards theme week exploring the future of hacking, we asked real hackers what they think the future holds. We also spoke to Morgan Marquis-Boire, a well-known security researcher who’s spent the last few years hunting malware and helping human rights activists and journalists protect themselves.

 

What’s the craziest thing that’ll get hacked in the future? And what can you do to protect yourself? Listen to this week’s episode of Radio Motherboard to find out.

#fsociety Episode 1: How a Motherboarder Became a Writer for Mr. Robot

Hello, friend. If you’ve been a Radio Motherboard listener, you know that we’re big fans of Mr. Robot, USA’s moody, disorienting hacker drama. In fact, Motherboard and Mr. Robot’s respective moods align so closely that Lucy Teitler, a former Motherboard freelancer, is now a staff writer for the show’s second season.

We talk to Lucy about how she made the shift from security journalism to tv writing, why she thinks Mr. Robot hasn’t gotten hacked, and her brand new play debuting soon off Broadway.

This is the first episode of a brand new podcast series being launched by Radio Motherboard. On #fsociety, staff writers Jason Koebler and Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai will discuss the parallels between the hacks on each episode of this season of Mr. Robot and the ones we see in real life. Apologies for the delay on this first episode—we’ll try to catch up to the series by next week, and will continue to post episodes each week. Search #fsociety on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to subscribe.

Hello World

Radio Motherboard’s Jason Koebler and Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai are going to talk about the real-life hacks that we see in Mr. Robot season two. This is #fsociety, coming your way all summer.

Inside the Dark World of Online ‘Competitive Tickling’

David Farrier is used to uncovering bizarre information. But his latest project investigating the online world of competitive tickling proved that you can never predict just how strange life can be. We talked to the journalist and filmmaker about his new movie, Tickled, and what it reveals about online harassment, internet tribes, and hacking.

I Skipped Showering for Two Weeks and Bathed in Bacteria Instead

For two weeks, Motherboard writer Kate Lunau skipped her soap and deodorant—spritzing herself with a “live bacteria spray” instead. Her goal was to colonize her skin with ammonia-eating bacteria, which are supposed to neutralize the smell of sweat. There are a growing number of believers out there: chemist David Whitlock, who came up with this, hasn’t showered in 13 years. But are live bacteria products really the future of skincare? And, maybe more importantly, how bad did Kate smell by the end of it?

The Case for Giving Everyone Free Money

Sometime in the last few weeks, or months, or years, you may have heard about this idea called “universal basic income.” It’s the idea that maybe governments should give a monthly stipend—no questions asked—to everyone who lives there.

It’s an idea we’ve covered quite a bit over the years, and it’s one that’s increasingly gaining steam among people on both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives and libertarians say that it can simplify the bureaucracy associated with things like welfare and food stamps, and liberals like it because it would strengthen the social safety net.

Why do we need a basic income now? Well maybe you’ve noticed, but automation is slowly but surely replacing a lot of jobs that humans used to do with ones that robots, drones, software, and artificial intelligence can do. We’re looking at a future where it’s possible that there simply won’t be enough jobs for everyone. Maybe that’s a good thing—in a post scarcity society, do humans really need to do menial jobs?

And so basic income has been floated as both a cure to automation and potentially a better way to redistribute wealth. The movement is gaining steam around the world: Switzerland voted this last weekend on whether the country should “guarantee the introduction of an unconditional basic income.” The measure failed, but the fact that it was even on the ballot speaks to its increasing relevancy. In the United States, the startup incubator Y Combinator is doing an experiment that will give 100 people in Oakland between $1,000 and $2,000 per month to see how the “mechanics” of a basic income would work and to see what people do with the money.

That project is controversial for reasons we get into the podcast. I called up Matt Krisiloff, who is head of the basic income project at Y Combinator, and Elizabeth Rhodes, the research lead of the project, to talk about how it’ll work and why a Silicon Valley startup accelerator is interested in this idea. Then, we talk to Natalie Foster, who is a cofounder of the Universal Income Project, about why she finds the idea so compelling. Finally, we look at the history of basic income around the world and deconstruct the policy itself. Could it ever work?