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Tomorrow's world

Utah’s new desert

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Great Salt Lake in Utah is drying up, says Simon Romero in The New York Times. The country’s largest body of water after the Great Lakes has lost 44% of its surface area – “an area larger than the city of Houston”. It has previously been known to cover 1,700 square miles but today spans just 950. “Shipwrecks have begun emerging as the water recedes” and a “once-bustling” marina lies empty. Visitors must “trek across a dry lake bed to dip their toes in the water”. Prolonged drought is to blame, along with Utah’s policy of diverting fresh water from the lake’s sources, predominantly for agriculture.

Parallels have been drawn with the Aral Sea in central Asia, once the fourth-largest body of inland water in the world. It began shrinking in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union started diverting its water sources for agriculture, too. The Aral Sea’s bed is now one of the world’s youngest deserts, unleashing weekly dust storms. Likewise, the “parched” bed of the Great Salt Lake is exposing millions of people to “dust storms laced with arsenic and other toxic elements” connected to pesticides and agricultural chemicals that have ended up in the lake over the years. Yet despite this “slow-motion ecological disaster”, Utah has the fastest-growing population of any state, with people being drawn to its “red-hot economy” and vibrant skiing scene.

Hey Facebook, show me the future

Facebook has teamed up with Ray-Ban to make glasses (tinted and clear-lensed) that take photographs and videos of whatever you’re looking at. They’re “everything you hoped for and feared”, say Lauren Goode and Peter Rubin in Wired. You just say “Hey, Facebook” and your command out loud – “if you have no shame whatsoever” – and they start snapping pics or recording. Anyone too embarrassed to do that can press a button on the arm of the glasses instead. The frames themselves don’t stand out – they look like an ordinary pair of Ray-Bans, with a tiny white light that comes on to show other people you’re recording.

Given Facebook’s famous “move-fast-and-break-things” mantra, contentious data-collection practices and impotent privacy settings, there are some serious questions to be answered. How are they planning to stop users creating “sensitive, violent or otherwise controversial” material, for example? Facebook has built “the best sex-tape camera in the history of the world”. What happens when somebody appears in such a film without having given their consent? The firm says anything you capture on the glasses is “encrypted” and that it uses “a combination of automated technology, human review and reporting tools” to catch dodgy content. They make it sound easy. “Maybe too easy.”