Monday tech roundupIn this week’s Monday Tech Roundup we look at new horizons as a new project funded by Stephen Hawking aims at connecting two of the world’s largest telescopes together in order to provide a better view of the universe. Also this week, Microsoft reveals yet another plan to grow their smartphone market share, a Jeep gets hacked and Google introduces an extension for a smarter Gmail.

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking backs (US) $100 million search for space creatures

With recent discoveries of some form of past life on Mars, albeit in very simple forms, the notion that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is gaining credence – and interest. Just last week, we even heard news about Earth 2.0 that was discovered at a distance of 1,400 light-years from us.

No less than Stephen Hawking is throwing his weight behind a new effort to find life in outer space.

The effort is led by Yuri Milner, a billionaire from Russia with a deep interest in deep space.

The idea isn’t to send out a bunch of long distance probes, but to improve upon how we listen to and look at outer space, which will be done by the Breakthrough Listen program that comes from the Breakthrough Initiatives’ program.

The 10-year program will try and link together some of the biggest telescopes in the world to get a more comprehensive view of the Universe. This is far from a unique idea – Microsoft Research pioneered this years ago with the WorldWide Telescope, a project pioneered by the brilliant and now deceased Jim Gray.

While Gray pulled together hundreds of telescopes, Breakthrough is focused on two of the largest – one in Australia, the other in West, Virginia, USA. It will also listen for radio systems in a process 100 times faster than previous efforts, the group claims, and will be able to tune into some 1 million stars, and 100 galaxies.

The best case scenario is that radio signals are picked up from intelligent life, and we can send a radio response. But if you thought the mail service was slow, just try communicating with something millions and billions of miles away. It takes hundreds of millions of years for a radio signal to go from one side of the galaxy to the other – and that’s just our galaxy. Not exactly a real time conversation!

Microsoft not giving up on phones, crafts premium play

Microsoft has taken a beating in its mobile phones business, being forced to write off over (US) $7 billion for its disastrous purchase of Nokia, which itself cost (US) $7.7 billion. Some 8,000 workers, many related to the mobile phone effort, were let go in the process.

Despite these troubles, and the fact that Windows Phones only have 3% market share, Microsoft is far from throwing in the mobile towel. It believes the power of Windows 10 will drive a new generation of phones that its rivals can’t touch.  The company disclosed at a recent conference that is working on two more ‘premium’ phones to ship this year.

One, called the Talkman, has a 20 megapixel camera and a 64-bit processor. The Talkman and the other phone – Cityman – will both support iris scanning for security and Qi wireless charging.

Jeeps stopped in tracks by hackers, 1.4 million cars recalled

Last week a new threat to vehicles was revealed – this time affecting the four-wheeled variety.

Electronics now control a good majority of the car, and if you can control those electronics, you can also manipulate the car.

Some of this is all about automatic accident avoidance – which means the car can stop or steer itself. Once commandeered, a hacker can stop or steer the car – or even just turn the whole thing off — all of which is exceedingly dangerous.

Now Chrysler, maker of the Jeep, is recalling 1.4 million cars – including many non-Jeep-models such as the Viper and Dodge Challenger. The company also released a software upgrade meant to stop the vulnerability. Imagine that. We are used to patching inner tubes, but the car itself? Who would have thought? The patches are installed via a USB drive. This itself is a potential danger as USB drives are a notoriously easy way to spread malware, and last time I checked cars didn’t have anti-virus software.

No customers’ cars have been infected yet. Instead, two security experts managed to stop a Jeep remotely as a proof of concept.

Regret that email? Blow it up with new Gmail extension

Have you ever sent an email you soon regretted, or sent an email meant for one person to an entire distribution list? Fear not, Dmail is here to help! The new extension for Gmail can solve that dilemma forever – but there just one little problem. The software delays delivery of the message giving you time to change your mind and destroy it. That means your message doesn’t get through right away, and if you don’t stop it during the delay, it will get delivered.

Also, the message doesn’t appear in the recipient’s inbox, but instead they are given a link to the message. Messages can also be designed to self-destruct on their own based on a pre-allotted time.