Shazam for earthquakes will transform how seismologists detect tremors

An earthquake-detecting algorithm based on song-matching app Shazam is helping Stanford scientists pinpoint the location of microquakes.

The idea for Fingerprint and Similarity Thresholding (FAST) occurred to Greg Beroza, professor of geophysics at Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, several years ago.

Like thousands of users before him, Beroza used Shazam to identify a song he didn’t know. Unlike thousands of other users however, Beroza realised from that initial usage that Shazam wasn’t simply comparing the digital file of the song against other files in a database. It was doing something more sophisticated, namely capturing the audio waveform of a short section of the song and comparing that snippet to other waveforms housed on an online server, while at the same time filtering out irrelevant noise from the environment such as people’s conversations.

“I thought, ‘That’s cool,’ and then a moment later, ‘That’s what I want to do with seismology,'” said Beroza.


So far the device has been able to identify several dozen weak earthquakes, but its creators’ hope that by gaining an understanding of how often different magnitudes of earthquakes happen seismologists might be able to predict how frequently large, natural quakes will occur.

In the new study, the Stanford scientists used FAST to analyse a week’s worth of data collected in 2011 by a seismic station on the Calaveras Fault in California’s Bay Area. This same fault recently ruptured and set off a sequence of hundreds of small quakes.

Not only did FAST detect the known earthquakes, it also discovered several dozen weak quakes that had previously been overlooked.

“A lot of the newer earthquakes that we found were magnitude 1 or below, so that tells us our technique is really sensitive,” said study co-author Clara Yoon. “FAST was able to spot the missed quakes because it looks for similar wave patterns across the seismic data, regardless of their energy level.”

Image courtesy of Ilissa Ocko

Image courtesy of Ilissa Ocko

The FAST technique could replace traditional methods of detecting microquakes, such as template matching which functions by comparing an earthquake’s seismic wave pattern against previously recorded wave signatures in a database.

Unlike template matching, FAST doesn’t require seismologists to have a clear idea of the signal they are looking for ahead of time. It works, like Shazam, by searching for similarities in pre-recorded data from a seismic shift.

“Instead of comparing a signal to every other signal in the database, most of which are noise and not associated with any earthquakes at all, FAST compares like with like,” said Beroza. “Tests we have done on a 6-month data set show that FAST finds matches about 3,000 times faster than conventional techniques. Larger data sets should show an even greater advantage.”


Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC