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Tech wrap: New cyber command; Salk Institute suit; self-fueled boat's world trip; first female Dr. Who


Jul, 17 2017, 9:00 AM

In today's Bulldog tech wrapup, with a bit of sci-fi news as well:

The details:

After months of delay, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to revamp the nation's military command for defensive and offensive cyber operations in hopes of intensifying America's ability to wage cyberwar against the Islamic State group and other foes, according to U.S. officials.

Under the plans, U.S. Cyber Command would eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency.

Details are still being worked out, but officials say they expect a decision and announcement in the coming weeks. The officials weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter so requested anonymity.

The goal, they said, is to give U.S. Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, internet and other intelligence data from around the world — a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces.

Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea and in space. The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups and hackers, and comes as the U.S. faces ever-widening fears about Russian hacking following Moscow's efforts to meddle in the 2016 American election.

The U.S. has long operated quietly in cyberspace, using it to collect information, disrupt enemy networks and aid conventional military missions. But as other nations and foes expand their use of cyberspying and attacks, the U.S. is determined to improve its ability to incorporate cyber operations into its everyday warfighting.

Two top scientists are suing their employer, the Salk Institute, alleging that they and other women have suffered long-term gender discrimination at the renowned California research center.

Vicki Lundblad and Katherine Jones allege in their lawsuit filed this week that the institute has long been an "old boys club," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/2sVVQwo ). The suit describes "a culture where women are paid less, not promoted and denied opportunities and benefits simply because they are women," the newspaper said.

Lundblad and Jones allege that they have faced pressure to downsize their laboratories even though they've done well in bringing in research money.

They also accuse Salk administrators of not promoting any female scientist to the rank of full professor since 1999, of retaliating against them for their complaints and of not responding seriously to changes proposed by Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, the institute's president since late 2015.

In a statement, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies said "Drs. Jones and Lundblad, whose laboratories have received over $5 million in support from the institute over the past 10 fiscal years, have been treated generously by the institute, including relative to their male peers. Each scientist's lucrative compensation package is consistent with well-recognized metrics that have been applied to all Salk faculty in a nondiscriminatory manner."

A boat that fuels itself is setting off around the world from Paris on a six-year journey that its designers hope will serves as a model for emissions-free energy networks of the future.

Energy Observer will use its solar panels, wind turbines and a hydrogen fuel cell system to power its trip. The 5 million-euro ($5.25 million) boat heads off Saturday from Paris toward the Atlantic.

The futuristic-looking 30.5-meter (100-foot) boat will rely on sun or wind during the day and tap into its hydrogen reservoirs at night. It produces its own hydrogen through electrolysis of sea water.

Originally designed in 1983, the boat enjoyed a successful career in open-sea sailing races before skippers Frederic Dahirel and Victorien Erussard and a French research institute converted it into the Energy Observer project.

'Doctor Who' to get first female lead

On Sunday, the broadcaster announced that Jodie Whittaker, star of the British crime drama "Broadchurch," will become the first female Doctor on "Doctor Who."

She succeeds the current star, Peter Capaldi, who announced in January that he would leave after the 2017 Christmas Special.

Whittaker's casting marks an important moment in "Doctor Who" history.

Though the show has had a host of strong female characters -- from Michelle Gomez's The Master and Alex Kingston's River Song to companions like Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rose (Billie Piper) -- no woman has ever portrayed the title character.

"It feels completely overwhelming; as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you're told you can and can't be," Whittaker said in a BBC-released Q&A. "It feels incredible."

Executive producer Chris Chibnall, who takes over for existing head writer and EP Steven Moffat next season, said in a statement that he always wanted the Thirteenth Doctor to be female and that Whittaker was their "number one choice."