Hacker Adrian Lamo Has Died at 37

Hacker Adrian Lamo died at the age of 37, according a Facebook post from his father. “With great sadness and a broken heart I have to let know all of Adrian’s friends and acquaintances that he is dead. A bright mind and compassionate soul is gone, he was my beloved son,” Mario Lamo wrote in a post to the 2600: The Hacker Quarterly Facebook Group. The cause of death is not yet known, but a coroner in Sedgwick County, Kansas confirmed the news to ZDNet.

Lamo was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1981. In the mid 1990s, he volunteered for PlanetOut, a public media company that catered to the LGBTQ community. In 1998, he was appointed to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth Task Force by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Lamo first gained notoriety online in the early 2000s for hacking companies like Yahoo! and AOL, as well as The New York Times. In 2004, after accepting a plea bargain, Lamo was sentenced for hacking the newspaper, where he had added his name to an internal list of op-ed writers and racked up $300,000 in charges using the organization’s subscription to Lexis-Nexis, a pay-per-use search tool.

He was also known for tipping US government authorities about the actions of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who was later sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing Wikileaks with 750,000 classified military cables. (President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in 2017.) In a 2013 interview with the Guardian, Lamo explained his decision to report Manning.

“There was no option to interdict just the documents and put him merely in touch with counseling. There was no way to be both kind to [Chelsea] and mindful of the potential for harm to people I had never known and would never know which the situation posed. The reader might think there was some more moderate choice that I overlooked but I looked closely, and no such choice existed,” Lamo said in the interview.

In a 2002 profile of Lamo, former WIRED editor Noah Shachtman detailed how the hacker lived out of a backpack, and accessed the internet using university libraries and Kinko’s laptop stations. The Colombian-American moved around frequently as a child. The extensive travel provided him a love of adventure. “If I didn’t have computers, I’d be exploring storm drains or mountain caves. Hell, I do, when I don’t have a line to the Net,” Lamo wrote in a Usenet group around 2002. “There have been times my laptop has been the only dry thing I owned.”

Shachtman’s 2002 profile closes with an apt moment:

“I’ve had a long day, a long month, and a long year,” he said at the end of a pre-dawn chat.

He follows that with an instant message: “Dream of a warm and safe place.”

NASA Just Discovered Extended Time in Space Is Bad for Your DNA (Sorry, Elon Musk)

As astronaut Scott Kelly gets used to living life on Earth again–he spent a full year on the International Space Station–Elon Musk continues to plow through SpaceX successes. His long-term goal of eventually supporting human migration to other planets hasn’t changed, but something else has.

That’d be Scott’s DNA.

What happened to Scott’s genes

The big goal of Scott spending a year in space was for NASA to learn more about how extended time off of Earth influences people physically and psychologically. Since Scott has a twin, Mark, who incidentally is also an astronaut, NASA had a perfect opportunity to do some comparative study.

As Katherine Hignett reports in her article for Newsweek, NASA researchers took a close look at Scott and Mark’s DNA once Scott got back from ISS. They found that the extended time in space resulted not only in issues like increased inflammation, but also nutrient changes that altered gene expression.

Most of the changes researchers noted were only temporary. For example, the telomeres on Scott’s chromosome had lengthened on his mission, but they shortened right back up in just two days once Scott was Earthbound again. But a full 7 percent of Scott’s genes still showed signs of alteration after six months. That has the researchers questioning whether the changes are much more long-term.

Different DNA, new questions

NASA’s results throw a big ethical problem at Musk and SpaceX: What if the effects on DNA are even more pronounced with long-term space colonization? Even if the changes aren’t more drastic, what are the implications for the ability of human beings to survive, especially given that changes were noted in genes connected to DNA repair? (Think mutations here, for better or worse.) What do those changes mean over many generations, and could they eventually threaten what it means to be human in the most basic sense? Should we continue to reach for planets simply because the technology is extending our arms, even if we don’t know what’s in store for our health and species? After all, 7 percent isn’t a small number when you understand that, comparatively, we’re genetically separated from chimps by only 4 percent. And roughly 10 percent of our genes regulate the expression of our other genes, so influencing one gene can affect others.

I find the whole thing a little unsettling.

But then again, sometimes you simply won’t get an answer unless you take a really big risk. Just ask scientists like Marie Curie, whose Nobel prize-winning radium work essentially poisoned her to death. Modern researchers take as many precautions as they can, but they still can only protect themselves based on the current information they have. Even now, we don’t always know whether much of what we do in science is a threat.

I don’t necessarily think Scott’s DNA changes spell the end of SpaceX. But I do think it forces Musk to consider the enormous sacrifices we’re going to have to make to reach a point where we can determine whether colonization makes sense on a biological, species level. The people who make an educated, informed decision to get us answers might never be the same afterward, and for my part, I think Musk has an obligation to accept the consequences of that irreversibility, whatever they might happen to be.