Businesses

Amazon 'Reviewing' Its Website After It Suggested Bomb-Making Items (nytimes.com)

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon said on Wednesday that it was reviewing its website after a British television report said the online retail giant's algorithms were automatically suggesting bomb-making ingredients that were "Frequently bought together." The news is particularly timely in Britain, where the authorities are investigating a terrorist attack last week on London's Underground subway system. The attack involved a crude explosive in a bucket inside a plastic bag, and detonated on a train during the morning rush. The news report is the latest example of a technology company drawing criticism for an apparently faulty algorithm. Google and Facebook have come under fire for allowing advertisers to direct ads to users who searched for, or expressed interest in, racist sentiments and hate speech. Growing awareness of these automated systems has been accompanied by calls for tech firms to take more responsibility for the contents on their sites. Amazon customers buying products that were innocent enough on their own, like cooking ingredients, received "Frequently bought together" prompts for other items that would help them produce explosives, according to the Channel 4 News.
Businesses

Apple Admits To Apple Watch LTE Problems Just Before It Ships (theverge.com) 20

Lauren Goode, reporting for The Verge: Apple's new Series 3 smartwatch starts shipping this Friday, and the biggest feature change between last year's model and this new Watch is that it has built-in cellular capabilities. Except, that cell service isn't entirely reliable. While writing my review of the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE capabilities, I experienced notable connectivity issues. The new Watch appeared to try to connect to unknown WiFi networks instead of connecting to cellular, when I was out and about without my phone. Within the first couple days of experiencing this, Apple replaced my first review unit with a second one, but that one proved to be problematic, too. Eventually, the company issued an official statement, acknowledging the issue. "We have discovered that when Apple Watch Series 3 joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity, it may at times prevent the watch from using cellular," an Apple spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "We are investigating a fix for a future software release."
Science

Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think (scientificamerican.com) 64

An anonymous reader shares a post from Scientific American, written by Bernardo Kastrup: An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked: "When does your baby become conscious?" The premise, of course, was that babies aren't born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn. Newborns clearly seem to experience their own bodies, environment, the presence of their parents, etcetera -- albeit in an unreflective, present-oriented manner. And if it always feels like something to be a baby, then babies don't become conscious. Instead, they are conscious from the get-go. The problem is that, somewhat alarmingly, the word "consciousness" is often used in the literature as if it entailed or implied more than just the qualities of experience. Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, for instance, insisted that "it is very important to realize that attention is the key to distinguish between unconscious thought and conscious thought. Conscious thought is thought with attention." This implies that if a thought escapes attention, then it is unconscious.

Indeed, Jonathan Schooler has established a clear distinction between conscious and meta-conscious processes. Whereas both types entail the qualities of experience, meta-conscious processes also entail what he called re-representation. "Periodically attention is directed towards explicitly assessing the contents of experience. The resulting meta-consciousness involves an explicit re-representation of consciousness in which one interprets, describes or otherwise characterizes the state of one's mind.

Privacy

Popular Steam Extension 'Inventory Helper' Spies On Users, Says Report (windowsreport.com) 48

SmartAboutThings shares a report from Windows Report: If you installed the "Steam Inventory Helper" on your computer, you may want to uninstall it as soon as possible. Recent reports suggest that this extension used to buy and sell digital goods on Steam is spying on its users. Redditor Wartab made a thorough analysis of the tool and reached the following conclusions: The spyware code tracks your every move starting from the moment you visit a website until you leave. It also tracks where you are coming from on the site; Steam Inventory Helper tracks your clicks, including when you are moving your mouse and when you are having focus in an input; When you click a link, it sends the link URL to a background script; Fortunately, the code does not monitor what you type. Apparently, the purpose of this spyware is to collect data about gamers for promotional purposes.
NASA

NASA's Hubble Captures Blistering Pitch-Black Planet (scienmag.com) 68

schwit1 writes: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet's unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere. The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called "hot Jupiters," gigantic, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures. The planet's atmosphere is so hot that most molecules are unable to survive on the blistering day side of the planet, where the temperature is 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, clouds probably cannot form to reflect light back into space. Instead, incoming light penetrates deep into the planet's atmosphere where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted to heat energy. "We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet," said Taylor Bell of McGill University and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lead researcher of the Hubble study. "Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight."
Transportation

Is the World Ready For Flying Cars? (engadget.com) 174

An anonymous reader shares a report from TechCrunch, adding: "Is the world ready for flying cars? Sebastian Thrun, the supposed godfather of autonomous driving, and several other tech investors seem to think so." From the report: At TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017, Thrun talked a lot about flying cars and how that was the future of transportation. So did GGV's Jenny Lee, a prolific investor in China. And so did Steve Jurvetson, one of the original investors in SpaceX. The technical backbone for flying cars seems to be there already -- with drones becoming ever-present and advancements in AI and self-driving cars -- but the time is coming soon that flying cars will be the primary mode of transportation. "I can't envision a future of highways [and being] stuck in cars," Thrun said. "I envision a [future] where you hop in a thing, go in the air, and fly in a straight line. I envision a future where Amazon delivers my food in the air in five minutes. The air is so free of stuff and is so unused compared to the ground, it has to happen in my opinion."

Cars today are forced to move on a two-dimensional plane (ramps, clover intersections and tunnels set aside), and while self-driving cars would make it easier for cars to talk to each other and move more efficiently, adding a third dimension to travel would make a lot of sense coming next. Thrun pointed to airplane transit, which is already a "fundamentally great mass transit system." Jurvetson said he was actually about to ride in a flying car before he "watched it flip over" before arriving to talk about some of the next steps in technology onstage. So, there's work to be done there, but it does certainly seem that all eyes are on flying cars. And that'll be enabled by autonomous driving, which will probably allow flying cars to figure out the most efficient paths from one point to the next without crashing into each other.
Lee said that China is closely analyzing changes in transportation, which might end up leading to flying cars. "I do want to highlight that there's going to be huge disruption within the transportation ecosystem in China," Lee said. "Cars going from diesel to electric. China has about 200 million install base of car ownership. In 2016, only 1 million cars are electric. The Chinese government hopes to install 5 million parking lots that are electric... Even the Chinese OEMs are buying into flying taxis."
Power

Electric Bus Sets Record With 1,101-Mile Trip On a Single Charge (engadget.com) 106

A startup called Proterra has set the world record for the furthest distance any electric vehicle has managed before recharging. The Catalyst E2 Max electric bus drove 1,101.2 miles on a single charge, beating the previous record-holder, a one-seat experimental car nicknamed "Boozer." Engadget reports: Not surprisingly, a bus can hold a much larger battery than just about any regular car. The Catalyst E2 Max carries 660kWh, or nearly nine times the capacity of a 75kWh Tesla Model S. Also, Proterra was driving in optimal conditions, with no passengers, no stops and a gentle test track. It'd be another story with a fully-laden bus wending its way through a city. Even so, that kind of range is very promising. In many cases, it could likely handle a long bus route for several hours -- it might only need to recharge at the end of a driver's shift. While it could take an hour or more to top up even with Proterra's fast charging system, bus drivers are no strangers to changing vehicles. The first E2 series buses are due to reach Los Angeles streets later in 2017, so it might not be long before you can witness this longevity first-hand. The company released a video of the record-setting feat on YouTube.
Twitter

Twitter Suspends 300,000 Accounts Tied To Terrorism In 2017 (bloomberg.com) 53

According to a new transparency report, Twitter said it suspended nearly 300,000 accounts globally linked to terrorism in the first half of the year. The company is improving automation tools used to help block accounts that promote terrorism and violence. Bloomberg reports: Of [the nearly 300,000 accounts that were suspended], roughly 95 percent were identified by the company's spam-fighting automation tools. Meanwhile, the social network said government data requests continued to increase, and that it provided authorities with data on roughly 3,900 accounts from January to June. Twitter said about 75 percent of the blocked accounts this year were spotted before a single tweet was sent, and that 935,897 accounts had been suspended since August 2015, with two-thirds of those coming in the past year. American authorities made 2,111 requests from Twitter from January to June, the most of the 83 countries tracked by the company. Twitter supplied information on users in 77 percent of the inquiries. Japan made 1,384 requests and the U.K. issued 606 requests. Turkish authorities continued a trend of aggressively policing Twitter, making 554 requests for account data and issuing court orders to remove 715 pieces of content. Other governments made only 38 total content-removal requests.
Data Storage

Google, Bing, Yahoo Data Retention Doesn't Improve Search Quality, Study Claims (theregister.co.uk) 23

A new paper released on Monday via the National Bureau of Economic Research claims that retaining search log data doesn't do much for search quality. "Data retention has implications in the debate over Europe's right to be forgotten, the authors suggest, because retained data undermines that right," reports The Register. "It's also relevant to U.S. policy discussions about privacy regulations." From the report: To determine whether retention policies affected the accuracy of search results, Chiou and Tucker used data from metrics biz Hitwise to assess web traffic being driven by search sites. They looked at Microsoft Bing and Yahoo! Search during a period when Bing changed its search data retention period from 18 months to 6 months and when Yahoo! changed its retention period from 13 months to 3 months, as well as when Yahoo! had second thoughts and shifted to an 18-month retention period. According to Chiou and Tucker, data retention periods didn't affect the flow of traffic from search engines to downstream websites. "Our findings suggest that long periods of data storage do not confer advantages in search quality, which is an often-cited benefit of data retention by companies," their paper states. Chiou and Tucker observe that the supposed cost of privacy laws to consumers and to companies may be lower than perceived. They also contend that their findings weaken the claim that data retention affects search market dominance, which could make data retention less relevant in antitrust discussions of Google.
The Courts

Pepe the Frog's Creator Is Sending Takedown Notices To Far-Right Sites (vice.com) 239

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Pepe the Frog creator Matt Furie has made good on his threat to "aggressively enforce his intellectual property." The artist's lawyers have taken legal action against the alt-right. They have served cease and desist orders to several alt-right personalities and websites including Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich, and the r/the_Donald subreddit. In addition, they have issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests to Reddit and Amazon, notifying them that use of Pepe by the alt-right on their platforms is copyright infringement. The message is to the alt-right is clear -- stop using Pepe the Frog or prepare for legal consequences. Furie originally created Pepe as a non-political character for his Boy's Club comic, but Pepe later became an internet meme and during the 2016 U.S. presidential election the alt-right movement appropriated the frog in various grotesque and hateful memes.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Resigns From Web Consortium In Wake of EME DRM Standardization (eff.org) 159

New submitter Frobnicator writes: Four years ago, the W3C began standardizing Encrypted Media Extensions, or EME. Several organizations, including the EFF, have argued against DRM within web browsers. Earlier this year, after the W3C leadership officially recommended EME despite failing to reach consensus, the EFF filed the first-ever official appeal that the decision be formally polled for consensus. That appeal has been denied, and for the first time the W3C is endorsing a standard against the consensus of its members.

In response, the EFF published their resignation from the body: "The W3C is a body that ostensibly operates on consensus. Nevertheless, as the coalition in support of a DRM compromise grew and grew -- and the large corporate members continued to reject any meaningful compromise -- the W3C leadership persisted in treating EME as topic that could be decided by one side of the debate. [...] Today, the W3C bequeaths an legally unauditable attack-surface to browsers used by billions of people. Effective today, EFF is resigning from the W3C."
Jeff Jaffe, CEO of W3C said: "I know from my conversations that many people are not satisfied with the result. EME proponents wanted a faster decision with less drama. EME critics want a protective covenant. And there is reason to respect those who want a better result. But my personal reflection is that we took the appropriate time to have a respectful debate about a complex set of issues and provide a result that will improve the web for its users. My main hope, though, is that whatever point-of-view people have on the EME covenant issue, that they recognize the value of the W3C community and process in arriving at a decision for an inherently contentious issue. We are in our best light when we are facilitating the debate on important issues that face the web."
IOS

iOS 11 Released (theverge.com) 108

Today, Apple released the final version of iOS 11, its latest mobile operating system. If you have an iPhone or iPad that was released within the last few years, you should be able to download the new update if you navigate to the Settings panel and check for a software update under the General tab. The Verge reports: OS 11, first unveiled in detail back at Apple's WWDC in June, is the same incremental annual refresh we've come to expect from the company, but it hides some impressive complexity under the surface. Not only does it add some neat features to iOS for the first time, like ARKit capabilities for augmented reality and a new Files app, but it also comes with much-needed improvements to Siri; screenshot capture and editing; and the Control Center, which is now more fully featured and customizable. For iPads, iOS 11 is more of an overhaul. The software now better supports multitasking so you can more easily bring two apps into split-screen mode, or even add a third now. The new drag-and-drop features are also much more powerful on iPad, letting you manage stuff in the Files app more intuitively and even letting you drag and drop photos and text from one app to another.
China

China Orders Bitcoin Exchanges In Capital City To Close (bbc.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: China is moving forward with plans to shut down Bitcoin exchanges in the country, starting with trading platforms in key cities. All Bitcoin exchanges in Beijing and Shanghai have been ordered to submit plans for winding down their operations by 20 September. The move follows the Chinese central bank's decision to ban initial coin offerings in early September. Top exchange BTCC said it would stop trading at the end of the month. Chinese authorities decided to ban digital currencies as part of a plan for reducing the country's financial risks. All exchanges are required to send regulators a detailed "risk-free" plan of how they intend to exit the market before 18:30 local time on Wednesday 20 September. The regulator also ordered the exchanges to submit DVDs containing all user trading and holding data to the local authorities. Shareholders, controllers, executives, and core financial and technical staff of exchanges are also required to remain in Beijing during the shutdown and to co-operate fully with authorities.
AI

You Might Use AI, But That Doesn't Mean You're an AI Company, Says a Founder of Google Brain (venturebeat.com) 66

As AI space gets crowded, there are a slew of businesses -- new and old -- looking to market themselves as "AI companies." But according to Andrew Ng, a founder of the Google Brain team and a luminary in the space, there's more to being an AI company than just using a neural net. From a report: In his view, while it's possible to create a website for a shopping mall, that doesn't make it an internet company. In the same way, just implementing basic machine learning does not make a standard technology company (or any other business) an AI company. "You're not an AI company because there are a few people using a few neural networks somewhere," Ng said. "It's much deeper than that." First and foremost, AI companies are strategic about their acquisition of data, which is used as the fuel for machine learning systems. Once an AI company has acquired the data, Ng said that they tend to store it in centralized warehouses for processing. Most enterprises have their information spread across multiple different warehouses, and collating that data for machine learning can prove difficult. AI companies also implement modern development practices, like frequent deployments. That means it's possible to change the product and learn from the changes.
Technology

What Comes After User-Friendly Design? (fastcodesign.com) 155

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, writing for FastCoDesign: "User-friendly" was coined in the late 1970s, when software developers were first designing interfaces that amateurs could use. In those early days, a friendly machine might mean one you could use without having to code. Forty years later, technology is hyper-optimized to increase the amount of time you spend with it, to collect data about how you use it, and to adapt to engage you even more. [...] The discussion around privacy, security, and transparency underscores a broader transformation in the typical role of the designer, as Khoi Vinh, principal designer at Adobe and frequent design writer on his own site, Subtraction, points out. So what does it mean to be friendly to users-er, people-today? Do we need a new way to talk about design that isn't necessarily friendly, but respectful? I talked to a range of designers about how we got here, and what comes next.

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