Robotics

Scientists Create Robots That Can Assemble IKEA Furniture For You (sciencemag.org) 42

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Although artificial intelligence systems may be able to beat humans at board games, we still have the upper hand when it comes to complicated manual tasks. But now, scientists have created robots that can do something even most humans struggle with: assemble an IKEA chair. Putting together a chair requires a combination of complex movements that, in turn, depends on such skills as vision, limb coordination, and the ability to control force. Until now, that was too much to ask of even a sophisticated robot. But researchers have finally broken the dexterity barrier by combining commercially available hardware, including 3D cameras and force sensors, to build two chair-building bots. To construct their IKEA masterpiece, the robots first took pictures to identify each part of the chair. An algorithm planned the motions the robots needed to manipulate the objects without causing any collisions; two robotic arms then performed those actions in concert. Feedback from force sensors also helped: When the robot needed to insert a pin into a hole, for example, it would slide the pin over the surface until it felt a change in force. The robots were able to put together the chair in a little over 20 minutes, which includes the 11 minutes and 21 seconds of planning time and 8 minutes and 55 seconds of actual assembly. The findings have been reported today in Science Robotics.
Transportation

Autonomous Boats Will Be On the Market Sooner Than Self-Driving Cars (vice.com) 54

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In the autonomous revolution that is underway, nearly every transportation machine will eventually be self-driving. For cars, it's likely going to take decades before we see them operating freely, outside of test conditions. Some unmanned watercraft, on the other hand, may be at sea commercially before 2020. That's partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through U.S. ports in 2016. The world's 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

Startups and major firms like Rolls Royce are now looking to automate the seas and help maritime companies ease navigation, save fuel, improve safety, increase tonnage, and make more money. As it turns out, autonomous systems for boats aren't supremely different than those of cars, beyond a few key factors -- for instance, water is always moving while roads are not, and ships need at least a couple miles to redirect. Buffalo Automation, a startup in upstate New York that began at the University at Buffalo, just raised $900,000 to help commercialize its AutoMate system -- essentially a collection of sensors and cameras to help boats operate semi-autonomously. CEO Thiru Vikram said the company is working with three pilot partners, and intends to target cargo ships and recreational vessels first. Autonomous ships are an area of particular interest for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which sets the standards for international waters. It launched a regulatory scoping exercise last year to analyze the impact of autonomous boats. By the time it wraps in 2020, market demand may make it so that we already have semi-autonomous and unmanned vessels at sea.

Science

MIT Discovers Way To Mass-Produce Graphene In Large Sheets (inhabitat.com) 25

New submitter Paige.Bennett writes: Up till now, graphene has been produced in small batches in labs. But MIT just found a way to mass-produce graphene in large sheets using a process that rolls out five centimeters of graphene each minute. The longest span so far was nearly four hours, which produced about 10 meters of graphene. According to MIT, here's how their conveyor belt system works: "The first spool unfurls a long strip of copper foil, less than one centimeter wide. When it enters the furnace, the foil is fed through first one tube and then another, in a 'split-zone' design. While the foil rolls through the first tube, it heats up to a certain ideal temperature, at which point it is ready to roll through the second tube, where the scientists pump in a specified ratio of methane and hydrogen gas, which are deposited onto the heated foil to produce graphene." The work has been published in the journal Materials and Interfaces.
Bitcoin

German ICO Savedroid Pulls Exit Scam After Raising $50 Million (techcrunch.com) 101

German company Savedroid has pulled a classic exit scam after raising $50 million in ICO and direct funding. The site is currently displaying a South Park meme with the caption "Aannnd it's gone." The founder, Dr. Yassin Hankir, has posted a tweet thanking investors and saying "Over and out." TechCrunch reports: A reverse image search found Hankir's photo on this page for Founder Institute, and he has pitched his product at multiple events, including this one in German. Savedroid was originally supposed to use AI to manage user investments and promised a crypto-backed credit card, a claim that CCN notes is popular with scam ICOs. It ran for a number of months and was clearly well-managed as the group was able to open an office and appear at multiple events.
Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 32

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
Facebook

'Login With Facebook' Data Hijacked By JavaScript Trackers (techcrunch.com) 50

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that it's investigating a security research report that shows Facebook user data can be grabbed by third-party JavaScript trackers embedded on websites using Login With Facebook. The exploit lets these trackers gather a user's data including name, email address, age range, gender, locale, and profile photo depending on what users originally provided to the website. It's unclear what these trackers do with the data, but many of their parent companies including Tealium, AudienceStream, Lytics, and ProPS sell publisher monetization services based on collected user data. The abusive scripts were found on 434 of the top 1 million websites including freelancer site Fiverr.com, camera seller B&H Photo And Video, and cloud database provider MongoDB. That's according to Steven Englehardt and his colleagues at Freedom To Tinker, which is hosted by Princeton's Center For Information Technology Policy.
NASA

SpaceX Launches NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite, Successfully Lands Its Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 32

SpaceX launched NASA's TESS spacecraft Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship following takeoff. This marks 24 successful landings for SpaceX now, notes The Verge. We will update this post once TESS is deployed into orbit. From the report: TESS is NASA's newest exoplanet hunter. The probe is tasked with staring at stars tens to hundreds of light-years from Earth, watching to see if they blink. When a planet passes in front of a distant star, it dims the star's light ever so slightly. TESS will measure these twinkles from a 13.7-day orbit that extends as far out as the distance of the Moon. The satellite won't get to its final orbit on this launch. Instead, the Falcon 9 will put TESS into a highly elliptical path around Earth first. From there, TESS will slowly adjust its orbit over the next couple of months by igniting its onboard engine multiple times. The spacecraft will even do a flyby of the Moon next month, getting a gravitational boost that will help get the vehicle to its final path around Earth. Overall, it will take about 60 days after launch for TESS to get to its intended orbit; science observations are scheduled to begin in June.
Facebook

Facebook To Design Its Own Processors For Hardware Devices, AI Software, and Servers (bloomberg.com) 47

Facebook is the latest technology company to design its own semiconductors, reports Bloomberg. "The social media company is seeking to hire a manager to build an 'end-to-end SoC/ASIC, firmware and driver development organization,' according to a job listing on its corporate website, indicating the effort is still in its early stages." From the report: Facebook could use such chips to power hardware devices, artificial intelligence software and servers in its data centers. Next month, the company will launch the Oculus Go, a $200 standalone virtual-reality headset that runs on a Qualcomm processor. Facebook is also working on a slew of smart speakers. Future generations of those devices could be improved by custom chipsets. By using its own processors, the company would have finer control over product development and would be able to better tune its software and hardware together. The postings didn't make it clear what kind of use Facebook wants to put the chips to other than the broad umbrella of artificial intelligence. A job listing references "expertise to build custom solutions targeted at multiple verticals including AI/ML," indicating that the chip work could focus on a processor for artificial intelligence tasks. Facebook AI researcher Yann LeCun tweeted about some of the job postings on Wednesday, asking for candidates interested in designing chips for AI.
United Kingdom

Amazon Employee Explains the Poor Working Conditions of An Amazon Warehouse 180

Earlier this week, James Bloodworth, a former UK Amazon employee that worked undercover in the "fulfillment center" for six-months, released a book detailing the mistreatment of warehouse employees at the commerce company. He described the work culture as a prison after discovering that Amazon warehouse staff were peeing in bottles to avoid taking too many breaks. Since the report first broke, many Amazon employees have come out to share their thoughts on the working conditions, including one Reddit user who claims that "the post is pretty spot on": They don't monitor bathroom breaks, but [your] individual rate (or production goal) [doesn't] account for bathroom breaks, or... let's say there is a problem like you need [two] of something and there's only one left, well you have to put on your "andon"... wait for someone to come "fix" for you, all the while your rate is dropping. The [two] most common reasons [people] get fired are not hitting rate, and attendance. They don't really try to help you hit rate, they just fire and replace.

My first week there [two] [people] collapsed from dehydration. It's so [commonplace] to see someone collapse that nobody is even shocked anymore. You'll just hear a manager complain that he has to do some report now, while a couple of new [people] try to help the guy (veterans won't risk helping [because] it drips rate). No sitting allowed, and there's nowhere to sit anywhere except the break rooms. Before the robots (they call them kivas) pickers would regularly walk 10-15 miles a day, now it's just stand for 10-12 hours a day. [People] complain about the heat all the time but we just get told 80 degrees (Fahrenheit obviously) is a safe working temp. [Sometimes] they will pull out a thermometer, but even when it hits 85 they just say it's fine. There's been deaths, at least one in my building... Amazon likes to keep it all hush hush. Heard about others, you can find the stories if you search for it, but Amazon does a good job burying it...
Amazon has denied the allegations, saying: "Amazon ensures all of its associates have easy access to toilet facilities which are just a short walk from where they are working. Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We have not been provided with confirmation that the people who completed the survey worked at Amazon and we don't recognize these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings."
Microsoft

Microsoft Ports Edge Anti-Phishing Technology To Google Chrome (bleepingcomputer.com) 49

An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft has released a Chrome extension named "Windows Defender Browser Protection" that ports Windows Defender's -- and inherently Edge's -- anti-phishing technology to Google Chrome. The extension works by showing bright red-colored pages whenever users are tricked into accessing malicious links. The warnings are eerily similar to the ones that Chrome natively shows via the Safe Browsing API, but are powered by Microsoft's database of malicious links —also known as the SmartScreen API.

Chrome users should be genuinely happy that they can now use both APIs for detecting phishing and malware-hosting URLs. The SmartScreen API isn't as known as Google's more famous Safe Browsing API, but works in the same way, and possibly even better. An NSS Labs benchmark revealed that Edge (with its SmartScreen API) caught 99 percent of all phishing URLs thrown at it during a test last year, while Chrome only detected 87 percent of the malicious links users accessed.

Businesses

Robots Ride To the Rescue Where Workers Can't Be Found (nytimes.com) 64

Fast-growing economies in Eastern Europe have led to severe labor shortages, so companies are calling in the machines [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: In many major economies, companies are experimenting with replacing factory workers, truck drivers and even lawyers with artificial intelligence, raising the specter of a mass displacement of jobs. But in Eastern Europe, robots are being enlisted as the solution for a shortage of workers. Often they are helping to create new types of jobs as businesses in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland try to stay agile and competitive. Growth in these countries, which became low-cost manufacturing hubs for Europe after the fall of Communism, has averaged 5 percent in recent years, buoyed by the global recovery.

Few are riding higher than the Czech Republic, where plants roll out cars for the likes of Toyota and consumer electronics for Dell, while smaller companies produce specialty goods to sell around the world. A roaring economy has slashed the jobless rate to just 2.4 percent, the lowest in the European Union. The dearth of manpower, however, has limited the ability of Czech companies to expand. Nearly a third of them have started to turn away orders, according to the Czech Confederation of Industry, a trade group.

Education

100 Top Colleges Vow To Enroll More Low-Income Students (npr.org) 79

Research shows that just 3 percent of high-achieving, low-income students attend America's most selective colleges. And, it's not that these students just aren't there -- every year tens of thousands of top students who don't come from wealthy families never even apply to elite colleges. Universities are taking note -- and banding together under something called the American Talent Initiative -- a network backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Aspen Institute and the research firm Ithaka S+R. To join the club, schools have to graduate 70 percent of their students in six years -- a qualification that leaves just under 300 schools in the U.S. eligible. Nearly a third of those schools -- exactly 100 -- have signed on. Their goal? Enroll 50,000 additional low- and moderate-income students by 2025. From a report: Each school has its own goals, too -- many want to increase the number of Pell Grant students on campus, others aim to improve graduation rates -- but they're all on board to share strategies, learn from each other's missteps and provide data to monitor their progress.
Communications

A Florida Man Has been Accused of Making 97 Million Robocalls (bloomberg.com) 138

A Florida man accused of flooding consumers with 97 million phone calls touting fake travel deals appeared Wednesday before lawmakers to explain how robocalls work and to say, "I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged." From a report: Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, who is fighting a proposed $120 million fine, told senators that open-source software lets operators make thousands of phone calls with the click of a button, in combination with cloud-based computing and "the right long distance company." "Clearly regulation needs to address the carriers and providers and require the major carriers to detect robocalls activity," Abramovich said in testimony submitted in advance to the Senate Commerce Committee. He has asked the Federal Communications Commission to reduce the fine proposed last year, calling it disproportionate, in part because most calls went unanswered or resulted in a quick hang-up by consumers. The panel's chairman, Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called Abamovich and officials from the FCC and other agencies to discuss ways to stop abusive calls.
Microsoft

Microsoft Drops OneNote From Office, Pushes Users To Windows 10 Version (venturebeat.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft is making big changes to OneNote for Windows: The desktop app will no longer be included in Microsoft Office. Instead, OneNote for Windows 10, the UWP app, will be the default OneNote experience for both Office 365 and Office 2019. OneNote for Mac, Android, iOS, and the web are unaffected. The move shouldn't be a huge surprise for those paying close attention to OneNote's development. Back in February 2015, Microsoft made OneNote for Windows completely free by removing all feature restrictions. This untethering of OneNote from Office meant users could download OneNote 2013 for Windows 7 and Windows 8 without having to pay for Office 2013.
Privacy

Richard Stallman On Facebook's Privacy Scandal: We Need a Law. There's No Reason We Should Let Them Exist if the Price is Knowing Everything About Us (nymag.com) 300

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman by New York Magazine: New York Magazine: Why do you think these companies feel justified in collecting that data?

Richard Stallman: Oh, well, I think you can trace it to the general plutocratic neoliberal ideology that has controlled the U.S. for more than two decades. A study established that since 1998 or so, the public opinion in general has no influence on political decisions. They're controlled by the desires of the rich and of special interests connected with whatever issue it is. So the companies that wanted to collect data about people could take advantage of this general misguided ideology to get away with whatever they might have wanted to do. Which happened to be collecting data about people. But I think they shouldn't be allowed to collect data about people.

We need a law. Fuck them -- there's no reason we should let them exist if the price is knowing everything about us. Let them disappear. They're not important -- our human rights are important. No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state. And a police state is what we're heading toward. Most non-free software has malicious functionalities. And they include spying on people, restricting people -- that's called digital restrictions management, back doors, censorship.

Empirically, basically, if a program is not free software, it probably has one of these malicious functionalities. So imagine a driverless car, controlled of course by software, and it will probably be proprietary software, meaning not-free software, not controlled by the users but rather by the company that makes the car, or some other company. Well imagine if that has a back door, which enables somebody to send a command saying, "Ignore what the passenger said, and go there." Imagine what that would do. You can be quite sure that China will use that functionality to drive people toward the places they're going to be disappeared or punished. But can you be sure that the U.S. won't?

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