AI

AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear (qz.com) 227

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Quartz: As we've turned our gaze away from the stars and toward our screens, our anxiety about humanity's ultimate fate has shifted along with it. No longer are we afraid of aliens taking our freedom: It's the technology we're building on our own turf we should be worried about. The advent of artificial intelligence is increasingly bringing about the kinds of disturbing scenarios the old alien blockbusters warned us about. In 2016, Microsoft's first attempt at a functioning AI bot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving mess an hour after it launched. Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged the United Nations to ban the use of AI in weapons before it becomes "the third revolution in warfare." And in China, AI surveillance cameras are being rolled out by the government to track 1.3 billion people at a level Big Brother could only dream of. As AI's presence in film and TV has evolved, space creatures blowing us up now seems almost quaint compared to the frightening uncertainties of an computer-centric world. Will Smith went from saving Earth from alien destruction to saving it from robot servants run amok. More recently, Ex Machina, Chappie, and Transcendence have all explored the complexities that arise when the lines between human and robot blur.

However, sentient machines aren't a new anxiety. It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It's a stunning depiction of a sprawling, smog-choked future, filled with bounty hunters muttering "enhance" at grainy pictures on computer screens. ("Alexa, enlarge image.") The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin. Even alien sci-fi now acknowledges that we've got worse things to worry about than extra-terrestrials: ourselves.

Facebook

Facebook Is Testing a Dislike Button (thedailybeast.com) 146

Ever since the inception of the Like button, Facebook users have been asking for a "dislike" button. Today, Facebook is testing a "downvote" button with certain users in the comment section of posts within Facebook groups and on old Facebook memories content. The Daily Beast reports: The feature appears to give users the ability to downrank certain comments. This is the first time Facebook has tested anything similar to a "dislike" button and it could theoretically allow for content that's offensive or relevant to be pushed to the bottom of a comment feed. In 2016, citing Facebook executives, Bloomberg said a dislike button "had been rejected on the grounds that it would sow too much negativity" to the platform. It's unclear how widely the dislike button is being tested. Facebook regularly tests features with small subsets of users that never end up rolling out to the broader public. Most users currently are only able to either Like or Reply to comments in a thread. The downvote option could have radical implications on what types of discussions and comments flourish on the platform. While it could theoretically be used to de-rank inflammatory or problematic comments, it could also easily be used as a tool for abuse.
Bitcoin

Arizona Introduces Bill That Would Allow Residents To Pay Taxes In Bitcoin (investopedia.com) 109

In a bid to attract businesses involved in blockchain and cryptocurrencies, Arizona lawmakers have proposed a bill that would allow the state's citizens to pay their taxes in bitcoin. "Arizona State Rep. Jeff Weninger, who introduced the bill, said it was a signal to everyone in the United States, and possibly throughout the world, that Arizona was going to be the place to be for blockchain and digital currency technology in the future," reports Investopedia. From the report: Weninger, a Republican, also cited the ease of making online payments through the cryptocurrency "while you're watching television," as another reason. But he did not divulge much detail about the implementation of such a system. That might be the reason why Weninger faces an uphill battle in getting the bill approved by the state legislature. Bitcoin's price volatility is already being cited as a possible roadblock to implementing such a measure by state legislators. Arizona state senator Steve Farley, a Democrat who's running for governor, said the bill puts the "volatility burden" of bitcoin's price on taxpayers who make payments in U.S. dollars. "It would mean that the money goes to the state and then the state has to take responsibility of how to exchange it," Farley said.
The Military

German Navy Experiences 'LCS Syndrome' In Spades As New Frigate Fails Sea Trials (arstechnica.com) 222

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica, highlighting the problems the Germany Navy is facing right now. It has no working submarines due to a chronic repair parts shortage, and its newest ships face problems so severe that the first of the class failed its sea trials and was returned to the shipbuilders in December. From the report: The Baden-Wurttemberg class frigates were ordered to replace the 1980s-era Bremen class ships, all but two of which have been retired already. At 149 meters (488 feet) long with a displacement of 7,200 metric tons (about 7,900 U.S. tons), the Baden-Wurttembergs are about the size of destroyers and are intended to reduce the size of the crew required to operate them. Like the Zumwalt, the frigates are intended to have improved land attack capabilities -- a mission capability largely missing from the Deutsche Marine's other post-unification ships. The new frigate was supposed to be a master of all trades -- carrying Marines to deploy to fight ashore, providing gunfire support, hunting enemy ships and submarines, and capable of being deployed on far-flung missions for up to two years away from a home port. As with the U.S. Navy's LCS ships, the German Navy planned to alternate crews -- sending a fresh crew to meet the ship on deployment to relieve the standing crew.

Instead, the Baden-Wurttemberg now bears the undesirable distinction of being the first ship the German Navy has ever refused to accept after delivery. In fact, the future of the whole class of German frigates is now in doubt because of the huge number of problems experienced with the first ship during sea trials. So the Baden-Wurttemberg won't be shooting its guns at anything for the foreseeable future (and neither will the Zumwalt for the moment, since the U.S. Navy cancelled orders for their $800,000-per-shot projectiles). System integration issues are a major chunk of the Baden-Wurrenberg's problems. About 90 percent of the ship's systems are so new that they've never been deployed on a warship in fact -- they've never been tested together as part of what the U.S. Navy would call "a system of systems." And all of that new hardware and software have not played well together -- particularly with the ship's command and control computer system, the Atlas Naval Combat System (ANCS).
schwit1 adds: "Perhaps most inexcusable, the ship doesn't even float right. It has a permanent list to starboard."
Democrats

32 Senators Want To Know If US Regulators Halted Equifax Probe (engadget.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Earlier this week, a Reuters report suggested that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had halted its investigation into last year's massive Equifax data breach. Reuters sources said that even basic steps expected in such a probe hadn't been taken and efforts had stalled since Mick Mulvaney took over as head of the CFPB late last year. Now, 31 Democratic senators and one Independent have written a letter to Mulvaney asking if that is indeed the case and if so, why.

In their letter, the senators expressed their concern over these reports and reiterated the duty the CFPB has to not only investigate the breach but to bring action against Equifax if deemed necessary. "Consumer reporting agencies and the data they collect play a central role in consumers' access to credit and the fair and competitive pricing of that credit," they wrote. "Therefore, the CFPB has a duty to supervise consumer reporting agencies, investigate how this breach has or will harm consumers and bring enforcement actions as necessary."

Businesses

Google's Parent Company Alphabet Is Buying Chelsea Market For $2 Billion (qz.com) 29

Alphabet is close to acquiring the iconic Chelsea Market in Midtown Manhattan for over $2 billion. The market totals 1.2 million square feet and sits across the street from the company's New York headquarters, a 2.9 million-square-foot building that it bought for $1.8 billion in 2010. Quartz reports: Google is already the Market's largest tenant, having steadily expanded its footprint to about 400,000 square feet. The tech giant hasn't revealed plans for the property, but according to The Real Deal, the company is expected to maintain the status quo. Alphabet's aggressive expansion in New York follows a growing trend of tech giants taking over cities. With their outsized share of the economy, tech companies are exerting increasing influence over urban infrastructure and development.
Businesses

Detroit Quietly Bans Airbnb (curbed.com) 197

A new zoning ordinance that quietly went into effect this week has residents trying to figure out what comes next for Airbnb's presence in Detroit. Many hosts have received notices that the city has outlawed Airbnb for R1 and R2 zoning. Curbed Detroit reports: The new zoning ordinance apparently went through the Planning Commission and City Council in 2017, and went into effect this week. The text added to the amendment states: "Use of a dwelling to accommodate paid overnight guests is prohibited as a home occupation; notwithstanding this regulation, public accommodations, including bed and breakfast inns outside the R1 and R2 Districts, are permitted as provided in Sec. 61-12-46 of this Code." The vast majority of Airbnb units in Detroit are in R1 and R2 districts. These do not include places like lofts, apartments, or larger developments. Airbnb has issued a statement saying: "We're very disappointed by this turn of events. Airbnb has served as an economic engine for middle class Detroiters, many of whom rely on the supplemental income to stay in their homes. We hope that the city listens to our host community and permits home sharing in these residential zones."
The Almighty Buck

Tesla Burns Through $2 Billion In 2017 (theverge.com) 188

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Tesla reported record revenue for 2017, floated by customer deposits of the recently announced Semi truck and Roadster sports car. Despite its optimistic sales numbers, Model 3 production issues and cash flow problems haunt the company, but Tesla insists its on track to meet its production goals of 5,000 cars a week by mid-2018. Tesla reported $3.3 billion in revenue, which was expected, but also posted a $771 million quarterly loss -- its largest quarterly loss ever. The company reported a negative free cash flow of $276.7 million. And it reported a net loss of $2.24 billion in 2017, a significant increase over the $773 million net loss it reported in 2016.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Won't Be the Dark Web's Top Cryptocurrency For Long (cnet.com) 79

Bitcoin has essentially become the poster child for cryptocurrencies, and that's a problem for cybercriminals dealing on the dark web. From a report: Researchers from Recorded Future, a threat intelligence company, looked through 150 of the dark web's top marketplaces and forums and found that bitcoin's boom is driving shady characters away from the cryptocurrency. The rise of bitcoin has brought cryptocurrency -- digital alternatives to government-issued money -- to the mainstream, enticing people who are looking to get rich quick. Last December, bitcoin hit its all-time high at nearly $20,000, but it has since slumped and as of Thursday is trading at a little over the $8,000 mark. But before it was a massive investment that millionaires bought, it was the dark web's currency of choice, thanks to its decentralized and anonymous structure.
Google

Google Chrome Pushes For User Protection With 'Not secure' Label (axios.com) 85

In an effort to force websites to better protect their users, the Chrome web browser will label all sites not encrypted traffic as "Not secure" in the web address bar, Google announced Thursday. From a report: Encrypted traffic allows users to access data on a website without allowing potential eavesdroppers to see anything the users visit. HTTPS also prevents meddlers from changing information in transit. During normal web browsing, Google currently displays a "Not secure" warning in the next to a site's URL if it forgoes HTTPS encryption and a user enters data. Now the browser will label all sites without HTTPS encryption this way.
IOS

Apple Says the Leaked iPhone Source Code is Outdated (cnet.com) 80

Apple has responded to security concerns surrounding leaked iPhone source code, pointing out that any potential vulnerabilities would be outdated. From a report: "Old source code from three years ago appears to have been leaked," Apple said in a statement, "but by design the security of our products doesn't depend on the secrecy of our source code. There are many layers of hardware and software protections built in to our products, and we always encourage customers to update to the newest software releases to benefit from the latest protections." The iBoot source code for iOS 9, a core part of what keeps your iPhones and iPads secure when they turn on, was leaked on GitHub, Motherboard first reported. The source code leak was considered a major security issue for Apple, as hackers could dig through it and search for any vulnerabilities in iBoot. Apple had used a DMCA notice to get the Github page hosting the leaked code taken down, but multiple copies of the code have already spread online.
Science

Engineering Marvel of the Winter Olympics: A Broom (nytimes.com) 88

Andrew Flemming and Geoff Fowler, both 29, along with their friend and business partner, Will Hamilton, 37, were pouring their creative energies into a high-tech training device the likes of which the sporting world had never seen. They were building a better broom. From a report: Not just any broom, but one that they thought could be essential to the sport of curling, which relies on the best broom handling out there as teams strategically cajole a polished granite rock across a sheet of ice. They wound up calling it the SmartBroom, and in a sport that can come across as vaguely primordial, their piece of 21st-century gadgetry could play a role in determining who wins gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Each SmartBroom has four sensors in the broom head that relay data to a small display unit. Hamilton took one for a spin down the ice, and the data was instantaneous -- line graphs along with a slew of numbers that showed his force in pounds and his stroke rate in hertz. Hamilton also pointed to a figure that he described as his "sweeping performance index," or S.P.I., a metric that combines power and speed in one easy-to-digest figure. Patrick Janssen, a world-class curler from Canada, has consistently registered an S.P.I. in the 2,800 range. The numbers by themselves might not mean much, Flemming said, but subtle changes in technique can lead to big differences in the quality of each stroke. And now curlers have that information at their disposal. They can experiment to see which stroke works best for them.

Businesses

Salaries For Workers in Technology Roles, Including Software Engineers and Product Managers, Peak Around Age 45 (hired.com) 206

A report released on Thursday by the job marketplace Hired reveals that salaries for workers in technology roles, including software engineers, product managers, and data analysts, peak around age 45. After that, earnings level off or drop until retirement. According to the report, the average salary of US technology workers is about $135,000, with the highest pay in the San Francisco area.
AI

'Modern AI is Good at a Few Things But Bad at Everything Else' (wired.com) 200

Jason Pontin, writing for Wired: Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google, has said that AI "is more profound than ... electricity or fire." Andrew Ng, who founded Google Brain and now invests in AI startups, wrote that "If a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future." Their enthusiasm is pardonable.

[...] But there are many things that people can do quickly that smart machines cannot. Natural language is beyond deep learning; new situations baffle artificial intelligences, like cows brought up short at a cattle grid. None of these shortcomings is likely to be solved soon. Once you've seen you've seen it, you can't un-see it: deep learning, now the dominant technique in artificial intelligence, will not lead to an AI that abstractly reasons and generalizes about the world. By itself, it is unlikely to automate ordinary human activities.

To see why modern AI is good at a few things but bad at everything else, it helps to understand how deep learning works. Deep learning is math: a statistical method where computers learn to classify patterns using neural networks. [...] Deep learning's advances are the product of pattern recognition: neural networks memorize classes of things and more-or-less reliably know when they encounter them again. But almost all the interesting problems in cognition aren't classification problems at all.

Intel

Intel Replaces its Buggy Fix for Skylake PCs (zdnet.com) 57

Intel has released new microcode to address the stability and reboot issues on systems after installing its initial mitigations for Variant 2 of the Meltdown and Spectre attacks. From a report: The stability issues caused by Intel's microcode updates resulted in Lenovo, HP, and Dell halting their deployment of BIOS updates last month as Intel worked to resolve the problems. Intel initially said unexpected reboots were only seen on Broadwell and Haswell chips, but later admitted newer Skylake architecture chips were also affected. Microsoft also said it had also seen Intel's updates cause data loss or corruption in some cases.
Google

Original Pixel Phone Users Are Suing Google Over Microphone Defects (fastcompany.com) 62

Google is facing a lawsuit over the original Pixel. From a report: In a class action complaint filed this week, plaintiffs allege that the microphones in their Pixel and Pixel XL phones were defective from the start, and that Google knowingly sold defective phones amid widespread complaints immediately after launch. The lawsuit also claims that some warranty replacement phones continued to have problems, though neither of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit had their phones repaired within Google's standard warranty period. Google acknowledged the Pixel phones' microphone issues in March 2017. An employee on Google's support forums attributed the problems to "a hairline crack in the solder connection on the audio codec," and said the problem can come and go depending on the temperature of the phone or the way it's being held.
Google

Google Executives Are Floating a Plan To Fight Fake News on Facebook and Twitter (qz.com) 305

Fake news, bots, and propaganda were hot topics at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last month, and Google executives there floated an intriguing idea to some fellow attendees -- what if the company could tell users whether information is trustworthy before they shared it on social networks like Facebook and Twitter? From a report: Representatives from Google and its parent company Alphabet eagerly discussed how the company can play a greater role in reducing misleading information online, several Davos attendees involved in and briefed on these conversations told Quartz. A notification system, perhaps via an optional extension for Google's Chrome browser, was an idea that these people said was broached more than once. Such a browser-based system controlled by Google could alert users on Facebook's or Twitter's websites when they're seeing or sharing a link deemed to be false or untrustworthy. Right now, this appears to be merely an idea company executives are discussing, not a product in development.
Businesses

Anti-China Bill Being Softened After US Companies Complain (reuters.com) 71

Proposed legislation in Congress aimed at preventing China from acquiring sensitive technology is being softened after protests by big U.S. companies who fear a loss in sales, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing people with knowledge of the matter. From the report: Two bills in the House of Representatives and Senate would broaden the powers of the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in hopes of stopping Chinese efforts to acquire sophisticated U.S. technology. The bipartisan legislation has the support of President Donald Trump's administration. "We are concerned that it vastly expands the scope and jurisdiction (of CFIUS)," said Nancy McLernon, chief executive of the Organization for International Investment, a group that represents global companies with U.S. operations. Given the alarm that the legislation has caused, Senator John Cornyn's staff is drafting changes to address industry concerns, according to three sources. Cornyn's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Wikipedia

Wikipedia Has Become a Science Reference Source Even Though Scientists Don't Cite it (sciencenews.org) 140

Bethany Brookshire, writing for Science News: Wikipedia is a gold mine for science fans, science bloggers and scientists alike. But even though scientists use Wikipedia, they don't tend to admit it. The site rarely ends up in a paper's citations as the source of, say, the history of the gut-brain axis or the chemical formula for polyvinyl chloride. But scientists are browsing Wikipedia just like everyone else. A recent analysis found that Wikipedia stays up-to-date on the latest research -- and vocabulary from those Wikipedia articles finds its way into scientific papers. The results don't just reveal the Wiki-habits of the ivory tower. They also show that the free, widely available information source is playing a role in research progress, especially in poorer countries.
Bitcoin

Attackers Drain CPU Power From Water Utility Plant In Cryptojacking Attack (eweek.com) 76

darthcamaro writes: Apparently YouTube isn't the only site that is draining CPU power with unauthorized cryptocurrency miners. A water utility provider in Europe is literally being drained of its CPU power via an cryptojacking attack that was undetected for three weeks. eWeek reports: "At this point, Radiflow's (the security firm that discovered the cryptocurrency mining malware) investigation indicates that the cryptocurrency mining malware was likely downloaded from a malicious advertising site. As such, the theory that Radiflow CTO Yehonatan Kfir has is that an operator at the water utility was able to open a web browser and clicked on an advertising link that led the mining code being installed on the system. The actual system that first got infected is what is known as a Human Machine Interface (HMI) to the SCADA network and it was running the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Radiflow's CEO, Ilan Barda, noted that many SCADA environments still have Windows XP systems deployed as operators tend to be very slow to update their operating systems." Radiflow doesn't know how much Monero (XMR) cryptocurrency was mined by the malware, but a recent report from Cisco's Talos research group revealed that some of the top un-authorized cryptocurrency campaigns generate over a million dollars per year. The average system would generate nearly $200,000 per year.
China

Police In China Are Scanning Travelers With Facial Recognition Glasses (engadget.com) 87

Baron_Yam shares a report from Engadget: Police in China are now sporting glasses equipped with facial recognition devices and they're using them to scan train riders and plane passengers for individuals who may be trying to avoid law enforcement or are using fake IDs. So far, police have caught seven people connected to major criminal cases and 26 who were using false IDs while traveling, according to People's Daily. The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing-based LLVision Technology Co. developed the devices. The company produces wearable video cameras as well and while it sells those to anyone, it's vetting buyers for its facial recognition devices. And, for now, it isn't selling them to consumers. LLVision says that in tests, the system was able to pick out individuals from a database of 10,000 people and it could do so in 100 milliseconds. However, CEO Wu Fei told the Wall Street Journal that in the real world, accuracy would probably drop due to "environmental noise." Additionally, aside from being portable, another difference between these devices and typical facial recognition systems is that the database used for comparing images is contained in a hand-held device rather than the cloud."
Media

US Suicides Spiked 10 Percent After Robin Williams's Death, Study Finds (bbc.com) 245

dryriver shares a report from the BBC: U.S. suicide rates spiked in the months after Robin Williams killed himself in 2014, according to researchers. In the five months after the actor's death there were 10% more suicides than might be expected, or 1,841 extra cases, PLOS One journal reports. The potential risk of copycat incidents after celebrity cases is known to public health bodies. It cannot be known for certain if his death led to the spike but it appeared to be connected, the new study said. Experts say "irresponsible" media coverage of suicides can play a big part in copycat cases. At the time of his death, the Samaritans warned about a large number of news articles giving too much detail about the nature of his suicide, against media guidelines. Guidance from the World Health Organization, the Independent Press Standards Organization's editors' code of practice, the Ofcom broadcasting code and the BBC's editorial guidelines all advise against going into explicit detail about the methods used. However, researchers said there was "substantial evidence" that many media outlets had tended to deviate from these guidelines.

For the latest study, they looked at the monthly suicide rates from the U.S. government Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between January 1999 and December 2015 to see if there had been a spike. They found there were 18,690 suicides between August and December 2014 compared with the 16,849 cases they would have expected. In the weeks after Williams's death, there was a "drastic" increase in references to suicide and death in news media reports, as well as more posts on an internet suicide forum researchers monitored, the study found. David Fink, one of the study's authors, from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said research had previously shown that suicide rates increased following a high-profile celebrity suicide, but this was a first time such a study had been done within the era of the 24-hour news cycle. Lorna Fraser, from the Samaritans' media advisory service, said: "This study builds on a strong body of research evidence that shows that irresponsible or overly detailed depictions of suicide can have a devastating impact. In the case of celebrities, the potential for someone at risk to make an emotional connection and over-identify with them is greater, in some cases even to interpret their death as affirmation that they could take their own life."

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