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AI

MIT's AI Uses Radio Signals To See People Through Walls (inverse.com) 76

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new piece of software that uses wifi signals to monitor the movements, breathing, and heartbeats of humans on the other side of walls. While the researchers say this new tech could be used in areas like remote healthcare, it could in theory be used in more dystopian applications. Inverse reports: "We actually are tracking 14 different joints on the body [...] the head, the neck, the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists, the hips, the knees, and the feet," Dina Katabi, an electrical engineering and computer science teacher at MIT, said. "So you can get the full stick-figure that is dynamically moving with the individuals that are obstructed from you -- and that's something new that was not possible before." The technology works a little bit like radar, but to teach their neural network how to interpret these granular bits of human activity, the team at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) had to create two separate A.I.s: a student and a teacher.

[T]he team developed one A.I. program that monitored human movements with a camera, on one side of a wall, and fed that information to their wifi X-ray A.I., called RF-Pose, as it struggled to make sense of the radio waves passing through that wall on the other side. The research builds off of a longstanding project at CSAIL lead by Katabi, which hopes to use this wifi tracking to help passively monitor the elderly and automate any emergency alerts to EMTs and medical professionals if they were to fall or suffer some other injury.
For more information, a press release and video about the software are available.
China

China's Surveillance State Will Soon Track Cars (wsj.com) 113

China is establishing an electronic identification system to track cars nationwide, according to a report on WSJ, which cites records and people briefed on the matter. From a report: Under the plan being rolled out July 1, a radio-frequency identification chip for vehicle tracking will be installed on cars when they are registered. Compliance will be voluntary this year but will be made mandatory for new vehicles at the start of 2019, the people said. Authorities have described the plan as a means to improve public security and to help ease worsening traffic congestion, documents show, a major concern in many Chinese cities partly because clogged roads contribute to air pollution. But such a system, implemented in the world's biggest automotive market, with sales of nearly 30 million vehicles a year, will also vastly expand China's surveillance network, experts say. That network already includes widespread use of security cameras, facial recognition technology and internet monitoring.
Power

China's Ambitions To Power the World's Electric Cars Took a Huge Leap Forward This Week (reuters.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Future Mobility Corporation (FMC), the Chinese parent company behind electric car start-up Byton, has placed an order for a paint shop capable of handling 150,000 cars per year, German supplier Duerr said on Wednesday. China's Byton, a newcomer headed by the former head of BMW's i8 program, has already released plans for a premium electric SUV vehicle, the latest in a series of China-backed electric autonomous prototypes. Byton has financial backing from Chinese state-owned carmaker FAW Group and the country's dominant battery producer Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. (CATL) This is just one of the stories this week relating to China and the electric car industry. MIT Technology Review adds: In a public offering on June 11 in Shenzhen, battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL) raised nearly $1 billion to fund ambitious expansion plans, and its stock has been shooting up every day since. Thanks largely to the company's new plants, China will be making 70 percent of the world's electric-vehicle batteries by 2021, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Just seven years later, CATL has built up the biggest lithium-ion manufacturing facilities in the world, according to BNEF. The company can crank out around 17 gigawatt-hours of lithium-ion cells annually, placing it just ahead of Korea's LG Chem, the Tesla and Panasonic partnership, and China's electric-vehicle giant BYD. Flush with capital from its offering, CATL plans to build two new plants and expand existing facilities, pushing its capacity to nearly 90 gigawatt-hours by 2020. [...] Notably, it's the only Chinese battery company so far to line up deals to supply foreign automakers, including BMW, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

Technology

78 Indigenous Languages Are Being Saved By Optical Scanning Tech (fastcompany.com) 75

Researchers at UC Berkeley are using futuristic technology to save a piece of the past. From a report: Project IRENE is using cutting-edge optical scan technology to transfer and digitally restore recordings of indigenous languages, many of which no longer have living speakers, Hyperallergic first reported. The recordings were gathered between 1900 and 1938 when UC anthropologists asked native speakers of 78 indigenous languages of California to record their songs, histories, prayers, and vocabulary on wax cylinders. Many of those cylinders are housed at Berkeley's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, and they are in a state of disrepair, degraded and broken. It's a frustrating state of affairs, as many of the languages recorded on the cylinders have fallen out of use or are no longer spoken at all. The "Documenting Endangered Languages" initiative, which has support from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is hoping to save this important history.
Social Networks

Turkey Bans Periscope (stockholmcf.org) 87

stikves writes: According to online reports, a recent court order has banned Periscope across Turkey. The cited reason is the alleged violation of copyrights of a local company named "Periskop." This adds to the list of online services no longer available in Turkey, including Wikipedia, PayPal and WordPress, among others. While access from Turkey to the domain periscope.tv and to the Twitter account "periscopeco" is banned, users can still access Periscope services under the name Scope TR and Twitter account "scopetr." Lawyers from Twitter, Apple and Google requested rejection of the case, "saying it was impossible for a company like Twitter, operating in the U.S., to be aware of the existence of the same brand name in Turkey," reports Stockholm Center for Freedom.
The Internet

'Netflix and Alphabet Will Need To Become ISPs, Fast' (techcrunch.com) 327

Following the recent official repeal of net neutrality and approval of AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner, an anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via TechCrunch, written by Danny Crichton. Crichton discusses the options Alphabet, Netflix and other video streaming services have on how to respond: For Alphabet, that will likely mean a redoubling of its commitment to Google Fiber. That service has been trumpeted since its debut, but has faced cutbacks in recent years in order to scale back its original ambitions. That has meant that cities like Atlanta, which have held out for the promise of cheap and reliable gigabit bandwidth, have been left in something of a lurch. Ultimately, Alphabet's strategic advantage against Comcast, AT&T and other massive ISPs is going to rest on a sort of mutually assured destruction. If Comcast throttles YouTube, then Alphabet can propose launching in a critical (read: lucrative) Comcast market. Further investment in Fiber, Project Fi or perhaps a 5G-centered wireless strategy will be required to give it to the leverage to bring those negotiations to a better outcome.

For Netflix, it is going to have to get into the connectivity game one way or the other. Contracts with carriers like Comcast and AT&T are going to be more challenging to negotiate in light of today's ruling and the additional power they have over throttling. Netflix does have some must-see shows, which gives it a bit of leverage, but so do the ISPs. They are going to have to do an end-run around the distributors to give them similar leverage to what Alphabet has up its sleeve. One interesting dynamic I could see forthcoming would be Alphabet creating strategic partnerships with companies like Netflix, Twitch and others to negotiate as a collective against ISPs. While all these services are at some level competitors, they also face an existential threat from these new, vertically merged ISPs. That might be the best of all worlds given the shit sandwich we have all been handed this week.

Privacy

Spanish Soccer League App In Google Play Wants To Use Phone Mics To Enforce Copyrights (arstechnica.com) 77

The official app for the Spanish soccer league La Liga, which has more than 10 million downloads from Google Play, was recently updated to seek access to users' microphone and GPS settings. "When granted, the app processes audio snippets in an attempt to identify public venues that broadcast soccer games without a license," reports Ars Technica. From the report: According to a statement issued by La Liga officials, the functionality was added last Friday and is enabled only after users click "eyes" to an Android dialog asking if the app can access the mic and geolocation of the device. The statement says the audio is used solely to identify establishments that broadcast games without a license and that the app takes special precautions to prevent it from spying on end users. [La Liga's full statement with the "appropriate technical measures to protect the user's privacy" is embedded in Ars' report.]

[E]ven if the app uses a cryptographic hash or some other means to ensure that stored or transmitted audio fragments can't be abused by company insiders or hackers (a major hypothetical), there are reasons users should reject this permission. For one, allowing an app to collect the IP address, unique app ID, binary representation of audio, and the time that the audio was converted could provide a fair amount of information over time about a user. For another, end users frequenting local bars and restaurants shouldn't be put in the position of policing the copyrights of sports leagues, particularly with an app that uses processed audio from their omnipresent phone.

Businesses

Volkswagen Fined One Billion Euros By German Prosecutors Over Emissions Cheating (reuters.com) 116

Volkswagen was fined one billion euros ($1.18 billion) over diesel emissions cheating in what amounts to one of the highest ever fines imposed by German authorities against a company, public prosecutors said on Wednesday. From a report: The German fine follows a U.S. plea agreement from January 2017 when VW agreed to pay $4.3 billion to resolve criminal and civil penalties for installing illegal software in diesel engines to cheat strict U.S. anti-pollution tests. "Following thorough examination, Volkswagen AG accepted the fine and it will not lodge an appeal against it. Volkswagen AG, by doing so, admits its responsibility for the diesel crisis and considers this as a further major step toward the latter being overcome," it said in a statement. The fine is the latest blow to Germany's auto industry which cannot seem to catch a break from the diesel emissions crisis. Germany's government on Monday ordered Daimler to recall nearly 240,000 cars fitted with illicit emissions-control devices, part of a total of 774,000 models affected in Europe as a whole.
Security

Britain's Dixons Carphone Discovers Data Breach Affecting 5.9 Million Payment Cards (betanews.com) 32

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: Another week, another cyberattack. This time around, it's the Dixons Carphone group which says it has fallen victim to not one but two major breaches. The bank card details of 5.9 million customers have been accessed by hackers in the first breach. In the second, the personal records of 1.2 million people have been exposed. Dixons Carphone says that it is investigating an attack on its card processing system at Currys PC World and Dixons Travel in which there was an attempt to compromise 5.9 million cards. The company stressed that the vast majority -- 5.8 million -- of these cards were protected by chip and PIN, and that the data accessed did not include PINS, CVVs or any other authentication data that could be used to make payments or identify the card owners. The report goes on to mention that 105,000 non-EU issued payment cards, which were not chip and PIN protected, were also affected. The company says it will be contacting those customers affected by the breaches.
Windows

Laptops With 128GB of RAM Are Here (theverge.com) 361

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Brace yourself for laptops with 128GB of RAM because they're coming. Today, Lenovo announced its ThinkPad P52, which, along with that massive amount of memory, also features up to 6TB of storage, up to a 4K, 15.6-inch display, an eighth-gen Intel hexacore processor, and an Nvidia Quadro P3200 graphics card. The ThinkPad also includes two Thunderbolt three ports, HDMI 2.0, a mini DisplayPort, three USB Type-A ports, a headphone jack, and an Ethernet port. The company hasn't announced pricing yet, but it's likely going to try to compete with Dell's new 128GB-compatible workstation laptops. The Dell workstation laptops in question are the Precision 7730 and 7530, which are billed as "ready for VR" mobile workstations. According to TechRadar, "These again run with either 8th-gen Intel CPUs or Xeon processors, AMD Radeon WX or Nvidia Quadro graphics, and the potential to specify a whopping 128GB of 3200MHz system memory."
Windows

Hundreds of Thousands of Windows XP and Vista Users Won't Be Able To Use Steam Soon (vice.com) 484

Windows XP and Vista users have six months to upgrade their operating systems or get the hell off of Steam. From a report: "Steam will officially stop supporting the Windows XP and Windows Vista operating systems," Valve, the company that operates Steam, said in a post to its XP and Vista support community. "This means that after that date the Steam Client will no longer run on those versions of Windows. In order to continue running Steam and any games or other products purchased through Steam, users will need to update to a more recent version of Windows."
Microsoft

Microsoft To Give Office 365, Office.com Apps a Makeover (zdnet.com) 88

On the heels of recent redesigns by Google and Apple, Microsoft is giving its Office apps a facelift over the coming months. From a report: Over the coming months, Microsoft will begin rolling out changes to the interface of Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Office 365 and Office Online (Office.com) users. Key to the Office app redesign are an updated Ribbon, icon refreshes and new ways to more easily see changes coming to the Office suite. There's a simplified version of the Office Ribbon, which allows users to collapse it so it takes up less space and hides many options, or keep it expanded into the current three-line view. Microsoft is starting to roll out this new Ribbon in the web version of Word to "select consumer users today in Office.com." In July, Microsoft will also make this new Ribbon design available in Outlook for Windows. "We've found that the same ten commands are used 95% of the time by everybody," said Jon Friedman, General Manager of Design Management and Operations. In Outlook such as "Reply," "Reply All" and "Forward" are basically universal. But that other five percent is different for every person, so Microsoft is adding an option to remove commands from the Ribbon, such as Archive, for example, and pin others to it, such as "Reply by IM."
Bitcoin

Bitcoin's Price Was Artificially Inflated Last Year, Researchers Say (nytimes.com) 207

A concentrated campaign of price manipulation may have accounted for at least half of the increase in the price of Bitcoin and other big cryptocurrencies last year, according to a paper released on Wednesday by an academic with a history of spotting fraud in financial markets. From a report, first shared to us by reader davidwr: The paper by John Griffin, a finance professor at the University of Texas, and Amin Shams, a graduate student, is likely to stoke a debate about how much of Bitcoin's skyrocketing gain last year was caused by the covert actions of a few big players, rather than real demand from investors. Many industry players expressed concern at the time that the prices were being pushed up at least partly by activity at Bitfinex, one of the largest and least regulated exchanges in the industry. The exchange, which is registered in the Caribbean with offices in Asia, was subpoenaed by American regulators shortly after articles about the concerns appeared in The New York Times and other publications. Mr. Griffin looked at the flow of digital tokens going in and out of Bitfinex and identified several distinct patterns that suggest that someone or some people at the exchange successfully worked to push up prices when they sagged at other exchanges. To do that, the person or people used a secondary virtual currency, known as Tether, which was created and sold by the owners of Bitfinex, to buy up those other cryptocurrencies.
Microsoft

A Vulnerability in Cortana, Now Patched, Allowed Attacker To Access a Locked Computer, Change Its Password (bleepingcomputer.com) 59

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: Microsoft has patched a vulnerability in the Cortana smart assistant that could have allowed an attacker with access to a locked computer to use the smart assistant and access data on the device, execute malicious code, or even change the PC's password to access the device in its entirety. The issue was discovered by Cedric Cochin, Cyber Security Architect and Senior Principle Engineer at McAfee. Cochin privately reported the problems he discovered to Microsoft in April. The vulnerability is CVE-2018-8140, which Microsoft classified as an elevation of privilege, and patched yesterday during the company's monthly Patch Tuesday security updates. Further reading: Microsoft Explains How it Decides Whether a Vulnerability Will Be Patched Swiftly or Left For a Version Update.
Media

The End of Video Coding? (medium.com) 137

An anonymous reader writes: Netflix's engineering team has an insightful post today that looks at how the industry is handling video coding; the differences in their methodologies; and the challenges new comers face. An excerpt, which sums up where we are:

"MPEG-2, VC1, H.263, H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC, VP9, AV1 -- all of these standards were built on the block-based hybrid video coding structure. Attempts to veer away from this traditional model have been unsuccessful. In some cases (say, distributed video coding), it was because the technology was impractical for the prevalent use case. In most other cases, however, it is likely that not enough resources were invested in the new technology to allow for maturity.

"Unfortunately, new techniques are evaluated against the state-of-the-art codec, for which the coding tools have been refined from decades of investment. It is then easy to drop the new technology as "not at-par." Are we missing on better, more effective techniques by not allowing new tools to mature? How many redundant bits can we squeeze out if we simply stay on the paved path and iterate on the same set of encoding tools?"

Microsoft

Microsoft Explains How it Decides Whether a Vulnerability Will Be Patched Swiftly or Left For a Version Update (zdnet.com) 45

Microsoft has published a new draft document clarifying which security bugs will get a rapid fix and which it will let stew for a later release. From a report: The document outlines the criteria the Microsoft Security Response Center uses to decide whether a reported vulnerability gets fixed swiftly, usually in a Patch Tuesday security update, or left for a later version update. Microsoft said in a blogpost the document is intended to offer researchers "better clarity around the security features, boundaries and mitigations which exist in Windows and the servicing commitments which come with them." The criteria revolve around two key questions: "Does the vulnerability violate a promise made by a security boundary or a security feature that Microsoft has committed to defending?"; and, "Does the severity of the vulnerability meet the bar for servicing?" If the answer to both questions is 'yes', the bug will be patched in a security update, but if the answer to both is 'no', the vulnerability will be considered for the next version or release of the affected product or feature.
Nintendo

'Waluigi Was Robbed and Humiliated by Nintendo' (washingtonpost.com) 88

Gene Park, writing for The Washington Post (shared by numerous readers): In the Nintendo universe, Waluigi is supposed to be as villainous as his cartoonish mustache and perpetual frown would suggest. But what made him that way? Perhaps it is Nintendo's insistence on humiliating the character in front of his friends and the general public. On Tuesday for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Nintendo announced new details on the much-anticipated Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for its Switch console. The 25-minute presentation was long on details. For one thing, the latest game includes every single playable character in the fighting-game franchise's 19-year history. It seemed to exceed fan expectations, except for fans of the meme-ready Waluigi. Waluigi, again, was snubbed by Nintendo. He will not be a playable character in the new game.

Waluigi has traveled a long road. Once he was hated by Nintendo fans, who listed him highly among gaming's most annoying characters. His origin story is unimpressive. Waluigi is simply a bizarro version of Mario's less famous but more charming brother Luigi. In his 18-year existence as a minor character, he's had virtually no back story. But that blank canvas ended up becoming Waluigi's greatest gift. Since he stood for nothing, supporters could project their wildest hopes unto him, like Barack Obama in 2008 but actually good at golf. He can be described in a single website as anyone from a "true nowhere man" to "the logical end point of capitalism" and the "triumph of capital over creativity." In other words, Waluigi became the perfect meme fodder.

Earth

Chile Becomes First Country In Americas To Ban Plastic Bags (ewn.co.za) 202

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Eyewitness News: Chile's Senate has passed a bill that will prohibit the use of plastic bags in stores, with a vote in their House of Representatives overwhelmingly in favor of the measure, with 134 supporting the bill and one abstention. According to The Independent, the new law would give large retailers one year to phase out the use of plastic bags, and smaller businesses two years. This makes Chile the first country in the Americas to ban plastic bags, and officially recognize how important such a ban would be in the effort to reduce unnecessary single-use plastic waste.

At first, the measure was only meant to ban plastic bags in Patagonia, but it was approved by both the senate and president for the entire country. The Association of Plastic Industries registered Chile as using 3,400 million plastic bags per year, or 200 per person. Telesur reports that the Minister of the Environment, Marcela Cubillos, said the country needs a larger cultural change for people to start replacing plastic with reusable bags.

Advertising

Facebook May Ban Bad Businesses From Advertising (theverge.com) 111

Facebook will now let you file a complaint about businesses you've had a problem with if you bought something after clicking on one of their ads. If enough people complain about a business, it could lead to Facebook banning the company from running ads. The Verge reports: The new policy is rolling out globally starting today, and it's meant to help Facebook fight back against another type of advertising abuse on its platform. Facebook says it's trying to combat "bad shopping experiences," which can cost customers and make them frustrated with Facebook, too. Facebook is particularly interested in a few problem areas: shipping times, product quality, and customer service. This isn't just a matter of misleading advertising: if a company regularly provides bad service, products that don't meet buyers' expectations, or just frustrates consumers, they risk getting in trouble with the platform.

It appears that Facebook will send notifications to users to ask about their experience if it detects that they've purchased something after clicking on an ad. You'll also be able to find those companies and leave feedback on the Ads Activity page. Facebook says it will inform businesses about negative feedback and try to pinpoint problems that a large number of customers are having. If customer feedback doesn't improve after a warning, Facebook will eventually start to limit how many ads a company can run. If it continues long enough, they can be banned.

Television

The Internet Is Finally Going To Be Bigger Than TV Worldwide (qz.com) 60

According to estimates from media agency Zenith, next year, for the first time, people will spend more time using the internet than watching TV. People will spend an average of 170.6 minutes a day, or nearly three hours, using the internet in 2019. That's a tad more than the 170.3 minutes they're expected to spend watching TV. Quartz reports: Zenith measured media by how they are transmitted or distributed, such as broadcasts via TV signals and newspapers in print. Watching videos on the web through platforms like Netflix and YouTube, or reading a newspaper's website, counted as internet consumption. Nearly one-quarter of all media consumption across the globe will be through mobile this year, up from 5% in 2011. The average person will spend a total of about eight hours per day consuming media in its many forms this year, Zenith forecasts.

In some parts of the world, TV will remain on top -- for now. Zenith forecasted media consumption through 2020 and did not expect the internet to overtake TV in Europe, Latin America, and the whole of North America in that time. In the U.S., it was projected to surpass TV in the U.S. in two years.

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