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AI

DeepMind Self-training Computer Creates 3D Model From 2D Snapshots (ft.com) 27

DeepMind, Google's artificial intelligence subsidiary in London, has developed a self-training vision computer that generates 'a full 3D model of a scene from just a handful of 2D snapshots," according to its chief executive. From a report: The system, called the Generative Query Network, can then imagine and render the scene from any angle [Editor's note: the link maybe paywalled; alternative source], said Demis Hassabis. GQN is a general-purpose system with a vast range of potential applications, from robotic vision to virtual reality simulation. Details were published on Thursday in the journal Science. "Remarkably, [the DeepMind scientists] developed a system that relies only on inputs from its own image sensors -- and that learns autonomously and without human supervision," said Matthias Zwicker, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland who was not involved in the research. This is the latest in a series of high-profile DeepMind projects, which are demonstrating a previously unanticipated ability by AI systems to learn by themselves, once their human programmers have set the basic parameters.
China

Chinese City Gets 'Smartphone Zombie' Walkway (bbc.com) 55

An anonymous reader shares a report: A city in northern China has introduced a special pedestrian lane on one of its roads, exclusively for slow-walking smartphone users, it's reported. According to the Shaanxi Online News, the pavement along the Yanta Road in Xi'an has now got itself a special lane for "phubbers" -- people who stare at their phones and ignore everything else around them. The lane is painted red, green and blue, and is 80cm wide and 100m long. Pictures of smartphones along the route distinguish it from an ordinary pedestrian lane. Shaanxi Online says that a large shopping mall, which looks onto the street, had been pushing to have the lane for a month. It says that cars often come onto the pavement, which is a busy channel for pedestrians who might not be paying attention to their surroundings. News website The Paper interviewed locals, who welcomed the introduction of the lane. Wei Xiaowei said it was the first time he had seen such a thing and said he thought it was "pretty good." "Everybody walking along here thinks that it's very safe; at the side of the road, there are cars, and the vehicles also come onto here, and sometimes only just avoid you."
Programming

Programmer Creates Bee Counter Using a Raspberry Pi 60

Programmer Mat Kelsey created a bee counter to see exactly how many bees are hanging out in his hives. "His system, which uses a Raspberry Pi and a machine learning algorithm that recognizes the number of individual bees entering a hive, is used to see bee trends over time and see just how the bees are faring," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The system looks at sets of pictures of the hive door taken every 10 seconds. It then extrapolates out the background, assesses the objects that have moved in the frame, and then counts the things that are likely to be bees. It's a fascinating problem to solve since the bees are constantly moving and because it can also ignore bees that are coming out of the hive. You can download the source on Github and check out his detailed blog post here. Given the need for bee protection as we enter an era of colony collapses, tools like this one are wildly important. Plus it's cool to see a Raspberry Pi do something so complex.
AI

Meet Norman, the Psychopathic AI (bbc.com) 109

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a psychopathic algorithm named Norman, as part of an experiment to see what training artificial intelligence on data from "the dark corners of the net" would do to its world view. Unlike most "normal" algorithms by AI, Norman does not have an optimistic view of the world. BBC reports: The software was shown images of people dying in gruesome circumstances, culled from a group on the website Reddit. Then the AI, which can interpret pictures and describe what it sees in text form, was shown inkblot drawings and asked what it saw in them. These abstract images are traditionally used by psychologists to help assess the state of a patient's mind, in particular whether they perceive the world in a negative or positive light. Norman's view was unremittingly bleak -- it saw dead bodies, blood and destruction in every image. Alongside Norman, another AI was trained on more normal images of cats, birds and people. It saw far more cheerful images in the same abstract blots.

The fact that Norman's responses were so much darker illustrates a harsh reality in the new world of machine learning, said Prof Iyad Rahwan, part of the three-person team from MIT's Media Lab which developed Norman. "Data matters more than the algorithm. "It highlights the idea that the data we use to train AI is reflected in the way the AI perceives the world and how it behaves."

NASA

NASA Spacecraft Finds Methane Ice Dunes On Pluto (bbc.com) 32

Scientists say they have found evidence of dunes of frozen methane on Pluto, suggesting that the distant world is more dynamic than previously thought. The research has been published in the journal Science. BBC reports: The findings come from analysis of the startling images sent back by Nasa's New Horizons mission, which flew close to Pluto in July 2015. In their study, the researchers explain how they studied pictures of a plain known as Sputnik Planitia, parts of which are covered with what look like fields of dunes. They are lying close to a range of mountains of water ice 5km high. The scientists conclude that the dunes are 0.4-1km apart and that they are made up of particles of methane ice between 200-300 micrometers in diameter -- roughly the size of grains of sand. "The methane grains could have been lofted into the atmosphere by the melting of surrounding nitrogen ice or blown down from nearby mountains," the researchers write in the journal Science. "Understanding how dunes form under Pluto conditions will help with interpreting similar features found elsewhere in the solar system."
Privacy

People Are Using Venmo To Spy On Cheating Spouses (marketwatch.com) 102

According to MarketWatch's Leslie Albrecht, people are using the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo to find out if their spouse is cheating. Some are even saying the app is more effective than Facebook at this sort of investigation. "What you're seeing on Instagram or Facebook is what they want you to see," said Abby Faber, a 19-year-old freshman at Indiana University. "They're edited pictures that they put up. But with Venmo, it's very normal casual interactions. It's what they were doing and spending money on." From the report: Some users seem to forget that their transactions are public by default, and their payment activity provides an unfiltered paper trail of what's really happening in their lives. In [Faber's] case, she checked up on her ex-boyfriend and saw he was spending money on pizza and the popular video game Fortnite -- and making regular payments to one girl, who Faber guessed is his new hook-up.

Venmo has had a social component since it launched in 2009. Users see a feed of both their own friends' payments and total strangers' activity every time they open the app, and it's easy to look up users. Exact amounts aren't listed, but you can see who's paying who and which words or emoji they use to describe the payment. The social feed is Venmo's "secret sauce," said Erin Mackey, a spokeswoman for Venmo and its parent company PayPal. In fact, it's usually the reason people are logging on. "Our most active users check Venmo daily and the average user checks Venmo two to three times per week -- and it's not for payments, but to see what their friends and family are doing."
The report mentions a settlement Venmo reached with the FTC last year over its public-by-default social component. The FTC accused (PDF) Venmo of "misleading" users about the fact that they needed to change two separate privacy settings to make their transactions completely private. "Venmo reached a settlement with the FTC, and a company spokesperson noted that users now have three options for controlling who can see their payments," reports MarketWatch.
AI

Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant Can Be Controlled By Inaudible Commands (venturebeat.com) 100

Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Google's Assistant were meant to be controlled by live human voices, but all three AI assistants are susceptible to hidden commands undetectable to the human ear, researchers in China and the United States have discovered. From a report: The New York Times reports today that the assistants can be controlled using subsonic commands hidden in radio music, YouTube videos, or even white noise played over speakers, a potentially huge security risk for users. According to the report, the assistants can be made to dial phone numbers, launch websites, make purchases, and access smart home accessories -- such as door locks -- at the same time as human listeners are perceiving anything from completely different spoken text to recordings of music.

In some cases, assistants can be instructed to take pictures or send text messages, receiving commands from up to 25 feet away through a building's open windows. Researchers at Berkeley said that they can modestly alter audio files "to cancel out the sound that the speech recognition system was supposed to hear and replace it with a sound that would be transcribed differently by machines while being nearly undetectable to the human ear."

Facebook

Tens of Thousands of Malicious Apps Use Facebook's APIs (threatpost.com) 28

Slashdot reader lod123 quotes ThreatPost: At least 25,936 malicious apps are currently using one of Facebook's APIs, such as a login API or messaging API. These allow apps to access a range of information from Facebook profiles, like name, location and email address. Trustlook discovered the malicious apps using a formula, which created a risk score for apps based on more than 80 pieces of information for each app, including permissions, libraries, risky API calls and network activity... A malicious app (with a risk score above 7) "might be doing things such as capturing pictures and audio when the app is closed, or making an unusually large amount of network calls," a spokesperson told Threatpost...

To be fair, Facebook is not the only company with its APIs embedded in malicious applications... "The problem, for the most part, is that this is data that is provided when their login is used elsewhere. The API is simply passing through intelligence it has gathered from their profile," said Chris Roberts, chief security architect at Acalvio, via email. "LinkedIn, Google and Twitter, among others, have similarly flawed APIs that can be used to harvest information both about you (the target) and possibly associated individuals...depending upon queries and other developer privileges that are being exploited."

A Trustlook spokesperson summarized their position after the report. "Just as Coke does not want its ads running on certain websites, Facebook should not want malicious app developers using its APIs."
Sci-Fi

Christopher Nolan Returns Kubrick Sci-Fi Masterpiece '2001: A Space Odyssey' To Its Original Glory (latimes.com) 135

LA Times' Kenneth Turan traces Christopher Nolan's meticulous restoration of Kubrick's masterpiece to its 70-mm glory: Christopher Nolan wants to show me something interesting. Something beautiful and exceptional, something that changed his life when he was a boy. It's also something that Nolan, one of the most accomplished and successful of contemporary filmmakers, has persuaded Warner Bros. to share with the world both at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival and then in theaters nationwide, but in a way that boldly deviates from standard practice.

For what is being cued up in a small, hidden-away screening room in an unmarked building in Burbank is a brand new 70-mm reel of film of one of the most significant and influential motion pictures ever made, Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science-fiction epic "2001: A Space Odyssey." Yes, you read that right. Not a digital anything, an actual reel of film that was for all intents and purposes identical to the one Nolan saw as a child and Kubrick himself would have looked at when the film was new half a century ago.

XBox (Games)

Xbox One April Update Rolling Out With Low-Latency Mode, FreeSync, and 1440p Support; 120Hz Support Coming In May Update (theverge.com) 48

Microsoft is rolling out a new Xbox One update that brings 1440p support for the Xbox One S and X, as well as support for AMD's FreeSync technology to allow compatible displays to sync refresh rates with Microsoft's consoles. A subsequent update in May will bring 120Hz-display refresh-rate support to the Xbox One. The Verge reports: FreeSync, like Nvidia's G-Sync, helps remove tearing or stuttering usually associated with gaming on monitors, as the feature syncs refresh rates to ensure games run smoothly. Alongside this stutter-free tech, Microsoft is also supporting automatic switching to a TV's game mode. Auto Low-Latency Mode, as Microsoft calls it, will be supported on new TVs, and will automatically switch a TV into game mode to take advantage of the latency reductions. The Xbox One will also support disabling game mode when you switch to another app like Netflix. Microsoft is also making some audio tweaks with the April update for the Xbox One. New system sounds take advantage of spatial sound to fully support surround sound systems when you navigate around. Gamers who listen to music while playing can also now balance game audio against background music right inside the Xbox Guide. Other features in this update include sharing game clips direct to Twitter, dark to light mode transitions based on sunrise / sunset, and improvements to Microsoft Edge to let you download or upload pictures, music, and videos.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, and Major Studios Try To Shut Down $20-Per-Month TV Service (arstechnica.com) 212

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Netflix, Amazon, and the major film studios have once again joined forces to sue the maker of a TV service and hardware device, alleging that the products are designed to illegally stream copyrighted videos. The lawsuit was filed against the company behind Set TV, which sells a $20-per-month TV service with more than 500 channels.

"Defendants market and sell subscriptions to 'Setvnow,' a software application that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs' copyrighted motion pictures and television shows," the complaint says. Besides Netflix and Amazon, the plaintiffs are Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The complaint was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The companies are asking for permanent injunctions to prevent further distribution of Set TV software and devices, the impoundment of Set TV devices, and for damages including the defendants' profits.

The Internet

Mosaic, the First HTML Browser That Could Display Images Alongside Text, Turns 25 (wired.com) 132

NCSA Mosaic 1.0, the first web browser to achieve popularity among the general public, was released on April 22, 1993. It was developed by a team of students at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and had the ability to display text and images inline, meaning you could put pictures and text on the same page together, in the same window. Wired reports: It was a radical step forward for the web, which was at that point, a rather dull experience. It took the boring "document" layout of your standard web page and transformed it into something much more visually exciting, like a magazine. And, wow, it was easy. If you wanted to go somewhere, you just clicked. Links were blue and underlined, easy to pick out. You could follow your own virtual trail of breadcrumbs backwards by clicking the big button up there in the corner. At the time of its release, NCSA Mosaic was free software, but it was available only on Unix. That made it common at universities and institutions, but not on Windows desktops in people's homes.

The NCSA team put out Windows and Mac versions in late 1993. They were also released under a noncommercial software license, meaning people at home could download it for free. The installer was very simple, making it easy for just about anyone to get up and running on the web. It was then that the excitement really began to spread. Mosaic made the web come to life with color and images, something that, for many people, finally provided the online experience they were missing. It made the web a pleasure to use.

Robotics

Scientists Create Robots That Can Assemble IKEA Furniture For You (sciencemag.org) 125

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.
Science

X-ray 'Ghost Images' Could Cut Radiation Doses (sciencemag.org) 21

Sophia Chen, writing for Science magazine: On its own, a single-pixel camera captures pictures that are pretty dull: squares that are completely black, completely white, or some shade of gray in between. All it does, after all, is detect brightness. Yet by connecting a single-pixel camera to a patterned light source, a team of physicists in China has made detailed x-ray images using a statistical technique called ghost imaging, first pioneered 20 years ago in infrared and visible light. Researchers in the field say future versions of this system could take clear x-ray photographs with cheap cameras -- no need for lenses and multipixel detectors -- and less cancer-causing radiation than conventional techniques.

"Our system is much smaller and cheaper, and it could even be portable if you needed to take it into the field," says Wu Ling-An, a physicist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing whose work with her colleagues was published on 28 March in Optica. The researchers' system still isn't ready to be used in medicine. But they have lowered the x-ray dose by about a million times compared with earlier attempts, says Daniele Pelliccia, who in 2015 made some of the first x-ray ghost images.

Earth

More Than 75 Percent of Earth's Land Areas Are 'Broken,' Major Report Finds (vice.com) 145

Like a broken cell phone that can only text or take pictures, but not make a single call, more than 75 percent of the Earth's land areas have lost some or most of their functions, undermining the well-being of the 3.2 billion people that rely on them to produce food crops, provide clean water, control flooding and more. From a report: These once-productive lands have either become deserts, are polluted, or have been deforested and converted for unsustainable agricultural production. This is a major contributor to increased conflict and mass human migration, and left unchecked, could force as many as 700 million to migrate by 2050, according to the world's first comprehensive evidence-based assessment of land degradation, released today in MedellÃn, Colombia.

Land degradation -- including deforestation, soil erosion, and salinity and pollution of fresh water systems -- is also driving species to extinction and aggravating the effects of climate change, the report concludes. It was written by more than 100 leading experts from 45 countries for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). IPBES is the 'IPCC for biodiversity,' a scientific assessment of the status of non-human life that makes up the Earth's life support system.

Facebook

Man Starts 'Gunbook' Social Media Site After His Gun-Loving Friends Were Kicked Off Facebook (buzzfeed.com) 532

CaptainDork shares a report from BuzzFeed: A British gun enthusiast whose friends were banned from Facebook for posting pictures of firearms has started his own version of the site for gun lovers. Called Gunbook, it was set up by David Scott, a 57-year-old shooting instructor who lives in Kilsyth, 20 miles from Dunblane. It went live three weeks ago and he says it already has more than 1,000 members, around 60 of whom are from the U.S. Scott admitted that part of the attraction of the site for members was that they could post about their love of deadly weapons without being judged by family and friends. "Quite a lot want to talk about guns and shooting and target shooting and their families can see and often people comment. Gunbook is the place where people can talk about guns without their families seeing because a lot of people have got anti-shooting and anti-hunting friends on these sites."

Many of the profile pictures on the site show people standing in striking poses with guns -- or are simply a picture of their arsenal. And just like any other social media platform, much of the content that has quickly populated the Facebook clone ends up being videos and memes. In contrast, his site is loosely controlled and encourages a community around gun ownership. It has two admins but reassures users in a Q&A on the site that "they will generally just leave you all to get on with things." It adds later that "they will never interfere [in a group] unless a post gets reported and even then only racist and really dodgy ones will get looked at if reported. Please do NOT upload porn videos to our servers though ;0."

GNOME

GNOME 3.28 'Chongqing' Linux Is Here (betanews.com) 132

BrianFagioli writes: GNOME 3.28 is the latest version of GNOME 3, and is the result of 6 months' hard work by the GNOME community. It contains several major new features, as well as many smaller improvements and bug fixes. In total, the release incorporates 24105 changes, made by approximately 778 contributors.

The Project explains, "GNOME 3.28 comes with more beautiful things! First, and most significantly, GNOME's default interface font (called Cantarell) has undergone a significant update. Character forms and spacing have been evolved, so that text is more readable and attractive. Several new weights have also been added -- light and extra bold -- which are being used to produce interfaces that are both modern and beautiful. Other beautiful things include GNOME's collection of background wallpapers, which has been updated to include a lovely set of photographs, and the selection of profile pictures, which has been completely updated with attractive new images to pick from."

Unfortunately, you can't just click on a button and upgrade to GNOME 3.28 today. Actually, for the most part, you will need to wait for it to become available for your operating system. Sadly, this can take a while. Fedora users, for instance, will have to wait for a major OS upgrade for it to become available.

Earth

What Image Should Represent All of Humanity On Wikipedia? (wired.com) 349

An anonymous reader writes: If aliens ever do come across the Pioneer spacecraft and make assumptions about the entire human species based on the man and woman etched onto the plaque it carries, this is what they will think of us: We all look like white people; we all look about 30ish years old; we do not wear clothes. It's a problem you encounter anytime you have to choose a few individuals to represent an entire group, and it's one that the editors of Wikipedia have debated for years: What image should grace the top of the "human" entry in the online dictionary?

The photo that's there now, after years of feverish debate, is of an Akha couple from a region of Thailand along the Mekong river. "The photo of the Akha couple remain humanity's type specimens on Wikipedia," writes author Ellen Airhart. "Just as a shriveled northeastern leopard frog at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology represents its whole species, so this couple stands for all of us."

Such musing about the taxonomic representation of the human species could actually have a big impact on our digital future. "Future scientists will have to teach computers, not aliens, to recognize the human image. Right now, software engineers program artificial intelligence to recognize people by feeding them millions of pictures of faces," she writes. "But whose faces? Computer scientists run into the same questions about gender, race, and culture that the Wikipedia editors encountered. Being able to use more than one photo expands the conversation but does not necessarily make it easier."

Windows

Windows 10 Is Finally Adding Tabs To File Explorer (bleepingcomputer.com) 161

Microsoft has released insider preview build 17618 that includes tabs in File Explorer as part of its Sets feature. Bleeping Computer reports: Windows 10 Sets is an upcoming feature where you can group documents and apps into one tabbed window that are related to the particular task at hand. This feature was released for testing to a small controlled group of insiders in Insider Preview Build 17063 and was subsequently removed after the test. With build 17618, Sets are back and with it come tabs in File Explorer. You can now open different folders in the same File Explorer window with each one having their own tabs. This way one File Explorer window can have a tab for the pictures folder, a tab for the documents folder, and a tab for your documents, which you can easily switch between. If you look closely, though, the Sets feature does more than just allow you to have different tabs for different folders, but also allows you to add applications as a tab in File Explorer. According to Microsoft, in addition to File Explorer, Notepad, Command Prompt, and Powershell are also getting tabbed support.
Facebook

Facebook Asks Users: Should We Allow Men To Ask Children For Sexual Images? (theguardian.com) 386

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian: Facebook has admitted it was a "mistake" to ask users whether paedophiles requesting sexual pictures from children should be allowed on its website. On Sunday, the social network ran a survey for some users asking how they thought the company should handle grooming behaviour. "There are a wide range of topics and behaviours that appear on Facebook," one question began. "In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook's policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures." The options available to respondents ranged from "this content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it" to "this content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it." A second question asked who should decide the rules around whether or not the adult man should be allowed to ask for such pictures on Facebook. Options available included "Facebook users decide the rules by voting and tell Facebook" and "Facebook decides the rules on its own."

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