The Courts

Tesla Agrees To Settle Class Action Over Autopilot Billed As 'Safer' (reuters.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Tesla on Thursday reached an agreement to settle a class action lawsuit with buyers of its Model S and Model X cars who alleged that the company's assisted-driving Autopilot system was "essentially unusable and demonstrably dangerous." The lawsuit said Tesla misrepresented on its website that the cars came with capabilities designed to make highway driving "safer." The Tesla owners said they paid an extra $5,000 to have their cars equipped with the Autopilot software with additional safety features such as automated emergency braking and side collision warning. The features were "completely inoperable," according to the complaint. Under the proposed agreement, class members, who paid to get the Autopilot upgrade between 2016 and 2017, will receive between $20 and $280 in compensation. Tesla has agreed to place more than $5 million into a settlement fund, which will also cover attorney fees.
Businesses

Apple Signs Deal With Volkswagen For Driverless Cars (nytimes.com) 69

Apple has reportedly signed a deal with Volkswagen (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) to turn some of the carmaker's new T6 Transporter vans into Apple's self-driving shuttles for employees. The deal comes after the tech giant failed to partner with luxury carmakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz to develop an all-electric self-driving car. "[T]talks with those companies have ended after each rebuffed Apple's requirements to hand over control of the data and design," reports The New York Times. From the report: Apple's deal with Volkswagen, which hasn't been previously reported, and the failure of its talks with other automakers reflect the continuing travails and diminished scope of the company's four-year-old car program. The project has suffered from repeated changes in direction that have hurt morale and led to hundreds of departures from its peak of more than 1,000 members two years ago, five former Apple employees said. They added that the team was now mostly consumed with developing the self-driving shuttle but the project lacks a clear plan beyond the vans.
AI

UK Military Fears Robots Learning War From Video Games (bbc.com) 68

Robots that train themselves in battle tactics by playing video games could be used to mount cyber-attacks, the UK military fears. From a report: The warning is in a Ministry of Defence report on artificial intelligence. Researchers in Silicon Valley are using strategy games, such as Starcraft II, to teach systems how to solve complex problems on their own. But artificial intelligence (AI) programs can then "be readily adapted" to wage cyber-warfare, the MoD says. Officials are particularly concerned about the ability of rogue states and terrorists to mount advanced persistent threat attacks, which can disable critical infrastructure and steal sensitive information.
Encryption

FBI Repeatedly Overstated Encryption Threat Figures To Congress, Public (techcrunch.com) 160

mi shares a report from The Washington Post (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000.

Over a period of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray cited the inflated figure as the most compelling evidence for the need to address what the FBI calls "Going Dark" -- the spread of encrypted software that can block investigators' access to digital data even with a court order. "The FBI's initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported,'' the FBI said in a statement Tuesday. The bureau said the problem stemmed from the use of three distinct databases that led to repeated counting of phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.

Transportation

Boeing's Folding Wingtips Get the FAA Green Light (engadget.com) 83

Boeing received FAA approval today for its folding wingtips, which will let the planes stop at airport gates big enough to accommodate typical 777 models. "Once the 777X lands, the wingtips will rotate until they point upwards," reports Engadget. "Bloomberg notes that the plane will be the only commercial model in widespread use to have such a feature." From the report: The 777X's wingtips are so novel that U.S. regulators had to draw up new standards for them. The agency was concerned that the wingtips could cause safety issues -- some plane crashes occurred after pilots did not secure flaps on wings before takeoff. The FAA required Boeing to have several warning systems to make sure pilots won't attempt a takeoff before the wingtips are locked in the correct position. The FAA also wanted assurances that there was no way the tips would rotate during flight, and that the wings could handle winds of up to 75 miles per hour while on the ground.

The new wings are made from carbon-fiber composites that are stronger and lighter than the metal Boeing uses in other wings. That lets the company increase the wings' width by 23 feet to 235 feet, which makes flying more efficient. These are the widest wings Boeing has attached to a plane, surpassing the 747-8's 224 feet. However, it doesn't hold the record for a commercial plane: the Airbus A380 has a 262-foot-wide wing, which forced some airports to install gates specifically to accommodate it.

Software

In Virtual Reality, How Much Body Do You Need? (nytimes.com) 34

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Will it soon be possible to simulate the feeling of a spirit not attached to any particular physical form using virtual or augmented reality? If so, a good place to start would be to figure out the minimal amount of body we need to feel a sense of self, especially in digital environments where more and more people may find themselves for work or play. It might be as little as a pair of hands and feet, report Dr. Michiteru Kitazaki and a Ph.D. student, Ryota Kondo. In a paper published Tuesday in Scientific Reports, they showed that animating virtual hands and feet alone is enough to make people feel their sense of body drift toward an invisible avatar (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). Their work fits into a corpus of research on illusory body ownership, which has challenged understandings of perception and contributed to therapies like treating pain for amputees who experience phantom limb.

Using an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and a motion sensor, Dr. Kitazaki's team performed a series of experiments in which volunteers watched disembodied hands and feet move two meters in front of them in a virtual room. In one experiment, when the hands and feet mirrored the participants' own movements, people reported feeling as if the space between the appendages were their own bodies. In another experiment, the scientists induced illusory ownership of an invisible body, then blacked out the headset display, effectively blindfolding the subjects. The researchers then pulled them a random distance back and asked them to return to their original position, still virtually blindfolded. Consistently, the participants overshot their starting point, suggesting that their sense of body had drifted or "projected" forward, toward the transparent avatar.

Earth

Kilauea Volcano Erupts On Hawaii's Big Island (nytimes.com) 56

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The Kilauea volcano erupted from its summit on Thursday morning (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), spewing an ash plume that reached 30,000 feet above the island of Hawaii, the authorities said. The eruption was the most forceful new explosion so far at Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes. Kilauea has already been triggering small earthquakes, creating gas-emitting fissures and releasing flows of lava that have destroyed dozens of homes this month. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory issued a "code red" warning that additional activity could be expected. "At any time, activity may again become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent," the observatory said. But Dr. Michelle Coombs of the United States Geological Survey said that ash fall from the eruption, which occurred shortly after 4 a.m., was "pretty limited" to the area around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. She emphasized that the new eruption wasn't the "big one" that some are fearing, drawing a contrast with the eruption in 1980 of Mount St. Helens in Washington State that killed 57 people.
Bitcoin

Investors Have Placed $1 Billion in Cryptocurrency Offerings Rampant With Red Flags For Fraud (cnbc.com) 49

Investors have sent $1 billion into digital coin projects that flash warning signs for fraud, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The revelation comes a day after the SEC created its own fake ICO to teach investors a lesson. From a report: In a review of 1,450 digital coin offerings, the Journal said it found 271 bore red flags such as plagiarized documents or fake executive information. Investors have already claimed losses of up to $273 million in these projects, the newspaper said, according to lawsuits and regulatory actions. The coin sales, or "initial coin offerings," give investors the chance to buy into a new digital token while letting developers get easy access to funding. The process may be a little too easy for many projects that are unproven or outright scams.

Coin offerings have raised roughly $9.8 billion in the two years through mid-March, according to financial research firm Autonomous Next. The Journal found widespread plagiarism in 111 projects' online whitepapers, including word-for-word copies of marketing plans and technical features.

Java

California Bypasses Science To Label Coffee a Carcinogen (undark.org) 277

travers_r writes: Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle affirmed last week that all coffee sold in California must come with a warning label stating that chemicals in coffee (acrylamide, a substance created naturally during the brewing process) are known to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. But judges, journalists, and environmental advocates fail to recognize the critical difference between probably and certainly, which fuels the inaccurate belief that cancer is mostly caused by things in the environment. From a report at Undark: "IARC is one of the leading scientific bodies in the world, and it is also one of several expert panels on which California relies for scientific opinions in such cases. The IARC has concluded that while there is sufficient evidence to consider acrylamide carcinogenic in experimental animals, there is insufficient evidence for carcinogenicity in humans. Therefore, its overall evaluation is that 'acrylamide is probably carcinogenic to humans.'
[...]
Leading experts, in fact, believe that roughly two-thirds of all cancers are the result of mutations to DNA that are caused by natural bodily processes, not exposure to environmental chemicals. This is quite the opposite of the prevailing belief among the public that most cancers are caused by exogenous substances imposed on us by the products and technologies of the modern world. It's this belief -- this fear -- that prompted voters to pass Proposition 65 in 1986. It was a time when fear of hazardous waste and industrial chemicals was high, when chemophobia -- a blanket fear of anything having to do with the word 'chemicals' -- was being seared into the public's mind."

Crime

Suspect Identified In CIA 'Vault 7' Leak (nytimes.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: In weekly online posts last year, WikiLeaks released a stolen archive of secret documents about the Central Intelligence Agency's hacking operations, including software exploits designed to take over iPhones and turn smart television sets into surveillance devices. It was the largest loss of classified documents in the agency's history and a huge embarrassment for C.I.A. officials. Now, The New York Times has learned the identity of the prime suspect in the breach (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): a 29-year-old former C.I.A. software engineer who had designed malware used to break into the computers of terrorism suspects and other targets.

F.B.I. agents searched the Manhattan apartment of the suspect, Joshua A. Schulte, one week after WikiLeaks released the first of the C.I.A. documents in March last year, and then stopped him from flying to Mexico on vacation, taking his passport, according to court records and family members. The search warrant application said Mr. Schulte was suspected of "distribution of national defense information," and agents told the court they had retrieved "N.S.A. and C.I.A. paperwork" in addition to a computer, tablet, phone and other electronics. But instead of charging Mr. Schulte in the breach, referred to as the Vault 7 leak, prosecutors charged him last August with possessing child pornography, saying agents had found the material on a server he created as a business in 2009 while he was a student at the University of Texas.

Communications

Slashdot Asks: Which Is Your Favorite Email Client? 406

With Google recently rolling out a big revamp of Gmail to mixed reviews, we would like to know which email client you prefer. Are you a firm believe in the "inbox zero" idea -- that is, the approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty, or almost empty, at all times? If you're looking for inspiration, Ars Technica recently published an article highlighting several different email clients used by the editors of the site: Are you the sort of person who needs to read and file every email they get? Or do you delight in seeing an email client icon proudly warning of hundreds or even thousands of unread items? For some, keeping one's email inbox with no unread items is more than just a good idea: it's a way of life, indicating control over the 21st century and its notion of productivity. For others, it's a manifestation of an obsessively compulsive mind. The two camps, and the mindsets behind them, have been a frequent topic of conversation here in the Ars Orbiting HQ. And rather than just argue with each other on Slack, we decided to collate our thoughts about the whole "inbox zero" idea and how, for those who adhere to it, that happens. Some of the clients floated by the editors include: Webmail, Airmail 3, Readdle's Spark, Edison Mail, Sparrow, Inbox by Gmail, and MailSpring.
Security

Attention PGP Users: New Vulnerabilities Require You To Take Action Now (eff.org) 129

A group of European security researchers have released a warning about a set of vulnerabilities affecting users of PGP and S/MIME. From a report: EFF has been in communication with the research team, and can confirm that these vulnerabilities pose an immediate risk to those using these tools for email communication, including the potential exposure of the contents of past messages. The full details will be published in a paper on Tuesday at 07:00 AM UTC (3:00 AM Eastern, midnight Pacific).

In order to reduce the short-term risk, we and the researchers have agreed to warn the wider PGP user community in advance of its full publication. Our advice, which mirrors that of the researchers, is to immediately disable and/or uninstall tools that automatically decrypt PGP-encrypted email. Until the flaws described in the paper are more widely understood and fixed, users should arrange for the use of alternative end-to-end secure channels, such as Signal, and temporarily stop sending and especially reading PGP-encrypted email.
Further reading: People Are Freaking Out That PGP Is 'Broken' -- But You Shouldn't Be Using It Anyway (Motherboard).
Education

H-1B Visa Alternative 'OPT' Grew 400 Percent In Eight Years, Report Finds 185

theodp writes: Almost 1.5 million foreign students have been allowed to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation as part of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which is now larger than the controversial H-1B program (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). According to new Pew Research analysis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the number of students authorized to work under OPT has grown 400% since the federal government in 2008 increased the amount of time graduates with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees could remain in the United States and work. More than half of those working under OPT from 2004 to 2016 were in STEM fields, Pew found, and as a result, were eligible for the so-called STEM extension.

The OPT program added a 17-month STEM extension in 2008, shortly after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates suggested it in testimony to Congress after complaining that the cap for the H-1B program had caused a serious disruption in the flow of talented STEM graduates to U.S. companies. In 2016, another 12-month extension was added after a Federal judge threatened to torpedo the STEM extension program, saying it "appears to have been adopted directly from the unanimous suggestions by Microsoft and similar industry groups." In its Top Ten Tech Issues for 2018, Microsoft expressed "concern that in 2018 the White House will announce a rollback of the extended period of Optional Practical Training for STEM graduates." Pew also took note of allegations that "visa mills" have sprung up in response to demand driven by the OPT program.
Transportation

Tesla's Engineering Chief Takes Leave of Absence (wsj.com) 57

Tesla's senior vice president of engineering, Doug Field, is taking a leave of absence from the company (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) at a crucial moment when the electric-car maker is struggling to boost production of the Model 3 sedan. While Tesla declined to say when he would come back, one person familiar with the matter described the absence as a "six-week sabbatical." The Wall Street Journal reports: Mr. Field has been a key leader at Silicon Valley auto maker since joining in 2013 from Apple. He oversees the engineering of Tesla's vehicles, and last year he was also given oversight of production to better align the two efforts. That changed this spring when Chief Executive Elon Musk acknowledge he retook control of production. The Silicon Valley auto maker is at a critical juncture as it tries to produce enough Model 3 cars to generate cash to fund the business and instill confidence in investors the company can create its first mass-market vehicle.

Tesla has a history of key executives departing on so-called sabbaticals. Jerome Guillen, Tesla's current vice president of truck and programs, for example, took a sabbatical in 2015 from his role as vice president of worldwide sales and service only to return in the new role. He had led development of the Model S sedan. The hiring of Mr. Field from Apple, where he was vice president of Mac hardware engineering, was touted as a win for Mr. Musk who had big ambitions for the electric-car company. Mr. Field had also worked at Ford and Segway, giving him unique experience in both the tech and autos industry.

AI

Google's 'Duplex' System Will Identify Itself When Talking To People, Says Google (businessinsider.com) 77

Google's "Duplex" AI system was the most talked about product at Google I/O because it called into question the ethics of an AI that cannot easily be distinguished from a real person's voice. The service lets its voice-based digital assistant make phone calls and write emails for you, causing many to ask if the system should come with some sort of warning to let the other person on the line know they are talking to a computer. According to Business Insider, "a Google spokesperson confirmed [...] that the creators of Duplex will 'make sure the system is appropriately identified' and that they are 'designing this feature with disclosure built-in.'" From the report: Here's the full statement from Google: "We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex -- as we've said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important. We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we'll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai preemptively addressed ethics concerns in a blog post that corresponded with the announcement earlier this week, saying: "It's clear that technology can be a positive force and improve the quality of life for billions of people around the world. But it's equally clear that we can't just be wide-eyed about what we create. There are very real and important questions being raised about the impact of technology and the role it will play in our lives. We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately -- and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right." In addition, several Google insiders have told Business Insider that the software is still in the works, and the final version may not be as realistic (or as impressive) as the demonstration.

Businesses

Symantec Stock Tanks After Announcing An Internal Probe (cnet.com) 34

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Symantec shares plummeted roughly 20% on Thursday after the antivirus maker warned an internal investigation could delay its annual report. The plunge followed news that the audit committee of Symantec's board had launched an internal investigation into undescribed concerns raised by a former employee. The probe is being aided by independent counsel and other advisers, the company said in its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings report. Symantec said it had informed the US Securities and Exchange Commission of the probe and intends to share information collected during the investigation with the commission.
CRN reports that the investigation "is not tied to any security concern or breach around Symantec's products or systems, Cynthia Hiponia, vice president of investor relations, said during the company's earnings call Thursday."
GNU is Not Unix

Richard Stallman Demands Return Of Abortion Joke To libc Documentation (theregister.co.uk) 522

An anonymous reader quotes The Register: Late last month, open-source contributor Raymond Nicholson proposed a change to the manual for glibc, the GNU implementation of the C programming language's standard library, to remove "the abortion joke," which accompanied the explanation of libc's abort() function... The joke, which has been around since the 1990s and is referred to as a censorship joke by those supporting its inclusion, reads as follows:

25.7.4 Aborting a Program... Future Change Warning: Proposed Federal censorship regulations may prohibit us from giving you information about the possibility of calling this function. We would be required to say that this is not an acceptable way of terminating a program.

On April 30, the proposed change was made, removing the passage from the documentation. That didn't sit well with a number of people involved in the glibc project, including the joke's author, none other than Free Software Foundation president and firebrand Richard Stallman, who argued that the removal of the joke qualified as censorship... Carlos O'Donnell, a senior software engineer at Red Hat, recommended avoiding jokes altogether, a position supported by many of those weighing in on the issue. Among those voicing opinions, a majority appears to favor removal.

But in a post to the project mailing list, Stallman wrote "Please do not remove it. GNU is not a purely technical project, so the fact that this is not strictly and grimly technical is not a reason to remove this." He added later that "I exercise my authority over glibc very rarely -- and when I have done so, I have talked with the official maintainers. So rarely that some of you thought that you are entirely autonomous. But that is not the case. On this particular question, I made a decision long ago and stated it where all of you could see it."

The Register reports that "On Monday, the joke was restored by project contributor Alexandre Oliva, having taken Stallman's demand as approval to do so."
Google

Google Executive Addresses Horrifying Reaction To Uncanny AI Tech (bloomberg.com) 205

The most talked-about product from Google's developer conference earlier this week -- Duplex -- has drawn concerns from many. At the conference Google previewed Duplex, an experimental service that lets its voice-based digital assistant make phone calls and write emails. In a demonstration on stage, the Google Assistant spoke with a hair salon receptionist, mimicking the "ums" and "hmms" pauses of human speech. In another demo, it chatted with a restaurant employee to book a table. But outside Google's circles, people are worried; and Google appears to be aware of the concerns. From a report: "Horrifying," Zeynep Tufekci, a professor and frequent tech company critic, wrote on Twitter about Duplex. "Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing." As in previous years, the company unveiled a feature before it was ready. Google is still debating how to unleash it, and how human to make the technology, several employees said during the conference. That debate touches on a far bigger dilemma for Google: As the company races to build uncanny, human-like intelligence, it is wary of any missteps that cause people to lose trust in using its services.

Scott Huffman, an executive on Google's Assistant team, said the response to Duplex was mixed. Some people were blown away by the technical demos, while others were concerned about the implications. Huffman said he understands the concerns. Although he doesn't endorse one proposed solution to the creepy factor: Giving it an obviously robotic voice when it calls. "People will probably hang up," he said.

[...] Another Google employee working on the assistant seemed to disagree. "We don't want to pretend to be a human," designer Ryan Germick said when discussing the digital assistant at a developer session earlier on Wednesday. Germick did agree, however, that Google's aim was to make the assistant human enough to keep users engaged. The unspoken goal: Keep users asking questions and sharing information with the company -- which can use that to collect more data to improve its answers and services.

AI

Should Calls From Google's 'Duplex' System Include Initial Warning Announcements? (vortex.com) 276

Yesterday at its I/O developer conference, Google debuted "Duplex," an AI system for accomplishing real world tasks over the phone. "To show off its capabilities, CEO Sundar Pichai played two recordings of Google Assistant running Duplex, scheduling a hair appointment and a dinner reservation," reports Quartz. "In each, the person picking up the phone didn't seem to realize they were talking to a computer." Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein argues that the new system should come with some sort of warning to let the other person on the line know that they are talking with a computer: With no exceptions so far, the sense of these reactions has confirmed what I suspected -- that people are just fine with talking to automated systems so long as they are aware of the fact that they are not talking to another person. They react viscerally and negatively to the concept of machine-based systems that have the effect (whether intended or not) of fooling them into believing that a human is at the other end of the line. To use the vernacular: "Don't try to con me, bro!" Luckily, there's a relatively simple way to fix this problem at this early stage -- well before it becomes a big issue impacting many lives.

I believe that all production environment calls (essentially, calls not being made for internal test purposes) from Google's Duplex system should be required by Google to include an initial verbal warning to the called party that they have been called by an automated system, not by a human being -- the exact wording of that announcement to be determined.

UPDATE (5/10/18): Google now says Duplex will identify itself to humans.
China

China Plans $47 Billion Fund To Boost Its Semiconductor Industry (wsj.com) 120

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: In a move that could further heighten tensions with the U.S., China is poised to announce a new fund of about $47.4 billion (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) to spur development of its semiconductor industry as it seeks to close the technology gap with the U.S. and other rivals, according to people familiar with the matter. The new war chest by the government-backed China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund Co. follows a similar fund launched in 2014 that raised $21.8 billion, largely funded by central and local government-backed enterprises and industry players. Among other efforts, the fund would be used to improve China's ability to design and manufacture advanced microprocessors and graphic-processing units, one of the people said. Specific details including the amount could change, another person said.

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