Google

Google Trains AI To Write Wikipedia Articles (theregister.co.uk) 29

The Register: A team within Google Brain -- the web giant's crack machine-learning research lab -- has taught software to generate Wikipedia-style articles by summarizing information on web pages... to varying degrees of success. As we all know, the internet is a never ending pile of articles, social media posts, memes, joy, hate, and blogs. It's impossible to read and keep up with everything. Using AI to tell pictures of dogs and cats apart is cute and all, but if such computers could condense information down into useful snippets, that would be really be handy. It's not easy, though. A paper, out last month and just accepted for this year's International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) in April, describes just how difficult text summarization really is. A few companies have had a crack at it. Salesforce trained a recurrent neural network with reinforcement learning to take information and retell it in a nutshell, and the results weren't bad.
The Internet

The Wikipedia Zero Program Will End This Year (medium.com) 58

Wikimedia: Wikimedia 2030, the global discussion to define the future of the Wikimedia movement, created a bold vision for the future of Wikimedia and the role we want to play in the world as a movement. With this shared vision for our movement's future in mind, the Wikimedia Foundation is evolving how we work with partners to address some of the critical barriers to participating in free knowledge globally. After careful evaluation, the Wikimedia Foundation has decided to discontinue one of its partnership approaches, the Wikipedia Zero program. Wikipedia Zero was created in 2012 to address one barrier to participating in Wikipedia globally: high mobile data costs. Through the program, we partnered with mobile operators to waive mobile data fees for their customers to freely access Wikipedia on mobile devices. Over the course of this year, no additional Wikipedia Zero partnerships will be formed, and the remaining partnerships with mobile operators will expire. In the program's six year tenure, we have partnered with 97 mobile carriers in 72 countries to provide access to Wikipedia to more than 800 million people free of mobile data charges. Further reading: Medium.
Businesses

Occupational Licensing Blunts Competition and Boosts Inequality (economist.com) 184

Occupational licensing -- the practice of regulating who can do what jobs -- has been on the rise for decades. In 1950 one in 20 employed Americans required a licence to work. By 2017 that had risen to more than one in five. From a report: The trend partly reflects an economic shift towards service industries, in which licences are more common. But it has also been driven by a growing number of professions successfully lobbying state governments to make it harder to enter their industries. Most studies find that licensing requirements raise wages in a profession by around 10%, probably by making it harder for competitors to set up shop.

Lobbyists justify licences by claiming consumers need protection from unqualified providers. In many cases this is obviously a charade. Forty-one states license makeup artists, as if wielding concealer requires government oversight. Thirteen license bartending; in nine, those who wish to pull pints must first pass an exam. Such examples are popular among critics of licensing, because the threat from unlicensed staff in low-skilled jobs seems paltry. Yet they are not representative of the broader harm done by licensing, which affects crowds of more highly educated workers like Ms Varnam. Among those with only a high-school education, 13% are licensed. The figure for those with postgraduate degrees is 45%.

[...] One way of telling that many licences are superfluous is the sheer variance in the law across states. About 1,100 occupations are regulated in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50, according to a report from 2015 by Barack Obama's White House. Yet a handful of high-earning professions are regulated everywhere. In particular, licences are more common in legal and health-care occupations than in any other.

United Kingdom

Give Workers 10,000 Pound To Survive Automation, British Top Think Tank Suggests (huffingtonpost.co.uk) 156

Britons should be able to bid for 10,000 pound (roughly $14,000) to help them prosper amid huge changes to their working lives, a leading think tank suggests today. From a report: The Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) has released research proposing a radical new sovereign wealth fund, which would be invested to make a profit like similar public funds in Norway. The returns from the fund would be used to build a pot of money, to which working-age adults under-55 would apply to receive a grant in the coming decade.

People would have to set out how they intend to put the five-figure payouts to good use, for example, by using the cash to undergo re-training, to start a new business, or to combine work with the care of elderly or sick relatives. It would be funded like the student grant system and wealthier individuals could be required to pay back more in tax as their earnings increase. Ultimately, the RSA paper suggests, the wealth fund would finance a Universal Basic Income (UBI) as the world of modern work is turned upside down by increased automation, new technology and an ageing population.

Security

US's Greatest Vulnerability is Ignoring the Cyber Threats From Our Adversaries, Foreign Policy Expert Says (cnbc.com) 96

America's greatest vulnerability is its continued inability to acknowledge the extent of its adversaries' capabilities when it comes to cyber threats, says Ian Bremmer, founder and president of leading political risk firm Eurasia Group. From a report: Speaking to CNBC from the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, the prominent American political scientist emphasized that there should be much more government-level concern and urgency over cyber risk. The adversarial states in question are what U.S. intelligence agencies call the "big four": Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. "We're vulnerable because we continue to underestimate the capabilities in those countries. WannaCry, from North Korea -- no one in the U.S. cybersecurity services believed the North Koreans could actually do that," Bremmer described, naming the ransomware virus that crippled more than 200,000 computer systems across 150 countries in May of 2017.

Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, weighed in, stressing the economic cost of cyber crimes. "It is very hard to attribute cyberattacks to different actors or countries, but the cost is just unbelievable. Annually more than a thousand billion U.S. dollars are lost for companies or countries due to these attacks and our economy is more and more based on internet and data."

China

How Does Chinese Tech Stack Up Against American Tech? 160

The Economist: China's tech leaders love visiting California, and invest there, but are no longer awed by it [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. By market value the Middle Kingdom's giants, Alibaba and Tencent, are in the same league as Alphabet and Facebook. New stars may float their shares in 2018-19, including Didi Chuxing (taxi rides), Ant Financial (payments) and Lufax (wealth management). China's e-commerce sales are double America's and the Chinese send 11 times more money by mobile phones than Americans, who still scribble cheques.

The venture-capital (VC) industry is booming. American visitors return from Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen blown away by the entrepreneurial work ethic. Last year the government decreed that China would lead globally in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. The plan covers a startlingly vast range of activities, including developing smart cities and autonomous cars and setting global tech standards. Like Japanese industry in the 1960s, private Chinese firms take this "administrative guidance" seriously.
Youtube

YouTube Red is Having an Identity Crisis (digiday.com) 41

During an onstage conversation at Recode's Code Media this week, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called YouTube Red a music streaming service -- first time any executive from the company has referred to YouTube Red as foremost a music service. From a report: This differs from comments that other YouTube executives have made in the past, including YouTube's head of global content Susanne Daniels, who last year described YouTube Red as a premium subscription streaming service that offers Hollywood-quality shows and movies.

Launched in October 2015, YouTube Red has always been positioned by YouTube as three services in one: It offers ad-free access to all of YouTube; it's a music streaming service that also gives access to Google Play Music; and it's consistently releasing original movies and TV shows, starring Hollywood talent and homegrown stars that users already subscribe to. Two years later, this has created somewhat of an identity crisis for the streaming service. As Wojcicki said in her interview, she sees YouTube Red as a music service. And she does not expect to spend billions of dollars on content to effectively compete with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others.

Education

Learning To Program Is Getting Harder (slashdot.org) 352

theodp writes: While Google suggests that parents and educators are to blame for why kids can't code, Allen Downey, Professor at Olin College argues that learning to program is getting harder . Downey writes: The fundamental problem is that the barrier between using a computer and programming a computer is getting higher. When I got a Commodore 64 (in 1982, I think) this barrier was non-existent. When you turned on the computer, it loaded and ran a software development environment (SDE). In order to do anything, you had to type at least one line of code, even if all it did was another program (like Archon). Since then, three changes have made it incrementally harder for users to become programmers:
1. Computer retailers stopped installing development environments by default. As a result, anyone learning to program has to start by installing an SDE -- and that's a bigger barrier than you might expect. Many users have never installed anything, don't know how to, or might not be allowed to. Installing software is easier now than it used to be, but it is still error prone and can be frustrating. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn system administration first.
2. User interfaces shifted from command-line interfaces (CLIs) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs are generally easier to use, but they hide information from users about what's really happening. When users really don't need to know, hiding information can be a good thing. The problem is that GUIs hide a lot of information programmers need to know. So when a user decides to become a programmer, they are suddenly confronted with all the information that's been hidden from them. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn operating system concepts first.
3. Cloud computing has taken information hiding to a whole new level. People using web applications often have only a vague idea of where their data is stored and what applications they can use to access it. Many users, especially on mobile devices, don't distinguish between operating systems, applications, web browsers, and web applications. When they upload and download data, they are often confused about where is it coming from and where it is going. When they install something, they are often confused about what is being installed where. For someone who grew up with a Commodore 64, learning to program was hard enough. For someone growing up with a cloud-connected mobile device, it is much harder.
theodp continues: So, with the Feds budgeting $200 million a year for K-12 CS at the behest of U.S. tech leaders, can't the tech giants at least put a BASIC on every phone/tablet/laptop for kids?
Twitter

NBC Publishes 200,000 Tweets Tied To Russian Trolls 262

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: NBC News is publishing its database of more than 200,000 tweets that Twitter has tied to "malicious activity" from Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These accounts, working in concert as part of large networks, pushed hundreds of thousands of inflammatory tweets, from fictitious tales of Democrats practicing witchcraft to hardline posts from users masquerading as Black Lives Matter activists. Investigators have traced the accounts to a Kremlin-linked propaganda outfit founded in 2013 known as the Internet Research Association (IRA). The organization has been assessed by the U.S. Intelligence Community to be part of a Russian state-run effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. And they're not done. At the request of NBC News, three sources familiar with Twitter's data systems cross-referenced the partial list of names released by Congress to create a partial database of tweets that could be recovered. You can download the streamlined spreadsheet (29 mb) with just usernames, tweet and timestamps, view the full data for ten influential accounts via Google Sheets, download tweets.csv (50 mb) and users.csv with full underlying data, and/or explore a graph database in Neo4j, whose software powered the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers investigations.

NBC News' partners at Neo4j have put together a "get started" guide to help you explore the database of Russian tweets. "To recreate a link to an individual tweet found in the spreadsheet, replace 'user_key' in https://twitter.com/user_key/status/tweet_id with the screenname from the 'user_key' field and 'tweet_id' with the number in the 'tweet_id' field," reports NBC News. "Following the links will lead to a suspended page on Twitter. But some copies of the tweets as they originally appeared, including images, can be found by entering the links on webcaches like the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and archive.is."
Earth

73 Percent of Fish In the Northwestern Atlantic Have Microplastics In Their Guts 81

According to a new study published today in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, microplastics have been found in the stomachs of nearly three out of every four mesopelagic fish caught in the Northwest Atlantic. "These findings are worrying, as the affected fish could spread microplastics throughout the ocean," reports Phys.Org. "The fish are also prey for fish eaten by humans, meaning that microplastics could indirectly contaminate our food supply through the transfer of associated microplastic toxins." From the report: Microplastics are small plastic fragments that have accumulated in the marine environment following decades of pollution. These fragments can cause significant issues for marine organisms that ingest them, including inflammation, reduced feeding and weight-loss. Microplastic contamination may also spread from organism to organism when prey is eaten by predators. Since the fragments can bind to chemical pollutants, these associated toxins could accumulate in predator species. Mesopelagic fish serve as a food source for a large variety of marine animals, including tuna, swordfish, dolphins, seals and sea birds. Typically living at depths of 200-1,000 meters, these fish swim to the surface at night to feed then return to deeper waters during the day.

The researchers caught mesopelagic fish at varying depths, then examined their stomachs for microplastics back in the lab. They used a specialized air filter so as not to introduce airborne plastic fibers from the lab environment. The team found a wide array of microplastics in the fish stomachs -- with a whopping 73% of the fish having ingested the pollutants.
Sci-Fi

Would You Fear Alien Life or Welcome It? (cnet.com) 212

If you've ever watched a science fiction movie about aliens, you'll know that humans tend to freak out and destroy everything when faced with incontrovertible proof of the existence of alien life. But a new analysis from Arizona State University psychology professor Michael Varnum and his colleagues suggests that humans might actually remain pretty calm and collected when that big news breaks. CNET reports: Varnum makes this conclusion based on an analysis of newspaper articles covering past potential discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Specifically, he and his colleagues looked at articles about the weird dimming of so-called "Tabby's Star," Earth-like planets around the star Trappist-1, and the potential discovery of Martian microbe fossils from 1996. They found language in the stories demonstrated much more positive emotion than fear or other negative emotions. In a second study, the team also surveyed over 500 people, asking them to guess how they and humanity would react to an announcement that alien microbial life had been discovered. In the case of both their own reaction and everyone else's, the participants hypothesized responses that were more positive than negative. The research was published last month in Frontiers in Psychology.
Earth

Coffee Beans Are Good For Birds, Fancy Brew Or Not (sciencedaily.com) 32

Zorro shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source ): Birds are not as picky about their coffee as people are. Although coffee snobs prefer arabica beans to robusta, a new study in India found that growing coffee does not interfere with biodiversity -- no matter which bean the farmer chooses. In the Western Ghats region of India, a mountainous area parallel to the subcontinent's western coast, both arabica and robusta beans are grown as bushes under larger trees -- unlike in South America, where the coffee plants themselves grow as large as trees, said Krithi Karanth, who helped lead the study, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Arabica and robusta farms proved equally good for these creatures. "Some birds do better with arabica than robusta, but overall, they're both good for wildlife," she said. The difference is important, because data shows that more farmers in the area have been shifting to robusta in recent years, as prices rise for the variety, which is easier to grow. The researchers counted 106 species of birds on the coffee plantations, including at-risk species, such as the alexandrine parakeet, the breyheaded bulbul and the nilgiri woodpigeon. The findings show that farming is not incompatible with wildlife protection, said Jai Ranganathan, a conservation biologist and senior fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the research.

Security

Phishing Attack Scores Credentials For More Than 50,000 Snapchat Users (theverge.com) 11

An anonymous reader quotes an exclusive report from The Verge: In late July, Snap's director of engineering emailed the company's team in response to an unfolding privacy threat. A government official from Dorset in the United Kingdom had provided Snap with information about a recent attack on the company's users: a publicly available list, embedded in a phishing website named klkviral.org, that listed 55,851 Snapchat accounts, along with their usernames and passwords. The attack appeared to be connected to a previous incident that the company believed to have been coordinated from the Dominican Republic, according to emails obtained by The Verge. Not all of the account credentials were valid, and Snap had reset the majority of the accounts following the initial attack. But for some period of time, thousands of Snapchat account credentials were available on a public website. According to a person familiar with the matter, the attack relied on a link sent to users through a compromised account that, when clicked, opened a website designed to mimic the Snapchat login screen.
Open Source

The Future of Free and Open-Source Maps (emacsen.net) 54

Grady Martin writes: Former OpenStreetMap contributor and Google Summer of Code mentor Serge Wroclawski has outlined why OpenStreetMap is in serious trouble, citing unclear usage policies, poor geocoding (address-to-coordinate conversion), and a lack of a review model as reasons for the project's decline in quality. Perhaps more interesting, however, are the problems purported to stem from OpenStreetMap's power structure. Wroclawski writes: "In the case of OpenStreetMap, there is a formal entity which owns the data, called the OpenStreetMap Foundation. But at the same time, the ultimate choices for the website, the geographic database and the infrastructure are not under the direct control of the Foundation, but instead rest largely on one individual, who (while personally friendly) ranges from skeptical to openly hostile to change."
Books

The Slow Demise of Barnes & Noble (techcrunch.com) 116

John Biggs via TechCrunch reports of the slow demise of Barnes & Noble, which he has been chronicling for several years now. There have been many signs of trouble for the bookseller chain over the years, but none have been more apparent than the recent layoffs made earlier this week. From the report: On Monday the company laid off 1,800 people. This offered a cost savings of $40 million. [...] In fact, what B&N did was fire all full time employees at 781 stores. Further, the company laid off many shipping receivers around the holidays, resulting in bare shelves and a customer escape to Amazon. In December 2017, usually B&N's key month, sales dropped 6 percent to $953 million. Online sales fell 4.5 percent. It is important to note that when other big box retailers, namely Circuit City, went the route of firing all highly paid employees and bringing in minimum wage cashiers, stockers, and salespeople it signaled the beginning of the end.

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