By BeauHD from Slashdot's intentionally-vague department
A small group of Pixel owners in "select" U.S. cities are able to use Google's new Duplex feature to automatically make voice calls to restaurants and other businesses on their behalf. Referencing a demo from VentureBeat, The Verge notes that "the exchange between Duplex and a restaurant on the other side of the call is raising some early concerns about transparency." From the report: [Y]ou'll notice that Duplex never identifies itself as a robot. It never tells the person taking the call that they're interacting with an automated system. "Hi, I'm calling to make a reservation for a client. I'm calling from Google, so the call may be recorded," is what Duplex says to begin the conversation. And that little bit -- about the call coming "from Google" and potentially being recorded -- is the only disclosure that it ever provides. From then on, Duplex handles the requested dinner reservation smoothly.
This disclosure doesn't match up with a promotional video for Duplex that Google posted to YouTube back in June. In that example (embedded below), Duplex makes it very clear that it's a bot. "Hi, I'm the Google Assistant calling to make a reservation for a client. This automated call will be recorded." That's a much better approach. You're talking to the Google Assistant. It's an automated call, and it is being recorded; no maybes about it. The report notes that some Duplex calls -- such as the one VentureBeat included in their demo -- are actually handled by a human. "When a human operator at Google places a Duplex call, they don't necessarily disclose anything about Google Assistant or note it's an automated call," reports The Verge. "Because it's not. Not entirely, anyway. Google's Duplex tests involve a mix of the two; some are led by Googlers, while others let the AI steer. The majority of calls are the latter and automated, from what I'm told."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's digging-new-holes department
President Donald Trump on Monday rejected a central conclusion of a dire report on the economic costs of climate change released by his own administration. Associated Press reports: But economists said the National Climate Assessment's warning of hundreds of billions of dollars a year in global warming costs is pretty much on the money. Just look at last year with Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma, they said. Those three 2017 storms caused at least $265 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The climate report, quietly unveiled Friday, warned that natural disasters are worsening in the United States because of global warming. It said warming-charged extremes "have already become more frequent, intense, widespread or of long duration." The report noted the last few years have smashed U.S. records for damaging weather, costing nearly $400 billion since 2015.
"The potential for losses in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of this century," the report said. It added that if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue at current levels, labor costs in outdoor industries during heat waves could cost $155 billion in lost wages per year by 2090. The president said he read some of the report and "it's fine" but not the part about the devastating economic impact. "I don't believe it," Trump said, adding that if "every other place on Earth is dirty, that's not so good."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's finger-pointing department
IBM CEO Ginni Rometty joined a growing chorus of tech executives lambasting web platforms, like Google and Facebook, over their collection of user data and urged governments to target regulation at those companies. Bloomberg reports: Without naming company names, Rometty pointed to the "irresponsible handling of personal data by a few dominant consumer-facing platform companies" as the cause of a "trust crisis" between users and tech companies, according to an advanced copy of her remarks. Rometty's comments, given at a Brussels event with top EU officials Monday, echoed recent statements by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who in October slammed Silicon Valley rivals over their use of data, equating their services to "surveillance."
IBM meanwhile has seen revenue decline since Rometty took the CEO role in 2012, largely due to falling sales in existing hardware, software and services offerings. She has since been trying to steer IBM toward more modern businesses, such as the cloud, artificial intelligence, and security software. Seeking to separate IBM -- which operates primarily at a business-to-business level -- from the troubled tech companies, Rometty said governments should target regulation at consumer-facing web platforms, like social media firms and search engines. In particular, Rometty pushed for more measures around the transparency of artificial intelligence as well as controversial rules around platform liability.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's time-is-money department
Amazon is launching AWS RoboMaker, a cloud-based service that utilizes the open-source software Robot Operating System (ROS) to offer developers a place to develop and test robotics applications. TechCrunch reports: RoboMaker essentially serves as a platform to help speed up the time-consuming robotics development process. Among the tools offered by the service are Amazon's machine learning technologies and analytics that help create a simulation for real-world robotics development. The system can also be used to help manage fleet deployment for warehouse-style robotics designed to work in tandem. "AWS RoboMaker automatically provisions the underlying infrastructure and it downloads, compiles, and configures the operating system, development software, and ROS," the company writes. "AWS RoboMaker's robotics simulation makes it easy to set up large-scale and parallel simulations with pre-built worlds, such as indoor rooms, retail stores, and racing tracks, so developers can test their applications on-demand and run multiple simulations in parallel."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's gotta-do-what-you-gotta-do department
In an attempt to catch two cybercriminals, the FBI set up a fake FedEx website and created rigged Word documents, "both of which were designed to reveal the IP address of the fraudsters," reports Motherboard. From the report: The first case centers around Gorbel, a cranes and ergonomic lifting manufacturing company headquartered in Fishers, New York, according to court records. Here, the cybercriminals used a long, potentially confusing and official looking email address to pose as the company's CEO Brian Reh, and emailed the accounts team asking for payment for a new vendor. The fraudsters provided a W9 form of a particular company, and the finance department mailed a check for over $82,000. Gorbel noticed the fraudulent transaction, and brought in the FBI in July. Shortly after, Gorbel received other emails pretending to be Reh, asking for another transfer. This time, the finance department and FBI were ready. The FBI created a fake FedEx website and sent that to the target, in the hope it would capture the hacker's IP address, according to court records. The FBI even concocted a fake "Access Denied, This website does not allow proxy connections" page in order to entice the cybercriminal to connect from an identifiable address.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's changing-markets department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Chicago Tribune: General Motors will cut up to 14,000 workers in North America and put five plants up for possible closure as it abandons many of its car models and restructures to cut costs and focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles. The reduction includes about 8,000 white-collar employees, or 15 percent of GM's North American white-collar workforce. Some will take buyouts while others will be laid off. Four factories in the U.S. and one in Canada could be shuttered by the end of 2019 if the automaker and its unions don't come up with an agreement to allocate more work to those facilities, GM said in a statement Monday. Another two will close outside North America. The company has marked a sedan plant in Detroit, a compact car plant in Ohio, and another assembly plant outside Toronto for possible closure. Also at risk are two transmission plants, one outside Detroit and another in Baltimore. GM CEO Mary Barra said the company is "still hiring people with expertise in software and electric and autonomous vehicles, and many of those who will lose their jobs are now working on conventional cars with internal combustion engines," reports Dallas News. "Barra said the industry is changing rapidly and moving toward electric propulsion, autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing, and GM must adjust with it." The restructuring comes as the U.S. and North American auto markets are shifting away from cars toward SUVs and trucks. "In October, almost 65 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were trucks or SUVs," reports Chicago Tribune. "It was about 50 percent cars just five years ago."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's capitalism-at-its-finest department
According to Adobe Analytics, shoppers are expected to spend $7.8 billion on Cyber Monday, 18.3 percent more than in 2017. "The sweet spot will fall between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. EST, Adobe says, when it's anticipated shoppers will spend $1.6 billion -- about $200 million more than what retailers would see during a typical whole day any other time of the year," reports USA Today. From the report: But at a time when shoppers can buy products ranging from dolls to detergent by tapping on a tablet or smart phone, Black Friday and even Thanksgiving are gaining on Cyber Monday to become banner days for online shopping. Retailers saw $6.22 billion in digital sales on Black Friday, 23.6 percent more than last year and the most ever on that day, Adobe says. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day experienced the biggest single-day surge in online shopping history, leaping 28 percent over the holiday in 2017 to $3.7 billion.
Smartphones are increasingly the shopping gadget of choice. Mobile sales were expected to total more than $2 billion on Monday, Adobe says. And the more than $1 billion in smartphone sales on Thanksgiving were a record for that day. Besides enabling shoppers to make purchases any time, anywhere, shopping via smartphone has also taken off because it's become simpler and faster.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's bots-stole-Christmas department
Democrats have proposed the "Stopping Grinch Bots Act" to make it illegal to use bots to shop online and also outlaw reselling items purchased by bots. "Lawmakers label them 'Grinch' bots because, during the holiday season, resellers use them to buy inventory of highly coveted toys that can be resold at highly inflated prices," reports CNET. "Often times, these bots are so quick that they can purchase entire stocks of items before people can even add them to their carts." From the report: Sens. Tom Udall, Richard Blumenthal and Chuck Schumer along with Rep. Paul Tonko made the announcement on Black Friday. While the proposed legislation is focused around the holiday season and toys, the Grinch Bots act would apply to all retailers online. Toys aren't the only items that resellers online send swarms of bots to. Security researchers noted that bots designed to buy rare sneakers are a persistent issue, as developers will create AI to buy shoes from companies like Nike and Adidas as quickly as possible. The proposed bill leaves it open for security researchers to use bots on retailer websites to find vulnerabilities. "Middle class folks save up -- a little here, a little there -- working to afford the hottest gifts of the season for their kids but ever-changing technology and its challenges are making that very difficult. It's time we help restore an even playing field by blocking the bots," said Schumer, a Democrat from New York, in a statement.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's how-did-that-happen department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The important data loss bug that interrupted the rollout of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, version 1809, may be fixed, but it turns out there are plenty of other weird problems with the release. As spotted by Paul Thurrott, the update also breaks the seek bar in Windows Media Player when playing "specific files." Microsoft does promise to fix the bug, but the timeframe is vaguely open-ended: it will be "in an upcoming release."
Also in the "how did that happen" category comes another bug: some Win32 programs can't be set as the default program for a given file type. So if you want certain files to always open in Notepad, for example, you're currently out of luck. A fix for this is promised by the end of the month. Setting default program associations is something that's been in Windows for 20-something years, so it's a little alarming that it should be broken. On top of this, there continue to be complaints that Windows 10 version 1809 doesn't work with iCloud, and machines with the iCloud client are currently blacklisted to prevent them from receiving the 1809 update. It's not immediately clear whose fault this one is -- it could be Microsoft's, but it's also possible that Apple is to blame.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's moving-humanity-forward department
NASA's latest Mars lander, InSight, successfully touched down on the surface of the Red Planet moments ago, surviving an intense plunge through the Martian atmosphere. From a report: It marks the eighth picture-perfect landing on Mars for NASA, adding to the space agency's impressive track record of putting spacecraft on the planet. And now, InSight's two-year mission has begun, one that entails listening for Marsquakes to learn about the world's interior. After six and a half months of traveling through space, InSight hit the top of Mars' atmosphere a little before 3PM ET. It then made a daring descent to the surface, performing a complex multi-step routine that slowed the lander from more than 12,000 miles per hour to just 5 miles per hour before it hit the ground. To get to the surface safely, InSight had to autonomously deploy a supersonic parachute, gather radar measurements, and ignite its thrusters all at the right time. Altogether, the landing took just under seven minutes to complete, prompting the nickname "seven minutes of terror." "InSight's view is a flat, smooth expanse called Elysium Planitia, but its workspace is below the surface, where it will study Mars' deep interior," Nasa posted Monday, sharing the first photo after the landing.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's for-the-record department
Starting this week, businesses in Ohio will be able to pay taxes in bitcoin through a new platform, OhioCrypto.com, a first in the US. From a report: For many enthusiasts, part of the appeal of crypto has been the very fact that these currencies are not backed by governments. That makes it harder for politicians to manipulate currencies to their own ends, they say. But for the same reason, states have sought to sideline cryptocurrencies, comfortable to dismiss bitcoin as a passing fad. So Ohio, and its treasurer Josh Mandel, see embracing them as a way to signal that the state is tech-savvy and forward-thinking. "I do see [bitcoin] as a legitimate form of currency," Mandel told (paywall) the Wall Street Journal.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's catch-me-if-you-can department
Wave723 writes: What do a Silicon Valley massage spa, a local community college, and a Californian plastics manufacturer have in common? They will soon be testing hundreds of cutting-edge wireless devices, according to an application for an experimental permit filed last week with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). If that sounds unlikely, it is. It seems much more likely that the new devices will actually be tested at three nearby Amazon facilities. These include two buildings belonging to the company's secretive Lab126 research division, and one of the retailer's largest fulfillment centers in the state. On November 19, a company called Chrome Enterprises LLC sought permission to test up to 450 prototype devices using Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), a new technology that aims to deliver ultra-fast wireless broadband over shared radio frequencies. In particular, CBRS opens access to a radio frequency band (3.5 Gigahertz) that the FCC had previously set aside for military use, and makes it so that the military can share that band with anyone who buys a router or phone that supports the service, or has a cell phone plan with a carrier that has paid for a sliver of the band.Read Replies (0)