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University of Arizona Tracks Student ID Card Swipes To Detect Who Might Drop Out
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 02:11 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's every-breath-you-take department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The University of Arizona is tracking freshman students' ID card swipes to anticipate which students are more likely to drop out. University researchers hope to use the data to lower dropout rates. (Dropping out refers to those who have left higher-education entirely and those who transfer to other colleges.) The card data tells researchers how frequently a student has entered a residence hall, library, and the student recreation center, which includes a salon, convenience store, mail room, and movie theater. The cards are also used for buying vending machine snacks and more, putting the total number of locations near 700. There's a sensor embedded in the CatCard student IDs, which are given to every student attending the university. Researchers have gathered freshman data over a three-year time frame so far, and they found that their predictions for who is more likely to drop out are 73 percent accurate. They also have plans to give academic advisers an online dashboard to look at student data in real time. "By getting their digital traces, you can explore their patterns of movement, behavior and interactions, and that tells you a great deal about them," Sudha Ram, a professor of management information systems who directs the initiative, said in a press release.

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Apple Must Explain Why It Doesn't Want You To Fix Your Own iPhone, California Lawmaker Says
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 12:52 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's not-that-easy department:
A California state lawmaker says she hopes to make Apple explain specifically why it has opposed and lobbied against legislation that would make it easier for you to repair your iPhone and other electronics. Motherboard reports: Last week, California assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman announced that she plans to introduce right to repair legislation in the state, which would require companies like Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and Samsung to sell replacement parts and repair tools, make repair guides available to the public, and would require companies to make diagnostic software available to independent shops. Public records show that Apple has lobbied against right to repair legislation in New York, and my previous reporting has shown that Apple has privately asked lawmakers to kill legislation in places like Nebraska. To this point, the company has largely used its membership in trade organizations such as CompTIA and the Consumer Technology Association to publicly oppose the bill. But with the right to repair debate coming to Apple's home state, Talamantes-Eggman says she expects the company to show up to hearings about the bill. "Apple is a very important company in the state of California, and one I have a huge amount of respect for. But the onus is on them to explain why we can't repair our own things and what damage or danger it causes them," Talamantes-Eggman told me in a phone interview. Talamantes-Eggman told me that the bill she plans to introduce will apply to both consumer electronics as well as agricultural equipment such as tractors. Broadly speaking, the electronics industry has decided to go with an "authorized repair" model in which companies pay the original device manufacturer to become authorized to fix devices.

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JavaScript Rules But Microsoft Programming Languages Are On the Rise
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 12:52 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's new-taste department:
Microsoft languages seem to be hitting the right note with coders across ops, data science, and app development. From a report: JavaScript remains the most popular programming language, but two offerings from Microsoft are steadily gaining, according to developer-focused analyst firm RedMonk's first quarter 2018 ranking. RedMonk's rankings are based on pull requests in GitHub, as well as an approximate count of how many times a language is tagged on developer knowledge-sharing site Stack Overflow. Based on these figures, RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady reckons JavaScript is the most popular language today as it was last year. In fact, nothing has changed in RedMonk's top 10 list with the exception of Apple's Swift rising to join its predecessor, Objective C, in 10th place. The top 10 programming languages in descending order are JavaScript, Java, Python, C#, C++, CSS, Ruby, and C, with Swift and Objective-C in tenth. TIOBE's top programming language index for March consists of many of the same top 10 languages though in a different order, with Java in top spot, followed by C, C++, Python, C#, Visual Basic .NET, PHP, JavaScript, Ruby, and SQL. These and other popularity rankings are meant to help developers see which skills they should be developing. Outside the RedMonk top 10, O'Grady highlights a few notable changes, including an apparent flattening-out in the rapid ascent of Google's back-end system language, Go.

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Data Breach Victims Can Sue Yahoo in the United States, Federal Judge Rules
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 11:33 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's yeah-no-mercy department:
Yahoo has been ordered by a federal judge to face much of a lawsuit in the United States claiming that the personal information of all 3 billion users was compromised in a series of data breaches. From a report: In a decision on Friday night, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California rejected a bid by Verizon Communications, which bought Yahoo's Internet business last June, to dismiss many claims, including for negligence and breach of contract. Koh dismissed some other claims. She had previously denied Yahoo's bid to dismiss some unfair competition claims. [...] The plaintiffs amended their complaint after Yahoo last October revealed that the 2013 breach affected all 3 billion users, tripling its earlier estimate. Koh said the amended complaint highlighted the importance of security in the plaintiffs' decision to use Yahoo. 'Plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to show that they would have behaved differently had defendants disclosed the security weaknesses of the Yahoo Mail System," Koh wrote. She also said the plaintiffs could try to show that liability limits in Yahoo's terms of service were "unconscionable," given the allegations that Yahoo knew its security was deficient but did little.

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Coming Soon to a Front Porch Near You: Package Delivery Via Drone
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 11:33 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
After lagging behind other countries for years, commercial drones in the U.S. are expected to begin limited package deliveries within months, according to federal regulators and industry officials. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; an alternative source was not immediately available] From a report: The momentum partly stems from stepped-up White House pressure, prompting closer cooperation between the government and companies such as Amazon.com seeking authorizations for such fledgling businesses. The upshot, according to these officials, is newfound confidence by both sides that domestic package-delivery services finally appear on the verge of taking off. Earlier promises of progress turned out to be premature. The green light could be delayed again if proponents can't overcome nagging security concerns on the part of local or national law-enforcement agencies. Proposed projects also may end up stymied if Federal Aviation Administration managers don't find creative ways around legislative and regulatory restrictions such as those mandating pilot training for manned aircraft. But some proponents of delivery and other drone applications "think they might be ready to operate this summer," Jay Merkle, a senior FAA air-traffic control official, said during a break at an unmanned-aircraft conference in Baltimore last week that highlighted the agency's pro-business approach.

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Siri Co-founder is Surprised By How Much Siri Still Can't Do
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 10:12 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
In an interview with Quartz, Norman Winarsky, a founder of Siri, suggests that Apple may have given Siri an overly ambitious collection of responsibilities and hasn't made the feature reliable enough. From a report: And while vastly improved from its earliest days, Siri still isn't a sparkling conversationalist. "Surprise and delight is kind of missing right now," said Winarsky, now a consultant and venture capitalist. Winarsky acknowledges that some of this disappointment stems from the sheer difficulty of predicting the pace of major technological advancement, which Bill Gates once summed up as the human tendency to "overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10." But part of it is also likely because Apple chose to take Siri in a very different direction than the one its founders envisioned. Pre-Apple, Winarsky said, Siri was intended to launch specifically as a travel and entertainment concierge. Were you to arrive at an airport to discover a cancelled flight, for example, Siri would already be searching for an alternate route home by the time you pulled your phone from your pocket -- and if none was available, would have a hotel room ready to book. It would have a smaller remit, but it would learn it flawlessly, and then gradually extend to related areas. "These are hard problems and when you're a company dealing with up to a billion people, the problems get harder yet," Winarsky said. "They're probably looking for a level of perfection they can't get."

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Firefox Gets Privacy Boost By Disabling Proximity and Ambient Light Sensor APIs
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 08:51 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's welcome-change department:
Stating with Firefox 60 -- expected to be released in May 2018 -- websites won't be able to use Firefox to access data from sensors that provide proximity distances and ambient light information. From a report: Firefox was allowing websites to access this data via the W3C Proximity and Ambient Light APIs. But at the start of the month, Mozilla engineers decided to disable access to these two APIs by default. The APIs won't be removed, but their status is now controlled by two Firefox flags that will ship disabled by default. This means users will have to manually enable the two flags before any website can use Firefox to extract proximity and ambient light data from the device's underlying sensors. The two flags will be available in Firefox's about:config settings page. The screenshot below shows the latest Firefox Nightly version, where the two flags are now disabled, while other sensor APIs are enabled.

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Apple Buys Texture, a 'Netflix For Magazines' App
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 08:51 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's next-up department:
Apple said on Monday it will acquire Texture, a digital magazine app, as the iPhone maker looks to fill the gap left by Facebook's pullback from news distribution. From a report: The deal is Apple's latest move to build out its content and services platform, coming just three months after it announced plans to acquire Shazam, the music recognition app, for around $400m. First launched in 2010, Texture has been described as "Netflix for magazines," as its $10-per-month subscription service provides unlimited access to more than 220 publications including People, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, National Geographic and Vogue. Further reading: Recode.

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Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 07:31 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's need-of-the-hour department:
As mobile phone use exploded and the pay phone was increasingly linked to crime, the booth began to disappear. But things are appear to be changing. From a report: Now, the phone booth -- or at least a variation of it -- is making a modest comeback. When the women-only club and work space The Wing opened its first location in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan in October of 2016, the interior featured marble tables, pink velvet couches, and one small, windowless, reflective glass-doored room dubbed the Phone Booth. One year later, when another location of The Wing opened in Soho, eight built-in, glass-doored call rooms were included in the design. [...] Other companies that have recently purchased Zenbooths include Volkswagen, Lyft, Meetup and Capital One. The Berkeley, Calif., company was launched in 2016, and its products range from $3,995 (for a standard one-person booth) to $15,995 (for a two-person "executive" booth). The one-person booth is a soundproof, eco-friendly, American-made box that's about 36 inches wide and 34 inches deep, with an insulated glass door, a ventilation fan, power outlets and a skylight -- and it can be assembled in roughly an hour. (It does not, however, contain an actual phone.) Sam Johnson, a co-founder of the company, said it produced "hundreds" of Zenbooths a month in 2017. This year, it's on track to quadruple that production. But he doesn't call them phone booths. "We're manufacturing quiet spaces and privacy," he said. Zenbooth is not the only free-standing office phone booth in the game. Companies like Cubicall, Nomad, and TalkBox, among others, are offering up solutions to the modern office's privacy problem.

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Amazon's Alexa Is Coming To an Office Near You
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 07:31 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's further-expansion department:
Amazon announced today that it's bringing its voice assistant into a range of business settings, big and small, like hotels and co-working spaces. From a report: While people always think of Amazon as a consumer company, it has shown itself time and again to have larger ambitions. This move could help it expand tis business services beyond its already popular Amazon Web services. In an interview, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said that exposure to the workplace will improve Alexa by exposing it to new types of conversations. "The kind of language we use in our offices is sometimes radically different from the more conversational things we do in our(homes)," he told Axios. Alexa "will greatly improve by being exposed to different kinds of statements or conversations."

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Intel Fights For Its Future
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 06:11 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
An anonymous reader shares a post: The Smartphone 2.0 era has destroyed many companies: Nokia, Blackberry, Palm... Will Intel be another victim, either as a result of the proposed Broadcom-Qualcomm combination, or as a consequence of a suicidal defense move? Intel sees the Qualcomm+Broadcom combination as an existential threat, an urgent one. But rather than going to the Feds to try and scuttle the deal through a long and uncertain process, Intel is rumored to be "working with advisors" (in plainer English, the company's Investment Bankers) on a countermove: acquire Broadcom. Why the sudden sense of urgency? What is the existential threat? And wouldn't the always risky move of combining two cultures, employees, and physical plants introduce an even greater peril? To begin with, the threat to Intel's business isn't new; the company has been at risk for more than a decade. By declining Steve Jobs' proposal to make the original iPhone CPU in 2005, Intel missed a huge opportunity. The company's disbelief in Apple's ambitious forecast is belied by the numbers: More than 1.8 billion iOS devices have been sold thus far. Intel passed on the biggest product wave the industry has seen, bigger than the PC. Samsung and now TSMC manufacture iPhone CPUs. Just as important, there are billions of Android-powered machines, as well. One doesn't have to assume 100% share in the smartphone CPU market to see Intel's gigantic loss.

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Inside the Booming Black Market For Spotify Playlists
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 04:50 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's inside-look department:
The black market for Spotify playlists is booming. It's cheaper than you might expect to hack the system -- and if it's done right, it more than pays for itself, the Daily Dot reports. From the article: It's impossible to overstate the value of Spotify playlists. The company dominates the streaming music market, with 159 million active users and 71 million paid subscribers -- nearly double Apple Music's subscription base, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. More importantly, Spotify has made playlists its defining feature. [...] The rising value of Spotify playlists has spurred a new form of payola -- the decades-old illegal practice of paying for a song to be broadcast on the radio -- with massive amounts of money changing hands behind the scenes. An August 2015 expose by Billboard quoted an unnamed major-label executive who claimed playlist adds were being sold for "$2,000 for a playlist with tens of thousands of fans to $10,000 for the more well-followed playlists." Spotify responded by updating its terms of service to explicitly prohibit "selling a user account or playlist, or otherwise accepting any compensation, financial or otherwise, to influence the name of an account or playlist or the content included on an account or playlist." But the practice of paying for placement, as with other forms of payola before it, hasn't died out. It's just been remixed. In a matter of minutes and for a mere $2, you can pay to have your song considered by one of the 1,500 curators working on SpotLister, one of several new services that sells access to prominent Spotify users. The site was founded by two 21-year-old college students -- Danny Garcia, a guitar player at New York University, and a close friend who requested anonymity due to unrelated privacy concerns. They started a "private-for-hire" PR company in 2016 that offered "pitching services" to generate buzz on SoundCloud and, later, Spotify. The two would take on anywhere from 15 to 20 clients a month, each paying anywhere from $1,000-$5,000 to secure prominent placement on playlists.

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What Image Should Represent All of Humanity On Wikipedia?
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '18 at 02:10 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's interesting-question department:
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."

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YouTube, the Great Radicalizer
Posted by News Fetcher on March 11 '18 at 11:30 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Zeynep Tufekci, writing for the New York Times: Before long, I was being directed to videos of a leftish conspiratorial cast, including arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11. As with the Trump videos, YouTube was recommending content that was more and more extreme than the mainstream political fare I had started with. Intrigued, I experimented with nonpolitical topics. The same basic pattern emerged. Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons. It seems as if you are never "hard core" enough for YouTube's recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century. This is not because a cabal of YouTube engineers is plotting to drive the world off a cliff. A more likely explanation has to do with the nexus of artificial intelligence and Google's business model. (YouTube is owned by Google.) For all its lofty rhetoric, Google is an advertising broker, selling our attention to companies that will pay for it. The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes. What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with -- or to incendiary content in general. Is this suspicion correct? Good data is hard to come by; Google is loath to share information with independent researchers. But we now have the first inklings of confirmation, thanks in part to a former Google engineer named Guillaume Chaslot. Mr. Chaslot worked on the recommender algorithm while at YouTube. He grew alarmed at the tactics used to increase the time people spent on the site. Google fired him in 2013, citing his job performance. He maintains the real reason was that he pushed too hard for changes in how the company handles such issues.

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New Traces of Hacking Team in the Wild
Posted by News Fetcher on March 11 '18 at 08:50 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's signs-of-revival department:
Previously unreported samples of Hacking Team's infamous surveillance tool -- the Remote Control System (RCS) -- are in the wild, and have been detected by ESET systems in fourteen countries. From a report: Our analysis of the samples reveals evidence suggesting that Hacking Team's developers themselves are actively continuing the development of this spyware. Since being founded in 2003, the Italian spyware vendor Hacking Team gained notoriety for selling surveillance tools to governments and their agencies across the world. The capabilities of its flagship product, the Remote Control System (RCS), include extracting files from a targeted device, intercepting emails and instant messaging, as well as remotely activating a device's webcam and microphone. The company has been criticized for selling these capabilities to authoritarian governments -- an allegation it has consistently denied. When the tables turned in July 2015, with Hacking Team itself suffering a damaging hack, the reported use of RCS by oppressive regimes was confirmed. With 400GB of internal data -- including the once-secret list of customers, internal communications, and spyware source code -- leaked online, Hacking Team was forced to request its customers to suspend all use of RCS, and was left facing an uncertain future.

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SXSW: No 'Hot Apps' Anymore But Still a Launchpad For Some Startups
Posted by News Fetcher on March 11 '18 at 06:11 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's change-in-roles department:
South by Southwest is no longer the preferred launchpad for social apps, but it may be for others like Blue Duck, a San Antonio-based transportation company debuting its scooter service this weekend. From a report: Between Twitter's big breakout moment in 2007 and Meerkat's in 2015, SXSW has served as a great marketing opportunity for social apps. But that's ended as consumer trends have shifted and Hollywood and other consumer companies have taken over the festival. Standing outside the Austin Convention Center, co-founder Eric Bell tells me that he came up with the idea out of frustration with his local public transit, and he designed the scooters. For now, the company is self-funded, but he expects to soon raise outside funding.

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Netflix's Secrets to Success: Six Cell Towers, Dubbing and More
Posted by News Fetcher on March 11 '18 at 04:50 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's underlying-tech department:
Variety gets access to the people at Netflix who take care of the tech: Netflix has its own cell towers. Netflix wants to test its app running on mobile devices under a variety of conditions available around the world, so the company decided to bring the operating equipment of six cell towers to its Los Gatos offices. "Minus the towers," quipped Scott Ryder, the company's director of mobile streaming. The cell tower equipment is housed in the company's mobile device lab, where they are joined by a number of cabinets that look like fancy Netflix-themed fridges, but in reality are Faraday cage-like boxes to suppress any outside interference, and also make sure that those experimental cell towers don't mess up phone reception on the rest of the campus. Each of these boxes can house dozens of devices, and emulate certain mobile or Wi-Fi conditions. "We can make a box look like India, we can make a box look like the Netherlands," Ryder said. Altogether, Netflix runs over 125,000 tests in its mobile lab every single day.[...] Netflix just re-encoded its entire catalog, again. To optimize videos for mobile viewing, Netflix recently re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-scene basis. "We segment the videos into shots, we analyze the video per shot," said the company's director of video algorithms Anne Aaron. Now, an action scene in a show may stream at a higher bit rate than a scene featuring a slow monologue -- and users with limited bandwidth are set to save a lot of data. A few years back, 4 GB of mobile data would get you just about 10 hours of Netflix video, said Aaron. Now, members can watch up to 26 hours while consuming the same amount of data. Netflix previously re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-title basis, which already allowed it to stream animated shows at much lower bitrates than action movies with a lot of visual complexity. The next step for the company will be to adopt AV1, an advanced video codec developed by an alliance of companies that also includes Apple, Amazon, and Google. Aaron said Netflix could start streaming in AV1 before the end of this year, with Chrome browsers likely being first in line to receive AV1 streams.

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MoviePass Wants To Gather a Whole Lot of Data About Its Users
Posted by News Fetcher on March 11 '18 at 02:10 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's too-much-confidence department:
An anonymous reader writes: MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe thinks his service's rapid growth will continue, projecting earlier this month that MoviePass will have 5 million subscribers by the end of 2018, and account for around 20% of all movie ticket purchases. But some of those future subscribers might be concerned about his company's tactics, which Lowe recently said includes tracking users' location before and after a trip to the movies. Lowe's comments, originally reported by Media Play News, were made at the Entertainment Finance Forum on March 2 in Hollywood. They came during a panel titled "Data is the New Oil: How Will MoviePass Monetize It?" Lowe's answer to that question, in part, was that "our bigger vision is to build a night at the movies," including by guiding users to a meal before or after seeing a film. Lowe said that was possible because "we get an enormous amount of information. Since we mail you the card, we know your home address . . . we know the makeup of that household, the kids, the age groups, the income. It's all based on where you live. It's not that we ask that. You can extrapolate that. "Then," Lowe continued, "Because you are being tracked in your GPS by the phone . . . we watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards, and so we know the movies you watch. We know all about you. We don't sell that data. What we do is we use that data to market film."

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Elon Musk: SpaceX's Mars Rocket Could Fly Short Flights By Next Year
Posted by News Fetcher on March 11 '18 at 11:30 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
On stage at SXSW, Elon Musk issued yet another incredibly ambitious timeline. During a Q&A session on Sunday, Musk said SpaceX will be ready to fly its Mars rocket in 2019. He said: We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now, and we'll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year. Further reading: Fortune.

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Elon Musk: The Danger of AI is Much Greater Than Nuclear Warheads. We Need Regulatory Oversight Of AI Development.
Posted by News Fetcher on March 11 '18 at 11:30 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Elon Musk has been vocal about the need for regulation for AI in the past. At SXSW on Sunday, Musk, 46, elaborated his thoughts. We're very close to seeing cutting edge technologies in AI, Musk said. "It scares the hell out of me," the Tesla and SpaceX showrunner said. He cited the example of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, and the rate of advancements they have shown to illustrate his point. He said: Alpha Zero can read the rules of any game and beat the human. For any game. Nobody expected that rate of improvement. If you ask those same experts who think AI is not progressing at the rate that I'm saying, I think you will find their betting average for things like Go and other AI advancements, is very weak. It's not good. We will also see this with self driving. Probably by next year, self driving will encompass all forms of driving. By the end of next year, it will be at least 100 percent safer than humans. [...] The rate of improvements is really dramatic and we have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital super intelligence is symbiotic with humanity. I think that's the single biggest existential crisis we face, and the most pressing one. I'm not generally an advocate of regulation -- I'm actually usually on the side of minimizing those things. But this is a case, where you have a very serious danger to the public. There needs to be a public body that has insight and oversight to ensure that everyone is developing AI safely. This is extremely important. The danger of AI is much greater than danger of nuclear warheads. By a lot.

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