By BeauHD from Slashdot's dark-side-of-the-moon department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: China is aiming to go where no one has gone before: the far side of the moon. A rocket carrying the Chang'e-4 lunar lander blasted off at about 2:23 a.m. local time on Saturday from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China. (In the United States, it was still midday Friday). Chinese authorities did not broadcast the launch, but an unofficial live stream recorded near the site showed the rocket rise from the launch pad until its flames looked like a bright star in the area's dark skies. Nearly one hour later, Xinhua, China's state-run news agency reported that Chang'e-4 had successfully launched. Exactly when it will set down at its destination has not yet been announced -- possibly in early January -- but Chang'e-4 will provide the first close-up look at a part of the moon that is eternally out of view from Earth. The rover will attempt to land in the 110-mile-wide Von Karman crater. The crater is within an area known as the South Pole-Aitken basin, a gigantic, 1,600-mile wide crater at the bottom of the moon, which has a mineralogy distinct from other locations. "That may reflect materials from the inside of the moon that were brought up by the impact that created the basin," reports The New York Times. The suite of instruments on the rover and the lander -- cameras, ground-penetrating radar and spectrometers -- "will probe the structure of the rocks beneath the spacecraft, study the effects of the solar wind striking the lunar surface," the report says. "Chang'e-4 will also test the ability of making radio astronomy observations from the far side of the moon, without the effects of noise and interference from Earth." It will also see if plant seeds will germinate and silkworm eggs will hatch in the moon's low gravity.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Pushing the cargo bike across a rain-soaked parking lot at a UPS distribution center in Seattle, where the shipper showed off its newest delivery vehicle, I had a realization once the pedal assist kicked in. "Yep, this will totally work," I thought. Bike messengers have long known cycling is the fastest way to get around traffic-choked cities. More commuters are getting it too. Now UPS is giving it a shot: The 111-year-old delivery service has started moving packages around Seattle by electric tricycle, in a yearlong pilot.
The vehicle in question was designed and built by Truck Trike in Portland, Oregon. When the rider starts to pedal, human power pushes the front hub. With a thumb throttle, the rider can draw power from a pair of battery packs in the base of the trike to rear hub motors for the back two wheels, with enough juice for 12 to 18 miles of range. The extra power comes in handy because the trailer, made by Portland's Silver Eagle, can fit as many as 40 packages, or about 350 pounds worth of stuff. For UPS the move is pretty spot on, because while the Emerald City is always congested, it's less than two months from what its traffic engineers call the "period of maximum constraint."
That ominous-sounding constrained period arrives on February 4, when the Alaskan Way Viaduct elevated highway along the waterfront is torn down and the 2-mile tunnel Seattle dug to replace it comes online. Crews are finishing the ramps that connect the tunnel to surface roads, and for three weeks, the city won't have a road to get through downtown on the city's waterfront side. To dodge the traffic horror show, Seattleites are planning vacations, renting Airbnbs to stay downtown, anything to avoid driving, including working from home.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's growing-tension department
Chinese mobile app companies pose the same national security risk to the US as telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE, Sen. Mark Warner said in an interview. From a report: Recent US legislation largely banned Huawei and ZTE from use by the government and its contractors, due to concerns about surveillance and other national security risks. Now Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is signaling that Chinese app developers may face similar scrutiny from lawmakers, corporate America, and the intelligence community.
Warner's comments follow a recent BuzzFeed News report that popular apps from China's Cheetah Mobile and Kika Tech were exploiting user permissions to engage in a form of ad fraud. Eight Android apps with more than 2 billion total downloads were said to be engaging in a form of app-install ad fraud. Google subsequently removed two of the apps from the Play store and said it continues to investigate. Cheetah and Kika deny engaging in app-install fraud. "Under Chinese law, all Chinese companies are ultimately beholden to the Communist Party, not their board or shareholders, so any Chinese technology company -- whether in telecom or mobile apps -- should be seen as extensions of the state and a national security risk," Warner said in an interview this week with BuzzFeed News. Further reading: Sen. Warner calls for US cyber doctrine, new standards for security.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's when-an-algorithm-decides department
An anonymous reader shares a report: One day this fall, Ashutosh Garg, the chief executive of a recruiting service called Eightfold.ai, turned up a resume that piqued his interest. It belonged to a prospective data scientist, someone who unearths patterns in data to help businesses make decisions, like how to target ads. But curiously, the resume featured the term "data science" nowhere.
Instead, the resume belonged to an analyst at Barclays who had done graduate work in physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Though his profile on the social network LinkedIn indicated that he had never worked as a data scientist, Eightfold's software flagged him as a good fit. He was similar in certain key ways, like his math and computer chops, to four actual data scientists whom Mr. Garg had instructed the software to consider as a model.
The idea is not to focus on job titles, but "what skills they have," Mr. Garg said. "You're really looking for people who have not done it, but can do it." The power of such technology will be immediately apparent to any employer scrambling to fill jobs in a tight labor market -- not least positions for data scientists, whom companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are competing to attract. Thanks to services like Eightfold, which rely on sophisticated algorithms to match workers and jobs, many employers may soon have access to a universe of prospective workers -- even for hard-to-fill roles -- whom they might not otherwise have come across.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
EU governments agreed on Friday to toughen up draft rules allowing law enforcement authorities to get electronic evidence directly from tech companies such as Facebook and Google stored in the cloud in another European country.
From a report: The move underlines the growing trend in Europe to rein in tech giants whether on the regulatory front or the antitrust front. The e-evidence proposal also came in the wake of recent deadly terrorist attacks in Europe, pressure on tech companies to do more to cooperate with police investigations and people's growing tendency to store and share information on WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, Skype, Instagram and Telegram.
The European Commission, the EU executive, came up with the draft legislation in April, which includes a 10-day deadline for companies to respond to police requests or 6 hours in emergency cases, and fines up to 2 percent of a company's global turnover for not complying with such orders. The proposal covers telecoms services providers, online marketplaces and internet infrastructure services providers and applies to subscriber data and other data on access, transactional and content.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
The Federal Trade Commission's top consumer protection official is prohibited from handling the cases involving 120 different companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Uber, according to financial disclosure documents published by Public Citizen this week. From a report: Andrew Smith, who heads the FTCs Consumer Protection Bureau, would be in charge of handling investigations into some of the country's largest companies and any consumer protection violations that may occur. But due to his conflicts of interest, Smith is barred from participating in any investigations involving the companies he previously provided legal services for. "It's a big world out there, and the FTC has very broad jurisdictions," Smith said to The Verge. "There are plenty of investigations that I'm involved in." Smith was approved by a 3-2 Republican majority in May.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple has never made cheap stuff. But this fall many of its prices increased 20 percent or more. The MacBook Air went from $1,000 to $1,200. A Mac Mini leaped from $500 to $800. It felt as though the value proposition that has made Apple products no-brainers might unravel. For some perspective, we charted out the past few years of prices on a few iconic Apple products. Then we compared them with other brands and some proprietary data about Americans' phone purchase habits from mobile analytics firm BayStreet Research.
What we learned: Being loyal to Apple is getting expensive. Many Apple product prices are rising faster than inflation -- faster, even, than the price of prescription drugs or going to college. Yet when Apple offers cheaper options for its most important product, the iPhone, Americans tend to take the more expensive choice. So while Apple isn't charging all customers more, it's definitely extracting more money from frequent upgraders.
[...] Apple says prices go up because it introduces new technologies such as Face ID and invests in making products that last a long time. Yet it has clearly been feeling price discomfort from some quarters. This week, amid reports of lagging sales that took its stock far out of the trillion-dollar club, it dedicated its home page to a used-car sales technique that's uncharacteristic for an aspirational luxury brand. It offered a "limited-time" deal to trade in an old iPhone and get a new iPhone XR for $450, a $300 discount.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's growing-tension department
The European Union should be worried about Huawei and other Chinese technology companies because of the risk they pose to the bloc's industry and security, the EU's technology commissioner said on Friday. From a report: "Do we have to be worried about Huawei or other Chinese companies? Yes, I think we have to be worried about those companies," Andrus Ansip told a news conference in Brussels, days after a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei was arrested in Canada as part of an investigation into alleged bank fraud.
Huawei, which generated $93 billion in revenue last year and is seen as a national champion in China, faces intense scrutiny from many Western nations over its ties to the Chinese government, driven by concerns it could be used by Beijing for spying. Ansip said he was concerned because Chinese technology companies were required to cooperate with Chinese intelligence services, such as on "mandatory back doors" to allow access to encrypted data.
He also said those companies produce chips that could be used "to get our secrets." "As normal, ordinary people we have to be afraid," he said, adding he did not have enough information about the recent arrest in Canada.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-of-its-kind department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Luxembourg is set to become the first country in the world to make all its public transport free. Fares on trains, trams and buses will be lifted next summer under the plans of the re-elected coalition government led by Xavier Bettel, who was sworn in for a second term as prime minister on Wednesday. Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. It is home to about 110,000 people, but a further 400,000 commute into the city to work. A study suggested that drivers in the capital spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams in 2016. While the country as a whole has 600,000 inhabitants, nearly 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the border every day to work in Luxembourg.
Luxembourg has increasingly shown a progressive attitude to transport. This summer, the government brought in free transport for every child and young person under the age of 20. Secondary school students can use free shuttles between their institution and their home. Commuters need only pay about $2.27 for up to two hours of travel, which in a country of just 999 sq miles (2,590 sq km) covers almost all journeys. Now, from the start of 2020 all tickets will be abolished, saving on the collection of fares and the policing of ticket purchases. The policy is yet to be fully thought through, however. A decision has yet to be taken on what to do about first- and second-class compartments on trains.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's what's-old-is-new-again department
Aston Martin announced this week that it's starting a "Heritage EV" program where owners of classic Aston Martins can have their cars converted to an all-electric powertrain. The British automaker said they are starting this program so that classic cars don't get banned from cities that are moving to shun internal combustion engines in favor of boosting air quality for residents. The Verge reports: Aston Martin says the technology for these conversions will be built on "key components" being used to develop the Rapide E, a super-limited all-electric sports car due late next year. The Rapide E will use an 800-volt, 65kWh battery, offer "over 200 miles" of range, and feature a sub-4-second 0-60 mph time, as well as a top speed of 155 miles per hour. Only 155 of them will be sold, too. So the best way to get a taste of Aston Martin's electric future might actually be one of these EV conversions.
The automaker says the first car it will develop a conversion plan for is the 1970 DB6 MkII Volante. Aston Martin will build Rapide E-inspired "cassettes" that can essentially slide in where the original engine and gearbox used to be, and will even be attached to the same mountings. A new screen will be fitted in the car's interior, but otherwise, little else is changed. This also means that, should an owner change their mind, and also have the money (which, come on, of course they do), they should be able to change it back if they so desire.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's join-the-club department
With the news earlier today that Microsoft is embracing Chromium for Edge browser development on the desktop, VentureBeat decided to see what the other browser companies had to say about the decision. From the report: Google largely sees Microsoft's decision as a good thing, which is not exactly a surprise given that the company created the Chromium open source project. "Chrome has been a champion of the open web since inception and we welcome Microsoft to the community of Chromium contributors. We look forward to working with Microsoft and the web standards community to advance the open web, support user choice, and deliver great browsing experiences."
Mozilla meanwhile sees Microsoft's move as further validation that users should switch to Firefox. "This just increases the importance of Mozilla's role as the only independent choice. We are not going to concede that Google's implementation of the web is the only option consumers should have. That's why we built Firefox in the first place and why we will always fight for a truly open web." Mozilla regularly points out it develops the only independent browser -- meaning it's not tied to a tech company that has priorities which often don't align with the web. Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome), and Microsoft (Edge) all have their own corporate interests.
Opera thinks Microsoft is making a smart move, because it did the same thing six years ago. "We noticed that Microsoft seems very much to be following in Opera's footsteps. Switching to Chromium is part of a strategy Opera successfully adopted in 2012. This strategy has proved fruitful for Opera, allowing us to focus on bringing unique features to our products. As for the impact on the Chromium ecosystem, we are yet to see how it will turn out, but we hope this will be a positive move for the future of the web."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's holy-grail department
DeepMind has created a system that can quickly master any game in the class that includes chess, Go, and Shogi, and do so without human guidance. "The system, called AlphaZero, began its life last year by beating a DeepMind system that had been specialized just for Go," reports IEEE Spectrum. "That earlier system had itself made history by beating one of the world's best Go players, but it needed human help to get through a months-long course of improvement. AlphaZero trained itself -- in just 3 days." From the report: The research, published today in the journal Science, was performed by a team led by DeepMind's David Silver. The paper was accompanied by a commentary by Murray Campbell, an AI researcher at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. AlphaZero can crack any game that provides all the information that's relevant to decision-making; the new generation of games to which Campbell alludes do not. Poker furnishes a good example of such games of "imperfect" information: Players can hold their cards close to their chests. Other examples include many multiplayer games, such as StarCraft II, Dota, and Minecraft. But they may not pose a worthy challenge for long.
DeepMind developed the self-training method, called deep reinforcement learning, specifically to attack Go. Today's announcement that they've generalized it to other games means they were able to find tricks to preserve its playing strength after giving up certain advantages peculiar to playing Go. The biggest such advantage was the symmetry of the Go board, which allowed the specialized machine to calculate more possibilities by treating many of them as mirror images. The researchers have so far unleashed their creation only on Go, chess and Shogi, a Japanese form of chess. Go and Shogi are astronomically complex, and that's why both games long resisted the "brute-force" algorithms that the IBM team used against Kasparov two decades ago.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's safety-first department
A new report (PDF) from the AINow Institute calls for the U.S. government to take general steps to improve the regulation of facial recognition technology amid much debate over the privacy implications. "The implementation of AI systems is expanding rapidly, without adequate governance, oversight, or accountability regimes," it says. The report suggests, for instance, extending the power of existing government bodies in order to regulate AI issues, including use of facial recognition: "Domains like health, education, criminal justice, and welfare all have their own histories, regulatory frameworks, and hazards." MIT Technology Review reports: It also calls for stronger consumer protections against misleading claims regarding AI; urges companies to waive trade-secret claims when the accountability of AI systems is at stake (when algorithms are being used to make critical decisions, for example); and asks that they govern themselves more responsibly when it comes to the use of AI. And the document suggests that the public should be warned when facial-recognition systems are being used to track them, and that they should have the right to reject the use of such technology.
The report also warns about the use of emotion tracking in face-scanning and voice detection systems. Tracking emotion this way is relatively unproven, yet it is being used in potentially discriminatory ways -- for example, to track the attention of students. "It's time to regulate facial recognition and affect recognition," says Kate Crawford, cofounder of AINow and one of the lead authors of the report. "Claiming to 'see' into people's interior states is neither scientific nor ethical."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's two-is-better-than-one department
Google is working to make Translate less gender-biased by giving both a feminine and masculine translation for a single word. "Previously, the service defaulted to the masculine options," reports CNET. "The new function is available when translating words from English into French, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish and Spanish. It provides a similar function when translating into English." From the report: Google Translate learns from the hundreds of millions of already-translated examples available on the internet, creating an opportunity for the tool to incorporate the gender bias it encountered online, according to a Google blog post announcing the change. With the update, Google Translate will present translations for both genders. For example, if you translate "o bir doktor" from Turkish to English, you'll see "she is a doctor" and "he is a doctor" in the translation box. In November, Google also made Gmail's Smart Compose technology stop suggesting gender-based pronouns. Previously, it defaulted to masculine pronouns.Read Replies (0)