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."Read Replies (0)
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.Read Replies (0)
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.Read Replies (0)
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.Read Replies (0)
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."Read Replies (0)
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.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's two-step-backwards department
The U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board has not met in at least six months, and some of its members say it's being sidelined to avoid getting in the way of agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's anti-regulatory agenda, Scientific American reported this week. From the report: Agency officials say the lapse isn't intentional and that it's just the result of delayed paperwork. That has prevented the group from meeting because there weren't enough members to make a quorum. The board, which typically has about 45 members, is tasked by Congress to evaluate the science used by EPA to craft policy. The full board has not met since August, nor has it had any conference calls or votes. In the past, members would have had multiple interactions during that time period, said William Schlesinger, a board member who is an emeritus professor of biogeochemistry at Duke University. "I guess the Science Advisory Board still exists; I guess I'm still on it," he said. "I think the answer is maybe they're giving it what we used to call the 'pocket veto': If you don't meet, then the scientists are not a pain, because they don't have a forum."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's tough-luck department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Continuing its battle against the "tweetdeckers," Twitter suspended on Friday several popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass-retweeting tweets into manufactured virality. @Dory, @GirlPosts, @SoDamnTrue, Girl Code/@reiatabie, Common White Girl/@commonwhitegiri, @teenagernotes, @finah, @holyfag, and @memeprovider were among the accounts that got swept up in the purge. Many of these accounts were hugely popular, with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers. In addition to stealing people's tweets without credit, some of these accounts are known as "tweetdeckers" due to their practice of teaming up in exclusive Tweetdeck groups and mass-retweeting one another's -- and paying customers' -- tweets into forced virality. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on individual accounts, but BuzzFeed News understands the accounts were suspended for violating Twitter's spam policy.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's weekend-project department
From a report: This week, Ubuntu Linux 18.04 'Bionic Beaver' Beta 1 became available for download. Ubuntu 18.04 is significant, as it will be an LTS (Long Term Support) version. As was the case when Unity was the primary DE, GNOME is not available in this beta stage. Instead, there are other flavors from which to choose, such as Kubuntu with KDE Plasma and Xubuntu, which uses Xfce. "Pre-releases of the Bionic Beaver are not encouraged for anyone needing a stable system or anyone who is not comfortable running into occasional, even frequent breakage. They are, however, recommended for Ubuntu flavor developers and those who want to help in testing, reporting, and fixing bugs as we work towards getting this release ready. Beta 1 includes some software updates that are ready for broader testing. However, it is quite an early set of images, so you should expect some bugs," says Dustin Krysak, Ubuntu Budgie team member.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's falling-backwards department
The New York Times notes an important caveat to Florida's recently-approved law observing daylight savings time year-round: it specifies that their change will only go into effect if "the United States Congress amends 15 U.S.C. s. 260a to authorize states to observe daylight saving time year-round."
"In other words: Even if the governor signs the bill, nothing will happen now... States can choose to exempt themselves from daylight saving time -- Arizona and Hawaii do -- but nothing in federal law allows them to exempt themselves from standard time." Meanwhile one California legislator exploring the idea of year-round standard time discovered that "youth sports leagues and families worried that a year-round early sunset would shut down their kids' after-school games." But the Times also acknowledges problems in the current system. "In parts of Maine, for example, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the sun sets before 4 p.m. -- more than an hour earlier than it does in Detroit, at the other end of the Eastern time zone." So is there a better alternative?
An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider:
Standardtime.com has a unique suggestion. Their proposal has only two time zones in the continental U.S. that are two hours apart, which The Atlantic calls "a simple plan to fix [DST]"... Johns Hopkins University professors Richard Henry and Steven Hanke have come up with yet another possible fix: worldwide adoption of a single time zone. They argue that the internet has eliminated the need for discrete time zones across the globe, so we might as well just do away with them...
No plan will satisfy everyone. But that doesn't mean daylight-saving time is good. The absence of major energy-saving benefits from DST -- along with its death toll, health impacts, and economic ramifications -- are reason enough to get rid of the ritual altogether.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's power-to-the-people department
An anonymous reader writes:
Last month Eric S. Raymond complained about his choices for a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), adding that "This whole category begs to be disrupted by an open-hardware [and open-source] design that could be assembled cheaply in a makerspace from off-the-shelf components, an Arduino-class microcontroller, and a PROM...because it's possible, and otherwise the incentives on the vendors won't change." It could be designed to work with longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly batteries, using "EV-style intelligent battery-current sensors to enable accurate projection of battery performance" (along with a text-based alert system and a USB monitoring port).
Calling the response "astonishing," Raymond noted the emergence within a week of "the outlines of a coherent design," and in an update on GitLab reported that "The response on my blog and G+ was intense, almost overwhelming. It seems many UPS users are unhappy with what the vendors are pushing" -- and thus, the UPSide project was launched. "We welcome contributors: people with interest in UPSes who have expertise in battery technology, power-switching electronics, writing device-control firmware, relevant standards such as USB and the DMTF battery-management profile. We also welcome participation from established UPS and electronics vendors. We know that consumer electronics is a cutthroat low-margin business in which it's tough to support a real R&D team or make possibly-risky product bets. Help us, and then let us help you!"
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's I'll-be-seeing-you department
An anonymous reader quotes Reuters:
At a highway check point on the outskirts of Beijing, local police are this week testing out a new security tool: smart glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects. The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized "blacklist".
The test -- which coincides with the annual meeting of China's parliament in central Beijing -- underscores a major push by China's leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country... Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because China's authorities were using the equipment for "noble causes", catching suspects and fugitives from the law. "We trust the government," he told Reuters at the company's headquarters in Beijing.
This weekend while China's President Xi Jinping is expected to push through a reform allowing him to stay in power indefinitely, Reuters reports that the Chinese goverment is pushing the use of cutting-edge technology "to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world... A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists...
"The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online," Reuters reports, citing one Hong Kong researcher who argues that China now sees internet and communication technologies "as absolutely indispensable tools of social and political control."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's not-making-your-case department
Former Linux developer Patrick McHardy dropped his Gnu General Public License version 2 (GPLv2) violation case against Geniatech in a German court this week. ZDNet explains why some consider this a big "win":
People who find violations typically turn to organizations such as the Free Software Foundation, Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), and the Software Freedom Law Center to approach violators. These organizations then try to convince violating companies to mend their ways and honor their GPLv2 legal requirements. Only as a last resort do they take companies to court to force them into compliance with the GPLv2. Patrick McHardy, however, after talking with SFC, dropped out from this diplomatic approach and has gone on his own way. Specifically, McHardy has been accused of seeking his own financial gain by approaching numerous companies in German courts. Geniatech claimed McHardy has sued companies for Linux GPLv2 violations in over 38 cases. In one, he'd requested a contractual penalty of €1.8 million. The company also claimed McHardy had already received over €2 million from his actions...
In July 2016, the Netfilter developers suspended him from the core team. They received numerous allegations that he had been shaking down companies. McHardy refused to discuss these issues with them, and he refused to sign off on the Principles of Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement. In October 2017, Greg Kroah-Hartman, Linux kernel maintainer for the stable branch, summed up the Linux kernel developers' position. Kroah-Hartman wrote: "McHardy has sought to enforce his copyright claims in secret and for large sums of money by threatening or engaging in litigation...."
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