By EditorDavid from Slashdot's taxation-for-automation department
Bill Gates argued governments should tax companies that use replace humans with robots, which "provoked enough negative feedback to fry a motherboard," according to CBS News. Here's how they summarized some of the reactions:
"Why pick on robots?" former Treasury Secretary Summers asked in a Washington Post opinion piece, which called Gates "profoundly misguided." The economist argued that progress, however messy and disruptive sometimes, ultimately benefits society overall.Mike Shedlock, a financial adviser with Sitka Pacific Capital Management in Edmonds, Washington, wrote on his blog that robot owners, who likely would pay the tax, would simply pass it along by jacking up prices.The European Union's parliament in February rejected a measure to impose a tax on robots, using much the same reasoning as Gates' critics.
But even while acknowledging that technology can complement humans rather than replacing them, a Bloomberg columnist argues that "Gates is right to say that we should start thinking ahead of time about how to use policy to mitigate the disruptions of automation." So if we're not going to tax robots, then how should society handle the next great wave of automated labor?Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's rights-vs-repairs department
In 2011 a gynecology doctor took his computer for repairs at Best Buy's Geek Squad. But the repair technician was a paid FBI informant -- one of several working at Geek Squad -- and the doctor was ultimately charged with possessing child pornography, according to OC Weekly. An anonymous reader quotes their new report:
Recently unsealed records reveal a much more extensive secret relationship than previously known between the FBI and Best Buy's Geek Squad, including evidence the agency trained company technicians on law-enforcement operational tactics, shared lists of targeted citizens and, to covertly increase surveillance of the public, encouraged searches of computers even when unrelated to a customer's request for repairs. Assistant United States Attorney M. Anthony Brown last year labeled allegations of a hidden partnership as "wild speculation." But more than a dozen summaries of FBI memoranda filed inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse this month in USA v. Mark Rettenmaier contradict the official line...
Other records show how [Geek Squad supervisor Justin] Meade's job gave him "excellent and frequent" access for "several years" to computers belonging to unwitting Best Buy customers, though agents considered him "underutilized" and wanted him "tasked" to search devices "on a more consistent basis"... evidence demonstrates company employees routinely snooped for the agency, contemplated "writing a software program" specifically to aid the FBI in rifling through its customers' computers without probable cause for any crime that had been committed, and were "under the direction and control of the FBI."
The doctor's lawyer argues Best Buy became an unofficial wing of the FBI by offering $500 for every time they found evidence leading to criminal charges.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's code-free-or-die department
The luminaries speaking at the Google Cloud Next conference had some strong words about the importance of openness, innovation, and a rich developer community. An anonymous reader writes:
First Vint Cert said there's a "thread of openness" that runs throughout the internet, adding that "the internet, itself, has open characteristics" and thrives on "permissionless innovation." And Eric Brewer, vice president of infrastructure at Google, touched on the same themes, according to Tech Republic. "Linux, Brewer said, won some of the early internet wars because it was open, but also because it was the most innovative of its time. He also said that companies should work with open source for the value of the ecosystem and community, not just the value of the code." Then Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin told the audience that business models were already changing to include open source, and ultimately made the argument that organizations that "don't harvest the shared innovation" of open source "will fail."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's falling-backward department
"Okay...twice every year Slashdot disses Daylight savings time," writes turkeydance, bringing a story from Montana, where lawmakers are proposing that the state should stop setting their clocks forward by one hour every spring.
Similar legislation in several past sessions...failed to advance even out of committee. But SB206 passed committee unanimously and once on the floor, more than twice as many senators voted for it as against it. Now the House will take up SB206 during the session's second half, and likely with a renewed focus on the history of daylight saving time and what it would mean for Montana to become only the third state in the country not to observe it.
Daylight savings time has been opposed by a grassroots group of Montana farmers and ranchers, who have to sync their work schedule to the sun rather than the time on the clock, but similar legislation has also been introduced in Texas, California, Iowa, New Mexico, Michigan, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Washington.
Daylight savings time was originally introduced as an energy-saving measure during World Wars I and II, and returned during the 1970s energy crisis. There's just one problem, reports Live Science. "No one really knows whether daylight saving time saves energy at all. Research is decidedly mixed on the subject, with some studies actually finding that daylight saving time boosts energy consumption."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's lawyers-found-guilty department
"One of the attorneys behind the Prenda Law 'copyright trolling' scheme has pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud and money laundering," reports Ars Technica. Long-time Slashdot reader Freshly Exhumed shares this article from the law blog Popehat:
The factual basis section -- which Steele admits is true (as to facts he knows) or that the government can prove (as to facts he doesn't know directly) -- is a startling 16 pages long [PDF] and lavishly documents the entire scheme, complete with many details that accusers have been pointing out for years. In short, Steele admits that he and Hansmeier used sham entities to obtain the copyright to (or in some cases film) porn, uploaded it to file-sharing websites, and then filed "false and deceptive" copyright suits against downloaders designed to conceal their role in distributing the films and their stake in the outcomes. They lied to courts themselves, sent others to court to lie, lied at depositions, lied in sworn affidavits, created sham entities as plaintiffs, created fraudulent hacking allegations to try to obtain discovery into the identity of downloaders, used "ruse defendants" (strawmen, in effect) to get courts to approve broad discovery into IP addresses.
Facing a maximum of 40 years in prison, Steele could get his sentence reduced if he testifies against Hansmeier, according to the article, and "Steele appears to have pinned all of his hopes on that option... I've seen a lot of plea agreements in a lot of federal cases, and I don't recall another one that so clearly conveyed the defendant utterly surrendering and accepting everything the government demanded, all in hopes of talking his sentence down later."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's WebAssembly-language department
On Tuesday Firefox 52 became the first browser to support WebAssembly, a new standard "to enable near-native performance for web applications" without a plug-in by pre-compiling code into low-level, machine-ready instructions. Mozilla engineer Lin Clark sees this as an inflection point where the speed of browser-based applications increases dramatically. An anonymous reader quotes David Bryant, the head of platform engineering at Mozilla.
This new standard will enable amazing video games and high-performance web apps for things like computer-aided design, video and image editing, and scientific visualization...
Mozilla celebrated with a demo video of the high-resolution graphics of Zen Garden, and while right now WebAssembly supports compilation from C and C++ (plus some preliminary support for Rust), "We expect that, as WebAssembly continues to evolve, you'll also be able to use it with programming languages often used for mobile apps, like Java, Swift, and C#."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's scrutinizing-salaries department
Slashdot reader Tekla Perry writes: IEEE USA says H-1B visas are a tool used to avoid paying U.S. wages. "For every visa used by Google to hire a talented non-American for $126,000, ten Americans are replaced by outsourcing companies paying their H-1B workers $65,000," says the current IEEE USA president, writing with the past president and president-elect. The outsourcing companies, Infosys, Cognizant, Wipro, and Tata Consultancy in 2014 "used 21,695 visas, or more than 25 percent of all private-sector H-1B visas used that year. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Uber, for comparison, used only 1,763 visas, or 2 percent," they say.
On Friday, IEEE-USA also issued a new criticism about the lack of progress in reforming the H-1B program, saying "At least 50,000 Americans will lose their jobs this year because the president has yet to fulfill the promise he made to millions who voted for him."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's coercing-cooperation department
Andy Smith is a Scotland-based news photographer (and a long-time reader of Slashdot). He writes
Recently the police wanted to seize some of my work photos to use as evidence in a prosecution... Rather than trying (and likely failing) to get a warrant to seize the photos, the prosecutor used a tactic that nobody had heard of before: He got a warrant to seize all of my cameras, computers, memory cards, etc, even though the photos were in a secure location, not at my home or in my possession. I was then given 24 hours to retrieve and hand over the photos, or the police would raid my home and take everything, effectively ending my career.
His blog post describes erasing every computer and memory card, though he believes the police only wanted the leverage that came from threatening to seize them. But the journalists' union advised him to surrender the photos, since otherwise his equipment could be held for over a year -- so he complied. "I regret my decision. Everyone on this side of the case has reassured me that it was the right thing to do, but it wasn't."
"As for the warrant, it remains active, with no time limit. I now conduct my work knowing that the police could raid my home at any time, without warning, and take everything."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's loosen-rules department
Currently, California law requires that all self-driving cars used for testing purposes be done with a human behind the wheel, so that they can take control if necessary. While California has been fairly strict on how self-driving cars are to be used in the state, they appear to be relaxing several of the rules. "The state's Department of Motor Vehicles released proposed regulations Friday for autonomous vehicles, dropping an earlier requirement that a human driver had to be present while testing on public roads," reports Bloomberg. "The DMV also backed down on a previous rule that vehicles needed a steering wheel and pedals for the operator to take back control." From the report: "When we think of driverless vehicles they can either have conventional controls, which are steering wheels, pedals, things like that, or they cannot," said California DMV Chief Counsel Brian Soublet during a conference call with reporters. If companies test vehicles without conventional controls, they have to show the California DMV that they have approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, he added. NHTSA said in early 2016 that self-driving software systems, not just humans, can be considered drivers. "If California was going to keep that level of development activity in the state, what they did was necessary and timely," said Eric Noble, president of The CarLab, an automotive consulting firm. "They kind of had to do it because at some point manufacturers can't move autonomous vehicles forward without getting controls out of cars." The proposed regulations have a 45-day public comment period that ends April 24. That will be followed by a public hearing. During Friday's conference call, the California DMV said the rules should be completed by the end of the year.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
Gordon Gottsegen, writing for CNET: Samsung Pay could end up on even more devices, starting with the Galaxy J series phones in India, Mashable reports. Samsung Pay lets you save credit cards, gift cards, and other payment methods onto your smartphone and then use it when paying. Your phone mimics your cards right down to the magnetic signal, so it works in most places that accept credit cards thanks to Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) and Near Field Communication (NFC). Just tap your device against the payment terminal and you're generally good to go. But only if you've owned a premium smartphone. Samsung Pay generally only features in pricier phones like the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy s7 Edge, though it has also come to the Galaxy A line and Samsung Gear S watches. Now, according to Mashable's sources, Samsung has quietly been adding the technology to cheaper phones too, and plans to experiment with the idea in India -- where Samsung Pay recently launched -- in the next few months. Makes perfect sense. In places such as India, the vast majority of card terminals (PoS) don't support NFC, and it is very difficult to convince a merchant to upgrade their terminals. There are two reasons for this: first, not a lot of payments services require NFC. For all they care, their existing PoS devices support credit cards and debit cards. Second is, payment terminals with NFC are expensive. Also, smart of Samsung to trickle this feature into its lower-end smartphones.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's turn-your-head-and-cough department
capedgirardeau quotes a report from Business Insider: A little-noticed bill moving through the U.S. Congress would allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars, and would let employers see that genetic and other health information. Giving employers such power is now prohibited by U.S. law, including the 2008 genetic privacy and nondiscrimination law known as GINA. The new bill gets around that landmark law by stating explicitly that GINA and other protections do not apply when genetic tests are part of a "workplace wellness" program. The bill, HR 1313, was approved by a House committee on Wednesday, with all 22 Republicans supporting it and all 17 Democrats opposed. The 2008 genetic law prohibits a group health plan -- the kind employers have -- from asking, let alone requiring, someone to undergo a genetic test. It also prohibits that specifically for "underwriting purposes," which is where wellness programs come in. "Underwriting purposes" includes basing insurance deductibles, rebates, rewards, or other financial incentives on completing a health risk assessment or health screenings. In addition, any genetic information can be provided to the employer only in a de-identified, aggregated form, rather than in a way that reveals which individual has which genetic profile. There is a big exception, however: As long as employers make providing genetic information "voluntary," they can ask employees for it. Under the House bill, none of the protections for health and genetic information provided by GINA or the disabilities law would apply to workplace wellness programs as long as they complied with the ACA's very limited requirements for the programs. As a result, employers could demand that employees undergo genetic testing and health screenings.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's one-step-forward-two-steps-back department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: In a significant advance toward creating the first "designer" complex cell, scientists say they are one-third of the way to synthesizing the complete genome of baker's yeast. In seven studies published Thursday in the journal Science, the researchers describe how they built six of the 16 chromosomes required for the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, altering the genetic material to edit out some genes and write in new characteristics. The chromosomes generated this time represent the largest amount of genetic material ever synthesized, and the new Sc2.0 cells are substantially different from their natural, or "wild type," relatives. Among the most significant of these new features is a program the scientists called "SCRaMbLE," or "Synthetic Chromosome Recombination and Modification by LoxP-mediated Evolution" (scientists are congenitally disposed toward convoluted acronyms). The program allows scientists to rearrange elements within the genome to generate new and potentially useful permutations. Whereas many of Boeke's peers labor for years in the lab trying to genetically modify organisms, the SCRaMbLE system "lets the yeast do the work and lets the yeast teach us new biology," Jef Boeke, director of New York University Langone's Institute for Systems Genetics and an organizer of the project, said. It's like a version of the lottery in which you can continuously and instantaneously roll new numbers until you get a result you want. Other innovations in the Sc2.0 genome include the removal of duplicate bits of genetic code and the addition of short genetic sequences that distinguish synthetic chromosomes from their natural counterparts. Unlike other synthetic organisms, the engineered yeast is a eukaryote -- a complex cell with diverse internal structures, just like the cells in the human body. It has more genetic material than the bacteria synthesized by the Venter Institute and Harvard projects.Read Replies (0)