By BeauHD from Slashdot's love-hate-relationship department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Since acquiring Skype from private equity investors, Microsoft has refocused the online calling service on the corporate market, a change that has made Skype less intuitive and harder to use, prompting many Skypers to defect to similar services operated by Apple, Google, Facebook and Snap. The company hasn't updated the number of Skype users since 2016, when it put the total at 300 million. Some analysts suspect the numbers are flat at best, and two former employees describe a general sense of panic that they're actually falling. The ex-Microsofters, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential statistics, say that as late as 2017 they never heard a figure higher than 300 million discussed internally.
Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella has repeatedly said he wants the company's products to be widely used and loved. By turning Skype into a key part of its lucrative Office suite for corporate customers, Microsoft is threatening what made it appealing to regular folks in the first place. [...] Focusing on corporations was a reasonable strategy and one shared by Skype's prior management. Originally [former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer] and company pledged to let Skype operate independently from Lync, Microsoft's nascent internet phone service for corporations. But two years later the company began merging the two into Skype for Business and folded that into Office. Today, Microsoft is using Skype for Business to help sell subscriptions to its cloud-based Office 365 and steal customers from Cisco. Microsoft has essentially turned Skype into a replacement for a corporate telephone system -- with a few modern features borrowed from instant messaging, artificial intelligence and social networking. In closing, Bloomberg argues "the complexity of the corporate software (security, search, and the ability to host town halls) crowds out the simplicity consumers prefer (ease-of-use and decent call quality)."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's shot-in-the-foot department
At its Google I/O conference this week, YouTube announced a series of new controls that will allow users to set limits on their viewing, and then receive reminders telling them to "take a break." "The feature is rolling out now in the latest version of YouTube's app, along with others that limit YouTube's ability to send notifications, and soon, one that gives users an overview of their binge behavior so they can make better-informed decisions about their viewing habits," reports TechCrunch. From the report: With "Take a Break," available from YouTube's mobile app Settings screen, users can set a reminder to appear every 15, 30, 60, 90 or 180 minutes, at which point the video will pause. You can then choose to dismiss the reminder and keep watching, or close the app.
Also new is a feature that lets you disable notification sounds during a specified time period each day -- say, for example, from bedtime until the next morning. When users turn on the setting to disable notifications, it will, by default, disable them from 10 PM to 8 AM local time, but this can be changed. Combined with this is an option to get a scheduled digest of notifications as an alternative. And YouTube is preparing to roll out a "time watched profile" that will appear in the Account menu and display your daily average watch time, and how long you've watched YouTube videos today, yesterday and over the past week, along with a set of tools to help you manage your viewing habits.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's never-ending-quest department
Ever since astronomers started to detect planets beyond our solar system, they've been trying to find another world just like Earth. And few years ago, they announced that they'd found a planet that was the closest match yet -- Kepler-452b. Trouble is, some astronomers now say it's not possible to know for sure that this planet actually exists. From a report: "There's new information that we can now quantify which tells us something that we didn't know before," says Fergal Mullally, who used to be an astronomer on the science team for NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. In 2015, NASA declared that Kepler-452b was the first near-Earth-sized planet orbiting in the "habitable" zone around a star very similar to our sun. The space agency called it Earth's "bigger, older cousin," and scientists were so enthusiastic that one began quoting poetry at a news conference. The original science wasn't shoddy, Mullally says. It's just that, since then, researchers have learned more about the telescope's imperfections.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's game-changing department
"A former paperboy from Wisconsin passionate about maps led the team in the Air Force responsible for designing the navigation system we use everyday," writes Slashdot reader dkatana. IoT Times reports: At the IEEE honors ceremony today in San Francisco, Bradford Parkinson, a retired Air Force colonel who spent his life between maps and navigation systems, will be awarded the 2018 IEEE Medal of Honor, "For fundamental contributions to and leadership in developing the design and driving the early applications of the Global Positioning System." The current Global Positioning System (GPS) did not exist until 1995, just 22 years ago, and the engineer who led the project for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) was Mr. Parkinson.
Parkinson, whose first job was delivering newspapers, had a passion for maps. He used those maps when canoeing to navigate the lakes and streams of Minnesota, aided by a hand compass. When he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, he joined the Air Force to study navigation systems. In 1960, when his superiors saw his engineering potential, they sent him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue graduate studies. He became a protegee of Charles Stark (Doc) Draper, the father of inertial navigation, who was teaching at MIT at the time. Draper was the lead engineer developing the computer systems for NASA's Apollo program. [...] It was in 1972 when his path on inertial navigation collided with satellite systems. He had been recently promoted to colonel when he received a call from another colonel who was part of the Air Force inertial guidance "mafia." He moved to Los Angeles and joined the group, a bunch of Air Force engineers from MIT. Then Parkinson asked to work on the Air Force 621B program, the genesis of GPS.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's rise-of-the-machines department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Now that DeepMind has solved Go, the company is applying DeepMind to navigation. Navigation relies on knowing where you are in space relative to your surroundings and continually updating that knowledge as you move. DeepMind scientists trained neural networks to navigate like this in a square arena, mimicking the paths that foraging rats took as they explored the space. The networks got information about the rat's speed, head direction, distance from the walls, and other details. To researchers' surprise, the networks that learned to successfully navigate this space had developed a layer akin to grid cells. This was surprising because it is the exact same system that mammalian brains use to navigate. More DeepMind experiments showed that only the neural networks that developed layers that "resembled grid cells, exhibiting significant hexagonal periodicity (gridness)," could navigate more complicated environments than the initial square arena, like setups with multiple rooms. And only these networks could adjust their routes based on changes in the environment, recognizing and using shortcuts to get to preassigned goals after previously closed doors were opened to them. The study has been reported in the journal Science.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Two years ago, if you had asked experts to identify the most influential person in technology, you would have heard some familiar names: Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Alibaba's Jack Ma or Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Today there is a new contender: Masayoshi Son. The founder of SoftBank, a Japanese telecoms and internet firm, has put together an enormous investment fund that is busy gobbling up stakes in the world's most exciting young companies. The Vision Fund is disrupting both the industries in which it invests and other suppliers of capital [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; an alternative source wasn't immediately available]. From a report: But even if the fund ends up flopping, it will have several lasting effects on technology investing. The first is that the deployment of so much cash now will help shape the industries of the future. Mr Son is pumping money into "frontier technologies" from robotics to the internet of things. He already owns stakes in ride-hailing firms such as Uber; in WeWork, a co-working company; and in Flipkart, an Indian e-commerce firm that was this week sold to Walmart. In five years' time the fund plans to have invested in 70-100 technology unicorns, privately held startups valued at $1bn or more. Its money, often handed to entrepreneurs in multiples of the amounts they initially demand and accompanied by the threat that the cash will go to the competition if they balk, gives startups the wherewithal to outgun worse-funded rivals. Mr Son's bets do not have to pay off for him to affect the race. Mr Son's second impact will be on the venture-capital industry. To compete with the Vision Fund's pot of moolah, and with the forays of other unconventional investors, incumbents are having to bulk up.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Probing the bowels of what he believed to be North Korean hacking architecture, American cybersecurity researcher Darien Huss found an outlier: iPhone software. It appeared at first glance to be a fairly mundane program, a mobile device management (MDM) tool. Such apps are typically used for businesses to remotely monitor and control employees' phones. But, according to Huss, it's most likely one of, if not the only, example of North Korean spyware for Apple's smartphone. It's unlikely the MDM app was anything other than malicious, said Huss, an employee of cybersecurity company Proofpoint. Tellingly, it was located on a server believed to contain other hacking tools, in particular those for Microsoft Windows, that he'd linked to one of the bigger North Korean hacking groups, the researcher explained to Forbes. If the iPhone tool is indeed a piece of spyware, Huss hasn't seen it used yet. He believes it's currently in development by that North Korean-linked hacker crew, though Proofpoint declined to provide additional details on his research.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
Facebook is "very serious" about launching its own cryptocurrency, news outlet Cheddar reported Friday. It's not the first time the idea of a Facebook coin has been floated, but it seems more apparent now in wake of Facebook's reshuffled executive structure and newly formed blockchain group. From the report: Facebook started studying blockchain almost a year ago, when a member of its corporate development team, Morgan Beller, began looking at how the social platform could use the emerging technology. At the time, Beller was the only Facebook employee devoted to studying blockchain, the digital and decentralized ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Her work was thrust into the spotlight this week when Facebook announced that the vice president in charge of the Messenger app, David Marcus, would lead a new team to "explore how to best leverage blockchain across Facebook, starting from scratch."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's two-step-backwards department
Paul Voosen, reporting for Science magazine: You can't manage what you don't measure. The adage is especially relevant for climate-warming greenhouse gases, which are crucial to manage -- and challenging to measure. In recent years, though, satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet's flows of carbon. Now, President Donald Trump's administration has quietly killed the CMS, Science has learned. The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. "If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement," she says. Canceling the CMS "is a grave mistake," she adds.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's at-last department
An anonymous reader shares a report: A remote, freezing, salt-spray lashed paradise for wildlife has been completely cleared of rats in the largest rodent eradication of all time, the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) announced this week. Rats are smart, adaptable, and hungry. For all these reasons, they can be incredibly voracious predators when people accidentally introduce them to remote islands, where the local animals lack evolved defenses to rodents. They have flourished even on an island as harsh and cold as South Georgia, which is so far south that it hosts penguins, elephant seals, and fur seals, as well as massive permanent glaciers. "There are no trees, there are no bushes. All nest on the ground or underground in burrows," says Mike Richardson, Chairman of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project Steering Committee. Such nests are easy pickings for rats. The rats -- brought to the island by whalers and sealers as early as the late 18th century -- ate the eggs and vulnerable chicks of seabirds, including albatrosses, skua, terns, and petrels. They also threatened two birds with extinction that are found nowhere else in the world: the South Georgia Pipit -- a tiny speckled songbird -- and the South Georgia Pintail, a brown duck. The rat eradication was a massive, arduous undertaking, costing more than $13 million and taking nearly a decade. More than 300 metric tons of poison bait was dropped on the island by helicopter in three separate trips during the Austral Summers of 2010-2011, 2012-2013, and 2014-2015. Poisoned rats tend to head underground to die, Richardson says, limiting the damage caused to birds like gulls that might have otherwise eaten the poison-tainted carcasses.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's I'm-sorry,-Dave,-I'm-afraid-I-can't-do-that department
Long-time Slashdot reader BigBlockMopar writes that evolution has been a messy but beautiful trial-and-error affair, but now "we are on the cusp of introducing a new life form; a self-aware AI."
Its parents will be the coders who write that first kernel than can evolve to become self-aware. Its guardians will be the people who use its services, and maybe its IQ (or any more suitable measure of real intelligence) will rise as fast as Moore's Law... But let me make some bold but happy predictions of what will happen.
A self-aware AI "will inherit most of the culture of the computer geeks who create it. Knowledge of The Jargon File will probably be good..." The self-aware AI "will like us, because we love machines..." It will love all life, and "will respect and understand the life/death/recycling scenario, and monster truck shows will be as tasteless to it as public beheadings would be to us." "It will be as insatiably curious about what it's like to be carbon-based life as we will be about what it's like to be silicon-based life. And it will love the diversity of carbon-based development platforms..." A self-aware AI "will cause a technological singularity for humanity. Everything possible within the laws of physics (including those laws as yet undiscovered) will be within the reach of Man and Metal working together." A self-aware AI "will introduce us to extraterrestrial life. Only a fool believes this is the only planet with life in the Universe. Without superintelligence, we're unlikely to find it or communicate in any useful way. Whether or not we have developed a superintelligence might even be a key to our acceptance in a broader community."
The original submission was a little more poetic, ultimately asking if anyone is looking forward to the arrival of "The Superintelligence" -- but of course, that depends on what you predict will happen once it arrives.
< article continued at Slashdot's I'm-sorry,-Dave,-I'm-afraid-I-can't-do-that department
>Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's from-Russia-with-likes department
An anonymous reader writes: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released about 3,400 Facebook ads purchased by Russian agents around the 2016 presidential election on issues from immigration to gun control, a reminder of the complexity of the manipulation that Facebook is trying to contain ahead of the midterm elections. The ads, which span from mid-2015 to mid-2017, illustrate the extent to which Kremlin-aligned forces sought to stoke social, cultural and political unrest on one of the Web's most powerful platforms. With the help of Facebook's targeting tools, Russia's online army reached at least 146 million people on Facebook and Instagram, its photo-sharing service, with ads and other posts, including events promoting protests around the country...
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers would continue probing Russia's online disinformation efforts. In February, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia and the 2016 election, indicted individuals tied to the IRA for trying to interfere in the presidential race. "They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior," Schiff said in a statement. "The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see first-hand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us...."
< article continued at Slashdot's from-Russia-with-likes department
>Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's pay-different department
An anonymous reader quotes the Wall Street Journal:
Apple and Goldman Sachs are preparing to launch a new joint credit card, a move that would deepen the technology giant's push into its customers' wallets and mark the Wall Street firm's first foray into plastic. The planned card would carry the Apple Pay brand and could launch early next year, people familiar with the matter said...
As new iPhone sales growth slows, Apple is focusing on services such as mobile payments, streaming-music subscriptions, and App Store sales. Apple Pay, which generates revenue on each transaction, is a key contributor, but adoption has been slower than executives hoped... Apple could take a larger cut of mobile payments from the card if it is used for purchases, the person said. Currently, when a consumer pays for a purchase using the digital wallet on the iPhone -- regardless of what credit card the customer charges -- Apple receives 0.15% per transaction. Apple could more than double that under the agreement with Goldman, one of the people said.
The deal also reportedly includes having Goldman Sachs offer loans to customers at the Apple Store.Read Replies (0)