By BeauHD from Slashdot's heads-up department
Yesterday at its I/O developer conference, Google debuted "Duplex," an AI system for accomplishing real world tasks over the phone. "To show off its capabilities, CEO Sundar Pichai played two recordings of Google Assistant running Duplex, scheduling a hair appointment and a dinner reservation," reports Quartz. "In each, the person picking up the phone didn't seem to realize they were talking to a computer." Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein argues that the new system should come with some sort of warning to let the other person on the line know that they are talking with a computer: With no exceptions so far, the sense of these reactions has confirmed what I suspected -- that people are just fine with talking to automated systems so long as they are aware of the fact that they are not talking to another person. They react viscerally and negatively to the concept of machine-based systems that have the effect (whether intended or not) of fooling them into believing that a human is at the other end of the line. To use the vernacular: "Don't try to con me, bro!" Luckily, there's a relatively simple way to fix this problem at this early stage -- well before it becomes a big issue impacting many lives.
I believe that all production environment calls (essentially, calls not being made for internal test purposes) from Google's Duplex system should be required by Google to include an initial verbal warning to the called party that they have been called by an automated system, not by a human being -- the exact wording of that announcement to be determined.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's testing-in-progress department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Just over six months after President Trump announced the creation of a program meant to spur the development of drone trials around the country, the Department of Transportation has announced the first 10 winners. Among those selected, three state transportation agencies, two US cities, and two universities will work with private companies like FedEx and CNN on trials that will see drones used for tasks like package delivery, journalism, healthcare, and more.
Formally known as the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot, the program encourages U.S. cities and states to partner with companies on drone trials that expand how the aircraft are used around the country. This includes, in some cases, allowing drones to fly over crowds, beyond the pilot's line of sight, and at night -- situations that are usually prohibited unless the person flying obtains an official waiver from the FAA. The goal with the program is to accelerate potential commercial applications for drone use. One of the 10 selections is Florida's Lee County Mosquito Control District. The small government agency will use drones to help control mosquito populations by searching for hard-to-find pockets of larvae at a faster rate than inspectors can on foot, while also reducing the risk of being bitten. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma will work on flying drones beyond a pilot's line of sight as part of a partnership with CNN. Furthermore, North Carolina's DOT was selected to test the food drone delivery service, Tennessee's Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority was chosen to test deliveries in partnership with FedEx, and the City of Reno, Nevada was picked to work with Flirtey, a company focused on using drones to deliver medical supplies.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's alternative-methods department
States are reportedly turning to nitrogen gas to carry out the death penalty. "Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi have authorized nitrogen for executions and are developing protocols to use it, which represents a leap into the unknown," reports The New York Times. "There is no scientific data on executing people with nitrogen, leading some experts to question whether states, in trying to solve old problems, may create new ones." Slashdot reader schwit1 shares an excerpt from a report via The New York Times: What little is known about human death by nitrogen comes from industrial and medical accidents and its use in suicide. In accidents, when people have been exposed to high levels of nitrogen and little air in an enclosed space, they have died quickly. In some cases co-workers who rushed in to rescue them also collapsed and died. Nitrogen itself is not poisonous, but someone who inhales it, with no air, will pass out quickly, probably in less than a minute, and die soon after -- from lack of oxygen. The same is true of other physiologically inert gases, including helium and argon, which kill only by replacing oxygen.
Death from nitrogen is thought to be painless. It should prevent the condition that causes feelings of suffocation: the buildup of carbon dioxide from not being able to exhale. Humans are highly sensitive to carbon dioxide -- too much brings on the panicky feeling of not being able to breathe. Somewhat surprisingly, the lack of oxygen doesn't trigger that same reflex. Someone breathing pure nitrogen can still exhale carbon dioxide and therefore should not have the sensation of smothering.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's laying-down-the-law department
Apple has been removing some apps that share location data with third parties and informing developers that their app violates two parts of the App Store Review Guidelines. "The company informs developers via email that 'upon re-evaluation,' their application is in violation of sections 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 of the App Store Review Guidelines, which pertain to transmitting user location data and user awareness of data collection," reports 9to5Mac. From the report: Apple explains that developers must remove any code, frameworks, or SDKs that relate to the violation before their app can be resubmitted to the App Store. Apple's crackdown on these applications comes amid a growing industry shift due to General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, in the European Union. While Apple has always been a privacy-focused company, it is seemingly looking to ensure that developers take the same care of user data.
In the instances we've seen, the apps in question don't do enough to inform users about what happens with their data. In addition to simply asking for permission, Apple appears to want developers to explain what the data is used for and how it is shared. Furthermore, the company is cracking down on instances where the data is used for purposes unrelated to improving the user experience.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's setting-precedence department
California regulators said on Wednesday they have unanimously approved a historic plan that will require most new homes in the state have rooftop solar panels that turn sunlight into electricity starting in 2020. From a report: Most new homes built after Jan. 1, 2020, will be required to include solar systems as part of energy-efficiency standards adopted Wednesday by the California Energy Commission. While that's a boost for the solar industry, critics warned that it will also drive up the cost of buying a house by almost $10,000. The move underscores how rooftop solar, once a luxury reserved for wealthy, green-leaning homeowners, is becoming a mainstream energy source, with California -- the nation's largest solar market -- paving the way. The Golden State has long been at the vanguard of progressive energy policies, from setting energy-efficiency standards for appliances to instituting an economy-wide program to curb greenhouse gases. The housing mandate is part of Governor Jerry Brown's effort to slash carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and offers up a playbook for other states to follow.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's numbers-don't-lie department
Subscription music service Tidal has been accused of faking the streaming numbers for Kanye West and Beyonce. "Kanye West's 'The Life of Pablo,' which was the first album to go platinum primarily from streaming, and Beyonce's platinum record 'Lemonade' were released exclusively on Tidal for periods in 2016," reports Quartz. "By placing their albums on the fledgling platform, which was relaunched in 2015, both artists risked losing big paychecks." From the report: West's album was said to have been streamed 250 million times in the first 10 days on the service. And Beyonce's record was reportedly played 306 million times in 15 days. While it's not hard to believe Bey and Yeezy could hit those numbers, they rang false to some, as Tidal said it had 3 million members then. However, according to an in-depth investigation by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), Tidal has reportedly manipulated those streaming numbers, to potentially make the company appear more profitable or increase royalty payments to the artists at the expense of others on the service. This is something Tidal vigorously denies and says the DN report is part of a "smear campaign."
< article continued at Slashdot's numbers-don't-lie department
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's shiny-and-new department
At its developer conference yesterday, Google announced third-generation TPUs (Tensor Processing Units) for AI and machine learning, which are eight times more powerful than the Google TPU 2.0 pods with up to 100 petaflops in performance. They're so power-hungry that they require water cooling -- something previous TPUs haven't required. ExtremeTech reports: So what do we know about TPU 3.0? Not much -- but we can make a few educated guesses. According to Google's own documentation, TPU 1.0 was built on a 28nm process node at TSMC, clocked at 700MHz, and consumed 40W of power. Each TPU PCB connected via PCIe 3.0 x16. TPU 2.0 made some significant changes. Unlike TPU v1, which could only handle 8-bit integer operations, Google added support for single-precision floats in TPU v2 and added 8GB of HBM memory to each TPU to improve performance. A TPU cluster consists of 180 TFLOPS of total computational power, 64GB of HBM memory, and 2,400GB/s of memory bandwidth in total (the last thrown in purely of the purposes of making PC enthusiasts moan with envy).
No word yet on other advanced capabilities of the processors, and they are supposedly still for Google's own use, rather than wider adoption. Pichai claims TPU v3 can handle 100 PFLOPS, but that has to be the clustered variant, unless Google is also rolling out a new tentative project we'll call "Google Stellar-Equivalent Thermal Density." We would've expected to hear about it, if that was the case. As more companies flock to the AI / ML banner, expect to see more firms throwing their hats into this proverbial ring.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cause-and-effect department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: An update Google rolled out for its popular Chrome browser this weekend helps prevent those annoying auto-playing video ads on many websites from disturbing your day with unwanted sound as well. But that update is causing consternation for many Web-based game developers who are finding that the change completely breaks the audio in their online work. The technical details behind the problem involve the way Chrome handles WebAudio objects, which are now automatically paused when a webpage starts up, stymying auto-playing ads. To get around this, Web-based games now have to actively restart that pre-loaded audio object when the player makes an action to start the game, even if that audio wasn't autoplaying beforehand. "The standard doesn't require you to do this, so no one would have thought to do this before today," developer Andi McClure told Ars Technica. "With Chrome's new autoplay policies, developers shouldn't assume that audio can be played before a user gesture," Google told The Daily Dot in a statement. "With gaming in Chrome, this may affect Web Audio. We have shared details on what developers can do to address this, and the design for the policy was published last year."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's better-late-than-never department
An anonymous reader shares a report: The search for extraterrestrial life, in general, has continued over the past decades, of course, carried out by academic institutions around the world, by people like Tarter, one of the field's best-known seti researchers (and the inspiration for Ellie Arroway, the protagonist in Contact, Carl Sagan's 1985 classic science-fiction novel). But they wouldn't get any help from the feds. "[Senator Bryan] made it clear to the administration that if they came back with seti in their budget again, it wouldn't be good for the NASA budget," Tarter says now. "So we instantly became the four-letter S-word that you couldn't say at headquarters anymore, and that has stuck for quite a while." That could soon change. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives recently proposed legislation for NASA's future that includes some intriguing language. The space agency, the bill recommends, should spend $10 million on the "search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions" per year, for the next two fiscal years. The House bill -- should it survive a vote in the House and passage in the Senate -- can only make recommendations for how agencies should use federal funding. But for seti researchers like Tarter, the fact that it even exists is thrilling. It's the first time congressional lawmakers have proposed using federal cash to fund seti in 25 years.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
Today, Mozilla released Firefox 60 for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android, and with it arrives Web Authentication API for desktop browsers. From a report: Firefox 60 supports technology called Web Authentication, or WebAuthn for short, that can be used to grant you access to websites with a physical authentication device like a YubiKey dongle, biometric identity proof using an Android phone's fingerprint reader or the iPhone's Face ID, and some other alternatives to passwords. Passwords are a particular problem on the web. Fake websites can coax you to type in credentials that then can be used to steal money from your bank account or snoop your email -- a problem called phishing. Even if you pick hard-to-guess passwords, never reuse them on multiple sites and always remember them, passwords still aren't that strong a foundation for security these days. We're still a long way away from a post-password future, but WebAuthn is an important step, if nothing else, in making sites more secure.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's lost-in-translation department
Almost all major OS vendors released security patches yesterday after a researcher discovered that some OS makers have misinterpreted an Intel CPU debug feature and left their systems open to attacks. From a report: The vulnerability is in how the OS vendors implemented a hardware debug mechanism for Intel x86-64 architectures -- and more specifically the MOV SS and POP SS instructions. "In certain circumstances after the use of certain Intel x86-64 architecture instructions, a debug exception pointing to data in a lower ring (for most operating systems, the kernel Ring 0 level) is made available to operating system components running in Ring 3," the CERT/CC team explained in an advisory published yesterday. Explained in layman's terms, "this may allow an attacker to utilize operating system APIs to gain access to sensitive memory information or control low-level operating system functions." Operating systems that mishandle this debug exception and had their systems open to attacks include Apple, Microsoft, FreeBSD, Red Hat, Ubuntu, SUSE Linux, and other Linux distros based on the Linux Kernel -- which is also affected.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's ka-ching department
Electronic Arts will "push forward" with loot boxes in its future video games, despite admitting that all loot boxes are gambling. From a report: "As you might imagine, we're working with all the industry associations globally and with regulators in various jurisdictions and territories, many of whom we've been working with for some time and have evaluated and established that programs like 'FIFA Ultimate Team' are not gambling," Wilson said. "And we don't believe that 'FIFA Ultimate Team' -- all loot boxes are gambling." The issue of loot boxes, a form of microtransaction that has players spending real money to purchase a virtual box and then open it to discover what's inside it, came to a head late last year with the release of EA's "Star Wars Battlefront II" which featured a form of the box that players felt was costly and unfair. EA later pulled the form of microtransaction and completely retooled it before reintroducing a more accepted form of loot box to the game. While the debate continues over loot boxes and whether they are a form of illegal gambling, Wilson explained Tuesday why EA believes they're not. "Firstly, players always receive a specified number of items in each ['FIFA Ultimate Team'] box. And secondly, we don't provide or authorize any way to cash out or sell items in virtual currency for real-world money. And there's no way we can make value assign to FUT items in game currency. And while we forbid the transfer of items of in-the-game currency outside, we also actively seek to eliminate that where it's going on in an illegal environment, and we work with regulators in various jurisdictions to achieve that."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's pushing-the-limits department
The idea is simple, if you ask biologist George Church. He wants to live to 130 in the body of a 22-year-old. From a report: The world's most influential synthetic biologist is behind a new company that plans to rejuvenate dogs using gene therapy. If it works, he plans to try the same approach in people, and he might be one of the first volunteers. The stealth startup Rejuvenate Bio, cofounded by George Church of Harvard Medical School, thinks dogs aren't just man's best friend but also the best way to bring age-defeating treatments to market. The company, which has carried out preliminary tests on beagles, claims it will make animals "younger" by adding new DNA instructions to their bodies. Its age-reversal plans build on tantalizing clues seen in simple organisms like worms and flies. Tweaking their genes can increase their life spans by double or better. Other research has shown that giving old mice blood transfusions from young ones can restore some biomarkers to youthful levels. "We have already done a bunch of trials in mice and we are doing some in dogs, and then we'll move on to humans," Church told the podcaster Rob Reid earlier this year. The company's efforts to keep its activities out of the press make it unclear how many dogs it has treated so far. In a document provided by a West Coast veterinarian, dated last June, Rejuvenate said its gene therapy had been tested on four beagles with Tufts Veterinary School in Boston. It is unclear whether wider tests are under way. However, from public documents, a patent application filed by Harvard, interviews with investors and dog breeders, and public comments made by the founders, MIT Technology Review assembled a portrait of a life-extension startup pursuing a longevity long shot through the $72-billion-a-year US pet industry. "Dogs are a market in and of themselves," Church said during an event in Boston last week. "It's not just a big organism close to humans. It's something people will pay for, and the FDA process is much faster. We'll do dog trials, and that'll be a product, and that'll pay for scaling up in human trials."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Every day, the frustrations of New York City subway riders spew out in the form of 2,500 often profanity-laced tweets directed at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. From a report: "Thanks @MTA for making sure we can't buy metrocards AGAIN," wrote @itzMzLori, 31-year-old beauty blogger Lori Tenn, who found her card machine closed. "I swear I f-ing hate y'all." The job of taking this vitriol -- and offering measured responses -- falls to the social-media team behind @MTA and @NYCTSubway. The two Twitter accounts for the agency that manages the New York City subway, bus and commuter rail system have more than two million often angry followers. "We're New Yorkers, we have thick skins, but we're human," said Molly Washam, an even-keeled 30-year-old. "We do sometimes gather around the monitor to see the meanest thing someone could come up with that day." To stay calm, she said she does yoga, and recently tried a pottery class. Rampant subway delays and breakdowns in recent years are making the work more intense. A 2017 report by the New York City comptroller found weekday subway delays rose 83% between 2013 and 2016. The agency has begun a modernization plan to make improvements, including upgrading the signaling system and hiring more subway workers. New Yorkers' response to repairs? "Really @MTA, More of your Bs complications," wrote @MattMercadoNYC, rider Matt Mercado, 34, of the Bronx. "You pick Thursday AND Friday for these 'Required Repairs'??!?" "We know they might not mean everything they're saying," said Sarah Meyer, the MTA's customer-service chief. But, "I can't personally change the signaling system."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's it's-back-baby department
It's no secret
that sales of vinyl music are at the highest in decades. Even the lowly cassette tape is regaining popularity as some millennials embrace analog music over digital downloads and streaming services. But for the first time in more than two decades, a German company is reviving what may be the ultimate format: a new reel-to-reel tape machine. From a report: Dusseldorf-based Roland Schneider Precision Engineering this week will introduce four Ballfinger reel-to-reel machines, bringing back a technology that dominated professional music recording for most of the 20th century and is now making a comeback with audiophiles and artists including Lady Gaga. The sleek machines, some of them customizable, will retail from about 9,500 euros ($11,400) for the basic version to about 24,000 euros for the high-end model, which features three direct-drive motors, an editing system and walnut side panels. "Digital media is great, but experiencing music is more than just listening to a sound file -- it's sensual, it's reels that turn and can be touched," says Roland Schneider, the machine's designer. "When it comes to audio quality, nothing else in the analog world gets you closer to the experience of being right there in the recording studio than reel-to-reel tape."Read Replies (0)