By EditorDavid from Slashdot's rise-of-the-machines department
"A team of programmers at a British artificial intelligence company has designed automated 'agents' that taught themselves how to play the seminal first-person shooter Quake III Arena, and became so good they consistently beat human beings," reports AFP:
The work of the researchers from DeepMind, which is owned by Google's parent company Alphabet, was described in a paper published in Science on Thursday and marks the first time the feat has ever been accomplished... "Even after 12 hours of practice, the human game testers were only able to win 25% of games against the agent team," the team wrote. The agents' win-loss ratio remained superior even when their reaction times were artificially slowed down to human levels and when their aiming ability was similarly reduced....
The team did not comment, however, on the AI's potential for future use in military settings. DeepMind has publicly stated in the past that it is committed to never working on any military or surveillance projects, and the word "shoot" does not appear even once in the paper (shooting is instead described as tagging opponents by pointing a laser gadget at them). Moving forward, Jaderberg said his team would like to explore having the agents play in the full version of Quake III Arena and find ways his AI could work on problems outside of computer games. "We use games, like Capture the Flag, as challenging environments to explore general concepts such as planning, strategy and memory, which we believe are essential to the development of algorithms that can be used to help solve real-world problems," he said.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's pushing-for-plain-text department
An anonymous reader quotes the Next Web:
According to Spiegel Online, the country's Federal Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, wants encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp and Telegram to provide chat logs in plain text to the authorities. Since these services come with end-to-end encryption, the companies will have to break the encryption and provide a backdoor to give access to the texts.
Wired adds that "This is obviously incompatible with end-to-end encryption, used by services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram and, if passed, such a law would effectively ban secure encryption for instant messaging." Some commenters on Bruce Schneier's site suggest this is just political grandstanding.
An analysis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy think tank, argues that this would be a major change from Germany's stance on encryption over the last two decades:
Instead of focusing on regulating encryption itself, Germany has worked to enable its security agencies to conduct hacking. It has even passed a legal framework tailored to government hacking operations...
The legal debate eventually led to a landmark supreme court ruling emphasizing the government's responsibility for the integrity of information technology systems. The conversation is far from over, with some supreme court cases still pending in regard to recent legislation on the lawful hacking framework.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's critical-testing-milestones department
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has successfully cleared its final thermal vacuum test meant to ensure that its hardware will function electronically in the vacuum of space, and withstand the extreme temperature variations it will encounter on its mission. Phys.Org reports: One half of the Webb observatory, known as the "spacecraft element," completed this testing at the facilities of Northrop Grumman, the mission's lead industrial partner, in Los Angeles. The other half of Webb, which consists of the telescope and science instruments, has already successfully completed its thermal vacuum testing at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston prior to delivery at Northrop Grumman last year.
In the most recent major environmental test, technicians and engineers locked the Webb spacecraft element inside a special thermal vacuum chamber. The testing team drained the atmosphere from the room to replicate the vacuum of space, and exposed the Webb spacecraft element to a wide range of hot and cold temperatures, spanning from minus 235 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 148 degrees Celsius) to a sweltering 215 degrees Fahrenheit (102 degrees Celsius). This variation of temperatures ensures the spacecraft will survive the extreme conditions it will actually experience in space. "The next steps will be to join both halves of Webb to form the fully assembled observatory and complete a final round of deployments, testing and evaluation prior to launch," the report adds. "A full deployment of the spacecraft element will verify that Webb is ready to proceed to the launch site."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's ready-or-not-here-they-come department
According to The New York Times, the Justice Department is exploring whether to open a case against Google for potential antitrust violations (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) relating to search and its other businesses, "putting renewed scrutiny on the company amid a growing chorus of criticism about the power of Big Tech." From the report: An investigation into how Google arranges search results could revive a case closed in 2013 by another government agency, the Federal Trade Commission. The five F.T.C. commissioners voted unanimously at the time against bringing charges against the company. Google agreed to make some changes to search practices tied to advertising. But this year, with a new antitrust task force announced in February, the trade commission renewed its interest in Google. In recent weeks, the commission referred complaints about the company to the Justice Department, which also oversees antitrust regulations, according to two people familiar with the actions. The commission has also told companies and others with complaints against Google to take them to the Justice Department.
The task force had been looking into Google's advertising practices and influence in the online advertising industry, according to two of the people. One of the people said the agency was also looking into its search practices. Most of Google's revenue comes from advertisements tied to its search results. If the Justice Department opens a formal investigation, it will be its first major antitrust case against a big tech company during the Trump administration. Google, Facebook and Amazon have come under intense bipartisan criticism, and calls to break up the firms have become a talking point in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's male-animal-bias department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The male mind is rational and orderly while the female one is complicated and hormonal. It is a stereotype that has skewed decades of neuroscience research towards using almost exclusively male mice and other laboratory animals, according to a new study. Scientists have typically justified excluding female animals from experiments -- even when studying conditions that are more likely to affect women -- on the basis that fluctuating hormones would render the results uninterpretable. However, according to Rebecca Shansky, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University, in Boston, it is entirely unjustified by scientific evidence, which shows that, if anything, the hormones and behavior of male rodents are less stable than those of females. Shansky is calling for stricter requirements to include animals of both sexes in research, saying the failure to do so has led to the development of drugs that work less well in women. One example that the report mentions is with the sleeping drug Ambien, which had been tested in male animals and then men in clinical trials. It "was later shown to be far more potent in women because it was metabolized more slowly in the female body," the report says. "Across all drugs, women tended to suffer more adverse side effects and overdoses."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's do-it-yourself department
samleecole writes: Apple's AirPods are a tragedy. Ecologically, socially, economically -- they're a capitalist disaster. The opposite of AirPods, then, is this extremely punk pair of DIY wireless earbuds that someone on Reddit hacked together using an old pair of wired Apple headphones and some hot glue. "I started this project roughly two months ago when my friend got a new pair of AirPods for his birthday and I thought to myself, 'that's quite a lot of money for something I can make at home,'" Sam Cashbook, who is 15, told Motherboard in a Reddit message.
Cashook started watching videos of people making their own AirPods, but mostly found people chopping the wires off of Apple headphones as a joke. He decided to take his own approach. He bought a hands-free bone conduction headset from eBay, and took apart the casing to reveal the electronics. Then, he desoldered the wires from the original speaker in the headset, and connected his old Apple earbud speaker to the headset's printed circuit board. Maybe a little uglier, but the headphones work well, he said. The set has buttons for power, pausing music, volume controls and skipping tracks, and the battery is rechargeable.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's what-happened department
dryriver writes: If you had asked someone doing 3D graphics seriously back in 2000 what 3D technology will look like two decades away in 2019, they might have said: "Most internet websites will have realtime 3D content embedded or will be completely in 3D. 3D Games will look as good as movies or reality. Everyone will have a cheap handheld 3D scanner to capture 3D models with. High-end VR headsets, gloves, bodysuits and haptics devices will be sold in electronics stores. Still and video cameras will be able to capture true holographic 3D images and video of the real world. TVs and broadcast TV content will be in holographic 3D. 3D stuff you create on a PC will be realtime -- no more waiting for images to slowly render thanks to really advanced new 3D hardware. 3D content creation software will be incredibly advanced and fast to work with in 2019. Many new types of 3D input devices will be available that make working in 3D a snap."
Except of course that that in the real 2019, none of this has come true at all, and the entire 3D field has been stagnating very, very badly since around 2010. It almost seems like a small army of 3D technology geniuses pushed and pushed 3D software and hardware hard during the 80s, 90s, 2000s, then retired or dropped off the face of the earth completely around 10 years ago. Why is this? Are consumers only interested in Facebook, YouTube, cartoony PlayStation graphics and smartphones anymore? Are we never going to see another major 3D technology innovation push again?Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's beating-around-the-bush department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vice News: Google has found itself under fire for plans to limit the effectiveness of popular ad blocking extensions in Chrome. While Google says the changes are necessary to protect the "user experience" and improve extension security, developers and consumer advocates say the company's real motive is money and control. In the wake of ongoing backlash to the proposal, Chrome software security engineer Chris Palmer took to Twitter this week to claim the move was intended to help improve the end-user browsing experience, and paid enterprise users would be exempt from the changes.
Chrome security leader Justin Schuh also said the changes were driven by privacy and security concerns. Adblock developers, however, aren't buying it. uBlock Origin developer Raymond Hill, for example, argued this week that if user experience was the goal, there were other solutions that wouldn't hamstring existing extensions. "Web pages load slow because of bloat, not because of the blocking ability of the webRequest API -- at least for well crafted extensions," Hill said. Hill said that Google's motivation here had little to do with the end user experience, and far more to do with protecting advertising revenues from the rising popularity of adblock extensions. The team behind the EFF's Privacy Badger ad-blocking extension also spoke out against the changes. "Google's claim that these new limitations are needed to improve performance is at odds with the state of the internet," the organization said. "Sites today are bloated with trackers that consume data and slow down the user experience. Tracker blockers have improved the performance and user experience of many sites and the user experience. Why not let independent developers innovate where the Chrome team isn't?"Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's heads-up department
Earlier this month, Microsoft revealed a major Windows security vulnerability that could see a widespread "wormable" attack that spreads from one vulnerable computer to the next. "While Microsoft has released patches for Windows systems, even for older server and Windows XP machines, recent reports have revealed there are at least 1 million systems connected to the internet that can be attacked," reports The Verge.
"Microsoft is confident that an exploit exists for this vulnerability," warns Simon Pope, director of incident response at Microsoft's Security Response Center (MSRC). "It's been only two weeks since the fix was released and there has been no sign of a worm yet. This does not mean that we're out of the woods." From the report: Pope notes that it was nearly two months after the release of patches for the previous EternalBlue exploit when WannaCry attacks began, and despite having 60 days to patch systems, a lot of machines were still infected. The EternalBlue exploit was leaked publicly, allowing hackers to create malware freely. This new BlueKeep flaw hasn't yet been publicly disclosed, but that doesn't mean there won't be malware. "It is possible that we won't see this vulnerability incorporated into malware," says Pope. "But that's not the way to bet."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's sign-of-the-times department
While it was initially reported that iTunes would live on in macOS 10.15, it now looks like the app will be retired, over 18 years after it was introduced by the late Steve Jobs at Macworld on January 9, 2001. MacRumors reports: Apple will be replacing iTunes with standalone Music, TV, and Podcasts apps in the next major version of macOS, expected to be unveiled at WWDC 2019 next week, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman: "iTunes has been the way Apple users listen to music, watch movies and TV shows, hear podcasts, and manage their devices for almost two decades. This year, Apple is finally ready to move into a new era. The company is launching a trio of new apps for the Mac -- Music, TV, and Podcasts -- to replace iTunes. That matches Apple's media app strategy on iPhones and iPads. Without iTunes, customers can manage their Apple gadgets through the Music app."
This information lines up with a recent report from 9to5Mac's Guilherme Rambo, who claimed that iTunes will be renamed to "Music" on the Mac. In other words, iTunes is going away and will be replaced by the new Music app, which is expected to become the new utility for syncing and managing Apple devices.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's overly-confident department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from BuzzFeed News: A New York school district will move forward with its facial recognition pilot program next week, despite an explicit order from the New York State Education Department that it wait until a standard for data privacy and security for all state educational agencies is finalized. On Friday, the Lockport school district said it was "confident" that the data collection policy for its facial recognition system was sound enough that it could begin testing it on campuses June 3.
"[State Education Department] representatives previously communicated to the District their recommendation that the System not become operational until the dialogue between the District and SED with regard to student data security and privacy is complete," the statement, sent by district director of technology Robert LiPuma to BuzzFeed News, said. "However, the District's Initial Implementation Phase of the System (which will commence June 3, 2019 and continue through August 31, 2019) will not include any student data being entered into the System database or generated by the System." Reached by phone, JP O'Hare, a representative of the New York State Education Department, would not say whether the department knew Lockport planned to go ahead with its facial recognition test in spite of the department's request for a delay. Lockport said that its facial recognition system should not be a privacy concern because it "does not compile information on and track the movements of all District students, staff and visitors." Instead, the system is "limited to identifying whether an individual whose photograph has been entered into the System database is on District property (i.e., is visible on one of the District's security cameras)." But it also said the individuals who may be entered into the database included those who are prohibited from being on District property, "such as suspended students or staff."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Apple, which has already introduced "dark mode" in macOS, is widely expected to replicate this in its mobile operating system iOS this year. The move comes as a number of technology companies introduce dark mode in their apps and operating systems. But is it something everyone wants?
TidBITS: When text is white on a black background as it would be in Dark Mode, the whiteness of the lines lightens the edges of each line broadly on both sides, blurring the edge. If the thin lines of the text are black and the background is white, however, white from both sides washes over the entire line, lightening it evenly, so the edges aren't blurred. Blur is a bad thing because of how the human eye relies primarily on contrast when extracting detail from an image. In "Reality and Digital Pictures" (12 December 2005), Charles wrote: The eye does not see light per se, it sees changes in light -- contrast. If two objects do not contrast with one another, to the eye they meld into one. This fact makes controlling the contrast of adjacent details to be paramount in importance. He was focused on issues revolving around photographs, but contrast has been shown to be paramount in numerous studies of textual legibility as well.
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By msmash from Slashdot's future-of-jobs department
merbs writes: If the robots are simply "coming," if they just show up and relieve a helpless lot of humans of their livelihoods, then no one is to blame for this techno-elemental phenomenon, and little is to be done about it beyond bracing for impact. Not the executives swayed by consulting firms who insist the future is in AI customer service bots, or the managers who see an opportunity to improve profit margins by adopting automated kiosks that edge out cashiers, or the shipping conglomerate bosses who decide to replace dockworkers with a fleet of automated trucks. These individuals may feel as if they have no choice, with shareholders and boards and bosses of their own to answer to, and an economic system that incentivizes the making of these decisions -- and sometimes the technology will perform obviously superior work to the human -- but they are exactly that: decisions, made by people, to call in or build the job-threatening robots.
Pretending otherwise, that robots in every use case are inevitable, is the very worst form of technological determinism, and leads to a dearth in critical thinking about when and how automation *is* best implemented. Because even the most ardent robot lovers will agree, there are plenty of cases of badly deployed automation; systems that make our lives worse and more inefficient, and that kill jobs en route to worse outcomes. And such automated regression is often implemented under the logic of 'robots are coming,' so better hop aboard. We will be able to make better decisions about embracing effective automation if we understand that, in practice, 'the robots are coming for our jobs' usually means something more like 'a CEO wants to cut his operating budget by 15 percent and was just pitched on enterprise software that promises to do the work currently done by thirty employees in accounts payable.'Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's stranger-things department
An anonymous reader shares a report: When you first start planning a big trip, step one will likely happen at the Google search bar. Step two might be clicking onto the images of your target destination. The North Face, in a campaign with agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made, took advantage of this consumer behavior to keep its name top of mind with travelers considering an adventure sports excursion.
The brand and agency took pictures of athletes wearing the brand while trekking to famous locations around the world, including Brazil's Guarita State Park and Farol do Mampimptuba, Cuillin in Scotland and Peru's Huayna Picchu. They then updated the Wikipedia images in the articles for those locations so that now, the brand would appear in the top of Google image search results when consumers researched any of those locations -- all done for a budget of zero dollars. "Our mission is to expand our frontiers so that our consumers can overcome their limits. With the 'Top of Images' project, we achieved our positioning and placed our products in a fully contextualized manner as items that go hand in hand with these destinations," explained Fabricio Luzzi, CEO of The North Face Brazil in a statement.
According to the agency, the biggest obstacle of the campaign was updating the photos without attracting attention of Wikipedia moderators to sustain the brand's presence for as long as possible, as site editors could change them at any time. The "hack" worked, at least for a while, evident in a quick Google search of some of the places mentioned in the campaign's case study video. Further reading: Wikimedia is not pleased.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's tussle-continues department
Tenants in a New York City apartment complex are fighting their landlord's effort to install a facial recognition system to access parts of the buildings, calling it an affront to their privacy rights. From a report: The row, which the tenants believe could become an important test case, comes as concern about the spread of facial recognition systems has grown across the US and globally, with law enforcement agencies increasingly relying on the tool. San Francisco this month became the first US city to ban city police and government agencies from using it. Private firms are also increasingly keen on the technology. At Atlantic Plaza Towers in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, the landlord, Nelson Management Group, is moving to install a new system to control entry into the buildings. It would use facial recognition to open the front door for recognized tenants rather than traditional keys or electronic key fobs.
More than 130 tenants have, however, filed a formal complaint with the state seeking to block the application. "We do not want to be tagged like animals," said Icemae Downes, who has lived at Atlantic Plaza Towers since it opened 51 years ago. "We are not animals. We should be able to freely come in and out of our development without you tracking every movement." Some residents also fear the move reflects the spreading pressures of gentrification further into the east of Brooklyn, and a desire to attract white, higher-income residents in the buildings, whose tenants are mostly black. They say there is already a culture of surveillance and that if they are suspected of breaking one of the building's rules, they might find an image of themselves pushed under their doors.Read Replies (0)