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US Military Program Could Be Seen As a Bioweapon, Scientists Warn
Posted by News Fetcher on October 05 '18 at 05:50 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's genetically-modified department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: A research arm of the U.S. military is exploring the possibility of deploying insects to make plants more resilient by altering their genes. Some experts say the work may be seen as a potential biological weapon. In an opinion paper published Thursday in the journal Science, the authors say the U.S. needs to provide greater justification for the peace-time purpose of its Insect Allies project to avoid being perceived as hostile to other countries. Other experts expressed ethical and security concerns with the research, which seeks to transmit protective traits to crops already growing in the field. That would mark a departure from the current widely used procedure of genetically modifying seeds for crops such as corn and soy, before they grow into plants. The military research agency says its goal is to protect the nation's food supply from threats like drought, crop disease and bioterrorism by using insects to infect plants with viruses that protect against such dangers. The State Department said the project is for peaceful purposes and does not violate the Biological Weapons Convention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said its scientists are part of the research, which is being conducted in contained labs. The technology could work in different ways. In the first phase, aphids -- tiny bugs that feed by sucking sap from plants -- infected plants with a virus that temporarily brought about a trait. But researchers are also trying to see if viruses can alter the plant's genes themselves to be resistant to dangers throughout the plant's life.

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Jeff Bezos Is Planning To Ship 'Several Metric Tons of Cargo' To the Moon
Posted by News Fetcher on October 05 '18 at 03:10 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's prime-delivery department:
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin aerospace company is planning to send "several metric tons" of unspecified cargo to the Moon in the next five years. The company reportedly signed a letter of intent with Germany aerospace companies OHB Space Systems and Security and MT Aerospace at the 69th annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Germany on Tuesday. The OHB dubbed the lunar project the "Blue Moon" mission in a press release. Motherboard reports: It's not clear exactly what cargo the Blue Moon mission would transport, but it likely includes infrastructure designed to start private business on the Moon: The IAC also detailed the launch of the "Moon Race," a competition between Blue Origin, Airbus Air and Space, and other space agencies around the world to develop technology that will bring companies around the world to the Moon. According to a press release, the competition could involve manufacturing products and technology, manufacturing energy sources for humans to survive, getting access to water and sustaining biological life, such as plant or agricultural life -- all on the Moon. Blue Origin said in a press release that both the Blue Moon mission and Moon Race are in line with its goal to "land large payloads on the Moon that can access and utilize the resources found there."

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Artificial Sweeteners Are Toxic To Digestive Gut Bacteria, Study Finds
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 11:10 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's naturally-sweetened department:
According to a study published in the journal Molecules, researchers found that six common artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA and 10 sport supplements that contained them were found to be toxic to the digestive gut microbes of mice. CNBC reports: Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore tested the toxicity of aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k. They observed that when exposed to only 1 milligram per milliliter of the artificial sweeteners, the bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic. According to the study, the gut microbial system "plays a key role in human metabolism," and artificial sweeteners can "affect host health, such as inducing glucose intolerance." Additionally, some of the effects of the new FDA-approved sweeteners, such as neotame, are still unknown.

However, the study found that mice treated with the artificial sweetener neotame had different metabolic patterns than those not treated, and several important genes found in the human gut had decreased. Additionally, concentrations of several fatty acids, lipids and cholesterol were higher in mice treated with neotame than in those not. Because of the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and foods, many people consume them without knowing it.

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Apple's New Proprietary Software Locks Kill Independent Repair On New MacBook Pros
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 08:30 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's no-touchy department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Apple has introduced software locks that will effectively prevent independent and third-party repair on 2018 MacBook Pro computers, according to internal Apple documents obtained by Motherboard. The new system will render the computer "inoperative" unless a proprietary Apple "system configuration" software is run after parts of the system are replaced. According to the document, which was distributed to Apple's Authorized Service Providers late last month, this policy will apply to all Apple computers with the "T2" security chip, which is present in 2018 MacBook Pros as well as the iMac Pro. The software lock will kick in for any repair which involves replacing a MacBook Pro's display assembly, logic board, top case (the keyboard, touchpad, and internal housing), and Touch ID board. On iMac Pros, it will kick in if the Logic Board or flash storage are replaced. The computer will only begin functioning again after Apple or a member of one of Apple's Authorized Service Provider repair program runs diagnostic software called Apple Service Toolkit 2.

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A Shadowy Op-Ed Campaign Is Now Smearing SpaceX In Space Cities
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 05:50 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's smear-campaigns department:
Last month when Boeing and SpaceX announced the first astronauts who will fly on their commercial crew spacecraft, several newspapers across the U.S. began publishing an op-ed that criticized the process by which Boeing competitor SpaceX fuels its Falcon 9 rocket. "The first op-ed appeared in a Memphis newspaper a week before the commercial crew announcement," reports Ars Technica. "In recent weeks, copies of the op-ed have also appeared in the Houston Chronicle, various Alabama newspapers, Albuquerque Journal, Florida Today, and The Washington Times." Ars Technica reports: All of these op-eds were bylined by "retired spacecraft operator" Richard Hagar, who worked for NASA during the Apollo program and now lives in Tennessee. (Based upon his limited social media postings, Hagar appears to be more interested in conservative politics than in space these days). Each op-ed cites Hagar's work on NASA's recovery from the Apollo 1 fire and the hard lessons NASA learned that day about human spaceflight. The pieces then pivot to arguing that SpaceX's load-and-go fueling process -- in which the crew will board the Dragon spacecraft on top of the Falcon 9 rocket before it is fueled -- ignores the lessons that Hagar's generation learned during Apollo.

"It's concerning to learn that some of the newer private space ventures launching today don't appreciate the same safety standards we learned to emphasize on Apollo," the op-ed states. "I suppose for Mr. Musk, inexperience is replacing the abundant safety protocols drilled into us after witnessing the Apollo 1 disaster. Astronaut safety is NASA's number one priority on any space mission. There is no reason it should not be for private space travel, but commercial space companies like SpaceX play by different rules."

< article continued at Slashdot's smear-campaigns department >

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Seven Russian Hackers Charged With Hacking Anti-Doping Organizations
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 05:50 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's finger-pointing department:
Seven Russian intelligence officers have been indicted by the Justice Department for computing hacking, wire fraud, money laundering, and identity theft -- all as part of an effort to distract from Russia's state-sponsored doping program. The defendants reportedly stole and disseminated the personal information of several prominent anti-doping officials and 250 athletes following the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Verge reports: The indictment names all seven of the accused as members of the Russian Federation intelligence agency (or GRU) housed within the intelligence directorate of the Russian military. Three of the defendants were also charged as part of the Mueller investigation regarding hacking the Democratic National Convention in an attempt to compromise U.S. election infrastructure in 2016. The Justice Department claimed in its indictment that the GRU officials were working to undermine the advocacy of anti-doping organizations, officials, and athletes following the exposure of a Russian state-sponsored doping campaign in 2015. Login credentials were stolen through classic phishing techniques, which, in some cases, gave the hackers access to the medical profiles of some athletes. This information was then disseminated over social media by the hackers who disguised themselves as a hacktivist group called the Fancy Bears' Hack Team.

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Researchers Create 'Sans Forgetica,' a Memory-Boosting Font
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 04:30 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's never-forget department:
OpenSourceAllTheWay writes: CNN reports on a new font that is purposely designed to more easily help students recall academic materials they read. From the report: "Australian researchers say their new font, called Sans Forgetica, could be the tool to help people retain information. The typeface, which slants to the side and has gaps in the middle, is not easy on the eyes. But according to the team at RMIT University in Australia who conceived Sans Forgetica, it has the perfect combination of 'obstruction' needed to recall information. The multidisciplinary team of typographic design specialists and psychologists said they designed Sans Forgetica using the learning principle called 'desirable difficulty.' The principle means that when obstruction is added to the learning process, people are required to make a little more effort and end up having better memory retention. With normal fonts 'readers often glance over them and no memory trace is created,' RMIT senior lecturer Janneke Blijlevens said in a statement. Conversely, if a font is too difficult, memory is not retained. 'Sans Forgetica lies at a sweet spot where just enough obstruction has been added to create that memory retention,' she said. To get to that sweet spot, the researchers tested various fonts with roughly 400 Australian university students in a laboratory and an online experiment 'where fonts with a range of obstructions were tested to determine which led to the best memory retention,' RMIT said. 'Sans Forgetica broke just enough design principles without becoming too illegible and aided memory retention,' RMIT said."

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Company That Sucks CO2 From Air Announces a New Methane-Producing Plant
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 04:30 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's really-sucky department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Swiss company Climeworks has announced the opening of a new plant in Italy that will collect carbon dioxide (CO2) from ambient air and pair it with renewably-made hydrogen (H2) to make methane fuel that would add little or no CO2 to the atmosphere. The plant in Troia, Italy, was completed in July and went into operation this week as part of a research program funded by the European Union. The new Italian plant will be run for more than 4,000 hours over the next 17 months (that's just under eight hours a day) in order to demonstrate the viability of fuel production as a potential revenue source for carbon capture. Gebald said that pure, captured CO2 could even be processed into jet fuel. When that fuel is burned, he said, it would again create CO2 that could be captured at an arbitrary Direct Air Capture plant and turned back into jet fuel.

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D-Wave Launches Free 'Leap' Quantum Computing Service
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 03:11 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cheaper-by-the-dozen department:
talonyx writes: D-Wave Systems, the contentious but scrappy maker of quantum annealing processors, has launched a cloud-based platform where developers can sign up for free and run problems on their quantum processor unit (QPU). There's an in-depth set of demos, documentation, and an open-source Python SDK to look at. "Leap is the latest addition to the quantum cloud -- services that virtualize quantum computing for almost anyone with a computer and a broadband connection to use," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Leap allows anyone to sign up, giving them one minute of time on a cloud-connected 2000Q each month. That might not sound like much, but a key advantage of quantum computing is to be able to solve in milliseconds problems like factoring large numbers, optimizing routes, or calculating molecular structures that could take traditional computers days or weeks."
"D-Wave estimates that each user's free minute of quantum computing time should be enough to run between 400 and 4,000 jobs each month," the report adds. "If developers want more, the company will charge commercial users $2,000 for one hour of access each month."

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US Department of Transportation Updates Autonomous Car Rules
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 03:11 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's adapting-to-the-times department:
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has released a report called "Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0," which includes a new set of voluntary guidelines for automated driving systems. According to Engadget, the report "outlines additional safety principles, updates policy and offers guidance to state and local governments." From the report: The report notes that it's meant to be an update to, but not a replacement of, last year's guidance, and it encourages those developing automated driving systems to make public their Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments, which were introduced in last year's report. It also updates the list of best practices for state and local governments considering automated vehicle testing and operation. The agency also takes measures to clarify its policies and roles in regards to autonomous technology implementation. First, it's doing away with the Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds announced last year -- a list of 10 self-driving test sites that were eligible for federal funding. The DOT said that due to the "rapid increase in automated vehicle testing activities in many locations, there is no need for U.S. DOT to favor particular locations."

Additionally, the agency is working on updating language and regulations that it said unintentionally hamper automated vehicle progress. It will adapt its definitions of "driver" and "operator" to reflect that they no longer always refer to humans and can encompass automated systems. The DOT also announced a future notice of proposed rulemaking that will suggest exceptions to certain safety standards that apply only to human drivers -- such as pedals, brakes, mirrors and steering wheels -- for automated systems.

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BlackBerry Races Ahead of Security Curve With Quantum-Resistant Solution
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 01:50 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's intentionally-vague-announcements department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Quantum computing represents tremendous promise to completely alter technology as we've known it, allowing operations that weren't previously possible with traditional computing. The downside of these powerful machines is that they could be strong enough to break conventional cryptography schemes. Today, BlackBerry announced a new quantum-resistant code signing service to help battle that possibility. The solution, which will be available next month, is actually the product of a partnership between BlackBerry and Isara Corporation, a company whose mission is to build quantum-safe security solutions. BlackBerry is using Isara's cryptographic libraries to help sign and protect code as security evolves.

"By adding the quantum-resistant code signing server to our cybersecurity tools, we will be able to address a major security concern for industries that rely on assets that will be in use for a long time. If your product, whether it's a car or critical piece of infrastructure, needs to be functional 10-15 years from now, you need to be concerned about quantum computing attacks," Charles Eagan, BlackBerry's chief technology officer, said in a statement. Some of the long-lived assets include aerospace equipment, connected cars, or transportation infrastructure -- basically anything that will still be in use several years from now when quantum computing attacks are expected to emerge.

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Evidence is Mounting That a World the Size of Neptune Could be Orbiting a Giant Planet Far, Far Away
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 01:50 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's far,-far-away department:
About 8,000 light-years away, a giant planet circles an aging star, marching once around its sun in a single Earth-year. But that planet, called Kepler 1625b, might not be traveling completely alone. From a report: Scientists now suspect the planet's skies are filled by an orbiting mega-moon, a stunningly large world the size of Neptune that may be the first moon spotted outside our solar system. Early hints of its existence surfaced in July 2017, when scientists tentatively announced that they'd found some evidence of an orbital companion for Kepler 1625b. But it wasn't until the Hubble Space Telescope aimed its eye at the faraway star a year ago that scientists were able to gather enough data to build the case for the so-called exomoon's presence. Now, the two scientists behind the discovery are hoping for independent confirmation of their finding to really shore up the extraordinary claim. "I'm confident that we've done a thorough job vetting this thing, but I also anticipate there will be things other folks come up with that we might not have considered," says Columbia University's Alex Teachey, who reports the purported alien moon this week in the journal Science Advances. "Whether those other ideas are fatal to the moon hypothesis or not, that remains to be seen." For now, MIT's Sara Seager says she's reserving judgment. "Exomoons are one of the key items remaining on exoplanet researchers' wish list," Seager says. "It's exciting to see the hunt for the first exomoon continue ... and with what would be a shockingly large moon, about the size and mass of Neptune."

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The EPA's Bold New Idea Has Massive Implications For Public Health
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 12:30 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: For years, the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of radiation, carcinogens, and other toxic chemicals has been based on the cautious scientific reasoning that considers even slight exposure to toxins potentially risky to public health. From that premise, the EPA has assessed a wide range of pollution, including lung-clogging particulate matter, Superfund cleanup, water treatment, radiation exposure, and risk assessments for carcinogens like benzene. That time-honored approach may be changing because of easy-to-overlook phrasing within a paragraph buried in the proposed "Strengthening Transparency In Regulatory Science Rule," a regulation that will bar the EPA from considering a wide range of scientific studies in its rule-making. With a few sentences buried in the seven-page Federal Register text, the EPA is opening the door to a new scientific approach that -- in a worst-case scenario -- could further relax regulations because of the assumption that a little pollution is actually beneficial. Some scientists have considered the implications of this paragraph and described a whole array of potential problems to Mother Jones. Because the paragraph is written in incredibly vague language, most scientists were unable to explain which pollutants or regulations were the prime targets.

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Wide-Scale US Wind Power Could Cause Significant Warming, Study Says
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 12:30 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
XxtraLarGe shares a report: Wind power is booming in the United States. It's expanded 35-fold since 2000 and now provides 8% of the nation's electricity. The US Department of Energy expects wind turbine capacity to more than quadruple again by 2050. But a new study by a pair of Harvard researchers finds that a high amount of wind power could mean more climate warming, at least regionally and in the immediate decades ahead. The paper raises serious questions about just how much the United States or other nations should look to wind power to clean up electricity systems. The study, published in the journal Joule, found that if wind power supplied all US electricity demands, it would warm the surface of the continental United States by 0.24 C. That could significantly exceed the reduction in US warming achieved by decarbonizing the nation's electricity sector this century, which would be around 0.1 C. "If your perspective is the next 10 years, wind power actually has -- in some respects -- more climate impact than coal or gas," coauthor David Keith, a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard, said in a statement. "If your perspective is the next thousand years, then wind power is enormously cleaner than coal or gas."

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Facebook Bug Prevented Users From Deleting Their Accounts
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 11:10 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's happens-every-single-time department:
Emil Protalinski, reporting for VentureBeat: Until just a few days ago, some Facebook users could not delete their accounts -- the option to do so simply didn't work. After VentureBeat reached out to Facebook regarding the issue, an engineer was able to squash the bug. Two weeks ago, I got an email from a VentureBeat reader who couldn't delete his Facebook account. He claimed there were others also having issues -- no matter what they tried, they simply could not delete Facebook. I didn't believe him at first. [...] I did my due diligence. The least I could do was help him delete his account. Upon request, the reader was gracious enough to let me log into his Facebook account so I could see for myself. No matter what I tried, and regardless of which browser I used, the Facebook help page for deleting your account would not load when logged into his account. The reporter contacted a Facebook spokesperson, who after looking into the matter concluded that a bug prevented some people with "a large number of posts" from deleting their accounts. Facebook says it has resolved the issue.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook Says Giving Up Your Data For Better Services is 'a Bunch of Bunk'
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 11:10 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's taking-a-stand department:
Apple chief executive Tim Cook urged consumers not to believe the dominant tech industry narrative that the data collected about them will lead to better services. From a report: In an interview with "Vice News Tonight" that aired Tuesday, Cook highlighted his company's commitment to user privacy, positioning Apple's business as one that stands apart from tech giants that compile massive amounts of personal data and sell the ability to target users through advertising [The link may be paywalled; alternative source]. "The narrative that some companies will try to get you to believe is: I've got to take all of our data to make my service better," he said. "Well, don't believe them. Whoever's telling you that, it's a bunch of bunk." [...] Cook said in the interview that he is "exceedingly optimistic" that the topic of data privacy has reached an elevated level of public debate. "When the free market doesn't produce a result that's great for society you have to ask yourself what do we need to do. And I think some level of government regulation is important to come out on that."

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Israel Sends Nation-Wide Security Alert Following Reports About Hijacked WhatsApp Accounts
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 09:51 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's privacy-woes department:
A wave of reports about hijacked WhatsApp accounts in Israel has forced the government's cyber-security agency to send out a nation-wide security alert on Tuesday, ZDNet has learned. From a report: The alert, authored by the Israel National Cyber Security Authority, warns about a relatively new method of hijacking WhatsApp accounts using mobile providers' voicemail systems. This new hacking method was first documented last year by Ran Bar-Zik, an Israeli web developer at Oath. The general idea is that users who have voicemail accounts for their phone numbers are at risk if they don't change that account's default password, which in most cases tends to be either 0000 or 1234. The possibility of an account takeover happens when an attacker tries to add a legitimate user's phone number to a new WhatsApp app installation on his own phone. Following normal security procedures, the WhatsApp service would then send a one-time code via SMS to that phone number. This would typically alert a user to an ongoing attack, but Bar-Zik argues that a hacker could easily avoid this by carrying out the attack during nighttime or when he is sure the user is away from his phone.

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Senate Passes Bill That Lets the Government Destroy Private Drones
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 09:51 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
On Thursday, the Senate passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, which, among other things, renews funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and introduces new rules for airports and aircraft. But the bill, which now just needs to be signed by the president, also addresses drones. From a report: And while parts of the bill extend some aspects of drone use -- such as promoting drone package delivery and drone testing -- it also gives the federal government power to take down a private drone if it's seen as a "credible threat." The wording comes from another bill, the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018, which was strongly supported by the Department of Homeland Security and absorbed into the FAA Reauthorization Act. In June, as part of its argument as to why it needed more leeway when it comes to drones, the agency said that terrorist groups overseas "use commercially available [unmanned aircraft systems] to drop explosive payloads, deliver harmful substances and conduct illicit surveillance," and added that the devices are also used to transport drugs, interfere with law enforcement and expolit unsecured networks. Video -- What Happens When a Drone Hits an Airplane Wing?

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Vice President Mike Pence Says Google Should Halt Dragonfly App Development
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 08:31 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's growing-tension department:
On Thursday, the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence weighed in on Dragonfly, a project run by Google to build a censored search engine app for China. He said Dragonfly app would make it easier to track someone's internet searches. From a report: Pence said in a speech that business leaders are now thinking twice before entering the Chinese market "if it means turning over their intellectual property or abetting Beijing's oppression." He added, "More must follow suit. For example, Google should immediately end development of the 'Dragonfly' app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers."

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Average Time To Resolve Problems is Three Times Higher Than Customers Want
Posted by News Fetcher on October 04 '18 at 08:31 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's reality-vs-expecation department:
Businesses seem to be setting the bar for "good" customer service too low, according to a recent study, which could have significant business impact as the customer experience becomes even more vital as customers decide to buy. From a report: Boston, Mass.- based identity and access company LogMeIn recently released a study to analyze the business impact and consumer attitudes of today's customers and their journey to a sale. It surveyed over 5,000 respondents consisting of business leaders and consumers around the globe. Its 2018 AI Customer Experience study shows that over one-third of consumers were not impressed with their customer journey. Over four out of five (83 percent) of consumers citied an average or poor experience, saying that they had at least one issue while interacting with a brand. Conversely, 80 percent of businesses believe their customers would give them a favorable review -- even whilst admitting that less than half of customer queries are resolved during the first interaction. Two-thirds (68 percent) of business respondents agree that their agents struggle with the volume of customer enquiries, and 61 percent of consumers feel that it takes too long for an enquiry to be resolved.

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