By BeauHD from Slashdot's there's-a-first-time-for-everything department
In a series of matches streamed on YouTube and Twitch, DeepMind AI AlphaStar defeated two top-ranked professionals 10-1 at real-time strategy game StarCraft II. "This is of course an exciting moment for us," said David Silver at DeepMind in a live stream watched by more than 55,000 people. "For the first time we saw an AI that was able to defeat a professional player." New Scientist reports: DeepMind created five versions of their AI, called AlphaStar, and trained them on footage of human games. The different AIs then played against each other in a league, with the leading AI accumulating the equivalent of 200 years of game experience. With this, AlphaStar beat professional players Dario Wunsch and Grzegorz Komincz -- ranked 44th and 13th in the world respectively. AlphaStar's success came with some caveats: the AI played only on a single map, and using a single kind of player (there are three in the game). The professionals also had to contend with playing different versions of AlphaStar from match to match. While the AlphaStar was playing on a single graphics processing unit, a computer chip found in many gaming computers, it was trained on 16 tensor processing units hosted in the Google cloud -- processing power beyond the realms of many.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's ready-or-not-here-it-comes department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Automation is coming, but not for everyone. Researchers at the Brookings Institution estimate just 25% of occupations in the US -- in production, food service, and transportation -- are at "high risk" for losing jobs from the advance of automation. "Automation is not the end of work," said Mark Muro, policy director for the Brookings Institution's program on urban economies and co-author of a study published Jan. 24. Most occupations will see specific tasks assumed by machines, but much of their labor will likely be enhanced, rather than fully replaced, through automation, the study found. That's because automation rarely replaces entire jobs, but instead handles specific tasks in occupations that often require hundreds of them.
To forecast the effects, Brookings researchers looked at thousands of specific tasks within each occupation, and the degree to which automation could handle them, coming up with a risk rating for each occupation. The workers most vulnerable are in transportation, production, food preparation, and office administration, which, combined, make up about 36 million jobs, or 25% of the total jobs in the US today. In these occupations, roughly 70% of tasks were considered routine and predictable, prime targets to be managed by machines. The most vulnerable were "packaging and filling machine operators" (100% exposure to automation), food preparation workers (91%), payroll and timekeeping clerks (87%), and light-truck and delivery drivers (78%).Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's let's-settle-this-once-and-for-all department
Google is asking the Supreme Court to make the final call in its infamous dispute with Oracle. "Today, the company announced it has filed a petition with the Court, asking the justices to determine the boundaries of copyright law in code," reports The Verge. From the report: The case dates back to 2010, when Oracle first accused Google of improperly using elements of Oracle's Java programming language to build Android. Oracle said that Google's use of Java application programing interfaces was a violation of copyright law. Google has responded that APIs are too fundamental to programming to be copyrighted. The case has led to two jury trials, and several rulings have doled out wins and losses to both companies over the course of eight years. Last year, a favorable Oracle decision set Google up to potentially lose billions of dollars.
Google asked for a Supreme Court hearing on the case in 2014, but the Court rejected the request at the time. The company says new issues are now at play, and is asking the Court to decide whether software interfaces can be copyrighted, and whether using them to build something new constitutes fair use under the law. In its new petition to the Supreme Court, Google says the case is not only important to copyright law, but has "sheer practical importance," as it centers around two touchstones of computing: Google's Android and Oracle's Java. The Court's intervention could alter the future of software, the company argues.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's new-questions-to-ponder department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Unionization isn't a new idea for the game development industry, but it is a particularly hot and contentious topic right now. A handful of events in 2018 thrust the unionization conversation to the forefront, including Rockstar boss Dan Houser's comments about developers working 100-hour weeks to finish Red Dead Redemption 2, and the tragic implosion and bitter residue of Telltale Games. Groups like Game Workers Unite have been pounding the pavement (physically and digitally) and gathering support for unionization across the globe, with a goal to "bring hope to and empower those suffering in this industry." In December, a UK chapter of Game Workers Unite became a legal trade union.
With all of this conversation swirling around studio life, the folks behind the Game Developers Conference added new questions to the seventh annual State of the Industry Survey, which included responses from nearly 4,000 developers. The questions were broad: should the games industry unionize, and will the games industry unionize? Forty-seven percent of respondents said yes, game developers should unionize, while 16 percent said no and 26 percent said maybe. However, developers weren't exactly hopeful about unionization efforts. Just 21 percent of respondents said they thought the industry would unionize, and 39 percent said maybe. Twenty-four percent said it simply wasn't going to happen. The survey also found that 44 percent of developers worked more than 40 hours per week on average. Just over 1 percent said they worked more than 110 hours in a week, while 6 percent reported working 76 to 80 hours, "suggesting that deadline-related crunch can go far beyond normal working hours," according to the survey.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's stranger-things department
Roughly a day after users in China began complaining that they were unable to access Bing, stoking fear that perhaps Microsoft's search engine is joining the long list of services that will not be permitted by the local government, Microsoft says it has fixed the situation. From a report: Bing is accessible in China again. In a statement, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "We can confirm that Bing was inaccessible in China, but service is now restored." Microsoft did not offer an explanation for Bing's outage, but in a televised interview with Fox News at the World Economic Forum, company president Brad Smith addressed the matter. He noted that this is not the first time Bing has faced an outage in China. "It happens periodically."
He added, "You know, we operate in China pursuant to some global principles that's called the Global Network Initiative in terms of how we manage censorship demands and the like. There are times when there are disagreements, there are times when there are difficult negotiations with the Chinese government, and we're still waiting to find out what this situation is about."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's times,-they-are-changin' department
Lured by the prospect of high-salary, high-status jobs, college students are rushing in record numbers to study computer science. Now, if only they could get a seat in class. An anonymous reader shares a report: On campuses across the country, from major state universities to small private colleges, the surge in student demand for computer science courses is far outstripping the supply of professors, as the tech industry snaps up talent. At some schools, the shortage is creating an undergraduate divide of computing haves and have-nots -- potentially narrowing a path for some minority and female students to an industry that has struggled with diversity. The number of undergraduates majoring in the subject more than doubled from 2013 to 2017, to over 106,000, while tenure-track faculty ranks rose about 17 percent, according to the Computing Research Association, a nonprofit that gathers data from about 200 universities.
Economics and the promise of upward mobility are driving the student stampede. While previous generations of entrepreneurial undergraduates might have aspired to become lawyers or doctors, many students now are leery of investing the time, and incurring six-figure debts, to join those professions. By contrast, learning computing skills can be a fast path to employment, as fields as varied as agriculture, banking and genomics incorporate more sophisticated computing. While the quality of programs across the country varies widely, some computer science majors make six-figure salaries straight out of school. At the University of Texas at Austin, which has a top computer science program, more than 3,300 incoming first-year students last fall sought computer science as their first choice of major, more than double the number who did so in 2014.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's marching-forward department
A new 3D-printing technique could render a three-dimensional object in minutes instead of hours -- at up to 100 times current speeds. The experimental approach uses a vat of resin and some clever tricks with UV and blue LED lights (no lasers needed) to accelerate the printing process. From a report: The technique looks almost like a time-reverse film loop of an object dissolving in a reservoir of acid. But instead of acid, this reservoir contains a specially-designed resin that hardens when exposed to a particular shade of blue light. Crucially, that hardening (the technical term is polymerization) does not take place in the presence of a certain wavelength of UV light. The resin is also particularly absorbent at the wavelengths of both the blue and UV light. So the intensity of UV or blue light going in translates directly to the depth to which light will penetrate into the resin bath. The brighter the light beam, the further it penetrates and the further its effects (whether inhibiting polymerization in the case of UV light, or causing it in the case of blue light) will be felt in the bath along that particular light path.
Timothy Scott, associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, says the way to get a 3D-printed object out of this process is to send UV light through a glass-bottomed basin of resin. Then, at the same time, through that same glass window, send patterns of bright and dim blue light. If this printing process used only the blue light, it would immediately harden the first bit of resin it encounters in the basin -- the stuff just inside the glass. And so each successive layer of the object to be printed would need to be scraped or pulled off the window's surface -- a time-consuming and potentially destructive process.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's worth-a-shot department
From a report, based on a book by Cliff Sims, who worked as a communications official for Trump on his presidential campaign and in the West Wing: As the clock ticked down, Trump "suddenly turned toward the NASA administrator." He asked: "What's our plan for Mars?" Lightfoot explained to the president -- who, again, had recently signed a bill containing a plan for Mars -- that NASA planned to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, by the 2030s, would attempt a manned spaceflight. "Trump bristled," according to Sims. He asked, "But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?"
Sims described the uncomfortable exchange that followed the question, with Lightfoot shifting and placing his hand on his chin, hesitating politely and attempting to let Trump down easily, emphasizing the logistical challenges involving "distance, fuel capacity, etc. Also the fact that we hadn't landed an American anywhere remotely close to Mars ever." Sims himself was "getting antsy" by this point. With a number of points left to go over with the president, "all I could think about was that we had to be on camera in three minutes .. And yet we're in here casually chatting about shaving a full decade off NASA's timetable for sending a manned flight to Mars. And seemingly out of nowhere."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Google, whose employees have captured international attention in recent months through high-profile protests of workplace policies, has been quietly urging the U.S. government to narrow legal protection for workers organizing online. From a report: During the Obama administration, the National Labor Relations Board broadened employees' rights to use their workplace email system to organize around issues on the job. In a 2014 case, Purple Communications, the agency restricted companies from punishing employees for using their workplace email systems for activities like circulating petitions or fomenting walkouts, as well as trying to form a union. In filings in May 2017 and November 2018, obtained via Freedom of Information Act request, Alphabet's Google urged the National Labor Relations Board to undo that precedent.
Citing dissents authored by Republican appointees, Google's attorneys wrote that the 2014 standard "should be overruled" and a George W. Bush-era precedent -- allowing companies to ban organizing on their employee email systems -- should be reinstated. In an emailed statement, a Google spokeswoman said, "We're not lobbying for changes to any rules." Rather, she said, Google's claim that the Obama-era protections should be overturned was "a legal defense that we included as one of many possible defenses" against meritless claims at the NLRB.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's endgame department
An anonymous reader writes: A planned update to one of the Google Chrome extensions APIs would kill much more than a few ad blockers, ZDNet has learned, including browser extensions for antivirus products, parental control enforcement, phishing detection, and various privacy-enhancing services. Developers for extensions published by F-Secure, NoScript, Amnesty International, and Ermes Cyber Security, among others, made their concerns public today after news broke this week that Google was considering the API change. Furthermore, efforts to port NoScript from Firefox to Chrome are also impacted, according to the plugin's author, who says the new API update all but cripples the NoScript for Chrome port.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's unravelling-mysteries department
Long a suspected source of the virus, bats had not been confirmed as carriers of the lethal disease before. The discovery could help scientists learn more about how the virus infects humans. From a report: For the first time, the type of deadly Ebola virus responsible for recent epidemics in West and Central Africa has been found in a bat, Liberian health officials announced on Thursday. Scientists have long suspected that bats were a natural host of Ebola and a source of some human infections, but until now they had not found any bats that harbored the epidemic species, known as Zaire ebolavirus. Although the bat was found in Liberia, the country has not had any human cases of Ebola since 2016, and the bat was not associated with any illness in people. The finding is preliminary and not yet ready for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, the usual venue for presenting scientific discoveries. Only 20 percent of the bat's genome has been studied, and research on it is continuing.
But because of its potential impact on public health, officials in Liberia wanted to share the information widely as soon as possible. "It's an incomplete study, a work in progress," said Simon J. Anthony, a virologist at Columbia University who has performed genetic analyses on samples from the infected bat. "It feels premature scientifically, but on the other hand, you have the public health aspect. We do have enough data to suggest to me that it is Ebola Zaire in this bat. We agree with our Liberian government partners that this information should be shared." Knowing which types of bat carry Ebola may help health officials prevent outbreaks by educating the public about how to prevent contact with the creatures, scientists said.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's hide-and-seek department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Science may never tell us what lies round the next corner, but researchers have come up with the nearest thing: a computer program that turns a normal digital camera into a periscope. In a demonstration of "computational periscopy" a U.S. team at Boston University showed they could see details of objects hidden from view by analyzing shadows they cast on a nearby wall. Vivek Goyal, an electrical engineer at the university, said that while the work had clear implications for surveillance he hoped it would lead to robots that could navigate better and boost the safety of driverless cars.
In the latest feat, Goyal and his team used a standard digital camera and a mid-range laptop. The researchers, writing in the journal Nature, describe how they pieced together hidden scenes by pointing the digital camera at the vague shadows they cast on a nearby wall. If the wall had been a mirror the task would have been easy, but a matt wall scatters light in all directions, so the reflected image is nothing but a blur. They found that when an object blocked part of the hidden scene, their algorithms could use the combination of light and shade at different points on the wall to reconstruct what lay round the corner. In tests, the program pieced together hidden images of video game characters -- including details such as their eyes and mouths -- along with colored strips and the letters "BU." The program takes about 48 seconds to work out a hidden scene from a digital image, but the researchers believe it could be sped up with a faster computer. Eventually, it may be fast enough to run on video footage. Goyal also said "it is even conceivable for humans to be able to learn to see around corners with their own eyes; it does not require anything superhuman."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's that-didn't-last-long department
Boeing has completed the first flight of its autonomous air taxi Tuesday at a small airport outside Washington, D.C. "The flight lasted less than a minute, according to Boeing, and it didn't actually go anywhere," reports CNN. "Instead, it hovered above the runway. Boeing declined to share how high above the ground it flew." From the report: But Boeing is hailing the achievement as a milestone for its NeXt division, which develops autonomous airplanes. The flying car prototype is 30 feet long and 28 feet wide. It's designed to fly up to 50 miles at a time. Boeing and its competitors such as Airbus are betting that small, self-flying airplanes -- technically dubbed electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) -- will revolutionize transportation, especially in urban areas. Boeing believes the vehicles, more commonly referred to as air taxis or flying cars, will be a solution to traffic congestion.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's uncertainty-of-science department
schwit1 shares a report from Space.com: The weirdly clustered orbits of some far-flung bodies in our solar system can be explained without invoking a big, undiscovered "Planet Nine," a new study suggests. The shepherding gravitational pull could come from many fellow trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) rather than a single massive world, according to the research. "If you remove Planet Nine from the model, and instead allow for lots of small objects scattered across a wide area, collective attractions between those objects could just as easily account for the eccentric orbits we see in some TNOs," study lead author Antranik Sefilian, a doctoral student in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University in England, said in a statement.
The duo's modeling work suggests that the strength-in-numbers explanation does indeed work -- if the mass of the Kuiper Belt, the ring of bodies beyond Neptune, is a few to 10 times that of Earth. This is a pretty big "if," given that most estimates peg the Kuiper Belt's mass at less than 10 percent that of Earth (and one recent study put the figure at 0.02 Earth masses). But other solar systems are known to harbor massive disks of material in their outer reaches, Sefilian and Touma noted. And our failure to spot one around our own sun doesn't mean it doesn't exist, they stressed. The new study has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.Read Replies (0)