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The Dirty Truth About Green Batteries
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 12:44 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's everything-has-a-cost department:
If we're going to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we'll need an energy revolution. But there's a big problem. Making that future a reality will, among other things, require a lot of batteries: batteries to charge our electric cars; batteries to store solar power collected while the sun's up and wind power harnessed when it's gusty out. And as a new report by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney warns, that's likely to drive demand for the metals used to build green batteries -- as well as wind turbines and solar panels -- through the roof.

From a report: In other words the clean tech boom is, at least in the short term, likely to fuel a mining boom. And that won['t come without cost. "We already know about the environmental, social, and human rights impacts extraction is posing to front line communities right now," Payal Sampat, mining program director at Earthworks, which commissioned the new report, told Earther. "It's kind of unimaginable to think about... how it would be considered sustainable to scale up those impacts that many fold and still be reaping benefits."

Much like our smartphones and computers, the high-tech energy infrastructure of tomorrow requires a host of metals and minerals from across the periodic table and the planet. The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs and energy storage require not just lithium, but often cobalt, manganese, and nickel. Electric vehicle engines rely on rare earths, as do the permanent magnet-based generators inside some wind turbines. Solar panels gobbles up a significant share of the world's supply of tellurium, and gallium, along with a sizable fraction of mined silver and indium. Most renewable technologies demand heaps of copper and aluminum.

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IBM Halting Sales of Watson AI Tool For Drug Discovery Amid Sluggish Growth
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 11:23 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's demand-and-supply department:
Citing lackluster financial performance, IBM is halting development and sales of a product that uses its Watson AI software to help pharmaceutical companies discover new drugs, news outlet Stat reported on Thursday, citing a person familiar with the company's internal decision-making. From the report: The decision to shut down sales of Watson for Drug Discovery marks the highest-profile retreat in the company's effort to apply artificial intelligence to various areas of health care. Last year, the company scaled back on the hospital side of its business, and it's struggled to develop a reliable tool to assist doctors in treating cancer patients. In a statement, an IBM spokesperson said, "We are focusing our resources within Watson Health to double down on the adjacent field of clinical development where we see an even greater market need for our data and AI capabilities."

Further reading: IBM Pitched Its Watson Supercomputer as a Revolution in Cancer Care. It's Nowhere Close (September 2017); IBM Watson Reportedly Recommended Cancer Treatments That Were 'Unsafe and Incorrect' (July 2018).

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Facebook Quietly Updates Last Month's Security Disclosure To Add That 'Millions' of Instagram Users Are Also Impacted
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 11:23 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's no-big-deal department:
Last month, Facebook disclosed that hundreds of millions of users on its platform had their account passwords stored in plain text -- in some cases going back to 2012 -- and searchable by thousands of Facebook employees. Today, the company quietly updated that blog post to reveal that Instagram users are also impacted. It said, in the update: Since this post was published, we discovered additional logs of Instagram passwords being stored in a readable format. We now estimate that this issue impacted millions of Instagram users. We will be notifying these users as we did the others. Our investigation has determined that these stored passwords were not internally abused or improperly accessed.

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Some Internet Outages Predicted For the Coming Month as '768k Day' Approaches
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 10:03 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
An internet milestone known as "768k Day" is getting closer and some network administrators are shaking in their boots fearing downtime caused by outdated network equipment. From a report: The fear is justified, and many companies have taken precautions to update old routers, but some cascading failures are still predicted. The term 768k Day comes from the original mother of all internet outages known as 512k Day. [...] Many legacy routers received emergency firmware patches that allowed network admins to set a higher threshold for the size of the memory allocated to handle the global BGP routing table. Most network administrators followed documentation provided at the time and set the new upper limit at 768,000 -- aka 768k.

CIDR Report, a website that keeps track of the global BGP routing table, puts the size of this file at 773,480 entries; however, their version of the table isn't official and contains some duplicates. A Twitter bot named BGP4-Table, which has also been tracking the size of the global BGP routing table in anticipation of 768K Day, puts the actual size of the file at 767,392, just a hair away from overflowing. ZDNet spoke today with Aaron A. Glenn, a networking engineer with AAGICo Berlin, and Jim Troutman, Director at the Northern New England Neutral Internet Exchange (NNENIX). Both estimate 768K Day happening within the next month. But unlike many network admins, they don't expect the event to cause internet-wide outages like in 2014. However, both Glenn and Troutman expect some companies and smaller, local ISPs to be affected. "I would be mildly surprised if there was any interruption or outage at any real scale," Glenn told ZDNet.

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Google Chrome To Get a Reader Mode
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 08:43 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's for-what-it-is-worth department:
Google's Chrome browser will get a Reader Mode, similar to the one found in competing browsers like Firefox and the old Microsoft Edge. From a report: The feature is currently under development, but Chrome Canary users can test it starting today. Chrome's Reader Mode will work by stripping pages of most of their useless content, such as ads, comments sections, or animations, and leave a bare-bones version behind, showing only titles, article text, and article images. Work on the feature started in February this year when Google engineers began porting the "simplified view" offered by Chrome on Android to desktop editions. Today is the first day that a fully-functional Reader Mode is active in Chrome's desktop versions -- via Google Chrome Canary distributions. To test Chrome's upcoming Reader Mode, users must first visit the chrome://flags/#enable-reader-mode section in their Chrome Canary version, and enable the Reader Mode option.

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Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt Says Tech Companies Can Regulate Themselves
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 08:43 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt in a new interview rejected the notion that Capitol Hill has a role to play in regulating big tech companies, breaking with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's recent willingness to work with lawmakers. From a report: "The problem is if you write a rule, inevitably, you fix the solution on a specific solution, but the technology moves so quickly," Schmidt says. "It's generally better to let the tech companies do these things," he adds. Schmidt, who ran Google from 2001 to 2011, acknowledged that over his tenure the company did not understand the scale or severity of problems originating from its products. But since then, the company has addressed the issues, he said. "Our response has, in my view, been very strong," he said. "Today, we have all sorts of software that enforces policies of one kind or another. And people complain about the rules, but the fact of the matter is the rules are published."

[...] Schmidt suggested that even if Congress does pass new regulations on tech companies, issues will continue to originate on tech platforms because the sites display unpredictable human conduct. Content moderators and other employees need to ensure that users abide by the rules of a given platform, he said. "All of these platforms that are human centric will have to have a component of them, which is...watching what the users are doing and making sure they're consistent with their terms of service and the law," he says. "These issues are ongoing, because these are human-based systems," he says. "And so humans will continue to use them. They will continue to do unexpected things. There will continue to be surprises." Further reading: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt Predicts the Internet Will Split in Two By 2028 -- and One Part Will Be Led By China.

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The Mueller Report
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 07:23 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's finally department:
Almost two years after Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign, his report -- a redacted version of it -- is finally out [PDF].

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Ubuntu 19.04 'Disco Dingo' Released
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 07:23 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's linux-updates department:
Canonical today announced the release of Ubuntu 19.04 "Disco Dingo." With Linux 5.0 and GNOME 3.32, Disco Dingo features performance improvements and visual tweaks. Whether or not you upgrade, Disco Dingo lays the groundwork for future long term support releases of Ubuntu. From a report: Keep in mind, version 19.04 is not LTS (Long Term Support), meaning it is only supported until January 2020. "Ubuntu 19.04 introduces GNOME 3.32 with higher frame rates, smoother startup animations, quicker icon load times and reduced CPU+GPU load. Fractional scaling for HiDPI screens is now available in X-org and Wayland. Installing Ubuntu on VMWare will automatically install open-vm-tools for bi-directional clipboard, easy sharing of files and graceful power state management," says Canonical. The Ubuntu-maker further says, "In Ubuntu 19.04, multiple instances of the same snap can be installed for CI/CD, testing or phased rollouts. For example, two versions of a database or two versions of the golang compiler can be installed at the same time. Snap epochs control when and how data migration happens between major version upgrades."

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Google Offers Europeans Choice To Download Rival Web Browser
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 07:23 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's more-choices department:
Google said today it will start giving European Union smartphone users a choice of browsers and search apps on its Android operating system, in changes designed to comply with an EU antitrust ruling. From a report: Starting Thursday and following a software update, users in the EU opening Google's mobile app store will be presented with a choice of alternatives to Google search and Chrome. The Alphabet unit said options will vary by market, but Microsoft's Bing and Norway's Opera are notable competitors in the European search and browser market respectively.

The changes could help Google avoid additional fines after being scrutinized by the EU for almost a decade. The European Commission, the bloc's antitrust body, last year fined Google $4.8 billion for strong-arming device makers into pre-installing its Google search and Chrome browser, giving it a leg up because users are unlikely to look for alternatives if a default is already preloaded. The EU ordered Google to change that behavior and threatened additional fines if it failed to comply. In a statement, FairSearch, a group that includes Czech search engine Seznam.cz and Oracle, rejected the changes as insufficient. "It does nothing to correct the central problem that Google apps will remain the default on all Android devices," the group said. FairSearch filed one of the first complaints to the EU on Android.

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Amazon and Google Announce Official YouTube Apps to Launch on Fire TV; Prime Video App Coming to Chromecast and Android TV
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 06:00 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's hallelujah department:
Amazon and Google have worked out their differences. On Thursday, they announced that official YouTube app will soon make a return to Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs. Additionally, Prime Video app will be coming to Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices. "In addition, Prime Video will be broadly available across Android TV device partners, and the YouTube TV and YouTube Kids apps will also come to Fire TV later this year," Amazon said.

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Mozilla To Bring Python To Browsers
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 06:00 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's bring-it-on department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: In a step toward its goal of building out a data science development stack for web browsers, Mozilla today detailed Pyodide, an experimental Python project that's designed to perform computation without the need for a remote kernel (i.e., a program that runs and inspects code). As staff data engineer Mike Droettboom explained in a blog post, it's a standard Python interpreter that runs entirely in the browser. And while Pyodide isn't exactly novel -- projects like Transcrypt, Brython, Skulpt, and PyPyJs are among several efforts to bring Python to browsers -- it doesn't require a rewrite of popular scientific computing tools (like NumPy, Pandas, Scipy, and Matplotlib) to achieve adequate performance, and its ability to convert built-in data types enables interactions among browser APIs and other JavaScript libraries.

Pyodide is built on WebAssembly, a low-level programming language that runs with near-native performance, and emscripten (specifically a build of Python for emscripten dubbed "cpython-emscripten"), which comprises a compiler from C and C++ to WebAssembly and a compatibility layer. Emscripten additionally provides a virtual file system (written in JavaScript) that the Python interpreter can use, in which files disappear when the browser tab is closed. To use Pyodide, you'll need the compiled Python interpreter as WebAssembly, JavaScript from emscripten (which provides the system emulation), and a packaged file system containing the files required by the Python interpreter. Once all three components are downloaded, they'll be stored in your browser's cache, obviating the need to download them again. The report notes that "the Python interpreter inside the JavaScript virtual machine runs between one to 12 times slower in Firefox and up to 16 times slower on Chrome."

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Astronomers Have Spotted the Universe's First Molecule
Posted by News Fetcher on April 18 '19 at 03:20 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's dawn-of-chemistry department:
Astronomers have detected the universe's first molecule. "Helium hydride (HeH), a combination of helium and hydrogen, was spotted some 3000 light-years from Earth by an instrument aboard the airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a telescope built into a converted 747 jet that flies above the opaque parts of Earth's atmosphere," reports Science Magazine. The findings have been reported in the journal Nature. From the report: HeH has long been thought to mark the "dawn of chemistry," as the remnants of the big bang cooled to about 4000 K and ions began to team up with electrons to form neutral atoms. Researchers believe that in that primordial gas, neutral helium reacted with hydrogen ions to form the first chemical bond joining the very first molecule. In 1925, chemists synthesized HeH in the lab. In the 1970s, theorists predicted that the molecule may exist today, most likely formed anew in planetary nebulae, clouds of gas ejected by dying sunlike stars. But decades of observations failed to find any, casting doubts on the theory.

To find the elusive molecule, astrochemists search for characteristic frequencies of light it emits, particularly a spectral line in the far infrared typically blocked by Earth's atmosphere. But a far-infrared spectrometer aboard SOFIA allowed them to find that signature for the first time, in a planetary nebula called NGC 7027, the researchers report today in Nature. The result shows this unlikely molecule -- involving typically unreactive helium -- can be created in space. With this cornerstone confirmed, it appears that the evolution of the following 13 billion years of chemistry stands on firmer ground.

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Planet's Ocean-Plastics Problem Detailed In 60-Year Data Set
Posted by News Fetcher on April 17 '19 at 11:25 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's years-in-the-making department:
Scientists have uncovered the first strong evidence that the amount of plastic polluting the oceans has risen vastly in recent decades -- by analyzing 60 years of log books for plankton-tracking vessels. Nature reports: Data recorded by instruments known as continuous plankton recorders (CPRs) -- which ships have collectively towed millions of kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean -- show that the trackers have become entangled in large plastic objects, such as bags and fishing lines, roughly three times more often since 2000 than in preceding decades. This is the first time that researchers have demonstrated the rise in ocean plastics using a single, long-term data set, says Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. "I'm excited that this has been finally done," he says. The analysis was published on 16 April in Nature Communications.

Van Sebille says that because the study focused on large plastic items, it doesn't reveal much about the quantity of microplastics -- fragments fewer than 5 millimetres long -- in the oceans. These tiny contaminants come from sources such as disposable plastic packaging, rather than from fishing gear. Nevertheless, he adds, the study demonstrates that fisheries play a major part in plastic pollution, and will provide useful baseline data for tracking whether policy changes affect the levels of plastic in the oceans. "As fisheries become more professional, especially in the North Sea, hopefully we might see a decrease," he says.

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Facebook is Working on a Voice Assistant To Rival Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri, Report Says
Posted by News Fetcher on April 17 '19 at 10:03 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's I-mean-why-not department:
Facebook is working on a voice assistant to rival the likes of Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and the Google Assistant, CNBC reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: The tech company has been working on this new initiative since early 2018. The effort is coming out of the company's augmented reality and virtual reality group, a division that works on hardware, including the company's virtual reality Oculus headsets. A team based out of Redmond, Washington, has been spearheading the effort to build the new AI assistant, according to two former Facebook employees who left the company in recent months. The effort is being lead by Ira Snyder, director of AR/VR and Facebook Assistant. That team has been contacting vendors in the smart speaker supply chain, according to two people familiar. It's unclear how exactly Facebook envisions people using the assistant, but it could potentially be used on the company's Portal video chat smart speakers, the Oculus headsets or other future projects.

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Why the Swiss Still Love Cash
Posted by News Fetcher on April 17 '19 at 08:40 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cash-or-check department:
gollum123 shares a report from the BBC: Last month, the Swiss unveiled a smart new banknote to stash in their wallets. The purple 1,000 franc bill was the latest in the Swiss National Bank (SNB) series to undergo a revamp. But this revamp comes as other nations are phasing out their high-value notes and as cash usage declines in European nations, albeit at greatly differing rates. In Switzerland, cash remains the dominant payment method. Here, there's an assumption everyone carries cash, even in an increasingly digital economy. Most don't get caught out buying a sandwich or paying for a haircut when the card payment machine is out of order. If you have to pay for a coffee with a 100 franc note, no need to apologize -- no one will ask if you have something smaller. And for those big-ticket items, some banks even allow you to withdraw up to 5,000 francs per day (or 10,000 a month) at the cash machine without advance notice. Buying a car that costs tens of thousands with cash is also not that unusual.

Why then do the Swiss prefer cash? Two simple reasons are that cash is widely considered to be part of their culture and people believe that using it allows them to track their spending more easily. In Basel, 53-year-old Chris Troiani confirmed this, saying many people she knows still prefer the reassurance of carrying big bills in their wallet. There's also the identity factor: the Swiss identify with cash in part because of how they see themselves. This is a nation which values privacy and doesn't like being told what to do. They see themselves as different to their European neighbors and closely guard those traditions which set them apart, such as languages, political system and currency.

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Facebook 'Unintentionally Uploaded' Email Contacts From 1.5M Users
Posted by News Fetcher on April 17 '19 at 06:03 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's gift-that-keeps-giving department:
Facebook "unintentionally" harvested the email contacts of about 1.5 million of its users during the past three years. From a report: The activity came to light when a security researcher noticed that Facebook was asking users to enter their email passwords to verify their identities when signing up for an account, according to Business Insider, which previously reported on the practice. Those who did enter their passwords then saw a pop-up message that said it was "importing" their contacts -- without first asking permission, BI reported. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that 1.5 million people's contacts were collected in this manner since May 2016 to help build Facebook's web of social connections and recommend other users to add as friends.

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Student Used 'USB Killer' Device To Destroy $58,000 Worth of College Computers
Posted by News Fetcher on April 17 '19 at 04:43 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's reckless-behavior department:
A former student of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, has pled guilty to charges that he destroyed tens of thousands of dollars worth of campus computers using a USB device designed to instantly overwhelm and fry their circuitry. The plea was announced today by the Department of Justice, FBI, and Albany Police Department. The Verge reports: Vishwanath Akuthota, the former student, now faces up to 10 years in prison (with up to three years of supervision after release) and a fine totaling up to $250,000. He was arrested and taken into custody in North Carolina on February 22nd, just over a week after he went on a spree of inserting the "USB Killer" device into 66 of Saint Rose's computers around various locations on campus. Such devices can be easily and freely purchased online and can overload the surge protection in many PCs.

Akuthota, 27, apparently made video recordings of himself inserting the malicious USB device into the computers and said "I'm going to kill this guy" as the PCs were overloaded and permanently ruined. So it's fair to say the FBI and APD had all the evidence they needed. In total, Akuthota caused $58,471 worth of damage. As part of his guilty plea, he has agreed to pay back that amount to the college, a small private school in New York's capital city. The Verge reached out to The College of Saint Rose for a statement on today's news, but a spokesperson said the college had been asked by law enforcement to refrain from commenting.

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Bad Bots Now Make Up 20 Percent of Web Traffic
Posted by News Fetcher on April 17 '19 at 04:43 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's shocking-numbers department:
So-called "bad bots," tasked with performing denial-of-service (DoS) attacks or other malicious activities like automatically publishing fake content or reviews, are estimated to make up roughly 37.9 percent of all internet traffic. "In 2018, one in five website requests -- 20.4 percent -- of traffic was generated by bad bots alone," reports ZDNet, citing Distil Networks' latest bot report, "Bad Bot Report 2019: The Bot Arms Race Continues." From the report: According to Distil Networks' latest bot report, the financial sector is the main target for such activity, followed by ticketing, the education sector, government websites, and gambling. Based on the analysis of hundreds of billions of bad bot requests over 2018, simple bots, which are easy to detect and defend against, accounted for 26.4 percent of bad bot traffic. Meanwhile, 52.5 percent came from those considered to be "moderately" sophisticated, equipped with the capability to use headless browser software as well as JavaScript to conduct illicit activities.

A total of 73.6 percent of bad bots are classified as Advanced Persistent Bots (APBs), which are able to cycle through random IP addresses, switch their digital identities, and mimic human behavior. Amazon is the leading ISP for bad bot traffic origins. In total, 18 percent of bad bot traffic came from the firm's services, a jump from 10.62 percent in 2017. Almost 50 percent of bad bots use Google Chrome as their user agent and 73.6 percent of bad bot traffic was recorded as originating from data centers, down from 82.7 percent in 2017. The United States outstrips all other countries as a generator of bad bots. In total, 53.4 percent of bad bot traffic came from the US, followed by the Netherlands and China. The most blocked country by IP is Russia, together with Ukraine and India.

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Pepsi Drops Plans To Use Artificial Constellation To Promote An Energy Drink
Posted by News Fetcher on April 17 '19 at 03:23 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's thank-God department:
Just days after Pepsi announced that it would advertise its products in space using a Russian startup, the company now says it will no longer pursue the plans, avoiding what likely would have resulted in significant public criticism. Slashdot reader schwit1 shares a report from SpaceNews: The publication Futurism reported April 13 that PepsiCo's Russian subsidiary was working with a startup there called StartRocket to advertise an energy drink called "Adrenaline Rush" using satellites. The company has proposed flying a set of small satellites in formation, reflecting sunlight with Mylar sails to create logos or other advertising messages visible from the ground after sunset and before sunrise.

PepsiCo's headquarters in the United States has shot down the idea. "We can confirm StartRocket performed an exploratory test for stratosphere advertisements using the Adrenaline GameChangers logo," a company spokesperson told SpaceNews April 15. "This was a one-time event; we have no further plans to test or commercially use this technology at this time." The company didn't elaborate on the "exploratory test for stratosphere advertisements," but it appears to refer to a high-altitude balloon test of the technology that StartRocket says on its website it planned to carry out in April in cooperation with Russia's Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, or Skoltech. "People have a visceral dislike of space-based advertising," adds schwit1.

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Microsoft Turned Down Facial-Recognition Sales On Human Rights Concerns
Posted by News Fetcher on April 17 '19 at 03:23 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's good-start department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Microsoft recently rejected a California law enforcement agency's request to install facial recognition technology in officers' cars and body cameras due to human rights concerns, company President Brad Smith said on Tuesday. Microsoft concluded it would lead to innocent women and minorities being disproportionately held for questioning because the artificial intelligence has been trained on mostly white and male pictures. AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, multiple research projects have found.

On the other hand, Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution. Smith explained the decisions as part of a commitment to human rights that he said was increasingly critical as rapid technological advances empower governments to conduct blanket surveillance, deploy autonomous weapons and take other steps that might prove impossible to reverse. Smith also said at a Stanford University conference that Microsoft had declined a deal to install facial recognition on cameras blanketing the capital city of an unnamed country that the nonprofit Freedom House had deemed not free. Smith said it would have suppressed freedom of assembly there.

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