By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Reader schwit1 shares a report: When you're browsing online, who sets the prices? An algorithm, most likely. A study from 2015 showed that a third of all items on Amazon [PDF] had prices set by an algorithm, and chances are that percentage has only risen. A new study shows how easy it would be for price-setting algorithms to learn to collude with each other and keep prices at a disadvantage for customers.
This sort of collusion would stem from a certain type of algorithm, the researchers say. Reinforcement algorithms learn through trial and error. In the simplest terms, a walking robot would take a step, fall, and try again. These algorithms have often been used to teach algorithms to win games like Go. "From the antitrust standpoint," say professors Emilio Calvano, Giacomo Calzolari, and others from the University of Bologna in Italy, "the concern is that these autonomous pricing algorithms may independently discover that if they are to make the highest possible profit, they should avoid price wars. That is, they may learn to collude even if they have not been specifically instructed to do so, and even if they do not communicate with one another."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's RIP department
For more than 14 years, the Opportunity rover crawled up and down craters, snapped pictures of a strange landscape and revealed surprising glimpses into the distant past of Mars. On Wednesday, NASA announced that Opportunity, the longest-lived robot ever sent from Earth to the surface of another planet, is dead. The New York Times: "It is therefore that I am standing here with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission is complete," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science. That ends a mission of unexpected endurance: it was designed to last only three months. Opportunity provided scientists a close-up view of Mars that they had never seen: finely layered rocks that preserved ripples of flowing water several billion years ago, a prerequisite for life.
The steady stream of photographs and data from Opportunity -- as well as its twin, Spirit, which survived until 2010 -- also brought Mars closer to people on Earth. Because the rovers continued so much longer than expected, NASA has now had a continuous robotic presence on Mars for more than 15 years. That streak seems likely to continue for many more years. A larger, more capable rover, Curiosity, arrived in 2012, and NASA is planning to launch another in 2020. Live telecast here.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
The SEC Wednesday charged a former Apple executive with insider trading. From a report: Gene Levoff, senior director of corporate law and corporate secretary until September, "traded on material nonpublic information about Apple's earnings three times during 2015 and 2016," according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey. "Levoff also had a previous history of insider trading, having traded on Apple's material nonpublic information at least three additional times in 2011 and 2012. For the trading in 2015 and 2016, Levoff profited and avoided losses of approximately $382,000," the complaint says. Levoff's position at Apple granted him insider access to not-yet-public earnings results and briefings on iPhone sales, the complaint says. On more than one occasion, he disobeyed the company's "blackout" period for stock transactions, selling or buying stock worth tens of millions of dollars, according to the SEC.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's open-challenge department
The Swiss government is offering bug bounties of up to CHF 50,000 (around $50,000) to anyone who can expose vulnerabilities in its internet-based e-voting system in a test later this month. From a report: In total, 150,000 CHF (around $150,000) will be up for grabs for any white hat hackers who register for the "Public Intrusion Test" (PIT). The Swiss Post system will be open for a dummy election between February 24th and March 24th, the length of a typical Swiss federal vote, during which time any registered "white hat" hackers will be free to discover and report vulnerabilities.
This PIT comes as the Swiss government is planning to expand its e-voting capabilities by October 2019 to two thirds of the 26 cantons that make up the Swiss Confederation. The country has conducted more than 300 trials of e-voting systems over the past 14 years, but current rules limit the amount of electronic votes to 10 percent of the total for referendums and 30 percent for constitutional amendments. However, the expansion plans have been met by opposition by politicians who claim current e-voting systems are insecure, expensive, and prone to manipulation.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
Google plans to unveil its first lower-priced smartphone this year as part of an aggressive push into hardware that it hopes will draw more users into its ecosystem, Nikkei Asian Review reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. From a report: The U.S. internet giant is moving quickly to exploit the troubles currently besetting Apple, which has suffered disappointing sales of its new premium iPhone as consumers migrate to cheaper models and global smartphone sales tumble, industry sources say. Google's new smartphone will be its first non-premium model aimed at price-sensitive customers and those in emerging markets.
It is expected to be priced lower than Apple's cheapest iPhone, the XR, which starts at $749. The latest model in Google's own Pixel range, released last October, started at $799. Midrange to highend phones are priced at between $150 and $700, while low end models sell for less than $150, industry sources said. The new phone will be the spearhead of Google's drive to expand the hardware using its operating systems. New products planned for this year include smart speakers, wearables and web cameras, sources familiar with the company's plans told the Nikkei Asian Review. Google also plans to launch a new premium phone in its Pixel range, as usual.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Any sports fan will know, or at least appreciate, the disappointment of going to watch your team only to find that a top player has been left out. But what if you could pay an extra bit of money for your ticket -- say, 5-15% on top of the normal price -- and insure the cost of your ticket against such a situation? If your favourite player does not play, for whatever reason, you get your money back. That's the intriguing premise behind Fansure, a start-up currently based in Belmont, California. When I spoke to the firm's marketing manager, Tara Fan, she explained it in the context of a basketball game: "Some tickets are $300-$400 to go to a game. Typically, you're paying that to see someone like LeBron James, or Kevin Durant, or someone like that." It works like this: You buy the ticket as normal. Then, at least 48 hours before the game, you go to Fansure, and you pay them an added percentage. The amount reflects what Fansure thinks is the likelihood of your selected player appearing or not.
Someone like Durant for instance, rarely misses a game for the Golden State Warriors and so the premium would be relatively low. "It would only be, I would say, 8% of your ticket price," Ms Fan explained. "It's like... $30 to cover a $400 ticket. And so that's where the benefit rolls out." If Durant plays, you've wasted your $30, which Fansure pockets. If he doesn't, you still get to go and enjoy the game, and Fansure will refund you the entire amount of the ticket (but keeps the bit you paid for insurance).Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Twitter wants to be the place for the most important public conversations online. It still has some serious work to do. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Recode co-founder Kara Swisher agreed to conduct an interview Tuesday on Twitter, and it had all the makings of a great read: The CEO of one of the most influential and controversial tech platforms in the world taking questions from one of the industry's most ferocious reporters. The only problem? No one could follow along.
Despite the public interview, and a dedicated hashtag (#karajack) for the event, it didn't take long before the dozens of tweets between the two started to get confusing. They were listed out of order, other users started chiming in, and there was no way to properly follow the conversation thread. Swisher's questions about Twitter's complex abuse policies, and Dorsey's subsequent responses, were floating around my timeline along with the regular tech news and opinions I always look at. If you wanted to find a permanent thread of the chat, you had to visit one of either Kara or Jack's pages and continually refresh. It made for a difficult and confusing experience.
Dorsey even admitted so himself. "I am going to start a NEW thread to make it easy for people to follow (@waltmossberg just texted me that it is a "chaotic hellpit")," Swisher tweeted, referencing Recode's other co-founder, the now-retired Walt Mossberg. "Ok. Definitely not easy to follow the conversation," Dorsey replied. "Exactly why we are doing this. Fixing stuff like this will help I believe."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's lost-and-found department
According to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, NASA glaciologists found a crater thought to be more than 22 miles wide. "It is only 114 miles from the Hiawatha impact crater that was discovered in 2018," MIT Technology Review reports. "The identification of that first crater led NASA to dedicate additional resources for investigating the land under Greenland's ice." From the report: NASA glaciologists used topographical maps, satellite images, and radar scans to analyze the area. What they found was a flat, bowl-shaped depression in the bedrock. This was surrounded by an elevated edge and characteristic central peaks, which form on the crater floor after an impact. The crater has eroded significantly over time, causing the team to estimate it was created somewhere between a hundred thousand years and a hundred million years ago. That suggests it probably wasn't formed at the same time as the Hiawatha crater, which is younger. This would be the third pair of craters that sit close to one another that we've found on Earth. "We've surveyed the Earth in many different ways, from land, air, and space. It's exciting that discoveries like these are still possible," says Joe MacGregor, a glaciologist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cost-of-convenience department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The study, in JAMA Internal Medicine, tracked diet and health over eight years in more than 44,000 French men and women. Their average age was 58 at the start. About 29 percent of their energy intake was ultraprocessed foods. Such foods include instant noodles and soups, breakfast cereals, energy bars and drinks, chicken nuggets and many other ready-made meals and packaged snacks containing numerous ingredients and manufactured using industrial processes. There were 602 deaths over the course of the study, mostly from cancer and cardiovascular disease. Even after adjusting for many health, socioeconomic and behavioral characteristics, including scores on a scale of compliance with a healthy diet, the study found that for every 10 percent increase in ultraprocessed food consumption, there was a 14 percent increase in the risk of death (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The authors suggest that high-temperature processing may form contaminants, that additives may be carcinogenic, and that the packaging of prepared foods can lead to contamination.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's read-the-fine-print department
Zorro shares a report from The Wall Street Journal: Apple's plan to create a subscription service for news is running into resistance from major publishers over the tech giant's proposed financial terms (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), according to people familiar with the situation, complicating an initiative that is part of the company's efforts to offset slowing iPhone sales. In its pitch to some news organizations, the Cupertino, Calif., company has said it would keep about half of the subscription revenue from the service, the people said. The service, described by industry executives as a "Netflix for news," would allow users to read an unlimited amount of content from participating publishers for a monthly fee. It is expected to launch later this year as a paid tier of the Apple News app, the people said. The rest of the revenue would go into a pool that would be divided among publishers according to the amount of time users spend engaged with their articles, the people said. Representatives from Apple have told publishers that the subscription service could be priced at about $10 a month, similar to Apple's streaming music service, but the final price could change, some of the people said.
Another concern for some publishers is that they likely wouldn't get access to subscriber data, including credit-card information and email addresses, the people said. Credit-card information and email addresses are crucial for news organizations that seek to build their own customer databases and market their products to readers. Digital subscriptions are powering growth at big publishers including the Times, whose basic monthly subscription costs $15, the Post, which charges $10, and the Journal, which charges $39. Some of those companies are skeptical about giving up too much control to Apple, or cannibalizing their existing subscriptions to sign up lower-revenue Apple users, according to people familiar with the matter.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's long-rumored-layoffs department
On an earnings call this afternoon, publisher Activision Blizzard said that it would be eliminating 8% of its staff. "In 2018, Activision Blizzard had roughly 9,600 employees, which would mean nearly 800 people are now out of work," reports Kotaku. "This afternoon, the mega-publisher began notifying those who are being laid off across its various organizations, which include Activision, Blizzard, and King." From the report: On the earnings call, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told investors that the company had "once again achieved record results in 2018" but that the company would be consolidating and restructuring because of missed expectations for 2018 and lowered expectations for 2019. The company said it would be cutting mainly non-game-development departments and bolstering its development staff for franchises like Call of Duty and Diablo. Development sources from across the industry told Kotaku this afternoon that the layoffs have affected Activision publishing, Blizzard, King, and some of Activision's studios, including High Moon. At Blizzard, the layoffs appear to only have affected non-game-development departments, such as publishing and esports, both of which were expected to be hit hard. "Over the last few years, many of our non-development teams expanded to support various needs," Blizzard president J. Allen Brack said in a note to staff. "Currently staffing levels on some teams are out of proportion with our current release slate. This means we need to scale down some areas of our organization. I'm sorry to share that we will be parting ways with some of our colleagues in the U.S. today. In our regional offices, we anticipate similar evaluations, subject to local requirements."
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's short-of-funds department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday the state will not complete a $77.3 billion planned high-speed rail project, but will finish a smaller section of the line. "The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There's been too little oversight and not enough transparency," Newsom said in his first State of the State Address Tuesday to lawmakers. "Right now, there simply isn't a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to (Los Angeles). I wish there were," he said. Newsom said the state will complete a 110-mile (177 km) high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield. In March 2018, the state forecast the costs had jumped by $13 billion to $77 billion and warned that the costs could be as much as $98.1 billion.
California planned to build a 520-mile system in the first phase that would allow trains to travel at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour in the traffic-choked state from Los Angeles to San Francisco and begin full operations by 2033. Newsom said he would not give up entirely on the effort. "Abandoning high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it," he said. "And by the way, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cause-and-effect department
dryriver writes: A lot of people seem to think it's O.K. to buy electronics made in China. We get to buy products considerably cheaper than we otherwise would, and China by all accounts is growing, developing, and modernizing as a nation due to all the cool stuff they now make for the world. There is only one problem with that reasoning. 21st Century China has an atrocious human rights record, and almost all human rights watchdogs report that China is becoming more and more repressive each year. Freedom House put it this way in 2018: "It's worth noting that, in its attitude toward political dissent, the Chinese Communist Party has proven much harsher than the old Soviet regime of the Brezhnev era. Modern Chinese sentences are longer, the prospects for early release are far worse, and the Chinese authorities are generally unmoved by pleas for leniency from foreign diplomats." Basically, consumer dollars from around the world are not gradually creating a gentler, freer, more prosperous and more modern China at all. They are making the Chinese Communist Party richer, stronger, bolder and more aggressive and repressive in every respect. To the question: knowing what the human rights situation is in China, and that consumer dollars and euros flowing into the country from abroad is making things worse, not better, is it at all ethical to buy electronics or IT products manufactured in China?Read Replies (0)