Businesses

Ajit Pai Offers No Data For Latest Claim That Net Neutrality Hurt Small ISPs (arstechnica.com) 211

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: With days to go before his repeal of net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a press release about five small ISPs that he says were harmed by the rules. Pai "held a series of telephone calls with small Internet service providers across the country -- from Oklahoma to Ohio, from Montana to Minnesota," his press release said. On these calls, "one constant theme I heard was how Title II had slowed investment," Pai said. But Pai's announcement offered no data to support this assertion. So advocacy group Free Press looked at the FCC's broadband deployment data for these companies and found that four of them had expanded into new territory. The fifth didn't expand into new areas but it did start offering gigabit Internet service. These expansions happened after the FCC imposed its Title II net neutrality rules. (Title II is the statute that the FCC uses to enforce net neutrality rules and regulate common carriers.)
Microsoft

Microsoft Releases Free Preview of Its Quantum Development Kit (zdnet.com) 31

Microsoft is releasing a free preview version of its Quantum Development Kit. "The kit includes the Q# programming language and compiler and a local quantum computing simulator, and is fully integrated with Visual Studio," reports ZDNet. "There's also an Azure-based simulator that allows developers to simulate more than 40 logical qubits of computing power, plus documentation libraries, and sample programs, officials said in their December 11 announcement." From the report: Quantum computers are designed to process in parallel, thus enabling new types of applications across a variety of workloads. They are designed to harness the physics of subatomic particles to provide a different way to store data and solve problems compared to conventional computers, as my ZDNet colleague Tony Baer explains. The result is that quantum computers could solve certain high-performance-computing problems more efficiently. Microsoft officials have said applications that developers create for use with the quantum simulator ultimately will work on a quantum computer, which Microsoft is in the process of developing. Microsoft's goal is to build out a full quantum computing system, including both the quantum computing hardware and the related full software stack.
Businesses

FCC Explains How Net Neutrality Will Be Protected Without Net Neutrality Rules (arstechnica.com) 246

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission is still on track to eliminate net neutrality rules this Thursday, but the commission said today that it has a new plan to protect consumers after the repeal. The FCC and Federal Trade Commission released a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) describing how the agencies will work together to make sure ISPs keep their net neutrality promises. After the repeal, there won't be any rules preventing ISPs from blocking or throttling Internet traffic. ISPs will also be allowed to charge websites and online services for faster and more reliable network access. In short, ISPs will be free to do whatever they want -- unless they make specific promises to avoid engaging in specific types of anti-competitive or anti-consumer behavior. When companies make promises and break them, the FTC can punish them for deceiving consumers. That's what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Acting FTC Chair Maureen Ohlhausen are counting on. "Instead of saddling the Internet with heavy-handed regulations, we will work together to take targeted action against bad actors," Pai said in a joint announcement with the FTC today.
NASA

Google's Machine Learning Is Analyzing Data From NASA's Kepler Space Telescope (nasa.gov) 27

NASA writes: NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 14, to announce the latest discovery made by its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. The discovery was made by researchers using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence, and demonstrates new ways of analyzing Kepler data... When Kepler launched in March 2009, scientists didn't know how common planets were beyond our solar system. Thanks to Kepler's treasure trove of discoveries, astronomers now believe there may be at least one planet orbiting every star in the sky.
Space.com adds: Kepler spots alien worlds by noticing the tiny brightness dips they cause when they cross the face of their host star from the spacecraft's perspective. Kepler is the most accomplished planet hunter in history. It has found more than 2,500 confirmed alien worlds -- about 70 percent of all known exoplanets -- along with a roughly equal number of "candidates" that await confirmation by follow-up observations or analyses. The vast majority of these discoveries have come via observations that Kepler made during its original mission, which ran from 2009 to 2013. Study of these data sets is ongoing; over the past few years, researchers have used improved analysis techniques to spot many exoplanets in data that Kepler gathered a half-decade ago or more.
Space.com describes Thursday's announcement as an exoplanet discovery. (Earlier they reported on the discovery of "a possibly habitable alien world" about 2.2 times the size of earth orbiting a dwarf star "within the range of distances where liquid water could exist on a world's surface".)

Slashdot reader schwit1 points out that other less-credible sites speculate NASA's announcement will be "a major discovery about life beyond earth."
Bitcoin

Feds Shut Down Allegedly Fraudulent Cryptocurrency Offering (arstechnica.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday announced that it was taking action against an initial coin offering (ICO) that the SEC alleges is fraudulent. The announcement represents the first enforcement action by the SEC's recently created cyber fraud unit. In July, the agency fired a warning shot. It announced that a 2016 fundraising campaign had run afoul of securities law, but that the SEC would decline to prosecute those responsible. The hope was to get the cryptocurrency world to take securities laws more seriously without doing anything drastic. Now the SEC is taking the next step by prosecuting what it considers to be one of the most egregious scams in the ICO world. The SEC's complaint, filed in federal court in New York, is against Dominic Lacroix, whom the SEC describes as a "recidivist securities law violator." The SEC considers Lacroix's cryptocurrency project, PlexCoin, to be a "fast-moving Initial Coin Offering (ICO) fraud that raised up to $15 million from thousands of investors since August by falsely promising a 13-fold profit in less than a month." The PlexCoin website has a hilariously vague description of this supposedly revolutionary cryptocurrency. "The PlexCoin's new revolutionary operating structure is safer and much easier to use than any other current cryptocurrency," the site proclaims. "One of the many features of PlexBank will be to secure your cryptocurrency from market variation, which is highly volatile, and invest your money in a place where you can get interesting guaranteed returns." According to Ars, "The SEC isn't impressed and is arguing that PlexCoin has 'all of the characteristics of a full-fledged cyber scam.' The agency is seeking to freeze the assets of the PlexCoin project in hopes of getting investors' funds back to them."
Facebook

Facebook Launches New Messenger App for Young Kids -- What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (gizmodo.com) 62

More than one billion people use Facebook's Messenger app to communicate every month. Now the social juggernaut is going after the younger audience. On Monday, it announced Messenger Kids, a standalone mobile app designed for children age 13 and under. From a report: The app, Messenger Kids, is a messaging service that gives parents authority over who their kids can chat with. Once a parent adds someone to their child's contact list through the main Facebook app, kids can video chat as well as send photos, videos, and texts, or pick something from "a library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks, and drawing tools," according to Facebook's announcement post. [...] A Facebook spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo, "We've built automated systems that can detect things like nudity, violence, and child exploitative imagery to help limit that content from being shared on Messenger Kids. We also have blocking and reporting mechanisms, and have a dedicated team of human reviewers that review all content that is reported."
Red Hat Software

Understanding the New Red Hat-IBM-Google-Facebook GPL Enforcement Announcement (perens.com) 96

Bruce Perens co-founded the Open Source Initiative with Eric Raymond -- and he's also Slashdot reader #3872. Bruce Perens writes: Red Hat, IBM, Google, and Facebook announced that they would give infringers of their GPL software up to a 30-day hold-off period during which an accused infringer could cure a GPL violation after one was brought to their attention by the copyright holder, and a 60 day "statute of limitations" on an already-cured infringement when the copyright holder has never notified the infringer of the violation. In both cases, there would be no penalty: no damages, no fees, probably no lawsuit; for the infringer who promptly cures their infringement.
Perens sees the move as "obviously inspired" by the kernel team's earlier announcement, and believes it's directed against one man who made 50 copyright infringement claims involving the Linux kernel "with intent to collect income rather than simply obtain compliance with the GPL license."

Unfortunately, "as far as I can tell, it's Patrick McHardy's legal right to bring such claims regarding the copyrights which he owns, even if it doesn't fit Community Principles which nobody is actually compelled to follow."
Mozilla

Mozilla Releases Open Source Speech Recognition Model, Massive Voice Dataset (mozilla.org) 58

Mozilla's VP of Technology Strategy, Sean White, writes: I'm excited to announce the initial release of Mozilla's open source speech recognition model that has an accuracy approaching what humans can perceive when listening to the same recordings... There are only a few commercial quality speech recognition services available, dominated by a small number of large companies. This reduces user choice and available features for startups, researchers or even larger companies that want to speech-enable their products and services. This is why we started DeepSpeech as an open source project.

Together with a community of likeminded developers, companies and researchers, we have applied sophisticated machine learning techniques and a variety of innovations to build a speech-to-text engine that has a word error rate of just 6.5% on LibriSpeech's test-clean dataset. vIn our initial release today, we have included pre-built packages for Python, NodeJS and a command-line binary that developers can use right away to experiment with speech recognition.

The announcement also touts the release of nearly 400,000 recordings -- downloadable by anyone -- as the first offering from Project Common Voice, "the world's second largest publicly available voice dataset." It launched in July "to make it easy for people to donate their voices to a publicly available database, and in doing so build a voice dataset that everyone can use to train new voice-enabled applications." And while they've started with English-language recordings, "we are working hard to ensure that Common Voice will support voice donations in multiple languages beginning in the first half of 2018."

"We at Mozilla believe technology should be open and accessible to all, and that includes voice... As the web expands beyond the 2D page, into the myriad ways where we connect to the Internet through new means like VR, AR, Speech, and languages, we'll continue our mission to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all."
Intel

System76 Will Disable Intel Management Engine On Its Linux Laptops (liliputing.com) 149

System76 is rolling out a firmware update for its recent laptops that will disable the Intel Management Engine altogether. The decision comes after a major security vulnerability was discovered that would allow an attacker with local access to execute arbitrary code. Liliputing reports: What's noteworthy in the System76 announcement is that the PC maker isn't just planning to disable Intel ME in computers that ship from now on. The company will send out an update that disables it on existing computers with 6th, 7th, or 8th-gen Intel Core processors. System76 also notes that Intel ME "provides no functionality for System76 laptop customers and is safe to disable." Right now the firmware update will only be available for computers running Ubuntu 16.04 or later or a related operating system with the System76 driver. But the company says it's working on developing a command line tool that should work on laptops running other GNU/Linux-based operating systems. System76 says it will also release an update for its desktop computers... but on those machines the update will patch the security vulnerability rather than disabling Intel ME altogether.
Software

Amazon Will Let Alexa Developers Use Voice Recognition To Personalize Apps (theverge.com) 30

Amazon today announced that third-party developers will be able to make use of the Alexa assistant's voice recognition feature to personalize apps for its line of Echo speakers. The news builds on the company's announcement in October that Alexa can now identify individual users' voices to personalize responses. The Verge reports: Until today, that recognition feature only worked for Amazon-built services like shopping lists, flash briefing news updates, and Amazon Music, among other built-in skills. Starting some time in early 2018, however, developers will be able to tap into those voice-based profiles to make apps more personalized to various members of a household. This yet again puts Amazon ahead of rival Google in the smart home and digital assistant fields. In addition to announcing voice recognition for third-party apps, Amazon also revealed today at its re:Invent conference that it's bringing Alexa notifications on Echo speakers to a wider pool of developers starting today.
Space

Flat Earther's Homemade Rocket Launcher Breaks Down in His Driveway (desertsun.com) 246

The Desert Sun has an update on the progress of 61-year-old self-taught rocket scientist 'Mad' Mike Hughes: A man who believes Earth is flat, and was ready to launch himself from a rocket in California on Saturday afternoon to prove it, has canceled his plans. At least for now. Not having the required federal permits plus mechanical problems with his "motorhome/rocket launcher" forced self-taught rocket scientist "Mad" Mike Hughes to put his experiment on hold. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management "told me they would not allow me to do the event ... at least not at that location," Hughes said in a YouTube announcement, amid international attention over his plans to launch into the "atmosflat."

"It's been very disappointing," he said... "My feeling is that one of the top executives at the Bureau of Land Management called Needles, California, saying... 'What's going on? Who permitted this?'" Hughes said. Plus, as he and his team were preparing to leave Wednesday, the motorhome/rocket launcher broke down in his driveway, he said... His plan is to try again next week.

The Internet

Net Neutrality Advocates Plan Protests For December 7 at Verizon Stores (techcrunch.com) 151

Jordan Crook, writing for TechCrunch: During yesterday's announcement of the upcoming vote, the FCC neglected to mention the historic 22 million comments on the issue, the majority of which were opposed to its rollback. In response, protests are being held on December 7 at Verizon retail stores across the country. The protests were organized by Demand Progress, Fight For The Future, and FreePress Action Fund. Here's what the protest organizers have to say on their event page: "Ajit Pai is clearly still working for Verizon, not the public. But he still has to answer to Congress. So we're calling on our lawmakers to do their job overseeing the FCC and speak out against Ajit Pai's plan to gut Title II net neutrality protections and give Verizon and other giant ISPs everything on their holiday wishlist.
Bitcoin

$31 Million In Tokens Stolen From Dollar-Pegged Cryptocurrency Tether 63

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: All eyes may be on the meteoric rise of Bitcoin at the moment, but it's far from being the only cryptocurrency on the block. Startup Tether issued a critical announcement after it was discovered that "malicious action by an external attacker" had led to the theft of nearly $31 million worth of tokens. Tether is a dollar-pegged cryptocurrency formerly known as Realcoin, and it says that $30,950,010 was stolen from a treasury wallet. The company says it is doing what it can to ensure exchanges do not process these tokens, including temporarily suspending its backend wallet service. Tether knows the address used by the attacker to make the theft, but is not aware of either who the attacker is, or how the attack took place. The company is releasing a new version of its Omni Core software client in what it says is "effectively a temporary hard fork to the Omni Layer."
Businesses

FCC Announces Plan To Repeal Net Neutrality (nytimes.com) 331

FCC on Tuesday said it plans to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for companies to charge more and block access to some websites. From a report on the New York Times: The proposal, put forward by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration that prohibited high-speed internet service providers from blocking or slowing down the delivery of websites, or charging extra fees for the best quality of streaming and other internet services for their subscribers. The clear winners from the move would be telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast that have lobbied for years against regulations of broadband and will now have more control over the online experiences of American consumers. The losers could be internet sites that will have to answer to telecom firms to get their content in front of consumers. And consumers may see their bills increase for the best quality of internet service. Note from the editor: the aforementioned link could be paywalled; consider the alternative sources: NPR, ArsTechnica, Associated Press, BBC, Axios, Reuters, TechCrunch, and Slate.

FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny criticized the move. She said, "So many things wrong here, like even if FCC does this FTC still won't have jurisdiction. But even if we did, most discriminatory conduct by ISPs will be perfectly legal. This won't hurt tech titans with deep pockets. They can afford to pay all the trolls under the bridge. But the entrepreneurs and innovators who truly make the Internet great won't be so lucky. It will be harder for them to compete. The FCC is upending the Internet as we know it, not saving it."

This is what the internet looks like when there is no net neutrality. Earlier today, news outlet Motherboard suggested we should build our own internet if we want to safeguard the essence of open internet.
Graphics

Google Cloud Platform Cuts the Price of GPUs By Up To 36 Percent (techcrunch.com) 28

In a blog post, Google's Product Manager, Chris Kleban, announced that the company is cutting the price of using Nvidia's Tesla GPUs through its Compute Engine by up to 36 percent. The older K80 GPUs will now cost $0.45 per hour while the more powerful P100 machines will cost $1.46 per minute (all with per-second billing). TechCrunch reports: The company is also dropping the prices for preemptible local SSDs by almost 40 percent. "Preemptible local SSDs" refers to local SSDs attached to Google's preemptible VMs. You can't attach GPUs to preemptible instances, though, so this is a nice little bonus announcement -- but it isn't going to directly benefit GPU users. As for the new GPU pricing, it's clear that Google is aiming this feature at developers who want to run their own machine learning workloads on its cloud, though there also are a number of other applications -- including physical simulations and molecular modeling -- that greatly benefit from the hundreds of cores that are now available on these GPUs. The P100, which is officially still in beta on the Google Cloud Platform, features 3594 cores, for example. Developers can attach up to four P100 and eight K80 dies to each instance. Like regular VMs, GPU users will also receive sustained-use discounts, though most users probably don't keep their GPUs running for a full month.
Facebook

Facebook Open Sources Its Network Routing Platform Open/R (techcrunch.com) 28

Facebook will open source its modular network routing software Open/R, currently used in its backbone and data center networks, which "provides a platform to disseminate state across the network and allows new applications to be built on top of it." An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: Facebook obviously has unique scale needs when it comes to running a network. It has billions of users doing real-time messaging and streaming content at a constant clip. As with so many things, Facebook found that running the network traffic using traditional protocols had its limits and it needed a new way to route traffic that didn't rely on the protocols of the past, Omar Baldonado, Engineering Director at Facebook explained... While it was originally developed for Facebook's Terragraph wireless backhaul network, the company soon recognized it could work on other networks too including the Facebook network backbone, and even in the middle of Facebook network, he said. Given the company's extreme traffic requirements where the conditions were changing so rapidly and was at such scale, they needed a new way to route traffic on the network. "We wanted to find per application, the best path, taking into account dynamic traffic conditions throughout the network," Baldonado said.

But Facebook also recognized that it could only take this so far internally, and if they could work with partners and other network operators and hardware manufacturers, they could extend the capabilities of this tool. They are in fact working with other companies in this endeavor including Juniper and Arista networks, but by open sourcing the software, it allows developers to do things with it that Facebook might not have considered, and their engineering team finds that prospect both exciting and valuable.

"Most protocols were initially designed based on constrained hardware and software environment assumptions from decades ago," Facebook said in its announcement. "To continue delivering rich, real-time, and highly engaging user experiences over networks, it's important to accelerate innovation in the routing domain."
Microsoft

Microsoft and GitHub Team Up To Take Git Virtual File System To MacOS, Linux (arstechnica.com) 150

An anonymous reader writes: One of the more surprising stories of the past year was Microsoft's announcement that it was going to use the Git version control system for Windows development. Microsoft had to modify Git to handle the demands of Windows development but said that it wanted to get these modifications accepted upstream and integrated into the standard Git client. That plan appears to be going well. Yesterday, the company announced that GitHub was adopting its modifications and that the two would be working together to bring suitable clients to macOS and Linux. Microsoft says that, so far, about half of its modifications have been accepted upstream, with upstream Git developers broadly approving of the approach the company has taken to improve the software's scaling. Redmond also says that it has been willing to make changes to its approach to satisfy the demands of upstream Git. The biggest complexity is that Git has a very conservative approach to compatibility, requiring that repositories remain compatible across versions.

Microsoft and GitHub are also working to bring similar capabilities to other platforms, with macOS coming first, and later Linux. The obvious way to do this on both systems is to use FUSE, an infrastructure for building file systems that run in user mode rather than kernel mode (desirable because user-mode development is easier and safer than kernel mode). However, the companies have discovered that FUSE isn't fast enough for this -- a lesson Dropbox also learned when developing a similar capability, Project Infinite. Currently, the companies believe that tapping into a macOS extensibility mechanism called Kauth (or KAuth) will be the best way forward.

IBM

IBM Raises the Bar with a 50-Qubit Quantum Computer (technologyreview.com) 69

IBM said on Friday it has created a prototype 50 qubit quantum computer as it further increases the pressure on Google in the battle to commercialize quantum computing technology. The company is also making a 20-qubit system available through its cloud computing platform, it said. From a report: The announcement does not mean quantum computing is ready for common use. The system IBM has developed is still extremely finicky and challenging to use, as are those being built by others. In both the 50- and the 20-qubit systems, the quantum state is preserved for 90 microseconds -- a record for the industry, but still an extremely short period of time. Nonetheless, 50 qubits is a significant landmark in progress toward practical quantum computers. Other systems built so far have had limited capabilities and could perform only calculations that could also be done on a conventional supercomputer. A 50-qubit machine can do things that are extremely difficult to simulate without quantum technology. Whereas normal computers store information as either a 1 or a 0, quantum computers exploit two phenomena -- entanglement and superposition -- to process information differently.
Sci-Fi

Star Trek: Discovery Will Return On January 7th, 2018 (theverge.com) 278

CBS announced that Star Trek: Discovery will return for the second half of the split season on Sunday, November 12th. There will be roughly a two month gap between the last episode of the first half of the split season, which aires on Sunday, November 12th, and the first episode of the second half of the split season. The Verge reports: When the network announced the series's September release date, it revealed that the first season would be split into two "chapters." The second chapter begins with the show's 10th episode, "Despite Yourself." Chapter 2 will contain the season's remaining six episodes, and will run through February 11th. According to CBS, the show will apparently find the crew of the USS Discovery in "unfamiliar territory," and they'll have to get creative about ways to return home. In this week's episode, the crew came face-to-face with the Klingon Empire over the planet Pahvo, after the planet's native species summoned them, hoping to resolve their conflict. After that, it'll be a longer wait for the show to return: CBS recently announced that it renewed Star Trek: Discovery for a second season, but that announcement didn't come with further details about a second season release date, or the number of episodes or chapters planned for season 2.
Intel

Intel Recruits AMD RTG Exec Raja Koduri To Head New Visual Computing Group (hothardware.com) 58

MojoKid writes: Intel just announced that former AMD Radeon Technologies Group SVP, Raja Koduri, would be joining its team to head up a newly formed Core and Visual Computing Group, and as a general manager of a new initiative to drive edge and client visual computing solutions. With Koduri's help, Intel plans to unify and expand its IP across multiple segments including core computing, graphics, media, imaging and machine learning capabilities for the client and data center segments, artificial intelligence, and emerging opportunities. Intel also explicitly stated that it would also expand its strategy to develop and deliver high-end, discrete graphics solutions. This announcement also comes just after Intel revealed it would be employing AMD's Vega GPU architecture in a new mobile processor that will drive high-end graphics performance into smaller, slimmer, and sleeker mobile form factors. With AMD essentially spinning the Radeon Technologies Group into its own entity, Intel now leveraging AMD graphics technology, and a top-level executive like Koduri responsible for said graphics tech switching teams, we have to wonder how the relationship between Intel and AMD's RTG with evolve.

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