Businesses

Netflix's DVD Rental Business Is Still Profitable (fortune.com) 95

Netflix might be focusing on its streaming business, but the produce that made its name is still alive -- and apparently well. From a report: The company's DVD.com DVD rental business has 3 million subscribers and generated a whopping $56 million in profit on just $99 million in revenue during the first quarter, CNBC is reporting. That staggering profit margin aside, Netflix's business has a wide selection of 100,000 DVDs, which easily overshadows the 5,600 streaming titles available on Netflix, according to the report. DVD.com's profitability might surprise some who moved on long ago from disc-based entertainment in the living room to streaming. Indeed, Netflix itself seemed to have moved on in 2011 when it split the DVD division from its now-core streaming operation. And whenever Netflix discusses its business, the company focuses on streaming and its place in the original content market rather than DVDs.
Businesses

MoviePass' Days Look Limited (bloomberg.com) 142

Kyle Stock writes via Bloomberg: Eight months after slashing its price and expanding membership past 2 million users, MoviePass is now at risk of going bust. The parent company, Helios & Matheson Analytics, which now owns 92 percent of MoviePass, said last week that it had just $15.5 million in cash at the end of April and $27.9 million on deposit with merchant processors. MoviePass has been burning through $21.7 million per month. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing last month revealed that the company's auditor has "substantial doubt" about its ability to stay solvent. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc., warns that MoviePass may not survive the summertime run of blockbusters. On Tuesday, Helios reported the performance of MoviePass for the three months ending on March 31. The company lost $107 million, earning just over $1 million from marketing deals and $47 million from subscriptions. Helios shares have fallen to decade lows of less than $1 after peaking at $32.90 in October, alongside the MoviePass hype.
AI

Ask Slashdot: Could Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics Ensure Safe AI? (wikipedia.org) 223

"If science-fiction has already explored the issue of humans and intelligent robots or AI co-existing in various ways, isn't there a lot to be learned...?" asks Slashdot reader OpenSourceAllTheWay. There is much screaming lately about possible dangers to humanity posed by AI that gets smarter and smarter and more capable and might -- at some point -- even decide that humans are a problem for the planet. But some seminal science-fiction works mulled such scenarios long before even 8-bit home computers entered our lives.
The original submission cites Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics from the 1950 collection I, Robot.
  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The original submission asks, "If you programmed an AI not to be able to break an updated and extended version of Asimov's Laws, would you not have reasonable confidence that the AI won't go crazy and start harming humans? Or are Asimov and other writers who mulled these questions 'So 20th Century' that AI builders won't even consider learning from their work?"

Wolfrider (Slashdot reader #856) is an Asimov fan, and writes that "Eventually I came across an article with the critical observation that the '3 Laws' were used by Asimov to drive plot points and were not to be seriously considered as 'basics' for robot behavior. Additionally, Giskard comes up with a '4th Law' on his own and (as he is dying) passes it on to R. Daneel Olivaw."

And Slashdot reader Rick Schumann argues that Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics "would only ever apply to a synthetic mind that can actually think; nothing currently being produced is capable of any such thing, therefore it does not apply..."

But what are your own thoughts? Do you think Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics could ensure safe AI?


Music

'Yanny vs. Laurel' Reveals Flaws In How We Listen To Audio (theproaudiofiles.com) 233

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few days, you've probably heard about the controversy over "Yanny" and "Laurel." The internet has been abuzz over an audio clip in which the name being said depends on the listener. Some hear "Laurel" while others hear "Yanny." Ian Vargo, an audio enthusiast who spends most of his working hours of the day listening to and editing audio, helps explain why we hear the name that we do: Human speech is actually composed of many frequencies, in part because we have a resonant chest cavity which creates lower frequencies, and the throat and mouth which creates higher frequencies. The word "laurel" contains a combination of both which are therefore present in the original recording at vocabulary.com, but the clip that you most likely heard has accentuated higher frequencies due to imperfections in the audio that were created by data compression. To make it worse, the playback device that many people first heard the audio clip playing out of was probably a speaker system built into a cellular phone, which is too small to accurately recreate low frequencies.

This helpful interactive tool from The New York Times allows you to use a slider to more clearly hear one or the other. Pitch shifting the audio clip up seems to accentuate "laurel" whereas shifting it down accentuates "yanny." In summary, this perfect storm of the human voice creating both low and high frequencies, the audio clip having been subject to data compression used to create smaller, more convenient files, and our tendency to listen out of devices with subpar playback components lead to an apparent near-even split of the population hearing "laurel" or "yanny."

XBox (Games)

Microsoft Announces Xbox Adaptive Controller For Players With Disabilities (theverge.com) 19

A new Xbox controller designed for people with disabilities has been announced by Microsoft today. The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large programmable buttons and 19 jacks that can be connected to a range of joysticks, buttons, and switches to make it easier for a wider range of people to play games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. The Verge reports: "I can customize how I interface with the Xbox Adaptive Controller to whatever I want," says Solomon Romney, a Microsoft Store learning specialist who was born without fingers on his left hand. "If I want to play a game entirely with my feet, I can. I can make the controls fit my body, my desires, and I can change them anytime I want. You plug in whatever you want and go. It takes virtually no time to set it up and use it. It could not be simpler."

The focus is on connectivity and customizability, with players able to build a setup that works for their capabilities and needs. It won't be an all-in-one solution for many games, but through the use of peripherals and the Xbox's system-level button remapping, the possibilities could be endless. The Xbox Adaptive Controller will cost $99.99 and goes on sale later this year.

Music

YouTube Unveils New Streaming Service 'YouTube Music,' Rebrands YouTube Red (gizmodo.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: YouTube Music, a streaming music platform designed to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, officially has a launch date: May 22nd. Its existence will also shift around YouTube and Google's overall media strategy, which has thus far been quite the mess. YouTube Music will borrow the Spotify model and offer a free, ad-supported tier as well as a premium version. The paid tier, which will be called YouTube Music Premium, will be available for $9.99 per month. It will debut in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and South Korea before expanding to 14 other countries.

One of the selling points for YouTube Music will be the ability to harness the endless amount of information Google knows about you, which it will use to try to create customized listening experiences. Pitchfork reported that the app, with the help of Google Assistant, will make listening recommendations based on the time of day, location, and listening patterns. It will also apparently offer "an audio experience and a video experience," suggesting perhaps an emphasis on music videos and other visual content. From here, Google seems to be focused on making its streaming strategy a little less wacky. Google Play Music, the company's previous music streaming service that is still inexplicably up and running despite teetering on the brink of extinction for years, will slowly be phased out according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, the paid streaming subscription service, known as YouTube Red, is being rebranded to YouTube Premium and will cost $11.99 per month instead of $9.99. (Pitchfork notes that existing YouTube Red subscribers will be able to keep their $9.99 rate.) YouTube Premium will include access to YouTube Music Premium. Here's a handy-dandy chart that helps show what is/isn't included in the two plans.
Music

Tidal Is Reportedly Months Behind On Royalty Payments To Labels (theverge.com) 40

According to a report from Dagens Naeringsliv, streaming service Tidal is "behind with payments directly to the three major international record companies." The claim is backed up by two executives from a label and its Sony-owned distributor. They say they have not seen royalty payments in over six months. The Verge reports: According to a translation by Music Business Worldwide, Sveinung Rindal, CEO of distribution company Phonofile (a Sony subsidiary), told the Norwegian paper, "It is correct that there are delays in payments from Tidal," while Frithjof Boye Hungnes, CEO of Propeller Recordings, confirmed, "We have not been paid since October ... People are talking about withdrawing [their music from Tidal]; I think there is a pretty upset mood." Last December, a separate report from the same newspaper said that Tidal was running out of money, suggesting that it only had about six months of working capital left. The news comes shortly after the service was accused of faking the streaming numbers for Kanye West and Beyonce. Tidal is denying any such wrongdoings, saying: "We have experienced negative stories about Tidal since its inception and we have done nothing but grow the business each year."
Youtube

YouTube Expands Music Credits: Makes It Easier To Identify the Song Featured in a Video (pitchfork.com) 20

Next time you hear a song featured in a YouTube video and you are not sure what it is called, or who made it, you can find out by clicking (or tapping) the "show more" button. From a report: YouTube has announced that the platform is expanding the credits available on videos featuring music. The new description feature, called "Music in this video," provides credits -- which includes artist, songwriter, label, and publisher -- on both music videos and fan-uploaded content that contains recorded music. This feature will also include a link to available official artist channels and official music videos. The expanded credits are made possible by Content ID, a YouTube system that uses copyright owners' information and a database of files to identify and manage content.
It's funny.  Laugh.

The SEC Created Its Own Scammy ICO To Teach Investors a Lesson (theverge.com) 74

In its latest effort to fend off cryptocurrency scams, the Securities and Exchange Commission launched its own fake initial coin offering website today called the Howey Coin to warn people against fraudulent cryptocurrencies. From a report: The name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Howey Test that the SEC uses to determine whether an investment is a security, which the Commission would therefore have legal jurisdiction over. Click 'Buy Coins Now' on the Howey Coins site and you'll be redirected to an SEC page that states: "We created the bogus HoweyCoins.com site as an educational tool to alert investors to possible fraud involving digital assets like crypto-currencies and coin offerings." It even has a white paper [PDF].
The Almighty Buck

Comcast Charges $90 Install Fee At Homes That Already Have Comcast Installed (arstechnica.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Based on our tests, signing up for standalone Internet or TV service on Comcast.com often requires payment of a $59.99 or $89.99 installation fee, depending on where you live. (The fee was $60 in two Massachusetts suburbs and $90 at homes in Houston, Texas, and Seattle, Washington.) In cases where the $60 or $90 fee is charged, the fee is required whether you purchase your own modem or rent one from Comcast for another $11 a month.

The installation fee might be charged even if the home you're buying service at has existing Comcast service, and even if you order Internet speeds lower than those purchased by the current occupant. That means the fee is charged even when Comcast doesn't have to make any upgrades at the house or apartment you're moving into. Internet speed makes no difference, as the fee may be charged whether you purchase 15Mbps downloads or gigabit service. You can avoid the installation fee by purchasing certain bundles that include both TV and Internet, but the fee is often mandatory if you buy only TV service or broadband individually. The $60 or $90 fee is also charged when you buy phone service only or a "double-play" package of phone service and broadband.

Piracy

The Brazen Bootlegging of a Multibillion-Dollar Sports Network (nytimes.com) 63

What do you do when your multibillion dollar sports network has been stolen? For the last several days, executives at Qatar's beIN Sports, which functions as the ESPN of the Middle East, have been pondering the same question. For the last several months, live coverage of beIN Sports feed is being broadcast on nearly a dozen beoutQ channels, a bootlegging operation seemingly based in Saudi Arabia, whose roots lie in the bitter political dispute between Qatar and a coalition of countries led by its largest neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. From a report: The coalition countries have subjected Qatar to a punishing blockade over the past year. Those countries last year accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and criticized its relationship with Iran, an ally of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. They enacted an embargo, cut off diplomatic ties and set up the blockade of the energy-rich emirate, closing Qatar's access to many of the region's ports and much of its airspace. Qatar has denied the allegations and has claimed it has assisted the United States in its war on terrorism.

Now, one month before the start of the World Cup, the world's most-watched sporting event and beIN's signature property, the audacious piracy operation is positioned to illicitly deliver the tournament's 64 games to much of the Middle East. Qatar, despite abundant resources, has been powerless to stop it. Decoder boxes embossed with the beoutQ logo have for months been available across Saudi Arabia and are now for sale in other Arab-speaking countries. A one-year subscription costs $100. A Bangladeshi worker reached by phone at Sharif Electronics in Jeddah this week said his shop has been selling the boxes for three months. "Many people buy them," he said.

Music

Jay-Z's Tidal Accused of Faking Kanye West, Beyonce Streaming Numbers (qz.com) 43

Subscription music service Tidal has been accused of faking the streaming numbers for Kanye West and Beyonce. "Kanye West's 'The Life of Pablo,' which was the first album to go platinum primarily from streaming, and Beyonce's platinum record 'Lemonade' were released exclusively on Tidal for periods in 2016," reports Quartz. "By placing their albums on the fledgling platform, which was relaunched in 2015, both artists risked losing big paychecks." From the report: West's album was said to have been streamed 250 million times in the first 10 days on the service. And Beyonce's record was reportedly played 306 million times in 15 days. While it's not hard to believe Bey and Yeezy could hit those numbers, they rang false to some, as Tidal said it had 3 million members then. However, according to an in-depth investigation by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), Tidal has reportedly manipulated those streaming numbers, to potentially make the company appear more profitable or increase royalty payments to the artists at the expense of others on the service. This is something Tidal vigorously denies and says the DN report is part of a "smear campaign."

The DN's report investigated streaming numbers since 2017, when it reportedly obtained a hard drive of internal Tidal data with more than 1.5 billion of rows of user play logs. Those logs were from two periods -- from late January to early March, and mid April to early May -- totaling 65 days in 2016. Its reporters tracked down subscribers from the logs, and presented them with their apparent listening history, which the users said didn't add up.
"We have through advanced statistical analysis determined that there has in fact been a manipulation of the data at particular times. The manipulation appears targeted towards a very specific set of track IDs, related to two distinct albums," found the researchers (pdf) at NTNU's Center for Cyber and Information Security. "The manipulation likely originates from within the streaming service itself."
Chrome

In Blocking Autoplay Videos, Chrome Is Breaking Many Web-Based Games (arstechnica.com) 77

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: An update Google rolled out for its popular Chrome browser this weekend helps prevent those annoying auto-playing video ads on many websites from disturbing your day with unwanted sound as well. But that update is causing consternation for many Web-based game developers who are finding that the change completely breaks the audio in their online work. The technical details behind the problem involve the way Chrome handles WebAudio objects, which are now automatically paused when a webpage starts up, stymying auto-playing ads. To get around this, Web-based games now have to actively restart that pre-loaded audio object when the player makes an action to start the game, even if that audio wasn't autoplaying beforehand. "The standard doesn't require you to do this, so no one would have thought to do this before today," developer Andi McClure told Ars Technica. "With Chrome's new autoplay policies, developers shouldn't assume that audio can be played before a user gesture," Google told The Daily Dot in a statement. "With gaming in Chrome, this may affect Web Audio. We have shared details on what developers can do to address this, and the design for the policy was published last year."
Music

Surging Demand For Vinyl LPs Has Raised Hopes For Reel-to-Reel Tape Deck, Which is Returning To Sale For First Time in Decades (bloomberg.com) 244

It's no secret that sales of vinyl music are at the highest in decades. Even the lowly cassette tape is regaining popularity as some millennials embrace analog music over digital downloads and streaming services. But for the first time in more than two decades, a German company is reviving what may be the ultimate format: a new reel-to-reel tape machine. From a report: Dusseldorf-based Roland Schneider Precision Engineering this week will introduce four Ballfinger reel-to-reel machines, bringing back a technology that dominated professional music recording for most of the 20th century and is now making a comeback with audiophiles and artists including Lady Gaga. The sleek machines, some of them customizable, will retail from about 9,500 euros ($11,400) for the basic version to about 24,000 euros for the high-end model, which features three direct-drive motors, an editing system and walnut side panels. "Digital media is great, but experiencing music is more than just listening to a sound file -- it's sensual, it's reels that turn and can be touched," says Roland Schneider, the machine's designer. "When it comes to audio quality, nothing else in the analog world gets you closer to the experience of being right there in the recording studio than reel-to-reel tape."
Cloud

Nintendo Switch Online Service Will Launch With 20 NES Games, Cloud Saves, More (polygon.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Polygon: Nintendo's online service for the Switch will include access to a selection of classic video games from the NES era as part of the subscription service. Today, Nintendo announced some of the games that will be included as part of the Nintendo Switch Online classic games selection. The 10 NES titles confirmed for the service, which Nintendo refers to as "Nintendo Entertainment System -- Nintendo Switch Online" in a press release, are: Soccer, Tennis, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, Dr. Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros. 3. Nintendo promises 20 NES games will be available when Nintendo Switch Online goes live in September, meaning 10 classic NES games are still to be announced. New games for the service will be added regularly, Nintendo says.

Those NES games will include some sort of online play as part of Nintendo Switch Online. That includes online competitive or cooperative multiplayer, or simply taking turns controlling the game. "Friends can even watch each other play single-player games online, and 'pass the controller' at any time," Nintendo said in a release. "Every classic NES game will support voice chat via the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app. It will also be possible to play these games offline."
Some other details of the service, as reported by Nintendo Life, include the option for cloud save data backups and a four tiered pricing plan. In the U.S., the pricing is as follows: one month is $3.99; three months is $7.99; twelve months is $19.99; twelve month family membership is $34.99 (with up to eight Nintendo accounts on different systems that will be able to use the service).
The Internet

If Fortnite Were a Website, It Would Rival Reddit and Amazon (tomsguide.com) 112

Tom's Guide gives us some perspective on just how big of a cultural phenomenon the game Fortnite is: "if Fortnite were a website, it would be one of the top five in the United States." From the report: Take a quick look at Alexa's list of top U.S. websites, and you'll see Google, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit and Amazon in the top five. No surprises there. But as a quick Google Trends search reveals, Fortnite has become a hotter search term than Reddit. What some might see as a flash-in-the-pan gaming fad is actually outpacing one of the web's hottest destinations.

"More people in the U.S. are searching for 'Fortnite' on Google than they are for 'Reddit' and these searches have risen sharply over the last two months," said John DeFeo, VP of Internet Marketing at Purch, Tom's Guide's parent company. "When you consider that Fortnite had more than 3 million concurrent players in February, I believe that if Fortnite were a website, it would be among the top five in the U.S., duking it out with Reddit and Amazon."

Music

Pandora Stock Surges 25% After User Data-Based Marketing Push (marketwatch.com) 32

An anonymous reader writes: Pandora's stock had its best day ever on Wall Street, rising more than 25% after reporting their subscription and other revenue had surged 61.3 percent to $104.7 million. Previous users have apparently been lured back with targeted marketing touting a new service that lets users briefly play their favorite songs on demand if they'll watch a short ad. "Pandora said it ended the quarter with 5.63 million subscribers to its Pandora Plus and Pandora Platinum paid services, which was 19 percent higher than the same period a year ago," reports one Silicon Valley newspaper. March saw more former users returning than in the same month a year ago -- for the first time in 18 months.

And an important factor was switching from brand-based marketing to data-based marketing -- that is, "using the information that Pandora has on users' listening preferences." Pandora's Chief Executive brags to MarketWatch that "We really have world-class data-science capabilities. We just never used them in our own marketing."

Engadget reports: Revenue for the quarter rose to $319.2 million, up 12 percent over the first quarter of 2017... But Pandora is still losing money. The company posted a net loss of $131.7 million, a slight improvement on the $132.3 million loss in Q1 2017. Overall engagement is down year-over-year, with active listeners dropping 4 percent to 72.3 million. Listener hours dipped from 5.21 billion to 4.96 billion.
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HTC Teases Its Next Flagship Smartphone. Too Bad, the Photo Shows Parts of an iPhone 6. (anandtech.com) 58

HTC has begun to ramp up marketing campaign for its next major smartphone release, teasing that they will be making a proper announcement on May 23rd. From a report: In an email sent to the press this morning and posted on their website, HTC posted a photo of neatly laid out phone components, with the text "Coming Soon... A phone that is more than the sum of its specs." The photo and the announcement give a May 23rd date for more details. AnandTech has added an update to the story, (Via DaringFireball ): As pointed out by a reader, these aren't new components. Or even components of an HTC phone. Rather they're a disassembled iPhone 6...
Sci-Fi

Christopher Nolan Returns Kubrick Sci-Fi Masterpiece '2001: A Space Odyssey' To Its Original Glory (latimes.com) 135

LA Times' Kenneth Turan traces Christopher Nolan's meticulous restoration of Kubrick's masterpiece to its 70-mm glory: Christopher Nolan wants to show me something interesting. Something beautiful and exceptional, something that changed his life when he was a boy. It's also something that Nolan, one of the most accomplished and successful of contemporary filmmakers, has persuaded Warner Bros. to share with the world both at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival and then in theaters nationwide, but in a way that boldly deviates from standard practice.

For what is being cued up in a small, hidden-away screening room in an unmarked building in Burbank is a brand new 70-mm reel of film of one of the most significant and influential motion pictures ever made, Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science-fiction epic "2001: A Space Odyssey." Yes, you read that right. Not a digital anything, an actual reel of film that was for all intents and purposes identical to the one Nolan saw as a child and Kubrick himself would have looked at when the film was new half a century ago.

AI

Westworld's Scientific Adviser Talks About Free Will, AI, and Vibrating Vests (sciencemag.org) 138

Science magazine has interviewed David Eagleman, the scientific adviser for HBO's Westworld. Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, spoke with the publication about how much we should fear such an AI uprising. From the story, also spoiler alert for those who have not watched the show: Q: Has anything on the show made you think differently about intelligence?
A: The show forces me to consider what level of intelligence would be required to make us believe that an android is conscious. As humans we're very ready to anthropomorphize anything. Consider the latest episode, in which the androids at the party so easily fool the person into thinking they are humans, simply because they play the piano a certain way, or take off their glasses to wipe them, or give a funny facial expression. Once robots pass the Turing test, we'll probably recognize that we're just not that hard to fool.

Q: Can we make androids behave like humans, but without the selfishness and violence that appears in Westworld and other works of science fiction?
A: I certainly think so. I would hate to be wrong about this, but so much of human behavior has to do with evolutionary constraints. Things like competition for survival and for mating and for eating. This shapes every bit of our psychology. And so androids, not possessing that history, would certainly show up with a very different psychology. It would be more of an acting job -- they wouldn't necessarily have the same kind of emotions as us, if they had them period. And this is tied into the question of whether they would even have any consciousness -- any internal experience -- at all.

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