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AI

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Acquires and Will Free Up Science Search Engine Meta (techcrunch.com) 45

tomhath quotes a report from TechCrunch: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's $45 billion philanthropy organization is making its first acquisition in order to make it easier for scientists to search, read and tie together more than 26 million science research papers. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is acquiring Meta, an AI-powered research search engine startup, and will make its tool free to all in a few months after enhancing the product. Meta's AI recognizes authors and citations between papers so it can surface the most important research instead of just what has the best SEO. It also provides free full-text access to 18,000 journals and literature sources. Meta co-founder and CEO Sam Molyneux writes that "Going forward, our intent is not to profit from Meta's data and capabilities; instead we aim to ensure they get to those who need them most, across sectors and as quickly as possible, for the benefit of the world."
Communications

Apple Investigating Issue With AirPods Randomly Disconnecting During Calls (macrumors.com) 85

According to MacRumors, Apple is investigating multiple reports from iPhone owners of AirPods randomly disconnecting and reconnecting during calls. While the issue doesn't appear to be widespread, it appears to be a big enough problem to attract Apple's attention. One of the main reasons why the AirPods were so late to the market was because Apple needed more time to ensure the earpieces had reliable connectivity. Specifically, they were delayed to ensure both earpieces receive audio at the same time. MacRumors reports: A MacRumors forum thread and a long thread on Apple's Support Communities website have been generated by AirPods users who are regularly experiencing Bluetooth connection dropouts during phone calls, despite the fact that the wireless earphones almost never lose their connection when used to listen to music or anything else. MacRumors forum member protobiont wrote: "I've had this happen on two phone calls today. I am talking and suddenly the audio switches to the phone, I hear the Airpod connect tones and the audio switches back. This will repeat itself a few times, which is quite distracting during a phone call." At present, the issue appears to be limited to iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus devices, with several users reporting no such problems after upgrading to an iPhone 7. MacRumors was also unable to replicate the problem on Apple's latest handset. Initial reports suggested the dropout issue only occurs if users also have an Apple Watch paired to their iPhone, but MacRumors was able to replicate the problem with a Fitbit Blaze, suggesting a more general conflict when other Bluetooth devices are also connected. Unpairing and then repairing the AirPods does not appear to solve the problem, neither does rebooting nor resetting the iPhone. Until Apple offers a solution, users are advised to use only one AirPod for conducting calls, as the dropouts only seem to occur when both earpieces are in use.
Security

Ransomware Infects All St Louis Public Library Computers (theguardian.com) 132

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Libraries in St Louis have been bought to a standstill after computers in all the city's libraries were infected with ransomware, a particularly virulent form of computer virus used to extort money from victims. Hackers are demanding $35,000 (£28,000) to restore the system after the cyberattack, which affected 700 computers across the Missouri city's 16 public libraries. The hackers demanded the money in electronic currency bitcoin, but, as CNN reports, the authority has refused to pay for a code that would unlock the machines. As a result, the library authority has said it will wipe its entire computer system and rebuild it from scratch, a solution that may take weeks. On Friday, St Louis public library announced it had managed to regain control of its servers, with tech staff continuing to work to restore borrowing services. The 16 libraries have all remained open, but computers continue to be off limits to the public. Spokeswoman Jen Hatton told CNN that the attack had hit the city's schoolchildren and its poor worst, as many do not have access to the internet at home. "For many [...] we're their only access to the internet," she said. "Some of them have a smartphone, but they don't have a data plan. They come in and use the wifi." As well as causing the loans system to seize up, preventing borrowers from checking out or returning books, the attack froze all computers, leaving no one able to access the four million items that should be available through the service. The system is believed to have been infected through a centralized computer server, and staff emails have also been frozen by the virus. The FBI has been called in to investigate.
Android

Google Voice Receives First Update in Five Years (zdnet.com) 80

Google Voice hasn't seen a lot of love or attention since it launched with some fanfare in 2009, but surprisingly Google wants people to know that it still cares about the communication app. In a new sprawling release -- the first of its kind in years -- Google has revamped all versions of its Voice app and site with a clean, modern look, new features, and, perhaps the best news of all, the promise of regular updates. From a report: Google is finally adding two features Google Voice users have long missed out on: MMS support for photo messaging and group chats. Previously workarounds were required to send and receive picture messages, and group chats were flat out not possible.
Technology

Alexa and Google Assistant Have a Problem: People Aren't Sticking With Voice Apps They Try (recode.net) 189

Amazon Echo and Google Home were the breakaway hits of the holiday shopping season. But both devices -- and the voice technologies that power them -- have some major hurdles to overcome if they want to keep both consumers and software developers engaged. From a report on Recode: That's one of the big takeaways from a new report that an industry startup, VoiceLabs, released on Monday. For starters, 69 percent of the 7,000-plus Alexa "Skills" -- voice apps, if you will -- have zero or one customer review, signaling low usage. What's more, when developers for Alexa and its competitor, Google Assistant, do get someone to enable a voice app, there's only a 3 percent chance, on average, that the person will be an active user by week 2, according to the report. (There are outliers that have week 2 retention rates of more than 20 percent.) For comparison's sake, Android and iOS apps have average retention rates of 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively, one week after first use. "There are lots of [voice] apps out there, but they are zombie apps," VoiceLabs co-founder Adam Marchick said in an interview.
Security

Android Device's Pattern Lock Can Be Cracked Within Five Attempts, Researchers Show (phys.org) 139

The popular Pattern Lock system used to secure millions of Android phones can be cracked within just five attempts -- and more complicated patterns are the easiest to crack, security experts reveal. From a research paper: Pattern Lock is a security measure that protects devices, such as mobile phones or tablets, and which is preferred by many to PIN codes or text passwords. It is used by around 40 percent of Android device owners. In order to access a device's functions and content, users must first draw a pattern on an on-screen grid of dots. If this matches the pattern set by the owner then the device can be used. However, users only have five attempts to get the pattern right before the device becomes locked. New research from Lancaster University, Northwest University in China, and the University of Bath, which benefitted from funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), shows for the first time that attackers can crack Pattern Lock reliably within five attempts by using video and computer vision algorithm software. By covertly videoing the owner drawing their Pattern Lock shape to unlock their device, while enjoying a coffee in a busy cafe; for example, the attacker, who is pretending to play with their phone, can then use software to quickly track the owner's fingertip movements relative to the position of the device. Within seconds the algorithm produces a small number of candidate patterns to access the Android phone or tablet.
Chrome

Every Upcoming Chromebook Will Run Android Apps (laptopmag.com) 69

Google announced last year that it will be bringing Android apps to Chromebooks. The company has now announced that moving forward all the new Chromebooks will have access to the Google Play Store, the marquee store for Android apps. From a report: The news comes from a single line of text in Google's list of Chromebooks that can support the programs: "All Chromebooks launching in 2017 and after as well as the Chromebooks listed below will work with Android apps in the coming future." We knew this would eventually come, and now isn't terribly surprising timing. There are more Chromebooks with touchscreens than ever, including the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA and Samsung's upcoming Chromebook Plus and Pro, all of which were announced at CES in Las Vegas.
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Should Commercial Software Prices Be Pegged To a Country's GDP? 282

Here's a bright idea from dryriver Why don't software makers look at the average income level in a given country -- per capita GDP for example -- and adjust their software prices in these countries accordingly? Most software makers in the U.S. and EU currently insist on charging the full U.S. or EU price in much poorer countries. "Rampant piracy" and "low sales" is often the result in these countries. Why not change this by charging lower software prices in less wealthy countries?
This presupposes the continuing existence of closed-source software businesses -- but is there a way to make that pricing more fair? Leave your best suggestions in the comments. should commercial software prices be pegged to a country's GDP?
United States

Is The Tech Industry Driving Families Out of San Francisco? (nytimes.com) 379

Why does San Francisco now have fewer children per capita than any of America's largest 100 cities? An anonymous reader writes: A move to the suburbs began in the 1970s, but "The tech boom now reinforces the notion that San Francisco is a place for the young, single and rich," according to the New York Times. "When we imagine having kids, we think of somewhere else," one software engineer tells the paper. The article describes "neighborhoods where employees of Google, Twitter and so many other technology companies live or work" where the sidewalks make it seem "as if life started at 22 and ended somewhere around 40."

Or is San Francisco just part of a larger trend? "California, which has one of the world's 10 largest economies, recently released data showing the lowest birthrate since the Great Depression. And the Los Angeles Times argues California's experience may just be following national trends. The drop "likely stems from the recession, a drop in teenage pregnancies and an increase in people attending college and taking longer to graduate, therefore putting off having children, said Walter Schwarm, a demographer at the Department of Finance."

So is this part of a larger trend -- or something unique about San Francisco? The New York Times also quotes Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, who believes technology workers are putting off families when they move to the Silicon Valley area because they anticipate long working hours. There's also complaints about San Francisco's public school system -- 30% of its children now attend private schools, the highest percentage of any large American city. But according to the article, Peter Thiel believes that San Francisco is just "structurally hostile to families."
Crime

Geek Avenges Stolen Laptop By Remotely Accessing Thief's Facebook Account (hothardware.com) 358

An anonymous reader quotes Hot Hardware: Stu Gale, who just so happens to be a computer security expert, had the misfortune of having his laptop stolen from his car overnight. However, Gale did have remote software installed on the device which allowed him to track whenever it came online. So, he was quite delighted to see that a notification popped up on one of his other machines alerting him that his stolen laptop was active. Gale took the opportunity to remote into the laptop, only to find that the not-too-bright thief was using his laptop to login to her Facebook account.

The thief eventually left her Facebook account open and left the room, after which Gale had the opportunity to snoop through her profile and obtain all of her private information. "I went through and got her phone numbers, friends list and pictures..." Given that Gale was able to see her phone numbers listed on Facebook, he sent text messages to all of those numbers saying that he was going to report her to the police. He also posted her info to a number of Facebook groups, which spooked the thief enough to not only delete her Facebook account, but also her listed phone numbers.

In 2008 Slashdot ran a similar story, where it took several weeks of remote monitoring before a laptop thief revealed his identity. (The victim complained that "It was kind of frustrating because he was mostly using it to watch porn.") But in this case, Gale just remotely left a note on the laptop -- and called one of the thief's friends -- and eventually turned over all the information to the police, who believe an arrest will follow.

Gale seems less confident, and tells one Calgary newspaper "I'm realistic. I'm not going to see that computer again. But at least I got some comic relief."
Open Source

Free Software Foundation Shakes Up Its List of Priority Projects (networkworld.com) 93

alphadogg quotes Network World: The Free Software Foundation Tuesday announced a major rethinking of the software projects that it supports, putting top priority on a free mobile operating system, accessibility, and driver development, among other areas. The foundation has maintained the High Priority Projects list since 2005, when it contained just four free software projects. [That rose to 12 projects by 2008, though the changelog shows at least seven projects have since been removed.] Today's version mostly identifies priority areas, along with a few specific projects in key areas.
The new list shows the FSF will continue financially supporting Replicant, their free version of Android, and they're also still supporting projects to create a free software replacement for Skype with real-time voice and video capabilities. But they're now also prioritizing various projects to replace Siri, Google Now, Alexa, and Cortana with a free-software personal assistant, which they view as "crucial to preserving users' control over their technology and data while still giving them the benefits such software has for many."

And other priorities now include internationalization, accessibility, decentralization and self-hosting, and encouraging governments to adopt free software.
AI

Newest Tesla Autopilot Data Shows A 40% Drop in Crashes (bloomberg.com) 165

There's a surprise in the data from an investigation into Tesla safety by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: [W]hile all Tesla vehicles come with the hardware necessary for Autopilot, you need a software upgrade that costs thousands of dollars to make it work. Since buyers can add Autopilot features after purchase, this provides a perfect before-and-after comparison. It turns out that, according to the data Tesla gave investigators, installing Autopilot prevents crashes -- by an astonishing 40 percent...

Now -- thanks to an investigation that initially hurt the company -- there is finally some real data, and it's good news for Tesla... As the software matures to match the new hardware, Musk said on Thursday via a Tweet, Tesla is targeting a 90 percent reduction in car crashes.

Google

Google Pressured 90,000 Android Developers Over Insecure Apps (pcworld.com) 50

An anonymous reader quotes PCWorld: Over the past two years, Google has pressured developers to patch security issues in more than 275,000 Android apps hosted on its official app store. In many cases this was done under the threat of blocking future updates to the insecure apps...

In the early days of the App Security Improvement program, developers only received notifications, but were under no pressure to do anything. That changed in 2015 when Google expanded the types of issues it scanned for and also started enforcing deadlines for fixing many of them... Google added checks for six new vulnerabilities in 2015, all of them with a patching deadline, and 17 in 2016, 12 of which had a time limit for fixes. These issues ranged from security flaws in third-party libraries, development frameworks and advertising SDKs to insecure implementations of Android Java classes and interfaces.

100,000 applications had been patched by April of 2016, but that number tripled over the next nine months, with 90,000 developers fixing flaws in over 275,000 apps.
Communications

Jay Z's Tidal Music Streaming Service Is Fraudulently Inflating Subscriber Numbers, Report Says (digitalmusicnews.com) 32

A new report published by Markus Tobiassen and Kjetil Saeter of Norwegian publication Dagens Naeringsliv is accusing Jay Z's Tidal music streaming service of fabricating their subscriber numbers by creating fake accounts and lying to the media and partners. The company claims to have more than 3 million paying subscribers with more than half of those paying $20-a-month. Digital News Music reports: Tobiassen and Saeter interviewed staffers at TIDAL, as well as partners and confidential sources. And the information that came back was pretty damning. "When 16 of the world's biggest pop stars, one a convicted cocaine smuggler and a former Israeli intelligence officer was not able to obtain enough customers to Jay Z's Tidal, the company began to inflate subscription numbers," the report alleges. DMN spoke this morning with Tobiassen, who offered a translation of the report. "On March 30th of last year, Tidal issued a press release stating that the company had reached 'three million members,'" the report states. "The news story reported worldwide was that Tidal had three million paying subscribers. Tidal also specified to online newspaper The Verge that this figure did not include trial subscribers. This was the last time Tidal reported a total number of subscribers to the public." The only problem with that? "In April 2016, one month after the press release issued by the company claiming three million members, Tidal made payments to the record labels for around 850,000 subscribers. The figure reported internally by Tidal in April is 1.2 million subscribers." The report further states that Tidal itself reported a figure of 1.1 million to the major record labels in late 2016. In other words, nowhere near the numbers reported to media outlets like Digital Music News and Verge.
Businesses

Uber Hires Former Google Search Chief Amit Singhal As SVP of Engineering (techcrunch.com) 26

The former Senior Vice President of Search and employee number 176 at Google has joined the ride-hailing company Uber as SVP of Engineering. TechCrunch is reporting that "Singhal will be heading up the Maps and Marketplace departments at Uber, while also advising CEO Travis Kalanick and Uber VP of Engineering and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski on their efforts to build out the company's self-driving technology." From the report: The last time we in tech news circles heard from Singhal, he was saying goodbye after a 15-year career at Google, in a farewell letter that felt a lot like a retirement announcement. Singhal wrote that he was leaving to "see what kind of impact [he could] make philanthropically" and to"spend more time with [his] family," in an effort to "define [his] next fifteen years." Now, a little under a year later, Singhal is back in an executive role -- this time at a much younger company, but still at one of the most influential technology firms in the world. So how did Singhal get from there to here? Well, for starters, Singhal did throw himself into philanthropic pursuits, focusing on the Singhal Foundation established by him and his wife Shipa, which aims to deliver access to high quality education for kids who normally wouldn't be able to attend top schools, and which began with a focus on the city of Jodhpur, in India. Singhal met Travis Kalanick through a mutual friend, which sparked a series of conversations between the search expert and the famous founder about Uber, its goals and its technical challenges. The combination of the scope of both Uber's potential impact, and the extent of the engineering hurdles it faces in achieving its aims were what drew Singhal in; he is, after all, a true engineer at heart, and mountainous technical challenges attract skilled engineers like nothing else. "This company is not only doing things that are amazing, this company also has some of the toughest computer science challenges that I have seen in my career of 25 years," Singhal told me. "Those computer science challenges for a computer science geek are just intriguing -- you give a geek a puzzle, they can't drop it; they need to solve the puzzle. That's how it felt to me."
AI

Elite Scientists Have Told the Pentagon That AI Won't Threaten Humanity (vice.com) 159

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A new report authored by a group of independent U.S. scientists advising the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) on artificial intelligence (AI) claims that perceived existential threats to humanity posed by the technology, such as drones seen by the public as killer robots, are at best "uninformed." Still, the scientists acknowledge that AI will be integral to most future DoD systems and platforms, but AI that could act like a human "is at most a small part of AI's relevance to the DoD mission." Instead, a key application area of AI for the DoD is in augmenting human performance. Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD, first reported by Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, has been researched and written by scientists belonging to JASON, the historically secretive organization that counsels the U.S. government on scientific matters. Outlining the potential use cases of AI for the DoD, the JASON scientists make sure to point out that the growing public suspicion of AI is "not always based on fact," especially when it comes to military technologies. Highlighting SpaceX boss Elon Musk's opinion that AI "is our biggest existential threat" as an example of this, the report argues that these purported threats "do not align with the most rapidly advancing current research directions of AI as a field, but rather spring from dire predictions about one small area of research within AI, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)." AGI, as the report describes, is the pursuit of developing machines that are capable of long-term decision making and intent, i.e. thinking and acting like a real human. "On account of this specific goal, AGI has high visibility, disproportionate to its size or present level of success," the researchers say.
Television

3D TV Is Dead (cnet.com) 397

While Samsung dropped 3D support in 2016, LG and Sony -- the last two major TV makers to support the 3D feature in their TVs -- will stop doing so in 2017. None of their TVs, including the high-end OLED TV models, will be able to show 3D movies and TV shows. As a result, 3D TV is dead. The question is no longer when (or even why) 3D TVs will become obsolete, it's will 3D TVs ever rise again? CNET reports: The 3D feature has been offered on select televisions since 2010, when the theatrical success of "Avatar" in 3D helped encourage renewed interest in the technology. In addition to a 3D-capable TV, it requires specialized glasses for each viewer and the 3D version of a TV show or movie -- although some TVs also offer a simulated 3D effect mode. Despite enthusiasm at the box office and years of 3D TVs being available at affordable prices, the technology never really caught on at home. DirecTV canceled its 24/7 3D channel in 2012 and ESPN followed suit a year later. There are plenty of 3D Blu-ray discs still being released, such as "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," but if you want to watch them at home you'll need a TV from 2016 or earlier -- or a home theater projector. Those market trends are clear: Sales of 3D home video gear have declined every year since 2012. According to data from the NPD Group, 3D TV represents just 8 percent of total TV sales dollars for the full year of 2016, down from 16 percent in 2015 and 23 percent in 2012. Native 3D-capable Blu-ray players fell to just 11 percent of the market in 2016, compared to 25 percent in 2015 and 40 percent in 2012. As for whether or not 3D TVs will ever become popular again, David Katzmaier writes via CNET, based on his own "anecdotal experience as a TV reviewer": Over the years, the one thing most people told me about the 3D feature on their televisions was that they never used it. Sure, some people occasionally enjoyed a 3D movie on Blu-ray, but the majority of people I talked to tried it once or twice, maybe, then never picked up the glasses again. I don't think most viewers will miss 3D. I have never awarded points in my reviews for the feature, and 3D performance (which I stopped testing in 2016) has never figured into my ratings. I've had a 3D TV at home since 2011 and I've only used the feature a couple of times, mainly in brief demos to friends and family. Over the 2016 holiday break I offered my family the choice to watch "The Force Awakens" in 2D or 3D, and (after I reminded everyone they had to wear the glasses) 2D was the unanimous choice. But some viewers will be sad to see the feature go. There's even a change.org petition for LG to bring back the feature, which currently stands at 3,981 supporters. Of course 3D TV could come back to life, but I'd be surprised if it happened before TV makers perfect a way to watch it without glasses.
Operating Systems

Oracle Scraps Plans For Solaris 12 (theregister.co.uk) 122

bobthesungeek76036 writes: According to The Register, Solaris 12 has been removed from Oracle roadmaps. This pretty much signals the demise of Solaris (as if we didn't already know that...) From the report: "The new blueprint -- dated January 13, 2017 -- omits any word of Solaris 12 that Oracle included in the same document's 2014 edition, instead mentioning 'Solaris 11.next' as due to debut during this year or the next complete with 'Cloud Deployment and Integration Enhancements.' At the time of writing, search engines produce no results for 'Solaris 11.next.' The Register has asked Oracle for more information. The roadmap also mentions a new generation of SPARC silicon in 2017, dubbed SPARC Next, and then in 2020 SPARC Next+. The speeds and capabilities mentioned in the 2017 document improve slightly on those mentioned in the 2014 roadmap.
Republicans

Tech Firm Creates Trump Monitor For Stock Markets (reuters.com) 173

randomErr quotes a report from Reuters: London-based fintech firm Trading.co.uk is launching an app that will generate trading alerts for shares based on Donald Trump social media comments. Keeping one eye on the U.S. President-elect's personal Twitter feed has become a regular pastime for the fund managers and traders. Trump knocked several billion off the value of pharmaceutical stocks a week ago by saying they were "getting away with murder" with their prices. Comments earlier this week on China moved the dollar and a pair of December tweets sent the share prices of Lockheed Martin and Boeing spiraling lower. That plays to the growing group of technology startups that use computing power to process millions of messages posted online every day and generate early warnings on when shares are likely to move. Trading.co.uk chief Gareth Mann said the Trump signal generator used artificial intelligence technology to differentiate between tweets or other messages that, for example, just mention Boeing and those liable to move markets.

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