Manchester Attack Could Lead To Internet Crackdown

Slashdot - 1 hour 41 min ago
New submitter boundary writes: The UK government looks to be about to put the most egregious parts of the Investigative Powers Act into force "soon after the election" (which is in a couple of weeks) in the wake of the recent bombing in Manchester. "Technical Capability Orders" require tech companies to break their own security. I wonder who'll comply? The Independent reports: "Government will ask parliament to allow the use of those powers if Theresa May is re-elected, senior ministers told The Sun. 'We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in,' The Sun said it was told by a government minister. 'The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long.'"

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Categories: Science

Vermont DMV Caught Using Illegal Facial Recognition Program

Slashdot - 3 hours 46 min ago
schwit1 quotes a report from Vocativ: The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles has been caught using facial recognition software -- despite a state law preventing it. Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont describe such a program, which uses software to compare the DMV's database of names and driver's license photos with information with state and federal law enforcement. Vermont state law, however, specifically states that "The Department of Motor Vehicles shall not implement any procedures or processes that involve the use of biometric identifiers." The program, the ACLU says, invites state and federal agencies to submit photographs of persons of interest to the Vermont DMV, which it compares against its database of some 2.6 million Vermonters and shares potential matches. Since 2012, the agency has run at least 126 such searches on behalf of local police, the State Department, FBI, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

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Categories: Science

Jewel Wasps are Neurosurgeons Who Zombify Cockroaches So Their Babies Can Eat Them From the Inside Out

Underground Stream - 4 hours 5 min ago

"It's not brain surgery you know". That phrase (along with "it's not rocket science") is often used to denote a simple act, as compared to the recognised difficulty of surgery on the human brain, one of the most complex objects known. Neurosurgery is one of those things that shows how humans are very different from other living things, with our knowledge of the various functions of different parts of the brain, and our extremely advanced 'tool use' when performing surgery on it. So much so that we are often surprised when we hear about early attempts at neurosurgery in ancient times - "wow, they were more advanced than we thought".

The only trouble with this type of thinking is that humans are not the only animal to perform 'brain surgery'. Take the Jewel Wasp, for example, which literally performs neurosurgery on captured cockroaches so that they can zombify them and feed their young. The process is astoundingly intricate, as well as just plain horrific:

The wasp, which is often just a fraction of the size of her victim, begins her attack from above, swooping down and grabbing the roach with her mouth as she aims her “stinger”—a modified egg-laying body part called an ovipositor—at the middle of the body, the thorax, in between the first pair of legs. The quick jab takes only a few seconds, and venom compounds work fast, paralyzing the cockroach temporarily so the wasp can aim her next sting with more accuracy. With her long stinger, she targets her mind-altering venom into two areas of the ganglia, the insect equivalent of a brain.

The wasp's stinger is so well tuned to its victim that it can sense where it is inside the cockroach's dome to inject venom directly into subsections of its brain. The stinger is capable of feeling around in the roach's head, relying on mechanical and chemical cues to find its way past the ganglionic sheath (the insect's version of a blood-brain barrier) and inject venom exactly where it needs to go. The two areas of the roach brain that she targets are very important to her; scientists have artificially clipped them from cockroaches to see how the wasp reacts, and when they are removed, the wasp tries to find them, taking a long time with her stinger embedded in search of the missing brain regions.

Then the mind control begins...

Oh, not nightmarish enough for you yet? Read on...

With her prey calm and quiescent, the wasp can replenish her energy by breaking the roach's antennae and drinking some sweet, nutritious insect blood. Then she leads her victim to its final resting place, using what remains of an antenna as an equestrian uses the reins on a bridle. Once inside her burrow, she attaches one egg to the cockroach's leg, then seals her offspring and the roach in.

As if the mind manipulation wasn't bad enough, the wasp's venom has one final trick. While the roach awaits its inevitable doom, the venom slows down the roach's metabolism to ensure it lives long enough to be devoured still fresh.

For the morbidly fascinated, here's video of the jewel wasp doing its thing:

What does this mean for our understanding of intelligence, and/or 'blind' evolution? I'm not sure, but it does seem to tip a lot of our assumptions upside down.

The excerpted text above is taken from a recent Scientific American article (click through to learn more fascinating details about the jewel wasp-cockroach interaction) - and for those who want even more information, the article is itself excerpted from the book Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry.

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Facebook Signs BuzzFeed, Vox, Others For Original Video Shows

Slashdot - 4 hours 18 min ago
Facebook has signed deals with Vox Media, BuzzFeed, ATTN, Group Nine Media and others to make shows for its upcoming video service, which will feature long and short-form content with ad breaks. The social media company is reportedly set to pay up to $250,000 for the longer, scripted shows. Reuters reports: Facebook is planning two tiers of video entertainment: scripted shows with episodes lasting 20 to 30 minutes, which it will own; and shorter scripted and unscripted shows with episodes lasting about 5 to 10 minutes, which Facebook will not own, according to the sources. For the second tier of shorter shows, Facebook will pay $10,000 to $35,000 for each show and give creators 55 percent of revenue from ads, the sources said. Ads will run during both the long-form and short-form shows.

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Categories: Science

Study Finds Magic Mushrooms Are the Safest Recreational Drug

Slashdot - 4 hours 51 min ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Mushrooms are the safest of all the drugs people take recreationally, according to this year's Global Drug Survey. Of the more than 12,000 people who reported taking psilocybin hallucinogenic mushrooms in 2016, just 0.2% of them said they needed emergency medical treatment -- a rate at least five times lower than that for MDMA, LSD and cocaine. Global Drug Survey 2017, with almost 120,000 participants in 50 countries, is the world's biggest annual drug survey, with questions that cover the types of substances people take, patterns of use and whether they experienced any negative effects. Overall, 28,000 people said they had taken magic mushrooms at some point in their lives, with 81.7% seeking a "moderate psychedelic experience" and the "enhancement of environment and social interactions."

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Categories: Science

How Google’s ‘smart reply’ is getting smarter

Kurzweil AI - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 11:44pm

(credit: Google Research)

Last week, KurzweilAI reported that Google is rolling out an enhanced version of its “smart reply” machine-learning email software to “over 1 billion Android and iOS users of Gmail” — quoting Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

We noted that the new smart-reply version is now able to handle challenging sentences like “That interesting person at the cafe we like gave me a glance,” as Google research scientist Brian Strope and engineering director Ray Kurzweil noted in a Google Research blog post.

But “given enough examples of language, a machine learning approach can discover many of these subtle distinctions,” they wrote.

How does it work? “The content of language is deeply hierarchical, reflected in the structure of language itself, going from letters to words to phrases to sentences to paragraphs to sections to chapters to books to authors to libraries, etc.,” they explained.

So a hierarchical approach to learning “is well suited to the hierarchical nature of language. We have found that this approach works well for suggesting possible responses to emails. We use a hierarchy of modules, each of which considers features that correspond to sequences at different temporal scales, similar to how we understand speech and language.”*

Simplfying communication

“With Smart Reply, Google is assuming users want to offload the burdensome task of communicating with one another to our more efficient counterparts,” says Wired writer Liz Stinson.

“It’s not wrong. The company says the machine-generated replies already account for 12 percent of emails sent; expect that number to boom once everyone with the Gmail app can send one-tap responses.

“In the short term, that might mean more stilted conversations in your inbox. In the long term, the growing number of people who use these canned responses is only going to benefit Google, whose AI grows smarter with every email sent.”

Another challenge is that our emails, particularly from mobile devices, “tend to be riddled with idioms [such as urban lingo] that make no actual sense,” suggests Washington Post writer Hayley Tsukayama. “Things change depending on context: Something ‘wicked’ could be good or very bad, for example. Not to mention, sarcasm is a thing.

“Which is all to warn you that you may still get a wildly random and even potentially inappropriate suggestion — I once got an ‘Oh no!’ suggestion to a friend’s self-deprecating pregnancy announcement, for example. If the email only calls for a one- or two-sentence response, you’ll probably find Smart Reply useful. If it requires any nuance, though, it’s still best to use your own human judgment.”

* The initial release of Smart Reply encoded input emails word-by-word with a long-short-term-memory (LSTM) recurrent neural network, and then decoded potential replies with yet another word-level LSTM. While this type of modeling is very effective in many contexts, even with Google infrastructure, it’s an approach that requires substantial computation resources. Instead of working word-by-word, we found an effective and highly efficient path by processing the problem more all-at-once, by comparing a simple hierarchy of vector representations of multiple features corresponding to longer time spans. — Brian Strope and Ray Kurzweil, Google Research Blog.

Categories: Science

Robot Police Officer Goes On Duty In Dubai

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 11:40pm
The first robot officer has joined the Dubai Police force tasked with patrolling the city's malls and tourist attractions. "People will be able to use it to report crimes, pay fines and get information by tapping a touchscreen on its chest," reports BBC. "Data collected by the robot will also be shared with the transport and traffic authorities." From the report: The government said the aim was for 25% of the force to be robotic by 2030 but they would not replace humans. "We are not going to replace our police officers with this tool," said Brig Khalid Al Razooqi, director general of smart services at Dubai Police. "But with the number of people in Dubai increasing, we want to relocate police officers so they work in the right areas and can concentrate on providing a safe city. "Most people visit police stations or customer service, but with this tool we can reach the public 24/7. It can protect people from crime because it can broadcast what is happening right away to our command and control center."

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Categories: Science

Windows Switch To Git Almost Complete: 8,500 Commits and 1,760 Builds Each Day

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 11:10pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Back in February, Microsoft made the surprising announcement that the Windows development team was going to move to using the open source Git version control system for Windows development. A little over three months after that first revelation, and about 90 percent of the Windows engineering team has made the switch. The Windows repository now has about 4,400 active branches, with 8,500 code pushes made per day and 6,600 code reviews each day. An astonishing 1,760 different Windows builds are made every single day -- more than even the most excitable Windows Insider can handle.

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Categories: Science

Consumers Trust Robots For Surgery Over Savings, Research Finds

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 10:40pm
An anonymous reader shares an article: Andy Maguire faces a challenge: tasked with upgrading HSBC's digital-banking systems, he has discovered that customers are twice as likely to trust a robot for heart surgery than for picking a savings account. "I do find it slightly odd," said the chief operating officer of Europe's largest bank, referring to its survey of more than 12,000 consumers in 11 countries published this week. Just 7 percent of respondents would trust a robot with their savings, versus the 14 percent willing to submit to a machine for heart surgery. "You think, gosh, one would've imagined the world had moved on further or was moving faster than that," Maguire said in an interview. While consumers tend naturally to trust medical professionals, the "bar is pretty high" for banks dealing with people's money, he said. Banks around the world are spending billions of dollars to bolster creaking computer systems in a push to ward off startup competitors and cut long-term operating expenses. But consumers and regulators are holding them to ever-higher standards of security and convenience, driving the cost of overhauls higher and potentially eroding any savings.

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Categories: Science

Airbnb Is Running Its Own Internal University To Teach Data Science

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 10:00pm
In an effort to fill the demand for trained data scientists, Airbnb will be running its own university-style program, complete with a custom course-numbering system. Since traditional online programs like Coursera and Udacity weren't getting the job done because they weren't tailored to Airbnb's internal data and tools, the company "decided to design a bunch of courses of its own around three levels of instruction for different employee needs," reports TechCrunch. From the report: 100-level classes on data-informed decision making have been designed to be applicable to all teams, including human resources and business development. Middle-tier classes on SQL and Superset have enabled some non-technical employees to take on roles as project managers, and more intensive courses on Python and machine learning have helped engineers brush up on necessary skills for projects. Since launching the program in Q3 2016, Airbnb has seen the weekly active users of its internal data science tools rise from 30 to 45 percent. A total of 500 Airbnb employees have taken at least one class -- and Airbnb has yet to expand the program to all 22 of its offices.

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Categories: Science

Intel Drops Thunderbolt 3 Royalty, Adds CPU Integration and Works Closely With Microsoft

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 9:20pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Windows Central: Over the last few days, Thunderbolt 3 has been a hot topic amongst Windows users especially with its notable absence with the new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop. Part of the problem is adoption, integration, cost, and consumer confusion according to Microsoft. Intel is aware of the current roadblocks to Thunderbolt 3 implementation, which adds 40Gbps data transfers along with charging and display support for USB Type-C. Today, the company announced numerous changes to its roadmap to speed up its adoption, including: Dropping royalty fees for the Thunderbolt protocol specification starting next year; Integrating Thunderbolt 3 into future Intel CPUs. The good news here is that Intel is dropping many of the roadblocks with today's announcement. By subtracting the licensing costs for Thunderbolt 3 and integrating into the CPU, Intel can finally push mass adoption. Getting back to Microsoft, Intel noted that the two companies are already working closely together with the latest Creators Update bringing more OS support for the protocol. Roanne Sones, general manager, Strategy, and Ecosystem for Windows and Devices at Microsoft added that such cooperation would continue with even more OS-level integration coming down the road.

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Categories: Science

Fitness Trackers Out of Step When Measuring Calories, Research Shows

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 8:40pm
Fitness devices can help monitor heart rate but are unreliable at keeping tabs on calories burned, research has revealed. From a report on The Guardian: Scientists put seven consumer devices through their paces, comparing their data with gold-standard laboratory measurements. "We were pleasantly surprised at how well the heart rate did -- under many circumstances for most of the devices, they actually did really quite well," said Euan Ashley, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University and co-author of the research. "At the same time we were unpleasantly surprised at how poor the calorie estimates were for the devices -- they were really all over the map." The team tested seven wrist-worn wearable devices -- the Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, Mio Alpha 2, PulseOn, and Samsung Gear S2 -- with 31 women and 29 men each wearing multiple devices at a time while using treadmills to walk or run, cycling on exercise bikes or simply sitting.

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Categories: Science

The Trump Administration Wants To Be Able To Track and Hack Your Drone

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 8:00pm
An anonymous reader shares a report: The Trump administration wants federal agencies to be able to track, hack, or even destroy drones that pose a threat to law enforcement and public safety operations, The New York Times reports. A proposed law, if passed by Congress, would let the government take down unmanned aircraft posing a danger to firefighting and search-and-rescue missions, prison operations, or "authorized protection of a person." The government will be required to respect "privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties" when exercising that power, the draft bill says. But records of anti-drone actions would be exempt from public disclosure under freedom of information laws, and people's right to sue over damaged and seized drones would be limited, according to the text of the proposal published by the Times. The administration, which would not comment on the proposal, scheduled a classified briefing on Wednesday for congressional staff members to discuss the issue.

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Categories: Science

Apple Wants To Turn Community College Students Into App Developers

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 7:20pm
Ina Fried, writing for Axios: Apple already offers a variety of tools to help school kids learn the basics of coding. Now, it aims to give older students what they need to become full-fledged app developers. On Wednesday the company is releasing, for free, the curriculum for a year-long course on how to write apps for the iPhone. The effort, though available to all, is aimed at community college students and Apple is working with six districts around the country, with the first classes to start this summer and fall. The courseware teaches students how to create apps using Apple's Swift programming language.

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Categories: Science

Scientists Are Using Gene Editing To Create the Perfect Tomato For Your Salad

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 6:40pm
An anonymous reader shares an article: Geneticists are now using technology to isolate the precise genes responsible for excessive branching and flowering, characteristics which lead to less fruit and thus less yield for farmers. In a study published in the journal Cell last week, geneticist Zachary Lippman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory explains his research team's efforts to fix mutated tomatoes using CRISPR gene editing technology. By identifying the genes associated with undesired mutations, Lippman was able to edit them and suppress their effects. After playing with the plant architecture, Lippman's team was ultimately able to engineer highly productive plants that yielded more of the desired fruit and less of the unwanted flowers and branches. Original research paper; further reading on Nature magazine.

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Categories: Science

Imzy, the Kinder and Gentler Reddit By Ex Employee, Is Shutting Down

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 6:00pm
Imzy, a social media site led by ex-Reddit employee Dan McComas, announced on Wednesday that it will be closing its doors next month. The site was launched last year with much fanfare. Imzy sought to offer a community that didn't have trolls, one of the reasons that led McComas to leave Reddit two years ago. Ever since its launch, Imzy struggled to gain traction. According to web analytics firm SimilarWeb, the website was visited less than 400,000 times last month. McComas didn't elaborate why his service was shutting down, though he wrote: Some of you have been here since our launch into beta and some are brand new. We've loved getting to know all of you and seeing you build communities and make new friends. Unfortunately, we were not able to find our place in the market. We still feel that the internet deserves better and hope that we see more teams take on this challenge in the future.

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Categories: Science

Microsoft To Launch Its Netflix-Style Game Pass On June 1; Live Gold Subscribers Get Early Access

Slashdot - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 5:24pm
Microsoft announced today that Xbox Game Pass, a new subscription service that would allow Xbox One owners to download and play a selection of games for a flat monthly fee, will launch on June 1. From a report: Xbox Live Gold subscribers, however, can access the service starting today, May 24. Microsoft is offering a 14-day free trial of Xbox Game Pass, giving Gold subscribers a chance to preview the service at no cost prior to launch. Xbox Game Pass offers "unlimited access to over one hundred great Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles" for $9.99 per month.

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Categories: Science

Cool Spacewalk, Right? Get Ready for More—ISS Will Need Fixin’

Wired News - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 5:01pm
Tuesday's contingency spacewalk could signal the beginning of more frequent repairs on the aging space station The post Cool Spacewalk, Right? Get Ready for More—ISS Will Need Fixin' appeared first on WIRED.
Categories: Science

Virus Hunters Draw a Map of Zika’s Spread With DNA

Wired News - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 5:00pm
According to new genetic evidence, public health efforts to contain and fight the disease could have—and should have—gotten started much sooner. The post Virus Hunters Draw a Map of Zika's Spread With DNA appeared first on WIRED.
Categories: Science

US Military's XS-1 Space Plane Will Be Built by Boeing (Video)

Space.com - Wed, 24/05/2017 - 4:45pm
The U.S. military's new XS-1 space plane will be built by Boeing, and it's called the Phantom Express.
Categories: Science