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AI

Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft Come Together To Create Historic Partnership On AI (techcrunch.com) 41

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: In an act of self-governance, Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM, and Microsoft came together today to announce the launch the new Partnership on AI. The group is tasked with conducting research and promoting best practices. Practically, this means that the group of tech companies will come together frequently to discuss advancements in artificial intelligence. The group also opens up a formal structure for communication across company lines. It's important to remember that on a day to day basis, these teams are in constant competition with each other to develop the best products and services powered by machine intelligence. Financial support will be coming from the initial tech companies who are members of the group, but in the future membership and involvement is expected to increase. User activists, non-profits, ethicists, and other stakeholders will be joining the discussion in the coming weeks. The organizational structure has been designed to allow non-corporate groups to have equal leadership side-by-side with large tech companies. As of today's launch, companies like Apple, Twitter, Intel and Baidu are missing from the group. Though Apple is said to be enthusiastic about the project, their absence is still notable because the company has fallen behind in artificial intelligence when compared to its rivals -- many of whom are part of this new group. The new organization really seems to be about promoting change by example. Rather than preach to the tech world, it wants to use a standard open license to publish research on topics including ethics, inclusivity, and privacy.
Music

Spotify in Talks To Acquire SoundCloud (variety.com) 11

Janko Roettgers, writing for Variety: Spotify is in advanced talks to acquire rival music service SoundCloud, according to a report by the Financial Times. An announcement of the acquisition could be made soon, according to the Times. The acquisition would come just months after SoundCloud launched its own paid streaming service. A Spotify spokesperson declined to comment on the report when contacted by Variety; SoundCloud didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Spotify is the market leader in the growing paid streaming business, disclosing earlier this month that it now has more than 40 million paying subscribers. Its biggest competitor is Apple Music with 17 million paying subscribers.
Businesses

Amazon Looking To Abandon UPS, FedEx In Favor of Its Own Delivery Service (arstechnica.com) 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A report by The Wall Street Journal claims that Amazon is building its own shipping service to replace FedEx and UPS, giving it more control over its packages and possibly allowing it to ship packages from other retailers. Amazon has said its own delivery services would be meant to increase its capacity during busier times of the year, like the upcoming holiday season. However, "current and former Amazon managers and business partners" claim that the company's plans are bigger than that. The initiative dubbed "Consume the City" will eventually let Amazon "haul and deliver" its own packages and those of other retailers and consumers. That delivery network would also directly compete with the likes of UPS and FedEx. It makes sense that Amazon would want to sell, ship, and deliver orders on its own. The report estimates that the company spent $11.5 billion on shipping just last year, amounting to 10.8 percent of sales. The shipping process is currently a bit convoluted: packages from Amazon warehouses get sent to one of two shipping routes, either FedEx or UPS, or to a sorting facility that lumps all packages with similar zip codes together. FedEx and UPS handle its shipments and deliver them to customers, while the packages at the sorting facilities either get delivered via USPS or by Amazon employees themselves. If Amazon were to have control over its shipments over longer distances, it's estimated that the company could save about $3 per package -- about $1.1 billion annually.
Businesses

D-Wave's 2,000-Qubit Quantum Annealing Computer Now 1,000x Faster Than Previous Generation (tomshardware.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom's Hardware: D-Wave, a Canadian company developing the first commercial "quantum computer," announced its next-generation quantum annealing computer with 2,000 qubits, which is twice as many as its previous generation had. One highly exciting aspect of quantum computers of all types is that beyond the seemingly Moore's Law-like increase in number of qubits every two years, their performance increases much more than just 2x, unlike with regular microprocessors. This is because qubits can hold a value of 0, 1, or a superposition of the two, making quantum systems able to deal with much more complex information. If D-Wave's 2,000-qubit computer is now 1,000 faster than the previous 1,000-qubit generation (D-Wave 2X), that would mean that, for the things Google tested last year, it should now be 100 billion times faster than a single-core CPU. The new generation also comes with control features, which allows users to modify how D-Wave's quantum system works to better optimize their solutions. These control features include the following capabilities: The ability to tune the rate of annealing of individual qubits to enhance application performance; The ability to sample the state of the quantum computer during the quantum annealing process to power hybrid quantum-classical machine learning algorithms that were not previously possible; The ability to combine quantum processing with classical processing to improve the quality of both optimization and sampling results returned from the system. D-Wave's CEO, Vern Brownell, also said that D-Wave's quantum computers could also be used for machine learning task in ways that wouldn't be possible on classical computers. The company is also training the first generation of programmers to develop applications for D-Wave quantum systems. Last year, Google said that D-Wave's 1,000 qubit computer proved to be 100 million times faster than a classical computer with a single core: "We found that for problem instances involving nearly 1,000 binary variables, quantum annealing significantly outperforms its classical counterpart, simulated annealing. It is more than 10^8 times faster than simulated annealing running on a single core," said Hartmut Neven, Google's Director of Engineering.
HP

HP To Issue 'Optional Firmware Update' Allowing 3rd-Party Ink (arstechnica.com) 56

Soon after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) issued a letter to HP, calling for them to apologize to customers for releasing firmware that prevents the use of non-HP ink cartridges and refilled HP cartridges, the company has responded with a temporary solution. HP "will issue an optional firmware update that will remove the dynamic security feature" for certain OfficeJet printers. Ars Technica reports: HP made its announcement in a blog post titled "Dedicated to the best printing experience." "We updated a cartridge authentication procedure in select models of HP office inkjet printers to ensure the best consumer experience and protect them from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges that do not contain an original HP security chip and that infringe on our IP," the company said. The recent firmware update for HP OfficeJet Pro, and OfficeJet Pro X printers "included a dynamic security feature that prevented some untested third-party cartridges that use cloned security chips from working, even if they had previously functioned," HP said. For customers who don't wish to be protected from the ability to buy less expensive ink cartridges, HP said it "will issue an optional firmware update that will remove the dynamic security feature. We expect the update to be ready within two weeks and will provide details here." This customer-friendly move may just be a one-time thing. HP said it will continue to use security features that "protect our IP including authentication methods that may prevent some third-party supplies from working." Without the optional firmware update, printers will only be able to use third-party ink cartridges that have an "original HP security chip," the company said.
Yahoo!

Yahoo Repeatedly Didn't Invest In Security, Rejected Bare Minimum Measure To Reset All User Passwords: NYTimes 114

If it wasn't already enough that the mega breach at Yahoo affects over 500 million users, a new investigative report on The New York Times states the extent to which Yahoo didn't care about its users' security (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source). The report says Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer refused to fund security initiatives at the company, and instead invested money in features and new products. Despite Edward Snowden warning Yahoo that it was too easy of a target for hackers, the company took one year to hire a new chief information officer. The company hired Alex Stamos, who is widely respected in the industry. But Stamos soon left partly due to clashes with Mayer, The Times adds. And it gets worse. From the report:But when it came time to commit meaningful dollars to improve Yahoo's security infrastructure, Ms. Mayer repeatedly clashed with Mr. Stamos, according to the current and former employees. She denied Yahoo's security team financial resources and put off proactive security defenses, including intrusion-detection mechanisms for Yahoo's production systems. [...] But during his tenure, Ms. Mayer also rejected the most basic security measure of all: an automatic reset of all user passwords, a step security experts consider standard after a breach. Employees say the move was rejected by Ms. Mayer's team for fear that even something as simple as a password change would drive Yahoo's shrinking email users to other services.
Crime

Across US, Police Officers Abuse Confidential Databases (ap.org) 165

Sadie Gurman and Eric Tucker, reporting for Associated Press:Police officers across the country misuse confidential law enforcement databases to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work, an Associated Press investigation has found. Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job. But the AP's review shows how those systems also can be exploited by officers who, motivated by romantic quarrels, personal conflicts or voyeuristic curiosity, sidestep policies and sometimes the law by snooping. In the most egregious cases, officers have used information to stalk or harass, or have tampered with or sold records they obtained. No single agency tracks how often the abuse happens nationwide, and record-keeping inconsistencies make it impossible to know how many violations occur. But the AP, through records requests to state agencies and big-city police departments, found law enforcement officers and employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned more than 325 times between 2013 and 2015. They received reprimands, counseling or lesser discipline in more than 250 instances, the review found.
Businesses

55 Percent Of Online Shoppers Start Their Product Searches On Amazon (recode.net) 138

Another year, another data point showing Amazon has surpassed Google as the default search engine for shopping, a report on Recode reads. Fifty-five percent of people in the U.S. now start their online shopping trips on Amazon.com, according to results from a 2,000-person survey commissioned by the e-commerce startup BloomReach. That stat marks a 25 percent increase from the same survey last year, when 44 percent of online shoppers said they turned to Amazon first. From the report: Over the same time, the percentage of shoppers who start product searches on search engines like Google dropped from 34 percent to 28 percent. The number of online shoppers who check out a retailer's website (other than Amazon) first also shrunk, from 21 percent to 16 percent.
Blackberry

BlackBerry Says It's Done Designing and Building Its Own Phones (theverge.com) 89

BlackBerry today reported its fiscal second-quarter sales and said that it will stop making its iconic smartphones and focus on its software business. The Verge adds: BlackBerry has announced that it plans to stop making its own phones as the struggling company continues to focus on its software and security products. This is far from the end of BlackBerry devices, the production of which will be outsourced to third-party manufacturers -- as was the case with the company's recent DTEK 50, a clone of Alcatel's Idol 4 with BlackBerry branding. "The company plans to end all internal hardware development and will outsource that function to partners," said CEO John Chen in a statement. Elsewhere he stated: "We are reaching an inflection point with our strategy. Our financial foundation is strong, and our pivot to software is taking hold." This isn't surprising news considering BlackBerry's ongoing struggle in the mobile market. According to estimates from Gartner, the company claimed just 0.1 percent of the market in the second quarter, equating to sales of some 400,400 units. The last BlackBerry phone manufactured by the company was the Priv, the company's first Android-powered device, released November last year.
Microsoft

Vladimir Putin Is Replacing Microsoft Programs With Domestic Software (bloomberg.com) 255

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Moscow city will replace Microsoft Corp. programs with domestic software on thousands of computers in answer to President Vladimir Putin's call for Russia's authorities to reduce dependence on foreign technology amid tensions with the U.S. and Europe. The city will initially replace Microsoft's Exchange Server and Outlook on 6,000 computers with an e-mail system installed by state-run carrier Rostelecom PJSC, Artem Yermolaev, head of information technology for Moscow, told reporters Tuesday. Moscow may expand deployment of the new software, developed by Russia's New Cloud Technologies, to as many as 600,000 computers and servers, and may also consider replacing Windows and Office, Yermolaev said. Putin is urging state entities and local companies to go domestic amid concerns over security and reliability after U.S. firms shut down paid services in Crimea following Russia's 2014 annexation. The plan poses a challenge to the likes of Microsoft, SAP SE and Oracle Corp. in the country's $3 billion software market. Adding to pressure, Putin's internet czar German Klimenko wants to raise taxes on U.S. technology companies to help Russian competitors such as Yandex NV and Mail.ru Group Ltd.
AI

Nissan Debuts 'ProPILOT' Self-Driving Chair (pcmag.com) 48

jasonbrown writes from a report via PC Magazine: The Japanese automaker Nissan this week debuted what it's calling the ProPILOT Chair -- an autonomous chair that automatically queues for you while you sit back and relax. With its built-in cameras, the high-tech chair "detects and automatically follows the chair ahead of it, maintaining a fixed distance and traveling along a set path." Standing (or sitting) in line has never been so much fun. "Nissan drew inspiration for this new chair from its ProPILOT autonomous driving technology, which has been available in the company's Serena minivan in Japan since August," the report adds. "The ProPILOT technology allows the vehicle to maintain a safe distance between the car ahead, and ensures that it stays in the center of its lane." While the product appears to be a marketing stunt, Nissan is actively looking for restaurant partners in Japan who want to offer this technology to their customers. Japanese restaurants can tweet their name and website along with the hashtags #NissanProPilotChair #Wanted in an effort to be outfitted with the technology. You can watch the joyful and jazzy launch video here.
Businesses

Aetna To Provide Apple Watch To 50,000 Employees, Subsidize Cost For Customers (macrumors.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Mac Rumors: Insurance company Aetna today announced a major health initiative centered on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, which will see Aetna subsidizing the cost of the Apple Watch for both large employers and individual customers. Starting this fall during open enrollment season, Aetna will subsidize "a significant portion" of the Apple Watch cost and will offer monthly payroll deductions to cover the remaining cost. Aetna also plans to provide Apple Watches at no cost to all of its nearly 50,000 employees as part of a wellness reimbursement program to encourage them to live healthier lives. Aetna plans to develop several iOS health initiatives with "support" from Apple, debuting "deeply integrated" health apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch that will be available to all Aetna customers. According to Aetna, these apps will "simplify the healthcare process" with features like care management to guide customers through a new diagnosis or a medication, medication reminders and tools for easy refills, quick contact with doctors, integration with Apple Wallet for paying bills and checking deductibles, and tools to help Aetna members get the most out of their insurance benefits. Aetna's health-related apps will be available starting in early 2017, but the Apple Watch initiative will begin in 2016. Aetna has not detailed how much of the cost will be subsidized or which Apple Watch models will be available to subscribers.
The Almighty Buck

Revealed: How One Amazon Kindle Scam Made Millions of Dollars (zdnet.com) 40

An anonymous Slashdot reader shares an excerpt with us from a report via ZDNet that summarizes a catfishing scheme designed to deceive Amazon users into buy low-quality ebooks: Emma Moore is just one of hundreds of pseudonyms employed in a sophisticated "catfishing" scheme run by Valeriy Shershnyov, whose Vancouver-based business hoodwinks Amazon customers into buying low-quality ebooks, which have been boosted on the online marketplace by an unscrupulous system of bots, scripts, and virtual servers. Catfishing isn't new -- it's been well documented. Some scammers buy fake reviews, while others will try other ways to game the system. Until now, nobody has been able to look inside at how one of these scams work -- especially one that's been so prolific, generating millions of dollars in royalties by cashing in on unwitting buyers who are tricked into thinking these ebooks have some substance. Shershnyov was able to stay in Amazon's shadows for two years by using his scam server conservatively so as to not raise any red flags. What eventually gave him away weren't customer complaints or even getting caught. It was good old-fashioned carelessness. He forgot to put a password on his server.
Government

FCC Official Asks Agency To Investigate Ban On Journalists' Wi-Fi Personal Hotspots At Debate (arstechnica.com) 161

Yesterday, it was reported that journalists attending the presidential debate at Hofstra University were banned from using personal hotspots and were told they had to pay $200 to access the event's Wi-Fi. The journalists were reportedly offered the option to either turn off their personal hotspots or leave the debate. Cyrus Farivar via Ars Technica is now reporting that "one of the members of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, has asked the agency to investigate the Monday evening ban." Ars Technica reports: Earlier, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted, saying that something was "not right" with what Hofstra did. She cited an August 2015 order from the FCC, forcing a company called SmartCity to no longer engage in Wi-Fi blocking and to pay $750,000. Ars has since updated their report with a statement from Karla Schuster, a spokeswoman for Hofstra University: The Commission on Presidential Debates sets the criteria for services and requires that a completely separate network from the University's network be built to support the media and journalists. This is necessary due to the volume of Wi-Fi activity and the need to avoid interference. The Rate Card fee of $200 for Wi-Fi access is to help defray the costs and the charge for the service does not cover the cost of the buildout. For Wi-Fi to perform optimally the system must be tuned with each access point and antenna. When other Wi-Fi access points are placed within the environment the result is poorer service for all. To avoid unauthorized access points that could interfere, anyone who has a device that emits RF frequency must register the device. Whenever a RF-emitting device was located, the technician notified the individual to visit the RF desk located in the Hall. The CPD RF engineer would determine if the device could broadcast without interference.
AI

Google's New Translation Software Powered By Brainlike Artificial Intelligence (sciencemag.org) 87

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Today, Google rolled out a new translation system that uses massive amounts of data and increased processing power to build more accurate translations. The new system, a deep learning model known as neural machine translation, effectively trains itself -- and reduces translation errors by up to 87%. When compared with Google's previous system, the neural machine translation system scores well with human reviewers. It was 58% more accurate at translating English into Chinese, and 87% more accurate at translating English into Spanish. As a result, the company is planning to slowly replace the system underlying all of its translation work -- one language at a time. The report adds: "The new method, reported today on the preprint server arXiv, uses a total of 16 processors to first transform words into a value known as a vector. What is a vector? 'We don't know exactly,' [Quoc Le, a Google research scientist in Mountain View, California, says.] But it represents how related one word is to every other word in the vast dictionary of training materials (2.5 billion sentence pairs for English and French; 500 million for English and Chinese). For example, 'dog' is more closely related to 'cat' than 'car,' and the name 'Barack Obama' is more closely related to 'Hillary Clinton' than the name for the country 'Vietnam.' The system uses vectors from the input language to come up with a list of possible translations that are ranked based on their probability of occurrence. Other features include a system of cross-checks that further increases accuracy and a special set of computations that speeds up processing time."
Cloud

Microsoft Partners With Bank of America On Blockchain Trade Finance (securityweek.com) 43

wiredmikey quotes a report from SecurityWeek: Microsoft and Bank of America Merrill Lynch said they are working together to make financial transactions more efficient with blockchain technology -- the foundation of bitcoin digital currency. Blockchains are considered tamper-proof registers in which entries are time-stamped and linked to previous "blocks" in a data chain. As expected, the technology that drives the shadowy bitcoin cryptocurrency is drawing interest from the established banking industry, which sees a potential to revolutionize the sector. The companies said they will build and test frameworks for blockchain-powered exchanges between businesses and their customers and banks. Microsoft plans to use its Azure cloud service platform to enable blockchain transactions between a major corporate treasury and a financial institution. "Blockchains serve as public ledgers considered easy to audit and verify. They are also automated, speeding up transactions and limiting potential for error or revision," the report adds. The companies said that by using blockchain technology, they can digitalize and automate trade finance processes, which are traditionally highly manual, time-consuming and costly.
Facebook

Facebook's Slack Rival Is Coming Next Month and Will Charge Per Employee (businessinsider.com) 63

Facebook will be launching a business communication service dubbed Facebook at Work next month. The service will be very familiar to Slack, a popular communications app. BusinessInsider reports: The enterprise messaging platform, which is called Facebook at Work, has been in closed beta since last January. Business Insider reported in May that Facebook at Work would be made commercially available by the end of this summer or in the fall. Previous reports said Facebook planned to only charge for premium features, like integrations with third-party apps. But one company testing the service that Business Insider talked to in May said that companies would pay a per-user, per-month fee. They had been quoted a cost between $1 to $5 a user by Facebook.
Businesses

Microsoft Is Killing Yammer Enterprise in January 2017, Will Start Integrating Office 365 Groups First (venturebeat.com) 44

Microsoft today provided new information about how it will be integrating Office 365 Groups into its Yammer enterprise-focused social network. The Yammer Enterprise service tier will be going away on January 1, 2017. But Yammer itself will remain available, and there are many levels of integration with the Office 365 services, reports VentureBeat. From the report: It will be possible for people to make Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents using Office Online within Yammer, and it will be easy to go from Yammer to a shared OneNote notebook or the Microsoft Planner project management tool. Team members will be able to select existing files from OneDrive and SharePoint and share them with colleagues in Yammer, too. And Yammer teams will get their own SharePoint sites, enabling them to build wikis and blogs. Microsoft will be rolling out the integration in phases, with the first phase beginning later this year, the Yammer team said in a blog post. The first Yammer customers to get it are those whose users log in with their Office 365 identity. And Microsoft will initially be targeting organizations with a single Yammer network connected to one Office 365 tenant.
The Courts

US Department of Labor Is Suing Peter Thiel's Startup 'Palantir' For Discriminating Against Asians (reuters.com) 454

Palantir Technologies is a secretive start-up in Silicon Valley that specializes in big data analysis. It was founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel, Alex Karp, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen, and Nathan Gettings, and is backed by the FBI and CIA as it "helps government agencies track down terrorists and uncover financial fraud," according to Reuters. Today, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that it discriminated against Asian job applicants. Reuters reports: The lawsuit alleges Palantir routinely eliminated Asian applicants in the resume screening and telephone interview phases, even when they were as qualified as white applicants. In one example cited by the Labor Department, Palantir reviewed a pool of more than 130 qualified applicants for the role of engineering intern. About 73 percent of those who applied were Asian. The lawsuit, which covers Palantir's conduct between January 2010 and the present, said the company hired 17 non-Asian applicants and four Asians. "The likelihood that this result occurred according to chance is approximately one in a billion," said the lawsuit, which was filed with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. The majority of Palantir's hires as engineering interns, as well as two other engineering positions, "came from an employee referral system that disproportionately excluded Asians," the lawsuit said. Palantir denied the allegations in a statement and said it intends to "vigorously defend" against them. The lawsuit seeks relief for persons affected, including lost wages.
Government

ISP To FCC: Using The Internet Is Like Eating Oreos (consumerist.com) 227

New submitter Rick Schumann shares with us a report highlighting an analogy presented by an ISP that relates Double Stuf Oreos to the internet. Specifically, that Double Stuf Oreos cost more than regular Oreos, and therefore you should pay more for internet: The Consumerist reports: "Ars Technica first spotted the crumbly filing, from small (and much-loathed) provider Mediacom. Mediacom's comment is in response to the same proceeding that Netflix commented on earlier this month. However, while Netflix actually addressed data and the ways in which their customers use it, Mediacom went for the more metaphor-driven approach. The letter literally starts out under the header, 'You Have to Pay Extra For Double-Stuffed,' and posits that you, the consumer, are out for a walk with $2 in your pocket when you suddenly develop a ferocious craving for Oreo cookies." Of course their analogy is highly questionable, since transmitting data over a network doesn't actually consume anything, now does it? You eat the cookie, the cookie is gone, but you transmit data over a network, the network is still there and can transmit data endlessly. Mediacom's assertion that the Internet is like a cookie you eat, is like saying copying a file on your computer somehow diminishes or degrades the original file, which of course is ridiculous.

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