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Industry & Technology

Amazon sued over Alexa child recordings in US

BBC Technology News - June 13, 2019 - 3:30pm
Two complaints claim the firm lacks the required consent to build and store youngsters' voice profiles.

I Am Mother envisions a dark future world where AI is almost human

Ars Technica - June 13, 2019 - 1:05pm

A young girl is raised underground by a robot mother (Rose Byrne) following an extinction event on Earth in I Am Mother.

A humanoid sentient robot raises a young woman from an embryo in an underground bunker, after an unspecified cataclysmic event wipes out the human population of Earth. That's the basic premise of I Am Mother, a thoughtful and chilling new sci-fi feature on Netflix that explores questions of contextual morality—and what it means to be human.

(Some spoilers below.)

The AI robot, Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne), has a whole room full of embryos in its underground bunker, with the objective of eventually repopulating the Earth. But first she has to prove she can be a good Mother by raising the perfect daughter (Clara Rugaard), who grows into a smart, fit, and highly capable young woman. But Daughter is also naive, a bit lonely, and frankly approaching puberty with no prospective human partners on the horizon. Then their peaceful existence is shattered by the arrival of Wounded Woman (Hilary Swank), who somehow survived the cataclysm. Her hostile presence drives a wedge between Mother and Daughter.

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Stadia’s E3 Doom Eternal demo made me a cloud gaming believer

Ars Technica - June 13, 2019 - 12:53pm

LOS ANGELES—Since Google's Project Stream beta test in October and the company's March announcement of the full Stadia platform, one question has loomed large over the service: will it actually work well enough for fast-paced, reflex-intensive games? After playing a demo of Doom Eternal for about half an hour Wednesday, I'm ready to say that the answer to that question seems to be yes—at least in Google's controlled testing conditions.

Google invited me out to its downtown LA YouTube Gaming creator's space—away from the Internet-congested E3 show floor—to try out the latest build of Stadia. My demo was running locally on a Pixelbook with the Chrome browser, connected to a TV via HDMI, and remotely to data centers more than 300 miles away in San Francisco. The Pixelbook had a wired Internet connection that I was told was running at "about 25 Mbps" (Google wouldn't let me run a speed test to confirm the connection quality). I controlled the demo with a Stadia controller connected to the Pixelbook via USB, but keyboard and trackpad controls also worked.

Over thirty minutes of Doom Eternal play, I'd have been hard pressed to point out any differences between the Stadia version and one running on a local PC. The 60fps animation didn't noticeably stutter for the entire demo, and the apparent resolution didn't dip below 1080p either (though a Google representative said Stadia will sometimes lower that resolution briefly to maintain a smooth frame rate if and when bandwidth dips). There were no signs of video compression artifacts or the color gradients you might see in a low-res YouTube video.

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Japan outlaws flying drones while drunk

BBC Technology News - June 13, 2019 - 12:37pm
Flying a drone while drunk is as bad as drink-driving say Japanese politicians who backed the law.

Riot Games told to hand over gender pay data

BBC Technology News - June 13, 2019 - 11:28am
Californian regulators want more detail about how much men and women are paid at the games studio.

Telegram boss links cyber attack during HK protests to China

BBC Technology News - June 13, 2019 - 9:20am
The messaging service suffered a massive cyber attack during violent protests in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Morrisons and Amazon expanding same-day deliveries

BBC Technology News - June 13, 2019 - 9:14am
Morrisons agrees to expand fast delivery service with Amazon to five extra cities.

If you haven’t patched Vim or NeoVim text editors, you really, really should

Ars Technica - June 13, 2019 - 1:39am

Enlarge (credit: unknown)

A recently patched vulnerability in text editors preinstalled in a variety of Linux distributions allows hackers to take control of computers when users open a malicious text file. The latest version of Apple’s macOS is continuing to use a vulnerable version, although attacks only work when users have changed a default setting that enables a feature called modelines.

Vim and its forked derivative, NeoVim, contained a flaw that resided in modelines. This feature lets users specify window dimensions and other custom options near the start or end of a text file. While modelines restricts the commands available and runs them inside a sandbox that’s cordoned off from the operating system, researcher Armin Razmjou noticed the source command (including the bang on the end) bypassed that protection.

“It reads and executes commands from a given file as if typed manually, running them after the sandbox has been left,” the researcher wrote in a post earlier this month.

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Minecraft Dungeons hands-on: A shameless Diablo clone—and better for it

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 11:24pm

Enlarge / Gather some friends, kill some mobs, get some loot. (credit: Mojang / Xbox Game Studios)

LOS ANGELES—The years between Diablo II and Diablo III were ripe with isometric, dungeon-action clones, all trying to feed gamers' next-gen hunger for click-and-loot adventures. That era has long passed, but now that I've played Minecraft Dungeons, I wish I could go back in time and drop Mojang's very solid Diablo-like game into that late-'00s fray.

There's really no getting around it: this is Diablo through a Minecraft prism. The 20-person team behind this Windows 10, Xbox One, Switch, and PS4 game admits as much, calling Blizzard's legendary series "one source of inspiration, certainly." But after name-dropping other modern co-op games like Vermintide and Left 4 Dead, the Mojang developers at E3 2019 made one point emphatic to Ars Technica: "We want to make sure this is Minecraft."

No classes—and it’s classy

Stop me if you've heard this Diablo-like sales pitch before. Players control a warrior as seen from an isometric, top-down perspective, then either click a mouse or move a joystick to explore procedurally generated dungeons. Defeat waves of enemies, contend with traps, solve simple puzzles, and pick up oodles of loot along the way. Play solo or team up with up to three other friends; the more players, the higher the difficulty.

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Group to fund and operate first hydrogen fuel ferry fleet in the US

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 11:01pm

On Wednesday, a plan to put hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferries in US waters moved forward as startup Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM) announced a partnership with Switch Maritime, an impact investment fund that will finance and operate a fleet of such vessels.

GGZEM received a $3 million grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last November to build a 70-foot, 84-passenger, hydrogen fuel cell-powered boat. Named the Water-Go-Round, the vessel will be used to take passengers across the San Francisco Bay. The ferry, which is currently under construction in Alameda, California, is expected to be complete in September. After its completion, it will undergo three months of testing so researchers can gather data on its performance.

Switch Maritime (sometimes styled SW/TCH) is the new operator of the ferry, and it hopes to decarbonize water transport throughout the United States. The company recently announced another project in New York City to build a battery-powered ferry, which will be completed after the Water-Go-Round's debut. Switch says it "plans to work with existing ferry operators on both coasts to provide capital to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission modes of transit," according to a press release.

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Apple wants to acquire Intel’s 5G business to build its own modems, sources claim

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 9:51pm

Enlarge / A 5G Intel logo is seen during the Mobile World Congress on February 26, 2019 in Barcelona. (credit: Miquel Benitez/Getty Images)

Apple is still looking into the possibility of acquiring Intel's Germany-based modem business, The Information claimed yesterday, citing sources familiar with Apple's plans.

Intel has reportedly considered selling off pieces of its modem business, and the heart of that business is in Germany, where Intel acquired and integrated Infineon for $1.4 billion in 2011. The engineers that ended up in that division previously worked on chips that ended up in the iPhone about a decade ago.

This is not the first we've heard of Apple's interest in Intel's business. A Wall Street Journal report in April claimed that Apple was looking into making an acquisition then. In a statement to CNET and others, Intel said that it has seen "significant interest" in its 5G modem business but did not name any specific companies or partners. The statement is further quoted in CNET and AppleInsider, saying:

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Oldest evidence of cannabis smoking found in ancient Chinese cemetery

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 9:05pm

Enlarge / This is how the braziers were placed in the tomb alongside the deceased. (credit: Xinhua Wu)

The broken wooden braziers, unearthed from 2,500-year-old tombs in Western China, contained burned, blackened stones, and the interior of the wooden vessels also looked charred. To find out what had been burned in them, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences archaeologist Yemin Yang and his colleagues used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to analyze small samples of the charred wood and the residue from the stones.

Their analysis turned up a chemical called cannabinol, or CBN—an unmistakable chemical signature of cannabis. Those ancient chemical traces offer an important clue in the history of human drug use and the domestic history of cannabis.

In around 500 BCE, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus described people near the Caspian Sea gathering in small, enclosed tents to breathe in the smoke from cannabis burned atop a bowlful of red-hot stones. Yang says people did something similar at Jirzankou, probably as part of funeral ceremonies. Archaeologists there also found the remains of a musical instrument called an angular harp, which played an important role in later funeral rites in Western China.

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Google responds to Pixel 4 rumors by… posting a picture of the Pixel 4

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 8:55pm

So you want some Pixel 4 news, do you? After rumors started flying that the Pixel 4 would support Project Soli, Google's radar-based gesture chip, Google has offered an official response. It's, uh, a picture of the Pixel 4.

What you see above comes from Google's official hardware-focused "Made by Google" Twitter account, which, along with the picture, commented, "Well, since there seems to be some interest, here you go! Wait 'til you see what it can do. #Pixel4." This is certainly not what we're used to from company PR, but we'll take it!

With Google's official picture, we can confirm a number of things about the Pixel 4. First, there's a giant square camera assembly that looks like it comes out of the phone quite a bit. If the early renderings of the iPhone 11 from in-the-know people like OnLeaks are any indication, Google and Apple could have rather similar-looking devices—from the back, at least.

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Spanish soccer league’s app caught eavesdropping on users in anti-piracy push

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 8:41pm

Enlarge / Soccer fans in Madrid on June 12, 2019. (credit: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

La Liga, Spain's top professional soccer league, has been slapped with a €250,000 ($280,000) fine for violating user privacy after the league's official app activated the microphones on user cell phones, El País reports. The app spied on users in an effort to identify bars that were showing pirated streams of soccer games.

Spanish users download the app to get game times, scores, and other information about soccer games. But the app also included a function designed to help the league identify venues that were streaming soccer games without paying the appropriate licensing fees.

The app would use the GPS sensor to determine whether the phone was located in a bar or other venue that might show soccer streams. If it was, the app would listen for audio from a copyrighted game. If a bar was caught streaming a game and didn't have an appropriate license, the league could demand the bar pay up.

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America’s sports car racing series embraces being green again

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 8:31pm

When you think of motorsport, you probably don't associate it with being environmentally aware. But there are actually racing series that take the concept of reducing carbon emissions quite seriously. Obviously, there's Formula E, which races electric cars powered by biofuels. But well before Formula E was a thing, there was the American Le Mans Series. Back in 2008, the series partnered with SAE International, the US Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency to create the Green Racing Challenge, a race-within-a-race that looked at energy consumption and carbon emissions as well as sheer lap time to determine who went the farthest, fastest, and most cleanly.

The program survived the 2013 merger between the ALMS and another series, Grand-Am, but sadly came to an end of sorts in 2016 when the series aligned itself with a Le Mans rulebook that mandated E20 rather than cellulosic E85 as the gasoline/ethanol blend of choice. But the hiatus is now over. "We’re getting the band back together" said Scott Atherton, president of IMSA (International Motor Sports Association), the sanctioning body that runs what we now call the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. "We were the first racing series to form partnerships with DOE and EPA, and we're making IMSA a leader in reducing the environmental impact of our sport," he said at a press conference held at this year's Detroit Grand Prix at the end of May.

Green racing is an actual thing

In the past, the Green Racing Challenge was only for one of the GTLM class, contested by road-based machines like Corvettes, Ferraris, and Porsche 911s. Now, the goal is for the entire series—which sees a mix of DPi prototypes, GTLM cars, and the more amateur-friendly GT3 versions all race together—to achieve Green Racing Cup status. Yes, that's actually a thing. In 2014, SAE published green racing protocols to ensure that efforts such as these have some meaningful impact. It's a technical manifesto that I think many here would be on board with, as laid out by its mission:

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The long-awaited upgrade to the US weather forecast model is here

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 8:00pm

Enlarge / Forecast output from the new version of the model, which goes into service today. (credit: NOAA)

Weather forecasters need a ton of knowledge and a fair bit of experience with local weather patterns to do their job well. They also need a good forecast model. These computer models take in measurements from weather stations on the ground, satellites in orbit, and balloons in between and then simulate the physics of weather forward in time a few days.

For the first time in about 40 years, the guts of the US model got swapped out for something new today. The upgrade brings us a new “Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere” (or FV3) dynamical core, which simulates the basic atmospheric physics at the heart of this endeavor, a change that has been in the works for a while.

The new core had its origins in simulating atmospheric chemistry but ended up being adapted into other models. A few years ago, it was selected to replace the old core in the US Global Forecast System model. And for more than a year now, the new version of the model has been running in parallel so its results could be compared to the operational model.

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Huawei cancels MateBook laptop launch because of US export ban

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 7:17pm

Enlarge / The Huawei Matebook 13, which was released in January 2019. (credit: Valentina Palladino )

Huawei was planning to announce a new MateBook laptop this week, but an executive confirmed that the company cancelled the launch because of US sanctions against the Chinese company. It's not clear when—or whether—the laptop will be released.

The US has banned sales of technology to Huawei, which uses Intel chips and the Windows operating system in its MateBook PCs. Huawei "planned to unveil the new Windows laptop at the CES Asia 2019 trade show in Shanghai this week" but "indefinitely postponed" the launch because of the US export ban, The Information reported yesterday.

Huawei consumer division CEO Richard Yu subsequently confirmed the cancellation to CNBC. "We cannot supply the PC," Yu said, calling it "unfortunate," according to CNBC.

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Pokemon Sword and Shield: Hands-on with Dynamax power

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 7:07pm
Chris Fox tests how the new Dynamax power to make the pet monsters huge affects gameplay.

I’ll be passing on Google’s new 2fa for logins on iPhones and iPads. Here’s why

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 6:58pm

Enlarge (credit: Google)

Google is expanding its new Android-based two-factor authentication (2fa) to people logging in to Google and Google Cloud services on iPhones and iPads. While Google deserves props for trying to make stronger authentication available to more users, I’ll be avoiding it in favor of 2fa methods Google has had in place for years. I’ll explain why later. First, here’s some background.

Google first announced Android’s built-in security key in April, when it went into beta, and again in May, when it became generally available. The idea is to make devices running Android 7 and up users’ primary 2fa device. When someone enters a valid password into a Google account, the phone displays a message alerting the account owner. Users then tap a "yes" button if the login is legitimate. If it's an unauthorized attempt, the user can block the login from going through.

The system aims to tighten account security in a meaningful way. One of the key causes of account breaches is passwords that are compromised in phishing attacks or other types of data thefts. Google has been a leader when it comes to two-factor protections that by definition require something in addition to a password for someone to gain access to an account.

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Russians send Soviet car model into stratosphere

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 5:24pm
Russian scientists send a large-scale model of a Soviet-era car into the stratosphere.

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