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Industry & Technology

Sony’s PS4 successor sports 3D audio tech, faster SSD storage

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 3:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Sam Machkovech)

Sony hardware architect Mark Cerny has revealed the first official details on "the as-yet-unnamed console that will replace the PS4" in an exclusive story offered to Wired reporter Brian Rubin.

While Cerny was not ready to talk about details like a price or release date, he did tell Wired that the coming console will not be ready by the end of 2019. All indications are this console won't be another PS4 Pro style mid-generation upgrade, but instead what Cerny calls a "fundamental change" in what is possible with a game console.

Cerny did go into some detail on the system's hardware configuration, which will include an eight-core AMD Ryzen CPU, built on the 7nm Zen 2 microarchitecture, and an AMD Radeon-based GPU with ray-tracing support. Aside from graphical benefit, Cerny hinted that the ray-tracing GPU will also include a "custom unit for 3D audio," that can similarly trace in-game sound back to its source. That unit will allow for a more immersive surround-sound-style experience that Cerny says won't require any additional hardware outside of your TV speakers.

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Logitech’s latest universal remote gives Alexa the keys to your home theater

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 2:10pm

Logitech on Tuesday announced the Harmony Express, a new universal remote that features the Alexa voice assistant.

Amazon’s increasingly ubiquitous helper comes built into the device and is accessible via a large circular button at the top of the remote. The idea with the Harmony Express is to use Alexa to control the various devices in your home theater. Past Logitech Harmony remotes have been usable with an associated Alexa skill for those with separate Echo devices, but here the voice controls are baked in.

The Harmony Express costs $250 and is available starting Tuesday.

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iPad Air and iPad mini 2019 review: Apple’s tablets strike an ideal balance

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 1:50pm

Apple's iPad lineup has had a gap in it lately.

At the top end, you had the 2018 refresh of the iPad Pro—an immensely powerful, envelope-pushing tablet priced and positioned as a laptop replacement. At the bottom, you had the entry-level iPad, which lacked many of the best features in newer Apple products and shipped with a CPU much slower than what's in the latest iPhones.

You were either buying a monster of a tablet for a monster price, or you were getting a tablet that compromised a lot to compete with Chromebooks at the low end. Apple was still making an iPad mini last year, but it was woefully outdated.

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Game of Thrones: Now TV glitch hits Apple TV owners

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 1:19pm
Sky's Now TV app failed to load for some viewers while displaying a degraded version of the show.

How much will the Moon plan cost? We should know in two weeks

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 11:30am

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine gives keynote remarks at the Space Symposium on April 9, 2019. (credit: NASA)

A little more than three weeks have passed since Vice President Mike Pence tasked NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine with returning humans to the Moon by 2024. Since then, the Oklahoman has been hotfooting around the country to build support—testifying before Congress, huddling with White House budget officials, speaking at major space conferences, and, this past weekend, visiting his alma mater, Rice University.

During the visit to Houston Saturday, Ars met with Bridenstine to talk about these efforts. We discussed his biggest concern at present, which is building political momentum to fund the plan. This involves developing an amendment to President Trump's Budget Request for fiscal year 2020, which will seek additional funding for the accelerated Moon program. Realistically, Bridenstine said, this amendment will be ready "by the end of the month."

This is a critical document, as the White House will only really have one chance to get this request right if NASA is to have a realistic chance of making the 2024 goal. To begin funding lunar lander development, design new spacesuits, and make related plans, this new funding must arrive at the start of the fiscal year on October 1, and Bridenstine realizes this will only happen with a broad political consensus.

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Epilepsy charity calls for social media seizure warnings

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 9:48am
People with epilepsy are being exposed to flashing images, some deliberately, says a charity.

Facebook given TED talk challenge

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 9:41am
Journalist Carole Cadwalladr challenges Mark Zuckerberg to address TED about "election fraud".

Notre Dame Cathedral will never be the same, but it can be rebuilt

Ars Technica - April 16, 2019 - 2:25am

Enlarge / PARIS - APRIL 15, 2019: Emergency services tackle a fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, a Catholic cathedral founded in the 12th century. (credit: Stoyan Vassev/TASS/Getty Images)

After a long night of work by more than 400 Paris firefighters, the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral is beginning to cool as of 7:00pm Eastern Time (1:00am in Paris). We're still not sure about the extent of the damage, but as Paris and the rest of the world watch the fire slowly dying, attention starts to shift to what can be salvaged and rebuilt. And art historians and architects have incredible records of the cathedral, which has been damaged, rebuilt, nearly abandoned, and renovated many times throughout its long history.

Roof and main spire destroyed, extent of damage unknown

Notre Dame's roof and its support structure of 800-year-old oak timbers had almost completely succumbed to the flames. Firefighters reported the cathedral's bell towers safe and said that many works of art had been rescued or were already stored in areas believed safe from the fire. The main spire—750 tons of oak lined with lead—collapsed in flames around 2pm ET, landing on the wooden roof.

The trees that made up the roof's wooden structure were cut down around 1160, and some sources estimate that the beams accounted for 13,000 trees, or about 21 hectares of Medieval forest, many of which had been growing since the 800s or 900s. "You have a stage in France where deforestation was a problem; these buildings consumed huge amounts of wood." That's according to Columbia University art historian Stephen Murray, who spoke with Ars Technica. All that wood, he said, supported an outer roof of lead—until the wood burned and the roof collapsed.

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How can you stop your kids viewing harmful web content?

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 12:06am
Is content filtering tech the answer or is education and discussion the key to keeping kids safe?

Amazon 'flooded by fake five-star reviews' - Which? report

BBC Technology News - April 16, 2019 - 12:02am
Top-rated reviews on popular items are dominated by unknown brands, consumer group Which? finds.

Germany’s first criminal indictment in VW emissions scandal is ex-CEO Winterkorn

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 11:56pm

Enlarge / Martin Winterkorn, former Volkswagen Group CEO. (credit: Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

On Monday, German prosecutors filed a criminal indictment against former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn for participating in the fraud that led to the diesel-emissions scandal that rocked the company in 2015. Four other managers were also indicted today, but their names were not released.

In 2015, US officials accused VW Group of putting illegal software on diesel Audis, Volkswagens, and Porsches. The software would essentially kill the cars' emissions-reduction systems during real-world driving to improve performance, but under laboratory conditions, the cars would pass emissions tests easily. Later, it was discovered that VW Group's diesels were using the same mechanism to subvert European Union vehicle emissions standards. Winterkorn and other VW Group management said they had no knowledge of this software and blamed its presence on "rogue engineers."

Winterkorn stepped down from his position shortly after VW Group's cheating was made public.

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Google teases a cheaper Pixel 3 unveiling on May 7

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 11:15pm

A few years have gone by since we've seen hardware at Google I/O, but it looks like this year that will change. Today, a teaser on the Google Store promises "something is coming to the Pixel universe" on May 7, the first day of Google I/O. Considering that we've been expecting the Pixel 3a and 3a XL—cheaper versions of Google's Pixel 3 flagship—to be released sometime this summer, it's a good bet this is referring to these devices.

Google's teaser page is extremely vague. It's mostly an ad for the Avengers: Endgame movie due out April 26, complete with an Avengers-themed Google logo and a crossover video ad for the existing Pixel 3 and the new movie. Just like with Stadia, though, we'll remind you that the Google Store is for hardware, not software, and it's hard to imagine teases like "something big is coming to the Pixel universe" and "meet a new hero" are not referring to a new phone. Stephen Hall of 9to5Google even claimed he heard whispers of a May 7 release date for the Pixel 3a a few days before this teaser.

The "Pixel 3a" and "Pixel 3a XL" are supposedly stripped-down versions of Google's existing flagship smartphone. We've seen reports of a "mid-range" Pixel going all the way back to last summer, and pictures of a real device first started popping up about five months ago. We've seen a few spec lists reported, but the latest claims that the devices will have OLED displays, a Snapdragon 670, and 4GB of RAM. According to reports, part of the cost cutting involves swapping out the glass back of the Pixel 3 for plastic. Two big things to note: the mid-range Pixels will reportedly have the same amazing camera as the more expensive Pixel 3s, and the mid-range devices improve on the flagships with the addition of a headphone jack.

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Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Fold

BBC Technology News - April 15, 2019 - 10:07pm
The BBC's Chris Fox tries Samsung's folding smartphone to find out what it can do.

OpenAI bot crushes Dota 2 champions, and now anyone can play against it

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 9:09pm

Enlarge / Shadow Fiend, looking shadowy and fiendish. (credit: Valve)

Over the past several years, OpenAI, a startup with the mission of ensuring that "artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity," has been developing a machine-learning-driven bot to play Dota 2, the greatest game in the universe. Starting from a very cut-down version of the full game, the bot has been developed over the years through playing millions upon millions of matches against itself, learning not just how to play the five-on-five team game but how to win, consistently.

We've been able to watch the bot's development over a number of show matches, with each one using a more complete version of a game and more skilled human opponents. This culminated in what's expected to be the final show match over the weekend, when OpenAI Five was pitted in a best-of-three match against OG, the team that won the biggest competition in all of esports last year, The International.

OpenAI is subject to a few handicaps in the name of keeping things interesting. Each of its five AI players is running an identical version of the bot software, with no communication among them: they're five independent players who happen to think very alike but have no direct means of coordinating their actions. OpenAI's reaction time is artificially slowed down to ensure that the game isn't simply a showcase of superhuman reflexes. And the bot still isn't using the full version of the game: only a limited selection of heroes is available, and items that create controllable minions or illusions are banned because it's felt that the bot would be able to micromanage its minions more effectively than any human could.

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Report: “All Digital” Xbox One coming May 7, for €229 in Europe

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 8:37pm

Enlarge / The purported box for an "All Digital" Xbox One S. (credit: WinFuture)

Following a November report on Microsoft's plans for a disc-free Xbox One S option, new reports suggest that new hardware will arrive on May 7 and sell for €229 in Europe.'s Brad Sams, who has been reliable on Microsoft-related hardware rumors in the past, this weekend pointed to reporting from German site WinFuture which "confirm everything I have reported so far." That report includes purported shots of the "All Digital Edition" of the Xbox One S and its European packaging. The hardware displayed there looks identical to the existing Xbox One S—right down to the sizing—save for the lack of a hole for the disc drive on the front panel.

The reported packaging for the 1TB system includes logos for first-party title Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, and Forza Horizon 3. It's unclear if those games will be bundled with the hardware or simply included as part of a potential Xbox Games Pass subscription.

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Twitter blocks EFF tweet that criticized bogus takedown of a previous tweet

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 8:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | gustavofrazao)

Twitter and Starz have given us a new example of how copyright enforcement can easily go overboard.

At Starz's request, Twitter blocked an April 8 tweet by the news site TorrentFreak, which had posted a link to one of its news articles about piracy. News coverage about piracy is obviously not the same thing as piracy, and the article contained only still images from pirated TV shows and did not tell readers where pirated content could be downloaded. Despite that, Twitter blocked access to the tweet in response to the copyright takedown request by Starz, whose show American Gods was mentioned in the TorrentFreak article.

Here's what the tweet looked like before the takedown:

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Elon Musk says Tesla is “vastly ahead” on self-driving

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 4:24pm

Enlarge / Elon Musk in 2015. (credit: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Tesla is less than two years away from full self-driving, CEO Elon Musk said in an interview with MIT researcher Lex Fridman published on Friday. And he said Tesla was far ahead of other companies working on self-driving technology.

"To me right now, this seems 'game, set, and match,'" Musk said. "I could be wrong, but it appears to be the case that Tesla is vastly ahead of everyone."

Musk told Fridman that Tesla customers would need to keep their hands on the wheel "for at least six months or something like that." But he predicted that soon—"maybe even toward the end of this year, I'd be shocked if it's not next year at the latest"—Tesla's self-driving technology will become so good that "having a human intervene will decrease safety."

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Hackers could read non-corporate, Hotmail for six months

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 4:14pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

Late on Friday, some users of Mail received an email from Microsoft stating that an unauthorized third party had gained limited access to their accounts and was able to read, among other things, the subject lines of emails (but not their bodies or attachments, nor their account passwords), between January 1 and March 28 of this year. Microsoft confirmed this to TechCrunch on Saturday.

The hackers, however, dispute this characterization. They told Motherboard that they can indeed access email contents and have shown that publication screenshots to prove their point. They also claim that the hack lasted at least six months, doubling the period of vulnerability that Microsoft has claimed. After this pushback, Microsoft responded that around 6 percent of customers affected by the hack had suffered unauthorized access to their emails and that these customers received different breach notifications to make this clear. However, the company is still sticking to its claim that the hack only lasted three months.

Not in dispute is the broad character of the attack. Both hackers and Microsoft's breach notifications say that access to customer accounts came through compromise of a support agent's credentials. With these credentials, the hackers could use Microsoft's internal customer support portal, which offers support agents some level of access to accounts. The hackers speculated to Motherboard that the compromised account belonged to a highly privileged user and that this may have been what granted them the ability to read mail bodies. The compromised account has subsequently been locked to prevent any further abuse.

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Swedish Social Democrats' Twitter account hacked

BBC Technology News - April 15, 2019 - 3:54pm
Messages posted on the hijacked account included anti-immigration rhetoric.

Israeli group says it will make a second attempt to land on the Moon

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 2:24pm

On Saturday, just two days after the Beresheet spacecraft crashed into the Moon, the president of SpaceIL said the organization would move forward. Beginning this week, Morris Kahn said, a new task force would learn from the organization's failures and begin developing a new plan for a Beresheet 2 spacecraft.

"We're going to build a new spacecraft, we're going to put it on the Moon, and we're going to complete the mission," said Kahn, a billionaire who personally donated $40 million to the private Israeli effort.

So far, SpaceIL has provided few additional details about the project, such as when it might launch. The original project, started to win the Google Lunar XPrize, began eight years ago.

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