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Industry & Technology

Ars on your lunch break: the fate we might be making for ourselves

Ars Technica - 1 hour 5 min ago

Enlarge / Suck it, Skynet.

Today we’re presenting the second installment of my conversation with Naval Ravikant about existential risks. Naval is one of tech’s most successful angel investors, and the founder of multiple startups—including seed-stage investment platform AngelList. Part one of our conversation ran yesterday. If you missed it, click right here. Otherwise, you can press play on the embedded audio player or pull up the transcript—both of which are below.

Click here for a transcript and click here for an MP3 direct download.

This interview first appeared in March, as two back-to-back episodes of the After On Podcast (which offers a 50-episode archive of unhurried conversations with world-class thinkers, founders, and scientists). As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, my conversation with Naval led to a last-minute invite to give a related talk at April’s TED conference. TED posted that talk to their site this morning, and if you feel like watching it, it’s right here:

"How synthetic biology could wipe out humanity—and how we can stop it."

My talk focuses on the dangers that abuses of synthetic biology technology could lead to. Naval and I will tackle that subject in our next two installments. Today, we focus on that time-honored Hollywood staple—super AI risk.

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In the not-so-distant future, “synbio” could lead to global catastrophe—maybe

Ars Technica - 1 hour 5 min ago

Enlarge / Artist's impression of a post-superbug world. (credit: John Cayea / Doubleday)

We're running a series of companion posts this week to accompany our special edition Ars Lunch Break podcast. This is the first of three guest posts centered around Rob's TED talk below. Tomorrow we'll have a post continuing the discussion from geneticist George Church, and Thusday we'll have one from microbiologist Andrew Hessel.

The H5N1 flu strain makes SARS and swine flu look almost cuddly. But though it kills higher percentages of infected patients than even Ebola, this ghastly flu variant claimed just five human lives over the past three years. Happily, it’s barely contagious amongst humans.

In 2011, two separate research teams—one in Holland, the other in Wisconsin—set out to repair this "defect" in H5N1. By carefully manipulating the bug’s genome, they soon had something just as lethal as the classic edition, but also wildly contagious. And if it escaped the lab, scientists believed it “would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths,” according to the news arm of one of the world’s top academic journals, Science.

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Facebook launches cryptocurrency with Visa, MasterCard, Uber, and others

Ars Technica - 1 hour 10 min ago

Enlarge / Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2017. (credit: Mark Zuckerberg)

Facebook is leading a broad coalition of companies and organizations launching a new cryptocurrency, the company announced on Tuesday. The cryptocurrency, called Libra, will be backed by a basket of conventional currencies and other stable assets, preventing the wild price swings that have plagued bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies.

The new cryptocurrency will serve as the foundation for a new payment feature for Facebook Messenger and the Facebook-owned Whatsapp. Facebook says it is creating a new subsidiary called Calibra to oversee its payment initiatives. This is partly to reassure people who are concerned about Facebook's privacy record.

"Aside from limited cases, Calibra will not share account information or financial data with Facebook or any third party without customer consent," Facebook says. "This means Calibra customers’ account information and financial data will not be used to improve ad targeting on the Facebook family of products."

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Are Russian space satellites failing? It’s now harder to find out

Ars Technica - 3 hours 5 min ago

Enlarge / Roscosmos Head Dmitry Rogozin before Russian-Chinese talks at the Moscow Kremlin in June. (credit: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)

One of the key themes of HBO's new Chernobyl miniseries is the Soviet Union's control of information. As the television series shows, the state's warping of reality had very real consequences in terms of lives lost.

The control of information has continued into the modern Russian era, as the nation's state television network is now planning its own series to recount the Chernobyl incident. Reportedly, a central theme of the series to be shown to Russian viewers is that American operatives infiltrated the nuclear facility and orchestrated the disaster. (There appears to be no credible evidence that this actually happened.)

This predisposition to avoid or obfuscate information that could be embarrassing to the Russian state also evidently applies to the aerospace industry, with fresh reports from the country saying the leader of Russia's space corporation, Roscosmos, is limiting the flow of news about spaceflight activities.

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The fourth Industrial revolution emerges from AI and the Internet of Things

Ars Technica - 4 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge / Robots making things! (credit: Getty / Ekkasit Keatsirikul / EyeEm)

Big data, analytics, and machine learning are starting to feel like anonymous business words, but they're not just overused abstract concepts—those buzzwords represent huge changes in much of the technology we deal with in our daily lives. Some of those changes have been for the better, making our interaction with machines and information more natural and more powerful. Others have helped companies tap into consumers' relationships, behaviors, locations and innermost thoughts in powerful and often disturbing ways. And the technologies have left a mark on everything from our highways to our homes.

It's no surprise that the concept of "information about everything" is being aggressively applied to manufacturing contexts. Just as they transformed consumer goods, smart, cheap, sensor-laden devices paired with powerful analytics and algorithms have been changing the industrial world as well over the past decade. The "Internet of Things" has arrived on the factory floor with all the force of a giant electronic Kool-Aid Man exploding through a cinderblock wall.

Tagged as "Industry 4.0," (hey, at least it's better than "Internet of Things"), this fourth industrial revolution has been unfolding over the past decade with fits and starts—largely because of the massive cultural and structural differences between the information technology that fuels the change and the "operational technology" that has been at the heart of industrial automation for decades.

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Cloudflare aims to make HTTPS certificates safe from BGP hijacking attacks

Ars Technica - 4 hours 5 min ago

Enlarge (credit: nternet1.jpg by Rock1997 modified.)

Content delivery network Cloudflare is introducing a free service designed to make it harder for browser-trusted HTTPS certificates to fall into the hands of bad guys who exploit Internet weaknesses at the time the certificates are issued.

The attacks were described in a paper published last year titled Bamboozling Certificate Authorities with BGP. In it, researchers from Princeton University warned that attackers could manipulate the Internet’s border gateway protocol to obtain certificates for domains the attackers had no control over.

Browser-trusted certificate authorities are required to use a process known as domain control validation to verify that a person requesting a certificate for a given domain is the legitimate owner. It requires the requesting party to do one of three things:

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Girl, 12, flooded with beauty ads on Instagram

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 23 min ago
The ads were displayed to the young user despite Instagram's policies saying some should not be shown to her.

We may have inadvertently selected for muscles on dogs’ faces

Ars Technica - 6 hours 20 min ago

Enlarge / A muscle flex raises the inner portions of the eyebrow at right. (credit: Waller et al.)

Humans domesticated dogs about 30,000 years ago. Since then, we've worked with them, hunted with them, played with them, and come to rely on them for companionship. And, in the process, we've bred them for everything from general cuteness to the ability to guard and fight for us. Figuring out who's manipulating whom and who's getting more out of the relationship is a hopeless task.

But that doesn't mean that some aspects of the changes dogs have undergone aren't amenable to study. After studying the facial muscles of dogs and wolves, a US-UK team of researchers has now found that dogs have two muscles that wolves mostly lack. These muscles control the movements of the face near the eyes, and the researchers suspect that the muscles' presence helps the dogs make a sad-eyed face that we find appealing.

A “take me home” look

The new work arose from an earlier paper done by several of the same researchers (Juliane Kaminski, Bridget Waller, and Anne Burrows). In it, they looked at what's technically called a "paedomorphic facial expression" in dogs. Paedomorphic means that adults retain features that are commonly associated with young animals—we tend to view these as cuter. In this case, the expression was raising the skin above the eyes, closer to the bridge of the nose. This expression, shown above, has been interpreted as "sad-eyed" and is thought to tug on humans' heart strings.

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US and Russia clash over power grid 'hack attacks'

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 44 min ago
Russia has countered attempts to hack into its infrastructure, says Kremlin spokesman.

Instagram boss Adam Mosseri: 'We can't solve bullying on our own'

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 26 min ago
The company's boss Adam Mosseri tells Radio 1 Newsbeat he wants Instagram to be "less pressurised".

A bride must play the most dangerous game in Ready or Not red band trailer

Ars Technica - 15 hours 33 min ago

Samara Weaving plays a new bride who must survive a deadly game of hide-and-seek in the horror/comedy Ready or Not.

A young bride's idealized wedding night takes a deadly turn when her eccentric new in-laws insist that playing a game at midnight is a family tradition in the red-band trailer for Ready or Not, a forthcoming comic horror film from Fox Searchlight. Per io9, "It's kind of The Purge meets every newlywed-themed gothic horror movie ever (Rebecca, Crimson Peak) but with a pitch-black sense of humor." That sounds like a winning combination.

Grace (Samara Weaving) can't believe her good fortune when she falls in love with Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), a member of a wealthy gaming dynasty—although the family prefers the term "dominion." After a picture-perfect wedding on the family estate, Alex informs her that there's just one more formality to be observed: "At midnight, you have to play a game. It's just something we do when someone joins the family."

That game turns out to be hide-and-seek, except Grace soon discovers that, as played by the Le Domas family, it has less in common with an innocent children's pastime and more with the classic 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game." Grace is the prey, and she must elude detection until dawn to avoid being killed in a bizarre ritual sacrifice.

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AMD says its Ryzen 3000 isn’t just cheaper—it’s better

Ars Technica - 17 hours 9 min ago

Enlarge / AMD provided infrared photos showing its new Ryzen 3700x running cooler than an Intel i7-9700k. (credit: AMD Computex slide deck)

AMD's new line of Ryzen 3000 desktop CPUs will benefit from the same 7nm manufacturing process as the company's new Navi-powered GPUs. Much of the tech community's hype is for the biggest and baddest of the bunch: the 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950x. But there's an entire new line ranging from the $749 3950x down to a relatively-modest $199 3600X—and AMD is gunning for Intel every step of the way.

What's really interesting is, this time around, AMD is not just pitching cheaper parts and "good-enough" performance—the company is claiming top-dog stats, along with thermal and power efficiency wins. The Ryzen 7 3700x is listed at $329, while Intel's i7-9700k is currently available for about $410. But according to AMD's slides, the Ryzen part also outperforms the i7-9700k across the board, and it draws less power and produces less heat while doing so. Even when comparing absolute flagship CPUs, the monstrous 16-core/32-thread Ryzen 3950x boasts 105W TDP, while Intel's 32-threaded i7-7960x runs 165W TDP.

If the data here is reasonably accurate, the savings in power and cooling costs over the lifespan of a system will probably outweigh its already lower purchase price.

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Inside Heathrow's high-tech baggage system

BBC Technology News - 17 hours 34 min ago
Heathrow's luggage system handles 180,000 items per day. Tom Burridge takes a look inside.

How a struggling airline went soaring through the cloud

BBC Technology News - 18 hours 2 min ago
In a "David and Goliath" battle of the skies, the small airline used tech to punch above its weight.

Federal bill would allow clean energy companies to structure like oil companies

Ars Technica - June 17, 2019 - 10:56pm

Enlarge / Wind turbines near Palm Springs, Calif. (credit: nate2b / Flickr)

Last week, US senators and representatives introduced bills in the Senate and the House to open up a type of corporate structure originally reserved for oil, gas, and coal companies to clean energy companies.

Called a Master Limited Partnership (MLP), the structure currently allows fossil fuel companies to take advantage of lower taxes placed on limited partnerships while also allowing those companies to issue publicly traded stocks and bonds. If the recently re-introduced bills—which have bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate—pass their respective votes, clean energy companies would have the option to structure their companies as MLPs and take advantage of the tax and funding benefits.

According to sponsoring Senator Chris Coons' (D-Del.) website, "Newly eligible energy resources would include solar, wind, marine and hydrokinetic energy, fuel cells, energy storage, combined heat and power, biomass, waste heat to power, renewable fuels, biorefineries, energy-efficient buildings, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS)."

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AT&T cuts another 1,800 jobs as it finishes fiber-Internet buildout

Ars Technica - June 17, 2019 - 9:44pm

Enlarge / AT&T service truck driving on a street in a residential neighborhood on May 17, 2019 in Sunnyvale, Calif. (credit: Getty Images | Andrei Stanescu)

AT&T has informed employees of plans to cut another 1,800 jobs from its wireline division, an AT&T workers' union told Ars today.

Last week, AT&T declared more than 1,800 jobs nationwide as "surplus," meaning they are slated to be eliminated in August or September, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) told Ars.

"They've been cutting their employment massively in the past year and a half or so," with cuts affecting both union and non-union jobs, CWA Communications Director Beth Allen told Ars. Under union contracts, AT&T can declare a surplus of jobs each quarter, she said. But even by AT&T standards, last week's surplus declaration "was a very large number," Allen said.

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Russia warns of “cyberwar” following report the US attacked its power grid

Ars Technica - June 17, 2019 - 9:28pm

Enlarge / Zapadnaya in the Moscow region. (credit: Vladimir Fedorenko / Владимир Федоренко)

The Kremlin on Monday warned that reported US digital incursions into Russia's electric power grid could trigger a "cyberwar" between the two countries.

The warning came two days after The New York Times reported that the US Cyber Command, the arm of the Pentagon that runs the military's offensive and defensive operations in the online world, was aggressively stepping up its targeting of Russia's grid. Saturday's report said the command had taken steps to place "potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before." In some cases, the NYT reported, Pentagon and intelligence officials have been hesitant to brief President Trump in detail about the activities out of concern he might countermand the operations or discuss them with foreign officials. Last year, Trump gave the Cyber Command more leeway to conduct offensive online operations, the publication said.

Some analysts have cast doubt on the NYT reporting that the United States has put implants inside Russia's grid, and the publication was clear it had no classified information detailing how deep into Russia's power infrastructure the US has bored. The report, however, was enough to get the attention of Kremlin officials, who pushed back in a post published Monday by the TASS news agency, which is owned by the Russian government.

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PSA: Upgrade 3 years of Xbox Live to Game Pass Ultimate for just $1

Ars Technica - June 17, 2019 - 9:14pm

Enlarge (credit: Xbox)

If you've been paying attention to Xbox rumors and announcements of late, you may know that Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass have now been officially merged into a single $15 a month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription plan (which now also includes PC games, for good measure).

What you might not realize is you can upgrade up to three years of a current Xbox Live gold subscription to the new, more expensive plan for $1 as part of a launch promotion from Microsoft.

As Microsoft describes on the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate announcement page (emphasis added):

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Nvidia pushes ARM supercomputing

Ars Technica - June 17, 2019 - 8:22pm

Enlarge (credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [Public domain])

Graphics chip maker Nvidia is best known for consumer computing, vying with AMD's Radeon line for framerates and eye candy. But the venerable giant hasn't ignored the rise of GPU-powered applications that have little or nothing to do with gaming. In the early 2000s, UNC researcher Mark Harris began work popularizing the term "GPGPU," referencing the use of Graphics Processing Units for non-graphics-related tasks. But most of us didn't really become aware of the non-graphics-related possibilities until GPU-powered bitcoin-mining code was released in 2010, and shortly thereafter, strange boxes packed nearly solid with high-end gaming cards started popping up everywhere.

From digital currencies to supercomputing

The Association for Computing Machinery grants one or more $10,000 Gordon Bell Prize every year to a research team that has made a break-out achievement in performance, scale, or time-to-solution on challenging science and engineering problems. Five of the six entrants in 2018—including both winning teams, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—used Nvidia GPUs in their supercomputing arrays; the Lawrence Berkeley team included six people from Nvidia itself.

The impressive part about the segmentation masks overlaid on this map projection has nothing to do with antialiasing—it's the 300+ petaflops needed to analyze an entire planet's worth of atmospheric data in order to produce it. (credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories)

In March of this year, Nvidia acquired Mellanox, makers of the high-performance network interconnect technology InfiniBand. (InfiniBand is frequently used as an alternative to Ethernet for massively high-speed connections between storage and compute stacks in enterprise, with real throughput up to 100Gbps.) This is the same technology the LBNL/Nvidia team used in 2018 to win a Gordon Bell Prize (with a project on deep learning for climate analytics).

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“We are very sorry”—Boeing division CEO apologizes for 737 Max deaths

Ars Technica - June 17, 2019 - 7:10pm

Enlarge / The 10,000th Boeing 737, a MAX 8, was delivered to Southwest Airlines in March 2018. Southwest is a major customer for the 737 MAX 8. (credit: Stephen Brashear|Getty Images)

On Monday, Boeing's head of commercial aircraft, Kevin McAllister, apologized for the deaths of 346 people in a pair of recent airplane crashes. Speaking at the Paris Air Show, McAllister told a press conference that "we are very sorry for the loss of lives as a result of the tragic accidents," referring to the October 2018 crash of a Lion Air 737 Max into the Java Sea and the March 2019 crash of an Ethiopian Air 737 Max. "Our priority is doing everything to get this plane safely returned to service. It is a pivotal moment for all of us," he said.

Additionally, McAllister apologized to his airline customers. "I’m sorry for the disruption," he said. Air travel authorities around the world—including in the US, European Union, and China—have grounded Boeing 737 Max airliners while the company works to fix the problem.

The problem in this case is flight control software for the newest version of Boeing's venerable narrow-body jet. The first 737 took to the skies in 1966, and more than 10,000 have been built in the intervening years. But the 737s that now leave the factory in Renton, Washington, are very different when compared to those earlier models. Called the 737 Max, it was redesigned to compete with a more efficient rival airliner from Airbus. Boeing's tweaked plane gained FAA certification in March 2017.

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