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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 35 min 58 sec ago

Epic Games Store launches with extremely limited selection of games

December 7, 2018 - 3:40am

Enlarge / The Epic Games Store logo. (credit: Epic)

PC gamers accustomed to the literally thousands of new games that flood Steam every year may be surprised that Epic is launching its recently announced Game Store tonight with just three third-party titles. A small handful more are listed as "coming soon."

As part of tonight's Game Awards presentation, Epic announced three new games that are currently available through the Epic Games Store interface:

  • Ashen (A44 and Annapurna Interactive)
  • Hades (Supergiant Games)
  • Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek (tinyBuild)

Three other games will be coming to the service before the end of the month, Epic said, including a couple that will be free on the service for a limited time (the store page itself says that it will offer a new free game to customers every two weeks):

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Counter-Strike GO becomes F2P, adds a shrunken battle royale mode

December 7, 2018 - 12:20am

On Thursday, Valve Software surprise-launched a comprehensive update to its five-year-old game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) with two equally major changes: a new battle royale-inspired combat mode and a shift to the free-to-play economic model.

The battle royale mode in question, dubbed "Danger Zone," resembles popular fare like PUBG and Fortnite in that it revolves around a similar formula. Players drop onto an island with very little equipment, then search for weapons, ammo, and gear while trying to be the last person surviving. In order to speed combat up, a constantly shrinking "safe zone" forces players to run toward each other.

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Australia passes new law to thwart strong encryption

December 7, 2018 - 12:10am

Enlarge / The Member for Sydney Tanya Plibersek speaks as the Labor party stay for the end of parliament in the House of Representatives at Parliament House on December 06, 2018, in Canberra, Australia. (credit: Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Australian parliament approved a measure that critics say will weaken encryption in favor of law enforcement and the demands of government.

The new law, which has been pushed for since at least 2017, requires that companies provide a way to get at encrypted communications and data via a warrant process. It also imposes fines of up to A$10 million for companies that do not comply and A$50,000 for individuals who do not comply. In short, the law thwarts (or at least tries to thwart) strong encryption.

Companies who receive one of these warrants have the option of either complying with the government or waiting for a court order. However, by default, the orders are secret, so companies would not be able to tell the public that they had received one.

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Wrong way: 2018 global CO₂ emissions tick up again

December 6, 2018 - 11:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Le Quéré et al./ESSD)

For a young student, report-card season can be an exciting, stressful, or even depressing time of year. The annual tally of the world’s climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions is a little like that—but with a lot more on the line than a B in language arts. And unfortunately, 2018’s tally once again brings us short of a passing mark.

This annual project is the work of a large group of carbon-cycle scientists that updates the books to be as accurate a record as possible. The scientists also project the final tally for the current year based on all the available data at the time of publication.

Last year, for example, the projection for 2017 was a global CO2-emissions increase of 2 percent, with error bars spanning 0.8–3.0 percent. This year’s update to the dataset puts the actual number at 1.6 percent. Interestingly, China’s emissions were projected to grow 3.5 percent (range 0.7–5.4 percent), but they appear to have ended up just 1.5 percent higher. Still, that brought an end to a brief stretch when China’s emissions had actually declined from a 2013 peak.

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22 apps with 2 million+ Google Play downloads had a malicious backdoor

December 6, 2018 - 11:08pm

(credit: Jeremy Brooks / Flickr)

Almost two dozen apps with more than 2 million downloads have been removed from the Google Play market after researchers found they contained a device-draining backdoor that allowed them to surreptitiously download files from an attacker-controlled server.

The 22 rogue titles included Sparkle Flashlight, a flashlight app that had been downloaded more than 1 million times since it entered Google Play sometime in 2016 or 2017, antivirus provider Sophos said in a blog post published Thursday. Beginning around March of this year, Sparkle Flashlight and two other apps were updated to add the secret downloader. The remaining 19 apps became available after June and contained the downloader from the start.

“Serious harm”

By the time Google removed the apps in late November, they were being used to click endlessly on fraudulent ads. "Andr/Clickr-ad," as Sophos has dubbed the family of apps, automatically started and ran even after a user force-closed them, functions that caused the apps to consume huge amounts of bandwidth and drain batteries. In Thursday's post, Sophos researcher Chen Yu wrote:

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YouTube tells impersonation victim: No, you’re not being impersonated

December 6, 2018 - 10:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

How long does it take someone to have a YouTube impersonation claim reviewed, confirmed, and enforced? That kind of data is hard to piece together across such a giant video-sharing platform. But in the case of one user, Penguin Books author Celeste Ng, the process took a little over one full day—and required a big pile of public shaming in the process.

Ng's ordeal began when she discovered someone had created an account with her first and last name that primarily posted racially and culturally insensitive videos—including apparent dog-whistling mentions of mixed-race marriages. This appeared to be a targeted impersonation attempt, as Ng has previously been targeted by online communities for marrying a non-Asian man.

You have GOT to be kidding me, @YouTube. Someone is using my name and my photo to post hateful, racist videos, but you say this isn’t impersonation? Let me spell it out for you.

— Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) December 6, 2018

She took to Twitter to ask her followers how to report impersonation claims on YouTube. After filing a Wednesday impersonation report, which included her government-issued driver's license, her published book's jacket sleeve photo, and screenshots of the offending, fake YouTube account, Ng received a Thursday response from YouTube: her report did "not meet our impersonation reporting guidelines."

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Amazon “automated machine” punctures bear spray can, 24 employees hospitalized

December 6, 2018 - 9:26pm

Enlarge / Employees fufill online orders at the Inc. fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, on Thursday, June 7, 2018. (credit: Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, 24 Amazon employees working in a Robbinsville Township, New Jersey, warehouse were sent to five different area hospitals after a 9oz canister of bear spray was deployed.

Early reports that the canister was punctured by an Amazon robot have not been confirmed by either Amazon or the Township's communication official, John Nalbone. Nalbone told Ars that Robbinsville first responders only reported that an "automated machine" was to blame, which could mean anything from a programmed robotic arm to an automated conveyor belt. (Of course, may readers of Ars would agree that defining the meaning of "robot" is more than just an exercise in trivia. This Wired article explores the topic more deeply.)

On Wednesday evening, one of the 24 people hospitalized was in critical condition, while another 30 were treated on the scene, ABC News says.

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NASA’s next Mars rover will use AI to be a better science partner

December 6, 2018 - 9:00pm

Enlarge / The Mars 2020 rover will likely carry artificial intelligence software to help manage the science workload. (credit: NASA)

Welcome to Ars UNITE, our week-long virtual conference on the ways that innovation brings unusual pairings together. Each day this week from Wednesday through Friday, we're bringing you a pair of stories about facing the future. Today's focus is on AI in manufacturing and space—stand by to blast off!

NASA can't yet put a scientist on Mars. But in its next rover mission to the Red Planet, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is hoping to use artificial intelligence to at least put the equivalent of a talented research assistant there. Steve Chien, head of the AI Group at NASA JPL, envisions working with the Mars 2020 Rover "much more like [how] you would interact with a graduate student instead of a rover that you typically have to micromanage."

The 13-minute delay in communications between Earth and Mars means that the movements and experiments conducted by past and current Martian rovers have had to be meticulously planned. While more recent rovers have had the capability of recognizing hazards and performing some tasks autonomously, they've still placed great demands on their support teams.

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Move over AlphaGo: AlphaZero taught itself to play three different games

December 6, 2018 - 8:28pm

Enlarge / Starting from random play and knowing just the game rules, AlphaZero defeated a world champion program in the games of Go, chess, and shogi (Japanese chess). (credit: DeepMind Technologies, Ltd.)

Google's DeepMind—the group that brought you the champion game-playing AIs AlphaGo and AlphaGoZero—is back with a new, improved, and more-generalized version. Dubbed AlphaZero, this program taught itself to play three different board games (chess, Go, and shogi, a Japanese form of chess) in just three days, with no human intervention.

A paper describing the achievement was just published in Science. "Starting from totally random play, AlphaZero gradually learns what good play looks like and forms its own evaluations about the game," said Demis Hassabis, CEO and co-founder of DeepMind. "In that sense, it is free from the constraints of the way humans think about the game."

Chess has long been an ideal testing ground for game-playing computers and the development of AI. The very first chess computer program was written in the 1950s at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and in the late 1960s, Richard D. Greenblatt's Mac Hack IV program was the first to play in a human chess tournament—and to win against a human in tournament play. Many other computer chess programs followed, each a little better than the last, until IBM's Deep Blue computer defeated chess grand master Garry Kasparov in May 1997.

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AT&T/Verizon lobby misunderstands arrow of time, makes impossible claim

December 6, 2018 - 7:26pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | D3Damon)

The telecom industry lobby group that represents AT&T and Verizon has consistently claimed that net neutrality rules hurt broadband investment. Yet the same lobby group has released data showing that fiber deployment grew significantly while net neutrality rules were in effect.

Even more surprising: the lobby group, USTelecom, also recently claimed that an increase in broadband network investment that happened before the net neutrality repeal was somehow caused by the repeal that hadn't yet taken effect.

USTelecom released a new analysis last week, saying that, "from the end of 2015 to mid-2017, US fiber deployment grew from 21 percent to 29 percent of homes and competitive availability of wired broadband at 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload [speeds] increased from 31 percent to 55 percent." Fixed wireless deployment has also helped expand broadband access, USTelecom wrote.

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Apple’s anticipated ECG app rolls out today in watchOS 5.1.2

December 6, 2018 - 7:24pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

The newest update for Apple Watches is out now, bringing a highly anticipated feature to Series 4 devices. Apple pushed out watchOS 5.1.2 today, which includes its ECG app for monitoring irregular heartbeats.

Apple Watch Series 4 devices all have built-in electrodes that can measure electrocardiograms, or ECGs. At the time of the Watch's debut in September, Apple's native app with which the electrodes communicate wasn't ready for consumer use. Now, it's rolling out as part of the watchOS 5.1.2 update.

The ECG app is for the Watch itself, while ECG data gets stored in Apple's Health app on iOS devices. To take an ECG reading, users must place their finger on the flat side of the Digital Crown on their Series 4 Watch. The electrode on the Digital Crown communicates with the other electrode on the Watch, which sits near the heart rate monitor, to take a complete ECG measurement.

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Edge dies a death of a thousand cuts as Microsoft switches to Chromium

December 6, 2018 - 7:10pm

Enlarge (credit: @AndreTelevise)

As reported earlier this week, Microsoft is going to use Google's Blink rendering engine and V8 JavaScript engine in its Edge browser, largely ending development of its own EdgeHTML rendering engine and Chakra JavaScript engine. This means that Microsoft will be using code from—and making contributions to—the Chromium open source project.

The company's browser will still be named Edge and should retain the current look and feel. The decision to switch was motivated primarily by compatibility problems: Web developers increasingly test their pages exclusively in Chrome, which has put Edge at a significant disadvantage. Microsoft's engineers have found that problematic pages could often be made Edge compatible with only very minor alterations, but because Web devs aren't using Edge at all, they don't even know that they need to change anything.

The story is, however, a little more complex. The initial version of Edge that shipped with the first version of Windows 10 was rudimentary, to say the least. It was the bare bones of a browser, but with extremely limited capabilities around things like tab management and password management, no extension model, and generally lacking in the creature comforts that represent the difference between a bare rendering engine and an actual usable browser. It also had stability issues; crashes and hangs were not uncommon.

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Rapper sues Epic Games over “unauthorized” Fortnite dance use

December 6, 2018 - 5:45pm

The Fortnite "Swipe It" emote that rapper 2 Milly says infringes on his "Milly Rock" dance move.

Fortnite maker Epic Games has long faced criticism for using existing dance moves as "inspiration" for its popular in-game emotes without offering compensation to the creators of those dances. Rapper 2 Milly (aka Terrence Ferguson) is now the first to take Epic to court over the issue.

Milly argues in a federal lawsuit filed this week in the Central District of California that Epic infringed on his copyright, violated his right of publicity, and engaged in unfair competition by using his "Milly Rock" dance move as the basis for the paid "Swipe It" emote in the game without his permission. "Although identical to the dance created, popularized, and demonstrated by Ferguson, Epic did not credit Ferguson nor seek his consent to use, display, reproduce, sell, or create a derivative work based upon Ferguson’s Milly Rock dance or likeness," the lawsuit alleges.

The Milly Rock dance move traces its roots back to 2014, when it was popularized in a video for a song of the same name that currently has over 18 million YouTube views. The extremely similar "Swipe It" emote in Fortnite is currently sold for 500 V-Bucks (about $5) or as part of a Season 5 Battle Pass for 950 V-Bucks (About $9.50).

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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 is official, coming to Android flagships in 2019

December 6, 2018 - 5:33pm

Qualcomm has announced its flagship System on a Chip (SoC) for 2019: the Snapdragon 855. As Qualcomm has basically no competition at the high-end SoC market—especially in the US—the Snapdragon 855 will be headed to almost every flagship Android phone that ships in 2019. Compared to 2018's chip, the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm is promising a 45-percent faster CPU, a 20-percent faster GPU, and a platform that will usher in the era of 5G connectivity.

So how is the Snapdragon 855 different from its predecessor, the Snapdragon 845? First, we're getting smaller transistors. The Snapdragon 845 was built on Samsung's 10nm semiconductor manufacturing process, but the 855 is moving to TSMC's 7nm process. A smaller manufacturing process comes with the benefit of lower power consumption and smaller chips, and the 7nm node puts the Snapdragon 855 on par with Apple, which shipped the 7nm A12 Bionic SoC in the iPhone XS earlier this year.

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Geckos’ new superpower is running on water; now we know how they do it

December 6, 2018 - 5:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty)

Geckos are known for being expert climbers, able to stick to any surface thanks to nearly 500,000 [corrected] tiny hair-like structures on the bottoms of their feet. Now it turns out the little lizards can also zip along the surface of water at high speeds to elude predators. They can't do it for very long; the energy expenditure required is too great. But it's amazing they can do it at all. Scientists think they've pinpointed the mechanisms behind the feat, described in a new paper in Cell Biology.

The project started when co-author Ardian Jusufi, then a postdoc in the lab of University of California, Berkeley biophysicist Robert Full, was on vacation in Singapore during monsoon season. One day, after a big rain storm, he caught a gecko skimming across the water to escape a predator on video. The footage astounded everyone in the lab when he showed it to them. "It was super weird and unexpected, so naturally we had to test this," says co-author Jasmine Nirody, another former Full student who now splits her time between Rockefeller University and the University of Oxford.

There are several creatures in nature capable of walking on water, but they employ different mechanisms depending on their size. Small, lightweight water striders, for instance, rely entirely on surface tension to stay afloat, while the larger, heavier basilisk lizards employ a slapping motion with their feet that creates pockets of air bubbles to keep from sinking. The standard theoretical calculations set very strict boundaries for how small an animal has to be to use surface tension and how large it needs to be before the surface slapping mechanism is viable.

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Researchers 3D print a wormhole… for sound waves

December 6, 2018 - 4:56pm

Enlarge (credit: Jian Zhu)

I cannot skip a paper that talks about making wormholes. Even if they are fake wormholes. And even if, after reading the paper, I’m not sure that the researchers have made fake wormholes, I simply can’t not tell you about it.

The paper in question makes use of something called transformation optics to create a wormhole for sound waves. So let’s break that down.

Please transform my optics

Transformation optics is one of my favorite things (right after raindrops on roses and definitely replacing all mention of kittens). Designing optics is hard. You often know what you want an optical system to do, but figuring out how to achieve that is a matter of experience combined with trial and error.

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Ethereum falls below $100—down 93 percent from its January high

December 6, 2018 - 4:44pm


The month-long cryptocurrency slide continued overnight with ether, the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum network, falling below $100 for the first time since May 2017. Ether's value is down 93 percent from its January high above $1,400.

Bitcoin reached a 2018 low of around $3,500 last week. It's now trading at around $3,700, down 80 percent from its high of almost $20,000 last December.

There doesn't seem to be any specific cause for recent declines. Rather, the steadily declining prices seems to reflect a general decline of enthusiasm for the cryptocurrency.

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Google to simplify messaging strategy, will support only five messaging apps

December 6, 2018 - 4:35pm

Enlarge / Allo and Hangouts are going away, but Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet are opening up to consumers.

In a post on its official blog, Google laid out a simplified messaging strategy for the future. In order to offer customers "a simpler and more unified communications experience," Google promised to support only five messaging apps going forward, down from its current suite of seven. To cut down to five apps, Google will eventually shut down Hangouts and Google Allo, while Messages, Hangouts Chat, Hangouts Meet, Duo, and Google Voice would continue to be supported.

Google's announcement of its quintuple-app strategy comes on the heels of a report from 9to5Google, which claimed that Google Hangouts would shut down sometime in 2020. Google's Scott Johnston—a product lead for three of Google's seven messaging apps—responded to the report on Twitter, calling it "shoddy reporting" and saying it "is only half the story." While Google does plan to shut down Hangouts eventually, Johnston said that Google is also opening up two of its enterprise-only messaging apps—Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet—to its consumer user base, and users of Hangouts would be transitioned to these two apps.

The blog post reiterated that "Classic" Hangouts would eventually shut down while Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet would be opening up, but Google won't shut down Hangouts until it can ensure a smooth transition between apps. The post also announced that Allo, which had its development "paused" earlier this year in favor of Messages, will be shut down in March 2019.

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Medieval skeleton’s boots reveal harsh realities of life on the Thames

December 6, 2018 - 4:12pm

The skeleton had lain buried for about 500 years in the muddy silt of Chamber’s Wharf, a site located at a bend in the river just downstream from the Tower of London. Debris in the river tends to accumulate in bends like this one, so there’s no way to be sure exactly where the man fell in. But he ended up face-down in the mud at Chamber’s Wharf, with one arm stretched over his head and the other twisted to the side. The tide-washed sediment would have covered him quickly, the team says, holding his body in place and helping preserve the thigh-high leather boots he was wearing when he died.

The boots are a tangible, deeply personal link to how the unknown man lived, and they offer some hints at how he probably died. They’re comparable to the tall wading boots currently worn by fishermen, sewage workers, water utility crews, and many other industrial workers wear today: thigh-high boots with sturdy reinforced double soles, stuffed with a material that might be moss to keep the wearer’s feet warm or make the boots fit more snugly.

Based on their design, the boots date to the late 1400s or early 1500s, and they’re not the sort of item the man would have taken to his grave on purpose. Leather was a valuable commodity at the time, and almost no one in the working class would have buried such an expensive pair of boots—not when they, or their material, could be reused. Like his awkward final resting position, the man’s boots suggest an untimely, unexpected death.

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Artificial Intelligence and the coming of the self-designing machine

December 6, 2018 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / Robot, heal thyself. (credit: Gmas3r, via Getty Images)

Welcome to Ars UNITE, our week-long virtual conference on the ways that innovation brings unusual pairings together. Each day this week from Wednesday through Friday, we're bringing you a pair of stories about facing the future. Today's focus is on AI in manufacturing and space—stand by to blast off!

Manufacturing is in the early stages of a state of disruption brought on by technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing. "Additive manufacturing" has already worked itself into companies such as Porsche and Bugatti, and aircraft builder Airbus is experimenting with UAV THOR, a drone made entirely of 3D-printed parts. At the same time, AI is coming into play in a number of ways, in everything from analytics to manufacturing robotics. So the "factory of the future," as envisioned by projects such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Adaptive Vehicle Make program, is one in which software drives the manufacturing process and the factory can be rapidly reconfigured to change what it makes.

AI has increasingly played a role in designing products in the form of generative design software. AI-driven generative design software makes it possible for humans and AI to work together to rapidly consider every conceivable design option and to test them all before choosing one for production.

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