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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 23 min 56 sec ago

Eleven researchers publish sharp critique of EPA fuel economy logic

December 9, 2018 - 8:30pm

Enlarge / Cars zoom past during rush hour on Interstate 10 after sunset in El Paso, Texas, on November 27, 2018. (credit: PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images)

In this week's edition of Science, eleven researchers from prominent universities around the US criticized the federal government's justification for rolling back vehicle fuel economy standards. They wrote that the economic assumptions made in the government's 2018 report resulted in a "flawed" analysis that will likely result in more traffic fatalities, more congestion, and more greenhouse gases emitted.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Trump has moved to rescind a number of environmentally-minded regulations instituted under the Obama Administration. One of the first in its crosshairs was the EPA's Greenhouse Gas (GHG) standards for light trucks and passenger vehicles, which paralleled the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These two regulations (the GHG and CAFE rules) both aimed to force automakers to adhere to gradually-tightening fuel efficiency standards, which were detailed out to 2025.

The EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt spent most of 2017 laying the groundwork to rescind the GHG rules, saying the rules were onerous for automakers. But it's hard to rescind and replace existing law—agencies need to justify their decisions with robust studies showing that a rules change will improve the livelihood of Americans, whether in health or in jobs.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Greenland’s melting snow makes new hockey stick (graph)

December 9, 2018 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Staring down the barrel of an ice core drill. (credit: Sarah Das / WHOI)

The Greenland Ice Sheet’s unhealthy and rapid weight loss—and contribution to sea-level rise—occurs by a handful of mechanisms. In short, ice at the edge of the glacier can melt or break off into icebergs, and surface snow farther inland can melt. That snow melt is a bit like rainfall, in that it can either soak into the snow or runoff in streams.

Where it trickles down into the denser snow beneath, it refreezes and forms a stubborn layer that will continue to be visible when that snow is compressed into glacial ice. That means that drilling an ice core can give you a record of past surface melting events.

Greenland has experienced a remarkable amount of surface melting over the past couple decades, including the record-setting summer of 2012 that saw virtually the entire ice sheet melting at the surface. Because surface melting had historically been an unusual event akin to newsworthy heat waves, glaciologists wanted to put this into context. How much of Greenland’s recently accelerating ice loss was due to natural variability, and how much was due to human-caused trends?

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Eight great board games we played at PAX Unplugged

December 8, 2018 - 2:00pm

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

PAX Unplugged, the tabletop board gaming conference that emerged from the PAX video game conference empire, took place in Philadelphia last week. It was bigger and better than last year's inaugural event, with more space allocated to the exhibit floor and an amazing "first look" section of games, many of which are not yet out in North America.

It was impossible to play even a fraction of the new material available, but I did my best, spending three straight days at the con and playing plenty of "new hotness" along with a few older games (hello, Roll Player). Here, I want to run down a few of the most interesting that might appeal to the Ars crowd—even if not all held my attention equally in the end.

Read 37 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Obsidian Entertainment finally announces its Fallout: New Vegas successor

December 7, 2018 - 11:50pm

Obsidian Entertainment

Obsidian Entertainment, developers of games like Pillars of EternityStar Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, and Alpha Protocol ran a trailer for a new game at The Game Awards last night. Titled The Outer Worlds, it's a first-person shooter and RPG that the trailer seems to position as a spiritual successor to Fallout: New Vegas, one of Obsidian's most beloved previous works.

Set to a song by Iggy Pop, the trailer includes witty, devil-may-care dialogue that might evoke Borderlands for some fans. The game's development is led by Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, who are billed by publisher Private Division as the original creators of Fallout.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Bikini app maker draws another disgruntled developer to its Facebook fight

December 7, 2018 - 11:40pm

Enlarge / Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg departs after testifying before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018, in Washington, DC. (credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In recent weeks, a dust-up between the maker of a forgotten Facebook bikini app and the social media giant has been boosted by a high-profile fight involving the British Parliament.

On Friday, both sides in the Six4Three v. Facebook lawsuit, which alleges breach of contract, appeared before a San Mateo County judge for the second time in a week in a hearing that dragged on for over three hours.

However, Six4Three’s recent court filings show that its lawyers are also involved in a second lawsuit brought by a different company—one that promoted breast cancer awareness, among other apps—that levies very similar allegations against Facebook.

Read 32 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Why driving is hard—even for AIs

December 7, 2018 - 9:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Dong Wenjie 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 the city—get ready for a lot of smart buildings and self-driving stuff!

I have a couple of kids of learner’s permit age, and it’s my fatherly duty to give them some driving tips so they won’t be a menace to themselves and to everyone else. So I’ve been analyzing the way I drive: How did I know that the other driver was going to turn left ahead of me? Why am I paying attention to the unleashed dog on the sidewalk but not the branches of the trees overhead? What subconscious cues tell me that a light is about to change to red or that the door of a parked car is about to open?

This exercise has given me a renewed appreciation for the terrible complexity of driving—and that’s just the stuff I know to think about. The car itself already takes care of a million details that make the car go, stop, and steer, and that process was complex enough when I was young and cars were essentially mechanical and electric. Now, cars have become rolling computers, with humans controlling (at most) speed, direction, and comfort.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

We’ve driven Audi’s first proper electric car, the 2019 e-tron SUV

December 7, 2018 - 6:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Because Audi was only offering e-tron drives in Abu Dhabi, we elected to accept paid flights and two nights in a hotel in order to attend this event, rather than having to wait at least six months to drive the vehicle.

In the wake of its emissions scandal, Volkswagen Group has been on a mission to reinvent itself. After staking its reputation on diesel, the German automaker has conducted a volte face; electricity is now the future. It's spending billions on developing new battery electric vehicle platforms, billions building a US network of high-speed chargers, and has committed billions more to lock up battery supplies. And now, finally, the first of these efforts has begun to bear fruit.

Behold, the first—but definitely not the last—battery electric vehicle from VW Group. One that has been designed from the ground up to be powered by electrons: the Audi e-tron. We got our first good look at a flashy launch event in San Francisco this past September, and now we've finally had a chance to drive it. After 24 hours on plane after plane, we put the e-tron through its paces on and off the roads. Along the way, we confirmed some of our preconceptions about this new BEV and busted others.

Read 33 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Even self-driving leader Waymo is struggling to reach full autonomy

December 7, 2018 - 5:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Waymo)

The Wednesday rollout of Waymo One, Waymo's commercial self-driving taxi service, falls far short of expectations the company itself set earlier in the year.

In late September, a Waymo spokeswoman told Ars by email that the Phoenix service would be fully driverless and open to members of the public—claims I reported in this article.

We now know that Waymo One won't be fully driverless; there will be a driver in the driver's seat. And Waymo One is open to the public in only the narrowest, most technical sense: initially it will only be available to early riders—the same people who have been participating in Waymo's test program for months.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

At last! Marvel finally drops first trailer for Avengers: End Game

December 7, 2018 - 4:28pm

Enlarge / "Part of the journey is the end." How many of the original Avengers will survive Avengers: End Game? We'll have to wait until May 3, 2019 to find out. (credit: Marvel Entertainment)

There is much rejoicing on the Internet today as Marvel Studios finally dropped the long-awaited first trailer for the movie formerly known as Avengers 4. Now we know it will be called Avengers: End Game, and, as expected, that's exactly what the trailer tells us it's going to be: a fitting conclusion to the shocking events of Avengers: Infinity War.

(Spoilers below for Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp)

Infinity War was technically an ensemble Avengers film, but Thanos (an intergalactic supervillain from Titan) is the central character. He is on a quest to collect all six Infinity Stones: the Power Stone, the Space Stone, the Time Stone, the Reality Stone, the Soul Stone, and the Mind Stone. Once collected and placed in the Infinity Gauntlet, they will give Thanos the power to wipe out half of all living beings in the universe. Why would anyone want to do such a thing? Thanos is the ultimate Malthusian, believing that the universe is overpopulated and will eventually run out of resources—precisely what happened to his own home town.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Stranger Things 3 game will let you jump into new Hawkins madness

December 7, 2018 - 3:53pm

Enlarge (credit: The Game Awards, YouTube)

The forthcoming new season of Stranger Things will be accompanied by its own mobile game. Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer announced a new mobile game, simply titled Stranger Things 3: The Game, last night at The Game Awards and dropped a short trailer to tease the game. The game will follow the events of season 3 and will reportedly be available on all platforms.

The Duffer Brothers didn't provide any more details about the game, and the trailer is quite short, so it doesn't give too much away. However, it does show some of the show's beloved characters, including Hopper and Steve, fighting enemies in messy storage rooms, a food-court-like setting, and in front of a movie theater. Users will reportedly be able to take control of characters and go through some of the season's events, with surprises throughout.

The locations shown in the trailer jibe with the mega-mall that will come to Hawkins, Indiana, in the show's third season. The season's cryptic yet nostalgia-filled trailer promised that the town will "step into the future" with the addition of the Starcourt Mall, where we can expect to see characters hang out, shop, and even work (Steve appears to be the newest employee of the Scoops Ahoy ice cream shop).

Developer Bonus XP partnered with Netflix to create this 16-bit title, following up their previous partnership that created Stranger Things: The Game. That was another mobile, top-down game that was based loosely on the first season of the popular sci-fi show.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

All hail the AI overlord: Smart cities and the AI Internet of Things

December 7, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Shanghai. (credit: Dong Wenjie / 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 the city—get ready for a lot of smart buildings and self-driving stuff!

Cities generate lots of data. The exact amount depends on the size of the city and its sophistication and ambitions, but it's certainly more than mere humans can absorb and use. The Smart Cities movement, which looks for ways to find data-driven technological solutions to everyday urban challenges, is increasingly turning to artificial intelligence to deliver "services" to its residents—everything from locating gunshots and finding tumors to dispatching work crews to pick up trash.

New York is one of about 90 cities worldwide that uses a system called ShotSpotter, which uses a network of microphones to instantly recognize and locate gunshots. In Moscow, all chest X-rays taken in hospitals are run through an AI system to recognize and diagnose tumors. And Taiwan is building a system that will be able to predict air quality, allowing city managers to warn residents of health dangers and work to lessen what the data tells them will be the worst of the impacts.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: Firefly to the Moon, SpaceX makes a splash, H3 nets a customer

December 7, 2018 - 1:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson/United Launch Alliance)

Welcome to Edition 1.28 of the Rocket Report! Lots of news this week, and much of it good, with Stratolaunch reaching an important test, Firefly winning a sweet contract from NASA, and the H3 getting its first commercial flight. All in all, a nice week in launch.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Branson says Virgin will reach space before Christmas. The entrepreneur behind Virgin Galactic told CNN Business at the end of November that he is "pretty confident" his space tourism venture can achieve its milestone by the end of the year. "I obviously would love to prove our critics wrong, and I'm reasonably confident that before Christmas, we will do so," Richard Branson said. The VSS Unity spacecraft has previously flown to an altitude of 32 miles.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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):

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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:

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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. pic.twitter.com/2JNe1hUDSJ

— 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."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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

December 6, 2018 - 9:26pm

Enlarge / Employees fufill online orders at the Amazon.com 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.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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