Businesses

Amazon's Next Big Bet is Letting You Communicate Without a Smartphone, Says Alexa's Chief Scientist (cnbc.com) 1

An anonymous reader shares a report: The next big function to take off on Amazon's Echo devices will be voice or video calling -- which is a way Alexa can reduce the need to have your smartphone on your at all times, said Rohit Prasad, VP and Head Scientist at Alexa Machine Learning. "If you have not played with calling and the video calls on Echo Show, you should try it because that is revolutionizing how you can communicate," Prasad said in an exclusive interview with CNBC at an Alexa Accelerator event in Seattle Tuesday night. (The event is dedicating to developing new voice-powered technologies.) "When you can drop in on people who have given you access -- so I can drop in and call my mom in her kitchen without her picking any device -- it's just awesome." (Amazon added the ability to call mobile numbers and landlines for free onto Echo devices a few weeks ago.) Amazon doesn't have a smartphone that lets customers bring a digital assistant everywhere -- like Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant -- and communicating through Alexa devices is one way of reducing the need for a personal handset, Prasad said "I can easily drop in and talk to my kids," Prasad says. "They don't have a smartphone so that's my easiest way to talk to them. It's yet another area where Alexa is taking the friction away."
Chrome

Chrome 62 Released With OpenType Variable Fonts, HTTP Warnings In Incognito Mode (bleepingcomputer.com) 15

An anonymous reader writes: Earlier today, Google released version 62 of its Chrome browser that comes with quite a few new features but also fixes for 35 security issues. The most interesting new features are support for OpenType variable fonts, the Network Quality Estimator API, the ability to capture and stream DOM elements, and HTTP warnings for the browser's Normal and Incognito mode. The most interesting of the new features is variable fonts. Until now, web developers had to load multiple font families whenever they wanted variations on a font family. For example, if a developer was using the Open Sans font family on a site, if he wanted a font variation such as Regular, Bold, Black, Normal, Condensed, Expanded, Highlight, Slab, Heavy, Dashed, or another, he'd have to load a different font file for each. OpenType variable fonts allow font makers to merge all these font family variations in one file that developers can use on their site and control via CSS. This results in fewer files loaded on a website, saving bandwidth and improving page load times. Two other features that will interest mostly developers are the Network Quality Estimator and the Media Capture from DOM Elements APIs. As the name hints, the first grants developers access to network speed and performance metrics, information that some websites may use to adapt video streams, audio quality, or deliver low-fi versions of their sites. Developers can use the second API -- the Media Capture from DOM Elements -- to record videos of how page sections behave during interaction and stream the content over WebRTC. This latter API could be useful for developers debugging a page, but also support teams that want to see what's happening on the user's side.
Patents

Tribal 'Sovereign Immunity' Patent Protection Could Be Outlawed (arstechnica.com) 36

AnalogDiehard writes: The recent -- and questionable -- practice of technological and pharmaceutical companies selling their patents to U.S. native Indian tribes (where they enjoy "sovereign immunity" from the inter partes review (IPR) process of the PTO) and then the tribes licensing them back to the companies is drawing scrutiny from a federal court and has inspired a new U.S. bill outlawing the practice. The IPR process is a "fast track" (read: much less expensive) process through the PTO to review the validity of challenged patents -- it is loved by defendants and hated by patent holders. Not only has U.S. Circuit Judge William Bryson invalidated Allergan's pharmaceutical patents due to "obviousness," he is questioning the legitimacy of the sovereign immunity tactic. The judge was well aware that the tactic could endanger the IPR process, which was a central component of the America Invents Act of 2011, and writes that sovereign immunity "should not be treated as a monetizable commodity that can be purchased by private entities as part of a scheme to evade their legal responsibility." U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- no stranger to abuses of the patent system -- has introduced a bill that would outlaw the practice she describes as "one of the most brazen and absurd loopholes I've ever seen and it should be illegal." Sovereign immunity is not absolute and has been limited by Congress and the courts in the past. The bill would apply only to the IPR proceedings and not to patent disputes in federal courts.
Science

Over 30,000 Published Studies Could Be Wrong Due To Contaminated Cells (sciencealert.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Alert: Researchers warn that large parts of biomedical science could be invalid due to a cascading history of flawed data in a systemic failure going back decades. A new investigation reveals more than 30,000 published scientific studies could be compromised by their use of misidentified cell lines, owing to so-called immortal cells contaminating other research cultures in the lab. The problem is as serious as it is simple: researchers studying lung cancer publish a new paper, only it turns out the tissue they were actually using in the lab were liver cells. Or what they thought were human cells were mice cells, or vice versa, or something else entirely. If you think that sounds bad, you're right, as it means the findings of each piece of affected research may be flawed, and could even be completely unreliable.

Horback and fellow researcher Willem Halffman wanted to know how extensive the phenomenon of misidentified cell lines really was, so they searched for evidence of what they call "contaminated" scientific literature. Using the research database Web of Science, they looked for scientific articles based on any of the known misidentified cell lines as listed by the International Cell Line Authentication Committee's (ICLAC) Register of Misidentified Cell Lines.There are currently 451 cell lines on this list, and they're not what you think they are -- having been contaminated by other kinds of cells at some point in scientific history. Worse still, they've been unwittingly used in published laboratory research going as far back as the 1950s.

The Military

SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Win US Air Force General's Endorsement (bloomberg.com) 50

As the military looks to drive down costs, the head of U.S. Air Force Space Command said he's "completely committed" to launching future missions with recycled rockets like those championed by SpaceX's Elon Musk. "It would be 'absolutely foolish' not to begin using pre-flown rockets, which brings such significant savings that they'll soon be commonplace for the entire industry, General John W. 'Jay' Raymond said," reports Bloomberg. From the report: "The market's going to go that way. We'd be dumb not to," he said. "What we have to do is make sure we do it smartly." The Air Force won't be able to use the recycled boosters until they're certified for military use, a process that Raymond suggested may already be in the works. "The folks out at Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles that work for me would be in those dialogues," he said, declining to specify when certification could take place. "I don't know how far down the road we've gotten, but I am completely committed to launching on a reused rocket, a previously flown rocket, and making sure that we have the processes in place to be able to make sure that we can do that safely."
Science

Peer Pressure Forced Whales and Dolphins To Evolve Big Brains Like Humans, Says Study (qz.com) 62

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: The human brain has evolved and expanded over millennia to accommodate our ever-more-complex needs and those of our societies. This process is known as "encephalization" and has given us the big brain we need to communicate, cooperate, reach consensus, empathize, and socialize. The same is true for cetaceans, like whales and dolphins, it seems. These sea creatures also grew big brains in order to better live in societies, according to a study published on Oct. 16 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. According to Michael Muthukrishna, an economic psychologist at the London School of Economics and co-author of the study, the researchers used two related theories, the Social-Brain Hypothesis and the Cultural-Brain Hypothesis, to make predictions about various relationships between brain size, societal organization, and the breadth of behaviors the cetaceans would display. Then they tested these predictions by creating and evaluating a comprehensive database of cetacean brain size, social structures, and cultural behaviors across species using data from prior studies on 90 types of whales and dolphins.

The study found that cetaceans had complex alliances and communications, played and worked together for mutual benefit, and could even work with other species, like humans. Some also have individual signifiers, sounds that set them apart from others, and can mimic the sounds of others. In addition, it found that brain size predicted the breadth of social and cultural behaviors of these marine creatures (though ecological factors, like prey diversity and latitudinal range, also played a role). The researchers concluded there was a tie between cetacean encephalization, social structure, and group size.

The Internet

Russian Troll Factory Paid US Activists To Fund Protests During Election (theguardian.com) 386

bestweasel writes: The Guardian reports on another story about Russian meddling, but interestingly, this one comes from a respected Russian news source, the RBC. From the report: "Russian trolls posing as Americans made payments to genuine activists in the U.S. to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues. On Tuesday, the newspaper RBC published a major investigation into the work of a so-called Russian 'troll factory' since 2015, including during the period of the U.S. election campaign, disclosures that are likely to put further spotlight on alleged Russian meddling in the election. RBC said it had identified 118 accounts or groups in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that were linked to the troll factory, all of which had been blocked in August and September this year as part of the U.S. investigation into Russian electoral meddling. Perhaps the most alarming element of the article was the claim that employees of the troll factory had contacted about 100 real U.S.-based activists to help with the organization of protests and events. RBC claimed the activists were contacted by Facebook group administrators hiding their Russian origin and were offered financial help to pay for transport or printing costs. About $80,000 was spent during a two-year period, according to the report."
Software

EA Shuts Down Visceral Games, Shifting Development On Its Star Wars Game (kotaku.com) 59

Visceral Games, the studio behind games like Battlefield Hardline and Dead Space, is being shut down by EA. The Star Wars game in development at Visceral will be revamped and moved to a different studio. Kotaku reports: "Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe," EA's Patrick Soderlund said in a blog post. "In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design." Soderlund added that Visceral will be "ramping down and closing" and that "we're in the midst of shifting as many of the team as possible to other projects and teams at EA." "Lastly," he said, "while we had originally expected this game to launch late in our fiscal year 2019, we're now looking at a new timeframe that we will announce in the future."
Android

ZTE Launches Axon M, a Foldable, Dual-Screened Smartphone (theverge.com) 44

ZTE's new Axon M is a full-featured smartphone with a hinge that connects two full-size displays, making the Axon M a flip phone of sorts. "Its front screen is a 5.2-inch, 1080p panel, it has last year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 20-megapixel camera," reports The Verge. "But flip the phone over and there's an identical 5.2-inch display on the back, making the Axon M anything but run-of-the-mill." From the report: The M's hinge allows the rear screen to flip forward and slot right next to the main display, creating an almost tablet sized canvas. You can stretch the home screen and apps across the two displays for a larger working area, or you can run two different apps at the same time, one on each screen. You can also "tent" the phone, and mirror the displays so two people can see the same content at the same time. ZTE says that it is utilizing Android's default split-screen features to enable many of the dual-screen functions, and it has made sure the "top 100" Android apps work on the phone. In the "extended" mode, which stretches a single app across both screens, the tablet version of the app is presented (provided there is one, which isn't always a guarantee with Android apps). It's even possible to stream video on both screens at the same time and switch the audio between them on the fly, which might be useful if you want to watch a sports game and YouTube at the same time, I guess.
Government

'Significant' Number of Equifax Victims Already Had Info Stolen, Says IRS (thehill.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: The IRS does not expect the Equifax data breach to have a major effect on the upcoming tax filing season, Commissioner John Koskinen said Tuesday, adding that the agency believes a "significant" number of the victims already had their information stolen by cyber criminals. "We actually think that it won't make any significantly or noticeable difference," Koskinen told reporters during a briefing on the agency's data security efforts. "Our estimate is a significant percent of those taxpayers already had their information in the hands of criminals." The IRS estimates that more than 100 million Americans have had their personally identifiable information stolen by criminal hackers, he said.

The Equifax breach disclosed in early September is estimated to have affected more than 145 million U.S. consumers. "It's an important reminder to the public that everyone can take any actions that they can ... to make sure we can do everything we can to protect personal information," Koskinen said of the breach on Tuesday, in response to a reporter's question. The IRS commissioner advised Americans to "assume" their data is already in the hands of criminals and "act accordingly."

Android

Android Oreo Helps Google's Pixel 2 Smartphones Outperform Other Android Flagships (hothardware.com) 55

MojoKid highlights Hot Hardware's review of Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones: Google officially launched it's Pixel 2 phones today, taking the wraps off third-party reviews. Designed by Google but manufactured by HTC (Pixel 2) and LG (Pixel 2 XL), the two new handsets also boast Google's latest Android 8.0 operating system, aka Oreo, an exclusive to Google Pixel and certain Nexus devices currently. And in some ways, this is also a big advantage. Though they are based on the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor as many other Android devices, Google's new Pixel 2s manage to outpace similarly configured smartphones in certain benchmarks by significant margins (Basemark, PCMark and 3DMark). They also boot dramatically faster than any other Android handset on the market, in as little as 10 seconds. Camera performance is also excellent, with both the 5-inch Pixel 2 and 6-inch Pixel 2 XL sporting identical electronics, save for their displays and chassis sizes. Another notable feature built into Android Oreo is Google Now Playing, an always-listening, Shazam-like service (if you enable it) that displays song titles on the lock screen if it picks up on music playing in the room you're in. Processing is done right on the Pixel 2 and it doesn't need network connectivity. Another Pixel 2 Oreo-based trick is Google Lens, a machine vision system that Google notes "can recognize places like landmarks and buildings, artwork that you'd find in a museum, media covers such as books, movies, music albums, and video games..." The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are available now on Verizon or unlocked via the Google Store starting at $649 and $849 respectively for 64GB storage versions, with a $100 up-charge for 128GB variants.
Google

Google Maps Ditches Walking Calorie Counter After Backlash (engadget.com) 253

Following online backlash, Google is removing a planned feature in Maps that shows you how many calories you'd burn when in walking mode. Google's attempt to promote a healthy lifestyle caused a number of people to lambast the feature on Twitter, claiming it would "shame" and even "trigger" those with eating disorders. Engadget reports: Taking note of the negative reaction, Google is now dumping the experiment. It confirmed to Engadget that the update was briefly tested on iOS, and has been abandoned based on user feedback. As The Hill's Taylor Lorenz noted in her tweets, there was no way to turn off the feature. Lorenz also claimed that using pink cupcakes as the unit of measurement was "lowkey aimed at women." Others pointed out that Maps wasn't the appropriate place for the update. After all, there are plenty of fitness and calorie counting apps that keep track of your activity and consumption -- again emphasizing how misplaced the feature was.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, Movie Studios Sue Over TickBox Streaming Device (arstechnica.com) 111

Movies studios, Netflix, and Amazon have teamed up to file a lawsuit against a streaming media player called TickBox TV. The device in question runs Kodi on top of Android 6.0, and searches the internet for streams that it can make available to users without actually hosting any of the content itself. An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The complaint (PDF), filed Friday, says the TickBox devices are nothing more than "tool[s] for mass infringement," which operate by grabbing pirated video streams from the Internet. The lawsuit was filed by Amazon and Netflix Studios, along with six big movie studios that make up the Motion Picture Association of America: Universal, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.

"What TickBox actually sells is nothing less than illegal access to Plaintiffs' copyrighted content," write the plaintiffs' lawyers. "TickBox TV uses software to link TickBox's customers to infringing content on the Internet. When those customers use TickBox TV as Defendant intends and instructs, they have nearly instantaneous access to multiple sources that stream Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Works without authorization." The device's marketing materials let users know the box is meant to replace paid-for content, with "a wink and a nod," by predicting that prospective customers who currently pay for Amazon Video, Netflix, or Hulu will find that "you no longer need those subscriptions." The lawsuit shows that Amazon and Netflix, two Internet companies that are relatively new to the entertainment business, are more than willing to join together with movie studios to go after businesses that grab their content.

Intel

Intel Aims To Take on Nvidia With a Processor Specially Designed for AI (fastcompany.com) 40

An anonymous reader shares a report: In what looks like a repeat of its loss to Qualcomm on smartphones, Intel has lagged graphics chip (GPU) maker Nvidia in the artificial intelligence revolution. Today Intel announced that its first AI chip, the Nervana Neural Network Processor, will roll out of factories by year's end. Originally called Lake Crest, the chip gets its name from Nervana, a company Intel purchased in August 2016, taking on the CEO, Naveen Rao, as Intel's AI guru. Nervana is designed from the ground up for machine learning, Rao tells me. You can't play Call of Duty with it. Rao claims that ditching the GPU heritage made room for optimizations like super-fast data interconnections allowing a bunch of Nervanas to act together like one giant chip. They also do away with the caches that hold data the processor might need to work on next. "In neural networks... you know ahead of time where the data's coming from, what operation you're going to apply to that data, and where the output is going to," says Rao.
Businesses

Traditional PC Sales Continue To Slide (zdnet.com) 170

Sales of traditional PCs continue to decline, although the overall PC market is likely to grow slightly next year. From a report: Traditional PC shipments are forecast to drop by nearly eight percent this year, and another 4.4 percent in 2018, predicts analyst firm Gartner. Which means that, by 2019, 16 million fewer traditional PCs and notebooks will be sold than were shipped this year. However, much of this will be offset by the rise in spending on high-end notebooks like Microsoft's Surface and Apple's MacBook, so that the overall PC market will by 2019 be at pretty much the same level it was last year. Tablets -- defined by Gartner as basic and utility ultramobile devices -- will also decline over the period to 2019.

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