Google Criticized Over Its Handling of the End of Google+

Long-time Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein shares his report on how Google is handling the end of its Google+ service. He’s describing it as “a boot to the head: when you know that Google just doesn’t care any more” about users “who have become ‘inconvenient’ to their new business models.”

We already know about Google’s incredible user trust failure in announcing dates for this process. First it was August. Then suddenly it was April. The G+ APIs (which vast numbers of web sites — including mine — made the mistake of deeply embedding into their sites), we’re told will start “intermittently failing” (whatever that actually means) later this month.
It gets much worse though. While Google has tools for users to download their own G+ postings for preservation, they have as far as I know provided nothing to help loyal G+ users maintain their social contacts… As far as Google is concerned, when G+ dies, all of your linkages to your G+ friends are gone forever. You can in theory try to reach out to each one and try to get their email addresses, but private messages on G+ have always been hit or miss…
And with only a few months left until Google pulls the plug on G+, I sure as hell wouldn’t still be soliciting for new G+ users! Yep — believe it or not — Google at this time is STILL soliciting for unsuspecting users to sign up for new G+ accounts, without any apparent warnings that you’re signing up for a service that is already officially the walking dead! Perhaps this shows most vividly how Google today seems to just not give a damn about users who aren’t in their target demographics of the moment. Or maybe it’s just laziness.
I’d be more upset about this if I actually used Google+ — but has Google been unfair to the users who do? “[T]he way in which they’ve handled the announcements and ongoing process of sunsetting a service much beloved by many Google users has been nothing short of atrocious,” Weinstein writes, “and has not shown respect for Google’s users overall.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Google Criticized Over Its Handling of the End of Google+

Is California's PG&E The First Climate Change Bankruptcy?

“California’s largest power company intends to file for bankruptcy as it faces tens of billions of dollars in potential liability following massive wildfires that devastated parts of the state over the last two years,” reports the Washington Post.
Calling it “a climate change casualty,” one Forbes contributor notes that PG&E’s stock has now lost 90% of its mid-October value after a giant November wildfire, adding that “Future investors will look back on these three months as a turning point, and wonder why the effects of climate change on the economic underpinnings to our society were not more widely recognized at the time.”

Climate scientists may equivocate about the degree to which Global Warming is contributing to these fires until more detailed research is complete, but for an investor who is used to making decisions based on incomplete or ambiguous information, the warning signs are flashing red… there is no doubt in my mind that Global Warming’s thumb rests on the scale of PG&E’s decision to declare bankruptcy.

And the Wall Street Journal is already describing it as “the first climate-change bankruptcy, probably not the last,” noting that it was a prolonged drought that “dried out much of the state and decimated forests, dramatically increasing the risk of fire.”

“This is a fairly new development,” said Bruce Usher, a professor at Columbia University’s business school who teaches a course on climate and finance. “If you are not already considering extreme weather and other climatic events as one of many risk factors affecting business today, you are not doing your job”…
In less than a decade, PG&E, which serves 16 million customers, saw the risk of catastrophic wildfires multiply greatly in its vast service area, which stretches from the Oregon border south to Bakersfield. Weather patterns that had been typical for Southern California — such as the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that sweep across the region in autumn, stoking fires — were now appearing hundreds of miles to the north. “The Santa Ana fire condition is now a Northern California fire reality, ” said Ken Pimlott, who retired last month as director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. “In a perfect world, we would like to see all [of PG&E’s] equipment upgraded, all of the vegetation removed from their lines. But I don’t know anybody overnight who is going to catch up.” PG&E scrambled to reduce fire risks by shoring up power lines and trimming millions of trees. But the company’s equipment kept setting fires — about 1,550 between mid-2014 through 2017, or more than one a day, according to data it filed with the state.
The global business community is recognizing the risks it faces from climate change. This week, a World Economic Forum survey of global business and thought leaders found extreme weather and other climate-related issues as top risks both by likelihood and impact.
Other factors besides climate change may also have pushed PG&E towards bankruptcy, according to the article. They’re required by California state regulations to provide electrical service to the thousands of people moving into the state’s forested areas, yet “an unusual California state law, known as ‘inverse condemnation,’ made PG&E liable if its equipment started a fire, regardless of whether it was negligent.”
In declaring bankruptcy, PG&E cited an estimated $30 billion in liabilities — plus 750 lawsuits from wildfires potentially caused by its power lines.

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Source: Slashdot – Is California’s PG&E The First Climate Change Bankruptcy?

Mark Zuckerberg's Mentor 'Shocked and Disappointed' — But He Has a Plan

Early Facebook investor Roger McNamee published a scathing 3,000-word article adapted from his new book Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe. Here’s just one example of what’s left him “shocked and disappointed”:
Facebook (along with Google and Twitter) has undercut the free press from two directions: it has eroded the economics of journalism and then overwhelmed it with disinformation. On Facebook, information and disinformation look the same; the only difference is that disinformation generates more revenue, so it gets better treatment…. At Facebook’s scale — or Google’s — there is no way to avoid influencing the lives of users and the future of nations. Recent history suggests that the threat to democracy is real. The efforts to date by Facebook, Google and Twitter to protect future elections may be sincere, but there is no reason to think they will do anything more than start a game of whack-a-mole with those who choose to interfere. Only fundamental changes to business models can reduce the risk to democracy.
Google and Facebook “are artificially profitable because they do not pay for the damage they cause,” McNamee argues, adding that some medical researchers “have raised alarms noting that we have allowed unsupervised psychological experiments on millions of people.”

But what’s unique is he’s offering specific suggestions to fix it.

“I want to set limits on the markets in which monopoly-class players like Facebook, Google and Amazon can operate. The economy would benefit from breaking them up. A first step would be to prevent acquisitions, as well as cross subsidies and data sharing among products within each platform.”
“Another important regulatory opportunity is data portability, such that users can move everything of value from one platform to another. This would help enable startups to overcome an otherwise insurmountable barrier to adoption.”
“Given that social media is practically a public utility, I think it is worth considering more aggressive strategies, including government subsidies.”
“There need to be versions of Facebook News Feed and all search results that are free of manipulation.”
“I would like to address privacy with a new model of authentication for website access that permits websites to gather only the minimum amount of data required for each transaction…. it would store private data on the device, not in the cloud. Apple has embraced this model, offering its customers valuable privacy and security advantages over Android.”
“No one should be able to use a user’s data in any way without explicit, prior consent. Third-party audits of algorithms, comparable to what exists now for financial statements, would create the transparency necessary to limit undesirable consequences.”
“There should be limits on what kind of data can be collected, such that users can limit data collection or choose privacy. This needs to be done immediately, before new products like Alexa and Google Home reach mass adoption.”

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Source: Slashdot – Mark Zuckerberg’s Mentor ‘Shocked and Disappointed’ — But He Has a Plan

Are You Ready For DNS Flag Day?

Long-time Slashdot reader syn3rg quotes the DNS Flag Day page:

The current DNS is unnecessarily slow and suffers from inability to deploy new features. To remediate these problems, vendors of DNS software and also big public DNS providers are going to remove certain workarounds on February 1st, 2019. This change affects only sites which operate software which is not following published standards. Are you affected?
The site includes a form where site owners can test their domain — it supplies a helpful technical report about any issues encountered — as well as suggestions for operators of DNS servers and DNS resolvers, researchers, and DNS software developers. The Internet Systems Consortium blog also has a list of the event’s supporters, which include Google, Facebook, Cisco, and Cloudflare, along with some history. “Extension Mechanisms for DNS were specified in 1999, with a minor update in 2013, establishing the ‘rules of the road’ for responding to queries with EDNS options or flags. Despite this, some implementations continue to violate the rules.

“DNS software developers have tried to solve the problems with the interoperability of the DNS protocol and especially its EDNS extension by various workarounds for non-standard behaviors… These workarounds excessively complicate DNS software and are now also negatively impacting the DNS as a whole. The most obvious problems caused by these workarounds are slower responses to DNS queries and the difficulty of deploying new DNS protocol features. Some of these new features (e.g. DNS Cookies) would help reduce DDoS attacks based on DNS protocol abuse….

“Our goal is a reliable and properly functioning DNS that cannot be easily attacked.”

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Source: Slashdot – Are You Ready For DNS Flag Day?

Venezuela's Government Blocks Access To Wikipedia

Haaretz (with contributions from Reuters and the Associated Press) reports:
According to NetBlocks, a digital rights group that tracks restrictions to the internet, as of 12 January, Venezuela largest telecommunications provider CANTV has prevented access to Wikipedia in all languages. The internet observatory told Haaretz the ban was discovered by attempting “to access Wikipedia and other services 60,000 times from 150 different points in the country using multiple providers.”
Roughly 16 million people have access to the internet in the South American country ravaged by poverty and now facing a political crisis as leader Nicolas Maduro attempts to cling to power following a highly contested re-election last year. Wikipedia receives on average 60 million views from the country every month.
According to NetBlocks, the ban was likely imposed after a Wikipedia article listed newly-appointed National Assembly president Juan Guaidà as âoepresident number 51 of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,â ousting Maduro from his presidential status on Wikipedia… Alp Toker, the head of NetBlocks, explained to Haaretz that the block followed a string of controversial edits on the Spanish-language article for Guaido as well as other related articles.

Long-time Slashdot reader williamyf identifies himself as “a Venezuelan in Venezuela.” He reports that “The method used seems to be to intercept the SSL handshake and not a simple DNS block,” adding “the situation is developing.”
In May of last year the government declared a “state of emergency” that authorized the government to police the internet and filter content, rights activists reported Monday. They added that now Venezuela’s new leaders plan to introduce legislation requiring messaging service providers to censor content, and implementing other so-called “content security” measures.

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Source: Slashdot – Venezuela’s Government Blocks Access To Wikipedia

Is US Surveillance Technology Propping Up Authoritarian Regimes?

A senior policy analyst from a non-partisan national security think tank — and one of their cybersecurity policy fellows — sound a dire warning in an op-ed shared by Slashdot reader schwit1:
From facial recognition software to GPS trackers to computer hacking tools to systems that monitor and redirect flows of Internet traffic, contemporary surveillance technologies enable “high levels of social control at a reasonable cost,” as Nicholas Wright puts it in Foreign Affairs. But these technologies don’t just aid and enable what Wright and other policy analysts have called “digital authoritarianism.” They also promote a sovereign and controlled model of the Internet, one characterized by frequent censorship, pervasive surveillance and tight control by the state. The United States could be a world leader in preventing the spread of this Internet model, but to do so, we must reevaluate the role U.S. companies play in contributing to it….

On one hand, the United States cares deeply about protecting a global and open Internet… On the other hand, American companies are selling surveillance technology that undermines this mission — contributing to the broader spread of digital authoritarianism that the United States claims to fight. (This also implicates allies such as Britain, whose companies have also sold surveillance technology to oppressive regimes.) We won’t be able to allay this situation until the United States updates its approach to exporting surveillance technology. Of course, this must be done carefully. But digital authoritarianism is spreading, and U.S. companies need to stop helping it.-

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Is US Surveillance Technology Propping Up Authoritarian Regimes?

'I Got Death Threats For Writing a Bad Review of Aquaman'

The Huffington Post recently published a post by one of the 300 members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association — and a contributing writer to Variety.
I saw “Aquaman” on a brisk Monday morning in December. Though I appreciated that star Jason Momoa didn’t take himself too seriously while playing an underwater superhero, the glut of CGI effects distracted me from the story. Which was hollow and nonsensical anyway. As with every movie I watch — up to four a week, hundreds a year — I expressed my opinion in print and online for Us Weekly, as well as my own site, The review was also linked on Rotten Tomatoes, where I’m a Top Critic.
Since I had a lot of films on my busy holiday schedule, I quickly moved on. Hundreds of men who read my review did not…. [Example comment: “I will kill your mom, dad and friends Bcoz I want [you] to regret for what u did. I have your address and details about your family members.” I reported the messages to Instagram and was rebuffed because, per the automated response, the vitriol didn’t “violate community guidelines.” Didn’t matter. They found me on Facebook and Twitter, too…. Nearly 2,000 people “liked” a post in which some guy made a collage of my face and a few negative reviews…. I wasn’t scared by the threats as I much as I was disheartened. One guy summed it up when he messaged me: “How many of us are you going to block? There are thousands of us.”
Ironically, the review wasn’t all negative. It called Aquaman “the first live-action D.C. Comics movie in which a superhero actually appears to be having fun. Batman, Superman, the Suicide Squad, even our beloved Wonder Woman tend to behave as if they just lost their 401(k) savings during the apocalypse.” Yet rifing on the critic’s last name, one commenter still wrote “hope another Holocaust happens.”

Instead of “thousands” of angry fans, it could just be hundreds who are using multiple accounts. But there’s a larger issue. “I worry that reading volumes of hate mail is starting to get in my head and cause me to consider the potential angry male ramifications while I’m writing my reviews, thereby compromising my integrity.”

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Source: Slashdot – ‘I Got Death Threats For Writing a Bad Review of Aquaman’

Larry Lessig Will Headline Friday's 'Grand Re-opening of the Public Domain' Event

An anonymous reader quotes the Internet Archive’s blog
Please join us for a Grand Re-opening of the Public Domain, featuring a keynote address by Creative Commons’ founder, Lawrence Lessig, on January 25, 2019. Co-hosted by the Internet Archive and Creative Commons, this celebration will feature legal thought leaders, lightning talks, demos, and the chance to play with these new public domain works. The event will take place at the Internet Archive in San Francisco….
Join the creative, legal, library, and advocacy communities plus an amazing lineup of people who will highlight the significance of this new class of public domain works. Presenters include Larry Lessig, political activist and Harvard Law professor; Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Cory Doctorow, science fiction author and co-editor of Boing Boing; Pam Samuelson, copyright scholar; and Jamie Boyle, the man who literally wrote the book on the public domain, and many others.
Attendees will also receive a discount on the world premiere of DJ Spooky’s Quantopia: The Evolution of the Internet, a live concert commissioned by the Internet Archive “synthesizing data and art, both original and public domain materials, in tribute to the depth and high stakes of free speech and creative expression involved in our daily use of media.”

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Source: Slashdot – Larry Lessig Will Headline Friday’s ‘Grand Re-opening of the Public Domain’ Event

GitHub Seeks Feedback on 'Open Source Sustainability'

Devon Zuegel, “a developer with a passion for governance and economics,” recently became GitHub’s open source product manager to “support maintainers in cultivating vital, productive communities” — specifically open source software (OSS).

Thursday they put out a call for feedback from open source developers about their contribution hours, their projects, and especially their issues:

As the OSS community has grown in scale and importance, the way we think about working together has to evolve, too. What works in a village or a town needs to evolve to serve a metropolis. Open source has grown from a small, academic sharing network to a giant, global web of dependencies. It now forms the backbone of the internet and technology in general. Just like any growing city, we have to coordinate the knowledge, infrastructure, and tools for the good of the whole community. OSS is an essential and special part of software development.
OSS has also been the heart of GitHub since the beginning. However, there is so much more we could do to support the people behind it. I have many ideas, but first I want to hear from you.

The essay argues OSS maintainers and contributors “don’t have all the tools, support, and environment they need to succeed,” including analytics, communication resources, recognition and “proportionate incentive to contribute time and money to creating and maintaining projects.” (As well as deficiencies in both governance and mentorship.) And at the bottom of the blog post, there’s a contact form.

“I want you to be part of the conversation and our roadmap. These challenges are nuanced, and they are unique to each project and community, so it’s crucial that we have an open dialogue as we focus on helping you address them.”

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Source: Slashdot – GitHub Seeks Feedback on ‘Open Source Sustainability’

Rust 1.32.0 Stable Release Includes New Debugging Macro, 'Quality of Life' Improvements

An anonymous reader summarizes the changes in Thursday’s release of Rust 1.32.0 stable:
“Quality of life” improvements include a new dbg macro to easily print values for debugging without having to use a println statement. For example, dbg!(x); prints the filename and line number, as well as the variable’s name and value, to stderr (rather than to standard output). Making it even more useful, the macro also returns the value of what it’s debugging — even all the boolean values returned by each execution of an if-then statement.
Rust macros can now match literals of any type (string, numeric, char) — and the 2018 edition of Rust also allows ? for matching zero or one repetitions of a pattern.
In addition, all integral numeric primitives now provide conversion functions to and from byte-arrays with specified endianness.

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Source: Slashdot – Rust 1.32.0 Stable Release Includes New Debugging Macro, ‘Quality of Life’ Improvements

Red Hat Rejects MongoDB's 'Discriminatory' Server Side Public License

An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet:
MongoDB is an open-source document NoSQL database with a problem. While very popular, cloud companies, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), IBM Cloud, Scalegrid, and ObjectRocket has profited from it by offering it as a service while MongoDB Inc. hasn’t been able to monetize it to the same degree. MongoDB’s answer? Relicense the program under its new Server Side Public License (SSPL).

Open-source powerhouse Red Hat’s reaction? Drop MongoDB from Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8. Red Hat’s Technical and Community Outreach Program Manager Tom Callaway explained, in a note stating MongoDB is being removed from Fedora Linux, that “It is the belief of Fedora that the SSPL is intentionally crafted to be aggressively discriminatory towards a specific class of users.” Debian Linux had already dropped MongoDB from its distribution….

The business point behind MongoDB’s license change is to force cloud companies to use one of MongoDB’s commercial cloud offerings. This hasn’t worked either. AWS just launched DocumentDB, a database, which “is designed to be compatible with your existing MongoDB applications and tools,” wrote AWS evangelist Jeff Barr.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Red Hat Rejects MongoDB’s ‘Discriminatory’ Server Side Public License

Is Disney's Star Wars Franchise In Trouble?

Disney’s Han Solo movie was the first Star Wars movie to lose money. But is there a larger problem? dryriver writes:

Comic book news website Cosmic Book News reports that even though Disney put bucketloads of Star Wars out there in 2018, revenues from all things Star Wars have actually fallen, according to Disney SEC filings. Disney made more Star Wars money in 2017 — when only Rogue One hit cinemas — than in 2018, when Solo, Last Jedi and SW Battlefront 2 were released.
A Rian Johnson-led Star Wars trilogy appears to have been delayed or cancelled entirely. Rumored spinoff movies for Bobba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi appear to have been put on the backburner or cancelled. Disney’s CEO has confirmed that the Star Wars movies are being slowed down.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Is Disney’s Star Wars Franchise In Trouble?

LucasFilm Rescues Darth Vader Fan Film From YouTube Copyright Fight

A Star Wars fan named “Toos” told Newsweek he’d spent $150,000 of his own money on a fan film about Darth Vader — and what happened next:
Before the camera started rolling Toos said he contacted an employee at Lucasfilm [and] claims Lucasfilm gave him permission on two conditions: he couldn’t crowdfund and he couldn’t monetize the fan film on YouTube. Toos agreed to those conditions and shot for three full days in September. They ran post-production up until the release of “Vader Episode 1: Shards of the Past” on December 20. Star Wars fans, a notoriously tough group to please, had overwhelming praise for the video, which gathered more than six million views in one month and 40,000 likes.
On January 14, music group and corporate collective Warner/Chappell filed a copyright claim against the video. After filing the claim, the company (publisher for the Walt Disney Music Company) began to collect ad revenue for Toos’ video by claiming that one of the songs used a rendition of “The Imperial March”… If Toos attempts to appeal and Warner/Chappell refutes his claim, he could get a copyright strike on his channel and lose complete ownership of the video…
Fan response on Reddit has been massive, with the post about Star Wars Theory and the strike reaching over 90,000 upvotes… In a new video on the StarWarsTheory channel, Toos told his fans that the claim on his video had been lifted due in part to the intervention of LucasFilm.”They stepped up and told Disney or the other company that this wasn’t okay, that this wasn’t going to stand.”
Newsweek points out that Disney doesn’t own Warner/Chappell. “The music group merely licenses their music” — and has been accused of making erroneous claims before.
They’re the same group that claimed they owned the music rights on a YouTube clip from Star Wars with all the original music removed.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – LucasFilm Rescues Darth Vader Fan Film From YouTube Copyright Fight

Inside DJI's 'Robomasters' Robotics Competition

pacopico writes: Every year, DJI hosts a robotics competition called Robomasters. It draws in hundreds of engineering students from around the world for two weeks of all out robotics mayhem. The students build and then control robotic vehicles that blast away at each other with rubber bullets, while drones strafe from overhead. Bloomberg Businessweek did a short documentary on the competition and everything that goes with it, including a reality TV show, an anime series, and final battle attended by thousands of people at a stadium in Shenzhen. The Chinese teams usually do the best, and the winners get some money and sometimes a job offer at DJI — all part of the country’s quest to dominate the robotics industry in the years to come.

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Source: Slashdot – Inside DJI’s ‘Robomasters’ Robotics Competition

Asteroid Strikes 'Increase Threefold Over Last 300 Million Years,' Survey Finds

According to a survey of asteroid craters at least 6.2 miles wide, the number of asteroids slamming into Earth has nearly tripled since the dinosaurs first roamed. “Researchers worked out the rate of asteroid strikes on the moon and the Earth and found that in the past 290 million years the number of collisions had increased dramatically,” reports The Guardian. “Before that time, the planet suffered an asteroid strike about once every 3 million years, but since then the rate has risen to once nearly every 1 million years.” From the report: The findings suggest that the dinosaurs may have been unfortunate in evolving 240 million years ago, just as the odds of being wiped out by a stray asteroid were ramping up. It was one of those impacts, on top of other factors, that did for the beasts 66 million years ago. Many scientists had assumed that asteroid strikes were a rare but constant threat in Earth’s deep history, but the latest study challenges that belief.

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers describe how they turned to the moon to examine the violent history of Earth. The Earth and moon are hit by asteroids with similar frequency, but impact craters on Earth are often erased or obscured by erosion and the shifting continents which churn up the crust. On the geologically inactive moon, impact craters are preserved almost indefinitely, making them easier to examine. Using images from Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the scientists studied the “rockiness” of the debris surrounding craters on the moon. Rocks thrown up by asteroid impacts are steadily ground down by the constant rain of micrometeorites that pours down on the moon. This means the state of the rocks around a crater can be used to date it. The dates revealed that the moon, and by extension the Earth, has suffered more intense asteroid bombardment in the past 290 million years than at any time in the previous billion. On Earth there are hardly any impact craters older than 650 million years, most likely because they were eroded when the planet became encased in ice in an event known as Snowball Earth.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Asteroid Strikes ‘Increase Threefold Over Last 300 Million Years,’ Survey Finds

Researchers Created Artificial Cells That Can Communicate With Each Other

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), have for the first time created artificial cell assemblies that can communicate with each other. The cells, separated by fatty membranes, exchange small chemical signaling molecules to trigger more complex reactions, such as the production of RNA and other proteins. Scientists around the world are working on creating artificial, cell-like systems that mimic the behavior of living organisms. Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin have created such artificial cell assemblies in a fixed spatial arrangement. The highlight is that the cells are able to communicate with each other.

Gels or emulsion droplets encapsulated in thin fat or polymer membranes serve as the basic building blocks for the artificial cells. Inside these 10- to 100-micron units, chemical and biochemical reactions can proceed uninhibited. The research team used droplets enclosed by lipid membranes and assembled them into artificial multicellular structures called micro-tissues. The biochemical reaction solutions used in the droplets can produce RNA and proteins, giving the cells a of a kind of gene expression ability. Small signal molecules can be exchanged between cells via their membranes or protein channels built into the membranes. This allows them to couple with each other temporally and spatially. The systems thus become dynamic, as in real life. Chemical pulses thus propagate through the cell structures and pass on information. The signals can also act as triggers, allowing initially identical cells to develop differently. “Our system is the first example of a multicellular system in which artificial cells with gene expression have a fixed arrangement and are coupled via chemical signals. In this way, we achieved a form of spatial differentiation,” says Friedrich Simmel, Professor of Physics of Synthetic Biosystems at Technical University of Munich.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Researchers Created Artificial Cells That Can Communicate With Each Other

Google Faces Renewed Protests and Criticism Over China Search Project

On Friday, a coalition of Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, and human rights groups organized demonstrations outside Google’s offices in the U.S., U.K., Canada, India, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark, protesting the company’s plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China. The Intercept reports: Google designed the Chinese search engine, code-named Dragonfly, to blacklist information about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, in accordance with strict rules on censorship in China that are enforced by the country’s authoritarian Communist Party government. In December, The Intercept revealed that an internal dispute had forced Google to shut down a data analysis system that it was using to develop the search engine. This had “effectively ended” the project, sources said, because the company’s engineers no longer had the tools they needed to build it.

But Google bosses have not publicly stated that they will cease development of Dragonfly. And the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai has refused to rule out potentially launching the search engine some time in the future, though he has insisted that there are no current plans to do so. The organizers of Friday’s protests — which were timed to coincide with Internet Freedom Day — said that they would continue to demonstrate “until Google executives confirm that Project Dragonfly has been canceled, once and for all.” Google “should be connecting the world through the sharing of information, not facilitating human rights abuses by a repressive government determined to crush all forms of peaceful online dissent,” said Gloria Montgomery, director at Tibet Society UK. “Google’s directors must urgently take heed of calls from employees and tens of thousands of global citizens demanding that they immediately halt project Dragonfly. If they don’t, Google risks irreversible damage to its reputation.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Google Faces Renewed Protests and Criticism Over China Search Project

Firmware Vulnerability In Popular Wi-Fi Chipset Affects Laptops, Smartphones, Routers, Gaming Devices

Embedi security researcher Denis Selianin has discovered a vulnerability affecting the firmware of a popular Wi-Fi chipset deployed in a wide range of devices, such as laptops, smartphones, gaming rigs, routers, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. According to Selianin, the vulnerability impacts ThreadX, a real-time operating system that is used as firmware for billions of devices. ZDNet reports: In a report published today, Selianin described how someone could exploit the ThreadX firmware installed on a Marvell Avastar 88W8897 wireless chipset to execute malicious code without any user interaction. The researcher chose this WiFi SoC (system-on-a-chip) because this is one of the most popular WiFi chipsets on the market, being deployed with devices such as Sony PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Surface laptops, Samsung Chromebooks, Samsung Galaxy J1 smartphones, and Valve SteamLink cast devices, just to name a few.

“I’ve managed to identify ~4 total memory corruption issues in some parts of the firmware,” said Selianin. “One of the discovered vulnerabilities was a special case of ThreadX block pool overflow. This vulnerability can be triggered without user interaction during the scanning for available networks.” The researcher says the firmware function to scan for new WiFi networks launches automatically every five minutes, making exploitation trivial. All an attacker has to do is send malformed WiFi packets to any device with a Marvell Avastar WiFi chipset and wait until the function launches, to execute malicious code and take over the device. Selianin says he also “identified two methods of exploiting this technique, one that is specific to Marvell’s own implementation of the ThreadX firmware, and one that is generic and can be applied to any ThreadX-based firmware, which, according to the ThreatX homepage, could impact as much as 6.2 billion devices,” the report says. Patches are reportedly being worked on.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Firmware Vulnerability In Popular Wi-Fi Chipset Affects Laptops, Smartphones, Routers, Gaming Devices

Identical Twins Test 5 DNA Ancestry Kits, Get Different Results On Each

Freshly Exhumed writes: Uh-oh, something is not right with the results of most popular DNA ancestry kits, as a pair of identical twins have found. Charlsie Agro and her twin sister, Carly, bought home kits from AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA, and mailed samples of their DNA to each company for analysis. Despite having virtually identical DNA, the twins did not receive matching results from any of the companies. “The fact that they present different results for you and your sister, I find very mystifying,” said Dr. Mark Gerstein, a computational biologist at Yale University. Gerstein’s team analyzed the results, and he asserts that any results the Agro twins received from the same DNA testing company should have been identical. The raw data collected from both sisters’ DNA is nearly exactly the same. “It’s shockingly similar,” he said.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Identical Twins Test 5 DNA Ancestry Kits, Get Different Results On Each

Giving Algorithms a Sense of Uncertainty Could Make Them More Ethical

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Algorithms are increasingly being used to make ethical decisions. They are built to pursue a single mathematical goal, such as maximizing the number of soldiers’ lives saved or minimizing the number of civilian deaths. When you start dealing with multiple, often competing, objectives or try to account for intangibles like “freedom” and “well-being,” a satisfactory mathematical solution doesn’t always exist. “We as humans want multiple incompatible things,” says Peter Eckersley, the director of research for the Partnership on AI, who recently released a paper that explores this issue. “There are many high-stakes situations where it’s actually inappropriate — perhaps dangerous — to program in a single objective function that tries to describe your ethics.” These solutionless dilemmas aren’t specific to algorithms. Ethicists have studied them for decades and refer to them as impossibility theorems. So when Eckersley first recognized their applications to artificial intelligence, he borrowed an idea directly from the field of ethics to propose a solution: what if we built uncertainty into our algorithms?

Eckersley puts forth two possible techniques to express this idea mathematically. He begins with the premise that algorithms are typically programmed with clear rules about human preferences. We’d have to tell it, for example, that we definitely prefer friendly soldiers over friendly civilians, and friendly civilians over enemy soldiers — even if we weren’t actually sure or didn’t think that should always be the case. The algorithm’s design leaves little room for uncertainty. The first technique, known as partial ordering, begins to introduce just the slightest bit of uncertainty. You could program the algorithm to prefer friendly soldiers over enemy soldiers and friendly civilians over enemy soldiers, but you wouldn’t specify a preference between friendly soldiers and friendly civilians. In the second technique, known as uncertain ordering, you have several lists of absolute preferences, but each one has a probability attached to it. Three-quarters of the time you might prefer friendly soldiers over friendly civilians over enemy soldiers. A quarter of the time you might prefer friendly civilians over friendly soldiers over enemy soldiers. The algorithm could handle this uncertainty by computing multiple solutions and then giving humans a menu of options with their associated trade-offs, Eckersley says.

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Source: Slashdot – Giving Algorithms a Sense of Uncertainty Could Make Them More Ethical