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AI

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI Is Going To Decimate Middle Class Jobs (businessinsider.com) 10

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that "the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining." He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines. Automation will, "in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world," Hawking wrote. "The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive." He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: "We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent." Combined with other issues -- overpopulation, climate change, disease -- we are, Hawking warns ominously, at "the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity." Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.
Crime

Lawyer Sues 20-Year-Old Student Who Gave a Bad Yelp Review, Loses Badly (arstechnica.com) 33

20-year-old Lan Cai was in a car crash this summer, after she was plowed into by a drunk driver and broke two bones in her lower back. She didn't know how to navigate her car insurance and prove damages, so she reached out for legal help. Things didn't go as one would have liked, initially, as ArsTechnica documents:The help she got, Cai said, was less than satisfactory. Lawyers from the Tuan A. Khuu law firm ignored her contacts, and at one point they came into her bedroom while Cai was sleeping in her underwear. "Seriously, it's super unprofessional!" she wrote on Facebook. (The firm maintains it was invited in by Cai's mother.) She also took to Yelp to warn others about her bad experience. The posts led to a threatening e-mail from Tuan Khuu attorney Keith Nguyen. Nguyen and his associates went ahead and filed that lawsuit, demanding the young woman pay up between $100,000 and $200,000 -- more than 100 times what she had in her bank account. Nguyen said he didn't feel bad at all about suing Cai. Cai didn't remove her review, though. Instead she fought back against the Khuu firm, all thanks to attorney Michael Fleming, who took her case pro bono. Fleming filed a motion arguing that, first and foremost, Cai's social media complaints were true. Second, she couldn't do much to damage the reputation of a firm that already had multiple poor reviews. He argued the lawsuit was a clear SLAPP (strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Ultimately, the judge agreed with Fleming, ordering the Khuu firm to pay $26,831.55 in attorneys' fees.
AT&T

FCC Calls Out AT&T, Verizon For 'Zero Rating' Their Own Video Apps (zdnet.com) 33

U.S. regulators are calling out AT&T and Verizon for exempting their own video apps from data caps on customers' smartphones. The FCC has sent letters to the country's biggest wireless carriers saying the way they handle the practice, known as "zero rating," can hurt competition and consumers. From a report on ZDNet: AT&T launched DirecTV Now earlier this week. AT&T Mobility customers can stream video data over LTE without impacting their data allowance. Verizon offers something similar with its go90 service. AT&T and Verizon don't see any wrongdoing. In a statement Friday, AT&T said exempting services like DirecTV Now from data caps saves customers money. Verizon said its practices are good for consumers and comply with regulations. "We will provide the FCC with additional information on why the government should not take away a service that saves consumers money," AT&T wrote in a statement Friday. The FCC hasn't released any official ruling on "zero rating," just guidance. It said on Thursday a similar letter was sent to AT&T in November, but the FCC didn't like AT&T's original response.
Earth

Climate Change Will Stir 'Unimaginable' Refugee Crisis, Says Military (theguardian.com) 149

Citing military experts, The Guardian is reporting that if the rise in global warming is held under 2 degrees Celsius, there still could be a major humanitarian crisis to sort out. From the report: Climate change is set to cause a refugee crisis of "unimaginable scale," according to senior military figures, who warn that global warming is the greatest security threat of the 21st century and that mass migration will become the "new normal." The generals said the impacts of climate change were already factors in the conflicts driving a current crisis of migration into Europe, having been linked to the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency. Military leaders have long warned that global warming could multiply and accelerate security threats around the world by provoking conflicts and migration. They are now warning that immediate action is required. "Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century," said Maj Gen Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh. He said one metre of sea level rise will flood 20% of his nation. "Weâ(TM)re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people."
Facebook

Facebook Commits Millions to Help Silicon Valley's Have-Nots (fortune.com) 43

Facebook wants to be a better corporate citizen, which is perhaps why on Friday it announced a partnership with local community organizations near its headquarters in which it will initially commit $20 million towards making affordable housing, job training, and legal services available to more people in the area. From a report on Fortune: A few groups have signed up to participate, including Youth United for Community Action, Faith in Action Bay Area, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Comite de Vecinos del Lado Oeste -- East Palo Alto, along with the local governments of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Here's how that first round of funding will be spread out: This new coalition will allocate $18.5 million into a fund called the Catalyst Housing Fund. The goal is to find ways to accelerate and grow the production of affordable housing in the community. Additionally, $250,000 will be given to Rebuilding Together Peninsula which seeks to assist low-income residents with the upkeep of their homes. $625,000 has been assigned to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in schools, something Silicon Valley has been actively encouraging for years.
Movies

Free TV-Show Streaming Hurts Online Sales, Research Finds (torrentfreak.com) 57

New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that online piracy is not the only worry for TV distributors. Based on Downton Abbey streaming and sales data provided by PBS, as reported by TorrentFreak, the researchers find that free legal streams can significantly reduce download sales. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that free streaming options should be banned. From the report: The researchers were able to estimate the impact in a natural experiment, since PBS was required to pull the free streams for all episodes at the same time. This means that some were streamable for more than a month, while others only for a week, or two. In addition, they had sales data for several seasons, allowing them to make an alternative comparison between years, where the streaming windows varied. In both cases, they show that free streaming cannibalizes download sales. "Our analysis in our primary specification indicates that availability in the free streaming window reduces EST sales by 8.4%. Using an alternative specification we find that free availability reduces EST sales by 9.9%," they write. The negative effect is not unexpected. However, it doesn't mean that it is wrong to offer free streaming in the long run, as there are several positive side-effects. That's where the puzzle starts to get complicated.
Technology

Fake Apple Chargers Fail Safety Tests (bbc.com) 90

Investigators have warned consumers they face potentially fatal risks after 99% of fake Apple chargers failed a basic safety test. From a report on BBC: Trading Standards, which commissioned the checks, said counterfeit electrical goods bought online were an "unknown entity." Of 400 counterfeit chargers, only three were found to have enough insulation to protect against electric shocks. It comes as Apple has complained of a "flood" of fakes being sold on Amazon. Apple revealed in October that it was suing a third-party vendor, which it said was putting customers "at risk" by selling power adapters masquerading as those sold by the Californian tech firm.
Security

Russia Says Foreign Spies Plan Cyber Attack On Banking System (reuters.com) 73

Russia said on Friday it had uncovered a plot by foreign spy agencies to sow chaos in Russia's banking system via a coordinated wave of cyber attacks and fake social media reports about banks going bust. From a report on Reuters: Russia's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), said that the servers to be used in the alleged cyber attack were located in the Netherlands and registered to a Ukrainian web hosting company called BlazingFast. The attack, which was to target major national and provincial banks in several Russian cities, was meant to start on Dec. 5, the FSB said in a statement. "It was planned that the cyber attack would be accompanied by a mass send-out of SMS messages and publications in social media of a provocative nature regarding a crisis in the Russian banking system, bankruptcies and license withdrawals," it said. "The FSB is carrying out the necessary measures to neutralize threats to Russia's economic and information security."
Facebook

Facebook Knows What You're Streaming (bloomberg.com) 89

Facebook is gathering information about the shows Roku and Apple TV owners are streaming. The company then uses the Facebook profile linked to the same IP addresses to tailor the commercials that are shown to individual users. From a report on Bloomberg: For the past few weeks, the social network says, it's been targeting ads to people streaming certain shows on their Roku or Apple TV set-top boxes. It customizes commercials based on the Facebook profiles tied to the IP addresses doing the streaming, according to a company spokesman. He says Facebook is trying out this approach with the A&E network (The Killing, Duck Dynasty) and streaming startup Tubi TV, selecting free test ads for nonprofits or its own products along with a handful of name brands. This push is part of a broader effort by social media companies to build their revenue with ads on video. Twitter is placing much of its ad-sales hopes on streaming partnerships with sports leagues and other content providers. In October, CFO Anthony Noto told analysts on an earnings call that the ads played during Twitter's NFL Thursday Night Football streaming exclusives had been especially successful, with many people watching them in their entirety with the sound turned on. The participants in these partnerships don't yet have a default answer to questions such as who should be responsible for selling the ads or who should get which slice of revenue.
Operating Systems

Taking a Stand Against Unofficial Ubuntu Images (ubuntu.com) 78

Canonical isn't pleased with cloud providers who are publishing broken, insecure images of Ubuntu despite being notified several times. In a blogpost, Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, and the Executive Chairman and VP, Product Strategy at Canonical, made the situation public for all to see. An excerpt from the blog post: We are currently in dispute with a European cloud provider which has breached its contract and is publishing insecure, broken images of Ubuntu despite many months of coaxing to do it properly. The home-grown images on the cloud, VPS and bare metal services of this provider disable fundamental security mechanisms and modify the system in ways that are unsupportable. They are likely to behave unpredictably on update in weirdly creative and mysterious ways (the internet is full of fun examples). We hear about these issues all the time, because users assume there is a problem with Ubuntu on that cloud; users expect that 'all things that claim to be Ubuntu are genuine', and they have a right to expect that. We have spent many months of back and forth in which we unsuccessfully tried to establish the same operational framework on this cloud that already exists on tens of clouds around the world. We have on multiple occasions been promised it will be rectified to no avail. We are now ready to take legal steps to remove these images. We will seek to avoid affecting existing running users, but we must act to prevent future users from being misled. We do not make this move lightly, but have come to the view that the value of Ubuntu to its users rests on these commitments to security, quality and updates.
United Kingdom

UK Homes Lose Internet Access After Cyber-Attack (theguardian.com) 30

More than 100,000 people in the UK have had their internet access cut after a string of service providers were hit by what is believed to be a coordinated cyber-attack, taking the number affected in Europe up to about a million. From a report on The Guardian, shared by reader JoshTops: TalkTalk, one of Britain's biggest service providers, the Post Office and the Hull-based KCom were all affected by the malware known as the Mirai worm, which is spread via compromised computers. The Post Office said 100,000 customers had experienced problems since the attack began on Sunday and KCom put its figure at about 10,000 customers since Saturday. Earlier this week, Germany's Deutsche Telekom said up to 900,000 of its customers had lost their internet connection as part of the same incident.
Science

Four New Elements Finally Get Their Official Names, Added To Periodic Table (universityherald.com) 87

Scientists have updated the periodic table to add four new elements, namely: Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine and Oganesson. The super-heavy elements discovered by scientists from Japan, Russia, and America, complete the seventh row of the table. Their inclusion also marks the first additions since 2011. From an article on University Herald: Now that the new elements have their names, the seventh row of the periodic table is now complete. The approval was done by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The elements were confirmed back in January. They were assigned temporary names and symbols: ununtrium (Uut), ununpentium (Uup), ununseptium (Uus), and ununoctium (Uuo). It was noted that the teams of Russian, American and Japanese researchers behind the discoveries were given the task of naming the elements that they uncovered. They submitted their proposals in June.
United States

US Economy Added 178,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment Rate Drops To 4.6 Percent (washingtonpost.com) 447

The U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent from 4.9 percent the previous month, according to new government data released (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source) Friday morning. From a report on the Washington Post: Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected U.S. employers to create 180,000 new jobs last month -- roughly in line with the average number added in the first 11 months of the year. The first release after a contentious election in which the candidates disputed the health and direction of the economy, the data showed a job market that is continuing to steadily strengthen from the recession. The unemployment rate fell to levels not seen since August 2007, before a bubble in the U.S. housing market began to burst. The fall was driven partly by the creation of new jobs, and partly by people retiring and otherwise leaving the labor force. The labor force participation rate ticked down to 62.7 percent. Average hourly earnings declined by 3 cents to $25.89. The decrease pared back large gains seen in October, but over the year average hourly earnings are still up 2.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
Android

Multiple Vulnerabilities In AirDroid Opens At Least 10 Million Android Users To MITM Attacks, Hijackings (androidpolice.com) 28

AirDroid is a popular Android application that allows users to send and receive text messages and transfer files and see notifications from their computer. Zimperium, a mobile security company, recently released details of several major security vulnerabilities in the application, allowing attackers on the same network to access user information and execute code on a user's device. Since there are between 10 and 50 million installations of the app, many users may be imperiled by AirDroid. Android Police reports: The security issues are mainly due to AirDroid using the same HTTP request to authorize the device and send usage statistics. The request is encrypted, but uses a hardcoded key in the AirDroid application (so essentially, everyone using AirDroid has the same key). Attackers on the same network an intercept the authentication request (commonly known as a Man-in-the-middle attack) using the key extracted from any AirDroid APK to retrieve private account information. This includes the email address and password associated with the AirDroid account. Attackers using a transparent proxy can intercept the network request AirDroid sends to check for add-on updates, and inject any APK they want. AirDroid would then notify the user of an add-on update, then download the malicious APK and ask the user to accept the installation. Zimperium notified AirDroid of these security flaws on May 24, and a few days later, AirDroid acknowledged the problem. Zimperium continued to follow up until AirDroid informed them of the upcoming 4.0 release, which was made available last month. Zimperium later discovered that version 4.0 still had all these same issues, and finally went public with the security vulnerabilities today.
Censorship

China Is Censoring People's Chats Without Them Even Knowing About It (qz.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A new study from The Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, reveals that censorship on WeChat occurs primarily in group chats rather than one-on-one chats between two people, and often in such a way where the sender of a text isn't even aware a piece of text has been scrubbed. The discoveries illuminates how China's government attempts to keep its citizens blind to the scope of its censorship regime. The researchers set out find the extent to which certain keywords got scrubbed from conversations between two or more users in WeChat. To do this, in June 2016 the team posed as a Chinese WeChat user and sent out 26,821 keywords containing terms that had been censored on other apps, including Tom-Skype (a made-for-China version of Skype) and YY (a live broadcast app). A corresponding Canadian user in the two-way chat would then report back to say whether or not the message had been received. The report states that out of the entire sample, only one term -- Falun Gong -- had been scrubbed. When they ran an identical test in August, even that text mysteriously passed without censorship. Yet when they tested group chats, they found multiple cases in which certain keywords triggered a removal. Specifically, while sensitive terms used in isolation were unlikely to trigger censorship (say "June 4th," a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests, brutally put down on June 4, 1989), it took effect when they were used in a full sentence or with other keywords. The researchers also discovered that when WeChat censored a message, the sender received no notice informing him that his text had not reached the intended recipient. The study also notes that "WeChat only censors content for users who bind their account to a mainland Chinese phone number when they first register to use the app." The censorship is still applied even if Chinese residents move to different countries or change phone numbers.

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