Education

Universities Spend Millions on Accessing Results of Publicly Funded Research (theconversation.com) 21

Mark C. Wilson, a senior lecturer at Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, writing for The Conversation: University research is generally funded from the public purse. The results, however, are published in peer-reviewed academic journals, many of which charge subscription fees. I had to use freedom of information laws to determine how much universities in New Zealand spend on journal subscriptions to give researchers and students access to the latest research -- and I found they paid almost US$15 million last year to just four publishers. There are additional costs, too. Paywalls on research hold up scientific progress and limit the publicâ(TM)s access to the latest information.
Earth

Almost 45 Million Tons of E-waste Discarded Last Year (apnews.com) 138

A new study claims 44.7 million metric tons (49.3 million tons) of TV sets, refrigerators, cellphones and other electrical good were discarded last year, with only a fifth recycled to recover the valuable raw materials inside. From a report: The U.N.-backed study published Wednesday calculates that the amount of e-waste thrown away in 2016 included a million tons of chargers alone. The U.S. accounted for 6.3 million metric tons, partly due to the fact that the American market for heavy goods is saturated. The original study can be found here (PDF; Google Drive link).
Businesses

No Matter What Happens With Net Neutrality, an Open Internet Isn't Going Anywhere, Says Former FCC Chairman (recode.net) 159

Michael K. Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, writing for Recode: With an ounce of reflection, one knows that none of this will come to pass, and the imagined doom will join the failed catastrophic predictions of Y2K and massive snow storms that fizzle to mere dustings -- all too common in Washington, D.C. Sadly, rational debate, like Elvis, has left the building. The vibrant and open internet that Americans cherish isn't going anywhere. In the days, weeks and years following this vote, Americans will be merrily shopping online for the holidays, posting pictures on Instagram, vigorously voicing political views on Facebook and asking Alexa the score of the game. Startups and small business will continue to hatch and flourish, and students will be online, studiously taking courses. Time will prove that the FCC did not destroy the internet, and our digital lives will go on just as they have for years. This confidence rests on the fact that ISPs highly value the open internet and the principles of net neutrality, much more than some animated activists would have you think. Why? For one, because it's a better way of making money than a closed internet.
AI

What Does Artificial Intelligence Actually Mean? (qz.com) 93

An anonymous reader writes: A new bill (pdf) drafted by senator Maria Cantwell asks the Department of Commerce to establish a committee on artificial intelligence to advise the federal government on how AI should be implemented and regulated. Passing of the bill would trigger a process in which the secretary of commerce would be required to release guidelines for legislation of AI within a year and a half. As with any legislation, the proposed bill defines key terms. In this, we have a look at how the federal government might one day classify artificial intelligence. Here are the five definitions given:

A) Any artificial systems that perform tasks under varying and unpredictable circumstances, without significant human oversight, or that can learn from their experience and improve their performance. Such systems may be developed in computer software, physical hardware, or other contexts not yet contemplated. They may solve tasks requiring human-like perception, cognition, planning, learning, communication, or physical action. In general, the more human-like the system within the context of its tasks, the more it can be said to use artificial intelligence.
B) Systems that think like humans, such as cognitive architectures and neural networks.
C) Systems that act like humans, such as systems that can pass the Turing test or other comparable test via natural language processing, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and learning.
D) A set of techniques, including machine learning, that seek to approximate some cognitive task.
E) Systems that act rationally, such as intelligent software agents and embodied robots that achieve goals via perception, planning, reasoning, learning, communicating, decision-making, and acting.

AMD

AMD Is Open-Sourcing Their Official Vulkan Linux Driver (phoronix.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: While many of you have likely heard of the "RADV" open-source Vulkan driver, it's been a community-written driver up to this point in the absence of AMD's official, cross-platform Vulkan driver being open-source. That's now changed with AMD now open-sourcing their official Vulkan driver. The code drop is imminent and they are encouraging the use of it for quick support of new AMD hardware, access to the Radeon GPU Profiler, easy integration of AMD Vulkan extensions, and enabling third-party extensions. For now at least it does provide better Vulkan performance than RADV but the RADV developers have indicated they plan to continue development of their Mesa-based Vulkan driver.
Space

Why Meteoroids Explode Before Hitting the Earth (qz.com) 55

According to a new study from Purdue University, scientists have figured out why meteoroids explode before hitting the Earth. "The research, published in the December issue of the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, shows that as meteoroids plunge, the high-pressure air they push against find its way into the objects' pores and cracks, forcing their bodies apart from the inside," reports Quartz. "The result is a kind of detonation that looks like an explosion." From the report: To explain the astrophysics, researchers focused their work on a widely viewed February 2013 meteoroid explosion place over Chelyabinsk, Russia, a city of 1.1 million north of the Kazakhstan border. Researchers ran a computer program that allowed for them to simulate what happened to the meteoroid in the atmosphere. "Our simulations reveal a previously unrecognized process in which the penetration of high-pressure air into the body of the meteoroid greatly enhances the deformation and facilitates the breakup of meteoroids similar to the size of Chelyabinsk," the study states. The researchers added that while the air pressure is effective at breaking apart small meteoroids, larger ones would likely withstand the force as they come to Earth.
The Almighty Buck

The Silicon Valley Paradox: One In Four People Are At Risk of Hunger (theguardian.com) 313

Zorro shares a report from The Guardian: One in four people in Silicon Valley are at risk of hunger, researchers at the Second Harvest food bank have found. Using hundreds of community interviews and data modeling, a new study suggests that 26.8% of the population -- almost 720,000 people -- qualify as "food insecure" based on risk factors such as missing meals, relying on food banks or food stamps, borrowing money for food, or neglecting bills and rent in order to buy groceries. Nearly a quarter are families with children. "We call it the Silicon Valley paradox," says Steve Brennan, the food bank's marketing director. "As the economy gets better we seem to be serving more people." Since the recession, Second Harvest has seen demand spike by 46%. The bank is at the center of the Silicon Valley boom -- both literally and figuratively. It sits just half a mile from Cisco's headquarters and counts Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg among its major donors. But the need it serves is exacerbated by this industry's wealth; as high-paying tech firms move in, the cost of living rises for everyone else.

The scale of the problem becomes apparent on a visit to Second Harvest, the only food bank serving Silicon Valley and one of the largest in the country. In any given month it provides meals for 257,000 people -- 66m pounds of food last year. Because poverty is often shrouded in shame, their clients' situations can come as a surprise. "Often we think of somebody visibly hungry, the traditional homeless person," Brennan said. "But this study is putting light on the non-traditional homeless: people living in their car or a garage, working people who have to choose between rent and food, people without access to a kitchen."

Government

Trump Signs Law Forcing Drone Users To Register With Government (thehill.com) 409

President Trump signed a sweeping defense policy bill into law on Tuesday that will allow the government to require recreational drone users to register their model aircraft. This comes after a federal court ruled in May that Americans no longer have to register non-commercial drones with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) "because Congress had said in a previous law that the FAA can't regulate model aircraft," reports The Hill. From the report: In December 2015, the FAA issued an interim rule requiring drone hobbyists to register their recreational aircraft with the agency. The rule -- which had not been formally finalized -- requires model aircraft owners to provide their name, email address and physical address; pay a $5 registration fee; and display a unique drone ID number at all times. Those who fail to comply could face civil and criminal penalties. While Congress directed the FAA to safely integrate drones into the national airspace in a 2012 aviation law, lawmakers also included a special exemption to prevent model aircraft from being regulated. A D.C.-based appeals court cited the 2012 law in its ruling striking down the FAA drone registry, arguing that recreational drones count as model aircraft and that the registry counts as a rule or regulation.
Businesses

Trump Signs Into Law US Government Ban on Kaspersky Lab Software (reuters.com) 130

President Donald Trump signed into law on Tuesday legislation that bans the use of Kaspersky Lab within the U.S. government, capping a months-long effort to purge the Moscow-based antivirus firm from federal agencies amid concerns it was vulnerable to Kremlin influence. From a report: The ban, included as part of a broader defense policy spending bill that Trump signed, reinforces a directive issued by the Trump administration in September that civilian agencies remove Kaspersky Lab software within 90 days. The law applies to both civilian and military networks. "The case against Kaspersky is well-documented and deeply concerning. This law is long overdue," said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who led calls in Congress to scrub the software from government computers. She added that the company's software represented a "grave risk" to U.S. national security.
Bitcoin

SEC Shuts Down Munchee ICO (techcrunch.com) 41

The Securities and Exchange Commission has shut down Munchee, a company that built a $15 million token sale. According to TechCrunch, "The Munchee ICO aimed to fund the MUN coin, a payment system for restaurant reviews." However, the company "received a cease and desist from the SEC on December 11" because it constituted the offer and sale of unregistered securities. From the report: Within the SECs findings they noted that Munchee touted itself as a "utility" token which means that the company believed the MUN token would be primarily used within the Munchee ecosystem and not be used to fund operations. However, thanks to an application of the Howey Test (a Supreme Court finding that essentially states that any instrument with the expectation of return is an investment vehicle), the SEC found the Munchee was actually releasing a security masquerading as a utility. "Munchee offered MUN tokens in order to raise capital to build a profitable enterprise," read the SEC notice. "Munchee said that it would use the offering proceeds to run its business, including hiring people to develop its product, promoting the Munchee App, and ensuring 'the smooth operation of the MUN token ecosystem.'" The stickiest part? Munchee claimed that its coins would increase in value thanks to a convoluted process of growth.

In short, Munchee was undone by two things: depending on the token sale as a vehicle to raise cash for operations and using the typically spammy and scammy marketing efforts most ICO floggers use now, tactics taken directly from affiliate marketing handbooks. Fortunately, Munchee was able to return all $15 million to the 40 investors that dumped their coins into scheme.

Bitcoin

SEC Warns 'Extreme Caution' Over Cryptocurrency Investments As Many People Take Out Mortgages To Buy Bitcoin (qz.com) 229

The head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission has warned bitcoin and other cryptocurrency investors to beware of scams and criminal activity in the sector. In the financial regulator's strongest statement yet, SEC chair Jay Clayton said: "If a promoter guarantees returns, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, or if you are pressured to act quickly, please exercise extreme caution and be aware of the risk that your investment may be lost." The warning comes at a time when many people have begun to take out mortgages to buy bitcoin. From a report: Clayton's statement was also issued the same day the SEC took regulatory action to halt an initial coin offering (ICO). "Recognize that these markets span national borders and that significant trading may occur on systems and platforms outside the United States. Your invested funds may quickly travel overseas without your knowledge," he wrote, in a sentence that was in bold. Clayton's statement referenced some of the crucial debates that have swirled around the rise and regulation of crypto-assets like bitcoins. Are these currencies? Commodities? Or securities? The statement notes in a footnote that bitcoin in the US has been designated a commodity. But the broader answer seems to be that while it depends from case to case, initial coin offerings, at least, are more likely to be scrutinized and held to the same bar as securities offerings.
Businesses

Why Google and Amazon Are Hypocrites (om.blog) 239

Amazon earlier this month responded to Google's decision to remove YouTube from all Fire TV products and the Echo Show. Google says it's taking this extreme step because of Amazon's recent delisting of new Nest products (like Nest Secure and the E Thermostat) and the company's long-running refusal to sell Chromecast or support Google Cast in any capacity. Veteran journalist Om Malik writes: This smacks of so much hypocrisy that I don't even know where to start. The two public proponents of network neutrality and anything but neutral about each other's services on each other's platforms. They can complain about the cable companies from blocking their content and charging for fast lanes. The irony isn't lost on me even a wee bit. They are locked in a battle to collect as much data about us -- what we shop, what we see, what we do online and they do so under the guise of offering us services that are amazing and wonderful. They don't talk about what they won't do with our data, instead, they bicker and distract. So to think that these purveyors of hyper-capitalism will fight for interests of consumers is not only childish, it is foolish. We as end customers need to figure out who is speaking on our behalf when it comes to the rules of the Internet.
The Internet

129 Million Americans Can Only Get Internet Service From Companies That Have Violated Net Neutrality (vice.com) 140

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Based on the Federal Communications Commission's own data, the Institute for Local Self Reliance found that 129 million Americans only have one option for broadband internet service in their area, which equals about 40 percent of the country. Of those who only have one option, roughly 50 million are limited to a company that has violated net neutrality in some way. Of Americans who do have more than one option, 50 million of them are left choosing between two companies that have both got shady behavior on their records, from blocking certain access to actively campaigning against net neutrality.

Aside from being a non-ideal situation for consumers like me, this lack of competition is another dock against the FCC's plan to repeal net neutrality rules later this week. In arguing against net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has repeatedly cited a free market as just as capable of ensuring internet freedom as government regulations. "All we are simply doing is putting engineers and entrepreneurs, instead of bureaucrats and lawyers, back in charge of the internet," Pai said on Fox News's "Fox & Friends," in November. "What we wanted to do is return to the free market consensus that started in the Clinton administration and that served the internet economy in America very well for many years." But how can market competition regulate an industry when more than a third of the market has no competition at all, and even those that do have to choose between options that don't uphold net neutrality?

Education

France To Ban Mobile Phones In Schools (theguardian.com) 187

The French government is planning to ban students from using mobile phones in the country's primary, junior and middle schools. While children will be permitted to bring their phones to school, they will not be allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks. The Guardian reports: Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, said the measure would come into effect from the start of the next school year in September 2018. It will apply to all pupils from the time they start school at age of six -- up to about 15 when they start secondary school. Blanquer said some education establishments already prohibited pupils from using their mobiles. "Sometimes you need a mobile for teaching reasons [...] for urgent situations, but their use has to be somehow controlled," he told RTL radio. The minister said the ban was also a "public health message to families," adding: "It's good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of seven." The French headteachers' union was skeptical that the ban could be enforced.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Fees Are Skyrocketing (arstechnica.com) 258

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The cost to complete a Bitcoin transaction has skyrocketed in recent days. A week ago, it cost around $6 on average to get a transaction accepted by the Bitcoin network. The average fee soared to $26 on Friday and was still almost $20 on Sunday. The reason is simple: until recently, the Bitcoin network had a hard-coded 1 megabyte limit on the size of blocks on the blockchain, Bitcoin's shared transaction ledger. With a typical transaction size of around 500 bytes, the average block had fewer than 2,000 transactions. And with a block being generated once every 10 minutes, that works out to around 3.3 transactions per second. A September upgrade called segregated witness allowed the cryptographic signatures associated with each transaction to be stored separately from the rest of the transaction. Under this scheme, the signatures no longer counted against the 1 megabyte blocksize limit, which should have roughly doubled the network's capacity. But only a small minority of transactions have taken advantage of this option so far, so the network's average throughput has stayed below 2,500 transactions per block -- around four transactions per second.
Bitcoin

In-Store WiFi Provider Used Starbucks Website To Generate Monero Coins (hackread.com) 30

hjf writes: On December 2nd, Twitter user Noah Dinkin tweeted a screenshot that showed that Starbucks' in-store "free WiFi" is using their captive portal to briefly mine the Monero cryptocurrency during the 10-second delay splash screen. Starbucks has not yet responded to the tweet, and neither has their wifi provider, Fibertel Argentina. While Dinkin mentioned that the culprit behind the scheme could be Starbucks' in-store wifi provider, it's possible that a cybercriminal could have hacked their website to place CoinHive code secretly. HackRead notes that "just a few days ago researchers identified more than 5,000 sites that were hijacked to insert CoinHive code, yet Starbucks' direct involvement is still unclear." CoinHive is a company that produces a JavaScript miner for the Monero Blockchain that you can embed in your website. Any coins mined by the browser are sent to the owner of the website.
AI

AI-Assisted Fake Porn Is Here and We're All Screwed (vice.com) 281

New submitter samleecole shares a report from Motherboard: There's a video of Gal Gadot having sex with her stepbrother on the internet. But it's not really Gadot's body, and it's barely her own face. It's an approximation, face-swapped to look like she's performing in an existing incest-themed porn video. The video was created with a machine learning algorithm, using easily accessible materials and open-source code that anyone with a working knowledge of deep learning algorithms could put together. It's not going to fool anyone who looks closely. Sometimes the face doesn't track correctly and there's an uncanny valley effect at play, but at a glance it seems believable. It's especially striking considering that it's allegedly the work of one person -- a Redditor who goes by the name 'deepfakes' -- not a big special effects studio that can digitally recreate a young Princess Leia in Rouge One using CGI. Instead, deepfakes uses open-source machine learning tools like TensorFlow, which Google makes freely available to researchers, graduate students, and anyone with an interest in machine learning. Anyone could do it, and that should make everyone nervous.
NASA

President Trump Is Sending NASA Back To The Moon (npr.org) 302

President Trump has formally told NASA to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon. From a report: "The directive I'm signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery," he said. Standing at the president's side as he signed "Space Policy Directive 1" on Monday was Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, one of the last two humans to ever walk on the moon, in a mission that took place 45 years ago this week. Since that time, no human has ventured out beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA doesn't even have its own space vehicle, having retired the space shuttles in 2011. Americans currently ride up to the international space station in Russian capsules, though private space taxis are expected to start ferrying them up as soon as next year.
Bitcoin

The Case that Bitcoin Is a Bubble (economist.com) 263

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the Economist: It seems that every day, Bitcoin seems to hit a new high. But the reported price can move up and down by $1,000 or so within a few hours. This might have made it a great investment for those who got in at the right price and are nimble enough to get out in time. But it doesn't make it a useful means of exchange (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). When the price is rising fast, those who use bitcoin will be reluctant to part with it; when the price falls, those who sell goods will be reluctant to accept it.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Futures Surge In First Day Of Trading (npr.org) 63

On their first day of trading, bitcoin futures surged past $18,000, adding to a streak for the digital currency that began the year at just $1,000 and has nearly tripled in value over the past month alone. From a report: Reuters reports that bitcoin futures, traded through the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), saw January contracts, which opened at $15,460 in New York on Sunday evening, leap to a high of $17,170 during Asian hours. Trading, which began at 6 p.m. ET (5 p.m. CT), was so intense that halts designed to cool volatility were triggered twice on the CBOE. The halts are "not surprising based on the volatility of the underlying [asset]. The futures are behaving as expected and designed," Tom Lehrkinder, senior analyst at consulting firm Tabb Group, was quoted by CNBC as saying.

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