Intel

OpenBSD Releases Meltdown Patch (theregister.co.uk) 39

OpenBSD's Meltdown patch has landed, in the form of a Version 11 code update that separates user memory pages from the kernel's -- pretty much the same approach as was taken in the Linux kernel. From a report: A few days after the Meltdown/Spectre bugs emerged in January, OpenBSD's Phillip Guenther responded to user concerns with a post saying the operating system's developers were working out what to do. Now he's revealed the approach used to fix the free OS: "When a syscall, trap, or interrupt takes a CPU from userspace to kernel the trampoline code switches page tables, switches stacks to the thread's real kernel stack, then copies over the necessary bits from the trampoline stack. On return to userspace the opposite occurs: recreate the iretq frame on the trampoline stack, switch stack, switch page tables, and return to userspace." That explanation is somewhat obscure to non-developers, but there's a more readable discussion of what the project's developers had in mind from January, here.
Robotics

'Automating Jobs Is How Society Makes Progress' (qz.com) 203

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz, written by Per Bylund, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University: Analysts discuss the automation of jobs as if robots are rising from the sea like Godzilla, rampaging through the Tokyo of stable employment, and leaving only chaos in their wake. According to data from PWC, 38% of jobs in the U.S. could become automated by the early 2030s. Meanwhile, a report from Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research warned that half of all American jobs could be replaced by automation. These prophecies of doom fail to recognize that automation and increased productivity are nothing new. From the cotton gin to the computer, automation has been happening for centuries. Consider the way automation has improved the mining industry over the past 100 years. Without machines, humans were forced to crawl into unstable passageways and chip away at rocks with primitive tools while avoiding the ever-present dangers of gas poisoning and cave-ins. Not only was this approach terrible for health, but it was also a highly inefficient use of skilled human laborers. With machines doing the heavy lifting, society was able to dedicate resources to building, servicing, and running the machinery.

Fewer people now do the traditional physical labor, but this advancement is celebrated rather than mourned. By letting machines handle the more tedious -- and, in some cases, dangerous -- tasks, people were liberated to use their labor in more efficient, effective, and fulfilling ways. Critics of automation miss the point. Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families. Automation effectively opens the door for more new endeavors that will elevate our species to greater heights. Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.

Bitcoin

Venezuela Launches Oil-Backed Cryptocurrency (bbc.co.uk) 175

Venezuela has launched a cryptocurrency backed by oil in an attempt to bypass tough economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government. "The 'Petro' is intended to bolster the country's crumbling economy, which has been suffering from hyperinflation and devaluation for years," reports the BBC. "Venezuela claims it is the world's first sovereign cryptocurrency." From the report: Critics say the move is a desperate attempt by Caracas to raise cash at a time when Venezuela lacks the ability to repay its $150 billion of foreign debt. Opposition leaders said the sale constitutes an illegal issuing of debt, while the US Treasury Department warned it may violate sanctions imposed last year. The government says the currency aims to circumvent US sanctions on the economy. President Nicolas Maduro has said each tokens will be backed by a barrel of Venezuelan crude. The Latin American country has the world's largest proven oil reserves. A total of 100 million Petros will be sold, with an initial value set at $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan crude in mid-January. The official website published a guide to setting up a virtual wallet in which to hold the cryptocurrency, but did not provide a link for actually doing so on Tuesday.
Bitcoin

Salon Magazine Mines Monero On Your Computer If You Use an Ad Blocker (bbc.com) 314

dryriver shares a report from BBC: News organizations have tried many novel ways to make readers pay -- but this idea is possibly the most audacious yet. If a reader chooses to block its advertising, U.S. publication Salon will use that person's computer to mine for Monero, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. Creating new tokens of a cryptocurrency typically requires complex calculations that use up a lot of computing power. Salon told readers: "We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation." The site is making use of CoinHive, a controversial mining tool that was recently used in an attack involving government websites in the UK, U.S. and elsewhere. However, unlike that incident, where hackers took control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency, Salon notifies users and requires them to agree before the tool begins mining.
Google

Google Trains AI To Write Wikipedia Articles (theregister.co.uk) 59

The Register: A team within Google Brain -- the web giant's crack machine-learning research lab -- has taught software to generate Wikipedia-style articles by summarizing information on web pages... to varying degrees of success. As we all know, the internet is a never ending pile of articles, social media posts, memes, joy, hate, and blogs. It's impossible to read and keep up with everything. Using AI to tell pictures of dogs and cats apart is cute and all, but if such computers could condense information down into useful snippets, that would be really be handy. It's not easy, though. A paper, out last month and just accepted for this year's International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) in April, describes just how difficult text summarization really is. A few companies have had a crack at it. Salesforce trained a recurrent neural network with reinforcement learning to take information and retell it in a nutshell, and the results weren't bad.
Microsoft

'Microsoft Should Scrap Bing and Call it Microsoft Search' (cnet.com) 205

Chris Matyszczyk, writing for CNET: Does anyone really have a deep, abiding respect for the Bing brand? Somehow, if ever I've heard the brand name being used, it seems to be in the context of a joke. That doesn't mean the service itself is to be derided. It does suggest, though, that the brand name doesn't incite passion or excesses of reverence. The Microsoft brand, on the other hand, has become much stronger under Satya Nadella's stewardship. It's gained respect. Especially when the company showed off its Surface Studio in 2016 and made Apple's offerings look decidedly bland. Where once Microsoft was a joke in an Apple ad, now it's a symbol of a resurgent company that's trying new things and sometimes even succeeding. The funny thing about Bing is that it's not an unsuccessful product -- at least not as unsuccessful as some might imagine. Last year, Redmond said it has a 9 percent worldwide search market share, enjoying a 25 percent share in the UK, 18 percent in France and 17 percent in Canada. And look at the US. Microsoft says it has a 33 percent share here. Wouldn't it be reasonable to think that going all the way with Microsoft branding and letting Bing drift into the retirement home for funny names might be a positive move?
United Kingdom

Give Workers 10,000 Pound To Survive Automation, British Top Think Tank Suggests (huffingtonpost.co.uk) 199

Britons should be able to bid for 10,000 pound (roughly $14,000) to help them prosper amid huge changes to their working lives, a leading think tank suggests today. From a report: The Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) has released research proposing a radical new sovereign wealth fund, which would be invested to make a profit like similar public funds in Norway. The returns from the fund would be used to build a pot of money, to which working-age adults under-55 would apply to receive a grant in the coming decade.

People would have to set out how they intend to put the five-figure payouts to good use, for example, by using the cash to undergo re-training, to start a new business, or to combine work with the care of elderly or sick relatives. It would be funded like the student grant system and wealthier individuals could be required to pay back more in tax as their earnings increase. Ultimately, the RSA paper suggests, the wealth fund would finance a Universal Basic Income (UBI) as the world of modern work is turned upside down by increased automation, new technology and an ageing population.

China

China Reassigns 60,000 Soldiers To Plant Trees In Bid To Fight Pollution 126

According to The Independent, citing the Asia Times, China has reassigned over 60,000 soldiers to plan trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country's forest coverage. The soldiers are from the People's Liberation Army, along with some of the nation's armed police force. From the report: The majority will be dispatched to Hebei province, which encircles Beijing. The area is known to be a major culprit for producing the notorious smog which blankets the capital city. The idea is believed to be popular among members of online military forums as long as they can keep their ranks and entitlements. It comes as part of China's plan to plant at least 84,000 square kilometers (32,400 square miles) of trees by the end of the year, which is roughly equivalent to the size of Ireland. The aim is to increase the country's forest coverage from 21 per cent of its total landmass to 23 per cent by 2020, the China Daily newspaper reported.
Google

Google To Kill Off 'View Image' Button In Search 153

Google is removing the "view image" button that appeared when you clicked on a picture, which allowed you to open the image alone. The provision to remove the button is part of a deal Google has made with stock-photo agency Getty to end their legal battle. The Register reported last week that the two companies announced a partnership that "will allow Google to continue carrying Getty-owned photographs in its image and web search results." The Verge reports: The change is essentially meant to frustrate users. Google has long been under fire from photographers and publishers who felt that image search allowed people to steal their pictures, and the removal of the view image button is one of many changes being made in response. The intention seems to be either stopping people from taking an image altogether or driving them through to the website where the image is found, so that the website can serve ads and get revenue and so people are more likely to see any associated copyright information. That's great news for publishers, but it's an annoying additional step for someone trying to find a picture. Now you'll have to wait for a website to load and then scroll through it to find the image. Websites sometimes disable the ability to right click, too, which would make it even harder for someone to grab a photo they're looking for.

In addition to removing the "view image" button, Google has also removed the "search by image" button that appeared when you opened up a photo, too. This change isn't quite as big, however. You'll still be able to do a reverse image search by dragging the image to the search bar, and Google will still display related images when you click on a search result. The button may have been used by people to find un-watermarked versions of images they were interested in, which is likely part of why Google pulled it.
United Kingdom

UK Blames Russia For Cyber Attack, Says Won't Tolerate Disruption (reuters.com) 143

Britain blamed Russia on Thursday for a cyber-attack last year, publicly pointing the finger at Moscow for spreading a virus which disrupted companies across Europe including UK-based Reckitt Benckiser. From a report: Russia denied the accusation, saying it was part of "Russophobic" campaign it said was being waged by some Western countries. The so-called NotPetya attack in June started in Ukraine where it crippled government and business computers before spreading around the world, halting operations at ports, factories and offices. Britain's foreign ministry said the attack originated from the Russian military. "The decision to publicly attribute this incident underlines the fact that the UK and its allies will not tolerate malicious cyber activity," the ministry said in a statement. "The attack masqueraded as a criminal enterprise but its purpose was principally to disrupt," it said.
Medicine

Ultra-Processed Foods May Be Linked To Cancer, Says Study (theguardian.com) 321

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Ultra-processed" foods, made in factories with ingredients unknown to the domestic kitchen, may be linked to cancer, according to a large and groundbreaking study. Ultra-processed foods include pot noodles, shelf-stable ready meals, cakes and confectionery which contain long lists of additives, preservatives, flavorings and colorings -- as well as often high levels of sugar, fat and salt. They now account for half of all the food bought by families eating at home in the UK, as the Guardian recently revealed. A team, led by researchers based at the Sorbonne in Paris, looked at the medical records and eating habits of nearly 105,000 adults who are part of the French NutriNet-Sante cohort study, registering their usual intake of 3,300 different food items. They found that a 10% increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods in the diet was linked to a 12% increase in cancers of some kind. The researchers also looked to see whether there were increases in specific types of cancer and found a rise of 11% in breast cancer, although no significant upturn in colorectal or prostate cancer. "If confirmed in other populations and settings, these results suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades," says the paper in the British Medical Journal.
Businesses

Hackers Hijack Government Websites To Mine Crypto-Cash (bbc.com) 48

BBC reports: The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) took down its website after a warning that hackers were taking control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency. Security researcher Scott Helme said more than 4,000 websites, including many government ones, were affected. He said the affected code had now been disabled and visitors were no longer at risk. The ICO said: "We are aware of the issue and are working to resolve it." Mr Helme said he was alerted by a friend who had received a malware warning when he visited the ICO website. He traced the problem to a website plug-in called Browsealoud, used to help blind and partially sighted people access the web. The cryptocurrency involved was Monero -- a rival to Bitcoin that is designed to make transactions in it "untraceable" back to the senders and recipients involved. The plug-in had been tampered with to add a program, Coinhive, which "mines" for Monero by running processor-intensive calculations on visitors' computers. The Register: A list of 4,200-plus affected websites can be found here: they include The City University of New York (cuny.edu), Uncle Sam's court information portal (uscourts.gov), Lund University (lu.se), the UK's Student Loans Company (slc.co.uk), privacy watchdog The Information Commissioner's Office (ico.org.uk) and the Financial Ombudsman Service (financial-ombudsman.org.uk), plus a shedload of other .gov.uk and .gov.au sites, UK NHS services, and other organizations across the globe.
Social Networks

Is Social Media Causing Childhood Depression? (bbc.com) 131

General practitioner Rangan Chatterjee says he has seen plenty of evidence of the link between mental ill-health in children and their use of social media. "One 16 year-old boy was referred to him after he self-harmed and ended up in A&E," reports BBC. Dr. Chatterjee was going to put him on anti-depressants, but instead worked with him to help wean him off social media. "He reported a significant improvement in his wellbeing and, after six months, I had a letter from his mother saying he was happier at school and integrated into the local community," says Dr. Chatterjee. That and similar cases have led him to question the role social media plays in the lives of young people. From the report: "Social media is having a negative impact on mental health," he said. "I do think it is a big problem and that we need some rules. How do we educate society to use technology so it helps us rather than harms us?" A 2017 study by The Royal Society of Public Health asked 1,500 young people aged 11-25 to track their moods while using the five most popular social media sites. It suggested Snapchat and Instagram were the most likely to inspire feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. YouTube had the most positive influence. Seven in 10 said Instagram made them feel worse about body image and half of 14-24-year-olds reported Instagram and Facebook exacerbated feelings of anxiety. Two-thirds said Facebook made cyber-bullying worse.

Consultant psychiatrist Louise Theodosiou says one of the clearest indications children are spending too long on their phones is their behavior during a session with a psychiatrist. "Two or three years ago, it was very unusual for a child to answer their phone or text during an appointment. But now it is common," said the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital doctor. She has seen a rise in cases where social media is a contributing factor in teenage depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. These problems are often complex and wide-ranging -- from excessive use of gaming or social media sites to feelings of inadequacy brought on by a constant bombardment of social media images of other people's lives, to cyber-bullying.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Could Come with Snap Apps Preinstalled (omgubuntu.co.uk) 139

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS 'Bionic Beaver' could ship with Snap apps installed by default. From a report: A proposal from Ubuntu developer Steve Langasek suggests that Snapcraft now stand as a 'first-class' alternative to traditional packages, making them ripe for inclusion. "As more software becomes available as snaps, we want to take advantage of this body of packages as part of the default Ubuntu experience," he writes. As part of his proposal -- which is just a suggestion for the moment, so don't get excited/angry -- Langasek wants to iron out policy and rules around seeded snap app. This is to ensure they are updated and maintained accordingly, inline with Ubuntu practice. While Snaps by default would be something of a first for the regular version Ubuntu, it wouldn't be a first in general. That honour goes to Ubuntu MATE 17.10, the first distro to ship with a preinstalled Snap app.
Communications

Fake News Sharing In US Is a Rightwing Thing, Says Oxford Study (theguardian.com) 997

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Low-quality, extremist, sensationalist and conspiratorial news published in the U.S. was overwhelmingly consumed and shared by rightwing social network users, according to a new study from the University of Oxford. The study, from the university's "computational propaganda project", looked at the most significant sources of "junk news" shared in the three months leading up to Donald Trump's first State of the Union address this January, and tried to find out who was sharing them and why. "On Twitter, a network of Trump supporters consumes the largest volume of junk news, and junk news is the largest proportion of news links they share," the researchers concluded. On Facebook, the skew was even greater. There, "extreme hard right pages -- distinct from Republican pages -- share more junk news than all the other audiences put together." The research involved monitoring a core group of around 13,500 politically-active U.S. Twitter users, and a separate group of 48,000 public Facebook pages, to find the external websites that they were sharing.
Youtube

YouTube Kids App Still Showing Disturbing Videos (bbc.co.uk) 169

YouTube says it is "very sorry" after more disturbing videos were found on the YouTube Kids app. From a report: BBC's Newsround found several videos not suitable for children, including one showing how to sharpen knives. Another had characters from children's cartoon Paw Patrol on a burning plane. YouTube has been criticised for using algorithms rather than human curators to decide what appears on YouTube Kids. In 2015, two child safety groups complained after disturbing videos were found on the YouTube Kids app. YouTube said it needed to "do more" to tackle inappropriate videos being seen by children. Newsround had arranged for five children to meet Google's Katie O'Donovan. They spoke about distressing videos they had seen on the main YouTube website and app. The videos included images of clowns with blood on them, scary advertisements and messages telling them someone was at their door.
Bitcoin

US Regulators To Back More Oversight of Virtual Currencies (reuters.com) 121

Digital currencies such as bitcoin demand increased oversight and may require a new federal regulatory framework, the top U.S. markets regulators will tell lawmakers at a congressional hearing on Tuesday. From a report: Christopher Giancarlo, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), will provide testimony to the Senate Banking Committee amid growing global concerns over the risks virtual currencies pose to investors and the financial system. Giancarlo and Clayton will say a patchwork of rules for cryptocurrency exchanges may need to be reviewed in favour of a rationalised federal framework, according to prepared testimony published on Monday. Congressional sources told Reuters the hearing will largely be a fact-finding exercise focusing on the powers of the SEC and CFTC to oversee cryptocurrency exchanges, how the watchdogs can protect investors from volatility and fraud, and the risks posed by cyber criminals intent on stealing digital tokens.
United Kingdom

Lauri Love Ruling 'Sets Precedent' For Trying Hacking Suspects in UK (theguardian.com) 222

A high court ruling blocking extradition to the US of Lauri Love, a student accused of breaking into US government websites, has been welcomed by lawyers and human rights groups as a precedent for trying hacking suspects in the UK in future. From a report: The decision delivered by the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, is highly critical of the conditions Love would have endured in US jails, warning of the risk of suicide. Lawyers for the 33-year-old, who lives in Suffolk, had argued that Love should be tried in Britain for allegedly hacking into US government websites and that he would be at risk of killing himself if sent to the US. There was cheering and applause in court on Monday when Burnett announced his decision. He asked supporters to be quiet, saying: "This is a court, not a theatre." In his judgment, Burnett said: "It would not be oppressive to prosecute Mr Love in England for the offences alleged against him. Far from it. Much of Mr Love's argument was based on the contention that this is indeed where he should be prosecuted
Sony

As Sony CEO Kaz Hirai Steps Down, the Future of Some Products Is In Question (arstechnica.com) 33

After six years with the company, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai will step down from his post on April 1, 2018. He will remain with the company as chairman, and the CEO seat will be filled by current CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Samuel Axon reports via Ars Technica of the reputation his successor has built for making touch cuts to get back in the black: Hirai is perhaps best known to the general public for his role in the PlayStation business, which is where the majority of his background with the company lies. He was involved in developing the PlayStation's software lineup in the late '90s, and Hirai famously unveiled the PlayStation 3 before he became CEO. That unveiling might better be described as infamous: he announced the console's launch models at the extremely steep prices of $499 and $599, leading to shock and ire in the gaming community. The cheaper of those two was almost a non-starter, lacking Wi-Fi and adequate hard drive storage. That memorable blunder aside, investors in Sony have enjoyed significant gains in the six years since Hirai became CEO -- though the company has only been regaining partial ground since it fell a long way from its peak back in 2000. He has kept Sony's efforts diversified across several markets and products, from computers to Hollywood movies.

But much of the company's success under Hirai can be attributed to two things: the PlayStation division (whose profits rose by 70 percent over the holidays) and image sensors that Sony produces and sells to other companies for inclusion in various devices. Other divisions, like mobile, were de-emphasized as Hirai and Yoshida worked together to get Sony's house in order. [...] In other words, Yoshida made his mark on Sony by helping Hirai make tough calls to make major cuts to get the company on the right track. That effort is ongoing, so expect continuing changes with regards to both Sony's tech and entertainment products.

Businesses

Working From Home: What if You Never Saw Your Colleagues in Person Again? (bbc.com) 212

Bryan Lufkin, writing for BBC: Throughout my career I've worked with people that I've never met in person. In theory, I could spend an entire day without meeting another human face-to-face. But could this kind of self-imposed isolation become standard working practice in the future?

Studies show that in the US, the number of telecommuters rose 115% between 2005 and 2017. And in early 2015, around 500,000 people used Slack, the real-time chat room programme, daily. By last September, that number soared to over 6 million. In 2017 a Gallup poll revealed that 43% of 15,000 Americans say they spend at least some of their time working remotely, a 4% rise from 2012. And a 2015 YouGov study found that 30% of UK office workers say they feel more productive when they work outside their workplace. How would we feel if we never had to work with another person face-to-face again? Would we care? Have things gone so far that we might not even notice?

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