United States

The US Drops Out of the Top 10 In Innovation Ranking (bloomberg.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. dropped out of the top 10 in the 2018 Bloomberg Innovation Index for the first time in the six years the gauge has been compiled. South Korea and Sweden retained their No. 1 and No. 2 rankings. The index scores countries using seven criteria, including research and development spending and concentration of high-tech public companies. The U.S. fell to 11th place from ninth mainly because of an eight-spot slump in the post-secondary, or tertiary, education-efficiency category, which includes the share of new science and engineering graduates in the labor force. Value-added manufacturing also declined. Improvement in the productivity score couldn't make up for the lost ground.

South Korea remained the global-innovation gold medalist for the fifth consecutive year. China moved up two spots to 19th, buoyed by its high proportion of new science and engineering graduates in the labor force and increasing number of patents by innovators such as Huawei Technologies Co. Japan, one of three Asian nations in the top 10, rose one slot to No. 6. France moved up to ninth from 11th, joining five other European economies in the top tier. Israel rounded out this group and was the only country to beat South Korea in the R&D category. South Africa and Iran moved back into the top 50; the last time both were included was 2014. Turkey was one of the biggest gainers, jumping four spots to 33rd because of improvements in tertiary efficiency, productivity and two other categories. The biggest losers were New Zealand and Ukraine, which each dropped four places. The productivity measure influenced New Zealand's shift, while Ukraine was hurt by a lower tertiary-efficiency ranking.

Network

More Than 750 American Communities Have Built Their Own Internet Networks (vice.com) 39

Jason Koebler shares a report from Motherboard: According to a freshly updated map of community-owned networks, more than 750 communities across the United States have embraced operating their own broadband network, are served by local rural electric cooperatives, or have made at least some portion of a local fiber network publicly available. The map was created by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit that advocates for local economies. The Institute's latest update indicates that there's now 55 municipal networks serving 108 communities with a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home internet network. 76 communities now offer access to a locally owned cable network reaching most or all of the community, and more than 258 communities are now served by a rural electric cooperative. Many more communities could expand their local offerings according to the group's data. 197 communities already have some publicly owned fiber service available to parts of the community, while more than 120 communities have publicly-owned dark (unused) fiber available for use by local residences and local area businesses. The group's map also highlights which states have erected legislative barriers to hamper these local efforts and explains what these laws actually do.
Transportation

Tesla Model S Plows Into a Fire Truck While Using Autopilot (cnbc.com) 229

On Monday, a Tesla Model S plowed into the back of a fire truck on a freeway near Culver City, California. The driver is claiming the car was on Tesla's Autopilot driver assistance system. As a result, the National Traffic Safety Board will be investigating both driver and vehicle factors. CNBC reports: The Culver City Firefighters Association Local 1927 union chapter tweeted out a picture of the crash on Monday afternoon. The firetruck was on the freeway helping after a motorcycle accident, the union said in an Instagram post. The post said there were no injuries. The outcome could have been much worse if firefighters had been standing at the back of the truck, Battalion Chief Ken Powell told the San Jose Mercury News. "Autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver," Tesla said in a statement sent to CNBC.
United States

The Rise Of The Contract Workforce (npr.org) 197

An anonymous reader shares a report: A new NPR/Marist poll finds that 1 in 5 jobs in America is held by a worker under contract. Within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the American workforce. Workers across all industries and at all professional levels will be touched by the movement toward independent work -- one without the constraints, or benefits, of full-time employment. Policymakers are just starting to talk about the implications.

[...] It's not just business driving the trend. Surveys show a large majority of freelancers are free agents by choice. John Vensel is a contract attorney at Orrick who grew up a few miles from Wheeling, on the other side of the Pennsylvania state line. In his 20s, he was a freelance paralegal by day and a gig musician by night. "I actually wanted to be a rock star," he says. But these days there are no edgy vestiges of a former rocker, only a 47-year-old family man cooing over cellphone photos of his children, Grace and Gabe. In the two decades in between, Vensel worked full-time corporate jobs. But he was laid off in 2010, on the eve of his graduation from his night-school law program. He graduated with huge piles of debt, into one of the worst job markets. For a time, Vensel commuted three hours round-trip to a full-time job in Pittsburgh. But more recently, he quit and took up contracting to stay near home in Wheeling.

Power

Trump Administration Approves Tariffs of 30 Percent On Imported Solar Panels (axios.com) 397

The Trump administration just approved tariffs of 30% on imported solar panels. Axios explains why it matters: "Most of the American solar industry has opposed tariffs on panels, saying they would raise prices and hurt the sector. A small group of solar panel manufacturers argued -- successfully -- that an influx of cheap imports, largely from China or Chinese-owned companies, was hurting domestic manufacturing. It's also part of President Trump's broader trade agenda against China." From the report: The tariffs would last for four years and decline in increments of 5% from 30%: 25%, 20% and finally 15% in the fourth year. The tariffs are lower than the 35% the U.S. International Trade Commission had initially recommended last year, per Bloomberg. This is actually the third, and broadest, set of tariffs the U.S. government has issued on solar imports in recent years. The Obama administration issued two earlier rounds of tariffs on a narrower set of imports. Monday's action also imposed import tariffs on washing machines, a much lower profile issue than solar energy.
Government

Montana Becomes First State To Implement Net Neutrality After FCC Repeal (thehill.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) signed an executive order on Monday requiring internet service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality principles. The order makes his state the first to push back on the Federal Communications Commission's decision to repeal the open internet rules last month. The order says that in order to receive a contract with the state government, internet service providers must not engage in blocking or throttling web content or create internet fast lanes. Those practices were all banned under the Obama-era 2015 net neutrality order. Bullock's office said the executive order goes into effect immediately, but there will be a six-month grace period for companies to ensure that they're in compliance. The governor said on Monday that he is encouraging his counterparts and legislators in other states to follow suit, promising to personally email a copy of his order to any who ask for it. Further reading: The New York Times
China

China, Unhampered by Rules, Races Ahead in Gene-Editing Trials (wsj.com) 155

U.S. scientists helped devise the Crispr biotechnology tool. First to test it in humans are Chinese doctors (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative link). WSJ reports: In a hospital west of Shanghai, Wu Shixiu since March has been trying to treat cancer patients using a promising new gene-editing tool. U.S. scientists helped devise the tool, known as Crispr-Cas9, which has captured global attention since a 2012 report said it can be used to edit DNA. Doctors haven't been allowed to use it in human trials in America. That isn't the case for Dr. Wu and others in China. In a quirk of the globalized technology arena, Dr. Wu can forge ahead with the tool because he faces few regulatory hurdles to testing it on humans. [...] There is little doubt China was first out of the block testing Crispr on humans. Nine trials in China are listed in a U.S. National Library of Medicine database. The Wall Street Journal found at least two other hospital trials, including one beginning in 2015 -- a year earlier than previously reported. Journal reporting found at least 86 Chinese patients have had their genes edited.
Businesses

'Reskilling Revolution Needed for the Millions of Jobs at Risk Due To Technological Disruption' (weforum.org) 421

A new report, published by The World Economic Forum on Monday estimates that 1.4 million U.S. jobs will be hit by automation between now and 2026. Of those, 57 percent belong to women. Without re-education, 16 percent of affected workers will have no job prospects, the study finds. A further 25 percent would have one to three job options. The report adds The positive finding from the report is that with adequate reskilling, 95% of the most immediately at-risk workers would find good-quality, higher-wage work in growing job families. Report highlights the urgent need for a massive reskilling programme, safety nets to support workers while they reskill, and support with job-matching.
Google

Google's $20 Million Race To the Moon Will End With No Winner -- and Google is OK With That (cnbc.com) 81

Michael Sheetz, reporting for CNBC: More than ten years after it was announced -- and extended over and over -- the Google-sponsored race to win $20 million by landing on the moon will end with no winners. The four teams racing to win the Google Lunar Xprize, which requires a company to land a spacecraft on the moon by March 31, are either short of money or unable to launch this year, three people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Meanwhile, Google -- which extended the deadline from 2012 to 2014 and then eventually to 2018 -- is not willing to push out the date further. "Google does not have plans at this time to extend the deadline again, however we are so thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. The commercial space industry has written off the Lunar Xprize as improbable, and not worth pursuing, according to sources.
Facebook

Facebook Says It Can't Guarantee Social Media is Good For Democracy (reuters.com) 216

Facebook said on Monday that it could offer no assurance that social media was on balance good for democracy, but noted that it was trying what it could to stop alleged meddling in elections by Russia or anyone else. From a report: The sharing of false or misleading headlines on social media has become a global issue, after accusations that Russia tried to influence votes in the United States, Britain and France. Moscow denies the allegations.

Facebook, the largest social network with more than 2 billion users, addressed social media's role in democracy in blog posts from a Harvard University professor, Cass Sunstein, and from an employee working on the subject. "I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can't," Samidh Chakrabarti, a Facebook product manager, wrote in his post. Facebook, he added, has a "moral duty to understand how these technologies are being used and what can be done to make communities like Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible."

Microsoft

Microsoft Fights Search Warrants for Overseas Emails in the Supreme Court (microsoft.com) 67

Microsoft's Chief Legal Officer writes about "the landmark Microsoft case that will decide whether the U.S. government can use a search warrant to force a company to seize a customer's private emails stored in Ireland and import them to the United States." On Thursday, 289 different groups and individuals from 37 countries signed 23 different legal briefs supporting Microsoft's position that Congress never gave law enforcement the power to ignore treaties and breach Ireland's sovereignty in this way. How could it? The government relies on a law that was enacted in 1986, before anyone conceived of cloud computing... When the U.S. government requires a tech company to execute a warrant for emails stored overseas, the provider must search a foreign datacenter and make a copy abroad, and then import that copy to the United States. This creates a complex issue with huge international consequences. It shouldn't be resolved by taking the law to a place it was never intended to go...

The U.S. Department of Justice's attempt to seize foreign customers' emails from other countries ignores borders, treaties and international law, as well as the laws those countries have in place to protect the privacy of their own citizens... It's also a path that will lead to the doorsteps of American homes by putting the privacy of U.S. citizens' emails at risk. If the U.S. government obtains the power to search and seize foreign citizens' private communications physically stored in other countries, it will invite other governments to do the same thing. If we ignore other countries' laws, how can we demand that they respect our laws?

Amicus briefs supporting Microsoft have been filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Ireland, France, and the European Commission and European privacy regulators. Microsoft even notes that on this issue, "Fox News agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union."
Iphone

iPhone X Purchase Leads To Police, Battering Ram, and Handcuffs (cbslocal.com) 406

An anonymous reader quotes CBS SFBayArea: On one recent morning, Rick Garcia and his wife Shannon Knuth woke up to a posse of San Francisco police officers at their front door. "I peered through the peephole and I saw a police officer and a battering ram," Garcia said. "We heard 'SFPD' and 'warrant,' and I was like 'what's going on?'" Knuth remembers. It felt like a nightmare yet it was real. Garcia says that within seconds he was dragged into the hallway of his apartment complex, handcuffed, then whisked away to the Taraval Station.... Meanwhile Knuth, who had just got out of the shower, was ordered to sit on the couch... After rifling through the apartment Knuth says the officers finally told her what they were looking for: Her husband's iPhone X.

According to the warrant, it was stolen but Knuth showed them the receipt which proved her husband bought it. Once the officers realized their mistake they called the police station and a squad car brought Garcia home. "They gathered their pry bar and their battering ram and they left," he said. So how could a mistake like that happen? It's still unclear but it turns out Garcia and Knuth bought the iPhone at an Apple store at Stonestown Galleria just a few weeks after 300 iPhone Xs were stolen from a UPS truck in the mall parking lot.

One former police chief says the way it was handled "kind of boggles the mind...

"This was clearly an incident that should have just been a knock and talk, a couple detectives come to the door, knock on the door and they would have gathered the same info that they gathered after they put him in handcuffs and hauled him off to jail."
United States

Apple and Google Are Rerouting Their Employee Buses as Attacks Resume (mashable.com) 292

Slashdot reader sqorbit writes: Apple runs shuttle buses for it's employees in San Francisco. It seems someone who is not happy with Apple has decided to take out their anger on these buses. In an email obtained by Mashable, Apple states "Due to recent incidents of broken windows along the commute route, specifically on highway 280, we're re-routing coaches for the time being. This change in routes could mean an additional 30-45 minutes of commute time in each direction for some riders." It has been reported that at least four buses have had windows broken, some speculating that it might caused by rubber bullets.
"Around four years ago, people started attacking the shuttle buses that took Google employees to and from work, as a way of protesting the tech-company-driven gentrification taking place around San Francisco," remembers Fortune, adding "it seems to be happening again."

At least one Google bus was also attacked, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which adds that the buses "were not marked with company logos, and the perpetrators are suspected of broadly targeting technology shuttle buses rather than a specific company."
Government

'New California' Movement Wants To Create a 51st State (wqad.com) 549

PolygamousRanchKid, Ayano, and an anonymous reader all shared the same story. Tribune Media reports: A group has launched a campaign to divide California into two states. It isn't the first attempt to split California, but unlike a failed campaign in 2016 to divide California into six states, the campaign to create New California would split the state into one made up of rural counties and another made up of coastal counties.
USA Today provides some context: Breaking up California remains no easy task: A formal secession means getting approval from both Congress and California's legislature itself. But that hasn't stopped folks from trying. Hundreds of times... Monday's declaration of "the State of New California" marked the latest in more than 200 long-shot efforts to split the Golden State. All so far have failed.
Government

What a Government Shutdown Will Mean For NASA and SpaceX (theverge.com) 197

Ars Technica reports of how the government shutdown affects federal agencies like NASA, as well as commercial companies like SpaceX: So far, NASA has been keeping quiet about this particular shutdown and has been directing all questions to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which did not respond to a request for comment. But NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, told employees in an email obtained by The Verge to be on alert for directions over the next couple of days. "If there is a lapse in funding for the federal government Friday night, report to work the same way you normally would until further notice, and you will receive guidance on how best to closeout your activities on Monday," he wrote in the email. The most recent guidance from NASA, released in 2017, indicates that all nonessential employees should stay home during a shutdown, while a small contingent of staff continue to work on "excepted" projects. The heads of each NASA center decide which employees need to stay, but they're typically the people who operate important or hazardous programs, including employees working on upcoming launches or those who operate satellites and the International Space Station.

NASA's next big mission is the launch of its exoplanet-hunting satellite, TESS, which is going up on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida in March. So it shouldn't be affected by a shutdown (unless it takes a while to find a resolution). However, it's possible that preparations on another big spacecraft, the James Webb Space Telescope, may come to a halt, according to Nature. The space telescope is currently at NASA's Johnson Space Center for testing, but NASA's guidelines say that only spacecraft preparations that are "necessary to prevent harm to life or property" should continue during a shutdown. More immediately, an Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance is launching a missile-detecting satellite tonight out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, while SpaceX is slated to launch a communications satellite on January 30th. The timing of both launches may mean they avoid the shutdown. But if they did occur during the shutdown, it's unclear if they would suffer delays.

The Internet

Ajit Pai's FCC Can't Admit Broadband Competition Is a Problem (dslreports.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: While the FCC is fortunately backing away from a plan that would have weakened the standard definition of broadband, the agency under Ajit Pai still can't seem to acknowledge the lack of competition in the broadband sector. Or the impact this limited competition has in encouraging higher prices, net neutrality violations, privacy violations, or what's widely agreed to be some of the worst customer service of any industry in America. The Trump FCC had been widely criticized for a plan to weaken the standard definition of broadband from 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, to include any wireless connection capable of 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up. Consumer advocates argued the move was a ham-fisted attempt to try and tilt the data to downplay the industry's obvious competitive and coverage shortcomings. They also argued that the plan made no coherent sense, given that wireless broadband is frequently capped, often not available (with carrier maps the FCC relies on falsely over-stating coverage), and significantly more expensive than traditional fixed-line service.

In a statement (pdf), FCC boss Ajit Pai stated the agency would fortunately be backing away from the measure, while acknowledging that frequently capped and expensive wireless isn't a comparable replacement for fixed-line broadband. "The draft report maintains the same benchmark speed for fixed broadband service previously adopted by the Commission: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload," stated Pai. "The draft report also concludes that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service. Instead, it notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands." That's the good news. The bad news: the FCC under Pai's leadership continues to downplay and ignore the lack of competition in the sector, and the high prices and various bad behaviors most people are painfully familiar with.

Privacy

Trump Signs Surveillance Extension Into Law (thehill.com) 94

President Trump took to Twitter this afternoon to announce that he has signed a six-year renewal of a powerful government surveillance tool. "Just signed 702 Bill to authorize foreign intelligence collection," Trump tweeted. "This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election. I will always do the right thing for our country and put the safety of the American people first!" The Hill reports: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which the Senate voted to renew with a few small tweaks this week, allows the U.S. to spy on foreigners overseas. The intelligence community says the program is a critical tool in identifying and disrupting terror plots. But the broader surveillance law, which governs U.S. spying on foreigners, has become politically entangled with the controversy over the federal investigation into Trump's campaign and Russia. Some Republicans have claimed that the FBI inappropriately obtained a politically motivated FISA warrant to spy on Trump during the transition and on Friday, Capitol Hill was consumed with speculation about a four-page memo produced by House Intelligence Committee Republicans that some GOP lawmakers hinted contained evidence of such wrongdoing.
Businesses

Amazon Picks 20 Finalists For 'HQ2' Second Headquarters Location (nbcnews.com) 205

bigpat writes: Amazon took in hundreds of proposals and narrowed it down to twenty places for its "second" headquarters, with up to 50,000 new jobs promised in the next 15 years and millions of square feet of office and research space. The cities include: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Montgomery County, Maryland, Nashville, Newark, NJ, New York City, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Toronto and Washington D.C. Amazon said that it will now work with the candidate locations to examine their proposals more closely and request additional information to "evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership that can accommodate our hiring plans as well as benefit our employees and the local community." The company said it would make its decision later in 2018.
Security

Senate Passes Bill Renewing NSA's Internet Surveillance Program (reuters.com) 96

From a report: The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program for six years and with minimal changes, overcoming objections from civil liberties advocates that it did too little to safeguard the privacy of Americans. From a report on CNET: The programs, known as Prism and Upstream, allow the NSA to collect online communications of foreigners outside the US. Prism collects these communications from internet services, and Upstream taps into the internet's infrastructure to capture information in transit. Some communications from Americans and others in the US are collected in the process. The vote Thursday renews the programs for six years. The House approved a bill renewing the programs last week. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the programs by leaking information about them to journalists in 2013. After the news coverage, the administration of President Barack Obama declassified much information about the programs.
United States

US Doctors Plan To Treat Cancer Patients Using CRISPR (technologyreview.com) 52

An anonymous reader shares a report: The first human test in the U.S. involving the gene-editing tool CRISPR could begin at any time and will employ the DNA cutting technique in a bid to battle deadly cancers. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania say they will use CRISPR to modify human immune cells so that they become expert cancer killers, according to plans posted this week to a directory of ongoing clinical trials. The study will enroll up to 18 patients fighting three different types of cancer -- multiple myeloma, sarcoma, and melanoma -- in what could become the first medical use of CRISPR outside China, where similar studies have been under way. An advisory group to the National Institutes of Health initially gave a green light to the Penn researchers in June 2016, but until now it was not known whether the trial would proceed.

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