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AI

Microsoft Researchers Offer Predictions For AI, Deep Learning (theverge.com) 35

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Microsoft polled 17 women working in its research organization about the technology advances they expect to see in 2017, as well as a decade later in 2027. The researchers' predictions touch on natural language processing, machine learning, agricultural software, and virtual reality, among other topics. For virtual reality, Mar Gonzalez Franco, a researcher in Microsoft's Redmond lab, believes body tracking will improve next year, and then over the next decade we'll have "rich multi-sensorial experiences that will be capable of producing hallucinations which blend or alter perceives reality." Haptic devices will simulate touch to further enhance the sensory experience. Meanwhile, Susan Dumais, a scientist and deputy managing director at the Redmond lab, believes deep learning will help improve web search results next year. In 2027, however, the search box will disappear, she says. It'll be replaced by search that's more "ubiquitous, embedded, and contextually sensitive." She says we're already seeing some of this in voice-controlled searches through mobile and smart home devices. We might eventually be able to look things up with either sound, images, or video. Plus, our searches will respond to "current location, content, entities, and activities" without us explicitly mentioning them, she says. Of course, it's worth noting that Microsoft has been losing the search box war to Google, so it isn't surprising that the company thinks search will die. With global warming as a looming threat, Asta Roseway, principal research designer, says by 2027 famers will use AI to maintain healthy crop yields, even with "climate change, drought, and disaster." Low-energy farming solutions, like vertical farming and aquaponics, will also be essential to keeping the food supply high, she says. You can view all 17 predictions here.
Databases

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft Will Create 'Hash' Database To Remove Extremist Content (reuters.com) 220

bongey writes: Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft are teaming up to create a common database to flag extremist videos and pictures. The database is set to go live in 2017. The system will not automatically remove content. Reuters reports: "The companies will share 'hashes' -- unique digital fingerprints they automatically assign to videos or photos -- of extremist content they have removed from their websites to enable their peers to identify the same content on their platforms. 'We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online,' the companies said in a statement on Tuesday. Each company will decide what image and video hashes to add to the database and matching content will not be automatically removed, they said. The database will be up and running in early 2017 and more companies could be brought into the partnership."
Education

White House Silence Seems To Confirm $4 Billion 'Computer Science For All' K-12 Initiative Is No More 260

theodp writes: "2016 as a year of action builds on a decade of national, state, and grassroots activity to revitalize K-12 computer science education," reads the upbeat White House blog post kicking off Computer Science Education Week. But conspicuous by its absence in the accompanying fact sheet for A Year of Action Supporting Computer Science for All is any mention of the status of President Obama's proposed $4 billion Computer Science For All initiative, which enjoyed support from the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. On Friday, tech-backed Code.org posted An Update on Computer Science Education and Federal Funding, which explained that Congress's passage of a 'continuing resolution' extending the current budget into 2017 spelled curtains for federal funding for the program in 2016 and beyond. "We don't have any direct feedback yet about the next administration's support for K-12 CS," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi and Govt. Affairs VP Cameron Wilson, "other than a promise to expand 'vocational and technical education' as part of Trump's 100-day plan which was published in late October. I am hopeful that this language may translate into support for funding K-12 computer science at a federal level. However, we should assume that it will not."
Software

Windows 10 'Home Hub' Is Microsoft's Response To Amazon Echo and Google Home (mashable.com) 93

Microsoft's response to the Amazon Echo and Google Home is Home Hub, a software update for Windows 10's Cortana personal assistant that turns any Windows PC into a smart speaker of sorts. Mashable reports: Microsoft's smart digital assistant Cortana can already answer your queries, even if the PC's screen is locked. The Home Hub is tied to Cortana and takes this a few steps further. It would add a special app with features such as calendar appointments, sticky notes and shopping lists. A Home Hub-enabled PC might have a Welcome Screen, a full-screen app that displays all these, like a virtual fridge door. Multiple users (i.e. family members) could use the Home Hub, either by authenticating through Windows Hello or by working in a family-shared account. Cortana would get more powerful on Home Hub; it could, for example, control smart home devices, such as lights and locks. And even though all of this will work on any Windows 10 device -- potentially making the PC the center of your smart home experience -- third-party manufacturers will be able to build devices that work with Home Hub. You can read Windows Central's massive report here. Do note that Home Hub is not official and individual features could change over time. The update is slated for 2017.
EU

EU Threatens Twitter And Facebook With Possible 'Hate Speech' Laws (gizmodo.com) 354

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: On Sunday, the European Commission warned Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and Microsoft that if the companies do not address their hate speech problems, the EU will enact legislation that will force them to do so. In May, those five companies voluntarily signed a code of conduct to fight illegal hate speech on their platforms within 24 hours... But on Sunday, the European Commission revealed that the companies were not complying with this code in a satisfactory manner.

"In practice the companies take longer and do not yet achieve this goal. They only reviewed 40 percent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours," a Commission official told Reuters. The Commission's report found that YouTube responded to reports of harassment the fastest, and unsurprisingly, Twitter found itself in last place. "If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months," Jourova told the Financial Times on Sunday.

Microsoft

Does Windows 10's Data Collection Trade Privacy For Microsoft's Security? (pcworld.com) 178

jader3rd shares an article from PC World arguing that Windows 10's data collection "trades your privacy for Microsoft's security." [Anonymized] usage data lets Microsoft beef up threat protection, says Rob Lefferts, Microsoft's director of program management for Windows Enterprise and Security. The information collected is used to improve various components in Windows Defender... For example, Windows Defender Application Guard for Microsoft Edge will put the Edge browser into a lightweight virtual machine to make it harder to break out of the browser and attack the operating system. With telemetry, Microsoft can see when infections get past Application Guard defenses and improve the security controls to reduce recurrences.

Microsoft also pulls signals from other areas of the Windows ecosystem, such as Active Directory, with information from the Windows 10 device to look for patterns that can indicate a problem like ransomware infections and other attacks. To detect those patterns, Microsoft needs access to technical data, such as what processes are consuming system resources, hardware diagnostics, and file-level information like which applications had which files open, Lefferts says. Taken together, the hardware information, application details, and device driver data can be used to identify parts of the operating system are exposed and should be isolated into virtual containers.

The article points out that unlike home users, enterprise users of Windows 10 can select a lower level of data-sharing, but argues that enterprises "need to think twice before turning off Windows telemetry to increase corporate privacy" because Windows Update won't work without information about whether previous updates succeeded or failed.
Cloud

Canonical Sues Cloud Provider Over 'Unofficial' Ubuntu Images (ostatic.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes OStatic's update on Canonical's lawsuit against a cloud provider: Canonical posted Thursday that they've been in a dispute with "a European cloud provider" over the use of their own homespun version of Ubuntu on their cloud servers. Their implementation disables even the most basic of security features and Canonical is worried something bad could happen and it'd reflect badly back on them... They said they've spent months trying to get the unnamed provider to use the standard Ubuntu as delivered to other commercial operations to no avail. Canonical feels they have no choice but to "take legal steps to remove these images." They're sure Red Hat and Microsoft wouldn't be treated like this.
Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, wrote in his blog post that Ubuntu is "the leading cloud OS, running most workloads in public clouds today," whereas these homegrown images "are likely to behave unpredictably on update in weirdly creative and mysterious ways... 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...

"To count some of the ways we have seen home-grown images create operational and security nightmares for users: clouds have baked private keys into their public images, so that any user could SSH into any machine; clouds have made changes that then blocked security updates for over a week... When things like this happen, users are left feeling let down. As the company behind Ubuntu, it falls to Canonical to take action."
Microsoft

How Microsoft Lost In Court Over Windows 10 Upgrades (digitaltrends.com) 121

In June a California woman successfully sued Microsoft for $10,000 over forced Windows 10 upgrades, and she's now written a 58-page ebook about her battle (which she's selling for $9.99). But an anonymous Slashdot reader shares another inspiring story about a Texas IT worker and Linux geek who got Microsoft to pay him $650 for all the time that he lost. "Worley built a Windows 7 machine for his grandfather, who has Alzheimer's Disease, [customized] to look like Windows XP, an operating system his grandfather still remembered well..." writes Digital Trends. "But thanks to Microsoft's persistent Windows 10 upgrade program, Worley's grandfather unknowingly initiated the Win 10 upgrade by clicking the 'X' to close an upgrade window." After Worley filed a legal "Notice of Dispute," Microsoft quickly agreed to his demand for $650, which he donated to a non-profit focusing on Alzheimer's patients.

But according to the article, that's just the beginning, since Worley now "hopes people impacted by the forced Windows 10 upgrade will write a complaint to Microsoft demanding a settlement for their wasted time and money in repairing the device," and on his web page suggests that if people don't need the money, they should give it to charities fighting Alzheimer's. "If Microsoft isn't going to wake up and realize that lobbing intentionally-tricky updates at people who don't need and can't use them actively damages not only the lives of the Alzheimer's sufferer, but those of their whole family, then let's cure the disease on Microsoft's dime so their tactics and those of companies that will follow their reckless example aren't as damaging."

Worley suggests each Notice of Dispute should demand at least $50 per hour from Microsoft, adding "If recent history holds steady they might just write you a check!"
Mozilla

VM-Neutral Node.js API Unveiled, As NodeSource Collaborates With Microsoft, Mozilla, Intel and IBM (medium.com) 28

An anonymous reader writes: This week saw the first proof of concept for Node.js API (or NAPI for short), "making module maintainers' lives easier by defining a stable module API that is independent from changes in [Google's JavaScript engine] V8 and allowing modules to run against newer versions of Node.js without recompilation." Their announcement cites both the efforts of the Node.js API working group and of ChakraCore, the core part of the Chakra Javascript engine that powers Microsoft Edge.

And there was also a second announcement -- that the Node.js build system "will start producing nightly node-chakracore builds, enabling Node.js to be used with the ChakraCore JavaScript engine. "These initial efforts are stepping stones to make Node.js VM-neutral, which would allow more opportunities for Node.js in IoT and mobile use cases as well as a variety of different systems."

One IBM runtime developer called it "a concrete step toward the strategic end goal of VM neutrality," and the Node.js Foundation believes that the API will ultimately result in "more modules to choose from, and more stability with modules without the need to continually upgrade."
China

China's New 'Social Credit Score' Law Means Full Access To Customer Data (insurancejournal.com) 82

AnonymousCube shares this quote about China's new 'Social Credit Score' law from an insurance industry magazine: "Companies are also required to give government investigators complete access to their data if there is suspected wrong-doing, and Internet operators must cooperate in any national security or crime-related investigation."

Note that China has an extremely flexible definition of "national security". Additionally computer equipment will need to undergo mandatory certification, that could involve giving up source code, encryption keys, or even proprietary intellectual data, as Microsoft has been doing for some time.

The article suggests businesses like insurers "will likely see the cost of complying with this new action as a disincentive to conducting business in China."
Republicans

Of 8 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump (theintercept.com) 587

On the campaign trail last year, President-elect Donald Trump said he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database. While he has back-stepped on a number of campaign promises after being elected president, Trump and his transition team have recently resurfaced the idea to create a national Muslim registry. In response, The Intercept contacted nine of the "most prominent" technology companies in the United States "to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry." Twitter was the only company that responded with "No." The Intercept reports: Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand -- pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn't take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We'd also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that "most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.") With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: "Would [name of company], if solicited by the Trump administration, sell any goods, services, information, or consulting of any kind to help facilitate the creation of a national Muslim registry, a project which has been floated tentatively by the president-elect's transition team?" After two weeks of calls and emails, only three companies provided an answer, and only one said it would not participate in such a project. A complete tally is below.

Facebook: No answer. Twitter: "No," and a link to this blog post, which states as company policy a prohibition against the use, by outside developers, of "Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period." Microsoft: "We're not going to talk about hypotheticals at this point," and a link to a company blog post that states that "we're committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but [...] inclusive culture" and that "it will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time." Google: No answer. Apple: No answer. IBM: No answer. Booz Allen Hamilton: Declined to comment. SRA International: No answer.

Microsoft

Microsoft Says Summer's Windows 10 Upgrade Fit For Business (computerworld.com) 119

Microsoft has moved Windows 10 August update to the Current Branch for Business release track, putting the "Anniversary Update" in the queue for automatic downloads and installation on enterprise PCs. From a report on ComputerWorld: The move will also set in motion a two-month countdown clock on support for the original mid-2015 version of Windows 10. "Windows 10 1607, also known as the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, has been declared as Current Branch for Business (CBB) and is ready for deployment," Michael Niehaus, a director of product marketing, said in a post to a company blog that used similar wording to the first upgrade to the CBB. In April, Microsoft moved the November 2015 upgrade to the corporate delivery track. Microsoft issued the Anniversary Update Aug. 2, even though its numerical designation of 1607 referred to July (07) of this year (16). The upgrade will be released in January through Windows Update, Windows Update for Business and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), Niehaus said.
Mozilla

Mozilla Puts New Money To Use Fighting For 'Internet Health' (cnet.com) 110

Stephen Shankland, writing for CNET: Mozilla is marshaling public support for political positions, like backing net neutrality, defending encryption and keeping government surveillance from getting out of hand, says Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla's chief legal and business officer. The organization is funding the efforts with revenue from Firefox searches, which has jumped since 2014 when it switched from a global deal with Google to a set of regional deals. Mozilla brought in $421 million in revenue last year largely through partnerships with Yahoo in the US, Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China, according to tax documents released alongside Mozilla's 2015 annual report on Thursday. Pushing policy work brings new challenges well beyond traditional Mozilla work competing against Google's Chrome browser and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. They include squaring off against the incoming administration of Donald Trump.
Microsoft

Nokia Dials Back Time To Sell Mobile Phones Again (bbc.com) 128

Nokia said Thursday mobile phones carrying its brand will make a comeback via a new venture that will reunite the Nokia brand with veteran Nokia execs who aim to move into smartphones capitalizing on an existing operation that sells low-cost basic phones. From a report on BBC: It's thanks to a deal with a small team based at a business park on the fringes of Helsinki, who are engaged in what will seem to many a foolhardy mission. They call themselves HMD Global -- and they believe they can make Nokia a big name in mobile phones once again. I met Arto Nummela, Pekka Rantala and Florian Seiche in a cafe on what is still the Nokia campus. That very day Arto and Pekka had stopped working for the Nokia Windows mobile phone business owned by Microsoft -- because they had acquired both it and the Nokia brand to start their new business. Yes, it is complicated, but so is the recent history of what was just a few years back Europe's technology superpower and the biggest force in mobile phones. After the launch of the iPhone in 2007, Nokia faltered and by 2011 was on what its first American chief executive, Stephen Elop, called a burning platform. Then, the phone business was sold to Microsoft, which soon found it had made a disastrous purchase as the Nokia Windows combination failed to claim a significant slice of a market dominated by Apple's iOS and Android. Now, the Finnish business -- which remained a big force in telecoms infrastructure after the sale of the mobile unit -- has licensed the Nokia brand to HMD Global, which aims to take it back to the future.
Windows

Wielding Their Windows Phones, Microsoft Shareholders Grill CEO Satya Nadella On Device Strategy (geekwire.com) 157

At a meeting with shareholders Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was asked numerous times what the company is doing about Windows Phones, and why do they keep hearing that Microsoft is abandoning smartphone manufacturer business. The stakeholders also asked why the company is seemingly focusing more on Android and iOS rival platforms instead of its own. From a report on GeekWire: Microsoft shareholder Dana Vance, owner of a Windows Phone and a Microsoft Band, said he received an email about the Microsoft Pix app but was surprised to learn that it was available for iPhone and Android but not Windows Phone. Ditto for Microsoft Outlook. He also alluded to reports that Microsoft has put the Band on the back burner. Given this, he asked Nadella to explain the company's vision for its consumer devices. As part of his response, Nadella said Microsoft's Windows camera and mail apps will include the same features as in Microsoft's apps for other platforms. "When we control things silicon-up, that's how we will integrate those experiences," Nadella said. The company will "build devices that are unique and differentiated with our software capability on top of it -- whether it's Surface or Surface Studio or HoloLens or the phone -- and also make our software applications available on Android and iOS and other platforms. That's what I think is needed in order for Microsoft to help you as a user get the most out of our innovation." Another shareholder, who says he uses his Windows Phone "18 hours a day," said he has heard Microsoft is "stepping away from mobile." He asked, "Can you calm me down ... and tell me what your vision is for mobile?" Nadella answered, "We think about mobility broadly. In other words, we think about the mobility of the human being across all of the devices, not just the mobility of a single device. That said, we're not stepping away or back from our focus on our mobile devices," Nadella said. "What we are going to do is focus that effort on places where we have differentiation. If you take Windows Phone, where we are differentiated on Windows Phone is on manageability. It's security, it's Continuum capability -- that is, the ability to have a phone that can act like a PC. So we're going to double-down on those points of differentiation."
Security

Holding Shift + F10 During Windows 10 Updates Opens Root CLI, Bypasses BitLocker (bleepingcomputer.com) 138

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Windows security expert and infrastructure trainer Sami Laiho says that by holding SHIFT + F10 while a Windows 10 computer is installing a new OS build, an attacker can open a command-line interface with SYSTEM privileges. This CLI debugging interface also grants the attacker full access to the computer's hard drive data, despite the presence of BitLocker. The CLI debugging interface is present when updating to new Windows 10 and Windows 10 Insiders builds. The most obvious exploitation scenario is when a user leaves his computer unattended during the update procedure. A malicious insider can open the CLI debugger and perform malicious operations under a root user, despite BitLocker's presence. But there are other scenarios where Laiho's SHIFT + F10 trick can come in handy. For example when police have seized computers from users who deployed BitLocker or when someone steals your laptop. Windows 10 defaults help police/thieves in this case because these defaults forcibly update computers, even if the user hasn't logged on for weeks or months. This CLI debugging interface grants the attacker full access to the computer's hard drive, despite the presence of BitLocker. The reason is that during the Windows 10 update procedure, the OS disables BitLocker while the Windows PE (Preinstallation Environment) installs a new image of the main Windows 10 operating system. "This [update procedure] has a feature for troubleshooting that allows you to press SHIFT + F10 to get a Command Prompt," Laiho writes on his blog. "The real issue here is the Elevation of Privilege that takes a non-admin to SYSTEM (the root of Windows) even on a BitLocker (Microsoft's hard disk encryption) protected machine." Laiho informed Microsoft of the issue and the company is apparently working on a fix.
Microsoft

Microsoft Brings Collaborative Editing To PowerPoint On Desktop (venturebeat.com) 38

Microsoft today said that it has enhanced certain versions of its PowerPoint presentation-building program with real-time collaborative editing. VentureBeat adds: This feature came to Word on desktop last year. And before that it was available through Office Online. Microsoft said last year that real-time coauthoring would come to all of its desktop apps, and now Microsoft is executing on that commitment. Just like in Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, this feature lets you "see what others are typing as it happens on a given slide," Microsoft Office corporate vice president Kirk Koenigsbauer wrote in a blog post. The feature is live now in PowerPoint on Windows for people who subscribe to Office 365 and belong to the Office Insider program. In addition, it's now available to everyone in PowerPoint Mobile on Windows tablets, Koenigsbauer wrote.
Desktops (Apple)

It's Not Just You, iCloud Calendar Spam is On the Rise (techcrunch.com) 28

New submitter petersike writes: If you're using iCloud to sync your calendar across your devices, chances are you just received a bunch of spammy invites over the last few days. Many users are reporting fake events about Black Friday 'deals' coming from Chinese users. If you're looking for cheap Ray-Ban or Louis Vuitton knockoffs, you might find these invites useful. Otherwise, you might be wondering: why is this a thing? If you use your calendar for work, you already rely on calendar invites to invite other people to meetings and events. All major calendar backends support this feature -- Google Calendar, Microsoft Exchange and Apple's iCloud. And it's quite a convenient feature as you only need to enter an email address to send these invitations. You don't need to be in the same company or even in your recipient's address book. But it's also yet another inbox -- and like every inbox out there, it can get abused.
United States

This Cyber Monday Was the Biggest Online Shopping Day, Ever (zdnet.com) 56

Cyber Monday is likely to have been the biggest online shopping day in history, according to an analysis of visits to US retail websites. Online spending in the US yesterday hit a new record with $3.39bn spent online, a 10.2 percent increase year-over-year -- ahead even of Black Friday, when $3.34bn was spent. ZDNet adds:Cyber Monday is expected to generate slightly less mobile revenue than Black Friday at $1.19bn, but that's still a 48 percent increase on last year, according to the analysis by Adobe. Consumers have spent a total of $39.9bn online so far this month, it said, up 7.4 percent on last November, with 27 out of 28 days seeing online sales of over $1bn. The five best-selling toys in terms of quantity sold on Cyber Monday were Lego, Shopkins, Nerf, Barbie, and Little Live Pets. The five best-selling electronic products were Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox, Samsung 4K TVs, Apple iPads, and Amazon Fire tablets, the company said.
China

Microsoft Confirms Its Chinese-Language Chatbot Filters Certain Topics (fortune.com) 19

Microsoft's Chinese-language AI chat bot filters certain topics, the company confirmed Monday, although it did not clarify whether that included interactions deemed politically sensitive. From a report on Fortune: Last week, CNNMoney and China Digital Times reported that Xiaoice would not directly respond to questions surrounding topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese state. References to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 or "Steamed Bun Xi," a nickname of Chinese President Xi Jinping, would draw evasive answers or non sequiturs from the chat bot, according to the report. "Am I stupid? Once I answer you'd take a screengrab," read one answer to a question that contained the words "topple the Communist Party." Even the mention of Donald Trump, the American President-elect, drew an evasive response from the chat bot, according to reports. "I don't want to talk about it," Xiaoice said, reports CNN Money. In response to inquiries from Fortune, Microsoft confirmed that there was some filtering around Xiaoice's interaction. "We are committed to creating the best experience for everyone chatting with Xiaoice," a Microsoft spokesperson tells Fortune. "With this in mind, we have implemented filtering on a range of topics." The tech giant did not further elaborate to which specific topics the filtering applied.

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