Google

Google Trains AI To Write Wikipedia Articles (theregister.co.uk) 54

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.
The Internet

The Wikipedia Zero Program Will End This Year (medium.com) 70

Wikimedia: Wikimedia 2030, the global discussion to define the future of the Wikimedia movement, created a bold vision for the future of Wikimedia and the role we want to play in the world as a movement. With this shared vision for our movement's future in mind, the Wikimedia Foundation is evolving how we work with partners to address some of the critical barriers to participating in free knowledge globally. After careful evaluation, the Wikimedia Foundation has decided to discontinue one of its partnership approaches, the Wikipedia Zero program. Wikipedia Zero was created in 2012 to address one barrier to participating in Wikipedia globally: high mobile data costs. Through the program, we partnered with mobile operators to waive mobile data fees for their customers to freely access Wikipedia on mobile devices. Over the course of this year, no additional Wikipedia Zero partnerships will be formed, and the remaining partnerships with mobile operators will expire. In the program's six year tenure, we have partnered with 97 mobile carriers in 72 countries to provide access to Wikipedia to more than 800 million people free of mobile data charges. Further reading: Medium.
Open Source

How the First Open Source Software and Hardware Satellite UPSat Was Built (fosdem.org) 25

UPSat is the first open source -- both hardware and software -- satellite to have ever been launched in orbit. Pierros Papadeas, the Director of Operations for Libre Space Foundation, which helped build the UPSat, talked about the project at FOSDEM, a non-commercial, volunteer-organized European event focused on free and open-source software development. You can watch the talk here; and read an interview of him with folks at FOSDEM ahead of the talk here. Two excerpts from the interview: Q: What challenges did you encounter while designing, building, testing and eventually launching UPSat in orbit?
PP: The challenges where numerous, starting with the financial ones. Lack of appropriate funding led us to invest heavily in the project (through Libre Space Foundation funds) to ensure its successful completion. Countless volunteer participation was also key to the success. On the technical side, with minimal documentation and knowledge sharing around space projects we had to re-invent the wheel and discover many procedures and practices in a really short time-frame (6 months - unheard for a space mission). Lack of tools and equipment made our building process a creative exploration as we had to figure out ways to achieve specific tasks resorting to purpose-built projects in our local lab (hackerspace.gr). Testing and verification facilities where also a challenge mainly as we had to undergo much more extensive tests than other missions, having none of our components already "flight proven". Again creativity and countless hours of negotiations and documentation got us to the final delivery point. Launching UPSat in orbit was secured once the delivery happened, but as any typical space mission it came with long delays and timeline push-backs.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?
Through this talk we would like to raise awareness for open source initiatives in space, and inspire open source technologists (engineers, programmers, analysts, makers) to engage in an open source project. We would also love to gather feedback and ideas on next steps and provide contribution opportunities for interested parties.

Software

Ask Slashdot: What Is Missing In Tech Today? 356

dryriver writes: There is so much tech and gadget news pouring out of the internet every day that one might think "everything tech that is needed already exists." But of course, people thought precisely that at various points in human history, and then completely new tools, technologies, processes, designs, devices and innovations came along soon after and changed everything. Sometimes the opposite also happens: tech that was really good for its day and used to exist is suddenly no longer available. For example, many people miss the very usable Psion palmtop computers with their foldout QWERTY keyboards, touchscreens, and styluses; or would have liked the Commodore Amiga with its innovative custom chips and OS to continue existing and evolving; or would have liked to be able to keep using software like Softimage XSI or Adobe Director, which were suddenly discontinued.

So here is the question: what tech, in your particular profession, industry, personal area of interest, or scientific or academic field, is currently "missing?" This can be tech that is needed but does not exist yet, either hardware or software, or some kind of mechanical device or process. It could also be tech that was available in the past, but was EOL'd or "End Of Lifed" and never came back in an updated or evolved form. Bonus question: if what you feel is "missing" could quite feasibly be engineered, produced, and sold today at a profit, what do you think is the reason it isn't available?
Nintendo

Hackers Manage To Run Linux On a Nintendo Switch (techcrunch.com) 119

Romain Dillet reports via TechCrunch: Hacker group fail0verflow shared a photo of a Nintendo Switch running Debian, a distribution of Linux. The group claims that Nintendo can't fix the vulnerability with future firmware patches. According to fail0verflow, there's a flaw in the boot ROM in Nvidia's Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip. When your console starts, it reads and executes a piece of code stored in a read-only memory (hence the name ROM). This code contains instructions about the booting process. It means that the boot ROM is stored on the chip when Nvidia manufactures it and it can't be altered in any way after that. Even if Nintendo issues a software update, this software update won't affect the boot ROM. And as the console loads the boot ROM immediately after pressing the power button, there's no way to bypass it. The only way to fix it would be to manufacture new Nvidia Tegra X1 chips. So it's possible that Nintendo asks Nvidia to fix the issue so that new consoles don't have this vulnerability.
Wikipedia

Wikipedia Has Become a Science Reference Source Even Though Scientists Don't Cite it (sciencenews.org) 140

Bethany Brookshire, writing for Science News: Wikipedia is a gold mine for science fans, science bloggers and scientists alike. But even though scientists use Wikipedia, they don't tend to admit it. The site rarely ends up in a paper's citations as the source of, say, the history of the gut-brain axis or the chemical formula for polyvinyl chloride. But scientists are browsing Wikipedia just like everyone else. A recent analysis found that Wikipedia stays up-to-date on the latest research -- and vocabulary from those Wikipedia articles finds its way into scientific papers. The results don't just reveal the Wiki-habits of the ivory tower. They also show that the free, widely available information source is playing a role in research progress, especially in poorer countries.
Space

Japan Launches the World's Smallest Satellite-Carrying Rocket (nasaspaceflight.com) 64

Japan has launched the world's smallest satellite-carrying rocket. Long-time Slashdot reader hey! writes: Last week Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully placed a three-kilogram cubesat into an 180 x 1,500 kilometer orbit at 31 degrees inclination to the equator. The payload was launched on a modified sounding rocket, called the SS-520-5. The assembled rocket weighed a mere 2600 kilograms [2.87 tons] on the launchpad, making the SS-520-5 the smallest vehicle ever to put an object into orbit.

Note that the difference in the SS-520's modest orbital capacity of four kilograms and its ability to launch 140 kilograms to 1000 kilometers on a suborbital flight. That shows how much more difficult it is to put an object into orbit than it is to merely send it into space.

Open Source

'How I Coined the Term Open Source' (opensource.com) 117

Today is the 20th anniversary of the phrase "open source software," which was coined by the executive director of the Foresight Institute, a nonprofit think tank focused on nanotech and artificial intelligence. The phrase first entered the world on February 3rd, 1998. Christine Peterson writes: Of course, there are a number of accounts of the coining of the term, for example by Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman, yet this is mine, written on January 2, 2006. It has never been published, until today. The introduction of the term "open source software" was a deliberate effort to make this field of endeavor more understandable to newcomers and to business, which was viewed as necessary to its spread to a broader community of users... Interest in free software was starting to grow outside the programming community, and it was increasingly clear that an opportunity was coming to change the world... [W]e discussed the need for a new term due to the confusion factor. The argument was as follows: those new to the term "free software" assume it is referring to the price. Oldtimers must then launch into an explanation, usually given as follows: "We mean free as in freedom, not free as in beer." At this point, a discussion on software has turned into one about the price of an alcoholic beverage...

Between meetings that week, I was still focused on the need for a better name and came up with the term "open source software." While not ideal, it struck me as good enough. I ran it by at least four others: Eric Drexler, Mark Miller, and Todd Anderson liked it, while a friend in marketing and public relations felt the term "open" had been overused and abused and believed we could do better. He was right in theory; however, I didn't have a better idea... Later that week, on February 5, 1998, a group was assembled at VA Research to brainstorm on strategy. Attending -- in addition to Eric Raymond, Todd, and me -- were Larry Augustin, Sam Ockman, and attending by phone, Jon "maddog" Hall... Todd was on the ball. Instead of making an assertion that the community should use this specific new term, he did something less directive -- a smart thing to do with this community of strong-willed individuals. He simply used the term in a sentence on another topic -- just dropped it into the conversation to see what happened.... A few minutes later, one of the others used the term, evidently without noticing, still discussing a topic other than terminology. Todd and I looked at each other out of the corners of our eyes to check: yes, we had both noticed what happened...

Toward the end of the meeting, the question of terminology was brought up explicitly, probably by Todd or Eric. Maddog mentioned "freely distributable" as an earlier term, and "cooperatively developed" as a newer term. Eric listed "free software," "open source," and "sourceware" as the main options. Todd advocated the "open source" model, and Eric endorsed this... Eric Raymond was far better positioned to spread the new meme, and he did. Bruce Perens signed on to the effort immediately, helping set up Opensource.org and playing a key role in spreading the new term... By late February, both O'Reilly & Associates and Netscape had started to use the term. After this, there was a period during which the term was promoted by Eric Raymond to the media, by Tim O'Reilly to business, and by both to the programming community. It seemed to spread very quickly.

Peterson remembers that "These months were extremely exciting for open source," adding "Every week, it seemed, a new company announced plans to participate. Reading Slashdot became a necessity, even for those like me who were only peripherally involved. I strongly believe that the new term was helpful in enabling this rapid spread into business, which then enabled wider use by the public."

Wikipedia notes that Linus Torvalds endorsed the term the day after it was announced, that Phil Hughes backed it in Linux Journal, and that Richard Stallman "initially seemed to adopt the term, but later changed his mind."
Education

High School Computer Science: Look Ma, No Textbooks! 110

theodp writes: Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson wonders how other high school CS teachers use textbooks. "It's not a conversation I hear much about," he writes. Indeed, many teachers apparently don't rely on CS textbooks much at all. In fact, the highly-touted new AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) course does not require a CS textbook for students (sample College Board AP CSP syllabus), albeit to the chagrin of some. Some of the bigger providers of AP CSP curriculum -- e.g., BJC and Code.org, both of whom partner with Microsoft TEALS -- don't require a traditional CS textbook. But with teachers being recruited to teach Computer Science even if they don't have a CS background, should students learning CS have a textbook? Or is the high AP exam pass rate enjoyed by AP CSP students proof that no-more-books works?
Media

MPEG Founder Says the MPEG Business Model Is Broken (chiariglione.org) 159

theweatherelectric writes: Leonardo Chiariglione, the founder and chairman of MPEG, argues on his blog that the current MPEG business model is broken. He writes, "Thanks to [MPEG's] 'business model' that can be simply described as: produce standards having the best performance as a goal, irrespective of the IPR involved. Because MPEG standards are the best in the market and have an international standard status, manufacturers/service providers get a global market of digital media products, services and applications, and end users can seamless communicate with billions of people and access millions of services. Patent holders who allow use of their patents get hefty royalties with which they can develop new technologies for the next generation of MPEG standards. A virtuous cycle everybody benefits from." But, he argues, the MPEG model is now in crisis because the forthcoming AV1 video format from the Alliance for Open Media means that "everybody realizes that the old MPEG business model is broke, all the investments (collectively hundreds of millions USD) made by the industry for the new video codec [HEVC] will go up in smoke and AOM's royalty free model will spread to other business segments as well." Chiariglione goes on to explain what can be done: "The first action is to introduce what I call 'fractional options.' ISO envisages two forms of licensing: Option 1, i.e. royalty free and Option 2, i.e. FRAND, which is taken to mean 'with undetermined license.' We could introduce fractional options in the sense that a proposer could indicate that the technology be assigned to a specifically identified profile with an 'industry license' (defined outside MPEG) that does not contain monetary values. For instance, one such license could be 'no charge' (i.e. Option 1), another could be targeted to the OTT market etc."

"The second action, not meant to be alternative to the first, is to streamline the MPEG standard development process. Within this a first goal is to develop coding tools with 'clear ownership,' unlike today's tools which are often the result of contributions with possibly very different weights. A second goal is not to define profiles in MPEG. A third goal could be to embed in the standard the capability to switch coding tools on and off."
Advertising

Burger King Makes the Case For Net Neutrality (variety.com) 246

An anonymous reader writes: By now you've probably seen Burger King's spoof ad on the decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality. In the ad, Burger King customers are informed that there are now three "lanes" for ordering Whoppers -- each with substantially different prices and waiting times. The ad has already generated over a million views on Youtube and is lighting up Twitter. One thing I missed the first time is that while the Burger King "counter service" is clearly in on the act, the customers are apparently real; they learn of the cockamamie scheme at the counter in the style of the old TV show Candid Camera. Variety notes that the video "ends with an apparent dig at FCC Chairman Ajit Pai [...] as the Burger King character is shown drinking from an oversized Reese's coffee mug. That is the type of coffee mug that Pai uses at FCC meetings."
Books

Fantasy Fiction Novelist Ursula K. Le Guin Dies At 88 (nytimes.com) 89

sandbagger shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: may be paywalled; alternative source): Ursula K. Le Guin, the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like "The Left Hand of Darkness" and the Earthsea series, died on Monday at her home in Portland, Oregon. She was 88. Her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, confirmed her death. He did not specify a cause but said she had been in poor health for several months.

Ms. Le Guin embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes. The conflicts they face are typically rooted in a clash of cultures and resolved more by conciliation and self-sacrifice than by swordplay or space battles. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide.

AI

Can Machine Learning Guess True Emotions From Facial Microexpressions? (cmu.edu) 55

jbmartin6 writes: Microexpressions are fast, involuntary facial expressions which other people may not consciously recognize, but arise from our real emotions instead of the face we wish to present to the world. Carnegie Mellon University released an interesting blog entry about new approaches to using computers to recognize these microexpressions with a focus on the security and military applications. If you haven't taped over the cameras on your devices, it might be time to start thinking about it. Just imagine how advertisers would (mis)use this sort of technology.
"Our approach uses machine learning features that treat the whole face as a canvas," writes the lead researcher, adding "One challenge we faced for this project was finding a dataset with accurately labeled data to establish ground truth.

"Few existing databases capture subjects' suppressed reactions...."
Science

We All Nearly Missed the Largest Underwater Volcano Eruption Ever Recorded (sciencealert.com) 41

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: She was flying home from a holiday in Samoa when she saw it through the airplane window: a "peculiar large mass" floating on the ocean, hundreds of kilometres off the north coast of New Zealand. The Kiwi passenger emailed photos of the strange ocean slick to scientists, who realised what it was -- a raft of floating rock spewed from an underwater volcano, produced in the largest eruption of its kind ever recorded.

"We knew it was a large-scale eruption, approximately equivalent to the biggest eruption we've seen on land in the 20th Century," says volcanologist Rebecca Carey from the University of Tasmania, who's co-led the first close-up investigation of the historic 2012 eruption. The incident, produced by a submarine volcano called the Havre Seamount, initially went unnoticed by scientists, but the floating rock platform it generated was harder to miss. Back in 2012, the raft -- composed of pumice rock -- covered some 400 square kilometres (154 square miles) of the south-west Pacific Ocean, but months later satellites recorded it dispersing over an area twice the size of New Zealand itself... for a sense of scale, think roughly 1.5 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens -- or 10 times the size of the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland.

When an underwater robot first sent back detailed maps, one volcanologist remembers that "I thought the vehicle's sonar was acting up... We saw all these bumps on the seafloor... It turned out that each bump was a giant block of pumice, some of them the size of a van."
Crime

Software 'No More Accurate Than Untrained Humans' At Predicting Recidivism (theguardian.com) 166

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The credibility of a computer program used for bail and sentencing decisions has been called into question after it was found to be no more accurate at predicting the risk of reoffending than people with no criminal justice experience provided with only the defendant's age, sex and criminal history. The algorithm, called Compas (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions), is used throughout the U.S. to weigh up whether defendants awaiting trial or sentencing are at too much risk of reoffending to be released on bail. Since being developed in 1998, the tool is reported to have been used to assess more than one million defendants. But a new paper has cast doubt on whether the software's predictions are sufficiently accurate to justify its use in potentially life-changing decisions.

The academics used a database of more than 7,000 pretrial defendants from Broward County, Florida, which included individual demographic information, age, sex, criminal history and arrest record in the two year period following the Compas scoring. The online workers were given short descriptions that included a defendant's sex, age, and previous criminal history and asked whether they thought they would reoffend. Using far less information than Compas (seven variables versus 137), when the results were pooled the humans were accurate in 67% of cases, compared to the 65% accuracy of Compas. In a second analysis, the paper found that Compas's accuracy at predicting recidivism could also be matched using a simple calculation involving only an offender's age and the number of prior convictions.

The Courts

US Supreme Court Will Revisit Ruling On Collecting Internet Sales Tax (theverge.com) 180

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. Supreme Court will consider freeing state and local governments to collect billions of dollars in sales taxes from online retailers, agreeing to revisit a 26-year-old ruling that has made much of the internet a tax-free zone. Heeding calls from traditional retailers and dozens of states, the justices said they'll hear South Dakota's contention that the 1992 ruling is obsolete in the e-commerce era and should be overturned. State and local governments could have collected up to $13 billion more in 2017 if they'd been allowed to require sales tax payments from online merchants and other remote sellers, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, Congress's non-partisan audit and research agency. Other estimates are even higher. All but five states impose sales taxes.

The high court's 1992 Quill v. North Dakota ruling, which involved a mail-order company, said retailers can be forced to collect taxes only in states where the company has a "physical presence." The court invoked the so-called dormant commerce clause, a judge-created legal doctrine that bars states from interfering with interstate commerce unless authorized by Congress. South Dakota passed its law in 2016 with an eye toward overturning the Quill decision. It requires retailers with more than $100,000 in annual sales in the state to pay a 4.5 percent tax on purchases. Soon after enacting the law, the state filed suit and asked the courts to declare the measure constitutional.

Medicine

Scientists Change Our Understanding of How Anaesthesia Messes With the Brain (sciencealert.com) 92

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: It's crazy to think that we still don't quite understand the mechanism behind one of the most common medical interventions -- general anaesthetic. But researchers in Australia just got a step closer by discovering that one of the most commonly used anesthetic drugs doesn't just put us to sleep; it also disrupts communication between brain cells. The team investigated the drug propofol, a super-popular option for surgeries worldwide. A potent sedative, the drug is thought to put us to sleep through its effect on the GABA neurotransmitter system, the main regulator of our sleep-and-wake cycles in the brain. But anyone who's been "put under" will know that waking up from a general anesthetic feels rather different from your usual morning grogginess. On top of that, some people can experience serious side-effects, so scientists have been trying to figure out what else the drugs might be doing in the brain.

Using live neuron cell samples from rats and fruit flies, the researchers were able to track neurotransmitter activity thanks to a super-resolution microscope, and discovered that propofol messes with a key protein that nerve cells use to communicate with each other. This protein, called syntaxin1A, isn't just found in animal models - people have it, too. And it looks like the anesthetic drug puts the brakes on this protein, making otherwise normal brain cell connections sluggish, at least for a while. The researchers think this disruption could be key to how propofol allows for pain-free surgery to take place - first it knocks us out as a normal sleeping pill would, and then takes things up a notch by disrupting brain connectivity.
The research has been published in Cell Reports.
Networking

Can Mesh Networks Save a Dying Web? (thenextweb.com) 201

From an anonymous reader: "The web is dying, but mesh networks could save it," writes open source hacker Andre Staltz. He warns that Facebook, Google, and Amazon plan to "grow beyond browsers, creating new virtual contexts where data is created and shared," and predicts the next wave of walled gardens will be a "social internet" bypassing the web altogether. "The Web may die like most other technologies do, simply by becoming less attractive than newer technologies."

He wants to build a mobile mesh web that works with or without internet access to reach the four billion people currently offline, adding that all the tools we need are already in our hands: smartphones, peer-to-peer protocols, and mesh networks. His vision? "Novel peer-to-peer protocols such as IPFS and Dat help replace HTTP and make the web a content-centered cyberspace... Browsers can be made to work like that, and although it's a small tweak to how the web works, it has massive effects on social structures in cyberspace... Now that we have experience with some of the intricacies of the social web, we can reinvent it to put people first without intermediate companies... We can actually beat the tech giants at this game by simply giving local and regional connectivity to people in developing countries. With mobile apps that are built mesh-first, the smartphones would make up self-organizing self-healing mobile ad-hoc networks... In internet-less regions, there is potential for scaling quickly, and through that, we can spawn a new industry around peer-to-peer wireless mesh networks."

He cites mega-projects "to rescue the web from the internet", which include progress on peer-to-peer and mesh networking protocols, followed by adoption on smartphones (and then a new wave of apps) -- plus a migration of existing web content to the new protocols, "to fix the overutilization of the wirenet and the underutilization of airnets, bringing balance to the wire-versus-air dichotomy, providing choice in how data should travel in each case...But it can only happen if the web takes a courageous step towards its next level."

Technology

That '70s Show: the Conference That Predicted the Future of Work (wired.com) 40

theodp writes: Over at Wired, Leslie Berlin writes about Futures Day at the 1977 Xerox World Conference, an invitation-only demonstration of the Alto personal computer system developed at Xerox PARC. It's an excerpt from Troublemakers: How a Generation of Silicon Valley Upstarts Invented the Future. Both Berlin's book and Brian Dear's recent The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture are shedding light on groundbreaking systems of the '70s that were ultimately done in by the less-featured but low-cost Apple II (yes, $2,638 for a system with 48 kB of RAM was 'low cost'!) and other personal computers. Interestingly, Dear notes that the Xerox Parc and PLATO teams sent people out to see and learn and exchange ideas with each other over the years. Their interactions included 'tremendous battles' over the advantages and disadvantages of mouse interfaces [Xerox] vs. touch screens [PLATO], as well as plasma displays [PLATO] vs. other, cheaper display solutions [Xerox]. As is the case with many debates, both teams proved to be "right." Apple wouldn't introduce the masses to a mouse interface until 1984 [Macintosh] and a touch screen interface until 2007 [iPhone].
Books

A Book Recommendation for Bill Gates: The Story of PLATO 59

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: This holiday season, many Slashdot readers are likely to find gifts under the tree because of Bill Gates' book picks. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it seems that turnabout is fair play -- what book recommendations do you have for Bill?

At the top of my pick list for personalized learning advocate Gates would be Brian Dear's remarkable The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture, with its tale of how a group of visionary engineers and designers -- some of them only high school students -- created a shockingly little-known computer system called PLATO in the late 1960s and 1970s that was decades ahead of its time in experimenting with how people could learn, engage, communicate, and play through connected terminals and computers. After all, "we can't move forward," as Audrey Watters argued in The Hidden History of Ed-Tech, "til we reconcile where we've been before."

Slashdot Top Deals