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Updated: 17 min 7 sec ago

3 Years Ago, Microsoft Said Tech Should Fund K-12 CS Education. What Changed?

14 hours 47 min ago
theodp writes: Last week, Microsoft and some of the biggest names in tech and corporate America threw their weight behind a Change.org petition that urged Congress to fund K-12 Computer Science education. The petition, started by the tech-backed CS Education Coalition (btw, 901 K Street NW is Microsoft's DC HQ) in partnership with tech-backed Code.org, now has 90,000+ supporters. But three years ago, Microsoft backed a very different Change.org petition that called for corporate America to foot the STEM education bill. "While the need to expand high-skilled immigration is immediate," read the letter to Congress, "we also need to expand STEM opportunities in U.S. education. A positive proposal has emerged in Washington to create a national STEM education fund, paid for only by businesses using green cards and visas. This fund will help prepare Americans for 21st-century STEM jobs. The proposal is supported by a broad coalition [PDF] that includes Microsoft, GE, the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Manufactures, and the National Science Teachers Association, to name a few." The earlier petition, which wound up with 41,009 supporters, was started by Voices for Innovation, a self-described "Microsoft supported community" that says it's now "proud to support the Computer Science Education Coalition" as part of its efforts to "shape public policies for our 21st century digital economy and society." So, what changed? Well, Mother Jones did warn that what Microsoft promises and what it delivers for education isn't necessarily the same...

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Elon Musk Open Sources New 'AI Gym'

15 hours 47 min ago
An anonymous reader writes: OpenAI, a billion-dollar research non-profit backed by Elon Musk and other Silicon Valley executives, just released a public beta of a new Open Source gym for computer programmers working on artificial intelligence. "Nothing beats a competitive environment to motivate developers," says Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "It's like a monster truck rally for AI programmers." The gym lets developers run tests in a standardized environment and share their results, and was built by OpenAI to develop algorithms for the non-profit's own research, according to the Christian Science Monitor. "The gym's exercises range from robot simulations to Atari games and are designed to develop reinforcement learning, the type of computer skills needed for motor control, and decision-making. 'Long-term, we want this curation to be a community effort rather than something owned by us,' Greg Brockman and John Schulman wrote in an OpenAI blog post. 'We'll necessarily have to figure out the details over time, and we'd would love your help in doing so.'"

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Global Catastrophe, Even Human Extinction, Isn't All That Unlikely

19 hours 47 min ago
HughPickens.com writes: Robinson Meyer writes in The Atlantic that in its annual report on "global catastrophic risk," the Global Challenges Foundation estimates the risk of human extinction due to climate change -- or an accidental nuclear war at 0.1 percent every year. That may sound low, but when extrapolated to century-scale it comes to a 9.5 percent chance of human extinction within the next hundred years. The report holds catastrophic climate change and nuclear war far above other potential causes, and for good reason citing multiple occasions when the world stood on the brink of atomic annihilation. While most of these occurred during the Cold War, another took place during the 1990s, the most peaceful decade in recent memory. The closest may have been on September 26, 1983, when a bug in the U.S.S.R. early-warning system reported that five NATO nuclear missiles had been launched and were bound for Russian targets. The officer watching the system, Stanislav Petrov, had also designed the system, and he decided that any real NATO first-strike would involve hundreds of I.C.B.M.s. Therefore, he resolved the computers must be malfunctioning. He did not fire a response. Climate change also poses its own risks. [PDF] According to Meyer, serious veterans of climate science now suggest that global warming will spawn continent-sized superstorms by the end of the century. Sebastian Farquhar says that even more conservative estimates can be alarming: UN-approved climate models estimate that the risk of six to ten degrees Celsius of warming exceeds 3 percent, even if the world tamps down carbon emissions at a fast pace... Any year, there's always some chance of a super-volcano erupting or an asteroid careening into the planet. Both would of course devastate the areas around ground zero -- but they would also kick up dust into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and sending global temperatures plunging. Natural pandemics may pose the most serious risks of all. In fact, in the past two millennia, the only two events that experts can certify as global catastrophes of this scale were plagues. The Black Death of the 1340s felled more than 10 percent of the world population. Another epidemic of the Yersinia pestis bacterium -- the "Great Plague of Justinian" in 541 and 542 -- killed between 25 and 33 million people, or between 13 and 17 percent of the global population at that time. The report briefly explores other possible risks: a genetically engineered pandemic, geo-engineering gone awry, an all-seeing artificial intelligence. "We do not expect these risks to materialize tomorrow, or even this year, but we should not ignore them," says Farquhar. "Although many risks are addressed by specific groups, we need to build a community around global catastrophic risk. Cooperation is the only way for global leaders to manage the risks that threaten humanity."

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The Pirate Bay Gets a 'Massive' $9 in Donations Per Day

Mon, 02/05/2016 - 3:10am
An anonymous reader writes: When The Pirate Bay and other torrent sites started accepting Bitcoin donations a few years ago, copyright holders voiced concerns about this new 'unseizable' revenue stream. Thus far, this fear seems unwarranted with TPB raking in an average of $9 per day in Bitcoin donations over the past year. While hardly a windfall, it's a fortune compared to the donations received by the leading torrent site KickassTorrents.

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Robots Battle In 25th Annual FIRST Competition

Mon, 02/05/2016 - 1:10am
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vice: Saturday marked the conclusion of the 2016 FIRST Robotics Competition, which saw over 20,000 high school students from around the world descend on St. Louis, Missouri... 900 teams pitted their robots against one another in various games... The ultimate robotics test occurred in the championship round, known as the FIRST Stronghold, which involves two alliances composed of three robots each. At each end of a pitch are two towers, representing each alliance's stronghold. The alliances must breach their opponent's stronghold by throwing boulders to goals on the tower to weaken it. There's some embedded videos from the event in Vice's article, which points out that it's the competition's 25th anniversary. (Here's Slashdot's post about the event from 2004). This year 40,000 people attended, including will.i.am and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

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The Government Wants Your Fingerprint To Unlock Phones

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 11:10pm
schwit1 quotes this report from the Daily Gazette: "As the world watched the FBI spar with Apple this winter in an attempt to hack into a San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, federal officials were quietly waging a different encryption battle in a Los Angeles courtroom. There, authorities obtained a search warrant compelling the girlfriend of an alleged Armenian gang member to press her finger against an iPhone that had been seized from a Glendale home. The phone contained Apple's fingerprint identification system for unlocking, and prosecutors wanted access to the data inside it. It marked a rare time that prosecutors have demanded a person provide a fingerprint to open a computer, but experts expect such cases to become more common as cracking digital security becomes a larger part of law enforcement work. The Glendale case and others like it are forcing courts to address a basic question: How far can the government go to obtain biometric markers such as fingerprints and hair?"

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Windows Desktop Market Share Drops Below 90%

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 10:10pm
An anonymous reader quotes VentureBeat's new article about desktop operating systems: Windows 7 is still the king, but it no longer holds the majority. Nine months after Windows 10's release, Windows 7 has finally fallen below 50 percent market share and Windows XP has dropped into single digits. While this is good news for Microsoft, April was actually a poor month for Windows overall, which for the first time owned less than 90 percent of the market, according to the latest figures from Net Applications.

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What Happened to Google Maps?

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 9:10pm
Google Maps has reduced the number of cities it shows by up to 83% over the past few years, according to Justin O'Beirne. Maps, in addition, has increased the number of roads it showcases. O'Beirne, who writes about digital maps, in a blog post outlines the changes Google has made to its mapping and navigation service over the years. The side-by-side screenshots comparison on his blog post shows that Google has largely abandoned labelling towns and cities in favor of showing as many roads as it can. He has also looked into several elements of Maps from the design standpoint, and questioned Google's decision. He writes: If these roads were so important that they deserved to be upgraded in appearance, why weren't they also given shield icons? After all, an unlabeled road is only half as useful as a labeled one. [...] [Comparing Google Maps to a paper map] Even though it's from the early 1960s, the old print map has so much more information than the Google Map. So many more cities. So many more road labels. And the text size is comparable between the two. O'Beirne believes that Google has made these changes to better serve mobile users. "Unfortunately, these 'optimizations' only served to exacerbate the longstanding imbalances already in the maps," he writes. "As is often the case with cartography: less isn't more. Less is just less."

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CV of Failures: Princeton Professor Publishes Resume of His Career Lows

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 8:10pm
An anonymous reader shares a Guardian report: A professor at Princeton University has published a CV listing his career failures (PDF), in an attempt to "balance the record" and encourage others to keep trying in the face of disappointment. Johannes Haushofer, who is an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at the university in New Jersey, posted his unusual CV on Twitter last week. The document contains sections titled Degree programs I did not get into , Research funding I did not get and Paper rejections from academic journals. Haushofer writes: Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective. He added another section called "Meta-Failures" to his resume, writing, "This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work."

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RIP Kuro5hin

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 7:50pm
themusicgod1 writes: Can we please get a moment of silence? Long-time sister site to Slashdot, Kuro5hin has finally gone offline.

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Government Could Ban BBC From Showing Top Shows at Peak Times

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 7:30pm
An anonymous reader writes: The BBC is on a collision course with the government over reported efforts to bar it from showing popular shows at peak viewing times. The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, is widely expected to ban the broadcaster from going head-to-head with commercial rivals as part of the BBC charter review. He is due to publish a white paper within weeks that will set out a tougher regime as part of a new royal charter to safeguard the service for another 11 years. ITV has complained about licence fee money being used to wage a ratings battle with it and other channels funded by advertising. A source at the BBC said the public would be deeply concerned if it were forced to move programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and Sherlock from prime time weekend slots.In some unrelated news, Clarkson, Hammond, and May are still figuring out the name for their new show.

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Apple's Smartwatch Draws Competition And A Very Bad Review

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 6:30pm
Apple's share of the smartwatch market actually started declining in 2016, dropping down to just 52.4% (down from 63%), according to Business Insider. And following up on Apple's first drop in earnings in over 10 years, Slashdot reader Zanadou shares a Gizmodo's latest story about the Apple Watch. "I stopped wearing it two months ago, and I'm not sure if I'll ever wear it again. That's because it doesn't really do anything that anyone needs, and even when it does, it doesn't always work like it's supposed to. Here are some things I learned over the past year of strapping the screen vibrator to my wrist." The article describes wanting to try a new form factor, but ending up confused by the watch's two-button interface (where the buttons perform multiple functions). Gizmodo's writer complains that "there's literally no comfortable way to actually use it," and while he did appreciate things like the time-of-sunrise feature and the ability to read text messages on your wrist, most Apple Watch apps "just end up being a shell of the iPhone app". And worst of all, it was difficult to use the watch to actually tell time, since "the screen doesn't always turn on when you raise your wrist like it's supposed to."

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New Chip Offers Artificial Intelligence On A USB Stick

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 5:30pm
An anonymous reader writes: "Pretty much any device with a USB port will be able to use advanced neural networks," reports PC Magazine, announcing the new Fathom Neural Compute Stick from chip-maker (and Google supplier) Movidius. "Once it's plugged into a Linux-powered device, it will enable that device to perform neural network functions like language comprehension, image recognition, and pattern detection," and without even using an external power supply. Device manufacturers could now move AI-level processing from the cloud down to end users, PC Magazine reports, with one New York computer science professor saying the technology means that now "every robot, big and small, can now have state-of-the-art vision capabilities." The article argues that this standalone, ultra-low power neural network could start the creation of a whole new category of next-generation consumer technologies.

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Engineers Plan The Most Expensive Object Ever Built

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 4:30pm
HughPickens.com writes: Ed Davey has an interesting story at BBC about the proposed nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, UK which at $35 billion will be the most expensive object ever put together on Earth. For that sum you could build a small forest of Burj Khalifas -- the world's tallest building, in Dubai, which each cost $1.5 billion. You could build almost six Large Hadron Colliders, built under the border between France and Switzerland to unlock the secrets of the universe, and at a cost a mere $5.8 billion. Or you could build five Oakland Bay Bridges in San Francisco, designed to withstand the strongest earthquake seismologists would expect within the next 1,500 years at a cost of $6.5 billion... But what about historical buildings like the the pyramids. Although working out the cost of something built more than 4,500 years ago presents numerous challenges, in 2012 the Turner Construction Company estimated it could build the Great Pyramid of Giza for $5 billion. That includes about $730 million for stone and $58 million for 12 cranes. Labor is a minor cost as it is projected that a mere staff of 600 would be necessary. In contrast, it took 20,000 people to build the original pyramid with a total of 77.6 million days' labor. Using the current Egyptian minimum wage of $5.73 a day, that gives a labor cost of $445 million. But whatever the most expensive object on Earth is, up in the sky is something that eclipses all of these things. The International Space Station. Price tag: $110 billion.

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Ask Slashdot: How Could You Statistically Identify The Best Sci-Fi Books?

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 3:30pm
jimharris writes: Over at SF Signal I wrote a piece "How Well-Read Are You in Science Fiction?" There are three databases that collect lists of popular science fiction books that try to statistically identify the best books of the genre, [offering] combined list that shows which books were cited the most. They use different sets of best-of lists, but their results are often similar. The final lists are, Classics of Science Fiction, Worlds Without End Top Listed, and Premiosylista Comparativas: Comparativas: Ciencia ficcion (Spain). Interestingly, each list has a different book in its #1 position (though both "Dune" and "Frankenstein" make the top four on at least two of the three lists). But is this really a good methodology for determining the classic canon? What would be the best way to statistically identify the greatest sci-fi books? (And have you read any good science fiction novels lately?)

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Can Quantum Entanglement Create Faster-Than-Light Communication?

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 2:30pm
Slashdot reader StartsWithABang writes: If you were to send a space probe to a distant star system, gather information about it and send it back to Earth, you'd have to wait years for the information to arrive. But if you have an entangled quantum system -- say, two photons, one with spin +1 and one with spin -1 -- you could know the spin of the distant one instantly by measuring the spin of the one in your possession. This "incredible idea to exploit quantum weirdness" for communication was the subject of a recent Forbes article [which blocks ad-blockers] as well as a NASA mission directorate. ("Entanglement-assisted Communication System for NASA's Deep-Space Missions: Feasibility Test and Conceptual Design".) And Friday MIT News reported a research team is now making progress toward capturing paired electron halves for quantum computing on gold film. "Our first goal is to look for the Majorana fermions, unambiguously detect them, and show this is it. " This week even 85-year-old Star Trek actor William Shatner cited quantum entanglement in a discussion of Star Trek's transporter technology, arguing that "Although a lot of the concepts in science fiction are absurd to our Newtonian minds, anything is possible because of the new language of quantum physics."

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Flexible Floating Football-Field Sized Solar Panels

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 1:30pm
mdsolar writes: Offshore wind farms are growing in popularity as energy providers look for different ways of harvesting power from the sun without using valuable land resources. One unique idea being developed by engineers at Vienna University of Technology is a floating platform called a Heliofloat that would function as a sea-based solar power station.... an open-bottom, flexible float as large as a football field and covered from edge to edge with solar panels. Heliofloats can operate as standalone platforms for smaller operations with moderate energy requirements. Multiple heliofloats also can be connected together, forming a floating solar-harvesting power grid. Each heliofloat is 100 meters long, reportedly cheap and easy to build, and may eventually be used to power desalination plants and biomass extraction.

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Drones Being Used By Peeping Toms, The Military, And Terrorists

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 12:30pm
An anonymous reader writes: A 19-year-old woman called Massachusetts police about a drone peeking through her second-story window at 3 a.m. -- and was told no laws had been violated. Kansas is now passing an anti-harassment law after a woman reported her neighbor's drone was hovering over their pool and outside the window where her 16-year-old daughter was washing dishes. But meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has just outfitted one supercarrier with a new drone control room, while one Dutch activist writes in Newsweek that terrorist drone attacks "are not a matter of 'If' but 'When'." Noting that drones are cheap, portable and useful, PAX's Wim Zwijnenburg warns that "Terrorists and armed militia groups are already using consumer drones in conflict situations" -- for example, in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and the Ukraine -- "and it is likely only a matter of time before they use them to carry out attacks in Europe or the U.S." He believes ISIS is developing its own drone fleet, and warns about the possibility of swarms with "dozens of drones equipped with explosives or chemicals". Zwijnenburg proposes background checks and registrations for certain types of drones, as well as counter-drone technology to protect airports, crowded stadiums, and critical infrastructure points. Citing the blurring lines between military and civilian drones, he writes that "there needs to be an urgent and frank discussion among industry, the military, law enforcement, and most of all, the public, as to where we go from here." Meanwhile, another prison just reported a drone had flown over their wall -- this time a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Heli Ball.

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The Future of Shopping: Trapping You in a Club You Didn't Know You Joined

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 11:30am
Just a word of caution: the next time you spot a great deal on a shopping portal, you will want to carefully look for all the radio buttons, and tick boxes -- and perhaps also skim through the ToS -- before placing the order. Bloomberg has an in-depth piece on the ordeal of a customer who purchased a lingerie item from an e-commerce website called Adore Me. Little did the customer know that the $19.95 she was spending to purchase a piece of cloth would end up costing her -- partly because of her own ignorance -- more than $300. Adore Me, you see, maintains a subscription model in which it charges users a fee of around $40 a month, even if they don't purchase anything. It might surprise many, but Adore Me isn't the only shopping portal or service that runs this sort of tactic. "It's the new thing," says Francisca Allen, the deputy district attorney of California's Santa Clara County. "There's thousands and thousands of companies that do this." What's more, these companies have made it frustratingly difficult to cancel these subscriptions -- it often requires you to sit through a one-hour call to the customer representative and listening to a bunch of funky songs that you suddenly don't adore as much. Bloomberg reports:Hundreds of customer complaints against Adore Me and other subscription e-commerce businesses are stacking up at the Federal Trade Commission, according to records obtained by Bloomberg. They follow a pattern: Shoppers believe they've been tricked into signing up for recurring credit card charges, often for a relatively small amount that can be easily overlooked in a monthly bill. Then companies make it an exasperating hassle to quit and get a refund.

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Google Helps Police With Child Porn WebCrawler

Sun, 01/05/2016 - 7:30am
The San Jose Mercury News is reporting that the Internet Watch Foundation, "an organization that works with police worldwide to remove images of child sexual abuse from the Internet, has credited Google with helping it develop a 'Web crawler' that finds child pornography." The pilot project makes it easier to identify and remove every copy of specific images online, and the group says "We look forward to the next phase of the Googler in Residence project in 2016." Last year Google also had an engineer working directly with the foundation, and the group's annual report says "This was just one part of the engineering support Google gave us in 2015." [PDF] Their report adds that the new technology "should block thousands of their illegal images from being viewed on the Internet."

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