Aug 31

Wave723 shared this article from September’s issue of IEEE Spectrum about an usual project by a leading group of cognitive biologists and computer scientists:
Dubbed the Interspecies Internet, the project aims to provide intelligent animals such as elephants, dolphins, magpies, and great apes with a means to communicate among each other and with people online.

And through artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and other digital technologies, researchers hope to crack the code of all the chirps, yips, growls, and whistles that underpin animal communication.

Oh, and musician Peter Gabriel is involved. “We can use data analysis and technology tools to give non-humans a lot more choice and control,” the former Genesis frontman, dressed in his signature Nehru-style collar shirt and loose, open waistcoat, told IEEE Spectrum at the inaugural Interspecies Internet Workshop, held [in July] in Cambridge, Mass. “This will be integral to changing our relationship with the natural world.”

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Aug 27

McGruber shares a report: Today, the dream of goggle-wearing masses has deflated, and investment in the tech has dwindled. But VR companies like Talespin have found a growing market in simulating the least entertaining content imaginable: our jobs. Consumers may not yet feel the pull of visiting fantasy worlds in their free time, but for businesses that need to train their workers, better tools are a necessity, not a luxury. “What you’re seeing today is not an evolution but a return to the application that’s always worked,” said Jeremy Bailenson, the director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and one of the founders of Strivr, a competing virtual reality training start-up. He traces the roots of virtual reality back to the Link trainer, a mock airplane fuselage mounted on a platform that could simulate real flying sensations, which half a million military pilots used to safely train during World War II.

Talespin found its first major client in Farmers Insurance Group, which needed a new way to train claims adjusters for home inspections. The start-up designed a virtual house, complete with cluttered closets and leaky sinks, that trainees could scour for evidence of water damage. The simulation changed slightly each time, letting new hires rack up months’ worth of experience in just a few days. The company has grown to 75 employees to match the demand for VR training coming from Farmers and other large corporate clients, fueled only by $5.6 million in outside investment. But the company always uses Barry’s termination as a demo for new clients — it’s a compelling proof-of-concept experience designed, Jackson said, “to see if talking to a virtual human can actually make you uncomfortable. It’s proved to be pretty effective.” That emotional realism is what separates virtual reality from all the other tools for teaching interpersonal skills in the workplace, from pamphlets and role-playing workshops to interactive tutorials.

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Aug 26

Google is launching new Chromebook Enterprise devices that it hopes will draw more businesses away from Windows-powered laptops. From a report: Microsoft has dominated enterprise computing for years, but as businesses increasingly look to modernize their fleet of devices, there’s an opportunity for competitors to challenge Windows. Google is teaming up with one of Microsoft’s biggest partners, Dell, to help push new Chromebook Enterprise laptops into businesses. Dell is launching Chrome OS on a pair of its popular business-focused Latitude laptops, offering both a regular clamshell design and a 2-in-1 option. While it might sound like just two existing Windows laptops repurposed for Chrome OS, Google and Dell have been working together for more than a year to ensure these new Chromebook Enterprise devices are ready for IT needs. That includes bundling a range of Dell’s cloud-based support services that allow admins to have greater control over how these Chromebooks are rolled out inside businesses.

It means IT admins can more easily integrate these Chromebooks into existing Windows environments and manage them through tools like VMware Workspace One. Microsoft and its partners have offered a range of admin tools for years, making it easy to customize and control Windows-based devices. Google has also tweaked its Chrome Admin console to improve load times, add search on every page, and overhaul it with material design elements. Businesses will be able to choose from Dell’s 14-inch Latitude 5400 ($699) or the 13-inch Latitude 5300 2-in-1 ($819). Both can be configured with up to Intel’s 8th Gen Core i7 processors, up to 32GB of RAM, and even up to 1TB of SSD storage.

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Aug 22

Software company VMware on Thursday said it’s acquiring Carbon Black at an enterprise value of $2.1 billion and Pivotal at an enterprise value of $2.7 billion. The deals are expected to close by the end of January 2020. From a report: These are VMware’s largest acquisitions yet. The deals build on VMware’s strength helping companies run their software in their own data centers. They could help VMware compete better in the security market and hybrid-cloud infrastructure operations. VMware isn’t talking about cost synergies that could come out of buying two other enterprise-focused companies. However, CEO Pat Gelsinger told CNBC the companies will be operating profitably under VMware next year. Gelsinger said that by year two, Carbon Black and Pivotal will have contributed more than $1 billion in revenue incrementally, which will mean VMware will have more than $3 billion in hybrid cloud and software-as-a-service revenue.

Carbon Black was founded in 2002 and debuted on the Nasdaq under the symbol “CBLK” in May 2018. The company provides anti-malware and endpoint protection products that can see into many of a company’s devices and tell if they have been hacked. […] Pivotal and VMware go way back: The company was created from assets spun out of VMware and Dell (VMware’s controlling owner) in 2013. Its products help companies build and deploy their software across different server infrastructure, including public clouds. Competitors include IBM, Oracle and SAP, among others, as well as cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft. Pivotal’s customers include Boeing, Citi, Ford and Home Depot, according to its website.

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Aug 21

Contractors working for Microsoft have listened to audio of Xbox users speaking in their homes in order to improve the console’s voice command features, Motherboard has learned. From a report: The audio was supposed to be captured following a voice command like “Xbox” or “Hey Cortana,” but contractors said that recordings were sometimes triggered and recorded by mistake. The news is the latest in a string of revelations that show contractors working on behalf of Microsoft listen to audio captured by several of its products. Motherboard previously reported that human contractors were listening to some Skype calls as well as audio recorded by Cortana, Microsoft’s Siri-like virtual assistant.

“Xbox commands came up first as a bit of an outlier and then became about half of what we did before becoming most of what we did,” one former contractor who worked on behalf of Microsoft told Motherboard. Motherboard granted multiple sources in this story anonymity as they had signed non-disclosure agreements. The former contractor said they worked on Xbox audio data from 2014 to 2015, before Cortana was implemented into the console in 2016. When it launched in November 2013, the Xbox One had the capability to be controlled via voice commands with the Kinect system.

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Aug 21

An anonymous Slashdot reader shares a report about Japan’s virtual YouTubers or VTubers that act as live performers, corporate PR officials and even surrogate children. From The Wall Street Journal: Ryosei Takehisa, 24 years old, doesn’t have any children — unless you count an animated character with elfin ears called Mikuriya Kuon. In live appearances on YouTube, the kimono-clad Kuon character, voiced by an actor hired by Mr. Takehisa, dispenses advice about the latest video games and plays rock-paper-scissors with her fans. The creator says he considers Kuon his “real daughter” even though she “resides within pixels.” While others may compete for fame or page views, “for me, I’m totally satisfied just with the fact that she was born and is continuing to live life in good health,” says Mr. Takehisa. Digital avatars with human traits have long carved out a role on social media, on Instagram in particular. Japan, as it often does, has taken the idea and run with it, with its virtual characters now estimated to number more than 3,000.

Technology allows Kuon and her peers to have more direct engagement with fans — and sometimes a family-like relationship with their own creators. The characters, known as virtual YouTubers or VTubers because many are active on YouTube, sing and dance at live performances and answer questions on webcasts. VTubers are so embedded in Japanese culture that one of them serves as a face of the Japanese government’s tourism campaign. Another presented earnings results for game-site operator Gree Inc. in August last year, informing investors that “we will aggressively invest in strengthening our three earnings pillars.” “VTubers are an evolution in Japan’s long tradition of manga and anime, giving real-time interactivity to the sort of characters earlier depicted in comic books and on television screens,” the report says. “The next step could be artificial intelligence to allow the VTubers to sing, dance and be mischievous without any backstage human help.”

Sony is trying to further extend one of their latest pop sensations, a VTuber called Kaguya Luna, by building on its virtual-reality technology. “It has already staged concerts by Luna that fans view through a VR headset,” reports The WSJ. “Next the company is looking into haptic technology — which can convey vibrations and force — to allow fans to get up close and personal with Luna.”

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Aug 19

As fake and illegitimate texts proliferate online, books are becoming a form of misinformation. The author of “1984″ would not be surprised. From a report: In George Orwell’s “1984,” the classics of literature are rewritten into Newspeak, a revision and reduction of the language meant to make bad thoughts literally unthinkable. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words,” one true believer exults. Now some of the writer’s own words are getting reworked in Amazon’s vast virtual bookstore, a place where copyright laws hold remarkably little sway. Orwell’s reputation may be secure, but his sentences are not. Over the last few weeks I got a close-up view of this process when I bought a dozen fake and illegitimate Orwell books from Amazon. Some of them were printed in India, where the writer is in the public domain, and sold to me in the United States, where he is under copyright. Others were straightforward counterfeits, like the edition of his memoir “Down and Out in Paris and London” that was edited for high school students. The author’s estate said it did not give permission for the book, printed by Amazon’s self-publishing subsidiary. Some counterfeiters are going as far as to claim Orwell’s classics as their own property, copyrighting them with their own names.

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Aug 18

Long-time Slashdot reader shanen writes:
Imagine you had a perfect chair for using your computer. Also a perfect chair for watching TV. And a chair for listening to music, a chair for reading, a chair for napping, a work chair that keeps you awake, and a perfect chair for dinner. Also a massage chair and a diagnostic chair that checks your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. Is your house full of chairs yet? Wait! what about your spouse’s perfect chairs? Need a bigger house?

What if you had one chair that could be all nine of those chairs? What if you could teach the super-smart modular chair to be more chairs, too? That’s what I want, plus the voodoo chair controller to manipulate and teach the slightly deformable triangular modules (in two or three sizes) that would form all of the virtual chairs for the current real chair.

Anyway, this story ticks me off because I sent that idea to a couple of companies, including IKEA. I’m still waiting. Not holding my breath.

That article shows Ikea promising a new “smart homes” unit — but with no mention of investments in wondrous smart chair technologies.

So the original submission ends by asking how we can bring about such a smart chair revolution?

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Aug 16

Apple has filed a lawsuit against Corellium, accusing the software company of illegally selling virtual copies of iOS under the guise of helping discover security flaws. “Apple said the software company Corellium has copied the operating system, graphical user interface and other aspects of the devices without permission, and wants a federal judge to stop the violations,” reports Bloomberg. From the report: Apple said it supports “good-faith security research,” offering a $1 million “bug bounty” for anyone who discovers flaws in its system and gives custom versions of the iPhone to “legitimate” researchers. Corellium, the iPhone maker said, goes further than that. “Although Corellium paints itself as providing a research tool for those trying to discover security vulnerabilities and other flaws in Apple’s software, Corellium’s true goal is profiting off its blatant infringement,” Apple said in the complaint. “Far from assisting in fixing vulnerabilities, Corellium encourages its users to sell any discovered information on the open market to the highest bidder.”

Corellium creates copies of the Apple iOS, and says that it’s all to help white-hat hackers discover security flaws. Instead, according to Apple, any information is sold to people who can then exploit those flaws. Corellium, in a posting dated July 4 on its website, said it “respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects its users to do the same.” Corellium’s products allow the creation of a virtual Apple device, according to the suit. It copies new versions of Apple works as soon as they are announced, and doesn’t require users to disclose flaws to Apple, the Cupertino, California-based company said in the complaint. Apple also wants a court order forcing Corellium to notify its customers that they are in violation of Apple’s rights, destruction of any products using Apple copyrights, and cash compensation.

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Aug 15

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: British Airways announced that it is testing out virtual reality headsets for the rest of this year on flights between London’s Heathrow and New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport. The airline is tapping SkyLights for the VR eyewear headsets that will be available for its first-class passengers. The AlloSky hardware can present 3D views even when the viewer is lying flat. As far as programming, British Airways will have options. The VR headsets will offer visual entertainment in 2D, 3D, or 360-degree formats. The airline will also provide more therapeutic programs to help people who have a fear of flying. These VR experiences include guided meditation and sound therapy. This marks the first time British Airways is bringing virtual reality onto its aircrafts. The company also used SkyLights’ hardware at its ticket counters in Heathrow to show passengers the experience of its first-class travel in an effort to encourage upgrades.

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