Sep 19

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google Assistant, the digital assistant from the global search giant, is available to users through their smartphones, laptops, and smart speakers. Earlier this year, the company partnered with KaiOS to bring Assistant to some feature phones with internet access. Now Google is going a step further: Bringing its virtual assistant to people who have the most basic cellphone with no internet access. It’s starting this program in India. At an event in New Delhi on Thursday, the company announced a 24×7 telephone line that anyone in India on Vodafone and Idea telecom networks (or Vodafone-Idea telecom network; as Vodafone owns Idea) could dial to have their questions answered.

The company said it tested the phone line service with thousands of users across Lucknow and Kanpur before making it generally available. Users will be able to dial 000-800-9191-000 and they won’t be charged for the call or the service. Manuel Bronstein, a VP at Google, said through this program the company is hoping to reach hundreds of millions of users in India who currently don’t have access to smartphones or internet.

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Sep 18

In the early days of life on Earth, biological organisms were exceedingly simple. They were microscopic unicellular creatures with little to no ability to coordinate. Yet billions of years of evolution through competition and natural selection led to the complex life forms we have today — as well as complex human intelligence. Researchers at OpenAI, the San-Francisco-based for-profit AI research lab, are now testing a hypothesis: if you could mimic that kind of competition in a virtual world, would it also give rise to much more sophisticated artificial intelligence? From a report: The experiment builds on two existing ideas in the field: multi-agent learning, the idea of placing multiple algorithms in competition or coordination to provoke emergent behaviors, and reinforcement learning, the specific machine-learning technique that learns to achieve a goal through trial and error. In a new paper released today, OpenAI has now revealed its initial results. Through playing a simple game of hide and seek hundreds of millions of times, two opposing teams of AI agents developed complex hiding and seeking strategies that involved tool use and collaboration. The research also offers insight into OpenAI’s dominant research strategy: to dramatically scale existing AI techniques to see what properties emerge.

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Sep 14

80 minutes from now, an asteroid will pass so close to earth that home astronomers will be able to see it, writes Salon. Slashdot reader PolygamousRanchKid shares their report:

Experts say the asteroid, known as Asteroid 2000 QW7, will miss our planet by about 3 million miles — around 14 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. And while that distance is astonishingly close on an astronomical scale, it does not suggest that the asteroid is going to hit Earth — although it has a small chance to strike our planet in the future. The closeness of its pass on Saturday will allow astronomers to hone their measurements of its trajectory, allowing for more accurate calculations of its strike probability in the future.

Gianluca Masi, Scientific Director at The Virtual Telescope, told Salon in a statement that amateur astronomers can view its fly-by, which is at 7:54 pm on the East Coast, but will have to have a telescope with a diameter of at least 250 millimeters. [Heres’ the telescope-positioning coordinates.] Masi said a smaller telescope might work if combined with a sensitive imaging device that can also record its apparent motion across the stars…

NASA released a statement this week to the public to emphasize it is not a threat, noting that it is actually one of two asteroids to pass Earth this weekend. The second asteroid, asteroid 2010 C01, is estimated to be 120 to 260 meters in size (400 to 850 feet).
The first asteroid’s diamter is between 300 and 600 meters — so up to 1968 feet, or a little more than one-third of a mile.

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Sep 14

DevNull127 shares some of the key findings from The New Stack’s second annual “Open Source Programs in the Enterprise” survey, co-sponsored by VMware and in partnership with The Linux Foundation’s TODO Group: Companies with initiatives to promote open source overwhelmingly say these efforts are improving their companies’ software practices. The results [of the survey] show that proponents of free and open-source software (FOSS) have moved to the next phases of open source adoption, widening its usage within the enterprise while keeping alive the spirit and ethos of non-commercial software communities.

69% are at least sometimes using open-source code in commercial products, with that figure jumping to 83% among technology companies — within three percentage points of the same survey’s results last year. And most (79%) Internet-scale technology companies with more than 10,000 employees already have an open-source management program, which is a slight increase compared to last year. That stability shows that the next big changes in enterprise open source will instead involve its scope and how much enterprises emphasize giving back to the community.

Increased innovation rose to become the most cited benefit of open-source programs. Participants said development speed, technology flexibility, and total cost of ownership are the top three. Lower support costs were also seen as a likely benefit. But open-source programs are also improving how software development is handled. In response to one of our new questions, 81% of respondents say their program has had a positive impact on their company’s software practices. In an open-ended follow-up question, code reviews and license-compliance processes were repeatedly cited as specific practices that were improved as a direct result of the program. Furthermore, code quality and reduced costs were often cited as specific benefits coming from improved software practices. While “quality” is often hard to define, many respondents say newly-instituted code reviews have been a specific positive impact on their company’s software practices. The full dataset can be found here.

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Sep 12

UK MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes under current gambling legislation — urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children. From a report: Kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock look boxes, MPs have suggested in a recommendation that won’t be music to the games industry’s ears. Loot boxes refer to virtual items in games that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance. The MPs argue the mechanic should be considered games of chance played for money’s worth and regulated by the UK Gambling Act. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) parliamentary committee makes the recommendations in a report published today following an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies that saw it take evidence from a number of tech companies including Fortnite maker Epic Games; Facebook-owned Instagram; and Snapchap. The committee said it found representatives from the games industry to be “wilfully obtuse” in answering questions about typical patterns of play — data the report emphasizes is necessary for proper understanding of how players are engaging with games — as well as calling out some games and social media company representatives for demonstrating “a lack of honesty and transparency,” leading it to question what the companies have to hide.

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Sep 10

Mozilla is resurrecting its recently expunged Test Pilot program with a renewed focus on privacy-focused tools and products. The Firefox developer today lifted the lid on the first product to emerge from the new Test Pilot, and it appears to be something akin to a virtual private network (VPN) in all but name. From a report: Firefox Private Network, as the new tool is called, is available in beta today for logged-in Firefox desktop users in the U.S. only, and is accessible through a browser extension. By way of a quick recap, Mozilla debuted Firefox Test Pilot a decade ago but then relaunched it back in 2016. Test Pilot went on to attain an average of 100,000 daily users, each looking to test Mozilla’s latest developments — including a price-tracking feature for online shoppers, content recommendations based on browsing activity, and more.

Some of these became full-fledged features within Firefox and others did not, but back in January Mozilla announced it was killing its Test Pilot program altogether. This came as something of a surprise given Mozilla’s own statements about the success of the program. At the time, Mozilla said it was “evolving” its approach to experimentation and suggested it was looking to ideate more widely across the company. Fast-forward nine months, and Firefox Test Pilot is back for a third time.

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Sep 09

“Australian internet service providers have been ordered to block eight websites hosting video of the Christchurch terrorist attacks,” according to the Guardian.

Slashdot reader aberglas shares their report:

In March, shortly after the Christchurch massacre, Australian telecommunications companies and internet providers began proactively blocking websites hosting the video of the Christchurch shooter murdering more than 50 people or the shooter’s manifesto. A total of 43 websites based on a list provided by Vodafone New Zealand were blocked. The government praised the internet providers despite the action being in a legally grey area by blocking the sites from access in Australia for people not using virtual private networks (VPNs) or other workarounds.

To avoid legal complications the prime minister, Scott Morrison, asked the e-safety commissioner and the internet providers to develop a protocol for the e-safety commissioner to order the websites to block access to the offending sites. The order issued on Sunday covers just eight websites, after several stopped hosting the material, or ceased operating, such as 8chan. The order means the e-safety commissioner will be responsible for monitoring the sites. If they remove the material they can be unblocked. The blocks will be reviewed every six months.

“The remaining rogue websites need only to remove the illegal content to have the block against them lifted,” the e-safety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said.

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Sep 02

Top Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman gave a new 30-minute interview with TFIR during the Open Source Summit, 2019. He discusses security in the post-Spectre world, remembers when Microsoft joined the Linux distros mailing list, and acknowledges good-naturedly that he and Richard Stallman “approach things from a different standpoint”.

An anonymous reader writes:

In the interview Kroah-Hartman talks about downsides of living in the Hague. “My son’s school actually mandates that they all have MacBooks. So he has a MacBook, my wife has a MacBook, and that’s about it.” But of course, Kroah-Hartman himself is always using Linux.

So what distro does he use? “I don’t use openSUSE any more, I use Arch. And my build system I think is actually running Fedora. I have a number of virtual machines still running Gentoo, Dubya, and Fedora to do some testing on some userspace tools. But yeah, all my laptops and everything is switched over to Arch these days… I have a Chromebook that I play around with, and you can run Linux applications, and you can of course SSH into anything…”
Why Arch? “At the moment it had something that I needed. I don’t remember what it was, the latest development version, what not — and I’ve known a number of the Arch developers over the years. Their idea of a constantly rolling, forward-moving system is the way to go… It’s neutral, it’s community-based, it has everything I need. It works really really well. I’ve actually converted my cloud instances that I have all to Arch… It’s nice.” And in addition, “Their Wiki is amazing. The documentation — it’s like one of the best resources out there these days… If you look up any userspace program and how to configure it and use it. Actually, the systemd Arch Wiki pages are one of the most amazing resources out there…

“One of the main policies of Arch, or philosophies, is you stay as close to the upstream as possible. And as a developer, I want that… They’re really good in feedback to the community. Because I want that testing — I want to make sure that things are fixed. And if it is broken, I learn about it quickly and I fix it and push the stuff out. So that’s actually a really good feedback loop. And that’s some of the reasons I need it.”

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