Newly Discovered ‘Asteroid’ Is actually two orbiting around each other

Near-Earth object 2017 YE5 was first spotted by astronomers at the Oukaïmeden Observatory in Morocco in December of last year, but virtually nothing about it, beyond its presence, was known. In June, the object made the closest approach it will make to Earth for the next 170 years, allowing scientists to take a closer look. What was initially assessed as a single asteroid turned out to be two objects in orbit around each other: a double asteroid.

Yep, there’s two of ‘em.
Image: Arecibo/GBO/NSF/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Normally we’d say this is no biggie; around 15 percent of all known asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) in diameter are binaries. But 2017 YE5 is special because it’s an “equal mass” binary, in which the two objects are roughly the same mass. The vast majority of binaries involve an unequal pair, in which one asteroid is significantly larger than the other. Astronomers have documented tens of thousands of asteroids in the Solar System, yet this is just the fourth known equal mass binary. The latest observations are now offering the most detailed images ever taken of this exceptionally rare phenomenon.

Source: Newly Discovered ‘Asteroid’ Is Far Freakier Than Astronomers Expected

Two Cancer Drugs Found to Boost Aging Immune Systems 

A new clinical trial published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine has found evidence that low doses of two existing drugs can boost the immune system of an elderly person, helping it fight common deadly infections, including the flu, with seemingly little to no side effects.

The trial, run by scientists at the pharmaceutical company Novartis, involved more than 250 relatively healthy people over the age of 65 and was conducted from 2013 to 2015. The volunteers were randomly divided into five groups. Two groups received different doses of the approved chemotherapy and immunosuppressant drug everolimus; one received a dose of the experimental chemotherapy drug dactolisib; and one received a dose of everolimus and dactolisib combined (both drugs were developed by Novartis). The fifth group was simply given a placebo. The groups took the drugs or placebo daily for six weeks, then got the 2014 seasonal flu shot two weeks later. For the next nine months, their health was meticulously tracked though diaries and blood tests.

By the end of the year, all of the drug groups reported fewer infections than the placebo group. But the difference was largest among the people who took both drugs at once: They reported an average of 1.49 infections during the year, compared to the 2.41 infections reported by the placebo group. They were also the only treatment group whose blood showed a significantly better immune response to the flu vaccine to the placebo group, indicating they were more protected.


These drugs inhibit the production of mTOR, an enzyme that help cells produce other substances. For decades, though, scientists have suspected that mTOR plays a role in aging. Experiments in mice and other animals have shown that knocking out mTOR incidentally extends their lives. There are two major cellular pathways that mTOR is involved in, though, TORC1 and TORC2, and it’s only knocking out TORC1 that has been associated with anti-aging effects. In the low doses used by the researchers, the drugs only inhibit TORC1.

The effects of improved immunity seem to come without any major side effects. None of the treatment groups had a higher rate of side effects than the placebo group, and no single reported side effect, such as diarrhea, was directly attributed to the drugs. There was even evidence that these drugs lowered the risk of high blood sugar and cholesterol as well as improved immune function.


“More studies to query the benefits of mTOR antagonists in ‘healthy older persons’ are needed… and the sooner the better,” he added.

That said, some caution is warranted. The study was only a Phase 2a clinical trial, which is used to figure out the best dosage of an experimental treatment. The next step is to suss out just how effective these drugs can be with a larger group of volunteers, and whether they can work better for vulnerable groups, such as the especially elderly (over age 85), who are at higher risk of dying from respiratory infections.

“Our clinical trial is a first step in determining if mTOR inhibitors can be used to promote healthy aging in humans,” study author Joan Mannick told Gizmodo. “However we still have a lot to learn, and the results need to be reproduced and validated in additional clinical trials.”

Source: Two Cancer Drugs Found to Boost Aging Immune Systems 

Roku releases speakers that turn volume down for loud ads and up for soft programmes. Unfortunately, only for Roku TVs.

While the tech specs of the speakers haven’t been released yet, we know how they’ll connect to and work with Roku TVs. The speaker set pairs wirelessly with Roku TVs via Roku Connect, and, thanks to built-in software that works with Roku OS, the speakers will sync up with whatever you’re watching on the smart TV. Roku told Ars in a briefing that the speakers will play optimized audio from anything connected to the paired Roku TV, including cable boxes, antennas, and even Bluetooth devices like your smartphone.

“Optimized” in this sense refers to the software-improved audio quality: automatic volume leveling will boost lower audio in quiet scenes and lower audio in loud scenes (and in booming commercials), and dialogue enhancement will improve speech intelligibility.

Source: Roku wants to grab audiophiles with its new wireless speakers for Roku TVs | Ars Technica

What a brilliant idea, and why can’t we all get it?!

‘007’ code helps stop Spectre exploits before they exist

At arXiv, Singaporean and US researchers have published work, appropriately dubbed “007”, which checks code to see if it’s trying to exploit Spectre; and at Virus Bulletin, Fortinet’s Axelle Apvrille takes a look at the bug from an Android point of view.

Apvrille’s work backs up what we’ve heard from other researchers: so far, Spectre exploitation is theoretical, with no exploits in the wild. She wrote that while there was a flurry of “Spectre exploit” stories based on AV-Test sample collection, it turned out that all of the reported samples were proofs-of-concept rather than genuine malware.

She adds: “there is a significant difference between a PoC of Spectre and a piece of malware using Spectre. Turning a PoC into a malicious executable is far from a trivial process.”

That doesn’t make this kind of work pointless, though, since it’s a good thing to stay ahead of whatever nasties black hats might devise.

In developing a detection technique, Apvrille’s second conclusion was also good news: an attack against Spectre, she found, seems relatively easy to detect.

She wrote that “we had expected several false positives with this signature, but that was not the case: this imperfect signature turns out to be quite good in practice.”

The signature Apvrille searched for (using the in-practice impracticably-slow technique of searching whole binaries) was to identify “Flush+Reload cache attacks in ELF x86-64 executables”.

Source: ‘007’ code helps stop Spectre exploits before they exist • The Register

Carlsberg: AI beer taster can now tell the difference between lager and pilsner

Denmark-based brewing giant Carlsberg has reported good progress in its attempts to turn Microsoft’s Azure AI into a robot beer sniffer.

The project, which kicked off earlier this year, was aimed at cutting the time a beer spends in research and development by one-third, thus getting fresh brews into the hands of drinkers faster … and their beer tokens into the pockets of Carlsberg.

The director and professor of yeast and fermentation for Carlsberg, Joch Förster, has been tasked with the seemingly enviable job of tasting a lot of beer as the brewer tries out new flavours. In reality, however, ploughing through hundreds of samples isn’t really practical. Hence Förster and his team have turned to sensors and AI to predict what a beer will taste like.

Source: Carlsberg: AI beer taster can now tell the difference between lager and pilsner • The Register

Astronomers discover 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter – one on collision course with the others

One of a dozen new moons discovered around Jupiter is circling the planet on a suicide orbit that will inevitably lead to its violent destruction, astronomers say.

Researchers in the US stumbled upon the new moons while hunting for a mysterious ninth planet that is postulated to lurk far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the most distant planet in the solar system.

The team first glimpsed the moons in March last year from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, but needed more than a year to confirm that the bodies were locked in orbit around the gas giant. “It was a long process,” said Scott Sheppard, who led the effort at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, was hardly short of moons before the latest findings. The fresh haul of natural satellites brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79, more than are known to circle any other planet in our cosmic neighbourhood.

Astronomers have discovered twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the total number of Jovian moons to 79.
Astronomers have discovered twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the total number of Jovian moons to 79. Photograph: Carnegie Institution for Science

Nine of the new moons belong to an outer group that orbit Jupiter in retrograde, meaning they travel in the opposite direction to the planet’s spin. They are thought to be the remnants of larger parent bodies that were broken apart in collisions with asteroids, comets and other moons. Each takes about two years to circle the planet.

Two more of the moons are in a group that circle much closer to the planet in prograde orbits which travel in the same direction as Jupiter’s spin. Most likely to be pieces of a once larger moon that was broken up in orbit, they take nearly a year to complete a lap around Jupiter. Which direction the moons swing around the planet depends on how they were first captured by Jupiter’s gravitational field.

Astronomers describe the twelfth new Jovian moon as an “oddball”. Less than a kilometre wide, the tiny body circles Jupiter on a prograde orbit but at a distance that means it crosses the path of other moons hurtling towards it. Scientists have named the new moon Valetudo after the Roman god Jupiter’s great-granddaughter, the goddess of health and hygiene. But given the impending violence, it may be more than coincidence that Vale Tudo, which translates from Portuguese as “anything goes”, is an early form of full-contact mixed martial arts.

“Valetudo is like driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road,” said Sheppard. “It is moving prograde while all the other objects at a similar distance from Jupiter are moving retrograde. Thus head-on collisions are likely.”

Source: Astronomers discover 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter – one on collision course with the others | Science | The Guardian

Chinese mobile phone cameras are not-so-secretly recording users’ activities

It has been widely reported that software and web applications made in China are often built with a “backdoor” feature, allowing the manufacturer or the government to monitor and collect data from the user’s device.

But how exactly does the backdoor feature work? Recent discussion among mobile phone users in mainland China has shed some light on the question.

Last month, users of Vivo NEX, a Chinese Android phone, found that when they opened certain applications on the phone, including Chinese internet giant QQ browser and travel booking app Ctrip, the mobile device’s camera would self-activate.

Different from most mobile phones, where a camera can be activated without giving the user any signal, the Vivo NEX has a tiny retractable camera that physically pops out from the top of the device when it is turned on.

Vivo NEX retractable camera. Photo by Vivo NEX, via We Chaat.

Though perhaps unintentionally, this design feature has given Chinese mobile users a tangible sense of exactly when and how they are being monitored.

One Weibo user observed that the retractable camera self-activates whenever he opens a new chat on Telegram, a messaging application designed for secured and encrypted communication.

While Telegram reacted quickly to reports of the issue and fixed the camera bug, Chinese internet giant Tencent instead defended the feature, arguing that its QQ browser needs the camera activated to prepare for scanning QR codes and insisted that the camera would not take photos or audio recordings unless the user told it to do so.

This explanation was not reassuring for users, as it only revealed the degree to which the QQ browser could record users’ activities.

After the news of the self-activated camera bug spread, users started testing the issue on other applications and found that Baidu’s voice input application has access to both the camera and voice recording function, which can be launched without users’ authorization.

A Vivo NEX user found that once she had installed Baidu’s voice input system, it would activate the phone’s camera and sound recording function whenever the user opened any application — including chat apps, browsers — that allows the user to input text.

Baidu says that the self-activated recording is not a backdoor but a “frontdoor” application that allows the company collect and adjust to background noise so as to prepare for and optimize its voice input function. This was not reassuring for users — any microphone collecting background noise would also unquestionably capture the voices and conversations of a user and whomever she speaks with face-to-face.

How does camera snooping affect people outside China?

These snooping features have not just affected people from mainland China, but all of those from outside the country who want to communicate with friends in China.

As the Chinese government has blocked most leading foreign social media technologies, anyone who wants to communicate with people in China has little choice but to install applications made in China, such as WeChat.

One strategy for increasing one’s mobile privacy when using Chinese-made applications is to keep all insecure applications on one device and assume that these communications will be recorded or spied upon, and to keep a second device for more secure or “clean” applications. When using an encrypted communication application like Telegram to communicate with friends in China, one also has to make sure that their friends’ mobile devices are clean.

Baidu has been notorious for snooping into users’ private data and activities. In January 2018, a government-affiliated consumer association in Jiangsu province filed a lawsuit against Baidu’s search application and mobile browser for snooping on users’ phone conversations and accessing their geo-location data without user consent. But the case was dropped in March after Baidu updated its applications by securing users’ consent for control over their mobile camera, voice recording, geo-location data, even though these controls are not essential to the application’s functionality.

In response to public concern about these backdoor features, Baidu and other Chinese internet giants may defend themselves simply by arguing that users have consented to having their cameras activated. But given the monopolistic nature of Chinese Internet giants in the country, do ordinary users have the power — or the choice — to say no?

Source: Chinese mobile phone cameras are not-so-secretly recording users’ activities – Global Voices Advox

First 3D colour X-ray of a human using CERN technology

What if, instead of a black and white X-ray picture, a doctor of a cancer patient had access to colour images identifying the tissues being scanned? This colour X-ray imaging technique could produce clearer and more accurate pictures and help doctors give their patients more accurate diagnoses.

This is now a reality, thanks to a New-Zealand company that scanned, for the first time, a human body using a breakthrough colour medical scanner based on the Medipix3 technology developed at CERN.


Medipix is a family of read-out chips for particle imaging and detection. The original concept of Medipix is that it works like a camera, detecting and counting each individual particle hitting the pixels when its electronic shutter is open. This enables high-resolution, high-contrast, very reliable images, making it unique for imaging applications in particular in the medical field.


MARS Bioimaging Ltd, which is commercialising the 3D scanner, is linked to the Universities of Otago and Canterbury.


MARS’ solution couples the spectroscopic information generated by the Medipix3 enabled detector with powerful algorithms to generate 3D images. The colours represent different energy levels of the X-ray photons as recorded by the detector and hence identifying different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers.

A 3D image of a wrist with a watch showing part of the finger bones in white and soft tissue in red. (Image: MARS Bioimaging Ltd)

So far, researchers have been using a small version of the MARS scanner to study cancer, bone and joint health, and vascular diseases that cause heart attacks and strokes. “In all of these studies, promising early results suggest that when spectral imaging is routinely used in clinics it will enable more accurate diagnosis and personalisation of treatment,” Professor Anthony Butler says.

Source: First 3D colour X-ray of a human using CERN technology | CERN

Humans Didn’t Evolve From a Single Ancestral Population

In the 1980s, scientists learned that all humans living today are descended from a woman, dubbed “Mitochondrial Eve,” who lived in Africa between 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. This discovery, along with other evidence, suggested humans evolved from a single ancestral population—an interpretation that is not standing the test of time. The story of human evolution, as the latest research suggests, is more complicated than that.

A new commentary paper published today in Trends in Ecology & Evolution is challenging the predominant view that our species, Homo sapiens, emerged from a single ancestral population and a single geographic region in Africa. By looking at some of the latest archaeological, fossil, genetic, and environmental evidence, a team of international experts led by Eleanor Scerri from Oxford’s School of Archaeology have presented an alternative story of human evolution, one showing that our species emerged from isolated populations scattered across Africa, who occasionally came together to interbreed. Gradually, this intermingling of genetic characteristics produced our species.

Indeed, the origin of Homo sapiens isn’t as neat and tidy as we’ve been led to believe.


“The idea that humans emerged from one population and progressed in a simple linear fashion to a modern physical appearance is attractive, but unfortunately no longer a very good fit with the available information,” said Scerri. “Instead it looks very much like humans emerged within a complex set of populations that were scattered across Africa.”

The reality, as suggested by this latest research, is that human ancestors were spread across Africa, segregated by diverse habitats and shifting environmental boundaries, such as forests and deserts. These prolonged periods of isolation gave rise to a surprising variety of human forms, and a diverse array of adaptive traits. When stratified groups interbred, they preserved the best characteristics that evolution had to offer. Consequently, the authors say that terms like “archaic humans” and “anatomically modern humans” are increasingly problematic given the evidence.

Scerri said occasional episodes of interbreeding between these different, semi-isolated populations created a diverse “meta-population” of humans within Africa, from which our species emerged over a very long time. Our species, Homo sapiens, emerged around 300,000 years ago, but certain characteristics, like a round brain case, pronounced chin, and a small face, didn’t appear together in a single individual until about 100,000 years ago, and possibly not until 40,000 years ago—a long time before genetics and other archaeological evidence tells us our species was already in existence. Isolated populations came together to exchange genes and culture—two interrelated processes that shaped our species, explained Scerri.

The new paper, instead of providing new evidence, provides a comprehensive review and analysis of what the latest scientific literature is telling us about human evolution, starting around 300,000 years ago. The researchers found that human fossils from different regions of Africa all featured a diverse mix of modern and more “archaic” physical characteristics. The earliest of these date back to between 300,000 to 250,000 years ago, and originate from opposite ends of Africa, stretching from the southern tip of the continent to its northernmost points. Many of these fossils were found with sophisticated archaeological items associated with our species, including specialized tools mounted onto wooden handles and shafts, and often utilizing different bindings and glues. These artifacts, like the diverse fossils, appeared across Africa around the same time, and studies of their distribution suggest they belonged discrete groups. At the same time, genetic data points to the presence of multiple populations.

“On the methodological side, we can also see that inferences of genetic information that don’t account for subdivisions between populations can also generate very misleading information,” said Scerri.

By studying shifts in rivers, deserts, forests, and other physical barriers, the researchers were able to chronicle the geographic changes in Africa that facilitated migration, introducing opportunities for contact among groups that were previously separated. These groups, after long periods of isolation, were able to interact and interbreed, sometimes splitting off again and undergoing renewed periods of extended isolation.


Jean-Jacques Hublin, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who wasn’t involved in the new study, said the new commentary paper is presenting what is quickly becoming the dominant view on this topic.

“There is growing evidence that the emergence of so-called ‘modern humans’ did not occur in a restricted cradle in sub-Saharan Africa and at a precise point in time,” Hublin told Gizmodo. “Rather, it involved several populations across the continent and was a fundamentally gradual process.”

Source: Humans Didn’t Evolve From a Single Ancestral Population

A curious tale of the priest, the broker, the hacked newswires, and $100m of insider trades

Two former investment bankers, one of whom is also a priest, have been found guilty of an elaborate scam – hacking newswires to read press releases prior to publication, and trade millions using this insider information.

Vitaly Korchevsky, formerly a veep at Morgan Stanley and a pastor at the Slavic Evangelical Baptist Church in Philadelphia, USA, and ex-broker Vladislav Khalupsky were this month found guilty of securities fraud by a jury in New York, and are facing 20 years in the slammer.

According to court documents, the two colluded with a Ukrainian hacking gang and investors in the US, Russia, France, and Cyprus to realized more than $100m in illicit profits. America’s financial watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission, said it has since recovered $53m of the haul.

The scam, carried out between 2010 and 2015 involved Ukrainian hackers getting into the servers of two unnamed newswire services, one in New York and the other in Canada. The miscreants searched for embargoed press releases on companies’ quarterly financial figures, which are typically privately submitted to a newswire a couple of days before they are published, and accessed more than 100,000 of them before being caught.

Source: A curious tale of the priest, the broker, the hacked newswires, and $100m of insider trades • The Register

‘Mega’ Data Breaches Cost Companies a Staggering Fortune, IBM Study Finds

IBM Security on Wednesday released its latest report examining the costs and impact associated with data breaches. The findings paint a grim portrait of what the clean up is like for companies whose data becomes exposed—particularly for larger corporations that suffer so-called “mega breaches,” a costly exposure involving potentially tens of millions of private records.

According to the IBM study, while the average cost of a data breach globally hovers just under $4 million—a 6.4 percent increase over the past year—costs associated with so-called mega breaches (an Equifax or Target, for example) can reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The average cost of a breach involving 1 million records is estimated at around $40 million, while those involving 50 million records or more can skyrocket up to $350 million in damages.

Of the 11 mega breaches examined by IBM, 10 were a result of criminal attacks.

The average amount of time that passes before a major company notices a data breach is pretty atrocious. According to IBM, mega breaches typically go unnoticed for roughly a year.


Other key findings of the study include:

  • The average time to identify a data breach is 197 days, and the average time to contain a data breach once identified is 69 days.
  • Companies that contained a breach in less than 30 days saved over $1 million compared to those that took more than 30 days ($3.09 million vs. $4.25 million average total).
  • Each lost or stolen record costs roughly $148 on average, but having an incident response team (surprising, not every company does) can reduce the cost per record by as much as $14.
  • The use of an AI platform for cybersecurity reduced the cost by $8 per lost or stolen record.
  • Companies that indicated a “rush to notify” had a higher cost by $5 per lost or stolen record.
  • U.S. companies experienced the highest average cost of a breach at $7.91 million, followed by firms the Middle East at $5.31 million.
  • Lowest total cost of a breach was $1.24 million in Brazil, followed by $1.77 million in India.

Source: ‘Mega’ Data Breaches Cost Companies a Staggering Fortune, IBM Study Finds

Unpatched Netgear router and FTP server without password leads to US military manuals hawked on dark web

Sensitive US Air Force documents have leaked onto the dark web as part of an attempted sale of drone manuals.

Threat intel firm Recorded Future picked up on an auction for purported export-controlled documents pertaining to the MQ-9 Reaper drone during its regular work monitoring the dark web for criminal activities last month. Recorded Future’s Insikt Group analysts, posing as potential buyers, said they’d engaged the newly registered English-speaking hacker before confirming the validity of the compromised documents.

Further interactions allowed analysts to discover other leaked military information available from the same threat actor. The hacker claimed he had access to a large number of military documents from an unidentified officer.

These documents included a M1 Abrams tank maintenance manual, a tank platoon training course, a crew survival course, and documentation on improvised explosive device mitigation tactics.


Two years ago researchers warned that Netgear routers with remote data access capabilities were susceptible to attack if the default FTP authentication credentials were not updated


The hacker first infiltrated the computer of a captain at 432d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Reaper AMU OIC, stationed at the Creech [Air Force Base] in Nevada, and stole a cache of sensitive documents, including Reaper maintenance course books and the list of airmen assigned to Reaper [Aircraft Maintenance Unit]. While such course books are not classified materials on their own, in unfriendly hands, they could provide an adversary the ability to assess technical capabilities and weaknesses in one of the most technologically advanced aircrafts.

The captain, whose computer had seemingly been compromised recently, had completed a cybersecurity awareness course, but he did not set a password for an FTP server hosting sensitive files. This allowed the hacker to easily download the drone manuals, said the researchers. The precise source of other the other dozen or so manuals the hacker offered for sale remains undetermined.


The hacker let slip that he was also in the habit of watching sensitive live footage from border surveillance cameras and airplanes. “The actor was even bragging about accessing footage from a MQ-1 Predator flying over Choctawhatchee Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Source: US military manuals hawked on dark web after files left rattling in insecure FTP server • The Register

Thomas Cook website spills personal info – and it’s fine with that

Norwegian programmer Roy Solberg came across an enumeration bug that leaked the full name of all travelers on a booking, the email addresses used, and flight details from Thomas Cook Airlines’ systems using only a booking reference number. Simply changing the booking number unveiled a new set of customer details.

The exposed info covered trips booked through the travel agency Ving, which is owned by Thomas Cook.

Thomas Cook Airlines has closed the privacy hole, technically known as a Insecure Direct Object Reference (IDOR), a common enough and basic problems on poorly-designed web applications.

Solberg reckoned on Sunday that data of bookings made with Thomas Cook Airlines through Ving Norway, Ving Sweden, Spies Denmark and Apollo Norway were affected by the vulnerability. Data going back to 2013 was obtainable before the hole was closed. Simple scripts might easily have been used to download the exposed data before the security hole was resolved, he adds.

Everything’s fine! Nothing to see here

A spokeswoman for Thomas Cook was at pains to emphasise “this did not affect UK customers,” before forwarding a canned statement further downplaying the incident, which it is not treating as a notifiable privacy breach.

Source: Thomas Cook website spills personal info – and it’s fine with that • The Register

Nvidia Taught an AI to Flawlessly Erase Noise and artefacts (including text and Watermarks) From Photos

Photographers already face an uphill battle in trying to preventing people from using their digital photos without permission. But Nvidia could make protecting photos online much harder with a new advancement in artificial intelligence that can automatically remove artifacts from a photograph, including text and watermarks, no matter how obtrusive they may be.In previous advancements in automated image editing and manipulation, an AI powered by a deep learning neural network is trained on thousands of before and after example photos so that it knows what the desired output should look like. But this time, researchers at Nvidia, MIT, and Aalto University in Finland, managed to train an AI to remove noise, grain, and other visual artifacts by studying two different versions of a photo that both feature the visual defects. Fifty-thousand samples later, the AI can clean up photos better than a professional photo restorer.Practical applications for the AI include cleaning up long exposure photos of the night sky taken by telescopes, as cameras used for astrophotography often generate noise that can be mistaken for stars. The AI can also be beneficial for medical applications like magnetic resonance imaging that requires considerable post-processing to remove noise from images that are generated, so that doctors have a clear image of what’s going in someone’s body. Nvidia’s AI can cut that processing time down drastically, which in turn reduces the time needed for a diagnosis of a serious condition.

Source: Nvidia Taught an AI to Flawlessly Erase Watermarks From Photos

Controversial copyright law rejected by EU parliament

A controversial overhaul of the EU’s copyright law that sparked a fierce debate between internet giants and content creators has been rejected.

The proposed rules would have put more responsibility on websites to check for copyright infringements, and forced platforms to pay for linking to news.

A slew of high-profile music stars had backed the change, arguing that websites had exploited their content.

But opponents said the rules would stifle internet freedom and creativity.

The move was intended to bring the EU’s copyright laws in line with the digital age, but led to protests from websites and much debate before it was rejected by a margin of 318-278 in the European Parliament on Thursday.

What were they voting for?

The proposed legislation – known as the Copyright Directive – was an attempt by the EU to modernise its copyright laws, but it contained two highly-contested parts.

The first of these, Article 11, was intended to protect newspapers and other outlets from internet giants like Google and Facebook using their material without payment.

But it was branded a “link tax” by opponents who feared it could lead to problems with sentence fragments being used to link to other news outlets (like this).

Article 13 was the other controversial part. It put a greater responsibility on websites to enforce copyright laws, and would have meant that any online platform that allowed users to post text, images, sounds or code would need a way to assess and filter content.

The most common way to do this is by using an automated copyright system, but they are expensive. The one YouTube uses cost $60m (£53m), so critics were worried that similar filters would need to be introduced to every website if Article 13 became law.

There were also concerns that these copyright filters could effectively ban things like memes and remixes which use some copyrighted material.

Source: Controversial copyright law rejected by EU parliament – BBC News

Very glad to see common sense prevailing here. Have you ever thought about how strange it would  be if you could bill someone every time they read your email or your reports? How do musicians think it’s ok to bill people when they are not playing?

Former NSO Group Employee Accused of Stealing Phone Spy Tools

Israeli hacking firm NSO Group is mostly known for peddling top-shelf malware capable of remotely cracking into iPhones. But according to Israeli authorities, the company’s invasive mobile spy tools could have wound up in the hands of someone equally, if not far more, devious than its typical government clients.

A 38-year-old former NSO employee has been accused of stealing the firm’s malware and attempting to sell it for $50 million in cryptocurrency on the dark net, according to a widely reported indictment first published by Israeli press.

The stolen software is said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to Israel’s Justice Ministry, the ex-employee was turned in by a potential buyer. The suspect was arrested on June 5, Reuters reported. The accused has been charged with employee theft, attempting to sell security tools without a license, and conduct that could harm state security

Source: Former NSO Group Employee Accused of Stealing Phone Spy Tools

Obviously security holes found will be exploited, which is why responsible disclosure is a good idea. It’s much better for devices to be secure than for intelligence agencies to be able to exploit holes – because non-nation state actors (read: criminals, although there are nations who think other nations are criminal) also have access to these holes.

App Traps: How Cheap Smartphones Siphon User Data in Developing Countries

For millions of people buying inexpensive smartphones in developing countries where privacy protections are usually low, the convenience of on-the-go internet access could come with a hidden cost: preloaded apps that harvest users’ data without their knowledge.

One such app, included on thousands of Chinese-made Singtech P10 smartphones sold in Myanmar and Cambodia, sends the owner’s location and unique-device details to a mobile-advertising firm in Taiwan called General Mobile Corp., or GMobi. The app also has appeared on smartphones sold in Brazil and those made by manufacturers based in China and India, security researchers said.

Taipei-based GMobi, with a subsidiary in Shanghai, said it uses the data to show targeted ads on the devices. It also sometimes shares the data with device makers to help them learn more about their customers.

Smartphones have been billed as a transformative technology in developing markets, bringing low-cost internet access to hundreds of millions of people. But this growing population of novice consumers, most of them living in countries with lax or nonexistent privacy protections, is also a juicy target for data harvesters, according to security researchers.

Smartphone makers that allow GMobi to install its app on phones they sell are able to use the app to send software updates for their devices known as “firmware” at no cost to them, said GMobi Chief Executive Paul Wu. That benefit is an important consideration for device makers pushing low-cost phones across emerging markets.

“If end users want a free internet service, he or she needs to suffer a little for better targeting ads,” said a GMobi spokeswoman.


Upstream Systems, a London-based mobile commerce and security firm that identified the GMobi app’s activity and shared it with the Journal, said it bought four new devices that, once activated, began sending data to GMobi via its firmware-updating app. This included 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identification, or IMEI, numbers, along with unique codes called MAC addresses that are assigned to each piece of hardware that connects to the web. The app also sends some location data to GMobi’s servers located in Singapore, Upstream said.

Source: App Traps: How Cheap Smartphones Siphon User Data in Developing Countries – WSJ


I like the way even GMobi thinks users getting targetted advertising are suffering!

An AI system for editing music in videos can isolate single instruments

Amateur and professional musicians alike may spend hours pouring over YouTube clips to figure out exactly how to play certain parts of their favorite songs. But what if there were a way to play a video and isolate the only instrument you wanted to hear?

That’s the outcome of a new AI project out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL): a deep-learning system that can look at a video of a musical performance, and isolate the sounds of specific instruments and make them louder or softer.

The system, which is “self-supervised,” doesn’t require any human annotations on what the instruments are or what they sound like.

Trained on over 60 hours of videos, the “PixelPlayer” system can view a never-before-seen musical performance, identify specific instruments at pixel level, and extract the sounds that are associated with those instruments.

For example, it can take a video of a tuba and a trumpet playing the “Super Mario Brothers” theme song, and separate out the soundwaves associated with each instrument.

The researchers say that the ability to change the volume of individual instruments means that in the future, systems like this could potentially help engineers improve the audio quality of old concert footage. You could even imagine producers taking specific instrument parts and previewing what they would sound like with other instruments (i.e. an electric guitar swapped in for an acoustic one).

Source: An AI system for editing music in videos | MIT News

DeepMind’s AI agents exceed ‘human-level’ gameplay in Quake III

AI agents continue to rack up wins in the video game world. Last week, OpenAI’s bots were playing Dota 2; this week, it’s Quake III, with a team of researchers from Google’s DeepMind subsidiary successfully training agents that can beat humans at a game of capture the flag.

As we’ve seen with previous examples of AI playing video games, the challenge here is training an agent that can navigate a complex 3D environment with imperfect information. DeepMind’s researchers used a method of AI training that’s also becoming standard: reinforcement learning, which is basically training by trial and error at a huge scale.

Agents are given no instructions on how to play the game, but simply compete against themselves until they work out the strategies needed to win. Usually this means one version of the AI agent playing against an identical clone. DeepMind gave extra depth to this formula by training a whole cohort of 30 agents to introduce a “diversity” of play styles. How many games does it take to train an AI this way? Nearly half a million, each lasting five minutes.

As ever, it’s impressive how such a conceptually simple technique can generate complex behavior on behalf of the bots. DeepMind’s agents not only learned the basic rules of capture the flag (grab your opponents’ flag from their base and return it to your own before they do the same to you), but strategies like guarding your own flag, camping at your opponent’s base, and following teammates around so you can gang up on the enemy.

To make the challenge harder for the agents, each game was played on a completely new, procedurally generated map. This ensured the bots weren’t learning strategies that only worked on a single map.

Unlike OpenAI’s Dota 2 bots, DeepMind’s agents also didn’t have access to raw numerical data about the game — feeds of numbers that represents information like the distance between opponents and health bars. Instead, they learned to play just by looking at the visual input from the screen, the same as a human. However, this does not necessarily mean that DeepMind’s bots faced a greater challenge; Dota 2 is overall a much more complex game than the stripped-down version of Quake III that was used in this research.

To test the AI agents’ abilities, DeepMind held a tournament, with two-player teams of only bots, only humans, and a mixture of bots and humans squaring off against one another. The bot-only teams were most successful, with a 74 percent win probability. This compared to 43 precent probability for average human players, and 52 percent probability for strong human players. So: clearly the AI agents are the better players.

A graph showing the Elo (skill) rating of various players. The “FTW” agents are DeepMind’s, which played against themselves in a team of 30.
Credit: DeepMind

However, it’s worth noting that the greater the number of DeepMind bots on a team, the worse they did. A team of four DeepMind bots had a win probability of 65 percent, suggesting that while the researchers’ AI agents did learn some elements of cooperative play, these don’t necessarily scale up to more complex team dynamics.

As ever with research like this, the aim is not to actually beat humans at video games, but to find new ways of teaching agents to navigate complex environments while pursuing a shared goal. In other words, it’s about teaching collective intelligence — something that has (despite abundant evidence to the contrary) been integral to humanity’s success as a species. Capture the flag is just a proxy for bigger games to come.

Source: DeepMind’s AI agents exceed ‘human-level’ gameplay in Quake III – The Verge

Mitsubishi Wants Your Driving Data, and It’s Willing to Throw in a Free Cup of Coffee to Get It

Automakers want in on the highly lucrative big data game and Mitsubishi is willing to pay for the privilege. In exchange for running the risk of jacking up its customers’ insurance premiums, the car manufacturer is offering drivers $10 off of an oil change and other rewards. Consumers will have to decide if a gift card is worth giving up their privacy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Mitsubishi’s new smartphone app is the first of its kind. A driver can sign up and allow their driving habits to be tracked by their phone’s sensors, which monitor data points like acceleration, location, and rotation. Along the way, they’ll earn badges (reward points) based on good driving practices like staying under the speed limit. For now, the badges can be exchanged for discounted oil changes or car accessories, but the company plans to expand its incentives to other small perks like free cups of coffee by the end of the year.

It may seem like a win-win situation: You pay a little more attention to being a good driver and you get a little bonus for your efforts. But the first customer for all that data is State Auto Insurance Companies, which will be using it to create better risk models and adjust users’ premiums accordingly. It doesn’t appear that the data will be anonymized because the Journal reports that, after a trial period, insurers will be able to build a customer risk profile on users of the app that will then be used to determine rates. We reached out to Mitsubishi to ask about its anonymization of data but didn’t receive an immediate reply.

Mike LaRocco, State Auto’s CEO, framed this as a benefit to consumers when speaking with the Journal. “They’ll get a much more accurate quote from day one,” he claimed. That might be true, but it does nothing to assuage fears that insurance companies could penalize drivers who don’t voluntarily give up their data.

Ford also has an app that shares data with insurance companies, but it’s not offering any of those sweet, sweet gift cards. And at a moment when many people are debating whether tech giants should be paying us for our data, one could argue that Mitsubishi is doing the right thing. But as car companies are building web connectivity into their new models, we could easily see this become standard practice without offering drivers a choice or a reward. A study by McKinsey & Co from 2016, estimated that monetizing car data could be worth between $450-750 billion by 2030. Of course, autonomous vehicles could become more prevalent by then. And as long as they work as promised, insurance companies will be less necessary.

[Wall Street Journal]

Source: Mitsubishi Wants Your Driving Data, and It’s Willing to Throw in a Free Cup of Coffee to Get It

EU asks you to tell them if you want Daylight Savings Time

Objective of the consultation

Following a number of requests from citizens, from the European Parliament, and from certain EU Member States, the Commission has decided to investigate the functioning of the current EU summertime arrangements and to assess whether or not they should be changed.

In this context, the Commission is interested in gathering the views of European citizens, stakeholders and Member States on the current EU summertime arrangements and on any potential change to those arrangements.

How to submit your response

The online questionnaire is accessible in all official EU languages (except Irish) and replies may be submitted in any EU language. We do encourage you to answer as much as possible in English though.

You may pause at any time and continue later. Once you have submitted your answers, you can download a copy of your completed responses.

Source: Public Consultation on summertime arrangements | European Commission

Versius Robot allows keyhole surgery to be performed with 1/2 hour training instead of 80 sessions

It is the most exacting of surgical skills: tying a knot deep inside a patient’s abdomen, pivoting long graspers through keyhole incisions with no direct view of the thread.

Trainee surgeons typically require 60 to 80 hours of practice, but in a mock-up operating theatre outside Cambridge, a non-medic with just a few hours of experience is expertly wielding a hook-shaped needle – in this case stitching a square of pink sponge rather than an artery or appendix.

The feat is performed with the assistance of Versius, the world’s smallest surgical robot, which could be used in NHS operating theatres for the first time later this year if approved for clinical use. Versius is one of a handful of advanced surgical robots that are predicted to transform the way operations are performed by allowing tens or hundreds of thousands more surgeries each year to be carried out as keyhole procedures.


The Versius robot cuts down the time required to learn to tie a surgical knot from more than 100 training sessions, when using traditional manual tools, to just half an hour, according to Slack.


Versius comprises three robotic limbs – each slightly larger than a human arm, complete with shoulder, elbow and wrist joints – mounted on bar-stool sized mobile units.

Controlled by a surgeon at a console, the limbs rise, fall and swivel silently and smoothly. The robot is designed to carry out a wide range of keyhole procedures, including hysterectomies, prostate removal, ear, nose and throat surgery, and hernia repair. CMR claims the costs of using the robot will not be significantly higher than for a conventional keyhole procedure.

Source: The robots helping NHS surgeons perform better, faster – and for longer | Society | The Guardian

Fitness app Polar even better at revealing secrets than Strava and Garmin

Online investigations outfit Bellingcat has found that fitness tracking kit-maker Polar reveals both the identity and daily activity of its users – including soldiers and spies.

Many users of Polar’s devices and app appear not to have paid attention to their privacy settings, as a result a Bellingcat writer found 6,460 individuals from 69 countries. More than 200 of them left digital breadcrumbs around sensitive locations.

Bellingcat’s report claimed the Polar Flow social-fitness site produces more compromising data than other fitness-trackers than previous leaks: “Compared to the similar services of Garmin and Strava, Polar publicizes more data per user in a more accessible way, with potentially disastrous results.“

“Tracing all of this information is very simple through the site: find a military base, select an exercise published there to identify the attached profile, and see where else this person has exercised.”

Bellingcat notes that the big difference between Polar and Strava is that the former offers more comprehensive data, more easily, covering everything a user has uploaded to the platform since 2014.

Source: Fitness app Polar even better at revealing secrets than Strava • The Register

Open plan offices flop – you talk less, IM more, if forced to flee a cubicle

Open plan offices don’t deliver their promised benefits of more face-to-face collaboration and instead make us misanthropic recluses and more likely to use electronic communications tools.

So says a new article in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, by Harvard academics Ethan S. Bernstein, Stephen Turban. The pair studied two Fortune 500 companies that adopted open office designs and wrote up the results as “The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration”.


Analysis of the data revealed that “volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction.”

“In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM.”

In the first workplace studied, “IM message activity increased by 67% (99 more messages) and words sent by IM increased by 75% (850 more words). Thus — to restate more precisely — in boundaryless space, electronic interaction replaced F2F interaction.”

The second workplace produced similar results.

The authors reach three conclusions, the first of which is that open offices “can dampen F2F interaction, as employees find other strategies to preserve their privacy; for example, by choosing a different channel through which to communicate.”

Source: Open plan offices flop – you talk less, IM more, if forced to flee a cubicle • The Register

Empathic AI (Dutch)

Bedrijven worden emotioneler: gebruikersinterfaces, chatbots en andere componenten zijn steeds beter in staat om de emotionele staat van gebruikers in te schatten en emotie te simuleren als ze terug praten. Volgens een Gartner-rapport eerder dit jaar weten apparaten over vier jaar “meer over je emotionele staat dan je eigen familie”.

Herkennen van emotie

Deep learning kan geavanceerd emoties herkennen zoals geluk, verrassing, woede, verdriet, angst en afschuw – tot meer dan twintig subtielere emoties zoals bewondering, blije verrassing en haat. (Psychologen beweren dat mensen 27 verschillende emoties hebben.)

De Universiteit van Ohio ontwikkelde een programma dat 21 emoties herkent op basis van gezichtsuitdrukkingen op foto’s. Het schokkende: De onderzoekers beweren dat hun systeem deze emoties beter detecteert dan mensen. Er is een goede reden en een geweldige reden voor emotionele interfaces in de organisatie.


Ten eerste de goede reden. De “empathie economie” is de monetaire of zakelijke waarde die door AI wordt gecreëerd en die menselijke emoties detecteert en simuleert, een vermogen dat klantenservice, virtuele assistenten, robotica, fabrieksveiligheid, gezondheidszorg en transport zal transformeren.

Uit een Cogito-onderzoek van Frost & Sullivan gaf 93% van de ondervraagden aan dat interacties met de klantenservice van invloed zijn op hun perceptie van een bedrijf. En empathie is één van de belangrijkste factoren in kwaliteitsinteracties, volgens het bedrijf. Cogito’s AI-software, die uitgebreid is gebaseerd op gedragswetenschappelijk onderzoek van MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab, analyseert de emotionele toestand van klanten en geeft directe feedback aan menselijke call center agents, waardoor ze gemakkelijker meevoelen met klanten.

Zorg en andere toepassingen

Dit soort technologie geeft callcentermedewerkers empathische vermogens, die de publieke perceptie van een bedrijf sterk kunnen verbeteren. Bedrijven als Affectiva en Realeyes bieden cloud-gebaseerde oplossingen die webcams gebruiken om gezichtsuitdrukkingen en hartslag te volgen (door de polsslag in de huid van het gezicht te detecteren). Een van de toepassingen is marktonderzoek: consumenten kijken naar advertenties, en de technologie detecteert hoe ze denken over de beelden of woorden in de advertenties.

De ondernemingen zijn op zoek naar andere gebieden, zoals de gezondheidszorg, waar geautomatiseerde call centers depressie of pijn in de stem van de beller zou kunnen detecteren, zelfs als de beller niet in staat is deze emoties uit te drukken.

Stemming detecteren

Een robot met de naam Forpheus, gemaakt door Omron Automation in Japan en gedemonstreerd tijdens CES in januari, speelt pingpong. Een deel van haar arsenaal van tafeltennisvaardigheden is haar vermogen om lichaamstaal te lezen om zowel de stemming en vaardigheid niveau van de menselijke tegenstander te achterhalen.

Het gaat natuurlijk niet om pingpong, maar het doel is industriële machines die “in harmonie” met de mens werken, wat zowel de productiviteit als de veiligheid verhoogt. Door bijvoorbeeld de lichaamstaal van fabrieksarbeiders te lezen, konden industriële robots anticiperen op hoe en waar mensen zich zouden kunnen bewegen.

Source: Empathische AI komt eraan – en dat is mooi – Computerworld

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