Programming

GitHub Launches Bot-Powered Learning Lab for New Developers (venturebeat.com) 1

An anonymous reader quotes VentureBeat: GitHub is launching a new bot-powered learning lab to help budding developers get up to speed on all things GitHub... The GitHub Learning Lab, which officially launched Thursday, builds on GitHub's prior history of training people, except this time GitHub is using bots to expedite the learning process. There is no videoconferencing or webcasts here. "After training thousands of people to use Git and GitHub, the GitHub Training Team has established a tried-and-true method for helping new developers retain more information and ramp up quickly as they begin their software journeys," the company said in a blog post. "And now, we're making those experiences accessible to developers everywhere with GitHub Learning Lab."

The bot helps users work through issues in a repository environment, passing comment on any work that you do while checking over pull requests -- notifications of changes you've made -- in a similar fashion to how a human project lead might do. If the bot isn't able to help with a specific question you have, there are humans on hand too via the GitHub Learning Lab forum, which includes outside experts and members of GitHub's in-house training team.

AMD

AMD Wants To Hear From GPU Resellers and Partners Bullied By Nvidia (forbes.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Forbes: Nvidia may not be talking about its GeForce Partner Program, but AMD has gone from silent to proactive in less than 24 hours. Hours ago Scott Herkelman, Corporate VP and General Manager of AMD Radeon Gaming, addressed AMD resellers via Twitter, not only acknowledging the anti-competitive tactics Nvidia has leveraged against them, but inviting others to share their stories. The series of tweets coincides with an AMD sales event held in London this week. This was preceded by an impassioned blog post from Herkelman yesterday where he comes out swinging against Nvidia's GeForce Partner Program, and references other closed, proprietary technologies like G-Sync and GameWorks.

AMD's new mantra is "Freedom of Choice," a tagline clearly chosen to combat Nvidia's new program which is slowly taking gaming GPU brands from companies like MSI and Gigabyte, and locking them exclusively under the GeForce banner. The GeForce Partner Program also seems to threaten the business of board partners who are are not aligned with the program. Here's what Herkelman -- who was a former GeForce marketing executive at Nvidia -- had to say on Twitter: "I wanted to personally thank all of our resellers who are attending our AMD sales event in London this week, it was a pleasure catching up with you and thank you for your support. Many of you told me how our competition tries to use funding and allocation to restrict or block [...] your ability to market and sell Radeon based products in the manner you and your customers desire. I want to let you know that your voices have been heard and that I welcome any others who have encountered similar experiences to reach out to me..."
The report adds that Kyle Bennett of HardOCP, the author who broke the original GPP story, "says that Nvidia is beginning a disinformation campaign against him, claiming that he was paid handsomely for publishing the story."
AI

AI Will Wipe Out Half the Banking Jobs In a Decade, Experts Say 98

Experts in the industry say that current advances in artificial intelligence and automation could replace as many as half the nation's financial services workers over the next decade, though it will take a big investment to make that happen. The Mercury News reports: "Unless banks deal with the performance issues that AI will cause for ultra-large databases, they will not be able to take the money gained by eliminating positions and spend it on the new services and products they will need in order to stay competitive," James D'Arezzo, CEO of Glendale-based Condusiv Technologies, said. Intensive hardware upgrades are often cited as an answer to the problem, but D'Arezzo said that's prohibitively expensive.

Speaking to an audience last year in Frankfurt, Germany, Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan predicted a "bonfire" of industry jobs as automation moves forward. "In our bank we have people doing work like robots," he said. "Tomorrow we will have robots behaving like people. It doesn't matter if we as a bank will participate in these changes or not, it is going to happen." Increased processing power, cloud storage and other developments are making many tasks possible that once were considered too complex for automation, according to Cryan. D'Arezzo, whose company works to improve existing software performance, said the financial industry is being swamped by "a tsunami of data," including new compliance requirements for customer privacy and constantly changing bank regulations.
Bhagwan Chowdhry, a professor of finance and economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, offers a less bleak view of the future. "Technology will eliminate some jobs that are repetitive and require less human judgment," he said, "But I think they will get replaced by other jobs that humans are better at. Anything that requires judgment is something humans will continue to do. We are not good at multiplying 16-digit numbers, but we're good at judging people and detecting if someone is telling the truth."
Canada

Engineers Are Leaving America For Canada (bloomberg.com) 264

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Bloomberg: The H-1B was created in 1990, part of an immigration overhaul signed into law by President George H.W. Bush that also created the EB-5 investor visa -- the subject of a fracas involving Kushner Cos. seeking Chinese investment -- and the diversity lottery, which Trump has attacked. Today, an estimated half a million H-1B holders live in the U.S. No one tracks exactly how many ditch their skilled visas for the permanent residency Canada offers, but during the first year of Trump's presidency, the number of tech professionals globally who got permanent residency in Canada ticked up almost 40 percent from 2016, to more than 11,000.

In 1967, Canada became the first country to adopt a points-based immigration system. The country regularly tweaks how it rates applicants based on national goals and research into what makes for successful integration: A job offer used to come with 600 points, but now it's worth just 200. Other factors like speaking fluent English or French -- or, even better, both -- have been given more weight over the years. Country of origin is irrelevant. In 2016, Canada increased national immigration levels to 300,000 new permanent residents annually. Last year, in consultation with trade groups, it created a program called the Global Skills Strategy to issue temporary work permits to people with job offers in certain categories, including senior software engineers, in as little as two weeks. Since the program started in June, more than 5,600 people have been granted permits, from the U.S., India, Pakistan, Brazil, and elsewhere.

Government

Palantir Knows Everything About You (bloomberg.com) 107

Palantir, a data-mining company created by Peter Thiel, is aiding government agencies by tracking American citizens using the War on Terror, Bloomberg reports. From the report: The company's engineers and products don't do any spying themselves; they're more like a spy's brain, collecting and analyzing information that's fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources -- financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings -- and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs.

[...] The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses Palantir to detect Medicare fraud. The FBI uses it in criminal probes. The Department of Homeland Security deploys it to screen air travelers and keep tabs on immigrants. Police and sheriff's departments in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles have also used it, frequently ensnaring in the digital dragnet people who aren't suspected of committing any crime.

The Internet

The 'Terms and Conditions' Reckoning Is Coming (bloomberg.com) 125

Everyone from Uber to PayPal is facing a backlash against their impenetrable legalese. From a report: Personal finance forums online are brimming with complaints from hundreds of PayPal customers who say they've been suspended because they signed up before age 18. PayPal declined to comment on any specific cases, but says it's appropriate to close accounts created by underage people "to ensure our customers have full legal capacity to accept our user agreement." While that may seem "heavy-handed," says Sarah Kenshall, a technology attorney with law firm Burges Salmon, the company is within its rights because the users clicked to agree to the rules -- however difficult the language might be to understand.

Websites have long required users to plow through pages of dense legalese to use their services, knowing that few ever give the documents more than a cursory glance. In 2005 security-software provider PC Pitstop LLC promised a $1,000 prize to the first user to spot the offer deep in its terms and conditions; it took four months before the reward was claimed. The incomprehensibility of user agreements is poised to change as tech giants such as Uber Technologies and Facebook confront pushback for mishandling user information, and the European Union prepares to implement new privacy rules called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The measure underscores "the requirement for clear and plain language when explaining consent," British Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote on her blog last year.

Social Networks

Kaspersky Lab Banned From Advertising on Twitter Because of Its Alleged Ties With Russian Intelligence Agencies (cyberscoop.com) 44

An anonymous reader shares a report: Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab has been banned from advertising on Twitter due to its allegedly close and active ties between the company and Russian intelligence agencies, according to the social network. The ban is the latest blow in an ongoing saga for Kaspersky, which includes two ongoing legal battles with the U.S. government. Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky Lab, took to Twitter on Friday to condemn the ban. A Twitter spokesperson reiterated that the "decision is based on our determination that Kaspersky Lab operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices."
AI

AI Can Scour Code To Find Accidentally Public Passwords (qz.com) 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Researchers at software infrastructure firm Pivotal have taught AI to locate this accidentally public sensitive information in a surprising way: By looking at the code as if it were a picture. Since modern artificial intelligence is arguably better than humans at identifying minute differences in images, telling the difference between a password and normal code for a computer is just like recognizing a dog from a cat. The best way to check whether private passwords or sensitive information has been left public today is to use hand-coded rules called "regular expressions." These rules tell a computer to find any string of characters that meets specific criteria, like length and included characters.
Google

Google Is 'Pausing' Work On Allo In Favor 'Chat,' An RCS-Based Messaging Standard (theverge.com) 136

An anonymous reader shares an exclusive report from The Verge about Google's next big fix for Android's messaging mess: Instead of bringing a better app to the table, it's trying to change the rules of the texting game, on a global scale. Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS. It's going to be called "Chat," and it's based on a standard called the "Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services." SMS is the default that everybody has to fall back to, and so Google's goal is to make that default texting experience on an Android phone as good as other modern messaging apps. As part of that effort, Google says it's "pausing" work on its most recent entry into the messaging space, Allo. It's the sort of "pause" that involves transferring almost the entire team off the project and putting all its resources into another app, Android Messages. Google won't build the iMessage clone that Android fans have clamored for, but it seems to have cajoled the carriers into doing it for them. In order to have some kind of victory in messaging, Google first had to admit defeat. Some of the new features associated with Chat include read receipts, typing indicators, full-resolution images and video, and group texts. It's important to keep in mind that it's a carrier-based service, not a Google service. It won't be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards. The new Chat services will be switched on in the near future, but ultimately carriers will dictate exactly when Chat will go live. Also, you may be persuaded to upgrade your data plan since Chat messages will be sent with your data plan instead of your SMS plan.
Android

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence For Its Smartphones (arstechnica.com) 139

New submitter krazy1 shares a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. government is going after another Chinese Android device maker. After shutting down Huawei's carrier deals and retail partners, the government is now pursuing ZTE. The U.S. Department of Commerce has banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. ZTE was caught violating U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by "making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the U.S. Government," according to the Department of Commerce.

The latest news from Reuters raises even bigger issues for ZTE, though. A source told Reuters that "The Commerce Department decision means ZTE Corp may not be able to use Google's Android operating system in its mobile devices." Android is free and open source and will probably remain free for ZTE to use without Google's involvement. Reuters' source is probably referring to the Google apps, which aren't sold to device makers but are carefully licensed to them in exchange for other concessions. The Google apps package includes popular services like Gmail and Google Maps, and it also unlocks the Play Store, Google Play Services, and the entire Android app ecosystem. For a market-viable Android device, the Play Store is pretty much mandatory in every country other than China. So while ZTE could conceivably source hardware components from non-U.S. sources, being locked out of the Play Store would devastate ZTE's smartphones worldwide.

Transportation

LA Councilman Asks City Attorney To 'Review Possible Legal Action' Against Waze (arstechnica.com) 208

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Yet another Los Angeles city councilman has taken Waze to task for creating "dangerous conditions" in his district, and the politician is now "asking the City to review possible legal action." "Waze has upended our City's traffic plans, residential neighborhoods, and public safety for far too long," LA City Councilman David Ryu said in a statement released Wednesday. "Their responses have been inadequate and their solutions, non-existent. They say the crises of congestion they cause is the price for innovation -- I say that's a false choice." In a new letter sent to the City Attorney's Office, Ryu formally asked Los Angeles' top attorney to examine Waze's behavior. While Ryu said he supported "advances in technology," he decried Waze and its parent company, Google, for refusing "any responsibility for the traffic problems their app creates or the concerns of residents and City officials."
Programming

New Alexa Blueprints Let Users Make Custom Skills Without Knowing Any Code (arstechnica.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Amazon just released a new way for Alexa users to customize their experience with the virtual assistant. New Alexa Skill Blueprints allow you to create your own personalized Alexa skills, even if you don't know how to code. These "blueprints" act as templates for making questions, responses, trivia games, narrative stories, and other skills with customizable answers unique to each user. Amazon already has a number of resources for developers to make the new skills they want, but until now, users have had to work within the confines of pre-made Alexa skills. Currently, more than 20 templates are available on the new Alexa Skill Blueprints website, all ready for Alexa users to personalize with their own content. Any blueprint-made skills you make will show up on the "Skills You've Made" section of the blueprints website. While these skills will exist for your Amazon account until you delete them, they aren't posted to the general Alexa Skills score, so strangers will not have access to your couple's trivia game that's personalized for you, your spouse, and your best coupled friends.
Government

FDA Wants Medical Devices To Have Mandatory Built-In Update Mechanisms (bleepingcomputer.com) 94

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: The US Food & Drug Administration plans to ask Congress for more funding and regulatory powers to improve its approach towards medical device safety, including on the cybersecurity front. An FDA document released this week reveals several of the FDA's plans, including the desire to force device makers to include mandatory update systems inside products for the purpose of delivering critical security patches.

In addition, the FDA also plans to force device makers to create a document called "Software Bill of Materials" that will be provided for each medical device and will include software-related details for each product. Hospitals, healthcare units, contractors, or users will be able to consult the medical device's bill of materials and determine how it functions, what software is needed for what feature, and what technologies are used in each device.

The Internet

4.9% of Websites Use Flash, Down From 28.5% in 2011 (bleepingcomputer.com) 129

Web makers continue to ditch the infamous Flash for other safer, improved technologies. In 2011, more than 28.5 percent of websites used Flash in their code, a figure technology survey site W3Techs estimates to have dropped to 4.9 percent today. BleepingComputer: The number confirms Flash's decline, and a reason why Adobe has decided to retire the technology at the end of 2020. A decline from 28.5 percent to 4.9 percent doesn't look that bad, but we're talking about all Internet sites, not just a small portion of Top 10,000 or Top 1 Million sites. Taking into account the sheer number of abandoned sites on today's Internet, the decline is quite considerable, and W3Techs' findings confirm similar statistics put out by a Google security engineer in February.
Robotics

Scientists Create Robots That Can Assemble IKEA Furniture For You (sciencemag.org) 124

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Although artificial intelligence systems may be able to beat humans at board games, we still have the upper hand when it comes to complicated manual tasks. But now, scientists have created robots that can do something even most humans struggle with: assemble an IKEA chair. Putting together a chair requires a combination of complex movements that, in turn, depends on such skills as vision, limb coordination, and the ability to control force. Until now, that was too much to ask of even a sophisticated robot. But researchers have finally broken the dexterity barrier by combining commercially available hardware, including 3D cameras and force sensors, to build two chair-building bots. To construct their IKEA masterpiece, the robots first took pictures to identify each part of the chair. An algorithm planned the motions the robots needed to manipulate the objects without causing any collisions; two robotic arms then performed those actions in concert. Feedback from force sensors also helped: When the robot needed to insert a pin into a hole, for example, it would slide the pin over the surface until it felt a change in force. The robots were able to put together the chair in a little over 20 minutes, which includes the 11 minutes and 21 seconds of planning time and 8 minutes and 55 seconds of actual assembly. The findings have been reported today in Science Robotics.
Transportation

Autonomous Boats Will Be On the Market Sooner Than Self-Driving Cars (vice.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In the autonomous revolution that is underway, nearly every transportation machine will eventually be self-driving. For cars, it's likely going to take decades before we see them operating freely, outside of test conditions. Some unmanned watercraft, on the other hand, may be at sea commercially before 2020. That's partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through U.S. ports in 2016. The world's 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

Startups and major firms like Rolls Royce are now looking to automate the seas and help maritime companies ease navigation, save fuel, improve safety, increase tonnage, and make more money. As it turns out, autonomous systems for boats aren't supremely different than those of cars, beyond a few key factors -- for instance, water is always moving while roads are not, and ships need at least a couple miles to redirect. Buffalo Automation, a startup in upstate New York that began at the University at Buffalo, just raised $900,000 to help commercialize its AutoMate system -- essentially a collection of sensors and cameras to help boats operate semi-autonomously. CEO Thiru Vikram said the company is working with three pilot partners, and intends to target cargo ships and recreational vessels first. Autonomous ships are an area of particular interest for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which sets the standards for international waters. It launched a regulatory scoping exercise last year to analyze the impact of autonomous boats. By the time it wraps in 2020, market demand may make it so that we already have semi-autonomous and unmanned vessels at sea.

Bitcoin

German ICO Savedroid Pulls Exit Scam After Raising $50 Million (techcrunch.com) 194

German company Savedroid has pulled a classic exit scam after raising $50 million in ICO and direct funding. The site is currently displaying a South Park meme with the caption "Aannnd it's gone." The founder, Dr. Yassin Hankir, has posted a tweet thanking investors and saying "Over and out." TechCrunch reports: A reverse image search found Hankir's photo on this page for Founder Institute, and he has pitched his product at multiple events, including this one in German. Savedroid was originally supposed to use AI to manage user investments and promised a crypto-backed credit card, a claim that CCN notes is popular with scam ICOs. It ran for a number of months and was clearly well-managed as the group was able to open an office and appear at multiple events.
Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 59

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
Facebook

Facebook To Design Its Own Processors For Hardware Devices, AI Software, and Servers (bloomberg.com) 55

Facebook is the latest technology company to design its own semiconductors, reports Bloomberg. "The social media company is seeking to hire a manager to build an 'end-to-end SoC/ASIC, firmware and driver development organization,' according to a job listing on its corporate website, indicating the effort is still in its early stages." From the report: Facebook could use such chips to power hardware devices, artificial intelligence software and servers in its data centers. Next month, the company will launch the Oculus Go, a $200 standalone virtual-reality headset that runs on a Qualcomm processor. Facebook is also working on a slew of smart speakers. Future generations of those devices could be improved by custom chipsets. By using its own processors, the company would have finer control over product development and would be able to better tune its software and hardware together. The postings didn't make it clear what kind of use Facebook wants to put the chips to other than the broad umbrella of artificial intelligence. A job listing references "expertise to build custom solutions targeted at multiple verticals including AI/ML," indicating that the chip work could focus on a processor for artificial intelligence tasks. Facebook AI researcher Yann LeCun tweeted about some of the job postings on Wednesday, asking for candidates interested in designing chips for AI.
Communications

A Florida Man Has been Accused of Making 97 Million Robocalls (bloomberg.com) 175

A Florida man accused of flooding consumers with 97 million phone calls touting fake travel deals appeared Wednesday before lawmakers to explain how robocalls work and to say, "I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged." From a report: Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, who is fighting a proposed $120 million fine, told senators that open-source software lets operators make thousands of phone calls with the click of a button, in combination with cloud-based computing and "the right long distance company." "Clearly regulation needs to address the carriers and providers and require the major carriers to detect robocalls activity," Abramovich said in testimony submitted in advance to the Senate Commerce Committee. He has asked the Federal Communications Commission to reduce the fine proposed last year, calling it disproportionate, in part because most calls went unanswered or resulted in a quick hang-up by consumers. The panel's chairman, Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called Abamovich and officials from the FCC and other agencies to discuss ways to stop abusive calls.

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