S&P Dow Jones Indices To Launch Cryptocurrency Indexes In 2021
S&P Dow Jones Indices, a division of financial data provider S&P Global Inc,
said on Thursday that it will launch cryptocurrency indices in 2021, making it the latest major finance company to enter the nascent asset class. Reuters reports:
The S&P DJI-branded products will use data from New York-based virtual currency company Lukka on more than 550 of the top traded coins, the companies said. S&P's clients will be able to work with the index provider to create customized indices and other benchmarking tools on cryptocurrencies, S&P and Lukka said in a joint statement. S&P and Lukka hope more reliable pricing data will make it easier for investors to access the new asset class, and reduce some of the risks of the very volatile and speculative market, they said. The move by one of the world's most well-known index providers could help cryptocurrencies become more mainstream investments.
More Than 500,000 Full Electric Cars Sold So Far This Year In Europe
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian:
Carmakers have sold more than 500,000 battery electric cars in Europe during 2020, a milestone in the automotive industry's move away from fossil fuels. Sales of all plug-in cars, including hybrids, have surpassed 1m during the year in the UK and the largest 17 European markets, according to data collated by Schmidt Automotive Research. During the whole of last year only 354,000 battery electric sales were recorded across the region.
In the UK, the sale of new cars that run solely on petrol or diesel will be banned in 2030 -- although new hybrids will be legal until 2035. Other countries including France and Norway have also introduced plans to ban new internal combustion engines over varying timeframes. However, the car industry still faces a steep uphill journey away from fossil fuels. Total UK and European new car sales in the year to October were 13.3m, the vast majority of which had petrol and diesel engines, which are expected to be more profitable than battery cars until about 2024.
British consumers bought more than 75,000 electric cars in the year to October, well over double the sales in the previous year, plus another 50,000 plug-in hybrids, but the UK market share of battery electric cars was still only 5.5%. Data for the whole of November will be published on Friday. None of the 10 most popular cars in the UK in 2020 have been electric, although some are available as hybrid or plug-in hybrid models, such as the Mercedes A-Class.
Pfizer Halves Covid-19 Vaccine Shipments For 2020 Due To Supply-Chain Problems
"The Wall Street Journal is
reporting that Pfizer is
planning to cut their shipment of Covid-19 vaccines for 2020 in half due to supply-chain problems," writes Slashdot reader
phalse phace. Axios (non-paywalled source) reports:
The U.K. government has ordered 40 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine -- enough to inoculate some 20 million people. The companies now expect to ship 50 million vaccines by the end of 2020, per WSJ. "Based on current projections we expect to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021," Pfizer spokesperson Kim Bencker told Axios.
"[S]caling up a vaccine at this pace is unprecedented, and we have made significant progress as we have moved forwards in the unknown," Bencker said. "And it's important to highlight that the outcome of the clinical trial was somewhat later than the initial projection requiring us to focus additional efforts on clinical trial production." Pfizer did not specify to the Journal what shortfalls over ingredients and raw materials -- which were sourced from Europe and the U.S. -- took place as production ramped up. For the record, Pfizer's vaccine has been shown to be
more than 90% effective.
Google Fires AI Ethics Co-Lead Timnit Gebru
Timnit Gebru, one of the best-known AI researchers today and co-lead of an AI ethics team at Google, said she was
fired Wednesday for sending an email to "non-management employees that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager." VentureBeat reports:
She said Google AI employees who report to her were emailed and told that she accepted her resignation when she did not offer her resignation. According to Casey Newton's Platformer, who reportedly obtained a copy, Gebru sent the email in question to the Google Brain Women and Allies listserv. In it, Gebru expresses frustration with the lack of progress in hiring women at Google and lack of accountability for failure to make progress. She also said was told not to publish a piece of research and advised employees to no longer fill out diversity paperwork because it didn't matter. No mention is made of resignation.
"There is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything. We just had a Black research all hands with such an emotional show of exasperation. Do you know what happened since? Silencing in the most fundamental way possible," the email reads. When asked by VentureBeat for comment, a Google spokesperson provided a link to the Platformer article with a copy of an email sent Thursday by Google AI chief Jeff Dean to company research staff. In it, Dean said a research paper written by Gebru and other researchers was submitted for publication at a conference before completing a review process and addressing feedback. In response, Dean said he received an email from Gebru.
"Timnit wrote that if we didn't meet these demands, she would leave Google and work on an end date. We accept and respect her decision to resign from Google," he said. "Given Timnit's role as a respected researcher and a manager in our Ethical AI team, I feel badly that Timnit has gotten to a place where she feels this way about the work we're doing. I also feel badly that hundreds of you received an email just this week from Timnit telling you to stop work on critical DEI programs. Please don't. I understand the frustration about the pace of progress, but we have important work ahead and we need to keep at it."
Google Set To Win EU Approval For Fitbit Takeover Next Week
According to Bloomberg, Google is
set to win conditional European Union approval for its $2.1 billion takeover of Fitbit this month. From the report:
The deal could be approved as soon as next week after national competition authorities give their opinion, said the people who asked not to be named because the procedure isn't public. The EU usually consults the so-called advisory committee on mergers days before it issues approval. Google announced its plans to buy Fitbit in November 2019, noting that it would use the smartwatch maker to improve its lagging hardware business. Clearing regulatory obstacles for the deal come in a tough climate when the company is facing mounting global scrutiny of big technology companies and potentially restrictive regulation in the EU and other regions. While Google has agreed to concessions to allay EU antitrust concerns about its move into wearable fitness devices, its final pledge to European authorities hasn't been disclosed.
US Broadband Speeds Jumped 90% In 2020. But No, It Had Nothing To Do With Net Neutrality.
An anonymous reader shares a report from Techdirt:
Last last week, a report out of the UK topped the trending news items at Hacker News. The report found that U.S. broadband speeds -- historically the poster child for mediocrity -- jumped roughly 90% during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The improvements weren't consistent geographically, and the report was quick to note that by and large, the U.S. remains relatively mediocre when it comes to broadband speeds (in large part due to limited competition): "The US stills lags behind many European and developed nations worldwide, and its major cities also often lag behind their European equivalents. That said, there is cause for celebration in Dallas, Seattle and Austin, after our analysis has shown that these cities are performing extremely well relative to most European capital cities."
I spoke briefly to study author Thomas Buck after he reached out to note that folks were misinterpreting his study. Yes, the study shows U.S. broadband speeds jumped 90% in 2020. But Buck also notes this likely isn't because of policy decisions at the FCC, or because ISPs did much of anything differently. It's most likely because when consumers were forced to stay home to work and attend school during COVID lockdown, they were simply willing to pay more money for already available, faster speeds because they realized faster broadband was essential. Buck put it this way: "... the findings are more likely to suggest increased consumer spending on high-speed plans for working from home than anything else...speed test data is fascinating and helpful, but using it as proof that net neutrality was bad is a giant stretch by any means. When looking at broadband data, I think itâ(TM)s more important to discuss the dark spots (subscriber data, full capacity testing at scale, same-year fiber build data) than what we have (hundreds of thousands of speed tests, most of them showing results a fraction of what ISPs advertise)."
Yet a number of folks (including commenters at Hacker News) set to work trying to claim that this sudden boost in speed was courtesy of the FCC's decision to kill net neutrality and effectively self-immolate at telecom lobbyist behest. It's part of a fairly relentless attempt to proclaim that because killing net neutrality didn't immediately result in a rainbow-colored explosion, the repeal itself must have somehow been a good thing. [...] Yes, many activists and supporters of net neutrality were hyperbolic in trying to explain the very real, very negative impact the net neutrality repeal would have over the longer term. That doesn't mean it wasn't a terrible idea done in exclusive service to telecom monopolies.
China's Chang'e 5 Probe Lifts Off From Moon Carrying Lunar Samples
China's Chang'e spacecraft has
lifted off from Oceanus Procellarum at 10:10 EST Thursday, carrying with it the first fresh lunar samples since 1976. Space.com reports:
Six minutes later, the ascent spacecraft achieved lunar orbit, marking a huge milestone in the Chang'e 5 mission to return lunar samples to Earth. The ascent vehicle's job now is to meet up with the Chang'e 5 orbiter while still circling the moon, and then transfer its precious cargo to a return capsule for the journey home. That next stage is an extremely challenging rendezvousing and docking between the small ascent vehicle and the Chang'e 5 orbiter while orbiting the moon. The activity needs to be automated due to the time delay in communicating across the roughly 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers) between the Earth and the moon.
The two spacecraft will begin a final approach sometime on Saturday (Nov. 5)and complete the docking 3.5 hours later. If all goes well, China will then prepare for the final leg of the journey to deliver the first lunar samples to Earth in 44 years. The lunar samples won't be coming home immediately however. The Chang'e 5 spacecraft will need to wait in lunar orbit for a number of days for a narrow window in which to fire its engines and head for Earth.
The careful timing of this trans-Earth injection maneuver will allow the orbiter to deliver the reentry module to Earth at the precise time in order to land in Siziwang Banner, Inner Mongolia -- the same site used by the China National Space Administration to return astronauts home aboard Shenzhou spacecraft. The journey back to Earth will last 112 hours -- just over four and a half days -- before the reentry attempt. As spacecraft returning from the moon are traveling faster than those reentering from low Earth orbit, such as trips from the International Space Station, the Chang'e 5 reentry module will bounce off the atmosphere once to help it slow down before taking a final, fiery plunge to Earth.
Drone Footage Shows the Shocking Collapse of the Arecibo Observatory
Iwastheone shares a report from The Verge:
Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released shocking footage of the collapse of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The video, captured on December 1st, shows the moment when support cables snapped, causing the massive 900-ton structure suspended above Arecibo to fall onto the observatory's iconic 1,000-foot-wide dish.
The videos of the collapse were captured by a camera located in Arecibo's Operations Control Center, as well as from a drone located above the platform at the time of collapse. The operator of the drone was able to adjust the drone camera once the platform started to fall and capture the moment of impact. NSF, which oversees Arecibo, had been doing hourly monitoring of the observatory with drones, ever since engineers warned that the structure was on the verge of collapsing in November. The footage highlights the moment when multiple cables snapped, causing the platform to swing outward and hit the side of the dish. The collapse also brought down the tops of the three support towers surrounding Arecibo, where the cables had been connected to keep the platform in the air. Slashdot reader
shares a petition to rebuild the Arecibo Observatory. "On December 1, the platform of the 305-meter radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory suffered a catastrophic collapse,"
the petition states. "This telescope had many capabilities that cannot be replaced by any existing or planned facility. It had the world's most powerful and most sensitive planetary radar system, providing unparalleled capacity to track and characterize near-Earth asteroids. The telescope was also a source of tourism, education, and pride for the people of Puerto Rico, inspiring many to pursue careers in science and technology."
"We ask Congress to allocate funding to build a new Arecibo radio telescope with greater capabilities than the previous telescope -- to maintain American leadership in planetary defense, astronomy, and ionospheric studies; and to inspire a new generation of scientists."
US Used Patriot Act To Gather Logs of Website Visitors
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times:
The government has interpreted a high-profile provision of the Patriot Act as empowering F.B.I. national security investigators to collect logs showing who has visited particular web pages, documents show. But the government stops short of using that law to collect the keywords people submit to internet search engines because it considers such terms to be content that requires a warrant to gather, according to letters produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The disclosures come at a time when Congress is struggling with new proposals to limit the law, known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The debate ran aground in the spring amid erratic messages from President Trump, but is expected to resume after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes the oath of office in January.
In May, 59 senators voted to bar the use of Section 215 to collect internet search terms or web browsing activity, but negotiations broke down in the House. During that period, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and one of the sponsors of the proposal ban, wrote to the director of national intelligence seeking clarity about any such use. Six months later, the Trump administration finally replied -- initially, it turned out, in a misleading way. In a Nov. 6 letter to Mr. Wyden, John Ratcliffe, the intelligence director, wrote that Section 215 was not used to gather internet search terms, and that none of the 61 orders issued last year under that law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court involved collection of "web browsing" records. Mr. Wyden's office provided that letter to The New York Times, arguing that it meant Mr. Wyden's proposal in May -- which he sponsored with Senator Steve Daines, Republican of Montana -- could be enacted into law without any operational costs.
But The Times pressed Mr. Ratcliffe's office and the F.B.I. to clarify whether it was defining "web browsing" activity to encompass logging all visitors to a particular website, in addition to a particular person's browsing among different sites. The next day, the Justice Department sent a clarification to Mr. Ratcliffe's office, according to a follow-up letter he sent to Mr. Wyden on Nov. 25. In fact, "one of those 61 orders resulted in the production of information that could be characterized as information regarding browsing," Mr. Ratcliffe wrote in the second letter. Specifically, one order had approved collection of logs revealing which computers "in a specified foreign country" had visited "a single, identified U.S. web page." Mr. Ratcliffe expressed regret "that this additional information was not included in my earlier letter" to the senator, and suggested his staff might take further "corrective action." In a statement, Mr. Wyden said the letters raise "all kinds of new questions, including whether, in this particular case, the government has taken steps to avoid collecting Americans' web browsing information." "More generally," Mr. Wyden continued, "the D.N.I. has provided no guarantee that the government wouldn't use the Patriot Act to intentionally collect Americans' web browsing information in the future, which is why Congress must pass the warrant requirement that has already received support from a bipartisan majority in the Senate."
YouTube Will Remind Users To 'Keep Comments Respectful' Before Posting
YouTube is taking new steps to weed out bullying, hate speech and other kinds of nasty comments. From a report:
The company introduced a new feature that will remind users to "keep comments respectful," when its automated systems detect a comment may be offensive. The change is rolling out now on Android, and will eventually move to other platforms, though it's not clear when. The feature is similar to one recently implemented by Instagram. Before a comment is posted, a pop-up will appear with a reminder to "keep comments respectful." The user will then be able to edit the comment or post it anyway. The company notes that seeing the reminder doesn't necessarily mean a comment has violated its rules or that it will be removed. The update is part of a larger effort by YouTube to reduce hate speech and make its platform more equitable for all its creators. In addition to the new pop-ups, it will also test a new feature for YouTube Studio that automatically filters out "potentially inappropriate and hurtful comments" to make it easier for video creators to avoid seeing them.
AutoX Becomes China's First To Remove Safety Drivers From Robotaxis
Residents of Shenzhen
saw truly driverless cars on the road today. From a report:
AutoX, a four-year-old startup backed by Alibaba, MediaTek and Shanghai Motors, deployed a fleet of 25 unmanned vehicles in downtown Shenzhen, marking the first time any autonomous driving car in China tests on public roads without safety drivers or remote operators. The cars, meant as robotaxis, are not yet open to the public, an AutoX spokesperson told TechCrunch. The milestone came just five months after AutoX landed a permit from California to start driverless tests, following in the footsteps of Waymo and Nuro. It also indicates that China wants to bring its smart driving industry on par with the U.S. Cities from Shenzhen to Shanghai are competing to attract autonomous driving upstarts by clearing regulatory hurdles, touting subsidies and putting up 5G infrastructure. As a result, each city ends up with its own poster child in the space: AutoX and Deeproute.ai in Shenzhen, Pony.ai and WeRide in Guangzhou, Momenta in Suzhou and Baidu's Apollo fleet in Beijing, to name a few. The autonomous driving companies, in turn, work closely with traditional carmakers to make their vehicles smarter and more suitable for future transportation.
Trump Administration Claims Facebook Improperly Reserved Jobs for H-1B Workers
The Trump administration has
sued Facebook, accusing the social-media company of illegally reserving high-paying jobs for immigrant workers it was sponsoring for permanent residence, rather than searching adequately for available U.S. workers who could fill the positions. From a report:
In a 17-page complaint filed Thursday, the Justice Department's civil-rights division said Facebook inadequately advertised at least 2,600 positions between 2018 and 2019 that were filled by immigrants on H-1B high-skill visas when the company was applying to sponsor those workers for permanent residency, known as green cards. Companies sponsoring workers for employment-based green cards are required to show as part of the federal application process that they couldn't find any qualified American workers to fill the job. The suit said Facebook didn't advertise the reserved positions on its website and required candidates to mail in their applications rather than accepting them online. "And even when U.S. workers do apply, Facebook will not consider them for the advertised positions," the suit alleges. "Simply put, Facebook reserves these positions for temporary visa holders."
Warner Bros. To Debut Entire 2021 Film Slate, Including 'Dune' and 'Matrix 4,' Both on HBO Max and In Theaters
When Warner Bros. announced that "Wonder Woman 1984" would
land on the streaming service HBO Max on Christmas, the same time it debuts in theaters, many expected it to be an isolated case in response to an unprecedented pandemic. From a report:
Instead, the studio will deploy a similar release strategy for the next twelve months. In a surprising break from industry standards, Warner Bros.' entire 2021 slate -- a list of films that includes "The Matrix 4," Denis Villeneuve's "Dune" remake, Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical adaptation of "In the Heights," Sopranos prequel "The Many Saints of Newark," and "The Suicide Squad" -- will debut both on HBO Max and in theaters on their respective release dates. The shocking move to simultaneously release movies day-and-date underscores the crisis facing movie theaters and the rising importance of streaming services in the wake of a global health crisis that's decimated the film exhibition community.
Dell Announces New Solutions For Its Supply Chain's Security
PC maker powerhouse Dell announced today a flurry of new enterprise security solutions for the company's line of enterprise products. From a report:
The new services can be grouped into two categories, with (1) new solutions meant to protect the supply chain of Dell products while in transit to their customers and (2) new features meant to improve the security of Dell products while in use. While Dell has previously invested in securing its customers' supply chains, the company has announced today three new services. The first is named SafeSupply Chain Tamper Evident Services and, as its name implies, involves Dell adding anti-tampering seals to its devices, transport boxes, and even entire pallets before they leave Dell factories. The anti-tampering seals will allow buyers of Dell equipment to determine if any intermediary agents or transporters have opened boxes or devices to alter physical components. The second supply chain security offering, named the Dell SafeSupply Chain Data Sanitization Services, is meant for tampering made at the storage level.
AstraZeneca and Oxford's Stories Clash on COVID-19 Vaccine
AstraZeneca and Oxford University have
given conflicting accounts of how they came upon the most effective dosing pattern for their COVID-19 vaccine, a rare instance of public dissension between major institutions collaborating on a pivotal project. From a report:
The discrepancy, reported for the first time by Reuters, centres on the regimen administered to a smaller group of volunteers in the late-stage trials, of half a dose followed by a full dose. This diverged from the original plan of two full doses, given to the majority of participants. The half-dose pattern was found to be 90% effective, versus the 62% success rate of the two-full-dose main study, based on interim data. AstraZeneca's research chief told Reuters 10 days ago, when interim trial data was released, the half-dose was given inadvertently as a first shot to some trial participants, and emerged as a stroke of fortune -- "serendipity" -- that scientists expertly harnessed.
This narrative was refuted by a leading Oxford University scientist, however, who told Reuters on Monday that the half-dose shot was given deliberately after thorough consultations. Uncertainty over how the dosing regimen came about raises questions about the robustness of the data, according to some experts who said it risked slowing down the process of gaining regulatory approval for the shot and denting public confidence. "These differing accounts are worrying," Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, told Reuters. "Trust is at a premium when it comes to vaccines and we must not do anything that might in any way undermine it."