It's Official: SpaceX Is a 'Go' To Launch NASA Astronauts On Crew Dragon Spaceship
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com:
No showstoppers were found during a crucial flight readiness review (FRR) for SpaceX's Demo-2 mission, keeping the company's first-ever crewed flight on track for a May 27 liftoff, NASA officials announced today (May 22). "The Flight Readiness Review has concluded, and NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission is cleared to proceed toward liftoff on the first crewed flight of the agency's Commercial Crew Program," NASA officials wrote in an update today. Demo-2 will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, which will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The mission will be the first orbital human spaceflight to depart from American soil since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in July 2011. Ever since then, the space agency has relied completely on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to get its astronauts to and from the orbiting lab.
The FRR began yesterday (May 21) at KSC and stretched into this afternoon. During the meeting, NASA, ISS and SpaceX managers discussed in detail "the readiness of the Crew Dragon and systems for the Demo-2 mission; the readiness of the International Space Station Program and its international partners to support the flight; and the certification of flight readiness," NASA officials wrote in an update yesterday. And everything went very well, NASA officials said. "It was an excellent review," NASA associate administrator Steve Jurczyk said during a teleconference with reporters today. "There are no significant open issues, I am happy to report." There are still some boxes to tick before Demo-2 can get off the ground. "For example, this afternoon, SpaceX will conduct a 'static fire' of the Falcon 9 that will launch the mission, testing out its first-stage engines while the rocket remains tethered to the ground," reports Space.com. "And tomorrow (May 23), the teams will hold a 'dry dress' exercise, during which Behnken and Hurley will suit up and the teams will run through many of the procedures that will occur on launch day."
"Data from these two tests, as well as other information, will then be analyzed in detail on Monday (May 25) during a final launch readiness review."
Scientists Find Brain Center That 'Profoundly' Shuts Down Pain
A research team from Duke University has found a small area of the brain in mice that
can profoundly shut down pain. "It's located in an area where few people would have thought to look for an anti-pain center, the amygdala, which is often considered the home of negative emotions and responses, like the fight or flight response and general anxiety," reports ScienceDaily. From the report:
The researchers found that general anesthesia also activates a specific subset of inhibitory neurons in the central amygdala, which they have called the CeAga neurons (CeA stands for central amygdala; ga indicates activation by general anesthesia). Mice have a relatively larger central amygdala than humans, but [senior author Fan Wang, the Morris N. Broad Distinguished Professor of neurobiology in the School of Medicine] said she had no reason to think we have a different system for controlling pain. Using technologies that Wang's lab has pioneered to track the paths of activated neurons in mice, the team found the CeAga was connected to many different areas of the brain, "which was a surprise," Wang said.
By giving mice a mild pain stimulus, the researchers could map all of the pain-activated brain regions. They discovered that at least 16 brain centers known to process the sensory or emotional aspects of pain were receiving inhibitory input from the CeAga. Using a technology called optogenetics, which uses light to activate a small population of cells in the brain, the researchers found they could turn off the self-caring behaviors a mouse exhibits when it feels uncomfortable by activating the CeAga neurons. Paw-licking or face-wiping behaviors were "completely abolished" the moment the light was switched on to activate the anti-pain center.
When the scientists dampened the activity of these CeAga neurons, the mice responded as if a temporary insult had become intense or painful again. They also found that low-dose ketamine, an anesthetic drug that allows sensation but blocks pain, activated the CeAga center and wouldn't work without it. Now the researchers are going to look for drugs that can activate only these cells to suppress pain as potential future pain killers, Wang said. The study has been
published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Nvidia's AI Recreates 'Pac-Man' For 40th Anniversary
taught its AI system to recreate the game Pac-Man just by watching it being played. Hypebeast reports:
No coding or pre-rendered images were used for the software to base the recreation on. The AI model was simply fed visual data of the game being played alongside controller inputs. From there, the AI recreated what it saw frame by frame, resulting in a playable version of Bandai Namco's most recognizable title. Although it's not a perfect recreation of the title and all its assets, all the mechanics and gameplay goals are the same. NVIDIA even believes this is how AI will be applied to game creation in the future. [Rev Lebaredian, Nvidia's vice president of simulation technology] notes the experiment was done in collaboration with Bandai Namco as it celebrates the 40th anniversary of the classic arcade game.
The artificial intelligence program is called GameGAN, with GAN standing for "generative adversarial network," which is a common architecture used in machine learning. GAN works by attempting to replicate input data while also comparing its work to the original source. If the two don't match, the data is rejected and the program looks for improvements and tries again. Although AI programs have generated virtual gaming spaces before, GameGAN is able to use a "memory module" that allows the program to store an internal map of the digital space it's trying to recreate, leading to a more consistent copy. The AI was trained on over 50,000 episodes and almost never died, the company says. Nvidia will be releasing the recreated game online in the near future.
Researchers Claim New Internet Speed Record of 44.2 Tbps
Researchers based out of Australia's Monash, Swinburne, and RMIT universities say they've
set a new internet speed record of 44.2 Tbps, according to a paper
published in the open-access journal Nature Communications. That's theoretically enough speed to download the contents of more than 50 100GB Ultra HD Blu-ray discs in a single second. The Verge reports:
What's interesting about the research is that it was achieved over 75km of standard optical fiber using a single integrated chip source, meaning it has the potential to one day benefit existing fiber infrastructure. The test fiber connection ran between RMIT's Melbourne City campus and Monash University's Clayton campus, and the researchers say it mirrors infrastructure used by Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN). The findings represent a "world-record for bandwidth," according to Swinburne University Professor David Moss, one of the team members responsible.
Those speeds were achieved, thanks to a piece of technology called a micro-comb, which offers a more efficient and compact way to transmit data. This micro-comb was placed within the cable's fibers in what the researchers say is the first time the technology has been used in a field trial. Now, the researchers say the challenge is to turn the technology into something that can be used with existing infrastructure. "Long-term, we hope to create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fiber links with minimal cost," RMIT's Professor Arnan Mitchell says.
Dr. Anthony Fauci Says Staying Closed For Too Long Could Cause 'Irreparable Damage'
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC:
Stay-at-home orders intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus could end up causing "irreparable damage" if imposed for too long, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC on Friday. "I don't want people to think that any of us feel that staying locked down for a prolonged period of time is the way to go," Fauci said during an interview with CNBC's Meg Tirrell on "Halftime Report."
He said the U.S. had to institute severe measures because Covid-19 cases were exploding then. "But now is the time, depending upon where you are and what your situation is, to begin to seriously look at reopening the economy, reopening the country to try to get back to some degree of normal." However, Fauci also cautioned states against reducing social distancing measures too quickly, adding they must take "very significant precautions." "In general, I think most of the country is doing it in a prudent way," he said. "There are obviously some situations where people might be jumping over that. I just say please proceed with caution if you're going to do that." In regard to a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Fauci
told NPR that it remains "conceivable" that a vaccine for the deadly pathogen could be available by the end of the year.
On Facebook and YouTube, Classical Musicians Are Getting Blocked or Muted
Michael Andor Brodeur, writing for The Washington Post:
As covid-19 forces more and more classical musicians and organizations to shift operations to the Internet, they're having to contend with an entirely different but equally faceless adversary: copyright bots. Or, more accurately, content identification algorithms dispatched across social media to scan content and detect illegal use of copyrighted recordings. You've encountered these bots in the wild if you've ever had a workout video or living room lip-sync blocked or muted for ambient inclusion or flagrant use of Britney or Bruce. But who owns Brahms? These oft-overzealous algorithms are particularly fine-tuned for the job of sniffing out the sonic idiosyncrasies of pop music, having been trained on massive troves of "reference" audio files submitted by record companies and performing rights societies. But classical musicians are discovering en masse that the perceptivity of automated copyright systems falls critically short when it comes to classical music, which presents unique challenges both in terms of content and context. After all, classical music exists as a vast, endlessly revisited and repeated repertoire of public-domain works distinguishable only through nuanced variations in performance. Put simply, bots aren't great listeners.
These systems aren't just disrupting the relationships between classical organizations and their audiences; they're also impacting individual musicians trying to stay musically present -- and financially afloat -- during the crisis. Michael Sheppard, a Baltimore-based pianist, composer and teacher, was recently giving a Facebook Live performance of a Beethoven sonata (No. 3, Op. 2, in C) when Facebook blocked the stream, citing the detection of "2:28 of music owned by Naxos of America" -- specifically a passage recorded by the French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, whom Sheppard is not. [...] And this wasn't Sheppard's first run-in with Facebook, which has blocked or muted past performances of Faure, Chopin and Bach for being too digitally reminiscent of other performances of Faure, Chopin and Bach.
Outlook For Windows Will Soon Sync Email Signatures Across Devices
Microsoft is finally
bringing cloud support to Outlook for Windows email signatures. The Verge reports:
Microsoft originally acknowledged that it was planning some type of sync support for Outlook signatures back in September, and the company says it will now roll this out in a June update. Office 365 and Microsoft 365 subscribers will get access to cloud signature support in Outlook for Windows, allowing users to have a consistent signature across devices. Many companies have had to turn to custom solutions to implement Outlook for Windows signatures that roam across devices, so official support from Microsoft will be welcome. Microsoft is also planning to roll out a new text prediction feature for Outlook that's similar to Gmail's Smart Compose soon. The text predictions will allow Outlook.com and Outlook on the web to write emails for people using predictive tech that offers up suggestions while you type.
Google's a Problem For Everyone Who Sells Something Online, Says Expedia Group CEO
Expedia Group's new CEO isn't mincing words about one of the company's biggest challenges:
Google's dual role as a rival in online travel, and a key source of customers through search traffic and paid advertising. From a report:
"I think Google's a problem -- it's a problem for everyone who sells something online, and we all have to struggle with that," Peter Kern said during an appearance on CNBC on Friday morning, following his first earnings report as the CEO of the Seattle-based online travel giant. His comments come amid reports that U.S. antitrust regulators are preparing a case against the search giant, focusing on its dominance of digital ads. This Google conundrum is a recurring topic for Expedia Group, but Kern appears to be taking a different approach than his predecessor Mark Okerstrom did before he was ousted from the role last fall. Appearing on CNBC this morning, Kern says Expedia needs to learn to rely less on performance marketing, a form of advertising in which the cost is based on a specific outcome such as a click or sales lead.
Microsoft: Here's Why We Love Programming Language Rust and Kicked off Project Verona
Microsoft has explained why it's pursuing 'safe systems programming' through efforts like its experimental Rust-inspired Project Verona language and its exploration of the Rust programming language for Windows code written in C++. From a report:
The short answer is that Microsoft is trying to eliminate memory-related bugs in software written in languages like C++, according to Microsoft Rust expert Ryan Levick. These bugs cost a lot to fix and make up a large share of Patch Tuesday hassles. Levick has now offered more insights into Microsoft's efforts behind safe systems programming. Systems programming includes coding for platforms like Windows, Xbox, and Azure, as opposed to programming applications that run on them.
Key systems programming languages include C++, Google-backed Go, and Mozilla-created Rust, but Rust and Go are 'memory-safe' languages while C++ is not. Other languages are memory safe, such as Swift and Kotlin, but they aren't for systems programming. The thing for Microsoft is that it writes a lot of its platform software in C++ and sometimes still in C. While it works hard to address memory issues, the company says it has "reached a wall". "We can't really do much more than we already have. It's becoming harder and harder and more and more costly to address these issues over time," says Levick, who joined Microsoft via its acquisition of Wanderlist, which has become Microsoft To Do. He gave a rundown of Microsoft's safe systems programming efforts in a session at Build 2020 this week.
Just Turning Your Phone On Qualifies As Searching It, Court Rules
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica:
A man from Washington state was arrested in May 2019 and was indicted on several charges related to robbery and assault. The suspect, Joseph Sam, was using an unspecified Motorola smartphone. When he was arrested, he says, one of the officers present hit the power button to bring up the phone's lock screen. The filing does not say that any officer present attempted to unlock the phone or make the suspect do so at the time. In February 2020, the FBI also turned the phone on to take a photograph of the phone's lock screen, which displayed the name "Streezy" on it. Sam's lawyer filed a motion arguing that this evidence should not have been sought without a warrant and should therefore be suppressed.
District Judge John Coughenour of the U.S. District Court in Seattle agreed. In his ruling (PDF), the judge determined that the police looking at the phone at the time of the arrest and the FBI looking at it again after the fact are two separate issues. Police are allowed to conduct searches without search warrant under special circumstances, Coughenour wrote, and looking at the phone's lock screen may have been permissible as it "took place either incident to a lawful arrest or as part of the police's efforts to inventory the personal effects" of the person arrested. Coughenour was unable to determine how, specifically, the police acted, and he ordered clarification to see if their search of the phone fell within those boundaries. But where the police actions were unclear, the FBI's were both crystal clear and counter to the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights, Coughenour ruled. "Here, the FBI physically intruded on Mr. Sam's personal effect when the FBI powered on his phone to take a picture of the phone's lock screen." That qualifies as a "search" under the terms of the Fourth Amendment, he found, and since the FBI did not have a warrant for that search, it was unconstitutional.
Attorneys for the government argued that Sam should have had no expectation of privacy on his lock screen -- that is, after all, what everyone who isn't you is meant to see when they try to access the phone. Instead of determining whether the lock screen is private or not, though, Coughenour found that it doesn't matter. "When the Government gains evidence by physically intruding on a constitutionally protected area -- as the FBI did here -- it is 'unnecessary to consider' whether the government also violated the defendant's reasonable expectation of privacy," he wrote. Basically, he ruled, the FBI pushing the button on the phone to activate the lock screen qualified as a search, regardless of the lock screen's nature.
'Weird' Nintendo Switch Issue Makes it Easier to Guess Passwords
A security researcher has found an odd issue with how the Nintendo Switch console handles login credentials,
potentially making it easier for hackers to figure out peoples' passwords, and raising questions about how Nintendo is storing passwords. From a report:
The issue revolves around how users log into the eShop from a Nintendo Switch. As security researcher Runa Sandvik explained it, when logging into the eShop before typing in a password, the 'OK' dialogue box is greyed out. When a user enters their correct password, it lights up and lets the user log in. Expected behaviour, so far. But Sandvik found that the 'OK' box also lights up if the user only enters the first eight characters of their password. The eShop won't let the user actually login -- they still need to enter their complete password -- but it does provide visual feedback to someone trying to guess a password that they're on the right track. Essentially, this could give a hacker a better chance of figuring out your password if they only have to determine what comes after the eighth character, although of course they would still need to get that first section too.
North Dakota's COVID-19 App Has Been Sending Data To Foursquare and Google
The official COVID-19 contact-tracing app for the state of North Dakota, designed to detect whether people have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus, sends location data and a
unique user identifier to Foursquare -- and other data to Google and a bug-tracking company -- according to a new report from smartphone privacy company Jumbo Privacy. From a report:
We Lose A Lot When Podcasts Go Closed Instead Of Open
writing at TechDirt:
Last year, when Spotify purchased a bunch of podcast companies, we worried that it foretold the end of the open world of podcasting. You can get a Spotify account for free, but unlike most podcast apps, you can't get any podcast you want via Spotify. Spotify has to agree to host it, and as a podcast you have to "apply" (indeed, Techdirt's own podcast was initially rejected by Spotify, though has since been let in). That's a "closed, but free" setup. Most podcasts are both open and free -- published as open MP3 files, using an open RSS feed that any regular podcast app can grab.
Spotify, so far, hadn't done much to close off the podcasts that it had purchased, but perhaps that's changing. Earlier this week it was announced that one of (if not) the most popular podcasts in the world, Joe Rogan's, would now be moving exclusively to Spotify. News reports have said that Spotify paid over $100 million to get Rogan's podcast on board, while some have put the number closer to $200 million. While it's totally understandable why Rogan would take that deal (who wouldn't?), it does remain a sad day for the concept of an open internet. When we lock up content into silos, we all lose out. The entire concept of podcasts came from the open nature of the internet -- combining MP3s and RSS to make it all work seamlessly and enabling anyone to just start broadcasting. The entire ecosystem came out of that, and putting it into silos and locking it up so that only one platform can control it is unfortunate.
I'm sure it will get many people to move to Spotify's podcasting platform, though, and that means those that do offer open podcasting apps (most others) will suffer, because most people aren't going to want to use two different podcast apps. Even if the initial economics make sense, it still should be seen as a sad day for the open internet that enabled podcasting to exist in the first place.
How iPhone Hackers Got Their Hands on the New iOS Months Before Its Release
Security researchers and hackers have had access to a leaked early version of iOS 14, the iPhone's next operating system,
since at least February,
Motherboard reported Friday. From the report:
That's almost eight months before the expected official release of iOS 14, given that Apple usually publishes the new iOS in September along with the announcement of new phones. Sometimes, screenshots and descriptions of new features leak before the official reveal. This time, however, an entire version of the operating system has leaked and is being widely circulated among hackers and security researchers. Motherboard has not been able to independently verify exactly how it leaked, but five sources in the jailbreaking community familiar with the leak told us they think that someone obtained a development iPhone 11 running a version of iOS 14 dated December 2019, which was made to be used only by Apple developers. According to those sources, someone purchased it from vendors in China for thousands of dollars, and then extracted the iOS 14 internal build and distributed it in the iPhone jailbreaking and hacking community.
Microsoft Solitaire Turns 30 Years Old Today and Still Has 35 Million Monthly Players
Microsoft's Solitaire game is
turning 30 years old today. Microsoft is celebrating the occasion with a world record attempt of the most games of Microsoft Solitaire completed in one day. From a report:
35 million people still play Solitaire monthly, according to Microsoft, with more than 100 million hands played daily around the world. Microsoft Solitaire was originally included as part of Windows 3.0 back in 1990, designed specifically to teach users how to use a mouse. Grabbing virtual cards and dropping them in place taught the basics of drag-and-drop in Windows, which we still use today in many parts of the operating system. Microsoft Solitaire, originally known as Windows Solitaire, is one of the most played games in the world as it shipped in every version of Windows for more than two decades. That means it has shipped on more than a billion PCs, and it only stopped being a dedicated part of Windows with the release of Windows 8 in 2012.
Amazon's Audible Goes Beyond Books To Chase Spotify in Podcasts
In recent months, Audible, the audiobook service owned by Amazon.com, has been meeting with talent agencies and producers to discuss acquiring potential new podcast projects -- or, in the terminology that Audible prefers, "Audible Originals." From a report:
Audible is offering anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars per show, according to people familiar with the matter, more than every competitor except Spotify. So far, Audible has already purchased shows from documentary producer John Battsek, as well as from comedians Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish.
The acquisitions by the dominant audiobook service in the U.S. are part of a new, multimillion-dollar shopping spree, designed to establish Audible as a more enticing destination for podcast fans and to fend off growing audio-storytelling competition, particularly from Spotify. Audible has been funding original series for years now, but after starting with programs from well-known authors, the company is now prioritizing celebrity hosts and shows that can help broaden its audience beyond the avid audiobook listener. Audible is also considering changes to its business model. Under the current system, each month subscribers pay $14.95 and receive credits for one book and two original shows. Now the company is debating selling original shows individually so that customers don't need to be subscribers to listen, said the people, who asked not to be identified while discussing terms of private business deals. Audible has also explored the possibility of rolling out a lower-priced plan that would offer access to originals but not books. None of these plans have been set, and the company declined to comment for this story.
Social Distancing Is Not Enough
We will need a comprehensive strategy to
reduce the sort of interactions that can lead to more infections. The Atlantic:
COVID-19 has mounted a sustained attack on public life, especially indoor life. Many of the largest super-spreader events took place inside -- at a church in South Korea, an auditorium in France, a conference in Massachusetts. The danger of the indoors is more than anecdotal. A Hong Kong paper awaiting peer review [PDF] found that of 7,324 documented cases in China, only one outbreak occurred outside -- during a conversation among several men in a small village. The risk of infection indoors is almost 19 times higher than in open-air environments, according to another study [PDF] from researchers in Japan. Appropriately, just about every public indoor space in America has been shut down or, in the case of essential businesses such as grocers, adapted for social-distancing restrictions. These closures have been economically ruinous, transforming large swaths of urban and suburban life into a morbid line of darkened windows.
Today, states are emerging from the lockdown phase of the crisis and entering a queasy period of reopening. But offices, schools, stores, theaters, restaurants, bars, gyms, fitness centers, and museums will have no semblance of normalcy until we learn how to be safe -- and feel safe -- inside. To open these spaces, we must be guided by science and expertise. Fortunately for us, researchers are discovering the secrets of how COVID-19 spreads with a combination of clever modeling and detective work. Before we review the relevant studies and draw out lessons for the future of the great indoors, a brief word of humility. Our understanding of this disease is dynamic. Today's conventional wisdom could be tomorrow's busted myth. Think of these studies not as gospels, but as clues in a gradually unraveling mystery.
Siri, What Time Is It in London?
writing at Daring Fireball:
Nilay Patel [Editor-in-Chief of news website The Verge] asked this of Siri on his Apple Watch. After too long of a wait, he got the correct answer -- for London Canada. I tried on my iPhone and got the same result. Stupid and slow is heck of a combination. You can argue that giving the time in London Ontario isn't wrong per se, but that's nonsense. If you had a human assistant and asked them "What's the time in London?" and they honestly thought the best way to answer that question was to give you the time for the nearest London, which happened to be in Ontario or Kentucky, you'd fire that assistant.
You wouldn't fire them for getting that one answer wrong, you'd fire them because that one wrong answer is emblematic of a serious cognitive deficiency that permeates everything they try to do. You'd never have hired them in the first place, really, because there's no way a person this stupid would get through a job interview. You don't have to be particularly smart or knowledgeable to assume that "London" means "London England", you just have to not be stupid. Worse, I tried on my HomePod and Siri gave me the correct answer: the time in London England. I say this is worse because it exemplifies how inconsistent Siri is. Why in the world would you get a completely different answer to a very simple question based solely on which device answers your question? At least when most computer systems are wrong they're consistently wrong.
IBM Is Latest Tech Giant To Cut Jobs in Midst of Pandemic
IBM cut an unspecified number of jobs across the U.S.,
eliminating employees in at least five states. The company declined to comment on the total number, but the workforce reductions appear far-reaching. From a report:
"IBM's work in a highly competitive marketplace requires flexibility to constantly add high-value skills to our workforce. While we always consider the current environment, IBM's workforce decisions are in the interest of the long-term health of our business," company spokesman Ed Barbini said Thursday in a statement. "Recognizing the unique and difficult situation this business decision may create for some of our employees, IBM is offering subsidized medical coverage to all affected U.S. employees through June 2021." Based on a review of IBM internal communications on the Slack corporate messaging service, the number of affected employees is likely to be in the thousands, said a North Carolina-based worker who lost his job along with his entire team of 12. "This was far ranging -- and historical employment ratings, age and seniority did not seem to matter," he said. The person asked not to be identified on concern that speaking publicly may impact his severance package.
Linux Desktop Org GNOME Foundation Settles Lawsuit With Patent Troll
The GNOME Foundation has settled a US lawsuit brought against it by Rothschild Patent Imaging, complete with an
undertaking by the patent assertion entity that it will not sue GNOME for IP infringement again. From a report:
In a so-called "walk away" settlement, Rothschild Patent Imaging (RPI) and the open-source body are discontinuing their legal battle that began in October last year. RPI sued for alleged IP infringement of one of its patents by the GNOME photo-organising tool Shotwell, marking the first time a free software project had been targeted in that way. In a statement at the time, the GNOME Foundation said RPI "offered to let us settle for a high five-figure amount, for which they would drop the case", something it said would be "wrong" to do. The open-sourcers thus countersued RPI, aided by lawyers from New York law firm Shearman Sterling who agreed to work on the case for free. Neil McGovern, exec director of the foundation, said in a canned statement today: "I'm exceptionally pleased that we have concluded this case. This will allow us to refocus our attention on creating a free software desktop, and will ensure certainty for all free and open source software in future." GNOME Foundation executive director Neil McGovern has told The Register: "For those asking about payment, I can confirm we paid RPI and Leigh Rothschild a grand total of $0.00 for the settlement."
Nearly Half of Twitter Accounts Pushing To Reopen America May Be Bots
According to a
new study from Carnegie Mellon University, researchers have found that bots
may account for between 45 and 60% of Twitter accounts discussing covid-19. The normal level of bot involvement for U.S. and foreign elections, natural disasters, and other politicized events is usually between 10 and 20%. MIT Technology Review reports:
Many of those accounts were created in February and have since been spreading and amplifying misinformation, including false medical advice, conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, and pushes to end stay-at-home orders and reopen America. They follow well-worn patterns of coordinated influence campaigns, and their strategy is already working: since the beginning of the crisis, the researchers have observed a greater polarization in Twitter discourse around the topic.
A number of factors could account for this surge. The global nature of the pandemic means a larger swath of actors are motivated to capitalize on the crisis as a way to meet their political agendas. Disinformation is also now more coordinated in general, with more firms available for hire to create such influence campaigns. But it's not just the volume of accounts that worries [Kathleen M. Carley, the director of the University's Center for Informed Democracy & Social Cybersecurity]. Their patterns of behavior have grown more sophisticated, too. Bots are now often more deeply networked with other accounts, making it easier for them to disseminate their messages widely. They also engage in more strategies to target at-risk groups like immigrants and minorities and help real accounts engaged in hate speech to form online groups. "Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to this problem," the report concludes. "Banning or removing accounts won't work, as more can be spun up for every one that is deleted. Banning accounts that spread inaccurate facts also won't solve anything"
"Carley says researchers, corporations, and the government need to coordinate better to come up with effective policies and practices for tamping this down."
New 'Spectra' Attack Breaks the Separation Between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet:
Academics from Germany and Italy say they developed a new practical attack that breaks the separation between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies running on the same device, such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Called Spectra, this attack works against "combo chips," specialized chips that handle multiple types of radio wave-based wireless communications, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE, and others. More particularly, the Spectra attack takes advantage of the coexistence mechanisms that chipset vendors include with their devices. Combo chips use these mechanisms to switch between wireless technologies at a rapid pace. [The new Spectra attack allows attackers to break the barrier between these technologies to launch denial-of-service (DoS), arbitrary code execution (ACE), or information disclosure attacks.] Additional details are not available, but the research team plans to provide a technical rundown during
a virtual session at the Black Hat security conference in August. An academic paper will also be available at that time.
US Secures 300 Million Doses, Almost a Third, of Potential AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine
schwit1 shares a report from Financial Post:
The United States has secured almost a third of the first one billion doses planned for AstraZeneca's experimental COVID-19 vaccine by pledging up to $1.2 billion, as world powers scramble for medicines to get their economies back to work. While not proven to be effective against the coronavirus, vaccines are seen by world leaders as the only real way to restart their stalled economies, and even to get an edge over global competitors. The U.S. Department of Health agreed to provide up to $1.2 billion to accelerate AstraZeneca's vaccine development and secure 300 million doses for the United States.
"This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed's work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021," U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said. The vaccine, previously known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and now as AZD1222, was developed by the University of Oxford and licensed to British drugmaker AstraZeneca. Immunity to the new coronavirus is uncertain and so the use of vaccines unclear. The U.S. deal allows a late-stage -- Phase III -- clinical trial of the vaccine with 30,000 people in the United States.