Musk's Claims Challenged About Absence of Autopilot in Texas Tesla Crash
"Despite early claims by #Tesla #ElonMusk, Autopilot WAS engaged in tragic crash in The Woodlands,"
tweeted U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady on Wednesday. (Adding "We need answers.")
But maybe it depends on how you define Autopilot. CNN reports:
Tesla said Monday that one of Autopilot's features was active during the April 17 crash that killed two men in Spring, Texas....
Lars Moravy, Tesla's vice president of vehicle engineering, said on the company's earnings call Monday that Tesla's adaptive cruise control was engaged and accelerated to 30 mph before the car crashed. Autopilot is a suite of driver assistance features, including traffic-aware cruise control and Autosteer, according to Tesla's website... The North American owner's manuals for the Model 3, Model S and Model X, all describe traffic-aware cruise control as an Autopilot feature. Tesla's revelation may be at odds with the initial description of the crash from its CEO Elon Musk, who said two days after the crash that "data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled."
Alternately, Forbes suggests
there may just be some confusion, noting that earnings call included descriptions of tests Tesla performed on one of their own cars after the accident. So when they said adaptive cruise control "only accelerated the car to 30mph [over] the distance before the car crashed," they could just have been referring to their own experiments. (Tesla also points out adaptive cruise control only engages when the driver is buckled — and disengages slowly if they're unbuckled — and after the Texas crash all seat belts were unbuckled.)
Why so much confusion? Part of the problem may be, as CNN points out, that Tesla "generally does not engage with the professional news media."
shares another theory about the crash:
A relative of the deceased told a local news station that the owner allegedly "may have hopped in the back seat after backing the car out of the driveway." Moments later, the car crashed when it failed to negotiate a turn at high speed.
Bryan Reimer, the associate director of the New England University Transportation Center at MIT, who studies driver assistance systems like Autopilot, said one of the plausible explanations for the crash is that the driver was confused and thought they had activated Autosteer, when only traffic-aware cruise control had been turned on. "The general understanding of Autopilot is that it's one feature, but in reality it is two things bolted together," said Reimer, referring to traffic-aware cruise control and Autosteer.
But according to the Washington Post, Tesla also disputes that theory:
Tesla executives on Monday claimed a driver was behind the wheel at the time of a fatal crash that killed two in suburban Houston this month, contradicting local authorities who have previously said they were certain no one was in that seat. Tesla made the statement on its earnings call Monday... Lars Moravy, the company's vice president of vehicle engineering, said the steering wheel was "deformed," indicating a driver's presence at the time of the crash...
Mark Herman, constable for Harris County Precinct 4, told the station KHOU that police were "100 percent certain that no one was in the driver's seat."
'Burning Man' Festival Cancelled Again, Goes Virtual For a Second Year
"There are simply too many points of uncertainty for us to move forward with confidence right now," explains a FAQ addressing
this year's cancellation for the annual Burning Man festival.
"The physical, psychic, and emotional impacts of this pandemic are real and the recovery from this experience will happen at different rates of speed," organizers said
in an announcement. "This is the time to gather with our friends, crews, families and communities..." They also argued that in an abstract sense, "Burning Man is happening right NOW, all around you," urging people to create experiences, opportunities and connection at the local level. (Their suggestions include planning to join a mass "Burn Night" livestreaming event on September 4, or preparing for "Virtual Burning Man" from August 21 to September 5, 2021.)
Last year's virtual event drew 165,000 participants, reports NPR, adding that this year's cancellation of a mass real-world gathering "has
put many people in the event's host community at ease."
Wary of a trend of rising coronavirus cases in some parts of the region, Washoe County's district health officer Kevin Dick said "the right call was made," in order to lower the risk of spreading infection.
And SFist also notes the festival's "Invitation to the Future" program "where $2,500
buys you a reservation to buy tickets whenever they do announce the event — but that $2,500 does not get you a ticket."
"This is a reservation that will guarantee someone the ability to purchase a regular priced ticket for the next two editions of Black Rock City," the Burning Man Project communications team says in an email to SFist...
Per the fine print of this arrangement, there will be only 1,000 of these $2,500 reservations that are essentially tickets to buy tickets... "It's going very well!," Burning Man's communications team tells us. "We're so grateful for our generous community. As of this writing, we have only a few hundred left...."
Burning Man has to get creative, and maybe perks for big spenders is an acceptable one-time trade-off to ensure its ongoing solvency. The project has gone nearly two years since its last infusion of direct ticket revenue, and the permits and attorney fees necessary to pull off this event on federal land have not gotten any cheaper despite the pandemic.
AI-Generated Text Adventure Community Angry Content Moderators May Read Their Erotica
The AI-powered story generator AI Dungeon has come under fire from fans recently for changes to how the development team moderates content. Notably, the player base is worried that the AI Dungeon developers will be reading their porn stories in the game. Separately, a hacker recently revealed vulnerabilities in the game that show that roughly half of the game's content is porn.
AI Dungeon is a text based adventure game where, instead of playing through a scenario entirely designed by someone else, the responses to the prompts you type are generated by an AI... This week, AI Dungeon players noticed that more of their stories were being flagged by the content moderation system, and flagged more frequently. Latitude, the developers of AI Dungeon, released a blog post explaining that it had implemented a new algorithm for content moderation specifically to look for content that involves "sexual content involving minors... We did not communicate this test to the Community in advance, which created an environment where users and other members of our larger community, including platform moderators, were caught off guard... Latitude reviews content flagged by the model for the purposes of improving the model, to enforce our policies, and to comply with law."
Latitude later clarified in its Discord at what point a human moderator would read private stories on AI Dungeon. It said that if a story appears to be incorrectly flagged, human moderators would stop reading the inputs, but that if a story appeared to be correctly flagged then they "may look at the user's other stories for signs that the user may be using AI Dungeon for prohibited purposes." Latitude CEO Nick Walton told Motherboard that human moderators only look at stories in the "very few cases" that they violate the terms of service...
All of this has been compounded by the fact that a security researcher named AetherDevSecOpsjust published a lengthy report on security issues with AI Dungeon on GitHub, which included one that allowed them to look at all the user input data stored in AI Dungeon. About a solid third of stories on AI Dungeon are sexually explicit, and about half are marked as NSFW, AetherDevSecOpsjust estimated.
How Big Data Are Unlocking the Mysteries of Autism
Scientific American has published an opinion piece by the principle investigator for a project called SPARK, launched five years ago "to harness the power of big data by engaging hundreds of thousands of individuals with autism and their family members to participate in research."
The article calls autism "a remarkably heterogeneous disorder that affects more than five million Americans and has no FDA-approved treatments," arguing that the more people who participate in their research, "the deeper and richer these data sets become, catalyzing research that is expanding our knowledge of both biology and behavior
to develop more precise approaches to medical and behavioral issues."
SPARK is the world's largest autism research study to date with over 250,000 participants, more than 100,000 of whom have provided DNA samples through the simple act of spitting in a tube. We have generated genomic data that have been de-identified and made available to qualified researchers. SPARK has itself been able to analyze 19,000 genes to find possible connections to autism; worked with 31 of the nation's leading medical schools and autism research centers; and helped thousands of participating families enroll in nearly 100 additional autism research studies.
Genetic research has taught us that what we commonly call autism is actually a spectrum of hundreds of conditions that vary widely among adults and children. Across this spectrum, individuals share core symptoms and challenges with social interaction, restricted interests and/or repetitive behaviors. We now know that genes play a central role in the causes of these "autisms," which are the result of genetic changes in combination with other causes including prenatal factors. To date, research employing data science and machine learning has identified approximately 150 genes related to autism, but suggests there may be as many as 500 or more...
But in order to get answers faster and be certain of these results, SPARK and our research partners need a huge sample size: "bigger data." To ensure an accurate inventory of all the major genetic contributors, and learn if and how different genetic variants contribute to autistic behaviors, we need not only the largest but also the most diverse group of participants. The genetic, medical and behavioral data SPARK collects from people with autism and their families is rich in detail and can be leveraged by many different investigators. Access to rich data sets draws talented scientists to the field of autism science to develop new methods of finding patterns in the data, better predicting associated behavioral and medical issues, and, perhaps, identifying more effective supports and treatments...
We know that big data, with each person representing their unique profile of someone impacted by autism, will lead to many of the answers we seek.
Court Rules Amazon Liable for Hoverboard that Burst Into Flames
Amazon accounts for "roughly half of all online sales," while "more than half of all the stuff sold by Amazon comes from third parties," reports a business columnist for the
Los Angeles Times.
is Amazon legally and financially responsible for the safety of those products?
Amazon says no. A trio of state Court of Appeal justices in Los Angeles this week said otherwise.
"We are persuaded that Amazon's own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California's strict liability doctrine," the justices ruled, rejecting Amazon's claim that its site is merely a platform connecting buyers and sellers... "Amazon is the retailer. They're the one selling the product," said Christopher Dolan, a San Francisco lawyer who spearheaded the case against the e-commerce behemoth. "Because of this ruling," he told me, "you can be sure Amazon is rewriting all its rules for third-party sellers, and it's doing it today..."
The case began in 2015 when a California woman named Loomis gave her son a hoverboard for Christmas in 2015 — and less than a week later its lithium-ion batteries exploded while charging:
In pursuing his case on Loomis' behalf, Dolan found that the Chinese manufacturer and its U.S. distributor had gone out of business, "leaving only Amazon to be held accountable for the injuries to Ms. Loomis and the damages to her home." Amazon prevailed in the original case. An L.A. judge agreed with the Seattle company that it was merely an "online advertiser" and not responsible for the third-party products it sells. The lawsuit was dismissed in March 2019.
This week's appellate court decision overturns that ruling, holding Amazon accountable for the products it allows third parties to sell on its website.
The appellate justices cited Amazon's "substantial ability to influence the manufacturing or distribution process through its ability to require safety certification, indemnification and insurance before it agrees to list any product...." Product liability experts told me this week's decision makes clear that online merchants are just that — merchants — and can't hide behind their connecting-the-world technology to shield them from responsibility for distributing unsafe goods.
CNN Says 'Move Over, Bitcoin. Ethereum is at an All-Time High'
Bitcoin prices continued their rebound Saturday, rising about 6% to nearly $58,000. But the world's largest cryptocurrency has been overshadowed lately by its younger sibling, Ethereum.
Ethereum, or ether for short, hit a new record high Saturday of just over $2,900. Ether prices have nearly quadrupled in 2021, soaring 290%. Bitcoin has had a great run too this year, doubling in value.
The total value of all Ethereum in circulation is now about $333 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. Bitcoin's market value is nearly $1.1 trillion. While there are thousands of cryptocurrencies — including the Elon Musk tweet-fueled Dogecoin — Bitcoin and ether account for nearly two-thirds of the entire $2.2 trillion global crypto market...
Ethereum has enjoyed an even bigger surge than Bitcoin because it is the cryptocurrency of choice for the purchases of many non-fungible tokens, or NFTs — which have taken the art and broader collectibles world by storm.
Former Netflix IT Executive Convicted of Fraud and Taking Bribes
Business Insider reports:
Former Netflix vice president of IT Michael Kail was convicted by a federal jury on Friday of 28 counts of fraud and money laundering, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in a press release.
Kail, who was indicted in 2018, used his position to create a "pay-to-play" scheme where he approved contracts with outside tech companies looking to do business with Netflix in exchange for taking bribes and kickbacks, according to evidence presented to the jury, the release said. Kail accepted bribes or kickbacks from nine different companies totaling more than $500,000 as well as stock options, according to the Department of Justice's press release...
Netflix sued Kail after he left the company in 2014 to take a role as Yahoo's CIO, accusing him of fraud and breaching his fiduciary duties.
One FBI agent says that Kail "stole the opportunity to work with an industry pioneer from honest, hardworking, Silicon Valley companies," according to the details
in the Department of Justice statement:
To facilitate kickback payments, the evidence at trial showed that Kail created and controlled a limited liability corporation called Unix Mercenary, LLC. Established on February 7, 2012, Unix Mercenary had no employees and no business location. Kail was the sole signatory to its bank accounts...
Kail faces a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice his gross gain or twice the gross loss to Netflix, whichever is greater, for each count of a wire or mail fraud conviction, and ten years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each count of a money laundering conviction.
Proxima Centauri Shoots Out Humongous Flare, with Big Implications for Alien Life
"Scientists have spotted one of the largest stellar flares ever recorded in our galaxy," reports Space.com:
The jets of plasma shot outward from the sun's nearest neighbor, the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. The flare, which was around 100 times more powerful than any experienced in our solar system, could change the way scientists think about solar radiation and alien life...
On May 1, 2019, the team captured the mega flare, which shone for just 7 seconds and was mainly visible in the ultraviolet spectrum. "The star went from normal to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over the span of a few seconds," lead author Meredith MacGregor, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a statement...
The flare on Proxima Centauri was extremely powerful compared with those emitted by the sun. Unlike flares from the sun, this one also emitted different kinds of radiation. In particular, it produced a huge surge of ultraviolet light and radio waves — known as "millimeter radiation...." The new findings suggest that stellar flares given off by red dwarfs are much more violent than previously expected and could reduce the likelihood of alien life developing around them.
Proxima Centauri is orbited by two explanets, one of which "is considered to be Earth-like and lies within the star's habitable zone — the distance from a star that could support the development of life, according to the researchers..."
But in a statement, the leader authors now points out that Proxima Centauri's planets "are getting hit by something like this not once in a century, but at least once a day, if not several times a day."
Opera Integrates Blockchain-Powered Domains, Providing Access to the Decentralized Web
"Chromium-based web browser Opera is all set to fully integrate with blockchain domain name provider Unstoppable Domains," reports TechRadar, "in a bid to
provide millions of its users with decentralized web access."
Opera users will now be able to access decentralized websites hosted via the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) using Unstoppable Domains' popular .crypto NFT addresses from the Opera browser. This will include platforms such as iOS, Android, Windows, Mac or Linux. Right now, Opera has over 320 million monthly active users across its offerings, following the addition of a crypto wallet to its browsers in 2019.
Unstoppable Domains was launched in 2018 and provides domain names to users with no renewal fees. Users of Unstoppable Domains are granted full ownership and control when they claim a domain because it is minted as an NFT on the Ethereum blockchain. Domain names such as .crypto replace complex wallet addresses for payments across over 40 cryptocurrency wallets and exchanges in addition to accessing the decentralized web through Opera.
Maciej Kocemba, Product Director at Opera said that the company believes in giving all people the ability to access the full web, regardless of the technology behind it.
The Opera product director was
further quoted by Business Insider:
"We have always supported web innovation, and the decentralized web or Web3 is the natural next wave. Making Unstoppable Domains accessible in the Opera browsers means our users can try blockchain technologies for themselves. Registering your .crypto domain, which is forever yours, is a great first step into Web3," the company's product director Maciej Kocemba said.
Opera is quickly becoming a leader in pushing for the adoption of Web 3.0, also often described as the decentralized web.
New Florida Law Could Punish Social Media Companies for 'Deplatforming' Politicians
Florida is on track to be the first state in America
to punish social media companies that ban politicians, reports NBC News, "under a bill approved Thursday by the state's Republican-led Legislature."
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and close Trump ally who called for the bill's passage, is expected to sign the legislation into law, but the proposal appears destined to be challenged in court after a tech industry trade group called it a violation of the First Amendment speech rights of corporations...
Suspensions of up to 14 days would still be allowed, and a service could remove individual posts that violate its terms of service. The state's elections commission would be empowered to fine a social media company $250,000 a day for statewide candidates and $25,000 a day for other candidates if a company's actions are found to violate the law, which also requires the companies to provide information about takedowns and apply rules consistently...
Florida Republican lawmakers have cited tech companies' wide influence over speech as a reason for the increased regulation. "What this bill is about is sending a loud message to Silicon Valley that they are not the absolute arbiters of truth," state Rep. John Snyder, a Republican from the Port St. Lucie area, said Wednesday... The Florida bill may offer Republicans in other states a road map for introducing laws that could eventually force social media companies and U.S. courts to confront questions about free speech on social media, including the questions raised by Thomas.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando area Democrat, said if Republicans want to stay on private services, they should follow the rules. "There's already a solution to deplatforming candidates on social media: Stop trafficking in conspiracy theories...."
NetChoice, a trade group for internet companies, argued the bill punishes platforms for removing
harmful content, and that it would make it harder to block spam. But they also argued that the freedom of speech clause in the U.S. Constitution "makes clear that government may not regulate the speech of private individuals or businesses.
"This includes government action that compels speech by forcing a private social media platform to carry content that is against its policies or preferences."
zantafio points out the bill
specifies just five major tech companies — Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon.
And that the bill was also amended to specifically exempt Disney, Universal and any theme park owner that operates a search engine or information service.
The FSF Clarifies Richard Stallman's Role
Long-time Slashdot reader
This week the Free Software Foundation posted some new answers to frequently-asked questions "as the FSF board sets about the work of strengthening the Foundation's governance structure." The FAQ notes that most of their financial support comes from individuals, and that "At this moment, the FSF has more associate members than at any time in its history," adding that it's in good financial health. (And the FAQ also reminds readers that all board members are uncompensated volunteers.)
But it also confirms that a seat on the board was created for union staff "in the aftermath of the March 2021 controversy over the election of Richard Stallman to the board." And apparently in light of Stallman's return, the first question is "What are the responsibilities of a member of the FSF board?"
Answer: The board of directors does not usually deal with the everyday work of the FSF, focusing instead on the long-term direction and financial stability of the Foundation, as well as the appointment of the officers. In addition, members of the board do not speak for the board or for the FSF. Outside of the deliberations of the board, they are private citizens. The right to speak for the Foundation is reserved to the president of the FSF and other FSF officers, such as the executive director.
When the board does make statements, each statement is carefully deliberated. No one member has this individual authority.
The FAQ also clarifies that while Stallman is also a voting board member, "Voting member meetings normally discuss only who should be on the board. They do not take up the issues that come before the board itself... When the Foundation was formed in 1985, the founders were advised that, to qualify for a tax exemption, board members should not be chosen solely by other board members. Legal counsel advised the founders that there should be two bodies with some overlap, one being the active board and the other being a body that appointed the active board.
"Governance standards have since changed, and this structure is no longer required. As part of the effort to improve FSF governance, the board can consider possible changes to this overall structure."
It also adds that "There is no formal term limit for a board member. Board members are evaluated by the voting members at regular intervals, and occasionally by the other directors."
The last question on the list? "In addition to holding a board seat, what other role or roles does Richard Stallman play in the FSF?"
The answer? "Richard Stallman frequently gives talks on free software, in his personal capacity, and, when he does so, he sells merchandise from the FSF shop, recruits volunteers for FSF and GNU, and raises donations for FSF. He is the primary author and editor of two books sold by the FSF."
A Chinese Company Has Started Charging For Fully Driverless Rides
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica:
Baidu, China's leading search engine, is often compared to Google. And just as Google has spun off Waymo to commercialize self-driving technology, so Baidu is developing self-driving technology of its own. On Thursday, the Chinese search giant announced the launch of what it is calling China's first paid autonomous vehicle service, known as Apollo Go. Arguably, the service is better described as a shuttle service than a taxi service. Customers are picked up and dropped off from one of eight predefined stations. The initial service area is 2.7 square kilometers -- a little over one square mile. The longest route in the network is 5 km (3 miles). That makes the service a lot smaller than the Waymo One taxi service in Phoenix, which has a service area of around 50 square miles.
Still, there's little doubt that Baidu is one of China's leading self-driving companies -- and that China is the world's No. 2 market for self-driving technology after the United States. In total, Baidu is testing fully driverless vehicles in three Chinese cities and is testing its technology with safety drivers in more than two dozen cities. Baidu has even gotten permission to test fully driverless vehicles near its Silicon Valley offices in Sunnyvale. Another Chinese company, AutoX, has been testing fully driverless vehicles in Shenzhen since December. The service has been open to select members of the public since January, though AutoX hasn't started charging for rides. Several other Chinese companies are working on self-driving technology.
Barcelona Installs Spain's First Solar Energy Pavement
Barcelona city council has
installed Spain's first photovoltaic pavement as part of the city's drive to become carbon neutral by 2050. The Guardian reports:
The 50 sq meters of non-slip solar panels, installed in a small park in the Glories area of the city, will generate 7,560kWh a year, enough to supply three households. The city has contributed 30,000 euros towards the cost, the remainder being met by the manufacturer. The viability of the scheme will be assessed after six months. "We'll have to assess the wear and tear because obviously it's not the same as putting panels on a roof, although they are highly resistant," says Eloi Badia, who is responsible for climate emergency and ecological transition at Barcelona city council.
"As for cost benefits, with a pilot scheme like this it's difficult to know yet how much cheaper it would be if it were scaled up. We're keen to install more on roofs and, if this scheme is successful, on the ground, to power lighting and other public facilities." However, he points out that Barcelona's high population density means it would be difficult to generate enough electricity within the city limits to become self-sufficient. "If we're going to reach a target of zero emissions, we're going to have to think about supplying electricity to blocks of flats, but we'll also have to think of using wind and solar parks outside the city," Badia says. "But installations on the ground like this open up new possibilities, and not just for Barcelona."
NASA Suspends SpaceX's $2.9 Billion Moon Lander Contract After Rivals Protest
suspended work on SpaceX's new $2.9 billion lunar lander contract while a federal watchdog agency adjudicates two protests over the award, the agency said Friday. The Verge reports:
Putting the Human Landing System (or HLS) work on hold until the GAO makes a decision on the two protests means SpaceX won't immediately receive its first chunk of the $2.9 billion award, nor will it commence the initial talks with NASA that would normally take place at the onset of a major contract. Elon Musk's SpaceX was picked by NASA on April 16th to build the agency's first human lunar lander since the Apollo program, as the agency opted to rely on just one company for a high-profile contract that many in the space industry expected to go to two companies.
As a result, two companies that were in the running for the contract, Blue Origin and Dynetics, protested NASA's decision to the Government Accountability Office, which adjudicates bidding disputes. Blue Origin alleges the agency unfairly "moved the goalposts at the last minute" and endangered NASA's speedy 2024 timeline by only picking SpaceX. "Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement," NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt said in a statement.