Businesses

How the Math Men Overthrew the Mad Men (newyorker.com) 42

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt of a New Yorker piece: Once, Mad Men ruled advertising. They've now been eclipsed by Math Men -- the engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. Yet Math Men are beleaguered, as Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated when he humbled himself before Congress, in April. Math Men's adoration of data -- coupled with their truculence and an arrogant conviction that their 'science' is nearly flawless -- has aroused government anger, much as Microsoft did two decades ago.

The power of Math Men is awesome. Google and Facebook each has a market value exceeding the combined value of the six largest advertising and marketing holding companies. Together, they claim six out of every ten dollars spent on digital advertising, and nine out of ten new digital ad dollars. They have become more dominant in what is estimated to be an up to two-trillion-dollar annual global advertising and marketing business. Facebook alone generates more ad dollars than all of America's newspapers, and Google has twice the ad revenues of Facebook.

Government

Paytm, India's Largest Digital Wallet App, Accused Of Handing Over User Data To The Government (buzzfeed.com) 19

Paytm, the largest mobile wallet app in India, has been accused of sharing with the Indian government the personal data of users in a geopolitically sensitive region. From a report: On Friday, the news agency released a video where a reporter went undercover and recorded Paytm's vice president, Ajay Shekhar Sharma, saying how the company had handed over personal data of users in the state of Jammu and Kashmir after Sharma personally received a call from the prime minister's office following incidents of stone-pelting by Kashmiri Muslims against India's armed forces, something that happens frequently in the region. "They told us to give them data, saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users," Sharma says in the video. He also talks about his close ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization known for being the ideological front of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
United States

Ask Slashdot: Did Baby Boomers Break America? (time.com) 522

"Automation taking jobs is only one symptom of a larger problem," argues an anonymous Slashdot reader, sharing a link to this excerpt from Steven Brill's new book Tailspin, which seeks to identify "the people and forces behind America's fifty-year fall -- and those fighting to reverse it." The excerpt has this intriguing title: "How Baby Boomers Broke America." As my generation of achievers graduated from elite universities and moved into the professional world, their personal successes often had serious societal consequences. They upended corporate America and Wall Street with inventions in law and finance that created an economy built on deals that moved assets around instead of building new ones. They created exotic, and risky, financial instruments, including derivatives and credit default swaps, that produced sugar highs of immediate profits but separated those taking the risk from those who would bear the consequences. They organized hedge funds that turned owning stock into a minute-by-minute bet rather than a long-term investment... Regulatory agencies were overwhelmed by battalions of lawyers who brilliantly weaponized the bedrock American value of due process so that, for example, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule protecting workers from a deadly chemical could be challenged and delayed for more than a decade and end up being hundreds of pages long. Lawyers then contested the meaning of every clause while racking up fees of hundreds of dollars per hour from clients who were saving millions of dollars on every clause they could water down...

As government was disabled from delivering on vital issues, the protected were able to protect themselves still more. For them, it was all about building their own moats. Their money, their power, their lobbyists, their lawyers, their drive overwhelmed the institutions that were supposed to hold them accountable -- government agencies, Congress, the courts... That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It's the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners' winnings... [I]n a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.

Brill argues that the unprotected need things like "a realistic shot at justice in the courts," writing that instead "the First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy." And he shares these statistics about the rest of America today:
  • For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier.
  • In 2017, household debt had grown higher than the peak reached in 2008 before the crash, with student and automobile loans staking growing claims on family paychecks.
  • Although the U.S. remains the world's richest country, it has the third-highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development...

Has he identified the source of a societal malaise? Leave your own thoughts in the comments.

And is Brill's thesis correct? Did baby boomers break America?


Youtube

Two 18-Year-Olds Charged With Hacking YouTube's Most Popular Videos (variety.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes Variety: Two 18-year-old French citizens have been arrested in Paris and charged with crimes related to the hack of Vevo's YouTube accounts last month that resulted in pro-Palestine messages being posted on several popular videos, according to prosecutors... Authorities allege the duo gained access to the YouTube account maintained by Vevo, to alter the content of multiple music videos, including Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" -- the most-viewed music video on YouTube in 2017, which recently surpassed 5 billion views.

The hackers also targeted videos by Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Chris Brown and Shakira, replacing their thumbnail images, video titles and descriptions. Vevo has since removed all changes the hackers made on its YouTube videos... Paris prosecutors charged Gabriel K.A.B. and with five criminal counts and Nassim B. with six counts, including "fraudulently modifying data contained in an automated data processing system."

Last month Fortune published quotes from a Twitter user who claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"Its just for fun i just use script 'youtube-change-title-video' and i write 'hacked' don t judge me i love youtube."
Medicine

U.S. Passes 'Right to Try' Law Allowing Experimental Medical Treatments (chicagotribune.com) 137

schwit1 shared this article from the Washington Post: The House on Tuesday passed "right to try" legislation that would allow people with life-threatening illnesses to bypass the Food and Drug Administration to obtain experimental medications, ending a drawn-out battle over access to unapproved therapies. President Trump is expected to quickly sign the measure, which was praised by supporters as a lifeline for desperate patients but denounced by scores of medical and consumer groups as unnecessary and dangerous...

The FDA would be largely left out of the equation under the new legislation and would not oversee the right-to-try process. Drug manufacturers would have to report "adverse events" -- safety problems, including premature deaths -- only once a year. The agency also would be restricted in how it used such information when considering the experimental treatments for approval. Patients would be eligible for right-to-try if they had a "life-threatening illness" and had exhausted all available treatment options. The medication itself must have completed early-stage safety testing, called Phase 1 trials, and be in active development with the goal of FDA approval.

One Congressman opposing the bill argued that eliminating FDA oversight would "provide fly-by-night physicians and clinics the opportunity to peddle false hope and ineffective drugs to desperate patients," noting that the bill is opposed by over 100 patient advocacy and consumer groups.
Cloud

Microsoft Wins A Big Cloud Deal With America's Intelligence Community (spokesman.com) 45

wyattstorch516 shared this story from the AP: Microsoft Corp. said it's secured a lucrative cloud deal with the intelligence community that marks a rapid expansion by the software giant into a market led by Amazon.com Inc. The deal, which the company said Wednesday is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, allows 17 intelligence agencies and offices to use Microsoft's Azure Government, a cloud service tailored for federal and local governments, in addition to other products Microsoft already offers, such as its Windows 10 operating system and word processing programs.

The cloud agreement gives Microsoft more power to make its case to the Pentagon as it goes up against competitors like International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp. and Amazon for the agency's winner-take-all cloud computing contract for up to 10 years.

That contract is expected to be worth billions of dollars, according to the article, adding that "the Defense Department has said it intends to move the department's technology needs -- 3.4 million users and 4 million devices -- to the cloud to give it a tactical edge on the battlefield and strengthen its use of emerging technologies."

One Microsoft executive said this week's deal reinforces "the fact that we are a solid cloud platform that the federal government can put their trust in."
AI

Eric Schmidt Says Elon Musk Is 'Exactly Wrong' About AI (techcrunch.com) 141

At the VivaTech conference in Paris, Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt was asked about Elon Musk's warnings about AI. He responded by saying: "I think Elon is exactly wrong. He doesn't understand the benefits that this technology will provide to making every human being smarter. The fact of the matter is that AI and machine learning are so fundamentally good for humanity." TechCrunch reports: He acknowledged that there are risks around how the technology might be misused, but he said they're outweighed by the benefits: "The example I would offer is, would you not invent the telephone because of the possible misuse of the telephone by evil people? No, you would build the telephone and you would try to find a way to police the misuse of the telephone."

After wryly observing that Schmidt had just given the journalists in the audience their headlines, interviewer (and former Publicis CEO) Maurice Levy asked how AI and public policy can be developed so that some groups aren't "left behind." Schmidt replied that government should fund research and education around these technologies. "As [these new solutions] emerge, they will benefit all of us, and I mean the people who think they're in trouble, too," he said. He added that data shows "workers who work in jobs where the job gets more complicated get higher wages -- if they can be helped to do it." Schmidt also argued that contrary to concerns that automation and technology will eliminate jobs, "The embracement of AI is net positive for jobs." In fact, he said there will be "too many jobs" -- because as society ages, there won't be enough people working and paying taxes to fund crucial services. So AI is "the best way to make them more productive, to make them smarter, more scalable, quicker and so forth."

Privacy

Zimbabwe is Introducing a Mass Facial Recognition Project With Chinese AI Firm CloudWalk (qz.com) 33

An anonymous reader shares a report: In March, the Zimbabwean government signed a strategic partnership with the Gunagzhou-based startup CloudWalk Technology to begin a large-scale facial recognition program throughout the country. The agreement, backed by the Chinese government's Belt and Road initiative, will see the technology primarily used in security and law enforcement and will likely be expanded to other public programs.

[...] Zimbabwe may be giving away valuable data as Chinese AI technologists stand to benefit from access to a database of millions of Zimbabwean faces Harare will share with CloudWalk. [...] CloudWalk has already recalibrated its existing technology through three-dimensional light technology in order to recognize darker skin tones. In order to recognize other characteristics that may differ from China's population, CloudWalk is also developing a system that recognizes different hairstyles and body shapes, another representative explained to the Global Times.

Government

Apple Will Report Government Requests To Remove Apps From the App Store (theverge.com) 17

In its bi-annual transparency report today, Apple said that it will soon start reporting government requests to take down apps from the App Store. These requests will relate to alleged legal and/or policy provision violations, Apple says. The Verge reports: These numbers will tell us just how often governments are trying to block access to certain apps, and how many of those orders are actually obeyed. Google doesn't yet report these numbers specifically for the Play Store. As for takedown requests over the last year, governments around the world sent requests for information on 29,718 devices. Data was provided in 79 percent of cases. Governments also requested information on 3,358 Apple accounts, and data was provided in 82 percent of cases.
Businesses

US Reaches Deal To Keep Chinese Telecom ZTE in Business (reuters.com) 103

The Trump administration told lawmakers the U.S. government has reached a deal to put Chinese telecommunications company ZTE Corp back in business, a senior congressional aide said on Friday. From a report: The deal, communicated to officials on Capitol Hill by the Commerce Department, requires ZTE to pay a substantial fine, place U.S. compliance officers at the company and change its management team, the aide said. The Commerce Department would then lift an order preventing ZTE from buying U.S. products.

ZTE was banned in April from buying U.S. technology components for seven years for breaking an agreement reached after it violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. The Commerce Department decision would allow it to resume business with U.S. companies, including chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.

Businesses

Vermont Wants To Pay Companies To Let Employees Work Remotely (fastcompany.com) 78

A proposal for an act in the Vermont legislature is actively trying to give grants to small companies to employ remote workers. From a report: Under the terms of S-0094, a $10,000 micro-grant will be given to a business that will "establish or enhance a facility that attracts small companies or remote workers, or both, including generator and maker spaces, co-working spaces, remote work hubs, and innovation spaces, with special emphasis on facilities that promote colocation of nonprofit, for-profit, and government entities."
China

First Cuba, Now China? A Worker In US Embassy In China Experienced 'Abnormal' Sounds, Brain Damage (reuters.com) 155

amxcoder writes: An American citizen working at a U.S. consulate located in the Chinese city of Guangzhou has reported experiencing "abnormal" sounds (and pressures) for the past several months, starting in late 2017 until April of 2018. Upon medical evaluation, the worker has been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury symptoms. The U.S. embassy is conducting an investigation into the issue, and is issuing warnings to all U.S. citizens in China. The symptoms and several other similarities has drawn comparison to a similar event last year in a different U.S. embassy in Cuba. Officials can not link the two events together at this point, but the U.S. State Department is working with Chinese authorities to investigate the issue further. As a result of the Cuba acoustic "attacks," the U.S. government in October expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the U.S. for what it said was Cuba's failure to protect staff at the U.S. embassy in Havana. Staff there reported symptoms including hearing loss, dizziness, fatigue, and cognitive issues. Canadian personnel also reported similar health symptoms.
Government

Trump Cancels Singapore Summit With North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un (cnbc.com) 500

President Donald Trump has cancelled his much anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that was scheduled to take place in Singapore on June 12, he announced moments ago. In a letter to Kim, the president said; "I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger an open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time to have this long-planned meeting. Therefore, please let this letter to serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place." He added, "You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used."
Space

Ariane Chief Seems Frustrated With SpaceX For Driving Down Launch Costs (arstechnica.com) 165

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica: Like United Launch Alliance, the [France-based] Ariane Group faces pricing pressure from SpaceX, which offers launch prices as low as $62 million for its Falcon 9 rocket. It has specifically developed the Ariane 6 rocket to compete with the Falcon 9 booster. But there are a couple of problems with this. Despite efforts to cut costs, the two variants of the Ariane 6 will still cost at least 25 percent more than SpaceX's present-day prices. Moreover, the Ariane 6 will not fly until 2020 at the earliest, by which time Falcon 9 could offer significantly cheaper prices on used Falcon 9 boosters if it needed to. (The Ariane 6 rocket is entirely expendable). With this background in mind, the chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the U.S. government.

When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau's central argument is that this has only been possible because, "SpaceX is charging the U.S. government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper." Essentially, he says, launches for the U.S. military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX's commercial launch business. However, the pay-for-service prices that SpaceX offers to the U.S. Department of Defense for spy satellites and cargo and crew launches for NASA are below those of what other launch companies charge. And while $100 million or more for a military launch is significantly higher than a $62 million commercial launch, government contracts come with extra restrictions, reviews, and requirements that drive up this price.

Government

US Government Can't Get Controversial Kaspersky Lab Software Off Its Networks (thedailybeast.com) 125

The law says American agencies must eliminate the use of Kaspersky Lab software by October. But U.S. officials say that's impossible as the security suite is embedded too deep in our infrastructure, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday. From a report: Multiple divisions of the U.S. government are confronting the reality that code written by the Moscow-based security company is embedded deep within American infrastructure, in routers, firewalls, and other hardware -- and nobody is certain how to get rid of it. "It's messy, and it's going to take way longer than a year," said one U.S. official. "Congress didn't give anyone money to replace these devices, and the budget had no wiggle-room to begin with."

At issue is a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) enacted last December that requires the government to fully purge itself of "any hardware, software, or services developed or provided, in whole or in part," by Kaspersky Lab. The law was a dramatic expansion of an earlier DHS directive that only outlawed "Kaspersky-branded" products. Both measures came after months of saber rattling by the U.S., which has grown increasingly anxious about Kaspersky's presence in federal networks in the wake of Russia's 2016 election interference campaign.

United States

NYC Transit Boss Unveils Sweeping 10-Year Subway Modernization Plan (nbcnewyork.com) 63

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping plan to modernize the city's subway system over the next 10 years. From a report: The proposal, which new New York City Transit President Andy Byford called "Fast Forward," centers on overhauling the mass transit network's signaling system -- some of which dates back to the early 20th century -- 30 years sooner than current Subway Action Plan.

But it won't come without a good bit of pain: sources told News 4 that Byford's plan would require entire lines to be taken out of service during overnight and weekend hours for extended periods. Byford -- who took over the task of running the city's subways and buses earlier this year -- said in an MTA meeting Wednesday that the work would be split into two five-year chunks. Over the first five years parts or all of the 4,5, 6, E, F, M, R, A, C, E and G lines would receive modern signaling systems. That would include the entirety of the Lexington Avenue line, which carries the 4, 5 and 6 trains and is the most-used mass transit line in the United States.

United States

The US Military is Funding an Effort To Catch Deepfakes and Other AI Trickery (technologyreview.com) 70

The Department of Defense is funding a project that will try to determine whether the increasingly real-looking fake video and audio generated by artificial intelligence might soon be impossible to distinguish from the real thing -- even for another AI system. From a report: This summer, under a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the world's leading digital forensics experts will gather for an AI fakery contest. They will compete to generate the most convincing AI-generated fake video, imagery, and audio -- and they will also try to develop tools that can catch these counterfeits automatically. The contest will include so-called "deepfakes," videos in which one person's face is stitched onto another person's body.

Rather predictably, the technology has already been used to generate a number of counterfeit celebrity porn videos. But the method could also be used to create a clip of a politician saying or doing something outrageous. DARPA's technologists are especially concerned about a relatively new AI technique that could make AI fakery almost impossible to spot automatically. Using what are known as generative adversarial networks, or GANs, it is possible to generate stunningly realistic artificial imagery.

Security

Cyber Firms Warn on Suspected Russian Plan To Attack Ukraine (reuters.com) 76

Jim Finkle, reporting for Reuters: Cisco Systems on Wednesday warned that hackers have infected at least 500,000 routers and storage devices in dozens of countries with highly sophisticated malicious software, possibly in preparation for another massive cyber attack on Ukraine. Cisco's Talos cyber intelligence unit said it has high confidence that the Russian government is behind the campaign, dubbed VPNFilter, because the hacking software shares code with malware used in previous cyber attacks that the U.S. government has attributed to Moscow. Cisco said the malware could be used for espionage, to interfere with internet communications or launch destructive attacks on Ukraine, which has previously blamed Russia for massive hacks that took out parts of its energy grid and shuttered factories. Head of Ukraine's cyber police said on Wednesday that the agency is aware of new large malware campaign, and that it is working to protect Ukraine against possible new cyber threat.
Communications

Senators Demand FCC Answer For Fake Comments After Realizing Their Identities Were Stolen (gizmodo.com) 185

Two US senators -- one Republican, one Democrat who both had their identities stolen and then used to post fake public comments on net neutrality -- are calling on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to address how as many as two million fake comments were filed under stolen names. From a report: Senators Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, and Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, are among the estimated "two million Americans" whose identities were used to file comments to the FCC without their consent. "The federal rulemaking process is an essential part of our democracy and allows Americans the opportunity to express their opinions on how government agencies decide important regulatory issues," the pair of lawmakers wrote [PDF].

"As such, we are concerned about the aforementioned fraudulent activity. We need to prevent the deliberate misuse of Americans' personal information and ensure that the FCC is working to protect against current and future vulnerabilities in its system. We encourage the FCC to determine who facilitated these fake comments," the letter continues. "While we understand and agree with the need to protect individuals' privacy, we request that the FCC share with the public the total number of fake comments that were filed."

Businesses

Amazon Pushes Facial Recognition to Police, Prompting Outcry Over Surveillance (nytimes.com) 143

Nick Wingfield, reporting for The New York Times: In late 2016, Amazon introduced a new online service that could help identify faces and other objects in images, offering it to anyone at a low cost through its giant cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services. Not long after, it began pitching the technology to law enforcement agencies, saying the program could aid criminal investigations by recognizing suspects in photos and videos. It used a couple of early customers, like the Orlando Police Department in Florida and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon, to encourage other officials to sign up.

But now that aggressive push is putting the giant tech company at the center of an increasingly heated debate around the role of facial recognition in law enforcement. Fans of the technology see a powerful new tool for catching criminals, but detractors see an instrument of mass surveillance. On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union led a group of more than two dozen civil rights organizations that asked Amazon to stop selling its image recognition system, called Rekognition, to law enforcement. The group says that the police could use it to track protesters or others whom authorities deem suspicious, rather than limiting it to people committing crimes.

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