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Education

New Senate Bill Would Give US Grads Preference In Receiving H-1B Visas (computerworld.com) 157

dcblogs quotes a report from Computerworld: A new bill in Congress would give foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools priority in getting an H-1B visa. The legislation also "explicitly prohibits" the replacement of American workers by visa holders. This bill, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, was announced Thursday by its co-sponsors, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), longtime allies on H-1B reform. Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which gives this bill an immediate big leg up in the legislative process. This legislation would end the annual random distribution, via a lottery, of H-1B visas, and replace it with a system to give priority to certain types of students. Foreign nationals in the best position to get one of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually will have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. school, have a well-paying job offer, and have preferred skills. The specific skills weren't identified, but will likely be STEM-related. "Congress created these programs to complement America's high-skilled workforce, not replace it," said Grassley, in a statement. "Unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programs by cutting American workers for cheaper labor."
AI

Elite Scientists Have Told the Pentagon That AI Won't Threaten Humanity (vice.com) 115

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A new report authored by a group of independent U.S. scientists advising the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) on artificial intelligence (AI) claims that perceived existential threats to humanity posed by the technology, such as drones seen by the public as killer robots, are at best "uninformed." Still, the scientists acknowledge that AI will be integral to most future DoD systems and platforms, but AI that could act like a human "is at most a small part of AI's relevance to the DoD mission." Instead, a key application area of AI for the DoD is in augmenting human performance. Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD, first reported by Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, has been researched and written by scientists belonging to JASON, the historically secretive organization that counsels the U.S. government on scientific matters. Outlining the potential use cases of AI for the DoD, the JASON scientists make sure to point out that the growing public suspicion of AI is "not always based on fact," especially when it comes to military technologies. Highlighting SpaceX boss Elon Musk's opinion that AI "is our biggest existential threat" as an example of this, the report argues that these purported threats "do not align with the most rapidly advancing current research directions of AI as a field, but rather spring from dire predictions about one small area of research within AI, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)." AGI, as the report describes, is the pursuit of developing machines that are capable of long-term decision making and intent, i.e. thinking and acting like a real human. "On account of this specific goal, AGI has high visibility, disproportionate to its size or present level of success," the researchers say.
AT&T

Despite Glitches, AT&T's DirecTV Now Hits 200,000 Subscribers in Its First Month (techcrunch.com) 24

AT&T's new live TV streaming service DirecTV Now has been off to a shaky start in terms of performance, but that hasn't stemmed the flow of sign-ups, AT&T reports. The company said the service added more than 200,000 subscribers in its first month of operations. From a report on TechCrunch: These details were included in an SEC filing for the quarter ending on December 31, 2016. DirecTV Now launched on November 30, 2016. The filing also notes the additions only include paying customers. To be clear, there's no free tier for DirecTV Now, but the company has been offering free trials so customers can kick the tires before committing to a subscription plan. Of course, it's not entirely surprising that DirecTV Now was able to gain so many customers in such a short period of time. On paper, at least, the service sounds compelling.
Democrats

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As the 45th US President (reuters.com) 1307

Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, succeeding Barack Obama and taking control of a divided country in a transition of power that he has declared will lead to "America First" policies at home and abroad. Reuters reports: As scattered protests erupted elsewhere in Washington, Trump raised his right hand and put his left on a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln and repeated a 35-word oath of office from the U.S. Constitution, with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.
Businesses

Uber Will Pay $20 Million For Exaggerating Drivers' Earnings (engadget.com) 67

Uber is paying $20 million to settle allegations that it duped people into driving for its ride-hailing service with false promises about how much they would earn and how much they would have to pay to finance a car. From a report: The FTC claimed that Uber was advertising an annual median income of over $90,000 per year for uberX drivers in New York and more than $74,000 for uberX drivers in San Francisco. But, as the commission found out, less than 10 percent of all drivers in those cities actually make that much. The complaint also alleges that Uber was inflating the hourly earnings on job boards like Craigslist. New drivers who financed a new car through Uber's Vehicle Solutions Program found out the company's claims were too good to be true as well. Although Uber told new drivers they would be able to lease a new car for around $119 per week, the actual lease rates never dipped below $200 from late 2013 to April 2015. And, despite its promise of delivering "the best financing options available," it turns out that Uber's rates were actually worse than consumers with similar credit scores could have gotten elsewhere. Adding insult to overpriced injury, Uber tacked on mileage limits to lease agreements that were advertised with unlimited mileage.
China

Viral Chinese Selfie App Meitu, Valued at Over $5 Billion, Phones Home With Personal Data (theregister.co.uk) 79

The Meitu selfie horrorshow app going viral through Western audiences is a privacy nightmare, researchers say. The app, which has been featured on several popular outlets including the NYTimes, USA Today, and NYMag, harvests information about the devices on which it runs, includes invasive advertising tracking features and is just badly coded. From a report: But worst of all, the free app appears to be phoning some to share personal data with its makers. Meitu, a Chinese production, includes in its code up to three checks to determine if an iPhone handset is jailbroken, according to respected forensics man Jonathan Zdziarski, a function to grab mobile provider information, and various analytics capabilities. Zdziarski says the app also appears to build a unique device profile based in part on a handset's MAC address. "Meitu is a throw-together of multiple analytics and marketing/ad tracking packages, with something cute to get people to use it," Zdziarski says. Unique phone IMEI numbers are shipped to dozens of Chinese servers, malware researcher FourOctets found. The app, which was valued at over $5 billion last year due its popularity, seeks access to device and app history; accurate location; phone status; USB, photos, and files storage read and write; camera; Wifi connections; device ID & call information; full network access, run at startup, and prevent device from sleeping on Android phones.
Facebook

Facebook Has a Team That Handles Mark Zuckerberg's Page (cnet.com) 55

theodp writes: Q. How many Facebook employees does it take to produce Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page? A. More than a dozen! CNET's Ian Sherr offers his take on the news that Facebook has a team that handles Mark Zuckerberg's page: "Ever notice the photos, videos and posts on the profile page for Facebook's CEO are a lot nicer looking or better written than yours? Don't feel bad. Mark Zuckerberg has a team of people who are increasingly managing his public persona, according to a Wednesday report from Bloomberg Businessweek. Not only do they help write speeches and posts, but they also take photographs of his family and his travels, interspersing them with infographics about the company's user growth and sales. There're even people who delete harassing comments and spam for him. A Facebook spokeswoman said the company's service is an easy way for executives to connect with people." Wonder how many people it took to help craft the latest post, in which Zuck fired back at "some misleading stories going around" about "some land" he purchased in Hawaii (which another Zuck post noted also serves as a petting zoo of sorts for his daughter).
United States

32% of All US Adults Watch Pirated Content (torrentfreak.com) 249

Nearly a third of all US adults admit to having downloaded or streamed pirated movies or TV-shows, a new survey has found. Even though many are aware that watching pirated content is not permitted, a large number of pirates are particularly hard to deter. According to a report from TorrentFreak: This is one of the main conclusions of research conducted by anti-piracy firm Irdeto, which works with prominent clients including Twentieth Century Fox and Starz. Through YouGov, the company conducted a representative survey of over 1,000 respondents which found that 32 percent of all US adults admit to streaming or downloading pirated video content. These self-confessed pirates are interested in a wide variety of video content. TV-shows and movies that still play in theaters are on the top of the list for many, with 24 percent each, but older movies, live sports and Netflix originals are mentioned as well. The data further show that the majority of US adults (69%) know that piracy is illegal. Interestingly, this also means that a large chunk of the population believes that they're doing nothing wrong.
United States

Google Uses Search To Push Its Products: WSJ (usatoday.com) 62

Ads for Google and related companies were found in the top spot in 91% of 25,000 searches related to items, according to a report on WSJ. For example, a search for "phones" would produce ads for Google Pixel, which the company launched last year. From a report: Similar results were found for searches on "Watches" or "smoke detector," which produced ads for Android smartwatches and Nest devices, respectively. In a statement, Google says their marketing programs are "carefully designed" to not impact outside advertisers. "All our bids are excluded from the auction when determining the price paid by other advertisers, and we have strict rules and processes -- set to tougher levels than our customers -- to govern the use of our own ads products." The auction is a process deciding which ads will appear for users when they type in certain search queries. Strategies such as using relevant keywords give advertisers a better shot at their ad appearing on a search results page.
Transportation

Tesla Avoids Recall After Autopilot Crash Death (bbc.com) 180

Tesla will not be ordered to recall its semi-autonomous cars in the US, following a fatal crash in May 2016. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its investigation after it found no evidence of a defect in the vehicle. From a report: Joshua Brown was killed when his car collided with a lorry while operating in Autopilot mode. Tesla has stated Autopilot is only designed to assist drivers, who must keep their hands on the wheel. The feature is intended to be used on the motorway, where is lets cars automatically change lanes and react to traffic. The NHTSA report said data from the car showed that "the driver took no braking, steering or other actions to avoid the collision". Bryan Thomas from the NHSTA said the driver should have been able to see the lorry for seven seconds, which "should have been enough time to take some action".
Education

Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60 (nytimes.com) 304

Students at elite colleges are even richer than experts realized, according to a new study based on millions of anonymous tax filings and tuition records. At 38 colleges in America, including five in the Ivy League -- Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Penn and Brown -- more students came from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent. From a report on the NYTimes (alternate non-paywall link): Roughly one in four of the richest students attend an elite college -- universities that typically cluster toward the top of annual rankings (you can find more on our definition of "elite" at the bottom). In contrast, less than one-half of 1 percent of children from the bottom fifth of American families attend an elite college; less than half attend any college at all. Colleges often promote their role in helping poorer students rise in life, and their commitments to affordability. But some elite colleges have focused more on being affordable to low-income families than on expanding access. "Free tuition only helps if you can get in," said Danny Yagan, an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the authors of the study.
Oracle

Labor Department Sues Oracle For Paying White Men More (usatoday.com) 308

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: Oracle is being sued by the Labor Department for paying white men more than their counterparts and for favoring Asian workers when recruiting and hiring for technical roles. The administrative lawsuit is the latest from the Labor Department to take aim at the human resources practices of major technology companies. The Labor Department warned the lawsuit could cost Oracle hundreds of millions in federal contracts. Oracle makes software and hardware used by the federal government. "The complaint is politically motivated, based on false allegations, and wholly without merit," Oracle spokesman Deborah Hellinger said in a statement. "Oracle values diversity and inclusion, and is a responsible equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. Our hiring and pay decisions are non-discriminatory and made based on legitimate business factors including experience and merit." The lawsuit is the result of an Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs review of Oracle's equal employment opportunity practices, the Labor Department said. According to the lawsuit, Oracle America paid white male workers more, leading to pay discrimination against women, African American and Asian employees. The Labor Department also accused Oracle of favoring Asians for product development and other technical roles, resulting in discrimination against non-Asian applicants. Oracle refused to comply with the Labor Department's investigation, which began in 2014, such as refusing to provide compensation data for all employees, complete hiring data for certain business lines and employee complaints of discrimination, according to the federal agency.
United States

Russia Extends Edward Snowden's Asylum To 2020, To Offer Citizenship Next Year (cnn.com) 270

Whistleblower and former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been allowed to remain in Russia for another three years and will next year qualify to apply for Russian citizenship. From a report on CNN: Edward Snowden's leave to remain in Russia has been extended until 2020, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has confirmed to CNN. Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, sought asylum in Russia in June 2013 after leaking volumes of information on American intelligence and surveillance operations to the media. On Tuesday, Zakharova announced an extension of a "couple of years" in a Facebook post that criticized former CIA acting director Michael Morell for an opinion piece he wrote suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin should consider returning Snowden to the United States as "the perfect inauguration gift" to President-elect Donald Trump. Snowden settled in Moscow after initially traveling to Hong Kong following his 2013 public disclosure of classified information. The Russian government granted him asylum soon after. In August 2014, Snowden received a three-year extension to his leave to remain in Russia. That extension was due to expire this year.
Transportation

Uber Sues City of Seattle To Block Landmark Driver Union Ordinance (geekwire.com) 119

Seattle's landmark law that lets drivers for ride-hailing companies decide if they want to bargain collectively was set to go into effect today, but an Uber subsidiary has sued to block key rules of the ordinance governing which drivers get to vote on unionization and other key rules. From a report: Uber subsidiary Rasier filed a petition in King County Superior Court Tuesday to block recently-published rules from Seattle's department of Finance and Administrative Services that cover issues like which drivers get a say in whether they want to unionize, working conditions subject to bargaining and how an organization gets certified to represent drivers exclusively. In court documents, Uber called the city's process flawed and asked the court to suspend the new rules. Uber wants the city to go back and tweak the rules so that they better reflect driver conditions in the ride-hailing industry. "The City failed to provide comprehensive rules and disregarded the facts and circumstances of drivers and the industry," according to Uber's petition. "Moreover, the Cityâ(TM)s rules are inconsistent with fundamental labor law principles ensuring every worker has a voice in whether to be represented by a labor organization."
AT&T

AT&T Denies Refunds For DirecTV Now Customers, Despite the Service's Performance Issues (techcrunch.com) 88

A number of consumers report they're unable to get a refund for their subscription to AT&T's recently launched streaming service, DirecTV Now -- something they've requested after being unhappy with the new service's performance. From a report on TechCrunch: According to several postings on AT&T's official forums, customers found the only way to get help was through a hard-to-find chat feature, and when they asked the AT&T reps about refunds, the customers were told they were not offered. Writes one user with the handle EIUdrummerboy, after attempting to get a refund via chat, the rep told them specifically: "We do not currently have a policy in place to offer any refunds."
China

China, Europe Drive Shift To Electric Cars as US Lags (reuters.com) 466

Electric cars will pick up critical momentum in 2017, many in the auto industry believe - just not in North America. Tighter emissions rules in China and Europe leave global carmakers and some consumers with little choice but to embrace plug-in vehicles, fuelling an investment surge, said industry executives gathered in Detroit this past week for the city's annual auto show. From a report: "Car electrification is an irreversible trend," said Jacques Aschenbroich, chief executive of auto supplier Valeo, which has expanded sales by 50 percent in five years with a focus on electric, hybrid, connected and self-driving cars. In Europe, green cars benefit increasingly from subsidies, tax breaks and other perks, while combustion engines face mounting penalties including driving and parking restrictions. China, struggling with catastrophic pollution levels in major cities, is aggressively pushing plug-in vehicles. Its carrot-and-stick approach combines tens of billions in investment and research funding with subsidies, and regulations designed to discourage driving fossil-fueled cars in big cities. The road ahead for electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States, however, could have more hairpin curves.
Transportation

Flying Car Prototype Ready By End of 2017, Says Airbus CEO (venturebeat.com) 140

Airbus plans to test a prototype for a self-piloted flying car as a way of avoiding gridlock on city roads by the end of the year, the aerospace group's chief executive said on Monday. From a report: Airbus last year formed a division called Urban Air Mobility that is exploring concepts such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders. The aim would be for people to book the vehicle using an app, similar to car-sharing schemes. "One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground," Airbus CEO Tom Enders told the DLD digital tech conference in Munich, adding he hoped the Airbus could fly a demonstration vehicle for single-person transport by the end of the year. "We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously," he said, adding that Airbus recognized such technologies would have to be clean to avoid further polluting congested cities.
Transportation

Driverless Electric Shuttle Deployed In Downtown Las Vegas (yahoo.com) 79

schwit1 quotes the Associated Press: There's a new thrill on the streets of downtown Las Vegas, where high- and low-rollers alike are climbing aboard what officials call the first driverless electric shuttle operating on a public U.S. street. The oval-shaped shuttle began running Tuesday as part of a 10-day pilot program, carrying up to 12 passengers for free along a short stretch of the Fremont Street East entertainment district.

The vehicle has a human attendant and computer monitor, but no steering wheel and no brake pedals. Passengers push a button at a marked stop to board it. The shuttle uses GPS, electronic curb sensors and other technology, and doesn't require lane lines to make its way.

The shuttle -- which they've named Arma -- is traveling at 15 miles per hour, and the ride is smooth, according to the mayor of Las Vegas. ("It's clean and quiet and seats comfortably.") They've blocked all the side streets, so the shuttle doesn't have to deal with traffic signals yet, though eventually they'll install special transmitters at every intersection to communicate whether the lights are red or green, and the city plans to deploy more of the vehicles by the end of the year.
Transportation

California's Bullet Train Hurtles Towards a Multibillion-Dollar Overrun (latimes.com) 408

schwit1 quotes the Los Angeles Times: California's bullet train could cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated — as much as $3.6 billion more. And that's just for the first 118 miles through the Central Valley, which was supposed to be the easiest part of the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis, obtained by the Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion.

The federal document outlines far-reaching management problems: significant delays in environmental planning, lags in processing invoices for federal grants and continuing failures to acquire needed property. The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally anticipated completing the Central Valley track by this year, but the federal risk analysis estimates that that won't happen until 2024, placing the project seven years behind schedule.

The whole project is expected to cost more than $68 billion.
Businesses

SpaceX Accident Cost it Hundreds of Millions (fortune.com) 67

Elon Musk's SpaceX lost more than a quarter of a billion dollars in 2015 after a botched cargo run to the International Space Station and the subsequent grounding of its Falcon 9 rocket fleet, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. From a report: The accident derailed SpaceX's expectations of $1.8 billion in launch revenue in 2016, an analysis of the privately held firm's financial documents showed, according to the Journal, which said it had obtained the documents. SpaceX declined to comment on the Journal's report. In a statement emailed to Reuters, SpaceX chief financial officer Bret Johnsen said the company "is in a financially strong position" with more than $1 billion in cash reserves and no debt.

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