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Transportation

Self-Driving Cars Should Be Liable For Accidents, Not the Passengers: UK Government (arstechnica.co.uk) 54

"Electric charging points at all major motorway services and petrol stations, and the occupants of a self-driving car aren't liable in the case of an accident -- those are two of the measures proposed by a new law that the UK government hopes will let us reap the rewards of improved transport technology over the next few years," reports Ars Technica. "These changes are part of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill (VTAB), a draft law that is basically a shopping list of governmental desires." From the report: The first item on the bill involves automated vehicles, and how to ensure that the vehicle's owner (which may or may not be a driver) and potential accident victims are protected. The bill says that insurance companies must offer two types of protection: for when a vehicle is acting autonomously, but also if the human driver decides to takes control. Essentially, the government wants to make sure that an accident victim can always claim compensation from the insurance company, even if the car was acting autonomously. It would then be up for the insurance company to try and reclaim that money from the car maker through existing common law and product liability arrangements. In a somewhat rare display of tech savviness, there are two exemptions listed in the bill. If the vehicle owner makes unauthorized changes to the car's software, or fails to install a software update as mandated by their insurance policy, then the insurer doesn't have to pay. It isn't clear at this point which capabilities will be enough to classify a vehicle as "self-driving." The draft law asks the department for transport (DfT) to work it out, post haste, and then to determine which vehicles qualify for the new type of insurance. The planned law also outlines new governmental powers to improve the UK's electric charging infrastructure.
Wikipedia

Study Reveals Bot-On-Bot Editing Wars Raging On Wikipedia's Pages (theguardian.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A new study from computer scientists has found that the online encyclopedia is a battleground where silent wars have raged for years. Since Wikipedia launched in 2001, its millions of articles have been ranged over by software robots, or simply "bots," that are built to mend errors, add links to other pages, and perform other basic housekeeping tasks. In the early days, the bots were so rare they worked in isolation. But over time, the number deployed on the encyclopedia exploded with unexpected consequences. The more the bots came into contact with one another, the more they became locked in combat, undoing each other's edits and changing the links they had added to other pages. Some conflicts only ended when one or other bot was taken out of action. The findings emerged from a study that looked at bot-on-bot conflict in the first ten years of Wikipedia's existence. The researchers at Oxford and the Alan Turing Institute in London examined the editing histories of pages in 13 different language editions and recorded when bots undid other bots' changes. While some conflicts mirrored those found in society, such as the best names to use for contested territories, others were more intriguing. Describing their research in a paper entitled Even Good Bots Fight in the journal Plos One, the scientists reveal that among the most contested articles were pages on former president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, the Arabic language, Niels Bohr and Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of the most intense battles played out between Xqbot and Darknessbot which fought over 3,629 different articles between 2009 and 2010. Over the period, Xqbot undid more than 2,000 edits made by Darknessbot, with Darknessbot retaliating by undoing more than 1,700 of Xqbot's changes. The two clashed over pages on all sorts of topics, from Alexander of Greece and Banqiao district in Taiwan to Aston Villa football club.
Earth

World's Only Sample of Metallic Hydrogen Has Been Lost (ibtimes.co.uk) 112

New submitter drunkdrone quotes a report from International Business Times: A piece of rare meta poised to revolutionize modern technology and take humans into deep space has been lost in a laboratory mishap. The first and only sample of metallic hydrogen ever created on earth was the rarest material on the planet when it was developed by Harvard scientists in January this year, and had been dubbed "the holy grail of high pressure physics." The metal was created by subjecting liquid hydrogen to pressures greater that those at the center of the Earth. At this point, the molecular hydrogen breaks down and becomes an atomic solid. Scientists theorized that metallic hydrogen -- when used as a superconductor -- could have a transformative effect on modern electronics and revolutionize medicine, energy and transportation, as well as herald in a new age of consumer gadgets. Sadly, an attempt to study the properties of metallic hydrogen appears to have ended in catastrophe after one of the two diamonds being used like a vice to hold the tiny sample was obliterated. The metal was being held between two diamonds at a pressure of around 71.7 million pounds per square inch -- more than a third greater than at the Earth's core. According to The Independent, one of these diamonds shattered while the sample was being measured with a laser, and the metal was lost in the process.
Businesses

Website Builder Wix Acquires Art Community DeviantArt For $36 Million (techcrunch.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Wix.com has made another acquisition to build out the tools that it provides to users to build and administer websites: it has acquired DeviantArt, an online community for artists, designers and art/design enthusiasts with some 325 million individual pieces of original art and more than 40 million registered members, for $36 million in cash, including $3 million of assumed liabilities. Wix said that it will continue to operate DeviantArt as a standalone site, but it will also use it to boost its own business in a couple of ways. First, DeviantArt users will get access to Wix's web design tools to build out more dynamic online presences. These tools do not only cover design, but commerce and other features for running businesses online. Second, Wix will open up DeviantArt's repository of art and creative community to the Wix platform, giving Wix's users access to that work to use in their own site building. The deal will also include putting further investment into developing DeviantArt's desktop and mobile apps. (Today, that desktop experience is based on a very simple, pared-down interface that is reminiscent of the 2000 birthdate of the startup itself.)
Communications

FCC Votes To Lift Net Neutrality Transparency Rules For Smaller Internet Providers (theverge.com) 89

The Federal Communications Commission today voted to lift transparency requirements for smaller internet providers. According to The Verge, "Internet providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers will not be required to disclose information on network performance, fees, and data caps, thanks to this rule change. The commission had initially exempted internet providers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers with the intention of revisiting the issue later to determine whether a higher or lower figure was appropriate." From the report: The rule passed in a 2-1 vote, with Republicans saying the reporting requirements unfairly burdened smaller ISPs with additional work. Only Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn opposed. Clyburn argued that the disclosures were an important consumer protection that was far from overbearing on businesses, particularly ones this large. Clyburn also argued that the rule would allow larger internet providers to avoid disclosing information by simply breaking their service areas up into different subsidiaries. Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly voted in favor of the change, saying he actually would have preferred the subscriber exemption to be even higher. And commission chairman Ajit Pai said the rules were necessary to protect "mom and pop internet service providers" from "burdensome requirements [...] that impose serious and unnecessary costs."
Social Networks

Social Media Are Driving Americans Insane (bloomberg.com) 126

Deena Shanker, writing for Bloomberg: If you pull out your phone to check Twitter while waiting for the light to change, or read e-mails while brushing your teeth, you might be what the American Psychological Association calls a "constant checker." And chances are, it's hurting your mental health. Last week, the APA released a study finding that Americans were experiencing the first statistically significant stress increase in the survey's 10-year history. In January, 57 percent of respondents of all political stripes said the U.S. political climate was a very or somewhat significant source of stress, up from 52 percent who said the same thing in August. On Thursday, the APA released the second part of its 1 findings, "Stress In America: Coping With Change," examining the role technology and social media play in American stress levels. [...] The highest stress levels, it should be noted, are reserved for those who constantly check their work e-mail on days off. Their average stress level is 6.0. So those of you who think it's somehow pleasant to work from home on a Saturday afternoon, you're actually fooling yourself.
News

Tech Reporting Is More Negative Now Than in the Past (betanews.com) 132

Wayne Williams, writing for BetaNews: A new study finds that tech reporting is generally more pessimistic now than in the past, and for two very different reasons. The new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), and based on textual analysis of 250 articles from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post from 1986 to 2013, highlights how the tone of tech reporting has shifted in the past 20 years. In general, the ITIF found that in the 1980s and 1990s, coverage of technology was largely positive, but this changed from the mid-1990s to 2013, when more negative reports covering the downside of technology, its failure to live up to its promises, and potential ill effects, started to appear. The ITIF attributes this shift to two main causes, the first being that "there has been a significant increase in the number of civil-society organizations and attention-seeking scholars focused on painting a threatening picture of technology," and second, and perhaps most pertinent, "news organizations are under increased financial pressure, and as a result, reporters may have less time and fewer resources to dig deep into technology issues."
Facebook

'Social Media Needs A Travel Mode' (idlewords.com) 128

Maciej CegÅowski, a Polish-American web developer, entrepreneur, and social critic, writes on a blog post: We need a 'trip mode' for social media sites that reduces our contact list and history to a minimal subset of what the site normally offers. Not only would such a feature protect people forced to give their passwords at the border, but it would mitigate the many additional threats to privacy they face when they use their social media accounts away from home. Both Facebook and Google make lofty claims about user safety, but they've done little to show they take the darkening political climate around the world seriously. A 'trip mode' would be a chance for them to demonstrate their commitment to user safety beyond press releases and anodyne letters of support. What's required is a small amount of engineering, a good marketing effort, and the conviction that any company that makes its fortune hoarding user data has a moral responsibility to protect its users. To work effectively, a trip mode feature would need to be easy to turn on, configurable (so you can choose how long you want the protection turned on for) and irrevocable for an amount of time chosen by the user once it's set. There's no sense in having a 'trip mode' if the person demanding your password can simply switch it off, or coerce you into switching it off.
Businesses

Inside Uber's Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture (cnbc.com) 169

Excerpts from Mike Isaac's report for the New York Times: Interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, as well as reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings, paint a picture of an often unrestrained workplace culture. Among the most egregious accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and who asked to remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation: One Uber manager groped female co-workers' breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting. Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat. Until this week, this culture was only whispered about in Silicon Valley. Then on Sunday, Susan Fowler, an engineer who left Uber in December, published a blog post about her time at the company. [...] One group appeared immune to internal scrutiny, the current and former employees said. Called the A-Team and composed of a small group of executives who were personally close to Mr. Kalanick, its members were shielded from much accountability over their actions. One member of the A-Team was Emil Michael, senior vice president for business, who was caught up in a public scandal over comments he made in 2014 about digging into the private lives of journalists who opposed the company. Mr. Kalanick defended Mr. Michael, saying he believed Mr. Michael could learn from his mistakes.
NASA

NASA Scientists Propose New Definition of Planets, and Pluto Could Soon Be Back (sciencealert.com) 182

Rei writes: After several years of publicly complaining about the "bullshit" decision at the IAU redefining what comprises a planet, New Horizons program head Alan Stern and fellow planetary geologists have put forth a new definition which they seek to make official, basing planethood on hydrostatic equilibrium. Under this definition, in addition to Ceres, Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects, large moons like Titan and Europa, as well as our own moon, would also become planets; "planet" would be a physical term, while "moon" would be an orbital term, and hence one can have a planetary moon, as well as planets that orbit other stars or no star at all (both prohibited under the current definition). The paper points out that planetary geologists already refer to such bodies as planets, citing examples such as a paper about Titan: "A planet-wide detached haze layer occurs between 300-350 km above the surface; the visible limb of the planet, where the vertical haze optical depth is 0.1, is about 220 km above the surface."
The Courts

Judge Blocks California Law Limiting Publication of Actor's Ages (politico.com) 120

mi writes: IMDb has a reason to rejoice. Politico reports: "A federal judge has barred the State of California from enforcing a new law limiting online publication of actors' ages. Acting in a case brought by online movie information website IMDb, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ruled Wednesday that the California law likely violates the First Amendment and appears poorly tailored to proponents' stated goal of preventing age discrimination in Hollywood. The judge expressed deep skepticism that the law, which he said appeared to apply only to IMDb, would have any effect on discrimination. The judge rejected the state's arguments that the law was a regulation of commercial speech, finding that IMDb was acting as a publisher in posting the birthday and age information online." "It's not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all. And even if restricting publication on this one website could confer some marginal anti-discrimination benefit, there are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end," Chhabria wrote in a three-page order.
Communications

T-Mobile Promises Big LTE Boost From 5GHz Wi-Fi Frequencies (arstechnica.com) 63

"T-Mobile USA is ready to deploy a new LTE technology over the same 5GHz frequencies used by Wi-Fi following U.S. government approval of the first 'LTE-U' devices," reports Ars Technica. "The Federal Communications Commission today authorized the first LTE-U (LTE for unlicensed spectrum) devices after a controversial process designed to ensure that cellular network use of the 5GHz band won't interfere with Wi-Fi networks." From the report: LTE-U will help T-Mobile achieve its goal of offering gigabit LTE speeds, the carrier said. Verizon Wireless is also planning to use LTE-U. The company said in September that it is "eager to deploy" the technology and developed an equipment testing plan, but it's not clear when a Verizon deployment will happen. Cellular carriers in the US generally hold exclusive licenses to spectrum, while Wi-Fi operates in unlicensed frequencies. Anyone can operate in unlicensed spectrum without an FCC license as long as they use certified radio equipment and comply with power limits and other technical requirements. The plan to bring LTE to unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum set off an industry fight. LTE-U deployment plans drew opposition in 2015 from cable companies and the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group that certifies equipment to make sure it doesn't interfere with other Wi-Fi equipment. Industry groups worked together to develop a "Coexistence Test Plan" to prevent interference, and the Wi-Fi Alliance said it's satisfied with the result even though the new testing is voluntary rather than required by the FCC.
Businesses

Tesla Posts Earnings Loss But Claims Model 3 Production Will Start In July (bgr.com) 62

An anonymous Slashdot reader shares a report from BGR: Tesla on Wednesday released its earnings report (PDF) for the company's recent fourth quarter. When the dust settled, Tesla posted revenue of $2.28 billion and a loss of 69 cents per share. By way of contrast, Tesla during the same quarter a year-ago posted a loss of $0.87 per share on the back of $1.75 billion in revenue. Notably, Tesla notes that its cumulative 2016 revenue checked in at $7 billion, a 73% increase from 2015. As far as the Model 3 is concerned, Tesla's press release relays that the company is still on track to begin production in July ahead of volume production in September.

Tesla notes in its press release: "Our Model 3 program is on track to start limited vehicle production in July and to steadily ramp production to exceed 5,000 vehicles per week at some point in the fourth quarter and 10,000 vehicles per week at some point in 2018. To support accelerating vehicle deliveries and maintain our industry-leading customer satisfaction, we are expanding our retail, Supercharger, and service functions. Model 3 vehicle development, supply chain and manufacturing are on track to support volume deliveries in the second half of 2017. In early February, we began building Model 3 prototypes as part of our ongoing testing of the vehicle design and manufacturing processes. Initial crash test results have been positive, and all Model 3-related sourcing is on plan to support the start of production in July. Installation of Model 3 manufacturing equipment is underway in Fremont and at Gigafactory 1, where in January, we began production of battery cells for energy storage products, which have the same form-factor as the cells that will be used in Model 3."

Businesses

Apple's New Spaceship Campus Gets a Name, Lifts Off In April (arstechnica.com) 100

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Apple has been building its giant new "spaceship" campus in the company's hometown of Cupertino, California, since December of 2013, and since then fans have paid obsessive attention to the structure. It gets buzzed by drones constantly, and the most popular YouTube videos of the building in progress have amassed well over half-a-million views apiece. The company announced today that the campus will be open to employees starting in April and that the building and environs now have a name: Apple Park. Apple says that moving the 12,000 employees who will work at the campus will take more than six months, and landscaping and construction on some buildings won't be done until the summer. The new campus mostly replaces the university-style Infinite Loop campus Apple has used since 1993, though Apple has said that it will also be keeping the older buildings. The new campus' cost has been estimated at around $5 billion. Apple will also be naming one space on the new campus after its founder and former CEO -- the Steve Jobs Theater will replace the current Town Hall event space that Apple sometimes uses for company meetings and product announcements, and it will open "later this year." The new space will be much larger (it will seat 1,000, compared to roughly 300 for the Town Hall), and the larger space will presumably allow Apple to launch more of its products on its campus rather than having to rent expensive event space in downtown San Francisco. The company is also moving its Worldwide Developers Conference closer to home this year -- it will return to San Jose after many years at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
United States

Americans at Risk of Identity Theft as They File their Tax Returns (betanews.com) 76

Ian Barker, writing for BetaNews: As we move into the tax return season a new study reveals that attitudes to identity theft and a pattern of poor practices are leaving much of the public vulnerable. Data security and ID theft protection company CyberScout has carried out its second annual Tax Season Risk Report and finds 58 percent of Americans are not worried about tax fraud in spite of federal reports of 787,000 confirmed identity theft returns in 2016, totaling more than $4 billion in potential fraud. Among other findings are that only 35 percent of taxpayers demand that their preparers use two-factor authentication to protect their clients' personal information. Less than a fifth (18 percent) use an encrypted USB drive to save important documents like tax worksheets, W-2s, 1099s or 1040s. And another 38 percent either store tax documents on their computer's hard drive or in the cloud, approaches that are susceptible to a variety of hacks.

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