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Earth

Scientists Teach Bees How To Play Soccer (smithsonianmag.com) 15

Clint Perry, a biologist who studies the evolution of cognition in insects at Queen Mary University of London, and his colleagues have released the results of a creative new experiment in which they essentially taught bumblebees how to play "bee soccer." "The insects' ability to grasp this novel task is a big score for insect intelligence, demonstrating that they're even more complex thinkers than we thought," reports Smithsonian. From the report: For the study, published in the February 23 issue of Science, researchers gave a group of bees a novel goal (literally): to move a ball about half their size into a designated target area. The idea was to present them with a task that they would never have encountered in nature. Not only did the bees succeed at this challenge -- earning them a sugary treat -- but they astonished researchers by figuring out how to meet their new goal in several different ways. Some bees succeeded at getting their ball into the goal with no demonstration at all, or by first watching the ball move on its own. But the ones that watched other bees successfully complete the game learned to play more quickly and easily. Most impressively, the insects didn't simply copy each other -- they watched their companions do it, then figured out on their own how to accomplish the task even more efficiently using their own techniques. The results show that bees can master complex, social behaviors without any prior experience -- which could be a boon in a world where they face vast ecological changes and pressures.
The Courts

ZeniMax Files Injunction To Stop Oculus From Selling VR Headsets (gamespot.com) 45

ZeniMax, the parent company of Fallout and Skyrim developer Bethesda, has filed for an injunction against virtual-reality company Oculus over the recent stolen technology case. The company had accused Oculus of stealing VR-related code, and was subsequently awarded $500 million by a Dallas court earlier this month. ZeniMax has now filed additional papers against Oculus, requesting that Oculus' products using the stolen code be removed from sale. GameSpot reports: Specifically, ZeniMax is seeking to block sales of its mobile and PC developer kits, as well as technology allowing the integration of Oculus Rift with development engines Unreal and Unity, reports Law360. If the injunction isn't granted, ZeniMax wants a share of "revenues derived from products incorporating its intellectual properties," suggesting a 20 percent cut for at least 10 years. ZeniMax argues the previous settlement of $500 million is "insufficient incentive for [Oculus] to cease infringing." Oculus, meanwhile, says that "ZeniMax's motion does not change the fact that the [original] verdict was legally flawed and factually unwarranted. We look forward to filing our own motion to set aside the jury's verdict and, if necessary, filing an appeal that will allow us to put this litigation behind us," the virtual reality company stated.
Displays

Slashdot Asks: Are Curved TVs Worth It? (cnet.com) 108

New submitter cherishjoo shares a report written by David Katzmaier via CNET: When the first curved TVs appeared more than three years ago I asked whether they were a gimmick. As a TV reviewer I had to give the curve a fighting chance, however, so I took a curved Samsung home to live with my family for awhile, in addition to subjecting it to a full CNET review. In the end, I answered my own question with the headline "Great picture quality, but the curved screen is a flat-out gimmick." Since then most of the video geeks I know, including just about everybody I hear from on Twitter, Facebook and article comments, pooh-poohs curved TV screens as a useless distraction. A curved TV takes the traditional flat screen and bends it along a gentle arc. The edges end up a bit closer, ostensibly providing a slight wraparound effect. Curved TV makers, citing huge curved screens like IMAX, call their sets more "immersive" than their flat counterparts, but in my experience that claim doesn't hold water at in-home (as opposed to theatrical) screen sizes and viewing distances. The only real image-quality benefit I saw to the curve was a reduction in reflections in some cases. That benefit wasn't worth the slight geometric distortions introduced by the curve, not to mention its awkwardness when hung on the wall. That said, the curve doesn't ruin an otherwise good picture. In TVs, assuming similar prices, curved vs. flat boils down to a choice of aesthetics. As Katzmaier mentioned, curved TVs have been on the market for several years now, and while manufacturers continue to produce them, the verdict on whether or not the pros outweigh the cons is still murky. Here's our question for you: Are curved televisions worth the inflated price tag? If you are in the market for a new TV, does the fact that the display is curved entice you or steer you away?
AI

Americans Believe Robots Will Take Everyone Else's Job, But Theirs Will Be Safe, Study Says (cnbc.com) 318

An anonymous reader shares a CNBC report: You may accept, by now, that robots will take over lots of jobs currently held by human workers. But you probably believe they won't be taking yours. Though other industries are in danger, your position is safe. That's according to a report released by LivePerson, a cloud-based messaging company which surveyed 2,000 U.S.-based consumers online in January. Their researchers find that only three percent of respondents say they experience fear about losing their job to a robot once a week. By contrast, more than 40 percent of respondents never worry about it. And a whopping 65 percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat agree that other industries will suffer because of automation, but theirs will be fine.
Businesses

Panasonic Wants Employees To Relax, Limits Work Days To 11 hours (cnet.com) 135

Japan is notorious for its long working hours, which have been blamed for a national health crisis known as "karoshi" -- death from overwork. From a report on CNET: Panasonic hopes to curb this, instructing its 100,000-ish employees to work no later than 8 p.m. each day, reports Asahi Shimbun. This hour reduction still enables a 55-hour working week, but the directive from Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga also limited overtime to 80 hours a month.
Earth

Life Expectancy Set To Hit 90 In South Korea, Study Predicts (nature.com) 99

According to a study published in the journal The Lancet, researchers have predicted that South Korea will likely become the first country where the average life expectancy will exceed 90 years. The researchers led by public-health researcher Majid Ezzati at Imperial College London used data from the World Health Organization and a suite of 21 statistical models they developed to figure out how life expectancy will change in 35 developed countries by 2030. Nature reports: Life expectancy is expected to increase in all 35 countries, in keeping with steady progress in recent decades, the team found. But it is South Korean women who will be living longest by 2030: there is a nearly 60% chance that their life expectancy at birth will exceed 90 years by that time, the team calculates. Girls born in the country that year can expect to live, on average, to nearly 91, and boys to 84, the highest in the world for both sexes. The nation's rapid improvement in life expectancy -- the country was ranked twenty-ninth for women in 1985 -- is probably down to overall improvements in economic status and child nutrition, the study notes, among other factors. South Koreans also have relatively equal access to health care, lower blood pressure than people in Western countries and low rates of smoking among women. As for the United States, the life expectancy is "predicted to be among the lowest of these countries by 2030; 80 for men (similar to the Czech Republic) and 83 for women (similar to Mexico)."
Transportation

Self-Driving Cars Should Be Liable For Accidents, Not the Passengers: UK Government (arstechnica.co.uk) 239

"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) 94

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) 261

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) 62

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) 114

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) 172

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) 153

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) 143

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) 187

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.

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