Patents

Activision Patents Pay-To-Win Matchmaker (rollingstone.com) 96

New submitter EndlessNameless writes: If you like fair play, you might not like future Activision games. They will cross the line to encourage microtransactions, specifically matching players to both encourage and reward purchase. Rewarding the purchase, in particular, is an explicit and egregious elimination of any claim to fair play. "For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase," according to the patent. "This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results." Even though the patent's examples are all for a first-person-shooter game, the system could be used across a wide variety of titles. "This was an exploratory patent filed in 2015 by an R&D team working independently from our game studios," an Activision spokesperson tells Rolling Stone. "It has not been implemented in-game." Bungie also confirmed that the technology isn't being used in games currently on the market, mentioning specifically Destiny 2.
AI

DeepMind's Go-Playing AI Doesn't Need Human Help To Beat Us Anymore (theverge.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's AI subsidiary DeepMind has unveiled the latest version of its Go-playing software, AlphaGo Zero. The new program is a significantly better player than the version that beat the game's world champion earlier this year, but, more importantly, it's also entirely self-taught. DeepMind says this means the company is one step closer to creating general purpose algorithms that can intelligently tackle some of the hardest problems in science, from designing new drugs to more accurately modeling the effects of climate change. The original AlphaGo demonstrated superhuman Go-playing ability, but needed the expertise of human players to get there. Namely, it used a dataset of more than 100,000 Go games as a starting point for its own knowledge. AlphaGo Zero, by comparison, has only been programmed with the basic rules of Go. Everything else it learned from scratch. As described in a paper published in Nature today, Zero developed its Go skills by competing against itself. It started with random moves on the board, but every time it won, Zero updated its own system, and played itself again. And again. Millions of times over. After three days of self-play, Zero was strong enough to defeat the version of itself that beat 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol, winning handily -- 100 games to nil. After 40 days, it had a 90 percent win rate against the most advanced version of the original AlphaGo software. DeepMind says this makes it arguably the strongest Go player in history.
Software

EA Shuts Down Visceral Games, Shifting Development On Its Star Wars Game (kotaku.com) 73

Visceral Games, the studio behind games like Battlefield Hardline and Dead Space, is being shut down by EA. The Star Wars game in development at Visceral will be revamped and moved to a different studio. Kotaku reports: "Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe," EA's Patrick Soderlund said in a blog post. "In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design." Soderlund added that Visceral will be "ramping down and closing" and that "we're in the midst of shifting as many of the team as possible to other projects and teams at EA." "Lastly," he said, "while we had originally expected this game to launch late in our fiscal year 2019, we're now looking at a new timeframe that we will announce in the future."
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, Movie Studios Sue Over TickBox Streaming Device (arstechnica.com) 127

Movies studios, Netflix, and Amazon have teamed up to file a lawsuit against a streaming media player called TickBox TV. The device in question runs Kodi on top of Android 6.0, and searches the internet for streams that it can make available to users without actually hosting any of the content itself. An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The complaint (PDF), filed Friday, says the TickBox devices are nothing more than "tool[s] for mass infringement," which operate by grabbing pirated video streams from the Internet. The lawsuit was filed by Amazon and Netflix Studios, along with six big movie studios that make up the Motion Picture Association of America: Universal, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.

"What TickBox actually sells is nothing less than illegal access to Plaintiffs' copyrighted content," write the plaintiffs' lawyers. "TickBox TV uses software to link TickBox's customers to infringing content on the Internet. When those customers use TickBox TV as Defendant intends and instructs, they have nearly instantaneous access to multiple sources that stream Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Works without authorization." The device's marketing materials let users know the box is meant to replace paid-for content, with "a wink and a nod," by predicting that prospective customers who currently pay for Amazon Video, Netflix, or Hulu will find that "you no longer need those subscriptions." The lawsuit shows that Amazon and Netflix, two Internet companies that are relatively new to the entertainment business, are more than willing to join together with movie studios to go after businesses that grab their content.

Television

Netflix Adds 5.3 Million Subs In Q3, Beating Forecasts (variety.com) 67

Netflix shows no signs of slowing down. The company announced its third quarter results, adding more subscribers in both the U.S. and abroad than expected. Variety reports: The company gained 850,000 streaming subs in the U.S. and 4.45 million overseas in the period. Analysts had estimated Netflix to add 784,000 net subscribers in the U.S. and 3.62 million internationally for Q3. "We added a Q3-record 5.3 million memberships globally (up 49% year-over-year) as we continued to benefit from strong appetite for our original series and films, as well as the adoption of internet entertainment across the world," the company said in announcing the results, noting that it had under-forecast both U.S. and international subscriber growth. Netflix also indicated that its content spending may be even higher next year than previously projected. The company had said it was targeting programming expenditures of $7 billion in 2018; on Monday, Netflix said it will spend between $7 billion and $8 billion on content (on a profit-and-loss basis) next year. For 2017, original content will represent more than 25% of total programming spending, and that "will continue to grow," Netflix said.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's Fall Update With Redesigned Xbox Dashboard Is Now Available To All (engadget.com) 38

Microsoft has released the next big "Fall" update for the Xbox One, which focuses on speed and simplicity. Engadget reports: The first "Fluid Design" interface comes with a redesigned Home page, which is all about simplicity and customization. The top-level section has four shortcuts (your current game, two personalized suggestions, and a deal from the Microsoft store) and a horizontal carousel underneath. The biggest change, however, is the new "Content Blocks" that sit below this screen. Scroll down and you'll find a series of large, visual panels dedicated to games and friends. These are completely customizable and act like miniature hubs for your favorite titles and communities. The quick-access Guide has been tweaked for speed, with small, horizontal tabs that you can slide between with the Xbox controller's LB and RB bumpers, D-pad or left thumbstick. If you launch the Guide while you're streaming or part of an active party, you'll also see the corresponding broadcast and party tabs by default. Other Guide tweaks include a new Tournaments section in the Multiplayer tab, which will summarize any official, professional or community tournaments that you've entered. In addition, Microsoft has overhauled the Community tab with a modern, grid-based layout. It's also tweaked the idle and screen dimming features that kick in when you walk away from the console momentarily. Larry Hryb, Xbox Live's Major Nelson and Mike Ybarra, the Platform Engineer, have posted a walkthrough video on YouTube highlighting all the major new changes.
Music

SUSE Shares Linux-Themed Music Video Parodies (itwire.com) 28

Long-time Slashdot reader troublemaker_23 quotes ITWire: German Linux company SUSE Linux is well-known for its Linux and other open source solutions. It is also known for producing videos for geeks and debuting them at its annual SUSECon conference. This year, in Prague, was no different. The company, which marked its 25th year on 2 September, came up with two videos, one to mark the occasion and the other all about Linux and open source. Both videos are parodies of well-known songs: the video Linus Said is based on "Momma Said", while 25 Years is a parody of "7 Years". Some of the lyrics in both SUSE videos would be meaningless to the average person -- but every word will ring a bell, sometimes a very poignant one, with geeks. And that's the primary audience it targets.
The article embeds both videos -- and also links to the music videos they're parodying. And it includes links to SUSE's two previous annual music video parodies -- Uptime Funk (based on Bruno Mars' blockbuster hit "Uptown Funk"), and Can't Stop the SUSE, a parody of Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling".
Television

Cord-Cutters Drive Cable TV Subscribers to a 17-Year Low (houstonchronicle.com) 197

An anonymous reader quotes the Washington Post: On Wednesday, AT&T told regulators that it expects to finish the quarter with about 90,000 fewer TV subscribers than it began with. AT&T blamed a number of issues, including hurricane damage to infrastructure, rising credit standards and competition from rivals. The report also shows AT&T lost more traditional TV customers than it gained back through its online video app, DirecTV Now. And analysts are suggesting that that's evidence that cord-cutting is the main culprit... "DirecTV, like all of its cable peers, is suffering from the ravages of cord-cutting," said industry analyst Craig Moffett in a research note this week. Moffett added that while nobody expected AT&T's pay-TV numbers to look good, hardly anyone could have predicted they would look "this bad."

The outlook doesn't look much healthier for the rest of the television industry. Over the past year, cable and satellite firms have collectively lost nearly 3 million customers, according to estimates by market analysts at SNL Kagan and New Street Research. The number of households with traditional TV service is hovering at about the level it was in 2000, according to New Street's Jonathan Chaplin, in a study last week. Other analysts predict that, after factoring in AT&T's newly disclosed losses, the industry will have lost 1 million traditional TV subscribers by the end of this quarter.

Google

Google Slashes Prices of Its USB-C Headphone Dongle Following Minor Outrage (mashable.com) 197

At its hardware event last week, Google unveiled its two new flagship smartphones: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. While these devices feature high-end specifications and the latest version of Android, they both lack headphone jacks, upsetting many consumers who still rely heavily on wired headphones. To add insult to injury, Google announced a USB-C adapter for a whopping price of $20 -- that's $11 more than Apple's Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. This resulted in some minor outrage and caused Google to rethink its decision(s). As reported by 9to5Google, Google decided to slash the price of the dongle by over 50%. It is now priced at a more reasonable $9.
Businesses

Real Moviegoers Don't Care About Rotten Tomatoes 173

In a recent essay published on the Hollywood Reporter, Martin Scorsese inveighs against two conjoined trends -- the widespread reporting of box-office results and the grading of movies by consumers on CinemaScore and by critics on Rotten Tomatoes -- and blames it for "a tone that is hostile to serious filmmakers." In particular, he contends that this hostile environment is worsening "as film criticism written by passionately engaged people with actual knowledge of film history has gradually faded from the scene." Richard Brody, a movie critic at the New Yorker, thinks Scorsese is missing the mark. He writes: I think that film criticism is, over all, better than ever, because, with its new Internet-centrism, it's more democratic than ever and many of the critics who write largely online are more film-curious than ever. Anyone who is active on so-called Film Twitter -- who sees links by critics, mainly younger critics, to his or her work -- can't help but be impressed by the knowledge, the curiosity, and the sensibility of many of them. Their tastes tend to be broader and more daring than those of many senior critics on more established publications. And, even if readers of the wider press aren't reading these more obscure critics, the critics whom general readers read are often reading those young critics (and if they're not, it shows). This is, of course, not universally so, any more than it ever was. The Internet is democratic in all directions -- it's also available to writers of lesser knowledge, duller taste, and dubious agendas, and it may be their work that's advertised most loudly -- but the younger generation of critics is present online and there for the finding. [...] What Scorsese doesn't exactly say, but what, I think, marks a generation gap in movie thinking that his essay reflects, is the appearance of an increasing divide between artistically ambitious films and Hollywood films -- the gap between the top box-office films and the award winners. For filmmakers ready to work on lower budgets, the gap is irrelevant. The filmmakers whose conceptions tend toward the spectacular are the ones whose styles may, literally, be cramped by shrinking budgets -- filmmakers such as Scorsese and Wes Anderson, whose work has both an original and elaborate sense of style and a grand historical reach.
Businesses

Hollywood Studios Join Disney To Launch Movies Anywhere Digital Locker Service (theverge.com) 48

There may be a grand unifying service to make accumulating a large digital cinematic library feasible, or so is the hope anyway. From a report: For several years now, Disney has been the only Hollywood studio with a digital movie locker worth using, but a host of other industry heavyweights have now jumped on board to launch an expanded version of the service called Movies Anywhere. It's both a cloud-based digital locker and a one-stop-shop app: customers connect Movies Anywhere to their iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, or Vudu accounts, and all of the eligible movies they've purchased through those retailers appear as part of their Movies Anywhere library. Given that the Movies Anywhere app works across a number of platforms, it basically allows them to take their digital film library with them no matter what device or operating system they're using. [...] The launch of Movies Anywhere should be the merciful, final blow that puts an end to UltraViolet, one of the entertainment industry's first attempts at putting together a comprehensive digital locker service. That service flailed due to a poor customer experience and lack of adoption on the part of big digital retailers like Apple. The team behind Movies Anywhere seems to have learned from UltraViolet's mistakes, however, as well as Disney's previous successes.
Television

Comcast Pressures Local Cable Firms to Curb Low-Cost TV Packages (bloomberg.com) 98

Gerry Smith, reporting for Bloomberg: Comcast is trying to restrict cable operators' sales of low-cost TV service to ensure its regional sports networks don't lose too many subscribers, according to a trade group of about 750 smaller companies that have taken their complaint to regulators. Comcast has tried to limit the availability of sports-free offerings in contract talks with pay-TV operators, according to the American Cable Association, whose members have about 7 million subscribers. In addition to being the largest U.S. cable provider, Comcast owns regional sports channels in markets such as Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. The claim shows programmers are fighting back as more consumers seek TV options that don't include sports. Cable operators are trying to stem subscriber losses by offering a "basic" service with just a few channels and internet access for fans of Netflix or Amazon.
Software

PornHub Uses Computer Vision To ID Actors, Acts In Its Videos (techcrunch.com) 135

Baron_Yam shares a report from TechCrunch, which details PornHub's use of machine learning to ID actors and acts in its videos: The computer vision system can identify specific actors in scenes and even identifies various positions and attributes. While it is obviously very difficult to describe the feature set for a family audience, the system can identify individual performers in real time -- in the demo here it recognizes one performer even from the side -- and it can also identify sex acts. Facial detection is nothing new, even for mobile devices, but this system goes one step further by categorizing videos and images based on various attributes. This means you'll be able find favorites by name or characteristics, a feat that once require prodigious amounts of data entry.

"So far we've used the model on about 500k featured videos which includes user submitted and we plan to scan the whole library in the beginning of 2018," said Price. "Very shortly, the technology will also be used to detect various sex positions / categories and be able to properly tag them as well."

Books

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your Favorite William Gibson Novel? 298

dryriver writes: When I first read William Gibson's Neuromancer and then his other novels as a young man back in the 1990s, I was blown away by Gibson's work. Everything was so fresh and out of the ordinary in his books. The writing style. The technologies. The characters and character names. The plotlines. The locations. The future world he imagined. The Matrix. It was unlike anything I had read before. A window into the far future of humanity. I had great hopes over the years that some visionary film director would take a crack at creating film versions of Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive . But that never happened. All sorts of big budget science fiction was produced for TV and the big screen since Neuromancer that never got anywhere near the brilliance of Gibson's future world. Gibson's world largely stayed on the printed page, and today very few people talk about Neuromancer, even though the world we live in, at times, appears headed in the exact direction Gibson described in his Sprawl trilogy. Why does hardly anybody talk about William Gibson anymore? His books describe a future that is much more technologically advanced than where we are in 2017, so it isn't like his future vision has become "badly dated." To get the conversation going, we rephrased dryriver's question... What is your favorite William Gibson novel?
Movies

It's Illegal to Pirate Films in Iran, Unless You're the Government (vice.com) 35

An anonymous reader shares a report: While legal "pirating" exists in Iran, six administrators of the Iranian pirate movie site TinyMoviez have been arrested by Iranian authorities. This was a website the Iranian national broadcaster had used to download and nationally air movies in the past. The exact date of the arrests are unknown, but Tehran's Prosecutor General announced the arrests on September 26, 2017. The website is still online, but users haven't been able to download content from it since September 19, 2017. Now TinyMoviez administrators are finding themselves on the wrong side of Iran's odd and often pirating friendly copyright laws. Iran's copyright law is a quagmire when it comes to understanding what rights exists for creators of an original piece of work, and what rights exist for those wanting to re-distribute original works, such as movies. Meanwhile, Article 8 gives the government broad powers to reproduce work that is not its own. This means that the government is exempt from Article 23, which criminalizes the theft of another's work.
Sci-Fi

Why Is 'Blade Runner' the Title of 'Blade Runner'? (vulture.com) 220

Why is Blade Runner called Blade Runner? Though the viewer is told in the opening text of Ridley Scott's 1982 original that "special Blade Runner units" hunt renegade replicants -- and though the term "Blade Runner" is applied to Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard a few times in the film -- we're never given an explanation of where the proper noun comes from. The novel upon which Blade Runner was based, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, offers no clues either.
Television

Hulu Lowers Prices After Netflix Raises Theirs (variety.com) 108

Coincidentally, as Netflix raised their prices last week, Hulu decided to lower theirs. The streaming service is now offering a plan, which includes commercials, for $5.99 per month for the first year -- a short-term promotion aimed at luring new subs with the kickoff of the fall television and Hulu's expanded TV library lineup. Variety reports: Hulu's special offer for the limited-commercials plan is available through Jan. 9, 2018, only to new or returning Hulu subs. After one year, the regular $7.99 monthly price will kick in. Hulu offers a commercial-free option for $12 per month, and a live TV service (which includes access to original series like Emmy-winning "The Handmaid's Tale" and on-demand titles) for $40 monthly. A Hulu rep said the company's new promo is intended to draft off the fall 2017 TV season. As it looks for another original series on the order of "Handmaid's Tale" -- so far its only breakout hit -- Hulu has inked deals to bring thousands of current and older TV shows to the platform to armor-up in its battle with rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Sci-Fi

'Blade Runner 2049' Isn't the Movie Denis Villeneuve Wanted to Make (vice.com) 264

Readers share a Motherboard article: There are seemingly two inescapable realities for big-budget filmmakers in 2017: you have to use existing intellectual property and you must provide spectacle that can lure massive domestic and foreign audiences to the the theater. It seemed that Denis Villeneuve chose wisely when he selected the IP that he would ride into the mainstream. [...] There is much to admire, but as a whole, Blade Runner 2049 works best as a case for why filmmakers like Villeneuve should be given big budgets to try out new concepts rather than retread what's come before them. Just like Arrival was at its best when we saw the elegance of how the space ship and the aliens within it actually functioned, this version of Blade Runner shines when we get to watch how Villeneuve's dystopia operates. Moments of technical brilliance small and large are at the soul of this film. Whether you're watching the creation of robot memories, the execution of an air strike from an effortless, detached distance, or even something as simple as a stroll through a hall of records, the mechanics of this world are jaw-dropping. Ryan Gosling (K) wisely opts for a muted, brooding performance, allowing the world to steal the show while still illustrating the burden of living in it. Even with all of this technical brilliance on display (the costumes, sound, and special effects are brilliant), the baggage of the original film's mythology weighs down Blade Runner 2049. The most burdensome baggage for Villeneuve to carry, sadly, is the Blade Runner story itself.
Television

Latest TVs Are Ready for Their Close-Ups (wsj.com) 219

An anonymous share a WSJ article: The latest televisions have more pixels than ever. But can your eyes detect the difference? The answer is yes -- if you sit close enough. Old TVs had 349,920 pixels. High-definition flat screens bumped up the total to 2 million. Ultrahigh-definition sets inflated it to 8 million. And manufacturers are now experimenting with 8K TVs that have an astounding 33 million pixels. More pixels render hair, fur and skin with greater detail, but the benefit depends on viewing the screen from an ideal distance so the sharpness of the images is clear, but the tiny points of illumination aren't individually distinguishable. According to standards set by the International Telecommunication Union, that ideal distance is 3 times the height of an HDTV screen, 1.5 times the height of a UHDTV screen and .75 times the height of an 8K screen (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; here's a PDF copy of the newspaper). Given those measurements, viewers should sit 6 feet away from a 50-inch HDTV with a 24.5-inch tall screen. But they should sit just 3 feet from a UHDTV of the same size, closer than most Americans prefer.
It's funny.  Laugh.

Parody 'Subgenius' Religion Wants to Crowdfund An Alien-Contacting Beacon (gofundme.com) 78

In 1979 the followers of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs founded a satirical religion called the Church of the Subgenius. (Slackware Linux reportedly drew its name from the "pursuit of Slack", a comfort-seeking tenet of the 38-year-old parody religion.) Combining UFOs and conspiracy theories with some social critiques (and a few H.P. Lovecraft characters), the strange group is now re-emerging online with an official Facebook page -- and a slick new video channel.

In "Adventures in the Forbidden Sciences," former church CEO K'taden Legume announces that in January of 2016, "the Subgenius Foundation received an overdue bill for a storage locker in the Pacific Northwest registered under the name J. R. Dobbs. Behind the steel door was a freight elevator leading deep underground to what was long considered to be a myth: The church's long-abandoned forbidden science laboratories. Hidden in a forgotten cavern, packed floor-to-ceiling with thousands of crates dating back to the mid-19th century." Eighteen months of experimentation lead to clues about a flying saucer arriving on "the Black Day" -- and one last chance at eternal salvation and everlasting Slack: the construction of an alien-contacting beacon. Legume calls it "our best last hope for getting off of this planet. We have the tech. We have the moxie to do this, but to finish the beacon -- we need your help."

"The Beacon will be constructed by a team of 'Forbidden Scientists' led by former church CEO Dr. K'taden Legume," writes new Slashdot reader Ktaden Legume, touting a new $25,000 campaign to crowdfund the beacon's construction.

So far it's raised $294.

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