AI

DeepMind's Go-Playing AI Doesn't Need Human Help To Beat Us Anymore (theverge.com) 111

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.
The Internet

Mozilla To Document Cross-Browser Web Dev Standards with Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and W3C (venturebeat.com) 41

Mozilla has announced deeper partnerships with Microsoft, Google, Samsung, and web standards body W3C to create cross-browser documentation on MDN Web Docs, a web development documentation portal created by Mozilla. From a report: MDN Web Docs first came to fruition in 2005, and it has since been known under various names, including the Mozilla Developer Network and Mozilla Developer Center. Today, MDN Web Docs serves as a community and library of sorts covering all things related to web technologies and standards, including JavaScript, HTML, CSS, open web app development, Firefox add-on development, and more. The web constitutes multiple players from across the technology spectrum and, of course, multiple browsers, including Microsoft's Edge, Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, and the Samsung Internet Browser. To avoid fragmentation and ensure end-users have a (fairly) consistent browsing experience, it helps if all the players involved adhere to a similar set of standards.
Businesses

Amazon's Next Big Bet is Letting You Communicate Without a Smartphone, Says Alexa's Chief Scientist (cnbc.com) 138

An anonymous reader shares a report: The next big function to take off on Amazon's Echo devices will be voice or video calling -- which is a way Alexa can reduce the need to have your smartphone on your at all times, said Rohit Prasad, VP and Head Scientist at Alexa Machine Learning. "If you have not played with calling and the video calls on Echo Show, you should try it because that is revolutionizing how you can communicate," Prasad said in an exclusive interview with CNBC at an Alexa Accelerator event in Seattle Tuesday night. (The event is dedicating to developing new voice-powered technologies.) "When you can drop in on people who have given you access -- so I can drop in and call my mom in her kitchen without her picking any device -- it's just awesome." (Amazon added the ability to call mobile numbers and landlines for free onto Echo devices a few weeks ago.) Amazon doesn't have a smartphone that lets customers bring a digital assistant everywhere -- like Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant -- and communicating through Alexa devices is one way of reducing the need for a personal handset, Prasad said "I can easily drop in and talk to my kids," Prasad says. "They don't have a smartphone so that's my easiest way to talk to them. It's yet another area where Alexa is taking the friction away."
Chrome

Chrome 62 Released With OpenType Variable Fonts, HTTP Warnings In Incognito Mode (bleepingcomputer.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: Earlier today, Google released version 62 of its Chrome browser that comes with quite a few new features but also fixes for 35 security issues. The most interesting new features are support for OpenType variable fonts, the Network Quality Estimator API, the ability to capture and stream DOM elements, and HTTP warnings for the browser's Normal and Incognito mode. The most interesting of the new features is variable fonts. Until now, web developers had to load multiple font families whenever they wanted variations on a font family. For example, if a developer was using the Open Sans font family on a site, if he wanted a font variation such as Regular, Bold, Black, Normal, Condensed, Expanded, Highlight, Slab, Heavy, Dashed, or another, he'd have to load a different font file for each. OpenType variable fonts allow font makers to merge all these font family variations in one file that developers can use on their site and control via CSS. This results in fewer files loaded on a website, saving bandwidth and improving page load times. Two other features that will interest mostly developers are the Network Quality Estimator and the Media Capture from DOM Elements APIs. As the name hints, the first grants developers access to network speed and performance metrics, information that some websites may use to adapt video streams, audio quality, or deliver low-fi versions of their sites. Developers can use the second API -- the Media Capture from DOM Elements -- to record videos of how page sections behave during interaction and stream the content over WebRTC. This latter API could be useful for developers debugging a page, but also support teams that want to see what's happening on the user's side.
Android

Android Oreo Helps Google's Pixel 2 Smartphones Outperform Other Android Flagships (hothardware.com) 77

MojoKid highlights Hot Hardware's review of Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones: Google officially launched it's Pixel 2 phones today, taking the wraps off third-party reviews. Designed by Google but manufactured by HTC (Pixel 2) and LG (Pixel 2 XL), the two new handsets also boast Google's latest Android 8.0 operating system, aka Oreo, an exclusive to Google Pixel and certain Nexus devices currently. And in some ways, this is also a big advantage. Though they are based on the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor as many other Android devices, Google's new Pixel 2s manage to outpace similarly configured smartphones in certain benchmarks by significant margins (Basemark, PCMark and 3DMark). They also boot dramatically faster than any other Android handset on the market, in as little as 10 seconds. Camera performance is also excellent, with both the 5-inch Pixel 2 and 6-inch Pixel 2 XL sporting identical electronics, save for their displays and chassis sizes. Another notable feature built into Android Oreo is Google Now Playing, an always-listening, Shazam-like service (if you enable it) that displays song titles on the lock screen if it picks up on music playing in the room you're in. Processing is done right on the Pixel 2 and it doesn't need network connectivity. Another Pixel 2 Oreo-based trick is Google Lens, a machine vision system that Google notes "can recognize places like landmarks and buildings, artwork that you'd find in a museum, media covers such as books, movies, music albums, and video games..." The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are available now on Verizon or unlocked via the Google Store starting at $649 and $849 respectively for 64GB storage versions, with a $100 up-charge for 128GB variants.
Google

Google Maps Ditches Walking Calorie Counter After Backlash (engadget.com) 338

Following online backlash, Google is removing a planned feature in Maps that shows you how many calories you'd burn when in walking mode. Google's attempt to promote a healthy lifestyle caused a number of people to lambast the feature on Twitter, claiming it would "shame" and even "trigger" those with eating disorders. Engadget reports: Taking note of the negative reaction, Google is now dumping the experiment. It confirmed to Engadget that the update was briefly tested on iOS, and has been abandoned based on user feedback. As The Hill's Taylor Lorenz noted in her tweets, there was no way to turn off the feature. Lorenz also claimed that using pink cupcakes as the unit of measurement was "lowkey aimed at women." Others pointed out that Maps wasn't the appropriate place for the update. After all, there are plenty of fitness and calorie counting apps that keep track of your activity and consumption -- again emphasizing how misplaced the feature was.
Google

Toronto To Be Home To Google Parent's Biggest Smart City Project Yet (techcrunch.com) 53

Sidewalk Labs, the smart city subsidiary of Alphabet (the parent company of Google) with the stated goal of "reimagining cities from the Internet up," now has a very big sandbox in which to conduct its high-tech experiments. From a report: That's obviously an ambitious project, but some of the groundwork is already being laid: Alphabet's Google will be the flagship tenant for the new neighbourhood, anchoring the easter waterfront, to be called "Quayside," and Sidewalk Labs has committed $50 million to kick off pilot testing and planning in partnership with the City of Toronto. Sidewalk Labs won the contract through its response to a Request for Proposals issues by Waterfront Toronto, and organization created by the Canadian federal government, the Ontario provincial government and the City of Toronto together to foster development of Toronto's lakefront areas in ways that address urban sprawl while respecting the realities of climate change and taking into account the ability of the city's residents to get around efficiently. The area involved in the RFP that Sidewalk Labs will work with the government coalition to develop spans around 800 acres (though 12 acres are specified for the initial project), and is one of the largest underdeveloped urban areas in any North American city, making it a good target for Sidewalk's ambitious vision, which involves building smart cities holistically from the very start. Ultimately, the partners hope to turn the area into a "place for tens of thousands of people to live, work, learn and play -- and to create and advance new ideas that improve city life," according to a release from Sidewalk.
Google

'Google Just Made Gmail the Most Secure Email Provider on the Planet' (vice.com) 197

Google announced on Tuesday that it would offer stronger online security for "high risk" users who may be frequent targets of online attacks. The company said anyone with a personal Google account can enroll in the new "advanced protection," while noting that it will require users to "trade off a bit of convenience" for extra security. Motherboard reports: The main advantage in terms of security is the need for a key or token to log in as the second factor, instead of a code sent via SMS or via app. This is much better because there's no way for hackers to steal or phish this key from afar (there have been isolated incidents of hackers using social engineering to gain access to someone's cell phone number by getting the provider to issue a new SIM card, for instance). Thanks to these new features, Gmail is now the most secure email provider available on the internet if you are worried about hackers breaking into your private correspondence. "This is a major step in the right direction in offering the same kind of protection available to high-profile figures to everyday people," Kenneth White, a Washington D.C. based security consultant to federal agencies, told Motherboard. "They have really thought this through, and while it may not make sense for everyone, for those that need it, it's a much needed option."
Google

Google Maps Now Lets You Explore Your Local Planets and Moons (cnet.com) 53

Google has added three planets and nine moons to Google Maps. "The heavenly bodies include Saturn moons Dione, Enceladus, Iapetus, Mimas, Rhea and Titan, and Jupiter moons Europa, Ganymede and Io," reports CNET. "Google also added dwarf-planets Pluto and Ceres and full-planet Venus." From the report: Once inside Google Maps for planets, you can spin the space objects around, get more information on their place names and zoom in for a closer look. The new worlds are possible thanks to imagery from NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's dearly departed Cassini spacecraft sent back a treasure trove of views of Saturn's moons. If you have a few moments to spare, fire up a browser, go to your current location on Google Maps, enter satellite mode and hit the zoom-out button until you've left the planet and are "floating" in space. A list of available planets and moons pops up on the side and you're off on your space adventure.
Google

Google Photos Now Recognizes Your Pets (techcrunch.com) 60

Today, Google is introducing an easier way to aggregate your pet photos in its Photos app -- by allowing you to group all your pet's photos in one place, right beside the people Google Photos organized using facial recognition. TechCrunch reports: This is an improvement over typing in "dog," or another generalized term, because the app will now only group together photos of an individual pet together, instead of returning all photos you've captured with a "dog" in them. And like the face grouping feature, you can label the pet by name to more easily pull up their photos in the app, or create albums, movies or photo books using their pictures. In addition, Google Photos lets you type in an animal's breed to search for photos of pets, and it lets you search for photos using the dog and cat emojis. The company also earlier this year introduced a feature that would create a mini-movie starring your pet, but you can opt to make one yourself by manually selecting photos then choosing from a half-dozen tracks to accompany the movie, says Google.
Wireless Networking

Every Patch For 'KRACK' Wi-Fi Vulnerability Available Right Now (zdnet.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: As reported previously by ZDNet, the bug, dubbed "KRACK" -- which stands for Key Reinstallation Attack -- is at heart a fundamental flaw in the way Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) operates. According to security researcher and academic Mathy Vanhoef, who discovered the flaw, threat actors can leverage the vulnerability to decrypt traffic, hijack connections, perform man-in-the-middle attacks, and eavesdrop on communication sent from a WPA2-enabled device. In total, ten CVE numbers have been preserved to describe the vulnerability and its impact, and according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the main affected vendors are Aruba, Cisco, Espressif Systems, Fortinet, the FreeBSD Project, HostAP, Intel, Juniper Networks, Microchip Technology, Red Hat, Samsung, various units of Toshiba and Ubiquiti Networks. A list of the patches available is below. For the most up-to-date list with links to each patch/statement (if available), visit ZDNet's article.
Google

Google Chrome for Windows Gets Basic Antivirus Features (betanews.com) 54

Google is rolling out a trio of important changes to Chrome for Windows users. From a report: At the heart of these changes is Chrome Cleanup. This feature detects unwanted software that might be bundled with downloads, and provides help with removing it. Google's Philippe Rivard explains that Chrome now has built-in hijack detection which should be able to detect when user settings are changes without consent. This is a setting that has already rolled out to users, and Google says that millions of users have already been protected against unwanted setting changes such as having their search engine altered. But it's the Chrome Cleanup tool that Google is particularly keen to highlight. A redesigned interface makes it easier to use and to see what unwanted software has been detected and singled out for removal.
Security

Millions of High-Security Crypto Keys Crippled by Newly Discovered Flaw (arstechnica.com) 55

Slovak and Czech researchers have found a vulnerability that leaves government and corporate encryption cards vulnerable to hackers to impersonate key owners, inject malicious code into digitally signed software, and decrypt sensitive data, reports ArsTechnica. From the report: The weakness allows attackers to calculate the private portion of any vulnerable key using nothing more than the corresponding public portion. Hackers can then use the private key to impersonate key owners, decrypt sensitive data, sneak malicious code into digitally signed software, and bypass protections that prevent accessing or tampering with stolen PCs. The five-year-old flaw is also troubling because it's located in code that complies with two internationally recognized security certification standards that are binding on many governments, contractors, and companies around the world. The code library was developed by German chipmaker Infineon and has been generating weak keys since 2012 at the latest. The flaw is the one Estonia's government obliquely referred to last month when it warned that 750,000 digital IDs issued since 2014 were vulnerable to attack. Estonian officials said they were closing the ID card public key database to prevent abuse. On Monday, officials posted this update. Last week, Microsoft, Google, and Infineon all warned how the weakness can impair the protections built into TPM products that ironically enough are designed to give an additional measure of security to high-targeted individuals and organizations.
Microsoft

Microsoft Has Already Fixed the Wi-Fi Attack Vulnerability; Android Will Be Patched Within Weeks (theverge.com) 135

Microsoft says it has already fixed the problem for customers running supported versions of Windows. From a report: "We have released a security update to address this issue," says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. "Customers who apply the update, or have automatic updates enabled, will be protected. We continue to encourage customers to turn on automatic updates to help ensure they are protected." Microsoft is planning to publish details of the update later today. While it looks like Android and Linux devices are affected by the worst part of the vulnerabilities, allowing attackers to manipulate websites, Google has promised a fix for affected devices "in the coming weeks." Google's own Pixel devices will be the first to receive fixes with security patch level of November 6, 2017, but most other handsets are still well behind even the latest updates. Security researchers claim 41 percent of Android devices are vulnerable to an "exceptionally devastating" variant of the Wi-Fi attack that involves manipulating traffic, and it will take time to patch older devices.
AI

Voice Assistants Will Be Difficult To Fire (wired.com) 180

mirandakatz writes: As voice assistants crop up left and right, consumers are facing a decision: Are you an Alexa? A Google Assistant? A Siri? Choose wisely -- because once you pick one voice assistant, it'll be difficult to switch. As Scott Rosenberg writes at Backchannel, "If I want to switch assistants down the line, sure, I can just go out and buy another device. But that investment of time and personal data isn't so easy to replace... Right now, all these assistants behave like selfish employees who think they can protect their jobs by holding vital expertise or passwords close to their chests. Eventually , the data that runs the voice assistant business is going to have to be standardized."
Microsoft

US Supreme Court To Decide Microsoft Email Privacy Dispute (reuters.com) 69

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to resolve a major privacy dispute between the Justice Department and Microsoft Corp over whether prosecutors should get access to emails stored on company servers overseas. From a report: The justices will hear the Trump administration's appeal of a lower court's ruling last year preventing federal prosecutors from obtaining emails stored in Microsoft computer servers in Dublin, Ireland in a drug trafficking investigation. That decision by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals marked a victory for privacy advocates and technology companies that increasingly offer cloud computing services in which data is stored remotely. Microsoft, which has 100 data centers in 40 countries, was the first U.S. company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country. There have been several similar challenges, most brought by Google.
Chrome

Microsoft Edge Beats Chrome and Firefox in Malware-Blocking Tests (computerworld.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes Computerworld:Microsoft's Edge easily beat rival browsers from Google and Mozilla in third-party tests of the behind-the-scenes services which power anti-malware warnings and malicious website-blocking... NSS Labs says Windows 10's default browser is better at blocking phishing and socially-engineered malware attacks than Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox... According to NSS Labs of Austin, Texas, Edge automatically blocked 92% of all in-browser credential phishing attempts and stymied 100% of all socially-engineered malware (SEM) attacks. The latter encompassed a wide range of attacks, but their common characteristic was that they tried to trick users into downloading malicious code. The tactics that SEM attackers deploy include links from social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and bogus in-browser notifications of computer infections or other problems.

Edge bested Chrome and Firefox by decisive margins. For instance, Chrome blocked 74% of all phishing attacks, and 88% of SEM attacks. Meanwhile, Firefox came in third in both tests, stopping just 61% of the phishing attacks and 70% of all SEM attempts... Both Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox rely on the Safe Browsing API (application programing interface), but historically, Mozilla's implementation has performed poorly compared to Google's. No shock: Google created the API. Edge also took top prize in blocking attacks from the get-go. In NSS's SEM attack testing, for example, the Microsoft browser stopped nearly every attempt from the first moments a new attack was detected. Chrome and Firefox, on the other hand, halted 75% and 54% of the brand-new attacks, respectively. Over a week's time, Chrome and Firefox improved their blocking scores, although neither reached Edge's impressive 99.8%.

The researchers spent three weeks continuously monitoring the browsers on Windows 10 computers. But in the real world, Edge runs on just 5% of all personal computers, while Firefox runs on 13% and Chrome on 60%.
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.
Google

Google is Essentially Building an Anti-Amazon Alliance, and Target is the Latest To Join (recode.net) 94

Google and the country's biggest brick-and-mortar retailers have one main problem in common: Amazon. Now both sides are acting like they are serious about working together to do something about it. From a report: On Thursday, Target and Google announced that they are expanding what was a years-old delivery partnership from a small experiment in a handful of cities to the entire continental U.S. The expansion will allow Target to become a retail partner in Google's voice-shopping initiative, which lets owners of the Google Home "smart" speaker order items through voice commands like owners of the Echo can do from Amazon. The announcement comes seven weeks after Walmart inked a similar deal with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of products through the service. Other big-box retailers like Home Depot are also on board. Voice commerce was the core of these recent announcements, and it may someday become popular for types of shopping like reordering household staples. But that's not what is most interesting here to me. Instead, it's the promise that Target is also beginning to work with Google "to create innovative digital experiences using ... other cutting-edge technologies to elevate Target's strength in style areas such as home, apparel and beauty."
Google

Google Bombs Are Our New Normal (wired.com) 94

mirandakatz writes: Tech companies' worst crises used to come in the form of pranks like Google bombs: Users figured out how to game search results, such as when a search for "miserable failure" turned up links to information about then-president George W. Bush. Today, in the era of fake news and Russian interference, that's basically our new normal -- but as Karen Wickre, a former communications lead at companies like Google and Twitter, points out, tech companies' approaches to dealing with the new breed of crises haven't evolved much since the age of Google bombs. Wickre suggests a new, collaborative approach that she dubs the "Federation," writing that "No single company, no matter how massive and wealthy, can hire its way out of a steady gusher of bad information or false and manipulative ads...The era of the edge case -- the exception, the outlier—is over. Welcome to our time, where trouble is forever brewing."

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