Communications

Net Neutrality Rules Die on April 23 (theverge.com) 15

The Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules will be no more in two months, as the agency takes the final step in removing the regulation from its rule book. From a report: The date -- April 23 -- was revealed today after the Federal Communication Commission's order revoking net neutrality was published in the Federal Register. You can read the full order here. The publication means that a new fight around net neutrality is about to begin. States and other parties will be able to sue over the rules -- some have already gotten started -- and a battle in Congress will kick off over a vote to reverse the order entirely. While that fight likely won't get far in Congress since Republicans by and large oppose net neutrality and control both chambers, there will likely be a long and heated legal battle around the corner for the FCC's new policy. The FCC's new rules are really a lack of rules. Its "Restoring Internet Freedom" order entirely revokes the strong net neutrality regulations put in place back in 2015 and replaces them with basically nothing. Internet providers can now block, throttle, and prioritize content if they want to. The only real rule here is that they have to disclose if they're doing any of this.
Twitter

Twitter Updates Developer Rules in the Wake of Bot Crackdown (mashable.com) 16

Twitter is getting serious about its bot problem. From a report: Hours after a massive bot purge that prompted the #TwitterLockOut hashtag to trend, the company is announcing new rules for developers meant to prevent bots from using third-party apps to spread spam. According to the new rules, developers that use Twitter's API will no longer be able to let users: Simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content to multiple accounts. Simultaneously perform actions such as Likes, Retweets, or follows from multiple accounts Use of any form of automation (including scheduling) to post identical or substantially similar content, or to perform actions such as Likes or Retweets, across many accounts that have authorized your app (whether or not you created or directly control those accounts) is not permitted.
Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches Falcon 9 Carrying Starlink Demo Satellites (techcrunch.com) 22

SpaceX has successfully launched a Falcon 9 from SLC-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base today, its first launch since its successful Falcon Heavy test earlier this month. The launch took off early Wednesday morning, after being rescheduled a couple of times from an initial target of this past weekend. From a report: The launch was primarily designed to bring the PAZ satellite to orbit (which was deployed as planned into a low Earth, sun-synchronous polar orbit), a satellite for a Spanish customer that's designed to provide geocommunications and radar imaging for both government and private commercial customers. This launch had a secondary purpose, however, and one that might ultimately be more important to SpaceX's long-term goals. SpaceX packed two demonstration micro satellites for its planned internet broadband service (which Elon Musk confided via tweet it will call 'Starlink'). These will perform tests required before it's certified to operate the service, which it hopes to use to generate revenue by signing up subscribers to its internet service, which will hopefully be globe-spanning once complete.
Science

A Biohacker Regrets Publicly Injecting Himself With CRISPR (theatlantic.com) 46

Sarah Zhang, reporting for The Atlantic: When Josiah Zayner watched a biotech CEO drop his pants at a biohacking conference and inject himself with an untested herpes treatment, he realized things had gone off the rails. Zayner is no stranger to stunts in biohacking -- loosely defined as experiments, often on the self, that take place outside of traditional lab spaces. You might say he invented their latest incarnation: He's sterilized his body to "transplant" his entire microbiome in front of a reporter. He's squabbled with the FDA about selling a kit to make glow-in-the-dark beer. He's extensively documented attempts to genetically engineer the color of his skin. And most notoriously, he injected his arm with DNA encoding for CRISPR that could theoretically enhance his muscles -- in between taking swigs of Scotch at a live-streamed event during an October conference. (Experts say -- and even Zayner himself in the live-stream conceded -- it's unlikely to work.) So when Zayner saw Ascendance Biomedical's CEO injecting himself on a live-stream earlier this month, you might say there was an uneasy flicker of recognition.

Ascendance Bio soon fell apart in almost comical fashion. The company's own biohackers -- who created the treatment but who were not being paid -- revolted and the CEO locked himself in a lab. Even before all that, the company had another man inject himself with an untested HIV treatment on Facebook Live. And just days after the pants-less herpes treatment stunt, another biohacker who shared lab space with Ascendance posted a video detailing a self-created gene therapy for lactose intolerance. The stakes in biohacking seem to be getting higher and higher. "Honestly, I kind of blame myself," Zayner told me recently. He's been in a soul-searching mood; he recently had a kid and the backlash to the CRISPR stunt in October had been getting to him. "There's no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually," he said.

Businesses

Uber Launches 'Express Pool' To Get More Riders To Share Rides (recode.net) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Uber is beginning to roll out a cheaper version of its ride-sharing UberPool service, called Express Pool. The service, which was being tested in Boston and San Francisco, is now available in Los Angeles, San Diego and Denver, and will launch in Miami, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., tomorrow. The idea is that Express Pool, which requires riders to walk a little to meet their driver -- and then again to their destination after being dropped off -- will make shared rides more efficient. If it works, it should both increase the number of rides that drivers can give and also make those shared trips faster for passengers. The new service tests a thesis Uber has long had: Lower prices means higher utilization, and higher utilization means more money -- both for drivers and for Uber. Also that road congestion is bad and the solution is to share more rides. Those are the same theories that sparked the creation of the original UberPool service, which requires a little less walking. But the hope is that this will make it easier to match more passengers and therefore lose less money on each shared ride.
ISS

Bigelow Launching New Company To Sell Private Space Stations (popularmechanics.com) 41

hyperclocker shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The future of spacecraft in lower Earth orbit (LEO) looks to be an increasingly commercial affair. Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that builds livable space habitats, has now created a spinoff company known as Bigelow Space Operations (BSO). BSO will market and operate any space habitats that Bigelow sells. The creation of BSO signals that Bigelow is preparing for a future of commercial space living. Recently leaked NASA documents show that the Trump Administration wants to convert the International Space Station into a commercial venture, and BSO is betting that businesses including private scientific ventures and hotels will be interested in creating a profit above the Earth. A prototype Bigelow habitat, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), has been connected to the ISS since 2016. It's proven such a successful addition that last year NASA extended its contract for an additional three years. But Bigelow is thinking past the BEAM. In its press release announcing BSO, it highlights its planned launches of the B330-1 and B330-2, spacecraft with 6-person capacity, in 2021.
Sci-Fi

Amazon Is Developing a TV Series Based On Iain M. Banks' Sci-Fi Novel 'Consider Phlebas' (hollywoodreporter.com) 68

leathered writes: Jeff Bezos today announced that Amazon Studios has picked up the rights to adapt the late Iain M. Bank's acclaimed Culture novels to the small screen, beginning with the first in the series, Consider Phlebas. This comes after nearly three decades of attempts to bring Banks' utopian, post-scarcity society to film or television. A huge fan of the Culture series is Elon Musk, whose SpaceX drone ships are named after Culture space vessels. Here's how Amazon describes Consider Phlebas: "a kinetic, action-packed adventure on a huge canvas. The book draws upon the extraordinary world and mythology Banks created in the Culture, in which a highly advanced and progressive society ends up at war with the Idirans, a deeply religious, warlike race intent on dominating the entire galaxy. The story centers on Horza, a rogue agent tasked by the Idirans with the impossible mission of recovering a missing Culture 'Mind,' an artificial intelligence many thousands of times smarter than any human -- something that could hold the key to wiping out the Culture altogether. What unfolds, with Banks' trademark irreverent humor, ultimately asks the poignant question of how we can use technology to preserve our humanity, not surrender it."
Robotics

Boston Dynamics Is Teaching Its Robot Dog To Fight Back Against Humans (theguardian.com) 123

Zorro shares a report from The Guardian: Boston Dynamics' well-mannered four-legged machine SpotMini has already proved that it can easily open a door and walk through unchallenged, but now the former Google turned SoftBank robotics firm is teaching its robo-canines to fight back. A newly released video shows SpotMini approaching the door as before, but this time it's joined by a pesky human with an ice hockey stick. Unperturbed by his distractions, SpotMini continues to grab the handle and turn it even after its creepy fifth arm with a claw on the front is pushed away. If that assault wasn't enough, the human's robot bullying continues, shutting the door on Spot, which counterbalances and fights back against the pressure. In a last-ditch effort to stop the robot dog breaching the threshold, the human grabs at a leash attached to the back of the SpotMini and yanks. Boston Dynamics describes the video as "a test of SpotMini's ability to adjust to disturbances as it opens and walks through a door" because "the ability to tolerate and respond to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot." The firm helpfully notes that, despite a back piece flying off, "this testing does not irritate or harm the robot." But teaching robots to fight back against humans may might end up harming us.
Google

Former Google Employee Files Lawsuit Alleging the Company Fired Him Over Pro-Diversity Posts (theverge.com) 232

According to court documents filed today, a former Google engineer is suing the company for discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination. "Tim Chevalier, a software developer and former site-reliability engineer at Google, claims that Google fired him when he responded with internal posts and memes to racist and sexist encounters within the company and the general response to the now-infamous James Damore memo," reports The Verge. From the report: Chevalier said in a statement to The Verge, "It is a cruel irony that Google attempted to justify firing me by claiming that my social networking posts showed bias against my harassers." Chevalier, who is also disabled and transgender, alleges that his internal posts that defended women of color and marginalized people led directly to his termination in November 2017. He had worked at Google for a little under two years. Notably, Chevalier's posts had been quoted in Damore's lawsuit against Google -- in which Damore sued the company for discrimination against conservative white men -- as evidence Google permitted liberals to speak out at the company unpunished. Chevalier's lawsuit alleges that his firing is, in fact, a form of punishment. The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco County Superior Court and Chevalier is seeking damages for lost wages, emotional distress, punitive damages, and injunctive relief against those alleged harmful acts. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Data Storage

Scientists Discover a New Way To Use DNA As a Storage Device (betanews.com) 64

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: Researchers from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in Ireland have developed a way to use bacteria to archive up to up to one zettabyte in one gram of DNA. The technique uses double-strained DNA molecules called plasmids to encode data which is stored in the Novablue strain of the E Coli bacteria. The Novablue bacteria has a fixed location, making it viable for storage, and the data can be transferred by releasing a mobile HB101 strain of E Coli which uses a process called conjugation to extract the data. The antibiotics tetracycline and streptomycin are used to control this process. The method is currently not only expensive, but also slow. Data retrieval takes up to three days at the moment, but researchers believe it should be possible to dramatically speed up this process. Equipment already exists that can be used to write to DNA in seconds. Stability and security are also an issue right now, but it is very early days for the technique, and these current downsides are not viewed as being significant enough to write it off. Potential uses for this method of data storage that have been suggested include the recording of medical records in human DNA, and increasing the traceability of the food chain.
Network

Game Industry Pushes Back Against Efforts To Restore Gameplay Servers (arstechnica.com) 175

Kyle Orland reports via Ars Technica: A group of video game preservationists wants the legal right to replicate "abandoned" servers in order to re-enable defunct online multiplayer gameplay for study. The game industry says those efforts would hurt their business, allow the theft of their copyrighted content, and essentially let researchers "blur the line between preservation and play." Both sides are arguing their case to the U.S. Copyright Office right now, submitting lengthy comments on the subject as part of the Copyright Register's triennial review of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Analyzing the arguments on both sides shows how passionate both industry and academia are about the issue, and how mistrust and misunderstanding seem to have infected the debate.
Businesses

Apple In Talks To Buy Cobalt Directly From Miners (bloomberg.com) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple Inc. is in talks to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, seeking to ensure it will have enough of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage driven by the electric vehicle boom. The iPhone maker is one of the world's largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries. The talks show that the tech giant is keen to ensure that cobalt supplies for its iPhone and iPad batteries are sufficient, with the rapid growth in battery demand for electric vehicles threatening to create a shortage of the raw material. About a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones. Apple is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year for five years or longer. Its first discussions on cobalt deals with miners were more than a year ago, and it may end up deciding not to go ahead with any deal, another person said.
AI

100-Page Report Warns of the Many Dangers of AI (vice.com) 55

dmoberhaus writes: Last year, 26 top AI researchers from around the globe convened in Oxford to discuss the biggest threats posed by artificial intelligence. The result of this two day conference was published today as a 100-page report. The report details three main areas where AI poses a threat: political, physical systems, and cybersecurity. It discusses the specifics of these threats, which range from political strife caused by fake AI-generated videos to catastrophic failure of smart homes and autonomous vehicles, as well as intentional threats, such as autonomous weapons. Although the researchers offer only general guidance for how to deal with these threats, they do offer a path forward for policy makers.
Transportation

New Lawsuit Accuses Tesla of Knowingly Selling Defective Vehicles (theverge.com) 55

A new lawsuit from a former Tesla employee claims the company knowingly sold defective cars, and that the employee was demoted and eventually fired after reporting the practice to his superiors. The lawsuit was filed in late January in New Jersey Superior Court under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). The Verge reports: The former employee, Adam Williams, worked for Tesla as a regional manager in New Jersey dating back to late 2011. While there, he says he watched the company fail "to disclose to consumers high-dollar, pre-delivery damage repairs" before delivering its vehicles, according to the complaint. Instead, he says the company sold these cars as "used," or labeled as "demo/loaner" vehicles. "There's no merit to this lawsuit. Mr. Williams' description of how Tesla sells used or loaner vehicles is totally false and not how we do things at Tesla," a representative for the company said in response to the lawsuit. "It's also at odds with the fact that we rank highest in customer satisfaction of any car brand, with more owners saying they'd buy a Tesla again than any other manufacturer. Mr. Williams was terminated at Tesla for performance reasons, not for any other reason." The lawyer for the plaintiff could not be reached in time for publish.

Williams says in the court filing that he reported this behavior in late 2016 and early 2017 to his supervisor, as well as Lenny Peake, Tesla's East Coast Regional Manager, and Jerome Guillen, a company vice president. Shortly after that, he claims, he was demoted to service manager of the Springfield, New Jersey Tesla store. He then says he was demoted again later in the year to a "mobile manager" position and was ultimately fired in September 2017. In the lawsuit, Williams argues that he was terminated for reporting the alleged lawbreaking practices, and he should therefore be covered by CEPA's whistleblower protection.

Social Networks

Snapchat Responds To Change.Org Petition Complaining About the App's Redesign (techcrunch.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Snapchat has posted an official response to users who signed a petition on Change.org asking the company to reverse its controversial update, which people say makes the app more difficult to use. In the response, Snapchat promises to make a few more changes to the Friends and Discover section in order to address user complaints. These changes were announced yesterday, along with GIF stickers from Giphy. The backlash against Snapchat has been growing in the months since the company rolled out a major revamp, which aimed to make the social app more accessible to a mainstream audience. Snapchat users have left the app bad reviews, complained on social media, turned to rival Instagram, and they signed a Change.org petition entitled, "Remove the new Snapchat update."

Last night, Snapchat posted an official response to the petition, reiterating its stance but also promising a few tweaks that may help to address users' concerns. Specifically, the company said that "beginning soon on iOS and with Android in the coming weeks" it will introduce tabs in the Friends section and in Discover, which it says will make it easier for users to find the Stories they want. This update will let users sort things like Stories, Group Chats, and Subscriptions. Whether these tabs will placate users who just want the old Snapchat back remains to be seen.

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