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AI

MIT Scientists Use Radio Waves To Sense Human Emotions (cnn.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNNMoney: Researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a device that uses radio waves to detect whether someone is happy, sad, angry or excited. The breakthrough makes it easier to accomplish what scientists have tried to do for years with machines: sense human emotions. The researchers believe tracking a person's feelings is a step toward improving their overall emotional well-being. The technology isn't invasive; it works in the background without a person having to do anything, like wearing a device. The device called EQ-Radio, which was detailed in a paper published online Tuesday, resembles a shoebox, as of now. It works by bouncing wireless signals off a person. These signals are impacted by motion, such as breathing and heartbeats. When the heart pumps blood, a force is exerted onto our bodies, and the skin vibrates ever so slightly. After the radio waves are impacted by these vibrations, they return to the device. A computer then analyzes the signals to identify changes in heartbeat and breathing. The researchers demonstrated their system detects emotions on par with an electrocardiogram (EKG), a common wearable device medical professionals use to monitor the human heart. The machine's analysis of the radio waves relies on artificial intelligence, which learns how various heartbeats indicate certain emotions. As a part of the testing, the machine bounced radio waves off actors who recreated a range of emotions. The more emotions the machine experienced, the better it identified what signals, such as a fast heartbeat, gave away their true feelings. By monitoring radio waves reflected off people who are happy, the machine is exposed to certain signs -- such as heart rate or a type of breathing -- associated with being in good spirits.
Patents

Apple Patents a Paper Bag (theguardian.com) 201

mspohr writes: Continuing its leadership in innovation, Apple has patented a paper bag. We all remember the groundbreaking "rounded corners" innovation, now we have a paper bag! Just try to make your own paper bag and you'll be speaking with Apple lawyers. (Note: In fairness to Apple, this is a "special" paper bag which is stronger due to numerous improvements on your ordinary recycled paper bag -- just don't try to copy it.) The patent application summarizes the bag as follows: "A paper bag is disclosed. The paper bag may include a bag container formed of white solid bleached sulfate paper with at least 60% post-consumer content." Apple's patented paper bags are designed to be sturdy, while remaining "both pearly white and environmentally friendly." Let's just hope they don't remove the handles...
Medicine

Microsoft Will 'Solve' Cancer Within The Next 10 Years By Treating It Like A Computer Virus, Says Company (independent.co.uk) 258

Microsoft is serious about finding a cure for cancer. In June, Microsoft researchers published a paper that shows how analyzing online activities can provide clues as to a person's chances of having cancer. They were able to identify internet users who had pancreatic cancer even before they'd been diagnosed, all from analyzing web query logs. Several months later, researchers on behalf of the company now say they will "solve" cancer within the next 10 years by treating it like a computer virus that invades and corrupts the body's cells. The goal is to monitor the bad cells and potentially reprogram them to be healthy again. The Independent reports: The company has built a "biological computation" unit that says its ultimate aim is to make cells into living computers. As such, they could be programmed and reprogrammed to treat any diseases, such as cancer. In the nearer term, the unit is using advanced computing research to try and set computers to work learning about drugs and diseases and suggesting new treatments to help cancer patients. The team hopes to be able to use machine learning technologies -- computers that can think and learn like humans -- to read through the huge amounts of cancer research and come to understand the disease and the drugs that treat it. At the moment, so much cancer research is published that it is impossible for any doctor to read it all. But since computers can read and understand so much more quickly, the systems will be able to read through all of the research and then put that to work on specific people's situations. It does that by bringing together biology, math and computing. Microsoft says the solution could be with us within the next five or ten years.
Earth

A Shocking Amount of E-Waste Recycling Is a Complete Sham (vice.com) 166

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Forty percent of all U.S. electronics recyclers testers included in [a study that used GPS trackers to follow e-waste over the course of two years] proved to be complete shams, with our e-waste getting shipped wholesale to landfills in Hong Kong, China, and developing nations in Africa and Asia. The most important thing to know about the e-waste recycling industry is that it is not free to recycle an old computer or an old CRT television. The value of the raw materials in the vast majority of old electronics is worth less than it costs to actually recycle them. While consumers rarely have to pay e-waste recycling companies to take their old electronics (costs are offset by local tax money or manufacturers fronting the bill as part of a legally mandated obligated recycling quota), companies, governments, and organizations do. Based on the results of a new study from industry watchdog Basel Action Network and MIT, industry documents obtained by Motherboard, and interviews with industry insiders, it's clear that the e-waste recycling industry is filled with sham operations profiting off of shipping toxic waste to developing nations. Here are the major findings of the study and of my interviews and reporting: Real, environmentally sustainable electronics recycling can be profitable only if recycling companies charge a fee to take on old machines; the sale of recycled materials rarely if ever covers the actual cost of recycling in the United States. Companies, governments, and other organizations have a requirement to recycle old machines; because there is little oversight or enforcement, a secondary industry of fake recyclers has popped up to undercut sustainable recyclers. These "recyclers," which advertise themselves as green and sustainable, get paid pennies per pound to take in old TVs, computers, printers, and monitors. Rather than recycle them domestically, the recycling companies sell them to junkyards in developing nations, either through middlemen or directly. These foreign junkyards hire low-wage employees to pick through the few valuable components of often toxic old machines. The toxic machines are then left in the scrapyards or dumped nearby. Using GPS trackers, industry watchdog Basel Action Network found that 40 percent of electronics recyclers it tested in the United States fall into this "scam recycling" category.
Education

Kindergarteners Today Get Little Time To Play, and It's Stunting Their Development (qz.com) 227

Christopher Brown Associate professor, University of Texas at Austin, writes:Researchers have demonstrated that five-year-olds are spending more time engaged in teacher-led academic learning activities than play-based learning opportunities that facilitate child-initiated investigations and foster social development among peers.During his research and investigation, Brown found that a typical kindergarten classroom sees kids and one teacher with them almost the entire school day. During this period, they engage in about 15 different academic activities, which include "decoding word drills, practicing sight words, reading to themselves and then to a buddy, counting up to 100 by ones, fives and tens, practicing simple addition, counting money, completing science activities about living things, and writing in journals on multiple occasions." Recess did not occur until the last hour of the day, and only lasted for about 15 minutes. He adds:For children between the ages of five and six, this is a tremendous amount of work. Teachers too are under pressure to cover the material. When I asked the teacher, who I interviewed for the short film, why she covered so much material in a few hours, she stated, "There's pressure on me and the kids to perform at a higher level academically." So even though the teacher admitted that the workload on kindergartners was an awful lot, she also said she was unable to do anything about changing it.
China

China Confirms Its Space Station Is Falling Back to Earth (popularmechanics.com) 272

The Tiangong-1, China's prototype space station which was launched in September 2011, is no longer under the control of China. PopularMechanics reports: China's Tiangong-1 space station has been orbiting the planet for about 5 years now, but recently it was decommissioned and the Chinese astronauts returned to the surface. In a press conference, China announced that the space station would be falling back to earth at some point in late 2017. Normally, a decommissioned satellite or space station would be retired by forcing it to burn up in the atmosphere. This type of burn is controlled, and most satellite re-entries are scheduled to burn up over the ocean to avoid endangering people. However, it seems that China's space agency is not sure exactly when Tiangong-1 will re-enter the atmosphere, which implies that the station has been damaged somehow and China is no longer able to control it. This is important because it means Tiangong-1 won't be able to burn up in a controlled manner. All we know is it will burn up at some point in late 2017, but it is impossible to predict exactly when or where. This means that there is a chance debris from the falling spacecraft could strike a populated area.
Math

When Blind People Do Algebra, the Brain's Visual Areas Light Up (npr.org) 69

People born without sight appear to solve math problems using visual areas of the brain. NPR has a fascinating report on this: A functional MRI study of 17 people blind since birth found that areas of visual cortex became active when the participants were asked to solve algebra problems, a team from Johns Hopkins reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "And as the equations get harder and harder, activity in these areas goes up in a blind person," says Marina Bedny, an author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University. In 19 sighted people doing the same problems, visual areas of the brain showed no increase in activity. "That really suggests that yes, blind individuals appear to be doing math with their visual cortex," Bedny says. The findings, published online Friday, challenge the idea that brain tissue intended for one function is limited to tasks that are closely related.
Medicine

Hackers Offer a DIY Alternative To The $600 EpiPen (ieee.org) 325

After the pharmaceutical company Mylan raised the price of a 2-pen set of EpiPens by nearly $500 over the course of 9 years, Michael Laufer and his "pharma-hacking confederates at the Four Thieves Vinegar Collective," decided to make their own budget-friendly EpiPens. IEEE Spectrum reports: Today they released a video and instructions showing DIYers how to make a generic EpiPen using materials that can be bought online for about $30. They call it the EpiPencil. "It functions just as well as an EpiPen," Laufer says in the video, after demonstrating the assembly and showing that it works. "With no special training, anybody can use it." An EpiPen is just a spring-loaded syringe filled with the pharmaceutical epinephrine. Laufer's video shows how to assemble the "open source medical device" and provides links for where to buy the components online. He stops short of telling viewers how to get their hands on the drug, noting that you need a prescription for it. But Laufer tells IEEE Spectrum in an interview that it's easy to buy epinephrine online from a chemical supplier, and he hopes viewers will do just that. "There's a small but hopefully growing subculture of people who are buying the active ingredients of drugs," he says. "It's encouraging to see people take control of their own health."
NASA

NASA: Arctic Sea Ice 2nd-Lowest On Record (earthsky.org) 205

An anonymous reader quotes a report from EarthSky: NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said on September 15, 2016 that summertime Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its annual minimum on September 10. With fall approaching and temperatures in the Arctic dropping, it's unlikely more ice will melt, and so the 2016 Arctic sea ice minimum extent will likely be tied with 2007 for the second-lowest yearly minimum in the satellite record. Satellite data showed this year's minimum at 1.60 million square miles (4.14 million square km). NASA said in a statement: "Since satellites began monitoring sea ice in 1978, researchers have observed a steep decline in the average extent of Arctic sea ice for every month of the year [...] The sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas helps regulate the planet's temperature, influences the circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, and impacts Arctic communities and ecosystems. Arctic sea ice shrinks every year during the spring and summer until it reaches its minimum yearly extent. Sea ice regrows during the frigid fall and winter months, when the sun is below the horizon in the Arctic." The NASA/NSIDC statement explained why the melt of Arctic sea ice surprised scientists in 2016. For one thing, it changed pace several times: "The melt season began with a record low yearly maximum extent in March and a rapid ice loss through May. But in June and July, low atmospheric pressures and cloudy skies slowed down the melt. Then, after two large storms went across the Arctic basin in August, sea ice melt picked up speed through early September." NASA posted an animation on YouTube that "shows the evolution of the Arctic sea ice cover from its wintertime maximum extent, which was reached on Mar. 24, 2016, and was the lowest on record for the second year in a row, to its apparent yearly minimum, which occurred on Sept. 10, 2016, and is the second lowest in the satellite era."
Security

Anonymous Hacker Explains His Attack On Boston Children's Hospital (huffingtonpost.com) 294

Okian Warrior writes: Martin Gottesfeld of Anonymous was arrested in connection with the Spring 2014 attacks on a number of healthcare and treatment facilities in the Boston area. The attacks were in response/defense of a patient there named Justina Pelletier. Gottesfeld now explains why he did what he did, in a statement provided to The Huffington Post. Here's an excerpt from his statement: [Why I Knocked Boston Children's Hospital Off The Internet] The answer is simpler than you might think: The defense of an innocent, learning disabled, 15-year-old girl. In the criminal complaint, she's called 'Patient A,' but to me, she has a name, Justina Pelletier. Boston Children's Hospital disagreed with her diagnosis. They said her symptoms were psychological. They made misleading statement on an affidavit, went to court, and had Justina's parents stripped of custody. They stopped her painkillers, leaving her in agony. They stopped her heart medication, leaving her tachycardic. They said she was a danger to herself, and locked her in a psych ward. They said her family was part of the problem, so they limited, monitored, and censored her contact with them..."
Robotics

UK Standards Body Issues Official Guidance On Robot Ethics (digitaltrends.com) 68

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: The British Standards Institution, which is the U.K.'s national standards body charged with creating the technical standards and certification for various products and services, has just produced its first set of official ethics guidelines relating to robots. "The expert committee responsible for this thought there was really a need for a set of guidelines, setting out the ethical principles surrounding how robots are used," Dan Palmer, head of market development at BSI, told Digital Trends. "It's an area of big public debate right now." The catchily-named BS 8611 guidelines start by echoing Asimov's Three Laws in stating that: "Robots should not be designed solely or primarily to kill or harm humans." However, it also takes aim at more complex issues of transparency by noting that: "It should be possible to find out who is responsible for any robot and its behavior." There's even discussion about whether it's desirable for a robot to form an emotional bond with its users, an awareness of the possibility robots could be racist and/or sexist in their conduct, and other contentious gray areas. In all, it's an interesting attempt to start formalizing the way we deal with robots -- and the way roboticists need to think about aspects of their work that extend beyond technical considerations. You can check it out here -- although it'll set you back 158 pounds ($208) if you want to read the BSI guidelines in full. (Is that ethical?) "Robots have been used in manufacturing for a long time," Palmer said. "But what we're seeing now are more robots interacting with people. For instance, there are cases in which robots are being used to give care to people. These are usages that we haven't seen before -- [which is where the need for guidelines comes in.]"
Mars

Elon Musk Scales Up His Ambitions, Considering Going 'Well Beyond' Mars (arstechnica.com) 287

An anonymous reader writes: For most of its 14-year existence, SpaceX has focused on designing and developing the hardware that will lead to its ultimate goal: colonizing Mars. These plans have remained largely secret from the general public, as company founder Elon Musk has dropped only the barest of hints. But that is expected to change on Sept. 27, during a session at the International Astronautical Congress, when Musk details some of these plans for the first time in a public forum. However, on the eve of the meeting, Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS. Mars, it turns out, isn't the solar system's only marginally habitable world for would-be new world colonists. The Moon, Venus, the asteroid Ceres, and outer Solar System moons Titan and Callisto all have some advantages that could allow for colonies to subsist. However, Mars has generally been the preferred destination -- due to its relative proximity to Earth, a thin atmosphere, and sources of water ice. Musk now seems to be suggesting that some of these more distant destinations, especially moons around Jupiter and Saturn, might be reachable with the Interplanetary Transport System.
Science

Oldest-Ever Proteins Extracted From 3.8-Million-Year-Old Ostrich Shells (sciencemag.org) 70

Slashdot reader sciencehabit writes: Scientists have smashed through another time barrier in their search for ancient proteins from fossilized teeth and bones, adding to growing excitement about the promise of using proteins to study extinct animals and humans that lived more than 1 million years ago. Until now, the oldest sequenced proteins are largely acknowledged to come from a 700,000-year-old horse in Canada's Yukon territory, despite claims of extraction from much older dinosaurs. Now geneticists report that they have extracted proteins from 3.8-million-year-old ostrich egg shells in Laetoli, Tanzania, and from the 1.7-million-year-old tooth enamel of several extinct animals in Dmanisi, Georgia...extinct horses, rhinos, and deer,
This raises the inevitable question. If we ever could clone a prehistoric species...should we?
United States

Oregon Settles $6 Billion Lawsuit Over Oracle's Botched Healthcare Website (registerguard.com) 113

"While the crippled website eventually worked, Oregon failed to enroll a single person online [and] had to resort to hiring 400 people to process paper applications." An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes the AP: The state paid Oracle $240 million to create its Cover Oregon website but ultimately abandoned the site and joined the federal exchange to comply with the Affordable Care Act... The state initially asked for more than $6 billion in punitive damages when it filed the lawsuit in 2014 against the Redwood City company, but Oregon ultimately accepted a package that included $35 million in cash payments and software licensing agreements and technical support with an estimated upfront worth of $60 million...

Six years of unlimited Oracle software and technical support included in the deal will save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in years to come and ends a bitter legal battle that has damaged Oregon's "collective psyche," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. "The beauty of the deal is that if we choose to take full advantage of the free (software), we are uniquely situated to modernize our statewide IT systems over the next six years -- something we could not otherwise afford to do," she said.

"Oracle has insisted the website worked but former Gov. John Kitzhaber chose not to use it for political reasons."
Medicine

Vanity Fair Blames The Failure of Theranos On Silicon Valley (vanityfair.com) 127

"I was only a day or two behind FBI agents who were trying to put together a time line of what Elizabeh Holmes knew and when she knew it," writes Vanity Fair, in what Slashdot reader PvtVoid describes as "a compelling story of hubris, glamour and secrecy about the unicorn Silicon Valley company that turned out to be founded on bullshit." Another anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Holmes raised $700 million "on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked," according to an article detailing how Silicon Valley can "replicate one big confidence game in which entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and the tech media pretend to vet one another while, in reality, functioning as cogs in a machine that is designed to not question anything -- and buoy one another all along the way... In the end, it isn't in anyone's interest to call bullshit."

Theranos employed "hundreds of marketers, salespeople, communications specialists, and even the Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris," as well as a chief scientist who eventually became suicidal. But then the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "discovered that some of the tests Theranos was performing were so inaccurate that they could leave patients at risk of internal bleeding, or of stroke among those prone to blood clots." A reporter at the Wall Street Journal says "It's O.K. if you've got a smartphone app or a social network, and you go live with it before it's ready; people aren't going to die. But with medicine, it's different."

He became suspicious after reading the answer that the company's CEO, a Stanford dropout, supplied for a question about their technology. "A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel."
Biotech

Ask Slashdot: Why Aren't Techies Improving The World? 536

Slashdot reader marmot7 isn't impressed by "the latest app that solves some made up problem. I'm impressed by apps that solve real problems..." I don't feel that developers, sys admins, finance people, even policy wonks focus on the problems that we need to solve to have a healthy functioning society. It seems like it's mostly about short-term gain and not much about making the world better. That may be just the way the market works.

Is it that there's no profit to be made in solving the most important problems? I'm puzzled by that as I would think that a good solution to an important problem could find some funding from somewhere but maybe government, for example, won't take investment risks in that way?

Is there a systematic bias that channels technology workers into more profitable careers? (Or stunning counter-examples that show technology workers are making the world a better place?) Leave your answers in the comments. Why aren't geeks doing more to improve the world?
China

China's Atomic Clock in Space Will Stay Accurate For a Billion Years (rt.com) 111

The space laboratory that China launched earlier this week has an atomic clock in it which is more accurate than the best timepiece operated by America's National Institute of Standards and Technology, according to Chinese engineers. The atomic called, dubbed CACS or Cold Atomic Clock in Space, will slow down by only one second in a billion years. In comparison, the NIST's F2 atomic clock, which serves as the United States' primary time and frequency standard, loses a second every 300 million years. From an RT report:"It is the world's first cold atomic clock to operate in space... it will have military and civilian applications," said Professor Xu Zhen from the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics, who was involved in the CACS project. An atomic clock uses vibrations of atoms to measure time, which are very consistent as long as the atoms are held at constant temperature. In fact, since 1967 the definition of second has been "9,192,631,770 vibrations of a cesium-133 atom." In a cold atomic clock, the atoms are cooled down with a laser to decrease the effect of atom movement on the measurements. CACS goes even further and eliminates the pull of Earth's gravity by being based in orbit.
Space

Pluto Is Emitting X-Rays (digitaltrends.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: Scientists have noticed the tiny trans-Neptunium object emitting X-rays, which, if it is confirmed, is both a baffling and exciting discovery. Carey Lisse and Ralph McNutt from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and a team of colleagues detected the X-rays by pointing the Chandra X-Ray Obervatory telescope in Pluto's direction four different times between February 2014 and August 2015. Seven photons of X-ray light were detected during these observations, confirming the team's hypothesis that the dwarf planet is detectable on the X-ray spectrum, potentially due to the presence of an atmosphere. Their findings have been published in the scientific journal Icarus. Why is this such a big deal? First of all, it would challenge what scientists have previously believed to be true of Pluto's nature. Until now, the popular description of the dwarf planet is as a tiny ball of frozen rock slowly meandering around the sun some 3.6-billion miles away. One of the possible explanations for why Pluto is emanating X-rays would be that the high energy particles emitted by the sun are stripping away and reacting with Pluto's atmosphere, producing the X-rays that are visible to Chandra. There are other potential explanations, such as haze particles in Pluto's atmosphere scattering the sun's X-rays are possible, though unlikely given the temperature of the X-rays observed. It is also possible that these X-rays are actually bright auroras produced by the atmosphere, but that would require Pluto to have a magnetic field -- something that would have been detected during New Horizon's flyby, yet no evidence of one was found.
IOS

iPhone 7 Home Button Now Requires Skin Contact To Work (todaysiphone.com) 167

Gone are the days of pressing the home button of your iPhone with an inanimate object. With the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the home button can only be activated when in contact with skin. TodaysiPhone reports: The new "solid-state" Home button found in the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus appears to require skin contact to function. As the season gets colder, and as people put gloves on, users will quickly realize that attempting to unlock the iPhone with said gloves or with a sleeve of a shirt over your finger will not work. And with the new lock screen in iOS 10, there's no way to bring up the passcode screen without pressing the Home button. Tests have shown that using gloves designed for touch screens will get an iPhone 6s Plus to unlock but not an iPhone 7 Plus. As most of us know, the Home button in the iPhone 7 is no longer a physical button -- it sits flush and uses the iPhone's haptic feedback to give the sensation of a button press. Because the button requires skin contact, it's lead us to believe that the Home button on the iPhone 7 uses Touch ID to figure out if you're pressing the button. The report notes that Carl Hancock on Twitter was able to activate the Home button using gloves made to work specifically with touch screens. The reason (in a nutshell) why we cannot interact with the capacitive Home button when wearing gloves is because the gloves block the body's natural conductivity -- humans conduct electricity and Apple's new Home button (as well as most touch screens) has an electrical charge. On the flip side, the reason why the Home button registers our skin is because it distorts the screen's electrostatic field at the point of contact, thus triggering an action.
Government

'Government Abuse' of the Internet Makes Some People More Equal Than Others, Says Study (washingtonpost.com) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: When the Arab Spring spread across the Middle East and North Africa, the internet was considered to have been one of the main facilitators of the revolutions, and while the Arab Spring has since become a source of frustration to many of those who fought for it, the assumption that the internet will facilitate future uprisings has rarely been questioned. A new study, however, now raises doubts about to what extent the internet plays a role in fostering democracy. In fact, it may make some people more equal than others. To voice discontent online, groups first need access to the internet, but too often, that is precisely what they lack, according to the report which was published by the academic journal Science. Those findings could force Western governments and nongovernmental organizations engaged in pro-democracy initiatives to rethink how they spread their message. Comparing the accessibility of internet in certain regions and taking into account the existence of minority communities, the authors found "a strong and persistent political bias in the allocation of internet coverage across ethnic groups worldwide [...] an effect that cannot be explained by economic or geographic factors." Around 500 minority groups worldwide were included in the study, with consistent findings of what the authors called "digital discrimination." The 10 worst-affected minorities mostly come from Russia and Malaysia, said researcher Nils B. Weidmann.

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