Education

The College Board Pushes To Make Computer Science a High School Graduation Requirement 103

theodp writes: Education Week reports that the College Board wants high schools to make it mandatory for students to take computer science before they graduate. The call came as the College Board touted the astonishing growth in its Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses, which was attributed to the success of its new AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) class, a "lite" alternative to the Java-based AP CS A course. "The College Board is willing to invest serious resources in making this viable -- much more so than is in our economic interest to do so," said College Board President David Coleman. "To governors, legislators, to others -- if you will help us make this part of the life of schools, we will help fund it."

Just two days before Coleman's funds-for-compulsory-CS offer, Education Week cast a skeptical eye at the tech sector's role in creating a tremendous surge of enthusiasm for K-12 CS education. Last spring, The College Board struck a partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative with a goal of making AP CSP available in every U.S. school district. Also contributing to the success of the College Board's high school AP CS programs over the years has been tech-bankrolled Code.org, as well as tech giants Microsoft and Google. The idea of a national computer programming language requirement for high school students was prominently floated in a Google-curated Q&A session with President Obama (video) following the 2013 State of the Union address.
Robotics

Boston Dynamics Is Teaching Its Robot Dog To Fight Back Against Humans (theguardian.com) 144

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) 308

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.
Bitcoin

Poland's Central Bank Accused of Paying YouTubers To Make Videos That Attack the Legitimacy of Cryptocurrencies (businessinsider.com) 75

Poland's central bank has been accused of hiring YouTubers to "start a smear campaign" against cryptocurrencies in the country, Business Insider reports. From the story: According to Business Insider Poland, the Narodowy Bank Polski spent around 91,000 zloty ($27,300) on a marketing campaign designed to attack the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies. The money was spent on platforms including Google and Facebook, but was also used to pay a Polish Youtube partner network called Gamellon. The Gamellon network reportedly represents many of Poland's top YouTubers, including popular prankster Marcin Dubiel. In December, Dubiel published a video titled "STRACILEM WSZYSTKIE PIENIADZE?!" -- which loosely translates as "I LOST ALL MY MONEY?!" In the satirical video, Dubiel invests all his money in a fake cryptocurrency called Dubielcoin, gets rich, but then sees its value plunge and loses everything. It has racked up over 500,000 views.
Security

uTorrent Client Affected by Some Pretty Severe Security Flaws (bleepingcomputer.com) 91

A Google security researcher has found multiple security flaws affecting the uTorrent web and desktop client that allow an attacker to infect a victim with malware or collect data on the users' past downloads, reports BleepingComputer. From the report: The vulnerabilities have been discovered by Google Project Zero security researcher Tavis Ormandy, and they impact uTorrent Web, a new web-based version of the uTorrent BitTorrent client, and uTorrent Classic, the old uTorrent client that most people know. Ormandy says that both uTorrent clients are exposing an RPC server -- on port 10000 (uTorrent Classic) and 19575 (uTorrent Web). The expert says that attackers can hide commands inside web pages that interact with this open RPC server. The attacker only needs to trick a user with a vulnerable uTorrent client to access a malicious web page. Furthermore, the uTorrent clients are also vulnerable to DNS rebinding -- a vulnerability that allows the attacker to legitimize his requests to the RPC server.
AI

'Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won't Destroy Jobs' (technologyreview.com) 343

Kai-Fu Lee, the founder and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and president of the Sinovation Ventures Artificial Intelligence Institute, believes that we're not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way. He writes for MIT Technology Review: The rise of China as an AI superpower isn't a big deal just for China. The competition between the US and China has sparked intense advances in AI that will be impossible to stop anywhere. The change will be massive, and not all of it good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber driver in Cambridge has already intuited, AI will displace a large number of jobs, which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind's AlphaGo software, which beat the best human players of the board game Go in early 2016. It was subsequently bested by AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which learned by playing games against itself and within 40 days was superior to all the earlier versions. Now imagine those improvements transferring to areas like customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving, and other routine blue-collar and white-collar work.

It will soon be obvious that half of our job tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we're not ready for it. Not everyone agrees with my view. Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear, since many jobs will be only partially replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even if true, that won't stop the inevitable. Others remind us that every technology revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it's dangerous to assume this will be the case again.

AI

Slashdot Asks: Which Smart Speaker Do You Prefer? 233

Every tech company wants to produce a smart speaker these days. Earlier this month, Apple finally launched the HomePod, a smart speaker that uses Siri to answer basic questions and play music via Apple Music. In December, Google released their premium Google Home Max speaker that uses the Google Assistant and Google's wealth of knowledge to play music, answer questions, set reminders, and so on. It may be the most advanced smart speaker on the market as it has the hardware capable of playing high fidelity audio, and a digital assistant that can perform over one million actions. There is, however, no denying the appeal of the Amazon Echo, which is powered by the Alexa digital assistant. Since it first made its debut in late 2014, it has had more time to develop its skill set. Amazon says Alexa controls "tens of millions of devices," including Windows 10 PCs.

A new report from The Guardian, citing the industry site MusicAlly, says that Spotify is working on a line of "category defining" hardware products "akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles." The streaming music company has posted an ad for a senior product manager to "define the product requirements for internet connected hardware [and] the software that powers it." With Spotify looking to launch a smart speaker in the not-too-distant-future, the decision to purchase a smart speaker has become all the more difficult. Do you own a smart speaker? If so, which device do you own and why? Do you see a clear winner, or can they all satisfy your basic needs?
Facebook

Why Decentralization Matters (medium.com) 93

Chris Dixon has an essay about the long-term promise of blockchain-based networks to upend web-based businesses such as Facebook and Twitter. He writes: When they hit the top of the S-curve, their relationships with network participants change from positive-sum to zero-sum. The easiest way to continue growing lies in extracting data from users and competing with complements over audiences and profits. Historical examples of this are Microsoft vs Netscape, Google vs Yelp, Facebook vs Zynga, and Twitter vs its 3rd-party clients. Operating systems like iOS and Android have behaved better, although still take a healthy 30% tax, reject apps for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and subsume the functionality of 3rd-party apps at will. For 3rd parties, this transition from cooperation to competition feels like a bait-and-switch. Over time, the best entrepreneurs, developers, and investors have become wary of building on top of centralized platforms. We now have decades of evidence that doing so will end in disappointment. In addition, users give up privacy, control of their data, and become vulnerable to security breaches. These problems with centralized platforms will likely become even more pronounced in the future.
Google

Google Just Launched Another Answer To Apple Pay (cnbc.com) 135

Google launched its latest answer to Apple Pay on Tuesday. It's called Google Pay and replaces Android Pay, a previous solution that let Android users buy goods with their smartphones. From a report: It's also Google's answer to Apple Pay and Apple Pay Cash. Google Pay follows several failed attempts by Google to launch a widespread payment platform. The company launched Google Wallet several years ago before folding it and launching Android Pay. Google Pay combines features from both, including the ability to pay at checkout counters with a smartphone, and even the option to scan into transit systems in cities such as Kiev, London and Portland, initially.
Chrome

Chrome 64 Now Trims Messy Links When You Share Them (theverge.com) 87

Google's latest consumer version of Chrome, version number 64, just started cleaning up messy referral links for you. From a report: Now, when you go to share an item, you'll no longer see a long tracking string after a link, just the primary link itself. This feature now happens automatically when sharing links in Chrome, either by the Share menu or by copying the link and pasting it elsewhere. Even though it slices off the extra bit of the URL, this doesn't affect referral information. If you choose, you can copy and paste directly from the URL bar to grab the link in entirety.
Government

Vietnam's Internet is in Trouble (wapo.st) 121

The World Post: Vietnamese authorities have harped of late on the urgency of fighting cybersecurity threats and "bad and dangerous content." Yet the fight against either "fake news" or misinformation in Vietnam must not be used as a smoke screen for stifling dissenting opinions and curtailing freedom of speech [The link may be paywalled]. Doing so would only further stoke domestic cynicism in a country where the sudden expansion of space for free and open discussion has created a kind of high-pressure catharsis online. Other countries, including democratic states, are also scrambling to rein in toxic information online. But while Germany, for example, specifically targets hate speech and other extremist messaging that directly affects the masses, Vietnamese leaders are more fixated on content deemed detrimental to their own reputation and the survival of the regime.

The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam has repeatedly urged Facebook and Google to block "toxic" information that it said slandered and defamed Vietnamese leaders. Google sort of conformed by removing more than such 5,000 clips; Facebook also flagged about 160 anti-government accounts at the behest of the government.

IBM

IBM Sues Microsoft's New Chief Diversity Officer To Protect Diversity Trade Secrets (geekwire.com) 197

theodp writes: GeekWire reports that IBM has filed suit against longtime exec Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, alleging that her new position as Microsoft's chief diversity officer violates a year-long non-compete agreement, allowing Microsoft to use IBM's internal secrets to boost its own diversity efforts. A hearing is set for Feb. 22, but in the meantime, a U.S. District Judge has temporarily barred McIntyre from working at Microsoft. "IBM has gone to great lengths to safeguard as secret the confidential information that McIntyre possesses," Big Blue explained in a court filing, citing its repeated success (in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017) in getting the U.S. government to quash FOIA requests for IBM's EEO-1 Reports on the grounds that the mandatory race/ethnicity and gender filings represent "confidential proprietary trade secret information." IBM's argument may raise some eyebrows, considering that other tech giants -- including Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook -- voluntarily disclosed their EEO-1s years ago after coming under pressure from Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus. In 2010, IBM stopped disclosing U.S. headcount data in its annual report as it accelerated overseas hiring.
Chrome

Chrome Extension Brings 'View Image' Button Back (9to5google.com) 80

Google recently removed the convenient "view image" button from its search results as a result of a lawsuit with stock-photo agency Getty. Thankfully, one day later, a developer created an extension that brings it back. 9to5Google reports: It's unfortunate to see that button gone, but an easy to use Chrome extension brings it back. Simply install the extension from the Chrome Web Store, and then any time you view an image on Google Image Search, you'll be able to open that source image. You can see the functionality in action in the video below. The only difference we can see with this extension versus the original functionality is that instead of opening the image on the same page, it opens it in a new tab. The extension is free, and it will work with Chrome for Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, or anywhere else the full version of Chrome can be used. 9to5Google has a separate post with step-by-step instructions to get the Google Images "view image" button back.
Google

Google Trains AI To Write Wikipedia Articles (theregister.co.uk) 59

The Register: A team within Google Brain -- the web giant's crack machine-learning research lab -- has taught software to generate Wikipedia-style articles by summarizing information on web pages... to varying degrees of success. As we all know, the internet is a never ending pile of articles, social media posts, memes, joy, hate, and blogs. It's impossible to read and keep up with everything. Using AI to tell pictures of dogs and cats apart is cute and all, but if such computers could condense information down into useful snippets, that would be really be handy. It's not easy, though. A paper, out last month and just accepted for this year's International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) in April, describes just how difficult text summarization really is. A few companies have had a crack at it. Salesforce trained a recurrent neural network with reinforcement learning to take information and retell it in a nutshell, and the results weren't bad.
Communications

Google is Making it Easier For 911 To Find You in an Emergency (engadget.com) 49

An anonymous reader shares a report: When you call 911 from a cellphone, your location is typically sent to the call taker by a wireless carrier. But that information isn't always so accurate. Well Google might have a better way of going about it and it tested its system across a few states in December and January, the Wall Street Journal reports. In the states where the tests took place, Google sent location data from a random selection of 911 callers using Android phones straight to the people taking those calls. The test included 50 call centers that cover around 2.4 million people in Texas, Tennessee and Florida, and early reports of the results suggest the system is promising.

One company involved in the test told the Wall Street Journal that for over 80 percent of the 911 calls where Googl's system was used, the tech giant's location data were more accurate than what wireless carriers provided. The company, RapidSOS, also said that while carrier data location estimates had, on average, a radius of around 522 feet, Google's data gave estimates with radii around 121 feet. Google's data also arrived more quickly than carrier data typically did.

Businesses

Silicon Valley Singles Are Giving Up On the Algorithms of Love (washingtonpost.com) 242

The Washington Post: Melissa Hobley, an executive at the dating app OkCupid, hears the complaints about the apps [being unable to find good matches] regularly and thinks they get a bad rap. Silicon Valley workers "are in the business of scalable, quick solutions. And that's not what love is," Hobley said. "You can't hurry love. It's reciprocal. You're not ordering an object. You're not getting a delivery in less than seven minutes." Finding love, she added, takes commitment and energy -- and, yes, time, no matter how inefficiently it's spent.

"You have a whole city obsessed with algorithms and data, and they like to say dating apps aren't solving the problem," Hobley said. "But if a city is male-dominant, if a city is known for 16-hour work days, those are issues that dating apps can't solve." One thing distinguishes the Silicon Valley dating pool: The men-to-women ratio for employed, young singles in the San Jose metro area is higher than in any other major area. There were about 150 men for every 100 women, compared with about 125 to 100 nationwide, of never-married young people between 25 and 34 in San Jose, U.S. Census Bureau data from 2016 shows. That ratio permeates the economy here, all the way to the valley's biggest employers, which have struggled for years to bring more women into their ranks. Men make up about 70% of the workforces of Apple, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, company filings show.

Youtube

YouTube Red is Having an Identity Crisis (digiday.com) 42

During an onstage conversation at Recode's Code Media this week, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki called YouTube Red a music streaming service -- first time any executive from the company has referred to YouTube Red as foremost a music service. From a report: This differs from comments that other YouTube executives have made in the past, including YouTube's head of global content Susanne Daniels, who last year described YouTube Red as a premium subscription streaming service that offers Hollywood-quality shows and movies.

Launched in October 2015, YouTube Red has always been positioned by YouTube as three services in one: It offers ad-free access to all of YouTube; it's a music streaming service that also gives access to Google Play Music; and it's consistently releasing original movies and TV shows, starring Hollywood talent and homegrown stars that users already subscribe to. Two years later, this has created somewhat of an identity crisis for the streaming service. As Wojcicki said in her interview, she sees YouTube Red as a music service. And she does not expect to spend billions of dollars on content to effectively compete with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others.

Education

Learning To Program Is Getting Harder (slashdot.org) 406

theodp writes: While Google suggests that parents and educators are to blame for why kids can't code, Allen Downey, Professor at Olin College argues that learning to program is getting harder . Downey writes: The fundamental problem is that the barrier between using a computer and programming a computer is getting higher. When I got a Commodore 64 (in 1982, I think) this barrier was non-existent. When you turned on the computer, it loaded and ran a software development environment (SDE). In order to do anything, you had to type at least one line of code, even if all it did was another program (like Archon). Since then, three changes have made it incrementally harder for users to become programmers:
1. Computer retailers stopped installing development environments by default. As a result, anyone learning to program has to start by installing an SDE -- and that's a bigger barrier than you might expect. Many users have never installed anything, don't know how to, or might not be allowed to. Installing software is easier now than it used to be, but it is still error prone and can be frustrating. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn system administration first.
2. User interfaces shifted from command-line interfaces (CLIs) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs are generally easier to use, but they hide information from users about what's really happening. When users really don't need to know, hiding information can be a good thing. The problem is that GUIs hide a lot of information programmers need to know. So when a user decides to become a programmer, they are suddenly confronted with all the information that's been hidden from them. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn operating system concepts first.
3. Cloud computing has taken information hiding to a whole new level. People using web applications often have only a vague idea of where their data is stored and what applications they can use to access it. Many users, especially on mobile devices, don't distinguish between operating systems, applications, web browsers, and web applications. When they upload and download data, they are often confused about where is it coming from and where it is going. When they install something, they are often confused about what is being installed where. For someone who grew up with a Commodore 64, learning to program was hard enough. For someone growing up with a cloud-connected mobile device, it is much harder.
theodp continues: So, with the Feds budgeting $200 million a year for K-12 CS at the behest of U.S. tech leaders, can't the tech giants at least put a BASIC on every phone/tablet/laptop for kids?
Twitter

NBC Publishes 200,000 Tweets Tied To Russian Trolls 269

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: NBC News is publishing its database of more than 200,000 tweets that Twitter has tied to "malicious activity" from Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These accounts, working in concert as part of large networks, pushed hundreds of thousands of inflammatory tweets, from fictitious tales of Democrats practicing witchcraft to hardline posts from users masquerading as Black Lives Matter activists. Investigators have traced the accounts to a Kremlin-linked propaganda outfit founded in 2013 known as the Internet Research Association (IRA). The organization has been assessed by the U.S. Intelligence Community to be part of a Russian state-run effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. And they're not done. At the request of NBC News, three sources familiar with Twitter's data systems cross-referenced the partial list of names released by Congress to create a partial database of tweets that could be recovered. You can download the streamlined spreadsheet (29 mb) with just usernames, tweet and timestamps, view the full data for ten influential accounts via Google Sheets, download tweets.csv (50 mb) and users.csv with full underlying data, and/or explore a graph database in Neo4j, whose software powered the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers investigations.

NBC News' partners at Neo4j have put together a "get started" guide to help you explore the database of Russian tweets. "To recreate a link to an individual tweet found in the spreadsheet, replace 'user_key' in https://twitter.com/user_key/status/tweet_id with the screenname from the 'user_key' field and 'tweet_id' with the number in the 'tweet_id' field," reports NBC News. "Following the links will lead to a suspended page on Twitter. But some copies of the tweets as they originally appeared, including images, can be found by entering the links on webcaches like the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and archive.is."
Open Source

The Future of Free and Open-Source Maps (emacsen.net) 56

Grady Martin writes: Former OpenStreetMap contributor and Google Summer of Code mentor Serge Wroclawski has outlined why OpenStreetMap is in serious trouble, citing unclear usage policies, poor geocoding (address-to-coordinate conversion), and a lack of a review model as reasons for the project's decline in quality. Perhaps more interesting, however, are the problems purported to stem from OpenStreetMap's power structure. Wroclawski writes: "In the case of OpenStreetMap, there is a formal entity which owns the data, called the OpenStreetMap Foundation. But at the same time, the ultimate choices for the website, the geographic database and the infrastructure are not under the direct control of the Foundation, but instead rest largely on one individual, who (while personally friendly) ranges from skeptical to openly hostile to change."

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