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  • Google Is Finally Taking Charge of the RCS Rollout
    Google is finally taking charge of the RCS rollout by allowing Android users in the UK and France to opt in to RCS Chat services provided directly by Google instead of waiting for their carrier to support it, which is largely the reason why it hasn't been more widely adopted. Google says that it will release the services to more countries "throughout the year," but wouldn't commit to saying that it would be available in all regions by the end of the year. The Verge reports: That seems like yet another minor status check-in on the service meant to replace SMS, but in fact it's a huge shift in strategy: as Google rolls this offering out to more countries, it should eventually mean that RCS will become universally available for all Android users. For the first time in years, Google will directly offer a better default texting experience to Android users instead of waiting for cellphone carriers to do it. It's not quite the Google equivalent of an iMessage service for Android users, but it's close. Not knowing when or if RCS Chat would be available for your phone was RCS's second biggest problem, and Google is fixing it. RCS's biggest problem is that messages are still not end-to-end encrypted. iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal are secured in that way, and even Facebook has said it will make all its apps encrypted by default. Google's chat solution is increasingly looking out of touch -- even immoral. But there is hope on that front as well. The product management director overseeing Android Messages, Sanaz Ahari, assures me that Google recognizes the need for private chat within RCS and is working on it. Here's her full statement: "We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and users have a right to privacy for their communications. And we're fully committed to finding a solution for our users."

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  • New Deepfake Algorithm Allows You To Text-Edit the Words of a Speaker In a Video
    It is now possible to take a talking-head style video, and add, delete or edit the speaker's words as simply as you'd edit text in a word processor. A new deepfake algorithm can process the audio and video into a new file in which the speaker says more or less whatever you want them to. New Atlas reports: It's the work of a collaborative team from Stanford University, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Princeton University and Adobe Research, who say that in a perfect world the technology would be used to cut down on expensive re-shoots when an actor gets something wrong, or a script needs to be changed. In order to learn the face movements of a speaker, the algorithm requires about 40 minutes of training video, and a transcript of what's being said, so it's not something that can be thrown onto a short video snippet and run if you want good results. That 40 minutes of video gives the algorithm the chance to work out exactly what face shapes the subject is making for each phonetic syllable in the original script. From there, once you edit the script, the algorithm can then create a 3D model of the face making the new shapes required. And from there, a machine learning technique called Neural Rendering can paint the 3D model over with photo-realistic textures to make it look basically indistinguishable from the real thing. Other software such as VoCo can be used if you wish to generate the speaker's audio as well as video, and it takes the same approach, by breaking down a heap of training audio into phonemes and then using that dataset to generate new words in a familiar voice.

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  • AT&T Cuts Another 1,800 Jobs As It Finishes Fiber-Internet Buildout
    AT&T is planning to cut another 1,800 jobs from its wireline division. "Last week, AT&T declared more than 1,800 jobs nationwide as 'surplus,' meaning they are slated to be eliminated in August or September," reports Ars Technica, citing the Communications Workers of America (CWA). From the report: "They've been cutting their employment massively in the past year and a half or so," with cuts affecting both union and non-union jobs, CWA Communications Director Beth Allen told Ars. Under union contracts, AT&T can declare a surplus of jobs each quarter, she said. But even by AT&T standards, last week's surplus declaration "was a very large number," Allen said. Jobs that are declared "surplus" are taken off the payroll, CWA says. AT&T told Ars that most affected union workers will be able to stay at the company in other positions. But letters from AT&T to the CWA say that only 27 of about 550 employees declared "surplus" in the Southwest division will be given so-called "follow-the-work" opportunities in which they can take nearly identical jobs in other locations. Follow-the-work offers are given when an employee's specific job is consolidated with another position or moved to another geographic location, AT&T said. This is different from the job-offer guarantee that ensures "surplus" employees will be offered a different type of job in the company; AT&T didn't say exactly how many surplus employees will get those offers. The 1,800 newly announced AT&T job cuts affect wireline technicians who fix customer problems, install new service, and who work on AT&T's fiber expansion, Allen said. Over the past four years, AT&T expanded its fiber-to-the-home network to 12.5 million customer locations to meet a government mandate imposed on its purchase of DirecTV. But AT&T is apparently slowing its fiber deployments now that it has finished the government-mandated buildout.

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  • Microsoft's Plan To Split OS From Shell Takes Shape
    An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: The latest Windows preview from the 20H1 branch, build 18917, has some hidden components that signal a future where the Windows Shell UI parts, such as Action Center, will be separate from the rest of Windows and can be updated with shell packages. A developer who uses the Twitter handle Albacore gave a breakdown of a new component in Build 18917 called 'Shell Update Agent,' which he notes is "capable of obtaining and updating the shell on demand." That capability may mean nothing to most Windows 10 users. However, for Windows watchers it could be an interesting development of Microsoft's unannounced plans for Windows Core OS, in which Windows is modularized and calls on a range of shells that target different form factors, from HoloLens to Surface and dual-screen devices like the recently revealed Centaurus laptop, whose shell is called Santorini. Albacore goes on to explain that the Shell Update Agent references 'Package Family Names,' which suggests that the "shell will indeed be a separate, packaged component." Those shell packages can be acquired from both external and internal sources, which could mean shell components like the Start Menu, Action Center and Taskbar could be selectively built, based on these acquired packages. Finally, one more shell-related change noted relates to a new method for syncing settings. "The new one should support syncing more advanced and previously 'legacy' options such as File Explorer configuration," Albacore notes.

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  • Adobe's Experimental AI Tool Can Tell If Something's Been Photoshopped
    Adobe and UC Berkeley researchers are working on tool that can tell if a photo has been manipulated in Adobe Photoshop. The goal is to cut down on fake content and "to increase trust and authority in digital media." TheINQUIRER reports: A bunch of images were created using Photoshop's "Face Aware Liquify" tool, and mixed with a set of expertly human-doctored photographs. When humans were shown the original image and the doctored version, they spotted the fakes 53 percent of the time, but the artificial intelligence hit 99 percent. That's pretty good -- changing a coin toss guess into near certainty, but the AI isn't quite done showboating. As well as being able to point out what areas might have been changed, the AI can also predict what methods have been used to change the image. Better still, it'll have a stab at undoing the vandalism, and returning the image to its former untampered glory. Not perfectly, but well enough to impress the researchers all the same: it's like having an undo button on someone else's work, and who hasn't always wanted one of those? "It might sound impossible because there are so many variations of facial geometry possible," said Professor Alexei A. Efros of UC Berkeley. "But, in this case, because deep learning can look at a combination of low-level image data, such as warping artifacts, as well as higher level cues such as layout, it seems to work."

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  • First Amendment Constraints Don't Apply To Private Platforms, Supreme Court Affirms
    In a case that could have potential implications for social media, the Supreme Court has ruled that a nonprofit running public access channels isn't bound by governmental constraints on speech. "The case, which the conservative wing of the court decided in a split 5-4 ruling, centered around a Manhattan-based nonprofit tasked by New York City with operating public access channels in the area," reports The Verge. "The organization disciplined two producers after a film led to complaints, which the producers argued was a violation of their First Amendment speech rights. The case turned on whether the nonprofit was a 'state actor' running a platform governed by First Amendment constraints." From the report: In a decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative justices ruled that the First Amendment constraints didn't apply to the nonprofit, which they considered a private entity. Providing a forum for speech wasn't enough to become a government actor, the justices ruled. Nowhere is the internet or social media discussed in the ruling, but the idea that the decision could be used to penalize social media companies was raised by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The groups argued that too broad of a decision could prevent other private entities like YouTube and Twitter from managing their platforms by imposing new constraints them. The Internet Association, a trade group, said last year that such a decision could mean the internet "will become less attractive, less safe and less welcoming to the average user." But today's decision seems to assuage those concerns. The liberal justices on the court, in a dissenting ruling, argued instead that the terms under which the nonprofit ran the channels for the city should have bound it to First Amendment constraints. The nonprofit, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, "stepped into the City's shoes and thus qualifies as a state actor, subject to the First Amendment like any other."

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  • Nvidia Will Support ARM Hardware For High-Performance Computing
    An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: At the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt, Germany this week, Santa Clara-based chipmaker Nvidia announced that it will support processors architected by British semiconductor design company Arm. Nvidia anticipates that the partnership will pave the way for supercomputers capable of "exascale" performance -- in other words, of completing at least a quintillion floating point computations ("flops") per second, where a flop equals two 15-digit numbers multiplied together. Nvidia says that by 2020 it will contribute its full stack of AI and high-performance computing (HPC) software to the Arm ecosystem, which by Nvidia's estimation now accelerates over 600 HPC applications and machine learning frameworks. Among other resources and services, it will make available CUDA-X libraries, graphics-accelerated frameworks, software development kits, PGI compilers with OpenACC support, and profilers. Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang pointed out in a statement that, thanks to this commitment, Nvidia will soon accelerate all major processor architectures: x86, IBM's Power, and Arm. "As traditional compute scaling has ended, the world's supercomputers have become power constrained," said Huang. "Our support for Arm, which designs the world's most energy-efficient CPU architecture, is a giant step forward that builds on initiatives Nvidia is driving to provide the HPC industry a more power-efficient future."

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  • YouTube is Too Big To Fix Completely, Google CEO Says
    Google CEO Sundar Pichai says YouTube is too big to completely fix the site's problems with harmful content. From a report: During a CNN interview that aired Sunday, Pichai was asked whether there will ever be enough humans to filter through and remove such content. "We've gotten much better at using a combination of machines and humans," Pichai said. "So it's one of those things, let's say we're getting it right 99% of the time, you'll still be able to find examples. Our goal is to take that to a very, very small percentage well below 1%." Pichai said Google probably can't get that to 100%. "Any large scale systems, it's tough," Pichai said. "Think about credit card systems, there's some fraud in that. ... Anything when you run at that scale, you have to think about percentages."

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  • Linux PCs, Servers, Gadgets Can Be Crashed by 'Ping of Death' Network Packets
    Artem S. Tashkinov writes: The Register reports that it is possible to crash network-facing Linux servers, PCs, smartphones and tablets, and gadgets, or slow down their network connections, by sending them a series of maliciously crafted packets. It is also possible to hamper FreeBSD machines with the same attack. Patches and mitigations are available, and can be applied by hand if needed, or you can wait for a security fix to be pushed or offered to your at-risk device. A key workaround is to set /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_sack to 0. At the heart of the drama is a programming flaw dubbed SACK Panic aka CVE-2019-11477: this bug can be exploited to remotely crash systems powered by Linux kernel version 2.6.29 or higher, which was released 10 years ago.

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  • Robocalls Are Overwhelming Hospitals and Patients, Threatening a New Kind of Health Crisis
    An anonymous reader shares a report: In the heart of Boston, Tufts Medical Center treats scores of health conditions, from administering measles vaccines for children to pioneering next-generation tools that can eradicate the rarest of cancers. But doctors, administrators and other hospital staff struggled to contain a much different kind of epidemic one April morning last year: a wave of thousands of robocalls that spread, like a virus, from one phone line to the next, disrupting communications for hours to come. For most Americans, such robocalls represent an unavoidable digital-age nuisance, resulting in constant interruptions targeting their phones each month. For hospitals, though, the spam calls amount to a literal life-or-death challenge, one that increasingly is threatening doctors and patients in a setting where every second can count. At Tufts Medical Center, administrators registered more than 4,500 calls between about 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on April 30, 2018, said Taylor Lehmann, the center's chief information security officer. Many of the messages seemed to be the same: Speaking in Mandarin, an unknown voice threatened deportation unless the person who picked up the phone provided their personal information. Such calls are common, widely documented scams that seek to swindle vulnerable foreigners, who may surrender their private data out of fear their families and homes are at risk. But it proved especially troubling at Tufts, which is situated amid Boston's Chinatown neighborhood, Lehmann said. Officials there couldn't block the calls through their telecom carrier, Windstream, which provides phone and web services to consumers and businesses. "There's nothing we could do," Lehmann said Windstream told them.

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  • The League of Entropy Forms To Offer Acts of Public Randomness
    Cloudflare, along with a group of individual and academic partners, is forming a new coalition that will provide truly random, unpredictable numbers for a variety of applications, including election systems and lotteries. From a report: The problem of producing truly random numbers on a consistent basis has been a thorny one for cryptographers for many years. There have been plenty of efforts to establish sources of randomness, with some success, but one of the drawbacks is that any single randomness generator can be a target for abuse by privileged insiders or outside attackers. This is especially true in high-value applications that require random numbers, such as lottery or election systems. Also, if a given source of random numbers fails for any reason, the applications that rely on it can be crippled, as well. To help address this problem, Cloudflare has teamed up with the University of Chile, the Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne, and several individual researchers to form a consortium of randomness beacons distributed around the world. The system is based on the drand randomness beacon developed by Nicholas Gailly, a researcher at Protocol Labs, a research lab for network protocols, and the aim is to have a distributed network of beacons that will always be available. "Our founding members are contributing their individual high-entropy sources to provide a more random and unpredictable beacon to generate publicly verifiable random values every sixty seconds. The fact that the drand beacon is decentralized and built using appropriate, provably-secure cryptographic primitives, increases our confidence that it possesses all the aforementioned properties," Dina Kozlov, a product manager at Cloudflare, said. "This global network of servers generating randomness ensures that even if a few servers are offline, the beacon continues to produce new numbers by using the remaining online servers. Even if one or two of the servers or their entropy sources were to be compromised, the rest will still ensure that the jointly-produced entropy is fully unpredictable and unbiasable." Random numbers are vital to many kinds of systems and there are plenty of hardware and software-based random number generators. But more than one RNG has been found to have a bias, whether intentional or accidental, so randomness beacons emerged.

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  • Microsoft's To-Do App Comes To Mac
    Microsoft has released To-Do for Mac, finally giving Apple users access to the task management tool on their desktops. The Mac app will allow users to work offline, view their upcoming tasks under "My Day," share to-do lists with friends and colleagues and see flagged emails. From a report: "Today, we'd like to announce the arrival of a new family member -- that's right, the moment many of you have been waiting for is here -- say hello to the Mac app. If you've already been using our app on Android, iOS, Windows, or web, then the Mac app will feel very familiar. Sign in and all your tasks will be waiting for you, ready to be checked off. You can work offline, add tasks to My Day, see your flagged email in your Flagged email list, and share your lists with colleagues or friends and family. The Planner integration isn't available yet, but we're already working on bringing the Assigned to Me list to you," says Polly Davidson, Social Media Strategist, Microsoft.

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  • A Quarter of Major CMSs Use Outdated MD5 as the Default Password Hashing Scheme
    Over a quarter of all the major content management systems (CMSs) use the old and outdated MD5 hashing scheme as the default for securing and storing user passwords. From a report: Some of the projects that use MD5 as the default method for storing user passwords include WordPress, osCommerce, SuiteCRM, Simple Machines Forum, miniBB, MyBB, SugarCRM, CMS Made Simple, MantisBT, Phorum, Observium, X3cms, and Composr. The MD5 algorithm has been cracked for years now, meaning all passwords stored in this format can be reversed back to their plaintext version. This means that unless website owners changed these default settings by modifying the CMS source code, most websites built on top of these CMSs puts user passwords at risk in the case a hacker steals the site's database. This revelation is just one of the many observations that came out of an extensive academic research project at the University of Piraeus, in Greece. Academics examined 49 commonly used CMSs and 47 popular web application frameworks and looked at their default password storage mechanism, namely their password hashing schemes.

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  • A 53-Year-Old Network Coloring Conjecture Is Disproved
    In just three pages, a Russian mathematician has presented a better way to color certain types of networks than many experts thought possible. From a report: A paper posted online last month has disproved a 53-year-old conjecture about the best way to assign colors to the nodes of a network. The paper shows, in a mere three pages, that there are better ways to color certain networks than many mathematicians had supposed possible. Network coloring problems, which were inspired by the question of how to color maps so that adjoining countries are different colors, have been a focus of study among mathematicians for nearly 200 years. The goal is to figure out how to color the nodes of some network (or graph, as mathematicians call them) so that no two connected nodes share the same color. Depending on the context, such a coloring can provide an effective way to seat guests at a wedding, schedule factory tasks for different time slots, or even solve a sudoku puzzle. Graph coloring problems tend to be simple to state, but they are often enormously hard to solve. Even the question that launched the field -- Do four colors suffice to color any map? -- took more than a century to answer (the answer is yes, in case you were wondering). The problem tackled in the new paper seemed, until now, to be no exception to this rule. Unsolved for more than 50 years, it concerns tensor products -- graphs made by combining two different graphs (call them G and H) in a specific way. The tensor product of G and H is a new, larger graph in which each node represents a pair of nodes from the original graphs -- one from G and one from H -- and two nodes in the tensor product are connected if both their corresponding nodes in G and their corresponding nodes in H are connected.

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  • Tech Companies Need To Take Responsibility For the 'Chaos' They Create, Tim Cook Says
    Apple CEO Tim Cook said Sunday in a commencement address at Stanford University that technology companies need to take responsibility for the "chaos" they create. From a report: He did not name specific companies in his speech, but referenced several reasons that tech firms, particularly social media platforms, have come under scrutiny in recent months. He also made an apparent reference to embattled health startup Theranos. "Lately it seems this industry is becoming better known for a less noble innovation -- the belief you can claim credit without accepting responsibility," Cook said, according to videos posted online of his speech. "We see it every day now with every data breach, every privacy violation, every blind eye turned to hate speech, fake news poisoning out national conversation, the false miracles in exchange for a single drop of your blood," he added. "Too many seem to think that good intentions excuse away harmful outcomes, but whether you like it or not, what you build and what you create define who you are. It feels a bit crazy that anyone should have to say this, but if you built a chaos factory, you can't dodge responsibility for the chaos."

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