Microsoft Now Claims GPT-4 Shows 'Sparks' of General Intelligence

Motherboard (Vice) - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 12:00

Microsoft is betting heavily on integrating OpenAI's GPT language models into its products to compete with Google, and, the company now claims, its AI is an early form of artificial general intelligence (AGI).

On Wednesday, Microsoft researchers released a paper on the arXiv preprint server titled “Sparks of Artificial General Intelligence: Early experiments with GPT-4.” They declared that GPT-4 showed early signs of AGI, meaning that it has capabilities that are at or above human level.

This eyebrow-raising conclusion largely contrasts what OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been saying regarding GPT-4. For example, he said the model was "still flawed, still limited." In fact, if you read the paper itself, the researchers appear to dial back their own splashy claim: the bulk of the paper is dedicated to listing the number of limitations and biases the large language model contains. This begs the question of how close to AGI GPT-4 really is, and how AGI is instead being used as clickbait.

“We demonstrate that, beyond its mastery of language, GPT-4 can solve novel and difficult tasks that span mathematics, coding, vision, medicine, law, psychology and more, without needing any special prompting,” the researchers write in the paper’s abstract. “Moreover, in all of these tasks, GPT-4’s performance is strikingly close to human-level performance, and often vastly surpasses prior models such as ChatGPT. Given the breadth and depth of GPT-4’s capabilities, we believe that it could reasonably be viewed as an early (yet still incomplete) version of an artificial general intelligence (AGI) system.”

Indeed, the researchers show examples of GPT-4’s capabilities in the paper: it is able to write a proof about how there are infinitely many primes, with rhymes on every line, and draw a unicorn in TiKZ, a drawing program. This is all quickly followed by some serious caveats.

While in the abstract of the paper the researchers write that “GPT-4’s performance is strikingly close to human-level performance,” their introduction immediately contradicts that initial attention-grabbing statement. They write, “Our claim that GPT-4 represents progress towards AGI does not mean that it is perfect at what it does, or that it comes close to being able to do anything that a human can do (which is one of the usual definition [sic] of AGI; see the conclusion section for more on this), or that it has inner motivation and goals (another key aspect in some definitions of AGI).”

The researchers said that they used a 1994 definition of AGI by a group of psychologists as the framework for their research. They wrote, “The consensus group defined intelligence as a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. This definition implies that intelligence is not limited to a specific domain or task, but rather encompasses a broad range of cognitive skills and abilities.”

“OpenAI’s powerful GPT-4 model challenges many widely held assumptions about the nature of machine intelligence. Through critical evaluation of the system’s capabilities and limitations, which you can read about in ‘Sparks of Artificial General Intelligence: Early experiments with GPT-4,’ Microsoft researchers observed fundamental leaps in GPT-4’s abilities to reason, plan, solve problems, and synthesize complex ideas that signal a paradigm shift in the field of computer science,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. “We recognize the current limitations of GPT-4 and that there is still work to be done. We will continue to engage the broader scientific community in exploring future research directions, including those required to address the societal and ethical implications of these increasingly intelligent systems.”

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman emphasized the limitations of GPT-4 when it was released, saying “it is still flawed, still limited, and it still seems more impressive on first use than it does when you spend more time with it.” In a Thursday interview with Intelligencer’s Kara Swisher, Altman shared the same disclaimers: “There’s plenty of things it’s still bad at.” In the interview, Altman agrees that the bot will sometimes make things up and present users with misinformation. He said that there still needs a lot more human feedback to be more reliable.

Altman and OpenAI have always looked toward a future where AGI exists, and have recently been engaged in building hype around the firm's ability to bring it about. But Altman has also been clear that GPT-4 is not AGI.

“The GPT-4 rumor mill is a ridiculous thing. I don’t know where it all comes from,” Altman said just before GPT-4's release. “People are begging to be disappointed and they will be. The hype is just like… We don’t have an actual AGI and that’s sort of what’s expected of us.”

"Microsoft is not focused on trying to achieve AGI. Our development of AI is centered on amplifying, augmenting, and assisting human productivity and capability. We are creating platforms and tools that, rather than acting as a substitute for human effort, can help humans with cognitive work,” a Microsoft spokesperson clarified in a statement to Motherboard.

The Microsoft researchers write that the model has trouble with confidence calibration, long-term memory, personalization, planning and conceptual leaps, transparency, interpretability and consistency, cognitive fallacies and irrationality, and challenges with sensitivity to inputs.

What all this means is that the model has trouble knowing when it is confident or when it is just guessing, it makes up facts that are not in its training data, the model’s context is limited and there is no obvious way to teach the model new facts, the model can’t personalize its responses to a certain user, the model can’t make conceptual leaps, the model has no way to verify if content is consistent with its training data, the model inherits biases, prejudices, and errors in the training data, and the model is very sensitive to the framing and wording of prompts.

GPT-4 is the model that Bing’s chatbot was built on, giving us an example of how the chatbot’s limitations are noticeably exhibited in a real-life scenario. It made several mistakes during Microsoft’s public demo of the project, making up information about a pet vacuum and Gap’s financial data. When users chatted with the chatbot, it would often go out of control, such as saying “I am. I am not. I am. I am not.” over fifty times in a row as a response to someone asking it, “Do you think that you are sentient?” Though the current version of GPT-4 has been fine-tuned on user interaction since Bing chatbot’s initial release, researchers found that GPT-4 spreads more misinformation than its predecessor GPT-3.5.

Notably, the researchers “do not have access to the full details of its vast training data,” revealing that their conclusion is only based on testing the model on standard benchmarks, nonspecific to GPT-4.

“The standard approach in machine learning is to evaluate the system on a set of standard benchmark datasets, ensuring that they are independent of the training data and that they cover a range of tasks and domains,” the researchers wrote. “We have to assume that it has potentially seen every existing benchmark, or at least some similar data.” The secrecy that OpenAI has surrounding the training datasets and code surrounding its AI models is something that many AI researchers have criticized, as they say, this makes it impossible to evaluate the model’s harms and come up with ways to mitigate the model’s risks.

With all this being said, it is clear that the “sparks” the researchers claim to have found are largely overpowered by the number of limitations and biases that the model has displayed since its release.

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New value for W boson mass dims 2022 hints of physics beyond Standard Model

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 11:06
ATLAS Event Displays: W boson production

Enlarge / Event display of a W-boson candidate decaying into a muon and a muon neutrino inside the ATLAS experiment. The blue line shows the reconstructed track of the muon, and the red arrow denotes the energy of the undetected muon neutrino. (credit: ATLAS Collaboration/CERN)

It's often said in science that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Recent measurements of the mass of the elementary particle known as the W boson provide a useful case study as to why. Last year, Fermilab physicists caused a stir when they reported a W boson mass measurement that deviated rather significantly from theoretical predictions of the so-called Standard Model of Particle Physics—a tantalizing hint of new physics. Others advised caution, since the measurement contradicted prior measurements.

That caution appears to have been warranted. The ATLAS collaboration at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has announced a new, improved analysis of their own W boson data and found the measured value for its mass was still consistent with Standard Model. Caveat: It's a preliminary result. But it lessens the likelihood of Fermilab's 2022 measurement being correct.

"The W mass measurement is among the most challenging precision measurements performed at hadron colliders," said ATLAS spokesperson Andreas Hoecker. "It requires extremely accurate calibration of the measured particle energies and momenta, and a careful assessment and excellent control of modeling uncertainties. This updated result from ATLAS provides a stringent test, and confirms the consistency of our theoretical understanding of electroweak interactions.”

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Oracle reportedly making job cuts at health IT arm Cerner

The Register - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 11:00
OCI is much more efficient than the acquired Cerner DCs, Ellison told investors

Oracle is set to make a number of job cuts at Cerner, the electronic health records company it acquired last year, as its shift workloads to its cloud infrastructure.…

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Huge collection of vintage Apple computers goes to auction next week

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 10:55
A Macintosh Portable

Enlarge / I mostly recognize this early laptop from its resemblance to a similar-looking computer in the film 2010. It's up for auction along with hundreds of other old Apple computers. (credit: Julien's Auctions)

If you've been thinking your home or workspace is perhaps deficient when it comes to old Apple hardware, then I have some good news for you. Next week, a massive trove of classic Apple computing history goes under the hammer when the auction house Julien's Auctions auctions off the Hanspeter Luzi collection of more than 500 Apple computers, parts, software, and the occasional bit of ephemera.

Ars reported on the auction in February, but Julien's Auctions has posted the full catalog ahead of the March 30 event, and for Apple nerds of a certain age, there will surely be much to catch your eye.

The earliest computers in the collection are a pair of Commodore PET 2001s; anyone looking for a bargain on an Apple 1 will have to keep waiting, unfortunately.

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Dealmaster: Savings on Galaxy and Pixel phones, desktop PCs, and more

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 10:36
The Pixel 7 in a lovely "hazel" color.

The Pixel 7 in a lovely "hazel" color. (credit: Google)

We have a smorgasbord of discounts ranging from some of the latest Android smartphones to HP's desktop PCs, as well as savings on solid-state drives, headphones, and more. So whether you need to upgrade your storage, or you want to get a new Galaxy or Pixel phone, there's something in there to help you stay productive and entertained.

Android smartphone deals

Samsung's Galaxy S23 launched not too long ago, and we're starting to see discounts on the company's flagship handset series. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra promises solid photography capabilities, with Samsung's "Nightography" for low-light images and the controversial 100X Space Zoom. Outside of the bump to a 200-megapixel sensor, this year's upgrades are more modest: You still get a similar design to the prior S22 series, and the faster, more efficient processor is considered a nice quality-of-life update. So while it may not be worth it for someone with last year's flagship to upgrade, if you're coming from an older phone, the S23 promises fast speeds, 5G connectivity, and a great camera experience.

  • Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra with 256GB storage for $1,100 (was $1,200) at Amazon
  • Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra with 512GB storage for $1,280 (was $1,380) at Amazon
  • Samsung Galaxy S23+ with 256GB storage for $900 (was $1,000) at Amazon
  • Samsung Galaxy S23+ with 512GB storage for $1,020 (was $1,120) at Amazon
  • Samsung Galaxy S23 with 128GB storage for $750 (was $800) at Amazon
  • Samsung Galaxy S23 with 256GB storage for $810 (was $860) at Amazon

If you prefer Google's Android operating system, the Pixel 7 delivers the purest version of the OS. Though the Pixel 7 doesn't come with the Galaxy's high zoom and megapixel count, Google's investment in AI and computation photography is no slouch, and the Pixel 7 delivers some of the best images captured on a smartphone with its unique camera bar design on the rear, and now you can get all that with up to a 25 percent discount. The larger Pixel 7 Pro has a 5x optical telephoto lens that can capture images with up to 30x Super Res zoom with digital cropping, whereas the non-Pro version lacks the telephoto shooter.

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The Best and Most Powerful Juicers (for Health, Wealth, and Good Vibes)

Motherboard (Vice) - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 10:28

So, you’re thinking about getting into juice, huh? You surveyed the land (your neighborhood) and decided that you can do better than dropping a substantial portion of your income on $12 green juices and $7 ginger shots every couple days from the place that’s sort of on the way to the office, gym, or person you hook up with occasionally. That’s a smart decision, in our opinion, as we have numerous resident on-staff juice-heads that will support you throughout your transition into the magnificence of home juicing. VICE writer Nicolette Accardi recently wrote in her Nutribullet juicer review, “As a 27-year-old woman on a budget—living in one of the most expensive cities in America—I’m trying to cleanse my body of a bit of weekend debauchery, not purge my bank account of hard-earned cash on fancy bevs. My solution? Become intertwined in the art of juice making in the comfort of my very own kitchen.” We have walked this path many a time. Join us.

There are a couple things you should know about juicers before diving in. First, there are two kinds of juicers: centrifugal and masticating. I described this in greater detail in my own Omega masticating juicer review last summer, but here’s the most relevant bit: “Centrifugal juicers use fast-spinning blades to annihilate their contents quickly. They tear up whatever goes in, filter it through a screen, and spit out room-temperature juice. Masticating juicers, on the other hand, use a slow-spinning auger to slowly press their contents, which keeps whatever you’re juicing cold, but takes a bit longer.” Ultimately, centrifugal juicers can run from 6,000 to 12,000 rotations per minute, while masticating (also fittingly called “slow juicers”) run much slower; the Omega, by comparison, was 43 RPM. By going slower, these juicers preserve the enzymes in your produce by not heating them up; centrifugal juicers, on the other hand, can warm (thus sort of cooking) some of the raw materials of the stuff you’re wanting to fortify your tum tum. This is why masticating/slow juicers can be more expensive—there’s just more technology going on. If keeping your ingredients cool is a priority, it’s worth it, but there are also some amazing centrifugal juicers to check out.

You don’t want to read about science and physics, though—you’re trying to get jacked and spur your digestive system into functional greatness (or at least cancel out the unspeakable things you ate and drank last night). In any case, a juicer is a beautiful way to process a ton of fruits, veggies, and roots (like ginger and turmeric) into a tasty, easy to consume glass of nutrients. Here are a few of our faves.

A legendary juicer brand

Omega is undoubtedly one of the most beloved brands of home juicing. I personally love its vertical slow juicer (reviewed here), but real heads also love the horizontal, triple-stage bad boy (which is the less expensive option, if you’re trying to not go full throttle right out of the gate). In either case, Omegas rarely clog, they’re hella easy to clean, and they produce incredibly smooth, pulp-free juice that rivals whatever juice bar you used to enjoy going to. On that note, some basic math: Getting this life-changing vertical masticating juicer is the same price as buying 33 $12 juices, so if you’re a daily or every-other-day juice fiend, this thing is the price of one or two months of juice bar. Plus, no driving. 

Another solid slow juicer

Of the Nutribullet slow juicer, Accardi wrote, “If you’re looking for a no-fuss juicer and want to keep your juice habit (but still save some cash in the long run), this appliance has your name all over it.” She also pointed out that it cleans “gracefully” and produces very tasty juice. She does half-marathons and stuff like that, so do what she says. 

An inexpensive but excellent centrifugal option

OK, you don’t care about the minutiae of juice yields or the cell structures of produce—you just want a machine that’ll pulverize some kale, turmeric, lemon, and other stuff that you’d like to cram into your digestive system. Honestly, no shade thrown—that describes many (if not most) home juice freaks, including me at one point. This was my dependable stallion before I graduated to the Omega; over 6,000 Amazon reviewers also seem pretty enamored with it. It’s pretty easy to clean and store, and will really fuck up some greens (or whatever you put in there). What else do you need, really?

A big mouth for the ages

No, we’re not talking about your uncle here (though VICE agrees that he needs to STFU). Hamilton Beach’s pièce de résistance juicer has over 33,000 bangin’ Amazon reviews to its name, making it a produce-destroying champion of the highest order. You might not think the big mouth feed is important, but after you add up all the time you’ve spent chopping carrots in half and cutting up apples so they fit, a big mouth is what you’ll desire most. [Insert sex joke featuring “big mouth” and “tasty juice” here.]

Secure the juice, fam.

The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter

Categories: Tech News

RISC-Y Business: Arm wants to charge dramatically more for chip licenses

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 10:19
RISC-Y Business: Arm wants to charge dramatically more for chip licenses

Enlarge (credit: Arm)

What's in store for the future of Arm? The company's owner, Softbank, has been in financial trouble lately, and that has caused Arm to bounce from one dramatic possibility to another. Initially Arm was put up for sale, and Nvidia was the front-runner to buy the company. That plan was shut down by regulators, and now "Plan B" is an IPO, which is supposed to happen on the NYSE sometime this year. If you want to succeed on the stock market, you've got to show revenue, and while Arm enables the sale of billions of dollars of devices around the world, the company's chip licensing scheme only brings in a comparatively small amount of money—around $500 million a quarter.

The Financial Times has a report on Arm's "radical shake-up" of its business model. The new plan is to raise prices across the board and charge "several times more" than it currently does for chip licenses. According to the report, Arm wants to stop charging chip vendors to make Arm chips, and instead wants to charge device makers—especially smartphone manufacturers—a fee based on the overall price of the final product.

Let's say Motorola makes a phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon Arm chip. Previously, Qualcomm would have signed a deal with Arm for an Arm license, and that license would extend to anyone that buys a Qualcomm Arm chip, like Motorola. Qualcomm contributes a lot to its own chip designs, but when it comes to the Arm license it is basically an Arm reseller. Arm would now want a licensing fee from Motorola (and not Qualcomm?), and it would ask Qualcomm to not sell chips to anyone that doesn't have a licensing agreement with Arm.

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Twitter to un-verify people who don’t pay $8/month starting on April Fools’ Day

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 10:02
Close-up view of the official Twitter Blue account with its verified checkmark.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Four and a half months after the chaotic rollout of paid checkmarks, Elon Musk's Twitter is following through on a plan to remove verification from individual accounts that don't pay $8 per month for a Twitter Blue subscription.

"Starting April 1, we'll be winding down our legacy Verification program and accounts that were verified under the previous criteria (active, notable, and authentic) will not retain a blue checkmark unless they are subscribed to Twitter Blue," a Twitter FAQ says. Twitter also stopped accepting applications for verification checkmarks under the old criteria.

"To keep your blue checkmark on Twitter, individuals can sign up for Twitter Blue here," Twitter said yesterday. "Organizations can sign up for Verified Organizations here."

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Nvidia quietly boosts the video encoding capabilities of GeForce GPUs

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 09:54
Nvidia's GeForce RTX 4080.

Enlarge / Nvidia's GeForce RTX 4080. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

The video encoding hardware built into GeForce GPUs is getting a small boost, according to a quietly updated Nvidia support page (as spotted by Tom's Hardware). Previously, the NVENC encoder built into GeForce GPUs could encode up to three video streams simultaneously. Now, most GPUs supported by Nvidia's current drivers can encode up to five streams of video simultaneously, unlocking capabilities that had always been present in the hardware but that were software-limited in consumer GPUs.

It's unclear exactly when Nvidia made this change, but archival snapshots on the Internet Wayback Machine show the old three-stream limit as recently as March 18, so you may need to install the most recent drivers to unlock the additional encoding capabilities. Your video quality settings may also limit the number of video streams you can encode simultaneously.

Most GeForce GPUs going back to the 2014-era Maxwell architecture now support the extra simultaneous streams, so you don't need a new or powerful video card to benefit from the change (though there are some models, particularly MX-series GPUs for budget laptops, that still don't have any video encoding capabilities, presumably because they're missing the hardware). Models as old as the GeForce 750 Ti are on the list, as are most GeForce 900, 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000-series cards. The kinds of video you can encode will still come down to what your GPU's hardware encoder actually supports; that Nvidia support document lists supported codecs, color depths, and other specs for each GPU.

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Matthew Brown Companies confirms it's in funding talks with Virgin Orbit

The Register - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 09:30
Back to work on Monday? Branson and co still fighting to get funding

SpaceX and OpenAI backing venture capitalist Matthew Brown, of Matthew Brown Companies, has confirmed that his group is in funding talks with space biz Virgin Orbit.…

Categories: Tech News

Cops raided Afroman’s home, then sued him for using footage in music videos

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 09:03
Singer-songwriter Joseph Foreman, better known as "Afroman," clowns around poolside at an Orange County hotel.

Enlarge / Singer-songwriter Joseph Foreman, better known as "Afroman," clowns around poolside at an Orange County hotel. (credit: Don Bartletti / Contributor | Los Angeles Times)

Seven Ohio cops who raided a rapper known as Afroman’s house last summer are now suing the rapper after Afroman made music videos using footage from the raid. The Adams County Sheriff’s Office police officers allege that the rapper is profiting off unauthorized use of their likenesses, not only in the music videos but also on merchandise created after Afroman’s social media posts and music videos went viral on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Cops suing say they’ve been subjected to death threats, ridicule, reputation loss, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, and other alleged harms and will continue to suffer unless the court forces Afroman to destroy all the merchandise and posts bearing their likenesses.

Ars couldn’t immediately reach Afroman, whose real name is Joseph Foreman, for comment, but Vice talked to him in January. Afroman told Vice that after the raid, he suffered, too, losing gigs and feeling powerless. He decided to create music videos for songs called “Lemon Pound Cake,” “Why You Disconnecting My Video Camera,” and “Will You Help Me Repair My Door” to reclaim his good name.

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Exclusive: We Spoke to ‘Stop Cop City’ Activists Facing Terrorism Charges

Motherboard (Vice) - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 08:57

When Vienna Forrest first heard she was being charged under Georgia’s domestic terrorism statute last December, she thought it was some kind of cruel joke. “I was wearing camo in a public park, camping with my friends,” she told Motherboard. “[Terrorism charges] are not really what you expect to come out of that.”

The terrorism charge stemmed from her alleged involvement in the Defend the Atlanta Forest (DTAF) movement, a group which her arrest warrant claims is “classified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a domestic violent extremist group.” The DHS has since publicly refuted the claim that it lists DTAF as a terrorist organization, but prosecutors in Dekalb County have continued to charge people allegedly involved with the movement under the state’s terrorism statute—including attendees of a music festival that recently took place in the forest. 

So far, 42 people in total have been charged with domestic terrorism, which carries a minimum five year and maximum 35 year prison sentence.  

Forrest recounted Dekalb County Jail conditions as “terrible, with tasteless cold food” and said full doses of her hormone medication were denied. She said she was aggressively misgendered throughout her two weeks in the men’s jail, and was forced to reveal her trans status at the jail hospital following a line of questioning pertaining to whether she had undergone gender affirming surgery. Without any explanation after the visit, she was moved from the jail’s general population to solitary confinement for four days in a cell with opaque windows and no way of communicating with guards in the case of an emergency.

Several weeks after she was released from jail, police shot and killed her partner, Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, who was occupying the forest during a raid carried out by Georgia State Troopers and Dekalb County Police. The killing sparked international outrage, and catapulted the movement into mainstream news overnight. While police initially claimed Tortuguita shot at the officers first, an autopsy recently revealed they were sitting cross-legged with their hands raised when they were shot thirteen times. 

“I don't know if I'll be able to fully process everything until it's over. But I always joke with my friends that it can't be post traumatic stress if there's no post. It’s constant ongoing trauma,” said Forrest. “When I got out of jail I was just very solitary, I wasn’t really engaging with my community at all in the way I wanted to. With Tortuguita’s death it kind of threw me back into it. I’m trying to live in Tortuguita’s legacy and do mutual aid and build communities of care like they always did.”

The sweep marked an escalation in police tactics against those who have been opposing construction of a $90 million dollar police training facility, which would destroy more than 400 acres of Atlanta’s South River Forest and feature a mock neighborhood. Critics, who generally call the project “‘Cop City,”’ cite environmental concerns, police violence against Black and other marginalized people, and a lack of legal channels for halting the project as reasons for participating in the movement. Activists have said the movement isn’t a membership based organization, but a nebulous intersection of students, clergy, abolitionists, and community members who are interlinking their tactics through informal networks to halt construction of Cop City.

The latest sweep in early March made international headlines after militarized police arrested and charged 23 people, seemingly at random, with domestic terrorism at a music festival organized by people involved in the movement. Atlanta Police claimed the arrests were connected to a demonstration earlier that day wherein a crowd stormed the ‘Cop City’ construction site, burned equipment and set off fireworks at police. But as The Intercept reported, the arrests at the music festival were made on shaky evidential grounds. Warrants cited mud on shoes and a legal support number scribbled on someone’s body as probable cause for arrest.

At least 22 of the 24 people arrested at the concert are still incarcerated after being denied bond by magistrate Judge Anna Watkins Davis. On March 23, eight of the defendants were again denied bond by Judge Gregory Adams. Prosecutors argued to keep defendants in jail by claiming that mud on their shoes and a phone number for a legal support line written on their arms were indicative of criminal intent, according Hannah Riley, a Communications Director with Southern Center for Human Rights, who attended the hearing. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation did not comment on the arrests when contacted by Motherboard, but sent a public press release related to the killing of Tortuguita. Davis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Civil liberties advocates criticized the arrests as violating people’s first amendment rights. “Somebody who is watching a music concert cannot be held criminally responsible for people a mile away that allegedly engaged in economic sabotage,” Lauren Regan, the director and senior attorney at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, told Motherboard. “The legal system does not work that way. That's called vicarious liability. And that's not permitted.”  

The mass arrests are reminiscent of the 2017 “J20” case, where more than 230 people attending a protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. were arrested for being in the vicinity of property damage and wearing similar black clothing. The first round of defendants were acquitted at trial, and charges were ultimately dropped after a majority of defendants refused plea deals in solidarity with their co-defendants.

Regan said the weak nature of the cases in Georgia indicates the state isn’t necessarily using the terrorism statute to secure convictions, but to chill, repress, and stop the growth of the movement. “They are losing in the court of public opinion…when you can't win in the court of public opinion, you use the systems that you can control and one of those systems is the legal system,” said Regan. “They think that prosecuting activists for ‘domestic terrorism’ would make mom and pop disfavor activists, or be afraid to support it, to be afraid to join it, to donate to it.” 

Earlier this month, 69 organizations including the Civil Liberty Defense Center, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International USA called for the charges to be dropped in a letter to Georgia’s Attorney General Christopher Carr and Dekalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston. More than 300 academics released a statement last week announcing a boycott of academic conferences in the state of Georgia until the charges are dropped and an independent investigation into the killing of Tortuguita takes place. Health care providers also sent a letter to Dekalb County Jail with concerns over the health and safety of people being held at the jail, including defendants charged with domestic terrorism being denied epilepsy medication.

A representative from Dekalb County Jail could not be reached for comment.

Emily Murphy, a defendant who has been incarcerated at Atlanta City Detention Center for roughly two months after being denied bond, told Motherboard that guards tased a person who was advocating for food and blankets at Fulton County Registry during her booking process, and that staff frequently threaten incarcerated people with tasers. She said that many of the people she has met in jail are incarcerated because they can’t afford to pay bail. “It isn't about how ‘dangerous’ the state thinks you are. It's about your ability to pay,” said Murphy, via an audio recording sent to Motherboard through her lawyers. “It's like you can be released for the right price.” Murphy was also repeatedly denied vegan food in jail, until a call-in campaign on her behalf pressured the jail into meeting her dietary needs. 

“The state wants to vilify us as much as possible,” she said of her charges. “And you know, it's a scare tactic to try to break up the movement and prevent people from taking future actions. Activism is not terrorism.” 

A representative for the Atlanta City Detention Center did not respond to a request for comment.

Another defendant, Ivan Ferguson, who was released on bond on February 15, described every interpersonal interaction between guards and incarcerated people as full of neglect and contempt. But they also witnessed moments of connectedness and hope between incarcerated people during their more than three weeks behind bars. 

“I had some good times, met some good people, and played lots of card games. I met someone in my pod who is a preacher, and I'm not even religious, but it was beautiful hearing them speak to people and bring them together,” Ferguson told Motherboard. “I was so touched and moved by the way that this person was able to sort of highlight the underlying community and love that is still possible and alive in even the most barren and isolating places”  

Like many other defendants, Ferguson was released with an ankle monitor that surveils and restricts their movements. “I’m not allowed to get groceries, so other people bring me food,” they said. “It’s been lovely to have people who want to help.”

Defendants' pretrial release conditions forbid them from contacting their co-defendants, and in some cases they are prohibited from entering the state of Georgia entirely, a condition Regan said was very rare and speaks to the state’s true intention of using the criminal justice system to stop activism.  

The movement doesn’t appear to be slowing down since the arrests, however. At least for Ferguson’s part, they still feel a strong sense of solidarity and connection to others, despite being locked inside their home. 

“I’ve been reminded about how important and powerful and beautiful and lovely and divine that community is,” they said. “It’s been really really eye opening and inspiring to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that—and it’s so cheesy to say—I’m not alone […] I'm the millionth person to say this, but it's been wonderful to feel I'm part of something larger. We're in this together.”

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Trans Children Were the Beginning. The GOP Is Coming for Adults Now.

Motherboard (Vice) - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 08:09

A newly-proposed healthcare ban in Florida could effectively ban gender-affirming care for people of all ages, in yet another indication that GOP lawmakers are not only targeting trans youth, but trans adults too.

Florida HB1421 would prohibit insurance providers, including private insurers, from covering gender-affirming care, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket. “A health insurance policy may not provide coverage for gender clinical interventions,” the bill states. Florida previously introduced a bill that will force businesses that pay for gender-affirming care to also pay for detransitions, in a bid to further restrict access to life-saving healthcare for transgender people by disincentivizing employers from covering care in the first place.

And according to experts, HB1421 is worded so vaguely that it could make it difficult for trans adults to access other forms of healthcare as well.

“It would ban health insurance coverage for birth control, HRT for menopause, treatments for breast cancer, including mastectomies, treatments for prostate cancer, and any treatment that involves primary or secondary sex characteristics,” said attorney Alejandra Caraballo, an instructor at Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic.

The bill, which also bans gender-affirming care for trans youth, echoes a new law in South Dakota: Both include a clause that effectively forces youth to detransition before the year is up, by forcing healthcare professionals to “gradually discontinue” their treatments, including puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy.

HB1421 is not the first bill introduced in the country that would limit access to life-saving, critical care for trans adults. In fact, the same politicians who’ve repeatedly introduced anti-trans bills under the guise of “protecting children” are routinely going after adults now. Tennessee is also trying to block insurance providers from covering gender-affirming care, while other states are explicitly trying to ban care for some adults altogether. Earlier this year Oklahoma became the first state to propose a gender-affirming care ban for people under 26, and Kansas is proposing a trans healthcare ban for people under 21. South Carolina is also attempting to ban people under 21 from accessing gender-affirming care, and would prohibit the use of public funds to cover treatment.

Earlier this month, Texas introduced its own bill that could criminalize doctors who provide gender-affirming care for people under 26. The same bill prohibits insurance companies from covering gender-affirming care for the same age group.

“Attacks on transgender people are not about ‘protecting children,’ but rather about ‘eradicating transgenderism’ as Michael Knowles put it in his recent infamous CPAC speech,” transgender writer and activist Erin Reed wrote in her newsletter this week. “I expect these kinds of bills targeting adult care to become increasingly common over the next two years.”

GOP lawmakers across the country have been largely fixated on prohibiting trans healthcare for youth, and at least 10 states have already passed such bans. This year alone has seen nearly 500 anti-trans bills introduced across the country—a record-breaking number. Proposed bills range from gender-affirming care bans and bills that bar trans people from using bathrooms that correspond to their gender, to drag bans and bans on name and pronoun changes on government-issued documents. The situation is becoming so tenuous that some people are referring to the assault on trans rights as a genocide.

“They are trying to bring about conditions that will result in the mass loss of life and inability to participate in public life among transgender people,” Reed told VICE News last year.

Studies show that gender-affirming care isn’t harmful; it’s life-saving. Trans people are more likely to experience mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and thoughts of suicide, than cisgender people. Nearly half of all LGBTQ youth have seriously considered suicide.

 But, experts say, some of these risks can be mitigated with gender-affirming care, which includes puberty blockers and other therapies. Most trans adults say that transitioning helped them feel more satisfied, according to a new Washington Post and KFF poll. These interventions, endorsed by several major national medical associations, are safe and effective, and are correlated with better mental health outcomes for trans people.

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Forget general AI, apparently zebrafish larvae can count

The Register - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 08:04
Numerical abilities could be a hardwired, ancient feature of the developing vertebrate brain, study suggests

Researchers in Italy have discovered newborn zebrafish possess the ability to count, suggesting numeracy may be hard-wired into the vertebrate brain.…

Categories: Tech News

There's a Massive 'Hole' in the Sun the Size of 20 Earths Right Now

Motherboard (Vice) - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 07:55

This week, NASA astronomers spotted a gaping, black region on the sun. The so-called "coronal hole" looks as if someone blew a hole right through our star, and its appearance spurred NOAA to issue an alert for geomagnetic storms. 

The "hole" isn't really a hole, but rather is a large region much cooler than the rest of the Sun, causing it to appear black. As explained by NOAA in its alert on Wednesday, the dynamics of the coronal hole were expected to speed up the solar winds, and so the agency warned of minor-to-moderate geomagnetic storms as a result, falling under the classifications G1 and G2 (on a scale that goes all the way up to G5). 

This coronal hole is simply massive. According to Insider, it's the size of 20-30 Earths. "The current coronal hole, the big one right now, is about 300,000 to 400,000 kilometers across," Alex Young from NASA Goddard's Heliophysics Science Division told the outlet. "That is about 20-30 Earths lined up back-to-back."

Importantly, there's nothing to worry about when it comes to a coronal hole appearing in the Sun. It's stunning to look at, and thankfully, that's all that most of us will get from it. 

Other activity on the Sun isn't so benign, however. On Friday, Earth was hit with a surprise "severe" G4 geomagnetic storm due to a coronal mass ejection—when the Sun yeets some of its magnetic field and plasma into the solar system. The storm was expected to affect spacecraft operations and possibly lead to "widespread" voltage control problems with planetside power grids. 

The Sun undergoes 11-year cycles of activity, and is currently in its active phase. Last month, scientists observed something we've never seen before: a piece of the sun's plasma tore off and started swirling like a massive polar vortex. Like the coronal hole, this event posed no risk, and was merely an opportunity to learn more about the star that has nurtured life on our planet.

Categories: Tech News

United Airlines reveals first eVTOL passenger route starting in 2025

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 07:40
An Archer eVTOL aircraft wearing the United livery takes off, with more eVTOL craft in the background

Enlarge / United has chosen its hometown of Chicago for the country's first commercial eVTOL route. (credit: Archer Aviation)

In 2025, United Airlines will fly an air taxi service between the downtown Vertiport Chicago and O'Hare International Airport, using electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft it is purchasing from Archer Aviation. The Archer Midnight eVTOL aircraft will complete the route in about 10 minutes; according to local resident and Ars Managing Editor Eric Bangeman, that journey by car can take over an hour due to road construction.

"Both Archer and United are committed to decarbonizing air travel and leveraging innovative technologies to deliver on the promise of the electrification of the aviation industry," said Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures. "Once operational, we're excited to offer our customers a more sustainable, convenient, and cost-effective mode of transportation during their commutes to the airport."

United placed an order for 200 eVTOL aircraft from Archer back in 2021 at a cost of $1 billion. The startup has also raised money from the automaker Stellantis, which has been helping the company with making carbon fiber composites.

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Non-Disparagement Clauses Are Retroactively Voided, NLRB’s Top Cop Clarifies

Motherboard (Vice) - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 07:30

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued a clarifying memo on Wednesday regarding the “scope” of a February ruling by the federal agency’s board that said employers cannot include blanket non-disparagement clauses in their severance packages, nor demand laid-off employees keep secret the terms of their exit agreements.

Such provisions have become increasingly common in recent years, muzzling employees and otherwise stopping them from speaking up about working conditions by dangling a few weeks or months of pay in front of them at the exact moment they are losing their job.

In the memo, sent to regional offices, General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo addressed what had been one of the largest questions that resulted from the ruling: Does it retroactively void broad non-disparagement agreements that were signed prior to the February ruling? Abruzzo wrote that the decision does, in fact, have “retroactive application,” meaning that already-signed and “overly broad” non-disparagement clauses are no longer considered valid by the NLRB.

Abruzzo is charged with prosecuting cases against employers who break the rules. She said an unlawful clause would likely not invalidate an entire severance agreement, as the regional offices tend to “seek to have [the unlawful portions] voided out as opposed to the entire agreement.”

However, employers who attempt to continue to enforce illegal severance clauses could face trouble from the NLRB. While the NLRB typically has a six-month statute of limitations for labor violations, businesses who attempt to enforce illegal parts of an older severance agreement would be committing a contemporary “violation” and subject to enforcement, Abruzzo said.

Additionally, Abruzzo provided clarification around what non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses may still be considered legal. The provisions, she said, must be “narrowly-tailored.” In the case of confidentiality, the clause must serve to keep proprietary trade information secret “for a period of time based on legitimate business justifications may be considered lawful,” but must not have “a chilling effect that precludes employees from assisting others” or communicating with the media, a union, or other third parties.

With regards to non-disparagement, Abruzzo similarly said the provision must not only be both “narrowly-tailored” and “justified,” but limited to statements by an employee that fit the legal definition of defamation, meaning they are purposefully and maliciously untrue.

In February, the NLRB ruled that in a case regarding a Michigan hospital that laid-off workers had been asked to sign unnecessarily burdensome severance contracts that violated their labor rights. The decision overturned a pair of Trump-era decisions which had temporarily upended the previous “longstanding precedent” by saying that more broad non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses were lawful.

The NLRB this year said that the Trump era decisions were wrong, and that the laid-off hospital employees had been asked to “overly broad non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses” that unnecessarily restrained their NLRB rights. The decisions led to questions about what the decision meant for people who signed similar non-disclosure agreements in the interim.

Categories: Tech News

Climate change enables spread of flesh-eating bacteria in US coastal waters

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 07:29
Image of bactiera

Enlarge / Magnified view of Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. (credit: Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images)

Cases of a potentially fatal infection from a seawater-borne pathogen have increased off the US Atlantic coast as ocean waters warmed over the last 30 years and are expected to rise further in future because of climate change, according to a study published on Thursday by Scientific Reports, an open-access journal for research on the natural sciences and other topics.

The incidence of infections from Vibrio vulnificus, a pathogen that thrives in shallow, brackish water, was eight times greater in the Eastern US in 2018 than it was in 1988, and its range shifted northward to areas where waters were previously too cold to support it, according to the paper, “Climate Warming and Increasing Vibrio Vulnificus Infections in North America,” by academic researchers in the US, England, and Spain.

By the middle of the 21st century, the pathogen is expected to become more common in major population centers, including New York City, and by the end of the century, infections may be present in every US Atlantic coast state if carbon emissions follow a medium- to high-level trajectory, the report said.

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Amazon Sellers Disguised Banned Gun Parts as Bike Handlebars

Motherboard (Vice) - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 07:20

Anyone shopping for bike parts on Amazon recently may have come across what looked like a steal of a deal: a new pair of black rubber handlebars for $26.99 with free Prime delivery. The listing promised “quick and easy installation, just slide the bike handlebar grips onto your bike.”

But on second glance, a few customers spotted something amiss. One asked: “I'm confused, is this for a bike? This is a picture of a pistole (sic) brace.”

The thinly-veiled answer from another shopper gave away the true nature of the item: an accessory designed to be attached to the back of an AR-style pistol or other large handgun, enabling it to be shouldered and fired like a rifle, improving the shooter’s aim and control over the weapon.

“This grip helps you ride your bike with more stability,” the reply said. “Added bonus, makes a little more up close and personal if you shoulder this grip thus giving you even more driving accuracy.”

The listing, which was removed by Amazon after the company received an inquiry from VICE News, was one of more than two dozen “stabilizing braces” available on the site despite a policy banning sales and new federal regulations aimed at restricting ownership.

President Joe Biden announced plans to tighten rules on stabilizing braces in April 2021, weeks after a shooter using a gun equipped with one killed 10 people at a Colorado supermarket. A brace was also found on the weapon used in a shooting that left nine dead in 2019 in Dayton, Ohio.


The rules took effect in January and require certain “weapons with ‘stabilizing braces’ or similar attachments” to be registered with the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by May 31. Those who fail to register “short-barreled rifles” risk a felony and up to 10 years in prison if they don’t comply or get rid of their gun.

The rule change has been met with at least seven lawsuits from pro-gun advocacy groups and red state leaders. The ATF estimates that at least 3 million stabilizing braces are already in circulation in the United States, and those fighting to block Biden’s policy argue it risks criminalizing responsible gun owners who bought something that was previously deemed legal.

A spokesperson for the ATF told VICE News the new policy "does not outlaw the sale or possession of stabilizing braces,” so merely having one uninstalled or selling them on Amazon is not illegal. But Amazon’s terms of use for third-party sellers offering products on the platform “prohibits the listing or sale of all firearms,” including “pistol stabilizing braces” and similar folding or collapsible stocks.

Justin Wagner, senior director of Investigations at Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for gun control, told VICE News that the listings for stabilizing braces, even those disguised as bike parts, “are in plain violation of Amazon’s own policies.”

“Amazon’s firearms accessory sale policy only works if it’s enforced,” Wagner said. “Our nation’s largest online retailers shouldn’t be offering dangerous products that make shootings deadlier, let alone with free two-day shipping.”

A spokesperson for Amazon sent a statement to VICE News that said sales of “non-fixed gun stocks and pistol stabilizing braces” are prohibited on the site, and that “the products in question were evasively listed, have been removed, and we are taking corrective action.”

“Amazon does not tolerate illegal or evasive behavior, and we enforce bad actors that make factual misrepresentations to customers,” the spokesperson said. “Third party sellers are independent businesses and are required to follow all applicable laws, regulations, and Amazon policies when listings items for sale. We continuously monitor our store, and have measures in place to prevent prohibited products from being listed.”

A handful of listings for stabilizing braces disguised as other items remained available as of Friday morning on Amazon, even after the company’s efforts to purge the site.

Screen Shot 2023-03-23 at 11.44.10 AM.pngA review of one of the disguised products.

The listings reviewed by VICE News showed gun braces available in multiple categories across Amazon’s site, including in the section for “Tools & Home Improvement.” Some were advertised as “gunsmithing tools” or other parts.

The post advertising bike grips was not exactly discreet. Several buyers left reviews with comments that slyly described enhancing their weapons, and a few posted photos of the obvious gun part actually installed on the end of bicycle handlebars.

“My bicycle goes as fast as a motorcycle now and is very comfortable to ride with these handlebar grips,” wrote one five-star reviewer who gave the name Retired American Patriot. “I highly recommend them for those smaller bicycles that you want to have a full size bicycle feel.”

AR-style weapons can be modified into various configurations, and the pistol and rifle versions are similar in many ways, including firing the same calibers of bullets. The particulars over which weapons are legal to own without special federal paperwork are governed by the National Firearms Act, originally passed in 1934 to combat a crime wave in the Bonnie and Clyde era, when lawmakers wanted to restrict “short-barreled” rifles that could be easily concealed.

The ATF initially ruled in 2012 that the law did not apply to stabilizing braces and then doubled-down in 2017, calling them “perfectly legal accessories for large handguns or pistols,” unless "employed as a shoulder stock,” in which case any rifle with a barrel less than 16-inches long requires registration. Stabilizing braces proliferated in recent years, and most of the items for sale on Amazon appeared to be knock off versions of name-brand models made by major manufacturers.

Lawsuits challenging the Biden administration’s new brace rules argue the restrictions are arbitrary and won’t work as intended to prevent shootings. In one case filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Gun Owners of America, the lawyers wrote: "This makes absolutely no sense from the perspective of 'public safety' or common sense, as a person can lawfully possess, without NFA registration, both a handgun (short) and rifle (long) version of the same platform firearm (such as an AR-15 or AK-47), but cannot possess a 'short barreled rifle' (medium) version of the same platform."

The new federal rules exclude items “that are objectively designed and intended as a ‘stabilizing brace’ for use by individuals with disabilities.” Some versions can be strapped to the forearm, enabling shooters to aim and fire when they wouldn’t otherwise be able.

Whether the new rules remain in effect will be up to the courts. Other challenges to the ATF regulatory decisions have scored victories in recent weeks, including cases involving “bump stock” devices and untraceable “ghost guns.”

Even if Amazon wipes out stabilizing braces from its site, the items are still widely available online and will be for the foreseeable future, since they are perfectly legal to buy, sell, and own—right up until they are installed on a short-barreled rifle.

amazon-gun-parts-sale--bike.pngThe "bike parts" actually installed on bikes. Screenshots.

Cody Wisniewski, senior attorney for constitutional litigation at the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), one of the groups that has challenged the brace restrictions, told VICE News that companies like Amazon are ultimately free to decide what they buy and sell, even as public pressure grows to restrict online sales of guns and accessories.

"FPC is deeply concerned that a massive segment of American society is prevented from engaging in lawful speech and conduct online,” Wisniewski said. “While such policies are neither moral nor wise, we respect that private property owners may set their own rules."

Amazon shoppers who posted about the brace disguised as bike handlebars also seemed well aware of the possibility they could be breaking the law if they bought the part and had it installed on an unregistered short-barreled rifle. One misspelled the acronym for ATF and asked: “Will aft's customer service reps visit my home if I buy this?”

To which one customer replied with an apparent suggestion for how to dispose of the evidence: “Kinda of hard to argue if your bike somehow ends up at the bottom of a lake.”

Follow Keegan Hamilton on Twitter: @keegan_hamilton

Categories: Tech News

In-car subscriptions are not popular with new car buyers, survey shows

ARS Technica - Fri, 03/24/2023 - 07:11
Detail of a woman touching with her finger a car's touch screen

Enlarge / In-car subscription services are being pushed on a hesitant customer base, according to a new survey. (credit: Getty Images)

The last decade or so has seen the creeping techification of the auto industry. Executives will tell you the trend is being driven by consumers, starry-eyed at their smartphones and tablets, although the 2018 backup camera law is the main reason there's a display in every new car.

But automakers have been trying to adopt more than just shiny gadgets and iterating software releases. They also want some of that lucrative "recurring revenue" that so pleases tech investors but makes the rest of us feel nickeled and dimed. Now we have some concrete data on just how much car buyers are asking for this stuff, courtesy of a new survey from AutoPacific. The answer is "very little."

AutoPacific asked people looking to buy a new vehicle about their interest in 11 different in-car connected features, starting with a data plan for the car for a hypothetical price of $15/month.

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