Developers: What if someone said you’d never have to meet with marketing again?

The Register - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 10:14
Atlassian thinks it’s made that possible by extending automation from Jira to Confluence

Atlassian has extended the automation it acquired from Code Barrel in 2019, and has run in Jira for most of the time since, to its Confluence collaboration environment.…

Categories: Tech News

Republicans Think the Woke Left Has Taken Over Your Xbox

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 09:29

Right wing leaders are big mad that Xbox is “going woke,” slamming an optional feature meant to reduce the console’s overall carbon footprint as an effort to “recruit kids into climate politics.”

On Tuesday’s episode of “Fox and Friends,” Fox News anchor Ainsley Earhardt and radio host Jimmy Failla fumbled through a short segment about Xbox’s latest effort to allow players to curb power consumption. It was as level-headed and chill as you might expect Fox to be when the topic of climate change comes up.

New Xbox consoles will incentivize players to opt in to the more environmentally friendly  “Shutdown” mode by offering more of the same features that “Sleep” mode currently allows, including automatic background updates for games at strategic times throughout the day that would result in lower carbon emissions. Shutdown mode consumes less energy than Sleep mode, and for select players in Xbox’s Insider program, the Shutdown option will immediately become the new default. Neither of these modes is new, but only some players have had access to these features until now. It will become available to all Xbox users in the coming weeks.

But that didn’t stop Fox News from presenting this as some conspiratorial effort to make kids “woke.”

“It’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is,” Failla said. “It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions. The level of reduction is infinitesimal. But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age. Make them climate conscious now.”

“You’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed.

They are not going after the children.

For one, the majority of gamers who will be making the decision for their Xbox to consume less power will be adults, since the largest demographic of gamers in the U.S., 36 percent, is actually between the ages of 18 and 35. Gamers under the age of 18 make up just 24 percent of the audience.

“But again, what’s the point of video games? It’s for kids to be kids,” Faila says. “Now you sit down and pick up a controller and they’re like ‘by the way, the world is on fire, AH.’ You know what I mean? You just want to play the game!”

Well, also no.

In actuality, the option to change how much power your Xbox consumes is found a couple of menus deep in the system’s settings page. Players who go looking for it will find that the new settings page features more information about the system’s energy usage; consoles in energy save mode use just 0.5 watts while off, compared to 13 to 15 watts in sleep mode. So, not only are players who choose energy save mode helping the environment, they’re saving a few bucks on their electricity bills.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz predictably jumped into the fray, tweeting that the “woke leftist” crowd was now going after Xbox.



Once again, no, and Republicans are giving this minor change way too much credit. For players, the only noticeable difference will be the console’s boot time: Xbox’s on Energy saver mode can take up to 20 seconds to start, while those using sleep mode can start up the console instantaneously.

Xbox claims that the power saver mode can have a real “meaningful impact” when used collectively.

“For every two consoles that switch to Shutdown (energy saving) for one year, we will save the equivalent amount of carbon removed by 1 tree planted and grown for a decade,” a blog post about the feature reads.

The new feature is just the latest in Microsoft’s ongoing sustainability effort to become carbon-negative, water positive, and produce zero waste by 2030. The Xbox’s new power features, which Xbox has been rolling out since March 2022, as well as its decision to package products and accessories with recyclable material, are all part of this larger effort.

Republicans have found plenty of non-issues to get outraged about in the last few weeks. First, they tried to convince people the Biden administration was coming for their gas stoves. In actuality, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, an entity independent from the White House, simply alluded to the possibility of a federal ban in the far future, due to the dangers they pose to American homes. Republicans also balked at the idea that coffee production and consumption have a negative effect on the environment.

Then, earlier this week, the Mars corporation announced that the anthropomorphic M&M’s that some Republicans definitely aren’t attracted to are being replaced by comedian and SNL alum Maya Rudolph. And they’re not handling it well.

Xbox did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Fox News segment.

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Categories: Tech News

General Motors is investigating small EV “party” trucks

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 09:27
General Motors is investigating small EV “party” trucks

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

General Motors provided flights from San Francisco to Detroit and back, plus a night in a hotel, so we could visit the GM design center. Ars does not accept paid editorial content.

After years of insisting that truck buyers are demanding larger and larger vehicles, automakers have seen the light and understand that many people want smaller, more efficient pickups. Maybe.

Hot on the heels of the explosive sales of the Ford Maverick and the relatively good sales of the Hyundai Santa Cruz, GM seems to have caught “small trucks with efficient powertrains” fever. Well, at least the designers have come down with that rare—and hopefully incurable—condition.

During a tour of GM’s design center in Warren, Michigan, the automaker gave Ars Technica a peek into its thoughts about future EVs.

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Categories: Tech News

ASML forecasts growth this year, but chipmakers expect pain

The Register - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 09:14
Netherlands still facing pressure from US to ban exports to China

Dutch producer of chipmaking equipment ASML beat financial analysts' estimates for Q4 of 2022, and expects continued momentum for the year ahead, despite the likelihood of further export restrictions increasing.…

Categories: Tech News

Watch an ‘Elden Ring’ Streamer Beat a Boss Using Her Thoughts

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 09:13

Twitch streamer Perrikaryal is performing a surreal act of gaming magic: she’s playing Elden Ring using her mind as the controller.

“It’s not that complicated,” Perrikaryal, who has a Masters degree in psychology, said during a recent Twitch stream explaining the setup, which uses an electroencephalography (EEG) headset. “It’s just a keybind, basically.” Basically, Perrikaryal is using the EEG machine to record her brain processing simple commands then using a program to translate those commands into keybinds in Elden Ring.

In one of her streams, she used mind magic to defeat the notoriously difficult Godrick the Grafted. “I killed frickin’ Godrick with my god-damned frickin’ mind,” an elated Perrikaryal said after downing the boss. “All those Instagram boys were like ‘you’re never going to kill Godrick,’ well suck on that one bitch.”

Perrikaryal’s setup, as mind-blowing as it is, is impractical for a full playthrough of Elden Ring. The commercial EEG, which appears to be an EMOTIV EPOC that retails for $849, connects to the user's head and processes electrical signals from the brain. Maintaining the connection is difficult and requires the application of a saline solution to improve conductivity. During the stream, Perrikaryal is constantly adjusting it and applying saline to improve its connection. Every movement of her body disrupts the sensors and makes it harder for them to pick up her brain activity.

She’s also only able to use a few commands in Elden Ring. The EEG works by recording images of your brain as you visualize interacting with a cube. To train this brain-computer interface, the EEG comes with a program that puts a cube on the screen. The user thinks about moving the cube in various ways and the system records it. Every different interaction with the cube takes hours to perfect.

Because of this, Perrikaryal has only trained the EEG to process a few different commands in Elden Ring. She can use it to launch an attack, but moving around is still done with a controller. Translating the signal from the EEG to a keybind in Elden Ring is comparatively simple. It’s done with a program called Node-RED which can link different pieces of hardware together. 

Perrikaryal is downing difficult enemies in Elden Ring using the EEG, but it’s always a bit of a struggle. She reminds herself to breathe and there’s often a delay between wanting to launch the attack and the attack actually happening. But with more training and concentration, it would be possible to get more real time reactions. “At some point, it’s not a limitation of the device,” she said during her stream. “It’s a limitation of what we know about the brain.”

Elden Ring is a popular game to play in complicated ways. Twitch streamer MissMikkaa recently defeated Malenia—the game’s undisputed most difficult boss—twice at the same time while using a dance pad

Categories: Tech News

US to Send M1 Abrams Tanks to Ukraine

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 09:08

The Biden administration has announced it is sending tanks to the Ukrainian military, a game-changing move to help the embattled nation prepare for an expected Russian offensive.

President Joe Biden said the Pentagon was coordinating the transfer of 31 M1 Abrams tanks, which will comprise an entire Ukrainian tank battalion, and are expected to arrive in Ukraine within the coming months.

“To liberate their land they need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term,” Biden said at the White House today. “(The tanks) will enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory.

“Abrams tanks are the most capable in the world.”

The U.S. battle tanks add to the over $27 billion in security assistance from the Pentagon to Ukraine since 2014 when Russian aggression first began. Many experts believe the Kremlin is planning a massive spring ground-offensive operation against Kyiv in another attempt to take swaths of the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesnkyy has demanded new weapons to counter those plans and to retake Russian-held territory, including the Crimean peninsula.

The Biden administration had previously balked at sending a package with M1 Abrams tanks, seeing it as an escalation in arms transfers that might incur a rebuke from the Kremlin. But in recent weeks NATO allies, particularly Poland, have called for the delivery of tanks to the Ukrainian front lines as Russia mobilizes its forces.

Allies had persistently asked Germany, which produces the Leopard 2 tank, to provide their stock to Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf Scholz denied that request until today, confirming his nation would send fourteen of those variants, in what many believe was a backroom deal with the U.S. in exchange for the Pentagon promising the Abrams tanks.

First built to counter a hypothetical Soviet tank battalion during the Cold War, the M1 Abrams saw combat in the War On Terror years as well as during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq in 1991. Under the command of Ukraine, the tanks will surely see action against the  Russian forces they were designed to fight.

One unnamed U.S. official speaking to reporters Wednesday said that training Ukrainian soldiers on the tanks will “not occur in Ukraine; it will be outside Ukraine.” Ukrainian soldiers are currently training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma on Patriot missile systems being transferred to Kyiv as part of a previous Pentagon weapons package.

With files from Greg Walters.

Categories: Tech News

New York City Completes Construction on Latest American Transit Disaster

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 08:52

On Wednesday, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority will begin running service on the Long Island Rail Road to a new train station underneath Grand Central, dubbed Grand Central Madison. The project is being celebrated as a landmark event for the New York region, albeit an expensive one, a project some 60 years in the making that will accomplish a long-needed transportation goal for the region.

East Side Access, as the decades-long push to bring LIRR trains to Grand Central is called, was supposed to open in 2009 for a cost of $3.4 billion. Even at that cost it was of questionable value. East Side Access did not cost $3.4 billion. It is opening in 2023 for a cost of more than $11 billion, plus another $1.5 billion or so in borrowing costs to pay for the project. 

East Side Access does offer some transportation benefits to the region. It is difficult to throw $11 billion at a transit-dense region and not accomplish something at least by accident. But those benefits are outweighed by its astronomical cost and other ways to accomplish those same goals. It is impossible to regard East Side Access as anything other than a transit disaster.

New Yorkers, and American transit riders in general, have been accustomed to celebrating any morsels of improvement we receive as our governments at every level prioritize roads and cars. It is largely considered uncouth to dismiss a new $12 billion train project in a transit-heavy city as a failure, lest we discourage politicians from investing in transit in the future. But East Side Access is just that, a top-to-bottom failure of American transit planning and construction.

East Side Access does accomplish one important goal, providing redundancy and some reliability improvements for the LIRR into Manhattan. Before ESA, the LIRR only had one track pairing and terminus in Manhattan at Penn Station. Those tunnels still haven’t been fully repaired from Hurricane Sandy damage because it would have been too disruptive to LIRR service. Redundancy and operational flexibility are important for a railroad that moves hundreds of thousands of people per weekday, especially as we look to a future of more frequent and severe storms due to climate change. 

But there are ways to accomplish operational flexibility without spending $3 billion, as East Side Access was initially slated to cost, much less the $11 billion-plus it eventually did. It is the subject of much debate in the transit nerd world, but LIRR has options. Some argue LIRR already has plenty of operational flexibility built into the system for emergency repairs given trains connect to almost every subway line in Brooklyn or Queens and an underutilized terminal at Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn provides subway connections to Manhattan in less than 15 minutes. Plus, a stop in Jamaica Queens many LIRR trains make provide a one-seat subway connection to Midtown in less than half an hour.

Regardless, no self-respecting transit agency spends $11 billion to improve operational flexibility. They do it to save riders time and attract new ones who will help pay for the cost of the project. People want faster, better journeys. The problem is East Side Access doesn’t do that.

Governor Kathy Hochul—who inherited East Sides Access from a litany of predecessors dating back to the 1990s—is putting on a good show, claiming it will bring “just a 22 minute ride from Jamaica to the East Side of Manhattan!”  But that is barely faster than what LIRR riders already have. The E train goes from Jamaica to Lexington and 53rd Street in 25 minutes and has more frequent service. 

A key problem with East Side Access is Grand Central Madison, the train station underneath the existing Grand Central station. Specifically, it is really deep underground. 175 feet, to be exact. This is the equivalent, from a rider’s perspective, of putting a train station on the 16th story of a building. It takes time to get thousands of people that far underground or back to the surface (it is also, apparently, difficult to find, as transit reporter Stephen Nessen found). The MTA estimates it will take between four and eight minutes to get to street level and 10-12 minutes to the Lexington Avenue subway lines. In other words, it will take half as long to get from the deep caverns of Grand Central Madison to the 4/5/6 trains as it would to get to Midtown from Jamaica on the E train!

The mere fact that the potential time savings for LIRR riders can be measured in single-digit minutes, and that the entire time savings may be undone by how deep the station is, speaks to what a terrible project East Side Access was in the first place. When other, transit-sensible countries spend billions of dollars, they build train lines to neighborhoods or regions they don’t currently go, attracting hundreds of thousands of new riders and saving people time measured in dozens of minutes per trip. East Side Access’s travel time improvements, if they exist at all, will be measured in less than 10 minutes, the amount of time it takes to walk from Penn Station to Grand Central minus the five to 10 minutes it takes to get 16 stories underground.

Why did the MTA build a train station at the midway point between the Earth’s core and 42nd Street? Bureaucratic infighting. The LIRR and Metro North, which until today ran all trains to and from Grand Central, are both within the MTA. In theory, they should cooperate as part of the same organization. But, functionally, they remain as separate as they did when they were different entities before the 1960s. They have different CEOs, different unions, different contracts, buy everything from trains to tracks separately, and even had different apps for looking up service and buying tickets until last year. When the MTA was created, its framers promised a streamlined, more efficient service. East Side Access makes a mockery of that promise. 

Grand Central station, the one we all know and love, has 43 passenger tracks on two levels and is one of the biggest train stations in the world in terms of track capacity. But Metro North is also very defensive of its turf. As a result, Metro North long claimed it could not spare any trackage and consistently opposed giving any of it to LIRR. The solution, then, became building a brand new station underneath the existing one by dynamiting huge caverns in underground rocks.

Proponents of ESA also argue the project will provide much-needed relief to overcrowded Penn Station. This argument fails on multiple fronts. First, Penn Station is slated for a massive multi-billion redevelopment of its own (of questionable merit for separate design reasons) that ought to, among other things, improve capacity and passenger flow. Second, a separate project called Penn Access will bring some Metro North trains to Penn Station for the first time while adding four new stations in the Bronx. Penn Access is a good project; it adds stations where there currently aren’t any, makes several Bronx neighborhoods much more accessible by transit, and improves travel times by much more than than anything ESA could dream of. But, by bringing more trains to Penn Station, it will be canceling out any reduced passenger numbers ESA results in. Which is why the Penn Station crowding argument misses the mark entirely. Transit agencies should be finding ways to bring more people to transit at more places, not shuffling existing riders around for minimal benefit.

Why, then, did the MTA spend decades and $11 billion to build a new train station that doesn’t save anyone any time? Like most American transit projects, the answer lies in politics and bureaucratic inertia. The idea of an east side terminus for LIRR dates back to the 1950s but wasn’t seriously discussed until the 1960s. At the same time, the city was trying to also build the Second Avenue Subway along the entire island of Manhattan. The initial idea was the train station would be along this subway line, or at least much closer to it, and not underneath an existing train station. Residents of the Turtle Bay neighborhood strongly opposed the construction of a new train station between 47th and 50th Streets along Third Avenue, although it’s unlikely the city would have built it anyways given the fiscal crisis that laid ruin to the city’s transportation plans including the Second Avenue subway, which is now being constructed but only north of 60th Street.

The project got revived in the mid-1990s thanks to a surge of interest from Republicans on Long Island. It languished under a slew of half-interested governors in the decades since. It then got a kick in the teeth when former governor Andrew Cuomo, who fancied himself a descendant of famed builder Robert Moses, wanted to be The Guy Who Built Things. Cuomo, ever the politician, eagerly supported projects that would benefit Long Island swing districts while neglecting the transportation needs of solidly Democratic voters in the city as the subway deteriorated under his watch. LIRR received billions for other projects that improve reliability and capacity, a potential boon for commuters in cities that steadfastly refuse to build more housing next to their stations

Much of the criticism of East Side Access, to the extent that it receives any from the press and public, will be over the cost overruns and delays. Those criticisms are necessary. But East Side Access deserves additional scorn. It is not a good project that cost too much and took too long.

And it is a curse on the MTA that will haunt it for decades to come. In order to pay for this failure, the MTA had to take out billions of dollars in debt financing, which it must pay back with interest. This is a perfectly reasonable way to run a transit service, assuming the new project attracts many new riders and is built at a reasonable price. East Side Access fails both criteria. It is difficult to see how that will happen for a transit project that doesn’t save anyone time and doesn’t provide transit access to anyone who didn’t previously have it. 

The MTA consistently warns it is about to fall off a “fiscal cliff.” It is warning about that now, of course. The agency blames the pandemic, changing work patterns, and falling ridership. That is part of it. But the part the MTA never talks about is the 17 percent of its annual budget—almost one out of every five dollars, or $3.1 billion every year—that goes towards debt service, paying the interest on bad projects that don’t attract new riders. 

East Side Access is a big part of that debt service. It is the ultimate American failure of politics and planning, the perfect example of why even the most transit-dependent region in the country cannot build useful things. It is perhaps appropriate that Grand Central Madison is 16 stories underground, buried deep below the surface like the shameful family secret it ought to be regarded.

Categories: Tech News

Pay Algorithms Make Working in the Gig Economy Feel Like 'Gambling,' Study Says

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 08:29

Startups behind the so-called gig economy have spent millions of dollars transforming the nature of work from structured hours, pay, and benefits to an ad-hoc world of “independent contractors” whose boss is an algorithm. According to a new paper, haphazard algorithmic pay has turned having a job into something more like gambling.

In 2020, California voters approved Prop 22, which enshrined the ability of ride hail companies to treat their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. The law was proposed by Uber, Lyft and DoorDash in response to a 2019 state law and state Supreme Court decision that mandated companies re-classify their drivers as employees and pay for health care, unemployment insurance and other benefits. 

The companies instead proposed Prop 22,  which allows them to keep workers as independent contractors and promises a “minimum wage” that only applies while they are actively ferrying passengers (An average 40 percent of driver time is spent waiting for customers). Uber, Lyft and DoorDash spent a combined $200 million on the ballot proposal, making it the most expensive campaign in the state’s history. A judge ruled the law unconstitutional in 2021, following a lawsuit from the Service Employees International Union, and the law is being debated in appeals court.

According to a study preprint by legal scholar Veena Dubal, Prop 22, along with a similar law passed in Washington, legally enshrines an unfair wage system tantamount to gambling using opaque algorithms, which Dubal calls “algorithmic wage discrimination.” 

Rather than traditional wage discrimination, which involves paying someone a different wage based on their gender, race, or other protected categories, Dubal compares the pay schema of the big ride hail companies to consumer price discrimination, where people pay different prices for the same products depending on how much companies think they’re willing to pay.

According to Dubal, Uber and Lyft are doing essentially the same thing with wages: paying drivers different rates for the same work based on what the companies think they’ll accept. They do this both through data collection on drivers and through the opacity of algorithms, which determine when drivers get a customer and how much they will be paid. 

“Algorithmic wage discrimination allows firms to personalize and differentiate wages for workers in ways unknown to them, to behave in ways that the firm desires, perhaps as little as the system determines that they may be willing to accept,” Dubal writes. The wages are “calculated with ever-changing formulas using granular data on location, individual behavior, demand, supply, and other factors,” she adds.

In a study combining legal analysis and interviews with gig workers, Dubal concludes that Prop 22 has turned working into gambling. From a driver's point of view, every time they log in to work they are essentially gambling for wages, as the algorithm provides no reason why those wages are what they are.

One way the companies might do this is by determining how long a driver is willing to wait to be given a fare. Drivers are not paid for idling time, yet the company’s business model benefits from this idling because it keeps availability high. According to Dubal, “The company’s goal is to keep as many drivers on the road in order to quickly address fluctuations in rider demand,” and they’re motivated to “elongate the time between sending fares to any one driver, so long as that wait time does not lead the driver to end their shift.”

The ride hail companies use “bonuses” to keep drivers on the road, giving them extra pay if they hit certain quotas. But as Dubal points out, the companies can use their algorithms to make it difficult to unlock these bonuses. Moreso, these bonuses are offered inconsistently and for different amounts for every driver with no explanation from the ride hail companies. 

Dubal interviewed a driver named Domingo who said he was close to hitting his bonus number when rides suddenly dried up. “I had 95 out of 96 rides for a $100 bonus,” he told Dubal. “It was ten o’clock at night in a popular area. It took me 45 min in a popular area to get that last ride. The algorithm was moving past me to get to people who weren’t closer to their bonus.” 

Neither the driver nor Dubal have evidence that the company did this intentionally, but this is the point: the system is operating capriciously, Dubal argues, and companies can simply claim that they are just trying to dole out customers to drivers efficiently using unexplained variables. 

In a sense, this is another variation on a verbal sleight of hand a former FTC chair person referred to in 2017: If you substitute “algorithm” with the words “a guy named Bob,” suddenly decisions that seemed objective and inscrutable seem unfair and malicious.

Drivers were also reporting “fake surges,” where they got notifications about surge pricing at a certain location, showed up, and saw that surge pricing ended once the lot filled up. A driver who spoke to Dubal said an Uber employee pulled him aside and advised him not to chase surges for this reason

Dubal said the best way to deal with this issue would be for regulators to consider banning the use of algorithms to set wages altogether, rather than pursue litigation to demystify the companies’ algorithms as some have called for in the past.

But that’s not what’s happening; rather, the firms have set these practices into law through Prop 22 and laws in other states that permit them to treat their drivers as independent contractors. Dubal does say that this legal reality veers away from how pay has been regulated in the past. Even in a Supreme Court case that struck down a minimum wage law, the court declared that “A statute requiring an employer to pay in money, to pay at prescribed and regular intervals, to pay the value of the services rendered, even to pay with fair relation to the extent of the benefit obtained from the service, would be understandable.” 

In contrast, Dubal says, “The worker cannot know what the firm has algorithmically decided their labor is worth, and the technological form of calculation makes each person’s wages different.”

Dubal believes algorithmic wage-setting is harmful because it motivates companies to collect reams and reams of data on drivers, who they fundamentally view as consumers of their technology rather than employees. 

“If we ban this kind of payment practice…at least in some context, it will disincentivize surveillance of work,” Dubal told Motherboard. Surveillance of workers has existed since the industrial revolution, but the type of digital surveillance used for algorithmic wage-setting is on another level entirely, she said. Workers have an asymmetrical power relationship with their employers, so they may sign away their data without realizing what it will be used for: “They might not consider that this employment data about me is actually being retained for future decisions, not just in this workplace, but beyond.”

The use of algorithms, ‘artificial intelligence’ and data to structure work scheduling and payment pervades the economy, including nurse staffing and janitorial work in hospitals. Dubal suggests we engage in a larger reckoning with these practices. “This is not just about economic harms on the on demand economy or unfairness in the on demand or gig economy, but actually about shifting payment norms,” she told Motherboard.

Over and over again, the drivers Dubal spoke with equated the pay scheme to gambling, and one driver declared that much like a casino, “the house always wins.” Some even expressed shame about continuing to do the work for this reason. 

If there’s any upside to this, it’s that the ride hail companies are so opaque and unfair to drivers that it has angered many of them and is pushing them to organize. As one driver named Dietrich told Dubal, “[It’s] constant cognitive dissonance. You’re free, but the app controls you.”

Uber did not respond to a request for comment, and Lyft did not provide a statement in time for publication.

Categories: Tech News

RNC sued Google for filtering spam but never used Gmail tool that bypasses filter

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 08:24
Illustration of an envelope stamped with the word

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | pagadesign)

Google is ending a pilot program that let political emails bypass the Gmail spam filter, and it says it hasn't decided whether to convert the pilot into a more long-term option for political campaigns. The Republican National Committee (RNC) sued Google in October 2022 over its spam-filtering practices but never participated in the pilot program, Google said Monday in a motion to dismiss the RNC's lawsuit.

"The Pilot Program was made available to all eligible participants on a non-partisan basis" and "is scheduled to run through January 31, 2023," Google's court filing said.

The Federal Election Commission approved Google's pilot program in August 2022 amid Republican claims of Google bias. "As the Complaint makes clear, the RNC has chosen not to participate in Google's FEC-approved Pilot Program," Google's motion to dismiss said.

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Categories: Tech News

After 25 years, Goldeneye 007 gets its first modern rerelease Friday

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 08:05

Fans of '90s split-screen shooter classic Goldeneye 007 (not to be confused with the loosely related 2010 Wii title of the same name) will only have to dig out their N64 controllers for a few more days. After 25 years, the game will finally see its first rerelease on modern consoles, with Switch and Xbox versions hitting on Friday, January 27.

As previously announced, the Switch version will be part of the awkwardly named Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack membership, which costs $50 per year. New footage of that emulated version of the original game shows the same blocky characters, muddy textures, and pixelated sprites that players know (and love?) from the original game. In addition to the previously announced online multiplayer support, the Switch version will also feature a widescreen mode to expand the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original game.

Goldeneye 007 as it will appear on the Nintendo Switch starting Friday.

Xbox One and Series S/X owners, meanwhile, will be able to enjoy Goldeneye 007 as part of an Xbox Game Pass subscription or as a free DLC download that's now included with the purchase of 2005's Rare Replay. The first footage of that Xbox gameplay shows this version's upscaled 4K visuals, which smooth out those low-res original textures and the aliased edges on authentic low-polygon character and object models. This version only promises a "legendary local multiplayer mode," though, in addition to "alternative control options" for a modern Xbox controller.

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Categories: Tech News

‘Turgid’ Penises and ‘Anal Clefts’: New Bill Seeks to Outlaw Adult Businesses in West Virginia

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 08:03

A bill introduced in West Virginia this week aims to ban adult entertainment businesses from the state.

Six Republican co-authors—delegates Geno Chiarelli, Henry Dillon, Riley Keaton, Jonathan Pinson, Dean Jeffries, and Walter Hall—introduced House Bill 2919 on Monday, which aims create the Sexually Oriented Businesses Regulation Act, which would outlaw "sexually oriented business,” including adult arcades, adult bookstores, adult video stores, cabarets, adult movie theaters, nude model studios, and “sexual encounter centers.” 

If it became law, violation of these provisions would be a misdemeanor.

The language of the bill is both borderline graphic and incredibly vague: it defines the body parts that stores are prohibited from showing in books, live performances, and films with meticulous specificity, including “human male genitals in a discernibly turgid state” even if covered. It measures nudity as “the appearance of a human bare buttock, anus, anal cleft or cleavage, pubic area, male genitals, female genitals or vulva” and seminudity as “the appearance of the female breast below a horizontal line across the top of the areola at its highest point. Sex acts are defined as “fondling or erotic touching” and “normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including intercourse, oral copulation or sodomy.” 

But specific details on which businesses will actually be affected if this bill were to pass into law are left mostly undefined. It would ban “sexual encounter centers,” which its authors define as businesses that offer “wrestling or tumbling between persons of the opposite sex” or any kind of physical contact while semi-nude. Adult bookstores and video stores is fairly self-explanatory, but the bill also states that shops that sell “instruments, devices or paraphernalia” that are designed for sex acts are on the chopping block, as well as any business that happens to sell books or videos that feature fondling, sex acts, and masturbation. Under those terms, a bookstore that sells an age-appropriate book for children about exploring their bodies would be considered an adult business.

Under the painstaking definitions of nudity or semi-nudity above, this could impact a huge swath of businesses; the bill doesn’t specifically mention strip clubs, gay bars, or even art classes that use nude models to teach students, but these would be implicated under the conditions laid out in the bill’s text.

Mike Stabile, Director of Public Affairs at the Free Speech Coalition, noted on Twitter that the terms of this bill could effectively make gay bars and nude modeling at art schools illegal: 

Ann Ali, deputy chief of staff and communications director for the West Virginia House of Delegates, told Motherboard that Chiarelli would not be issuing a statement about the bill at this time. “The regular legislative session ends at midnight March 11 and members have three more weeks during which they can introduce bills,” Ali said. “This is one of 1,006 bills that have been introduced in the House of Delegates as of today, and even though each bill matters greatly to someone, not every bill completes the legislative process to become law.”

Pinson also declined to comment. The other co-authors, Dillon, Keaton, Jeffries, and Hall did not respond to a request for comment.

Although Chiarelli, the bill’s lead sponsor, appears to not even take his own legislation seriously, it follows a growing trend of vague and harmful legislation aimed at the adult industry and the queer community more generally. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018 is similarly over-broad and vague, yet when it was passed into law, it caused incalculable harm to sex workers’ lives. Introduced in 2020, the EARN IT Act similarly attempted to address child sexual exploitation material online through ill-defined “practices.” Bills currently introduced in multiple states attempt to define drag performances as “adult-oriented businesses” and not only infringe on people’s rights but instigate more violence against queer communities. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that West Virginia can ban trans kids from sports. 

Categories: Tech News

Software glitch revokes copyright protection for AI-generated comic book

The Register - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 08:01
So is AI artwork copyrightable? Not quite as case remains up in the air

A glitch in the record-keeping software being piloted by the US Copyright Office (USCO) accidentally revoked the copyright registration of an AI-generated graphic novel.…

Categories: Tech News

Scientists Made a Liquid Metal Robot That Can Escape a Cage Like a Terminator

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 08:00

Scientists have created robots that can shapeshift between solid and liquid states, enabling them to perform mind-boggling feats such as jumping, climbing, and even oozing out of a cage in a way that is eerily reminiscent of the T-1000 robots of the Terminator franchise, reports a new study. 

The shape and movements of the machines are controlled by magnetic fields, an approach that may lead to new biomedical and engineering technologies, such as targeted drug delivery, circuit assembly, or the creation of universal screws. 

Soft robots are typically much more malleable than their hard-bodied counterparts, but the tradeoff is that they are not as strong, fast, or easily controlled as solid machines. Now, an international team of engineers has developed a material made of gallium metal that is embedded with tiny magnetic microparticles. 

This “magnetoactive phase transitional matter” (MPTM) uniquely combines the high mechanical strength, load capacity, and fast locomotion speed the solid phase with “excellent morphological adaptability (elongation, splitting, and merging) in the liquid phase,” according to a study published on Wednesday in the journal Matter

“Folks have been working on these small-scale, magnetically responsive robots and machines for quite a while now,” said Carmel Majidi, who heads the Soft Machines Lab at Carnegie Mellon University and is senior author on the new study, in a call with Motherboard. “In parallel with that, my group has been pioneering a lot of techniques using liquid metals—metals like gallium that have a very low melting point.” 

“This is one of the attempts at merging these two approaches” and “just seeing what happens when you start blending these two together,” he continued. “The hope was for a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario where we could take advantage of the high electrical conductivity and the phase-changing abilities of the gallium metal with the magnetic responsiveness of magnetic microparticle systems.”

The machines that the team built were able to respond to magnetic fields because of the magnetic microparticles in their bodies. By placing the robots inside an alternating magnetic field, Majidi and his colleagues at Sun Yat-sen University and Zhejiang University in China make them move around and even heat up, so that they liquify.

“When you have a metal that's in the presence of an alternating magnetic field, we just know from fundamental principles of electromagnetism that that causes basically electrical current to spontaneously flow through that metal,” Majidi explained. “It’s that spontaneous electrical current that heats up the metal and causes it to melt.”

With this technique, the researchers were able to get MPTM robots to solder circuits, mold themselves into a universal screw, remove objects from a dummy stomach, and overcome obstacle courses. 

They were also able to make a cute little LEGO man out of MPTM that liquefies itself and moves through the bars of a cage. Though the robot appears to self-coalesce into its original shape on the other side, Majidi clarified that it was manually recast by the team and then put back into the shot.

“It's almost T-1000-like in the sense that you have that figurine and it melts into a blob, and it gets sucked through those jail bars,” Majidi said, adding that the villainous assassin android served as an inspiration for the robot.

The dynamic shapeshifting powers of the robots could be adapted to serve many functions, especially in biomedicine. Future iterations of MPTM machines might be able to deliver medications to specific organs, or extract dangerous objects from the body. The ability to switch between solid and liquid states could also be useful in accessing any confined or hard-to-reach spaces 

“I wouldn't have imagined that there were so many different responses and capabilities of these material systems. That really stood out as pretty surprising, and also exciting, about this material.”

Categories: Tech News

512GB version of the new MacBook Pro has a slower SSD than the Mac it replaces

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 07:45
The 14- and 16-inch M2 MacBook Pros.

Enlarge / The 14- and 16-inch M2 MacBook Pros. (credit: Apple)

In our review of Apple's new M2 MacBook Pros, our testing showed that the laptops' internal storage speeds were higher than those in the M1 MacBook Pros they replaced. But that won't be true for all models—9to5Mac has discovered that for the entry-level models with 512GB of storage, the M2 MacBook Pro's storage is slower than that in the M1 version.

The high-level Blackmagic Disk Speed Test shows the 512GB version of the M1 Pro MacBook Pro with a 4,900 MB/s read speed and 3,951 MB/s write speed, while the M2 Pro version shows a 2,973 MB/s read speed and 3,154.5 MB/s write speed. That's a drop of 40 percent for read speeds and 20 percent for write speeds.

The difference appears to come down to the NAND flash memory chips Apple is using for its SSDs. The old MacBook Pro, per its iFixit teardown, used four 128GB NAND chips in a 512GB SSD, while 9to5Mac's M2 Pro MacBook Pro appears to use a pair of 256GB NAND chips. Fewer chips likely mean lower costs for Apple—but also fewer places for the SSD to read from and write to simultaneously, which reduces overall speeds.

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Anti-Abortion ‘Abolitionists’ Wants to Charge Abortion Patients Like Murderers Now

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 07:41

Mainstream anti-abortion activists have long insisted they don’t want to punish people who get abortions. Now, that claim is being put to the test.

Although many states are only a few weeks into their first state legislative sessions since Roe v. Wade was overturned, legislators in Arkansas and Oklahoma have already introduced bills that would punish abortion patients. In Alabama, the state’s attorney general initially said he could use a state law to punish people for ending their pregnancies, then tried to walk it back.

These kinds of tactics are forcing anti-abortion activists to confront a long-simmering tension within their movement: What are they supposed to do with people who get abortions? Typically, abortion restrictions target providers, not patients. Within the anti-abortion movement, patients are treated like victims who have been bamboozled into ending their pregnancies by the predatory “abortion industry.” But now that Roe is gone and states are proposing policies to legally treat fetuses like people, that may not hold water for much longer.

“I think there are some people, and probably a fairly large group of people, for whom women’s innocence is conditional and they could be persuaded that it’s not real,” said Mary Ziegler, a professor at the University of California, Davis, law school who studies the legal history of reproduction.

Speakers at the March for Life and National Pro-Life Summit in Washington, D.C. last weekend repeatedly suggested that only a lack of knowledge keeps abortion patients from seeing the “truth” about abortion, and that they can be converted to the anti-abortion cause. This is part of the thinking behind “sidewalk counseling,” the practice of standing outside abortion clinics to convince patients not to go inside, and behind crisis pregnancy centers, facilities that try to persuade people to continue their pregnancies.

“We as pro-lifers have things in the right order, right?” Lauren Muzyka, of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, told National Pro-Life Summit attendees. “God comes first, a mother puts a child before herself. So you might say the right order, the natural law order, is God, baby, mom. But a woman in crisis mode, a woman in self-preservation mode, has all of that inverted.” Muzyka suggested that attendees find out how far into a pregnancy a patient is, then give them information about a fetus’ development. “We need to do everything in our power to meet her where she’s at and love her into a decision for life.”

But “fetal personhood,” the idea that fetuses deserve the full rights and protections granted to humans who have been born—and sometimes, that a fetus’ rights trump those of the person carrying them—also lies at the heart of the anti-abortion movement’s argument that abortion is wrong. Assuming the perspective of an anti-abortion activist, Ziegler asked, “If we’re serious about personhood, how can we not punish women?”

The Arkansas bill proposes that “all unborn children should be protected under the state homicide laws,” which cwould lead abortion patients to be prosecuted as murderers. The Oklahoma bill, introduced by Republican state Sen. Warren Hamilton, would amend the state’s current near-total abortion ban to remove language that currently blocks prosecutors from charging “a woman with any criminal offense in the death of her own unborn child.”

This move isn’t totally unexpected from Hamilton, who in 2020 announced he would introduce a bill called, in part, the “Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act,” which also banned abortion. He changed the name when he filed it in 2021, but the word “abolition” carries a unique weight within the anti-abortion world: A wing of activists who now identify as “abortion abolitionists” believe that abortion should be legally categorized as murder and that, because a fetus is a person, individuals who get abortions should be punished like murderers. (The anti-abortion movement, in general, is largely white.)

Ahead of his 2020 election, one of the major “abolitionist” groups, Free the States, endorsed Hamilton. Hamilton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his new bill.

Bills with “abolitionist” underpinnings have popped up intermittently in recent years. In 2021, a Texas legislator introduced a bill that would threaten abortion patients with the death penalty; similar legislation was also introduced in 2017 and 2019. Those bills, which proved to be PR disasters for anti-abortion activists, never advanced very far in the Texas legislature. Republicans and leaders of national anti-abortion organizations have condemned them; Catherine Glenn Foster, head of the influential organization Americans United for Life, told Vox of the 2019 Texas bill, “It’s something that I would fight back against and everyone I know in the movement would fight back against.” Hundreds of people testified at a committee hearing on the bill.

Punishing people for abortions is an incredibly unpopular position. Just 14 percent of U.S. adults say women should serve jail time if they have an illegal abortion, according to Pew Research Center. Even Republicans dislike the idea; just 21 percent think that women should be jailed. Sixteen percent of adults, though, say she should pay a fine or perform community service, while another 17 percent aren’t sure what should happen.

Men are also more likely than women to say that a woman should face a penalty for an illegal abortion.

Although abortion bans tend to punish medical providers, that idea is divisive, too: Only a quarter of U.S. adults support sending doctors and other providers to jail for performing illegal abortions, according to Pew.

However, abortion rights are also very popular. Three in five Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Yet, thanks to years of dedicated and disciplined organizing, the anti-abortion movement successfully overturned Roe.

It’s not that there are now more abortion “abolitionists,” according to Ziegler, but those who exist are becoming better organized. They may also be set to take advantage of what Ziegler calls “the enforcement problem.” Although abortion bans are now in effect in at least 13 states, those bans are proving difficult to enforce, thanks to the availability of abortion-inducing pills online and people’s ability to travel across state lines for abortions.

Under current law, if a doctor performs an abortion on a person from a state with an abortion ban, that doctor isn’t at risk of prosecution. (One congressman from Indiana did recently say he would support legislation to stop someone from traveling out of state for an abortion in the first place.) Frustration with that loophole may lead some activists to push to punish someone, anyone, for getting an abortion—and the patient is usually the most visible target.

“Some people are saying, ‘What else are we really supposed to do?’” Ziegler said. “If the doctor or the abortion fund or whatever is in a different state or a different country and we want to stop this abortion and we don’t have a national tool, the only option left is punishing the pregnant person.”

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Categories: Tech News

‘Free Speech Absolutist’ Elon Musk Censors BBC Doc Critical of India's PM on Twitter

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 07:29

Twitter has censored links to a BBC documentary critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the request of the Indian government, despite CEO Elon Musk’s previously stated commitments to free speech on the platform.

The BBC documentary India: The Modi Question examined the role of the prime minister in violent 2002 riots that saw over 1,000 deaths, mostly Muslims. The documentary highlighted memos and reports criticizing Modi, including one that said the riots had “all the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing." The documentary was not aired in India, but has nonetheless caused a furor. India ordered the documentary to be blocked in the country using emergency legislation, and The Intercept reported that takedown requests were submitted to Twitter. 

Twitter acted on those requests, The Intercept reported on Tuesday night, as the takedown requests coincided with reports from Indian Twitter users that links to the documentary were being blocked. Actor John Cusack, who shared a link to the documentary, was caught in the geo-block and told The Intercept, “I received two notices that I’m banned in India.” The blocks apparently began days ago, with takedown requests dated January 20. 

"CENSORSHIP," Indian politician Derek O'Brien tweeted last week. "@Twitter @TwitterIndia HAS TAKEN DOWN MY TWEET of the #BBCDocumentary, it received lakhs of views." He posted a screenshot that shows a notification saying that the tweet was banned due to a legal request from the Indian government.

Musk framed his takeover of Twitter last year as being a win for free speech, and he pledged to only moderate speech on the platform if it went outside the bounds of the law. His actions since then have been a series of backslides. For example, he banned accounts using public information to track his and other powerful peoples' flights after saying he would never do so, in order to preserve freedom of speech. 

Musk once called himself a "free speech absolutist" and said that "some governments" were demanding that Twitter block Russian news sources, but that it would not unless "at gunpoint."

Like with every other tech company, doing business in countries with leaders who have authoritarian tendencies means following their laws, which is what happened in the case of the BBC documentary. Twitter's closeness with authoritarians has been called into question since the Musk takeover; Saudi Arabia remains the firm's second-largest shareholder, for example. 

Musk has not commented on the censorship, instead tweeting, "Be all you can be" using bee emojis, and commenting on birth rates.

Categories: Tech News

NASA will join a military program to develop nuclear thermal propulsion

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 07:18
Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft.

Enlarge / Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft. (credit: DARPA)

Nearly three years ago, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced its intent to develop a flyable nuclear thermal propulsion system. The goal was to develop more responsive control of spacecraft in Earth orbit, lunar orbit, and everywhere in between, giving the military greater operational freedom in these domains.

The military agency called this program a Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations, or DRACO for short. The program consists of the development of two things: a nuclear fission reactor and a spacecraft to fly it. In 2021, DARPA awarded $22 million to General Atomics for the reactor and gave small grants of $2.9 million to Lockheed Martin and $2.5 million to Blue Origin for the spacecraft system.

At the same time, NASA was coming to realize that if it were really serious about sending humans to Mars one day, it would be good to have a faster and more fuel-efficient means of getting there. An influential report published in 2021 concluded that the space agency's only realistic path to putting humans on Mars in the coming decades was using nuclear propulsion.

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Flutter now has less stutter and plays nicer with the web

The Register - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 07:00
Version 3.7 shows Google's cross-platform, Dart-based UI framework maturing

Flutter developers gathered on Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya, and at stream-fed screens elsewhere in the world to learn about the alpha release of Dart 3 and Flutter 3.7, the next iteration of Google's open source Dart-based UI toolkit.…

Categories: Tech News

Apple beefs up smartphone services in “silent war” against Google

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 06:38
Apple allegedly still holds a ‘grudge’ against Google ever since co-founder Steve Jobs called its rival Android operating system a "stolen product."

Enlarge / Apple allegedly still holds a ‘grudge’ against Google ever since co-founder Steve Jobs called its rival Android operating system a "stolen product." (credit: FT montage/Reuters)

Apple is taking steps to separate its mobile operating system from features offered by Google parent Alphabet, making advances around maps, search and advertising that has created a collision course between the Big Tech companies.

The two Silicon Valley giants have been rivals in the smartphone market since Google acquired and popularized the Android operating system in the 2000s.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs called Android “a stolen product” that mimicked Apple’s iOS mobile software, then declared “thermonuclear war” on Google, ousting the search company’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt from the Apple board of directors in 2009.

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Manchin writes bill to stop temporary electric vehicle tax credits

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 06:19
"The IRA and the EV tax credits must be implemented according to the Congressional intent to ensure the United States, as the superpower of the world, is not beholden to countries that don’t share our values," Senator Joe Manchin said in a statement sent to Ars.

Enlarge / "The IRA and the EV tax credits must be implemented according to the Congressional intent to ensure the United States, as the superpower of the world, is not beholden to countries that don’t share our values," Senator Joe Manchin said in a statement sent to Ars. (credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is unimpressed with the temporary leniency shown toward electric vehicles in terms of the federal tax credit, and he's determined to do something about it. On Wednesday the Senator introduced a new bill, "the American Vehicle Security Act of 2023." The bill would immediately implement the much stricter new tax credit rules contained in last year's Inflation Reduction Act even though the Department of the Treasury hasn't finished working out how to do that. Should Manchin's bill pass, it looks unlikely that any EV would qualify.

"It is unacceptable that the U.S. Treasury has failed to issue updated guidance for the 30D electric vehicle tax credits and continues to make the full $7,500 credits available without meeting all of the clear requirements included in the Inflation Reduction Act," Manchin said in a statement sent to Ars.

That's not all. According to some outlets, the Senator wants anyone who might have been issued an EV tax credit in 2023 to have to repay it, unless they could prove the car satisfied the domestic sourcing requirements. And that could be costly news for anyone who rushed out to buy a new Tesla after that company slashed prices to allow more of its EVs to qualify for the new tax credit rules.

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