Author: Devin Coldewey

Let’s save the bees with machine learning

Machine learning and all its related forms of “AI” are being used to work on just about every problem under the sun, but even so, stemming the alarming decline of the bee population still seems out of left field. In fact it’s a great application for the technology and may help both bees and beekeepers keep hives healthy. The latest threat to our precious honeybees is the varroa mite, a parasite that infests hives and sucks the blood from both bees and their young. While it rarely kills a bee outright, it can weaken it and cause young to...

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Net neutrality battle gets a new day in court tomorrow

More than a year after net neutrality was essentially abolished by a divided Federal Communications Commission, a major legal challenge supported by dozens of companies and advocates has its day in court tomorrow. Mozilla v. FCC argues that the agency’s decision was not just dead wrong, but achieved illegally. “We’re not just going into court to argue that the FCC made a policy mistake,” said Public Knowledge VP Chris Lewis in a statement. “It broke the law, too. The FCC simply failed in its responsibility to engage in reasoned decision-making.” Oral arguments before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals...

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Don’t worry, this rocket-launching Chinese robo-boat is strictly for science

It seems inevitable that the high seas will eventually play host to a sort of proxy war as automated vessels clash over territory for the algae farms we’ll soon need to feed the growing population. But this rocket-launching robo-boat is a peacetime vessel concerned only with global weather patterns. The craft is what’s called an unmanned semi-submersible vehicle, or USSV, and it functions as a mobile science base — and now, a rocket launch platform. For meteorological sounding rockets, of course, nothing scary. It solves a problem we’ve seen addressed by other seagoing robots like the Saildrone: that the ocean is very big, and very dangerous — so monitoring it properly is equally big and dangerous. You can’t have a crew out in the middle of nowhere all the time, even if it would be critical to understanding the formation of a typhoon or the like. But you can have a fleet of robotic ships systematically moving around the ocean. In fact this is already done in a variety of ways and by numerous countries and organizations, but much of the data collection is both passive and limited in range. A solar-powered buoy drifting on the currents is a great resource, but you can’t exactly steer it, and it’s limited to sampling the water around it. And weather balloons are nice, too, if you don’t mind flying it out...

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Cheap internet of things gadgets betray you even after you toss them in the trash

You may think that the worst you’ll risk by buying a bargain-bin smart bulb or security camera will be a bit of extra trouble setting it up or a lack of settings. But it’s not just while they’re plugged in that these slapdash gadgets are a security risk — even from the garbage can, they can still compromise your network. Although these so-called internet of things gadgets are small and rather dumb, they’re still full-fledged networked computers for all intents and purposes. They may not need to do much, but they still need to take many of the same basic precautions to prevent them from, say, broadcasting your private information unencrypted to the world, or granting root access to anyone walking by. In the case of these low-cost “smart” bulbs investigated by Limited Results (via Hack a Day), the issue isn’t what they do while connected but what they keep onboard their tiny brains, and how. All the bulbs they tested proved to have no real security at all protecting the information kept on the chips inside. After exposing the PCBs, they attached a few leads and in a moment each device would spit out its boot data and be ready to take commands. The data was without exception totally unencrypted, including the wireless password to the network to which the device had been connected. One device also exposed...

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IBM builds a more diverse million-face dataset to help reduce bias in AI

Encoding biases into machine learning models, and in general into the constructs we refer to as AI, is nearly inescapable — but we can sure do better than we have in past years. IBM is hoping that a new database of a million faces more reflective of those in the real world will help. Facial recognition being relied on for everything from unlocking your phone to your front door, and being used to estimate your mood or likelihood to commit criminal acts — and we may as well admit many of these applications are bunk. But even the good...

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Instagram outage forces millions to look directly at the world for nearly half an hour

Photo-sharing app and social network Instagram was briefly taken offline on Monday afternoon, causing nothing of consequence to occur other than a brief respite from one source of the constant deluge of inconsequential information to which we all voluntarily submit ourselves. The service died at about 4:20, tragically the very moment when millions of people were turning to the app, for the third time that hour, desperately hoping to pass the time until the end of the workday. At least this was the case on the west coast of the U.S., the only location we are considering at this...

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Screen time inhibits toddler development, study finds

In news that will surprise few but still alarm many, a study has found that kids 2-5 years old who engage in more screen time received worse scores in developmental screening tests. The apparent explanation is simple: when a kid is in front of a screen, they’re not talking, walking, or playing, the activities during which basic skills are cultivated. The topic is a thorny one, as there are plenty of arguments on both sides as to the possible pros and cons of screen use at an early age, and as with any other topic pertaining to parenting, it...

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Bioware’s ambitious Anthem is off to a rough start as players bring servers to their knees

The gaming world is excited to play for Anthem, Bioware’s answer to Destiny and other big-budget online shooters — but an exclusive preview weekend for the mech-flying game has struggled to get off the ground. Of course, it wouldn’t be a game launch these days without a few hiccups to spice things up, but it is a little embarrassing. The 40-gigabyte demo was made available today to those who had pre-ordered the game, as well as press and other “VIPs.” The game, announced last year at E3, is a loot-focused shooter where you pilot mechs through a huge open...

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