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AI Translation Boosted eBay Sales More Than 10 Percent

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 5:30pm
We often hear that AI is important for economic growth, and while that claim makes intuitive sense, there isn't a lot of hard data to back it up. A recent study [PDF] from economists at MIT and Washington University in St. Louis offers some proof, though, showing how AI tools boost trade by allowing sellers to cross the language barrier. From a report: Looking at data scraped from eBay, the researchers compared sales between the US and Spanish-speaking Latin American countries before and after the shopping platform introduced AI-powered translation for product listings in 2014. (Specifically, the translation tool affected the titles of listings and search queries, but not product descriptions.) Prior to this eBay offered automatic translation, but the use of AI significantly improved the service's accuracy. You would expect that better translations would lead to greater sales, and that's exactly what the researchers found. Their data showed that sales from the US to countries affected increased 10.9 percent after the launch of the tool.

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Wolfram Alpha Search Engine Turns 10: Remains Independent, Private, and Free of External Advertising

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 4:50pm
For more than three decades, Stephen Wolfram, a 59-year-old scientist, software designer and entrepreneur, has built software that has attracted an avid following among mathematicians and scientists. His Mathematica program for symbolic mathematical computation and its programming language, Wolfram Language, are favorites of the intelligentsia of the quant world in universities and corporations. Wolfram Alpha, one of his creations, is a unique search engine that does not forage the web, but culls its own painstakingly curated database to find answers. This week, the search engine turned 10. On the big occasion, Mr. Wolfram has shared some insight: It was a unique and surprising achievement when it first arrived, and over its first decade it's become ever stronger and more unique. It's found its way into more and more of the fabric of the computational world, both realizing some of the long-term aspirations of artificial intelligence, and defining new directions for what one can expect to be possible. Oh, and by now, a significant fraction of a billion people have used it. And we've been able to keep it private and independent, and its main website has stayed free and without external advertising. As the years have gone by, Wolfram Alpha has found its way into intelligent assistants like Siri, and now also Alexa. It's become part of chatbots, tutoring systems, smart TVs, NASA websites, smart OCR apps, talking (toy) dinosaurs, smart contract oracles, and more. It's been used by an immense range of people, for all sorts of purposes. Inventors have used it to figure out what might be possible. Leaders and policymakers have used it to make decisions. Professionals have used it to do their jobs every day. People around the world have used it to satisfy their curiosity about all sorts of peculiar things. And countless students have used it to solve problems, and learn. The footage of the launch of Alpha, from 10 years ago.

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TikTok is China's Most Important Export Right Now

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 4:10pm
Silicon Valley may have begun the era of social media, but its future could be in China. From a report: Tensions between America and China are pushing the world's two largest economies into an escalating trade war. President Donald Trump continues to threaten a tariff hike on more Chinese goods. So it's a strange time for one of the most popular social media platforms in the US -- in the world for that matter -- to be Chinese. Eschewing typical forms of Chinese soft power, TikTok could be the arrival of a subtler form of algorithmic influence, with sophisticated Chinese AI controlling what becomes viral content potentially shared among millions of young Americans. Which isn't unlike the global influence Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been exerting for the last decade. Silicon Valley may have begun the era of social media, but its future could be in China. TikTok, a video-sharing app designed by a Beijing-based tech company called ByteDance, became the first Chinese-owned app to reach No. 1 in the US Apple App Store last November (it's since fallen to below 20th place). And oddly, its success in the States has come by embracing strongly features that fly in the face of American platforms but are central to Chinese social media: It aggressively mines user data, its videos require sound, it is largely oriented around a central recommendation algorithm instead of a network of friends and family, it emphasizes memes and challenges over individual influencers, and it continues to add addictive features to make it impossible to avoid bingeing as Silicon Valley offers dubious tools to curb screentime. TikTok's head of global marketing, Stefan Heinrich Henriquez, based out of its LA office, played down the app's Chinese provenance. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, he said there's nothing particularly different about working for ByteDance as opposed to an American tech company. Yet considering how TikTok's been covered in the US media in the last six months, it seems unlikely it can shake its reputation as a Chinese app.

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Navy Seal's Lawyers Received Emails Embedded With Tracking Software

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 3:34pm
An anonymous reader shares a report: Military prosecutors in the case of a US navy Seal charged with killing an Islamic State prisoner in Iraq in 2017 installed tracking software in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter in an apparent attempt to discover who was leaking information to the media, according to lawyers who said they received the corrupted messages. The defense attorneys said the intrusion may have violated constitutional protections against illegal searches, guarantees to the right to a lawyer and freedom of the press. "I've seen some crazy stuff but for a case like this it's complete insanity," said attorney Timothy Parlatore. "I was absolutely stunned, especially given the fact that it's so clear the government has been the one doing the leaking." Parlatore represents Edward Gallagher, the special operations chief who has pleaded not guilty to a murder count in the death of an injured teenage militant he allegedly stabbed to death in Iraq in 2017. Gallagher's platoon commander, Lt Jacob Portier, is fighting charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly conducting Gallagher's re-enlistment ceremony next to the corpse. Gallagher's case has prompted intense media interest and become a cause celebre on the right. Donald Trump has demanded the case proceed quickly.

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South Korean Government Planning Linux Migration as Windows 7 Support Ends

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 2:50pm
An anonymous reader shares a report: With just seven more months of support left for Windows 7, the South Korean government is planning to migrate to Linux, according to the Korea Herald, which notes that the Interior Ministry will begin "test-running Linux on its PCs, and if no security issues arise, Linux systems will be introduced more widely within the government. The Herald quotes the Interior Ministry as indicating that the transition to Linux, and the purchase of new PCs, would cost about 780 billion won ($655 million), but also anticipates long-term cost reductions with the adoption of Linux. The report doesn't mention a specific distro, instead "hopes to avoid building reliance on a single operating system." "Before the government-wide adoption, the ministry said it would test if the system could be run on private networked devices without security risks and if compatibility could be achieved with existing websites and software which have been built to run on Windows," the report stated.

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Your Internet Data is Rotting

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 2:10pm
MySpace, which recently lost 50 million files uploaded between 2003 and 2015, is not alone in encountering problems. As the internet grows, batches of old information are increasingly disappearing from it. From a story: Amazon cloud services, for example, also experienced a substantial outage in 2011 and another in 2017. Though temporary, and without actual loss of data, these outages left users without access to precious and important files for some time. Preserving content or intellectual property on the internet presents a conundrum. If it's accessible, then it isn't safe; if it's safe, then it isn't accessible. Accessible content is subject to tampering, theft or other sorts of bad actions. Only content that is inaccessible can be locked and protected from hacking. The internet currently accesses about 15 zettabytes of data, and is growing at a rate of 70 terabytes per second. It is an admittedly leaky vessel, and content is constantly going offline to wind up lost forever. Massive and desperate efforts are underway to preserve whatever is worth preserving, but even sorting out what is and what is not is itself a formidable undertaking. What will be of value in 10 years -- or 50 years? And how to preserve it? Acid-free paper can last 500 years; stone inscriptions even longer. But magnetic media like hard drives have a much shorter life, lasting only three to five years. They also need to be copied and verified on a very short life cycle to avoid data degradation at observed failure rates between 3% and 8% annually. Then there is also a problem of software preservation: How can people today or in the future interpret those WordPerfect or WordStar files from the 1980s, when the original software companies have stopped supporting them or gone out of business?

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AI Predicts PUBG Player Placement From Stats and Rankings

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 1:30pm
An anonymous reader shares a report: Fun as the element of surprise may be, matches in PUBG might be less dynamic than they seem. That's the assertion of researchers at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Georgia, who tested several AI algorithms to predict final player placement in PUBG from in-game stats and initial rankings. As the coauthors explain, each PUBG game starts with players parachuting from a plane onto one of four maps containing procedurally generated weapons, vehicles, armor, and other equipment. To train their AI models, the team sourced telemetry data recorded and compiled by Google-owned Kaggle, an online machine learning community. In total, it contained 4.5 million instances of solo, duo, and squad battles with 29 attributes, which the researchers whittled down to 1.9 million with 28 attributes. Most players don't rack up any kills, the team notes, and only a small fraction manage to win with a pacifistic strategy. In fact, 0.3748% of the players in the corpus won kill-free, out of which 0.1059% players won without a kill and without dealing damage. They also observed that players who actively traverse maps -- i.e., walk more -- increase their chances of winning; that 2.0329% players in the sample set died before taking a single step; and that with players with fewer kills who prefer to battle solo or in pairs had higher chances of winning compared with players who played in a squad.

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Mozilla, Cloudflare, Facebook and Others Propose BinaryAST For Faster JavaScript Load Times

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 12:50pm
Developers at Mozilla, Facebook, Cloudflare, and elsewhere have been drafting "BinaryAST" as a new over-the-wire format for JavaScript. From a report: BinaryAST is a binary representation of the original JavaScript code and associated data structures to speed-up the parsing of the code at the page load time compared to the JavaScript source itself. The binary abstract syntax tree format should lead to faster script loading across all web devices. Numbers related today by CloudFlare range from a 4% to 13% drop in load times compared to parsing conventional JavaScript source. Or if taking a "lazified" approach to skip unused functions, it can be upwards of 98% less time necessary. You can read more about it here.

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Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: Chinese Tech Companies Are Also Powerful, and Will Not Be Broken Up

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 12:10pm
Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg sat down for an interview with CNBC calling for regulation for American companies but pushing against the idea of breaking up the social media company. From a report: "You could break us up, you could break other tech companies up, but you actually don't address the underlying issues people are concerned about," Sandberg said. "While people are concerned with the size and power of tech companies, there's also a concern in the United States with the size and power of Chinese companies, and the realization that those companies are not going to be broken up," Sandberg said.

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Hewlett Packard Enterprise To Acquire Supercomputer Maker Cray for $1.3 Billion

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 11:30am
Hewlett Packard Enterprise will be buying the supercomputer maker Cray for roughly $1.3 billion, the companies said this morning. Intending to use Cray's knowledge and technology to bolster their own supercomputing and high-performance computing technologies, when the deal closes, HPE will become the world leader for supercomputing technology. From a report: Cray of course needs no introduction. The current leader in the supercomputing field and founder of supercomputing as we know it, Cray has been a part of the supercomputing landscape since the 1970s. Starting at the time with fully custom systems, in more recent years Cray has morphed into an integrator and scale-out specialist, combining processors from the likes of Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA into supercomputers, and applying their own software, I/O, and interconnect technologies. The timing of the acquisition announcement closely follows other major news from Cray: the company just landed a $600 million US Department of Energy contract to supply the Frontier supercomputer to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2021. Frontier is one of two exascale supercomputers Cray is involved in -- the other being a subcontractor for the 2021 Aurora system -- and in fact Cray is involved in the only two exascale systems ordered by the US Government thus far. So in both a historical and modern context, Cray was and is one of the biggest players in the supercomputing market.

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A Large Chunk of Ethereum Clients Remain Unpatched

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 10:51am
The Ethereum ecosystem is no different than the Windows or IoT landscape, where security flaws remain unpatched for long periods of time, despite the availability of public patches. From a report: In a report shared with ZDNet today, security researchers from SRLabs revealed that a large chunk of the Ethereum client software that runs on Ethereum nodes has yet to receive a patch for a critical security flaw the company discovered earlier this year. "According to our collected data, only two thirds of nodes have been patched so far," said Karsten Nohl, one of the researchers. The vulnerability is a denial of service (DoS) vulnerability in the Parity client that can be used to run Ethereum nodes. Per SRLabs, the vulnerability allows an attacker to remotely crash Ethereum nodes (that run Parity) by sending malformed packets. The issue was fixed with the release of the Parity Ethereum client v2.2.10, in mid-February this year, a few days after it was reported. While most DoS flaws are considered "low impact" for most products, this is not the case in the cryptocurrency world.

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Wikipedia Is 'Doing Very Well Financially', Says Co-Founder Jimmy Wales

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 10:10am
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said this week that the free online encyclopedia is in good financial shape, although increasing mobile phone use may cut into future donations. From a report: "We are doing very well financially," Wales told AFP ahead of Vivatech, a Paris tech fair for start-up companies. "We spend less than we bring in every year," he said. Wikipedia had "never been really good" at attracting major donors, with most of its money coming from people each giving around 15 euros ($16.80) in endowment money, he said. Wikipedia has published nearly 350 million articles, and has clocked up more than 190 billion views over the past 12 months. But Wales also said he feared a threat to Wikipedia's business model from increasing use of mobile devices coupled with personal assistant applications like Apple's Siri. "We see a rise of people using Wikipedia in ways that don't involve websites," he said. "We love that but you don't come to the website and see the (request for donations) banner. We haven't seen any impact yet but we worry, we think we should raise money."

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Scientists Invent Light-Activated Bio-Glue That Stops Bleeding In Seconds

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 7:30am
hackingbear shares a report from CNN: A team of researchers from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, created a gel composed of a network of proteins, inspired by the matrix composition of human connective tissues, and other molecules. The product, which requires ultraviolet light to activate, can adhere within seconds and then bond to wet biological tissue surfaces without suturing. In pigs, the bio-glue sealed a punctured carotid artery, a major blood vessel in the neck, in less than a minute and also filled holes in the cardiac wall. The Chinese researchers monitored their post-surgical pigs for a two-week recovery period and saw natural healing with no abnormalities or unusual inflammation. Around the globe, more than 234 million surgeries are performed each year, the World Health Organization estimates. Additional research confirming the safety of this product is needed before experiments can begin in humans, according to the authors of a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications.

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Verizon's 5G Network Is Now Hitting Gigabit Download Speeds

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 6:00am
A month ago, Verizon's 5G coverage in Chicago was exceedingly difficult to find and the speeds were only noticeably faster than LTE. Now, Chris Welch from The Verge says the company "has ramped things up." While coverage "remains extremely limited" and "varies widely block by block," the speed is lightning fast. From the report: I just ran a speed test that crossed 1Gbps, and my mind is frankly a little blown. This is in the real world, where my iPhone XS Max is barely hitting 20Mbps in the same spot. Download speeds on Verizon's 5G network now feel like a proper next-gen leap over current LTE performance. Going over 700Mbps is very typical, and crossing that gigabit marker can happen regularly if you're standing near one of the carrier's 5G nodes, which utilize millimeter wave technology to achieve the faster download rates. I'm still walking around Chicago and testing things out, but here are a few quick tests I ran: The pilot episode of The Office downloaded from Netflix at "high" quality in eight seconds. That's not a typo. I pulled down Marvel's Iron Man 2 from the Amazon Prime Video app at "best" quality in 90 seconds. Welch balances his excitement by saying that "indoor coverage on Verizon's 5G network is basically nonexistent." Also, "uploads are still limited to LTE on Verizons 5G network" and "tethering with the Galaxy S10 5G isn't yet supported (at 5G speeds)." Another thing to think about is the fact that barely anyone is on Verizon's 5G network right now. When people actually start buying 5G devices, the 1Gbps speeds will surely drop.

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China's Rover Reveals Moon's Hidden Depths

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 3:00am
China's Chang'e-4 mission to the dark side of the moon has discovered signs of mantle material at the moon's surface, "effectively setting an 'X' on lunar maps for future explorers seeking this not-so-buried geological treasure," reports Scientific American. From the report: China's Chang'e-4 mission touched down near the south pole on the lunar far side on January 3, 2019, the first spacecraft ever to land intact on this largely unexplored region of the moon. Consisting of a lander and rover, the mission is still going strong today, with the rover -- called Yutu-2 -- continuing its journey across the surface. On board are a variety of instruments, and today in Nature scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing report the mission's first scientific results, suggesting lunar mantle material has at last been located. "We found that the material of the Chang'e-4 landing site is mainly composed of olivine and low-calcium pyroxene," says Dawei Liu, one of the paper's co-authors. "This mineral combination is the candidate mantle-derived material." Chang'e-4 rests inside the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, which, at 2,500 kilometers across, is one of the solar system's oldest and largest known impact craters. Specifically, the mission touched down in the 186-kilometer-wide Von Karman crater within this larger basin. Von Karman was produced billions of years ago by the impact of a large comet or asteroid; such collisions can excavate mantle material from deep underground, allowing it to be scattered across the surface by subsequent impacts. The mantle material was discovered using the Visible and Near Infrared Spectrometer on Yutu-2, which can ascertain the chemical composition of rocks by studying their reflected light. Both olivine and pyroxene are believed to be among the first minerals that froze out from the moon's magma ocean as it cooled, falling to its solid base deeper in the mantle. Because previous surveys from orbit have revealed much of Von Karman's floor to be composed of lava from volcanic eruptions rather than excavated mantle, the paper's authors suspect the material detected by Yutu-2 was actually blasted into Von Karman from the upper mantle beneath another nearby impact structure, the 72-kilometer-wide Finsen crater.

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US Birthrate Is Lowest In 32 Years, CDC Says

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 11:30pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The U.S. birthrate fell again in 2018, to 3,788,235 births -- representing a 2% drop from 2017. It's the lowest number of births in 32 years, according to a new federal report. The numbers also sank the U.S. fertility rate to a record low. Not since 1986 has the U.S. seen so few babies born. And it's an ongoing slump: 2018 was the fourth consecutive year of birth declines, according to the provisional birthrate report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birthrates fell for nearly all racial and age groups, with only slight gains for women in their late 30s and early 40s, the CDC says. In what's widely seen as a bright spot in the CDC's provisional data, teenagers saw another sharp drop in birthrates, falling 7% in 2018 to 17.4 births per 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. That rate has now declined by 58% since 2007 and by 72% since 1991. The rate of cesarean delivery, or C-section, fell to 31.9% in 2018, the CDC says. That's down from a peak of 32.9% in 2009. The rate of cesarean procedures in low-risk cases also decreased, to 25.9% of all deliveries. From 2017 to 2018, the number of births fell 1% for Hispanic women and 2% for non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black women. The rate fell by 3% for women who are identified as non-Hispanic Asian and non-Hispanic AIAN (American Indian & Alaska Native). As for what's causing the drop, many current or would-be parents who responded to the report cite the frustration of finding child care to high insurance costs and a lack of parental leave and other support systems. They also note that while the national economy has done well, workers' paychecks haven't been growing at the same pace. "The latest birthrate data put the U.S. further away from a viable replacement rate -- the standard for a generation being able to replicate its numbers," the report says in closing. "The U.S. has generally fallen short of that level since 1971, the CDC says."

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SAT To Add 'Adversity Score' That Rates Students' Hardships

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 10:02pm
The SAT, the college entrance test taken by about two million students a year, is adding an "adversity score" to the test results (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) that is intended to help admissions officers account for factors like educational or socioeconomic disadvantage that may depress students' scores, the College Board, the company that administers the test, said Thursday. The New York Times reports: Colleges have long been concerned with scoring patterns on the SAT that seem unfavorable to certain socioeconomic groups: Higher scores have been found to correlate with students coming from a higher-income families and having better-educated parents. David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, has described a trial version of the tool, which has been field-tested by 50 colleges, in recent interviews. The plan to roll it out officially, to 150 schools this year and more broadly in 2020, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The adversity score would be a number between 1 and 100, with an average student receiving a 50. It would be calculated using 15 factors, like the relative quality of the student's high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student's home neighborhood. The score would not be reported to the student, only to college officials. "We've got to admit the truth, that wealth inequality has progressed to such a degree that it isn't fair to look at test scores alone," Mr. Coleman recently told The Associated Press. "You must look at them in context of the adversity students face." The new tool could potentially give colleges a way of doing that. But at the same time, it could invite a backlash from more affluent families and from students who do well on the test and worry that their adversity score will put them at a disadvantage.

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Amazon Updates Alexa To Guard Your House and Listen For Broken Glass, Smoke Alarm

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 9:20pm
Amazon is rolling out an update to Alexa that will turn the company's line of smart home products into home security devices while the user is out. Called "Alexa Guard," the feature will have your smart speakers listen for key sounds, including breaking glass and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. If the Echo hears the noise, it will send you an alert, coupled with an audio recording of the noise. TechCrunch reports: It's an interesting new addition and one that leverages the sometimes controversial fact that the device's mics are designed to always be listening. Amazon points out that it worked with licensed contractors to break hundreds of different glass windows with different instruments in order to create a wide range of different sounds for Alexa to listen for. The new feature works with different smart home devices, as well. Users with Ring or ADT pro monitoring can set it up to forward alerts to their providers. Users with Away Lighting setup, meanwhile, can use the alert to flip on lights in order to make it look like you're still around. The app is rolling out as a free addition to all Echo owners in the U.S.

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Facebook Shuts Down An Israeli Firm's Effort To Influence Politics In West Africa

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 8:40pm
Facebook today said it detected dozens of Facebook accounts that were engaging in election interference and other forms of public manipulation via news and social media, directed primarily at West African countries. What's especially noteworthy about this announcement is the source. Israeli commercial entity Archimedes Group was behind the behavior. The Verge reports: The goal ostensibly was to have some type of effect on local elections and the political atmosphere, although Facebook says it can't divine the exact intentions of the group and there is no indication that it was in any way linked to the Israeli government. Although it was centered on West African countries like Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Niger, Facebook also detected activity aimed at users in Angola, Tunisia, and parts of Southeast Asia and South America. As a result, Facebook says it's shut down 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages, 23 groups, and 12 events. It also detected and shut down four Instagram accounts related to the effort. It's also banned Archimedes Group and all of its subsidiaries, and Facebook sent a cease and desist letter to the company. On its website, Archimedes Group's tagline is, "Winning elections worldwide." It advertises itself as a kind of consultant for social media marketing related to elections, writing, "When approaching a client's challenge, we address all possible facets relating to it. We then formulate a concise yet comprehensive solution that will use every tool and take every advantage available in order to change reality according to our client's wishes." In a blog post, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, wrote: "The people behind this network used fake accounts to run Pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement. They also represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians. The Page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents."

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Scientists Create Mind-Controlled Hearing Aid That Allows the Wearer To Focus On Particular Voices

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 8:03pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A mind-controlled hearing aid that allows the wearer to focus on particular voices has been created by scientists, who say it could transform the ability of those with hearing impairments to cope with noisy environments. The device mimics the brain's natural ability to single out and amplify one voice against background conversation. Until now, even the most advanced hearing aids work by boosting all voices at once, which can be experienced as a cacophony of sound for the wearer, especially in crowded environments. The hearing aid first uses an algorithm to automatically separate the voices of multiple speakers. It then compares these audio tracks to the brain activity of the listener. Previous work found that it is possible to identify which person someone is paying attention to, as their brain activity tracks the sound waves of that voice most closely. The device compares the audio of each speaker to the brain waves of the person wearing the hearing aid. The speaker whose voice pattern most closely matches the listener's brain waves is amplified over the others, allowing them to effortlessly tune in to that person. The scientists developed an earlier version of the system in 2017 that, while promising, had the major limitation that it had to be pre-trained to recognize speakers' voices. Crucially, the latest device works for voices it has never heard before. The study has been published in the journal Science Advances.

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