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Earth

Researchers Complete First-Ever Detailed Map of Global Coral (apnews.com) 13

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Associated Press: Researchers have completed a comprehensive online map of the world's coral reefs by using more than 2 million satellite images from across the globe. The Allen Coral Atlas, named after late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, will act as a reference for reef conservation, marine planning and coral science as researchers try to save these fragile ecosystems that are being lost to climate change. The group announced completion of the atlas Wednesday and said it is the first global, high-resolution map of its kind. It gives users the ability to see detailed information about local reefs, including different types of submarine structure like sand, rocks, seagrass and, of course, coral. The maps, which include areas up to 50 feet (15 meters) deep, are being used to inform policy decisions about marine protected areas, spatial planning for infrastructure such as docks and seawalls and upcoming coral restoration projects.

"Our biggest contribution in this achievement is that we have a uniform mapping of the entire coral reef biome," said Greg Asner, managing director of the Atlas and director of Arizona State University's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation. Asner said they relied on a network of hundreds of field contributors who gave them local information about reefs so that they could program their satellites and software to focus on the right areas. "And that lets us bring the playing field up to a level where decisions can be made at a bigger scale because so far decisions have been super localized," Asner said. "If you don't know what you've got more uniformly, how would the U.N. ever play a real role? How would a government that has an archipelago with 500 islands make a uniform decision?" The atlas also includes a coral bleaching monitor to check for corals that are stressed due to global warming and other factors. Asner said about three quarters of the world's reefs had not previously been mapped in this kind of in-depth way, and many not at all.

Power

MIT-Designed Project Achieves Major Advance Toward Fusion Energy (mit.edu) 148

David Chandler writes via MIT News: It was a moment three years in the making, based on intensive research and design work: On Sept. 5, for the first time, a large high-temperature superconducting electromagnet was ramped up to a field strength of 20 tesla, the most powerful magnetic field of its kind ever created on Earth. That successful demonstration helps resolve the greatest uncertainty in the quest to build the world's first fusion power plant that can produce more power than it consumes, according to the project's leaders at MIT and startup company Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS). That advance paves the way, they say, for the long-sought creation of practical, inexpensive, carbon-free power plants that could make a major contribution to limiting the effects of global climate change.

Developing the new magnet is seen as the greatest technological hurdle to making that happen; its successful operation now opens the door to demonstrating fusion in a lab on Earth, which has been pursued for decades with limited progress. With the magnet technology now successfully demonstrated, the MIT-CFS collaboration is on track to build the world's first fusion device that can create and confine a plasma that produces more energy than it consumes. That demonstration device, called SPARC, is targeted for completion in 2025.

Open Source

The Open Source Initiative Names Stefano Maffulli As Its First Executive Director (zdnet.com) 10

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) has finally named its first Executive Director, Stefano Maffulli. ZDNet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols reports: Maffulli is a long-time developer community manager. He co-founded and led the Italian chapter of Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) from 2001 to 2007. He also worked for the FreedomBox Foundation. This organization, led by Columbia law professor Eben Moglen, created an inexpensive open-source server for those who wanted to avoid proprietary internet and cloud services. From there, Maffulli moved to OpenStack, the open-source Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud, and other open-source projects.

He'll be taking over from Deb Nicholson, who served as the OSI's interim general manager. This key step in the move of the OSI OSI into a professionally managed organization. "Bringing Stefano Maffulli on board as OSI's first Executive Director is the culmination of a years-long march toward professionalization so that OSI can be a stronger and more responsive advocate for open source," says Joshua Simmons, the OSI board's chairperson. "We can now deprecate the role of President transitioning to Chair of the Board with confidence about OSI's future."

An enthusiastic open source user, Maffulli contributed documentation patches, translations and advocated for projects as diverse as GNU, QGIS, OpenStreetMap, and WordPress. He knows he'll face new, bigger challenges at the OSI. "Open source software is everywhere, but its definition is constantly being challenged," said Maffulli. "The zombies of shared source, limited-use, and proprietary software are emerging from the graves where we put them to rest in the 90s, threatening the whole ecosystem." The OSI has to keep up with these and many other changes. For example, there have been several failed efforts to force ethical rules into open-source licenses. To keep up with these whiplash fast advances, Maffulli said, "mobile devices, cloud, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and blockchain offer new opportunities for developers, entrepreneurs, and society as a whole who all deserve a strong OSI not only to maintain a definition of open source that works in modern settings but also forges a path for how to effectively produce modern open-source software."

Privacy

After Chiding Apple On Privacy, Germany Says It Uses Pegasus Spyware (appleinsider.com) 38

"Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) purchased access to NSO Group's Pegasus spyware in 2019 after internal efforts to create similar iOS and Android surveillance tools failed," reports AppleInsider. The news comes less than a month after the Digital Agenda committee chairman of Germany's federal parliament, Manual Hoferlin, declared Apple to be on a "dangerous path" with plans to enact on-device child sexual assault material monitoring. He said the system undermines "secure and confidential communication" and represents the "biggest breach of the dam for the confidentiality of communication that we have seen since the invention of the Internet." From the report: The federal government revealed the agreement with NSO in a closed-door session with the German parliament's Interior Committee on Tuesday, reports Die Zeit. When the BKA began to use Pegasus is unclear. While Die Zeit says the tool was purchased in 2019 and is currently used in concert with a less effective state-developed Trojan, a separate report from Suddeutsche Zeitung, via DW.com, cites BKA Vice President Martina Link as confirming an acquisition in late 2020 followed by deployment against terrorism and organized crime suspects in March.

Officials made the decision to adopt Pegasus in spite of concerns regarding the legality of deploying software that can grant near-unfettered access to iPhone and Android handsets. As noted in the report, NSO's spyware exploits zero-day vulnerabilities to gain access to smartphones, including the latest iPhones, to record conversations, gather location data, access chat transcripts and more. Germany's laws state that authorities can only infiltrate suspects' cellphone and computers under special circumstances, while surveillance operations are governed by similarly strict rules.

BKA officials stipulated that only certain functions of Pegasus be activated in an attempt to bring the powerful tool in line with the country's privacy laws, sources told Die Zeit. It is unclear how the restrictions are implemented and whether they have been effective. Also unknown is how often and against whom Pegasus was deployed. According to Die Zeit, Germany first approached NSO about a potential licensing arrangement in 2017, but the plan was nixed due to concerns about the software's capabilities. Talks were renewed after the BKA's attempts to create its own spyware fell short.

Government

Biden Offers Ambitious Blueprint for Solar Energy (nytimes.com) 260

The Biden administration on Wednesday released a blueprint for producing almost half of the nation's electricity from the sun by 2050 -- something that would require the country to double the amount of solar energy installed every year over the next four years and then double it again by 2030. From a report: The expansion of solar energy is part of President Biden's effort to fight climate change, but there would be little historical precedent for increasing solar energy, which contributed less than 4 percent of the country's electricity last year, that quickly. Such a large increase, laid out in an Energy Department report, is in line with what most climate scientists say is needed to stave off the worst effects of global warming. It would require a vast transformation in technology, the energy industry and the way people live.

The Energy Department said its calculations showed that solar panels had fallen so much in cost that they could produce 40 percent of the country's electricity by 2035 -- enough to power all American homes -- and 45 percent by 2050. Getting there will mean trillions of dollars in investments by homeowners, businesses and the government. The electric grid -- built for hulking coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants -- would have to be almost completely remade with the addition of batteries, transmission lines and other technologies that can soak up electricity when the sun is shining and to send it from one corner of the country to another.

Earth

World's Largest Direct Air Carbon Capture System Goes Online (vice.com) 82

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The largest carbon capture facility in the world is slated to come online Wednesday in Iceland, amid growing skepticism over the technology's role in addressing the climate crisis. The Orca, a direct air capture plant constructed by Swiss carbon capture company Climeworks AG, with support from Microsoft, started running Wednesday around 20 miles southeast of Reykjavik.

The facility is made up of eight air collection containers, each holding several dozen cylindrical fans, which pull in ambient air and filter carbon dioxide from it using a filter, according to the Climeworks' press materials. What's trapped is heated, mixed with water, and pumped deep underground. The plant would pull 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air per year in total, which the company anticipates would be stored for "thousands of years." Their process is proprietary, but it's part of a broader form of carbon capture called direct air capture (DAC), a method of geoengineering that's become controversial in recent years for its dubious efficacy and practicality. DAC proposes to slow climate change by sucking greenhouse gasses like CO2 directly from the atmosphere, DAC has splintered environmentalists, some of whom laud it as a potential savior, while others call it as a costly, risky distraction from meaningful emissions distractions.

AMD

Lenovo's First Windows 11 Laptops Run On Ryzen (pcworld.com) 59

Lenovo will ring in the arrival of Windows 11 with a pair of premium AMD Ryzen-based laptops. PCWorld reports: The IdeaPad Slim 7 Carbon will feature a carbon lid and aluminum body to go with its drop-dead gorgeous 14-inch OLED screen. Besides the infinite contrast an OLED provides, Lenovo will use a fast 90Hz, 2880x1800 panel with an aspect ratio of 16:10 on the Slim 7 Carbon. That's just over 5 megapixels with a density of 243 pixels-per-inch. This is one smoking screen. But this beauty goes deeper than the skin. Inside the Slim 7 Carbon, you'll find an 8-core Ryzen 7 5800U with an optional Nvidia GeForce MX450 GPU. Lenovo will offer up to 16GB of power efficient LPDDR4X RAM and up to a 1TB PCIe SSD.
[...]
If a 14-inch screen laptop with a GeForce MX450 isn't enough for you, Lenovo also unveiled a new IdeaPad Slim 7 Pro. It's aimed at someone who needs a little more oomph. The laptop also features a 16:10 aspect ratio screen, which we consider superior to 16:9 aspect ratio laptops for getting work done. The IPS panel shines at a very bright 500 nits, and it's rated for 100 percent of the sRGB spectrum with an option for a 120Hz refresh rate version. Inside the laptop you'll find an 8-core Ryzen 7 5800H, up to 16GB of DDR4, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and up to a GeForce RTX 3050 Laptop graphics chip. Compared to the Slim 7 Carbon, you should expect the CPU to run faster thanks to the additional thermal headroom of the H-class Ryzen chip. The GeForce RTX 3050 Laptop GPU, meanwhile, is based on Nvidia's newest "Ampere" GPU cores instead of the older "Turing" GPU the GeForce MX450 uses in the Slim 7 Carbon. That upgrade translates to far better gaming performance, hardware ray tracing support, and the inclusion of Nvidia hardware encoding and decoding, which can help you use Adobe Premiere on the road.

Encryption

UK.gov Is Launching An Anti-Facebook Encryption Push (theregister.com) 33

The British government is preparing to launch a full-scale policy assault against Facebook as the company gears up to introduce end-to-end encryption across all of its services. The Register reports: Prominent in details briefed to the news media this week (including The Register) were accusations that Facebook harbours paedophiles, terrorists, and mobsters and that British police forces would effectively be blinded to the scale of criminality on the social networking platform, save for cases where crimes are reported. It's a difficult and nuanced topic made no simpler or easier by the fact that government officials seem hellbent on painting it in black and white.

Government and law enforcement officials who briefed the press on condition of anonymity earlier this week* sought to paint a picture of the internet going dark if Facebook's plans for end-to-end encryption (E2EE) went forward, in terms familiar to anyone who remembers how Western nation states defended themselves from public upset after former NSA sysadmin Edward Snowden's 2013 revelations of illegal mass surveillance. The US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) generates around 20 million reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) every year, of which 70 per cent would be "lost" if E2E encryption were put in place, claimed British officials.

The government's long-signaled push to deter Facebook from implementing E2EE comes, inevitably, at a significant cost to taxpayers: London ad agency M&C Saatchi has been hired at an undisclosed cost by the Home Office to tell the public that Facebook (and WhatsApp) harbours criminals. The ad campaign will run online, in newspapers and on radio stations with the aim of turning public opinion against E2EE -- and, presumably, driving home the message that encryption itself is something inherently bad. Other announcements due this week, from notoriously anti-encryption Home Secretary Priti Patel and intergovernmental meetings, will explicitly condemn Facebook's contemplated rollout of E2EE.

Australia

Facebook Users Liable For All Comments Under Their Posts, According To Australia High Court (gizmodo.com) 188

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Australia's High Court, roughly the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, has ruled that Facebook users are responsible for the content of complete strangers who post defamatory comments on their posts. The ruling upholds a June 2019 ruling by the Supreme Court of New South Wales, home to Australia's largest city of Sydney. And it runs counter to how virtually everyone thinks about liability on the internet.

The High Court's ruling on Wednesday is just a small part of a larger case brought against Australian news outlets, including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Australian, among others, by a man who said he was defamed in the Facebook comments of the newspapers' stories in 2016. The question before the High Court was the definition of "publisher," something that isn't easily defined in Australian law. From Australia's ABC News: "The court found that, by creating a public Facebook page and posting content, the outlets had facilitated, encouraged and thereby assisted the publication of comments from third-party Facebook users, and they were, therefore, publishers of those comments."

IT

The Verge's 'Infamous' PC Build Gets Fixed (kotaku.com) 50

Luke Plunkett, writing at Kotaku: Back in 2018, The Verge released a guide to building a new PC that was, well, from where I was sitting it was not ideal. From where some angry PC nerds were sitting, though, it was an outrage. How bad was the video? It has its own knowyourmeme page, that's how bad. The guide was full of glaring omissions and bizarre tips, from a strange obsession with power usage to the most liberal use of thermal paste you've ever seen. The original video guide was eventually removed by The Verge (though you can see it here, and the written portion remains online), with the site claiming that it didn't meet their "editorial standards." Things took a turn for the worse when folks' initial bemusement with the guide quickly morphed into outright harassment from others, with author Stefan Etienne receiving a ton of racial abuse and The Verge issuing takedown notices on a couple of videos critical of the situation.

Anyway, that was 2018. We're not here to drag up bad old content and the ramblings of internet shitheads, we're here for the redemptive arc in this tale. That comes in the form of this new Linus Tech Tips video, where the host gets Etienne on to "fix" his old build, going through the same basic overall process as the original, making some changes (or just adding some extra information) at stops along the way. Etienne is a great sport throughout (and interestingly claims that The Verge's editorial basically threw him under the bus with the video section of the guide). The pair go through the original guide point by point, not just explaining how they'd improve things in 2021, but also allowing Etienne to break down just what was going on during the creation of the video as well.
[H/T UnknowingFool.]
Bitcoin

Is Lending Your Bitcoins a Security? (bloomberg.com) 61

Matt Levine, writing at Bloomberg: Oh, sure, yes, absolutely. The rule in the U.S. is that an "investment contract," meaning "the investment of money in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the efforts of others," is a security, and generally can't be sold to the public without registering it with the Securities and Exchange Commission, delivering a prospectus with audited financial statements, etc. A Bitcoin lending program -- in which (1) a bunch of people pool their Bitcoins, (2) some manager or smart contract lends those Bitcoins to borrowers who pay interest, and (3) some or all of the interest is paid back to the people in the pool -- is pretty straightforwardly an investment contract and thus a security.

I have been saying this for months, though that's only because the SEC has also been saying it for months. But I admit that the SEC hasn't been saying it in a particularly clear way. There's not an SEC press release saying "FYI crypto lending programs are obviously securities." And I gather that there are a lot of crypto lending programs -- they're a staple feature of decentralized finance platforms -- and roughly none of them are registered with the SEC. The SEC and state regulators have brought enforcement actions against a few of them -- we've talked about BitConnect and BlockFi and Blockchain Credit Partners -- but I suppose each of those is distinctive in its own way, and there are about a zillion others that haven't been sued by the SEC. So you could reasonably look around and be like "oh sure we can pool people's Bitcoins and lend them and pass along the interest, that's not a security that should involve the SEC." You'd be wrong, but I get where you're coming from.

[...] Look, I get it. From the perspective of Coinbase, and of its customers, and frankly of most normal people interested in crypto:

People would like to lend their Bitcoins.
It doesn't feel like a security.
It's kind of annoying and archaic that a 1946 Supreme Court case says that it is?

But look at it from the SEC's perspective:

The SEC really doesn't like crypto.
The SEC is a regulatory agency that has a general tendency to want to do more regulating.
Popular tokens like Bitcoin and Ether are not securities and so not subject to SEC regulation, which leaves the SEC feeling antsy.
But crypto lending programs are pretty clearly securities subject to SEC regulation.
So for the SEC to say "crypto lending programs are securities and need to be regulated" serves the dual purposes of (1) expanding SEC jurisdiction over crypto and (2) stopping those programs.
Also it's pretty clearly justified by a 1946 Supreme Court case.

United States

LAPD Officers Told To Collect Social Media Data on Every Civilian They Stop (theguardian.com) 195

The Los Angeles police department (LAPD) has directed its officers to collect the social media information of every civilian they interview, including individuals who are not arrested or accused of a crime, according to records shared with the Guardian. From a report: Copies of the "field interview cards" that police complete when they question civilians reveal that LAPD officers are instructed to record a civilian's Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media accounts, alongside basic biographical information. An internal memo further shows that the police chief, Michel Moore, told employees that it was critical to collect the data for use in "investigations, arrests, and prosecutions," and warned that supervisors would review cards to ensure they were complete.

The documents, which were obtained by the not-for-profit organization the Brennan Center for Justice, have raised concerns about civil liberties and the potential for mass surveillance of civilians without justification. "There are real dangers about police having all of this social media identifying information at their fingertips," said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, a deputy director at the Brennan Center, noting that the information was probably stored in a database that could be used for a wide range of purposes. The Brennan Center conducted a review of 40 other police agencies in the US and was unable to find another department that required social media collection on interview cards (though many have not publicly disclosed copies of the cards). The organization also obtained records about the LAPD's social media surveillance technologies, which have raised questions about the monitoring of activist groups including Black Lives Matter.

Science

The Pandemic Has Set Back the Fight Against HIV, TB and Malaria (nytimes.com) 55

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely set back the fight against other global scourges like H.I.V., tuberculosis and malaria, according to a sobering new report released on Tuesday. From a report: Before the pandemic, the world had been making strides against these illnesses. Overall, deaths from those diseases have dropped by about half since 2004. "The advent of a fourth pandemic, in Covid, puts these hard-fought gains in great jeopardy," said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, a nonprofit organization promoting H.I.V. treatment worldwide. The pandemic has flooded hospitals and disrupted supply chains for tests and treatments. In many poor countries, the coronavirus crisis diverted limited public health resources away from treatment and prevention of these diseases. Many fewer people sought diagnosis or medication, because they were afraid of becoming infected with the coronavirus at clinics. And some patients were denied care because their symptoms, such as a cough or a fever, resembled those of Covid-19.

Unless comprehensive efforts to beat back the illnesses resume, "we'll continue to play emergency response and global health Whac-a-Mole," Mr. Warren said. The report was compiled by the Global Fund, an advocacy group that funds campaigns against H.I.V., malaria and tuberculosis. Before the arrival of the coronavirus, TB was the biggest infectious-disease killer worldwide, claiming more than one million lives each year. The pandemic has exacerbated the damage. In 2020, about one million fewer people were tested and treated for TB, compared with 2019 -- a drop of about 18 percent, according to the new report. The number of people treated for drug-resistant TB declined by 19 percent, and for extensively drug-resistant TB by 37 percent. Nearly 500,000 people were diagnosed with drug-resistant TB in 2019.

NASA

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Launch Delayed To December (space.com) 42

NASA's long-awaited and high-powered James Webb Space Telescope won't begin observations this year after NASA and its counterpart the European Space Agency (ESA) announced another launch delay. From a report: In coordinated statements, the two agencies announced that the observatory is now targeting a launch on Dec. 18, more than six weeks after its previously set liftoff date. The highly-anticipated project has racked up consistently escalating budget and schedule overruns since development began in the 1990s. "We now know the day that thousands of people have been working towards for many years, and that millions around the world are looking forward to," Gunther Hasinger, ESA's director of science, said in an agency statement. "Webb and its Ariane 5 launch vehicle are ready, thanks to the excellent work across all mission partners. We are looking forward to seeing the final preparations for launch at Europe's Spaceport."
Security

Notorious Russian Ransomware Group 'REvil' Has Reappeared (bloomberg.com) 9

The infamous criminal ransomware group behind the JBS SA cyberattack has returned to the dark web after vanishing this summer. From a report: "REvil," short for "Ransomware-Evil," is among the most prolific cyber gangs to hold data for ransom. The group operates from Russia, according to cybersecurity firms and the U.S. government, and is accused of leading a flurry of attacks this year against companies and organizations, including JBS. The giant Brazilian meat supplier eventually paid an $11 million ransom. REvil runs a website called the "Happy Blog," where it publishes samples of data stolen before locking companies out of their own networks. The attackers then try to persuade targets to pay for a digital key to restore network access.

A portal REvil uses to negotiate with victims also came back online on Tuesday, according to Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, although the cybergang hasn't posted any new victims. Meyers says it appears the site was restored by the same actors running the portal before it went offline in June without explanation. "I would think this was a cool-off period," he said. "There was a lot of heat back in June/July. Maybe they rebuilt some infrastructure and invested in better operational security."

Businesses

Other Blood Companies Are Still Pissed About Theranos (slate.com) 88

What is was like competing with -- and dealing with the wreckage of -- the most infamous startup in the world. From a report: Theranos' collapse was as public as it gets for a Silicon Valley unicorn, beginning in 2015 with a widely read series of articles by former Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou, who revealed that Theranos' technology was far less effective than advertised. The debacle went on to inspire the bestselling book Bad Blood by Carreyrou, an HBO documentary, and a forthcoming Hulu series starring Amanda Seyfried. This week, Holmes' highly anticipated trial begins in earnest. Jurors were sworn in last Thursday, and opening statements will begin on Wednesday. Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy related to the ascent and operations of Theranos, though she maintains her innocence. Once famous for a supposedly innovative approach to blood testing, now infamous for allegedly faking it, the names Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes aren't fading away anytime soon.

All of this has had a ripple effect for other companies that, like Theranos, were trying to make blood drawing and diagnostics easier for consumers. I spoke to five such companies recently about how they have dealt with unwelcome comparisons to Theranos, which has bedeviled the sector ever since Carreyrou's first piece on the subject. One company I reached out to expressed that it was hesitant to even appear in an article about Theranos. Even before Theranos imploded, its outsize presence was felt by other companies in the blood testing industry, for better and worse. "In the beginning, when Theranos was on its up slope, people were asking how we were ever going to compete with a company like Theranos when they've raised a billion dollars," said Daniel Levner, co-founder of Sight Diagnostics, a biotech company that sells a device that can conduct a blood count analysis from a finger prick.

Yet when Carreyrou's pieces began appearing in the Journal, comparisons to Theranos became a curse for its peers. "In pretty much every conversation we had for a year, Theranos would come up," said John Lewis, founder and CEO of Nanostics, a biotech company that sells a device that can use a very small amount of blood to diagnose and predict diseases. "Most people recognized that Theranos was mostly just bad founders, but it certainly was on everybody's mind." Lewis recounts that his company, which had only existed for a year and a half at the time, was in a pitch competition right as the Theranos scandal was coming to light. The very first question they got at the event was how the Nanostics product compared to Theranos'. From there, Nanostics took pains to distinguish itself from Theranos, down to the smallest details. For instance, the company in its promotional materials tried to stay away from Theranos' famous selling point of diagnosing diseases from a single drop of blood. "Our initial plan was to go out saying that we can detect disease signatures with a single drop of blood, but that was literally just when Theranos was going down for stating that they could do that when they couldn't," Lewis recalled. "So in our texts we said, 'two drops of blood.'"

Businesses

Amazon's Cashierless Tech is Coming To Whole Foods Next Year (theverge.com) 94

Amazon is bringing its cashierless "Just Walk Out" technology to two new Whole Foods locations next year, the company has announced. From a report: One of the stores will be in Washington, DC, while the second will be in Sherman Oaks, California. When they're open, customers will have the option of paying at a traditional self-checkout or customer service booth, or having the new technology automatically bill them when they leave the store. The move marks Amazon's latest step towards scaling its cashierless technology, which works by using a series of cameras and sensors to automatically detect what people pick up off shelves, into a variety of larger stores. Just Walk Out originally debuted in small Amazon Go convenience stores, before the company scaled it up to work in bigger and bigger grocery stores.
Businesses

PayPal Acquires Japan's Paidy for $2.7B To Crack the Buy-Now, Pay-Later Market in Asia (techcrunch.com) 3

PayPal, the U.S. fintech company, announced an acquisition of Paidy, a Japanese buy now, pay later (BNPL) service platform, for approximately $2.7 billion (300 billion yen), mostly in cash, to enhance its business in Japan. From a report: The transaction completion including the regulatory approval is expected in the fourth quarter of 2021. After the acquisition, the Japan-based company will continue to operate its existing business and maintain the brand while the leaders, Paidy's president and CEO Riku Sugie and founder and executive chairman of Paidy Russel Cummer, keep their positions. Japan is the third largest e-commerce market in the world, and so this is a significant move by PayPal to gain more market share both in the country and the region, specifically in the area of providing deferred payment services as an alternative to credit cards.
Google

The Gmail App Takes Calls Now, Too, Because Google Wants It To Do Everything (theverge.com) 63

Google is announcing even more Workspace features today, part of an increased cadence of changes to the company's office and communications software suite over the past year or so. From a report: Today's announcement is a bit of a milestone, however. Although there is still the smattering of small and coming-soon updates, the bigger change is that Gmail is getting a redesign that reveals its true nature in Google's eyes: the central hub for every Google communication app. To begin, Google is adding the ability to "ring" another Google user with Google Meet -- but inside the Gmail mobile app, not inside the Meet app. When the feature rolls out and turns on, your Gmail app will be able to be called just like any other VOIP app (in addition to being able to join Google Meet meetings). Google says the standalone Meet app will get the same ability to place calls, not just create group meetings, at some point in the future. That Gmail was the first place Google thought to put its calling feature reveals how important Gmail has become to the larger changes happening within Google Workspace.
United States

SEC Threatens To Sue Coinbase Over Crypto Lending Programme (reuters.com) 30

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has threatened to sue Coinbase if the crypto exchange goes ahead with plans to launch a programme allowing users to earn interest by lending crypto assets, Coinbase said on Wednesday. From a report: The SEC has issued Coinbase with a Wells notice, an official way it tells a company that it intends to sue the company in court, Paul Grewal, the company's chief legal officer said in a blog post. He said Coinbase would delay the launch of its 'Lend' product until at least October as a result. Programmes that allow owners of cryptocurrencies to lend these in return for interest are becoming more common around the world, but some regulators, particularly in the United States have started to raise concerns, arguing that such products should comply with existing securities laws.
The Internet

UK's ICO Calls For Browser-Level Controls To Fix 'Cookie Fatigue' (techcrunch.com) 134

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: In the latest quasi-throwback toward "do not track," the UK's data protection chief has come out in favor of a browser- and/or device-level setting to allow Internet users to set "lasting" cookie preferences -- suggesting this as a fix for the barrage of consent pop-ups that continues to infest websites in the region. European web users digesting this development in an otherwise monotonously unchanging regulatory saga, should be forgiven -- not only for any sense of deja vu they may experience -- but also for wondering if they haven't been mocked/gaslit quite enough already where cookie consent is concerned.

Last month, UK digital minister Oliver Dowden took aim at what he dubbed an "endless" parade of cookie pop-ups -- suggesting the government is eyeing watering down consent requirements around web tracking as ministers consider how to diverge from European Union data protection standards, post-Brexit. (He's slated to present the full sweep of the government's data 'reform' plans later this month so watch this space.) Today the UK's outgoing information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, stepped into the fray to urge her counterparts in G7 countries to knock heads together and coalesce around the idea of letting web users express generic privacy preferences at the browser/app/device level, rather than having to do it through pop-ups every time they visit a website.

In a statement announcing "an idea" she will present this week during a virtual meeting of fellow G7 data protection and privacy authorities -- less pithily described in the press release as being "on how to improve the current cookie consent mechanism, making web browsing smoother and more business friendly while better protecting personal data" -- Denham said: "I often hear people say they are tired of having to engage with so many cookie pop-ups. That fatigue is leading to people giving more personal data than they would like. The cookie mechanism is also far from ideal for businesses and other organizations running websites, as it is costly and it can lead to poor user experience. While I expect businesses to comply with current laws, my office is encouraging international collaboration to bring practical solutions in this area. There are nearly two billion websites out there taking account of the world's privacy preferences. No single country can tackle this issue alone. That is why I am calling on my G7 colleagues to use our convening power. Together we can engage with technology firms and standards organizations to develop a coordinated approach to this challenge," she added.

Robotics

Astronauts In Space Will Soon Resurrect An AI Robot Friend Called CIMON (space.com) 17

A robot called CIMON-2 (short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) has received a software update that will enable it to perform more complex tasks with a new human crewmate later this year. Space.com reports: The cute floating sphere with a cartoon-like face has been stored at the space station since the departure of the European Space Agency's (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano in February 2020. The robot will wake up again during the upcoming mission of German astronaut Matthias Maurer, who will arrive at the orbital outpost with the SpaceX Crew-3 Dragon mission in October. In the year and a half since the end of the last mission, engineers have worked on improving CIMON's connection to Earth so that it could provide a more seamless service to the astronauts, CIMON project manager Till Eisenberg at Airbus, which developed the intelligent robot together with the German Aerospace Centre DLR and the LMU University in Munich, told Space.com.

"The sphere is just the front end," Eisenberg said. "All the voice recognition and artificial intelligence happens on Earth at an IBM data centre in Frankfurt, Germany. The signal from CIMON has to travel through satellites and ground stations to the data centre and back. We focused on improving the robustness of this connection to prevent disruptions." CIMON relies on IBM's Watson speech recognition and synthesis software to converse with astronauts and respond to their commands. The first generation robot flew to the space station with Alexander Gerst in 2018. That robot later returned to Earth and is now touring German museums. The current robot, CIMON-2, is a second generation. Unlike its predecessor, it is more attuned to the astronauts' emotional states (thanks to the Watson Tone Analyzer). It also has a shorter reaction time.

Airbus and DLR have signed a contract with ESA for CIMON-2 to work with four humans on the orbital outpost in the upcoming years. During those four consecutive missions, engineers will first test CIMON's new software and then move on to allowing the sphere to participate in more complex experiments. During these new missions CIMON will, for the first time, guide and document complete scientific procedures, Airbus said in a statement. "Most of the activities that astronauts perform are covered by step by step procedures," Eisenberg said. "Normally, they have to use clip boards to follow these steps. But CIMON can free their hands by floating close by, listening to the commands and reading out the procedures, showing videos, pictures and clarifications on its screen." The robot can also look up additional information and document the experiments by taking videos and pictures. The scientists will gather feedback from the astronauts to see how helpful the sphere really was and identify improvements for CIMON's future incarnations.

Space

Viruses May Exist 'Elsewhere In the Universe,' Warns Scientist (theguardian.com) 124

Astrobiologist Paul Davies suggests viruses may form a vital part of ecosystems on other planets. The Guardian reports: "Viruses actually form part of the web of life," said Davies. "I would expect that if you've got microbial life on another planet, you're bound to have -- if it's going to be sustainable and sustained -- the full complexity and robustness that will go with being able to exchange genetic information." Viruses, said Davies, can be thought of as mobile, genetic elements. Indeed, a number of studies have suggested genetic material from viruses has been incorporated into the genomes of humans and other animals by a process known as horizontal gene transfer. "A friend of mine thinks most, but certainly a significant fraction, of the human genome is actually of viral origin," said Davies, whose new book, What's Eating the Universe?, was published last week.

According to Davies, while the importance of microbes to life is well known, the role of viruses is less widely appreciated. But he said if there is cellular life on other worlds, viruses or something similar, would probably exist to transfer genetic information between them. What's more, he said, it is unlikely alien life would be homogenous. "I don't think it's a matter that you go to some other planet, and there will just be you one type of microbe and it's perfectly happy. I think it's got to be a whole ecosystem," he added. While the thought of extraterrestrial viruses may seem alarming, Davies suggests there is no need for humans to panic. "The dangerous viruses are those that are very closely adapted to their hosts," he said. "If there is a truly alien virus, then chances are it wouldn't be remotely dangerous."

Davies [...] said it is also important should humans attempt to colonize another planet. "Most people think about, well, we would need to have very large spacecraft, and then sort of recycle things for the very long journey, and then all the technology you'd need to take," he said. "Actually, the toughest part of this problem is what would be the microbiology that you'd have to take -- it's no good just taking a few pigs and potatoes and things like that and hoping when you get to the other end it'll all be wonderful and self sustainable." While Covid has left most of us with a dim view of viruses, Davies said they are not all bad. "In fact, mostly, they're good," he said. [A]s Davies notes, a significant fraction of the human genome may be remnants of ancient viruses. "We hear about the microbiome inside us, and there's a planetary microbiome," said Davies. But, he argues there is also a human and planetaryvirome, with viruses playing a fundamental role in nature. "I think without viruses, there may be no sustained life on planet Earth," he said.

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