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AI

Amazon Launches $2.5 Million Alexa Prize For College Students Building Bots (venturebeat.com) 14

Amazon has announced the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million award for college students who develop technology to make it more natural to talk with company's Alexa virtual assistant. Amazon said it hopes to build a socialbot on Alexa which is capable of conversing with people about popular topics and news events. VentureBeat adds: Up to ten teams will be sponsored by Amazon and receive a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free AWS services, and support from the Alexa team. [...] The first contest will be held at AWS re:invent in November 2017. Among other bot-building contests, the Watson Group at IBM has prizes and cash for anyone who can make bots that talk to each other.
Businesses

IBM Buys Promontory Financial Group (zdnet.com) 20

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: IBM said Thursday it plans to acquire compliance consulting firm Promontory Financial Group to bring more financial regulatory expertise to Watson's cognitive computing platform. Promontory is a global consulting operation with an aim of helping banks manage the ever-increasing regulation and risk management requirements in the financial sector. With that in mind, IBM wants to use the industry expertise of Promontory's workforce -- which is made up of ex-regulators and banking executives -- to teach Watson all about regulation, risk and compliance. IBM is also using the deal to create a new subsidiary called Watson Financial Services, which will build cognitive tools for things things like tracking regulatory obligations, financial risk modeling, surveillance, anti-money laundering detection systems. "This is a workload ideally suited for Watson's cognitive capabilities intended to allow financial institutions to absorb the regulatory changes, understand their obligations, and close gaps in systems and practices to address compliance requirements more quickly and efficiently," IBM said in a press release.
AI

Microsoft Forms New AI Research Group Led By Harry Shum (techcrunch.com) 43

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A day after announcing a new artificial intelligence partnership with IBM, Google, Facebook and Amazon, Microsoft is upping the ante within its own walls. The tech giant announced that it is creating a new AI business unit, the Microsoft AI and Research Group, which will be led by Microsoft Research EVP Harry Shum. Shum will oversee 5,000 computer scientists, engineers and others who will all be "focused on the company's AI product efforts," the company said in an announcement. The unit will be working on all aspects of AI and how it will be applied at the company, covering agents, apps, services and infrastructure. Shum has been involved in some of Microsoft's biggest product efforts at the ground level of research, including the development of its Bing search engine, as well as in its efforts in computer vision and graphics: that is a mark of where Microsoft is placing its own priority for AI in the years to come. Important to note that Microsoft Research unit will no longer be its on discrete unit -- it will be combined with this new AI effort. Research had 1,000 people in it also working on areas like quantum computing, and that will now be rolled into the bigger research and development efforts being announced today. Products that will fall under the new unit will include Information Platform, Cortana and Bing, and Ambient Computing and Robotics teams led by David Ku, Derrick Connell and Vijay Mital, respectively. The Microsoft AI and Research Group will encompass AI product engineering, basic and applied research labs, and New Experiences and Technologies (NExT), Microsoft said.
AI

Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft Come Together To Create Historic Partnership On AI (techcrunch.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: In an act of self-governance, Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM, and Microsoft came together today to announce the launch the new Partnership on AI. The group is tasked with conducting research and promoting best practices. Practically, this means that the group of tech companies will come together frequently to discuss advancements in artificial intelligence. The group also opens up a formal structure for communication across company lines. It's important to remember that on a day to day basis, these teams are in constant competition with each other to develop the best products and services powered by machine intelligence. Financial support will be coming from the initial tech companies who are members of the group, but in the future membership and involvement is expected to increase. User activists, non-profits, ethicists, and other stakeholders will be joining the discussion in the coming weeks. The organizational structure has been designed to allow non-corporate groups to have equal leadership side-by-side with large tech companies. As of today's launch, companies like Apple, Twitter, Intel and Baidu are missing from the group. Though Apple is said to be enthusiastic about the project, their absence is still notable because the company has fallen behind in artificial intelligence when compared to its rivals -- many of whom are part of this new group. The new organization really seems to be about promoting change by example. Rather than preach to the tech world, it wants to use a standard open license to publish research on topics including ethics, inclusivity, and privacy.
IBM

Banks Adopting Blockchain 'Dramatically Faster' Than Expected (reuters.com) 57

Banks and other financial institutions are adopting blockchain technology "dramatically faster" than initially expected, with 15 percent of top global banks intending to roll out full-scale, commercial blockchain products in 2017, IBM said on Wednesday. Reuters reports: The technology company said 65 percent of banks expected to have blockchain projects in production in three years' time, with larger banks -- those with more than 100,000 employees -- leading the charge. IBM, whose findings were based on a survey of 200 banks, said the areas most commonly identified by lenders as ripe for blockchain-based innovation were clearing and settlement, wholesale payments, equity and debt issuance and reference data. Blockchain, which originates from digital currency bitcoin, works as an electronic transaction-processing and record-keeping system that allows all parties to track information through a secure network, with no need for third-party verification.
Oracle

Larry Ellison Says 'Amazon's Lead is Over' As Oracle Unveils New Cloud Infrastructure (venturebeat.com) 156

Oracle has unveiled its second generation of cloud infrastructure for third-party developers to run their applications in Oracle data centers. What is interesting about the announcement is that Oracle co-founder and chief technology officer Larry Ellison claiming that "Amazon's lead is over. Amazon's going to have serious competition going forward." From a VentureBeat report: One particular instance, or virtual-machine (VM) type, that Oracle is making available in this second-generation offering -- the Dense IO Shape -- offers 28.8TB, 512GB, and 36 cores, at a price of $5.40 per hour. This product offers more than 10 times the input-output capacity of Amazon Web Services (AWS), specifically the i2.8xlarge instance, said Ellison. Currently, AWS leads the cloud infrastructure market, with Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and IBM trailing behind. Oracle's public cloud was not included in the most recent version of Gartner's highly regarded cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) Magic Quadrant, which was released last month. "Oracle also does not have enough market share to qualify for inclusion," the authors of the report wrote.
IBM

IBM Launches New Linux, Power8, OpenPower Systems (zdnet.com) 61

An anonymous reader writes:IBM on Thursday rolled out its latest Power8 processor, which is designed to move data faster, and new servers with OpenPower features. For IBM, the OpenPower Foundation community is critical for its Power8 processor. A bevy of companies are in OpenPower, a group that aims to be a counterweight to x86-based servers. With the new systems, IBM is hoping to target more artificial intelligence, analytics, and deep learning workloads. The systems will be lumped into the Power Systems LC family of Linux servers. Big Blue's Power S822LC for High Performance Computing server is the headliner of the group, with the Power8 processor with Nvidia's Tesla P100 Pascal GPUs. The system also has Nvidia's NVLink processor that allows for high-speed bidirectional interconnects. IBM said the combination of IBM and Nvidia technology allows data to flow five times faster than an x86-based system.
IBM

IBM Watson Created The First-Ever AI-Made Movie Trailer For 'Morgan' (popsci.com) 58

An anonymous reader shares a Popular Science article: For a film about the risks of pushing the limits of technology too far, it only makes sense to advertise for it using artificial intelligence. Morgan, staring Kate Mara and Paul Giamatti, is a sci-fi thriller about scientists who've created a synthetic humanoid whose potential has grown dangerously beyond their control. Fitting, then, that they'd employ the help of America's AI sweetheart IBM Watson to build the film's trailer. IBM used machine learning and experimental Watson APIs, parsing out the trailers of 100 horror movies. It did visual, audio, and composition analysis of individual scenes, finding what makes each moment eerie, how the score and actors' tone of voice changed the mood--framing and lighting came together to make a complete trailer. Watson was then fed the full film, and it chose scenes for the trailer. A human -- in this case, the "resident IBM filmmaker" -- still needed to step in to edit for creativity. Even so, a process that would normally take weeks was reduced to hours.
Television

Welcome To 1986: Inside 'Halt And Catch Fire's' High-Tech Time Machine (fastcompany.com) 75

The third season of AMC's technology drama "Halt and Catch Fire" painstakingly recreated Silicon Valley and San Francisco in 1986. Long-time Slashdot reader harrymcc shares his first-person report: The new episodes...are rich with carefully-researched plot points, dialogue, and sets full of vintage technology (including a startup equipped with real Commodore 64s and a recreated IBM mainframe). I visited the soundstage in Atlanta where the producers have recreated Northern California in the 1980s, and spoke with the show's creators and stars about the loving attention they devote to getting things right.
Harry argues that the show "is in part about how we got from the past to the present," and writes that he saw several 5 1/4-inch floppy disks "including Memorex, 3M, and BASF FlexyDisk," plus "a manual for Frogger for the Atari 2600, a copy of a spreadsheet program known as MicroPro CalcStar...and countless other little pieces of history."
Microsoft

Apple, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft Sign White House Pledge For Equal Pay (fortune.com) 294

In honor of Women's Equality Day, an anonymous reader shares with us a festive report from Fortune: More than two months after the White House first announced its Equal Pay Pledge for the private sector, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and other major industry players have signed on. By taking the pledge, which was first introduced at the United State of Women Summit in June of this year, companies promise to help close the national gender pay gap, conduct annual, company-wide pay analyses, and review hiring and promotion practices. The new signees were announced in a White House statement on Friday -- which also happens to be Women's Equality Day, the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Apple, which announced earlier this year that it has no pay gap, released a statement promising to dig even deeper into compensation. "We're now analyzing the salaries, bonuses, and annual stock grants of all our employees worldwide. If a gap exists, we'll address it," the company said in a statement. Twenty-nine companies signed the pledge on Friday, bringing the total number of signatories to 57. The pledge is part of a $50-million, White House-led initiative to expand opportunities for and improve the lives of women and girls. The consortium members issued a statement via Whitehouse.gov's press release: "The Employers for Pay Equity consortium is comprised of companies that understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, including ensuring that all individuals are compensated equitably for equal work and experience and have an equal opportunity to contribute and advance in the workplace. We are committed to collaborating to eliminate the national pay and leadership gaps for women and ethic minorities. Toward that end, we have come together to share best practices in compensation, hiring, promotion, and career development as well as develop strategies to support other companies' efforts in this regard. By doing so, we believe we can have a positive effect on our workforces that, in turn, makes our companies stronger and delivers positive economic impact." The consortium members include: Accenture, Airbnb, BCG, Care.com, CEB, Cisco, Deloitte, Dow, Expedia, EY, Glassdoor, GoDaddy, Jet.com, L'Oreal USA, Mercer, PepsiCo, Pinterest, Rebecca Minkoff, Salesforce, Spotify, Staples, Stella McCartney, and Visa.
Open Source

Princeton Researchers Announce Open Source 25-Core Processor (pcworld.com) 114

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers at Princeton announced at Hot Chips this week their 25-core Piton Processor. The processor was designed specifically to increase data center efficiency with novel architecture features enabling over 8,000 of these processors to be connected together to build a system with over 200,000 cores. Fabricated on IBM's 32nm process and with over 460 million transistors, Piton is one of the largest and most complex academic processors every built. The Princeton team has opened their design up and released all of the chip source code, tests, and infrastructure as open source in the OpenPiton project, enabling others to build scalable, manycore processors with potentially thousands of cores.
Bug

FalseCONNECT Vulnerability Affects Software From Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, More (softpedia.com) 32

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Softpedia: "Researcher Jerry Decime revealed details about a security vulnerability that allows an attacker to gain a Man-in-the-Middle position and intercept HTTPS traffic thanks to flaws in the implementation of proxy authentication procedures in various products," reports Softpedia. The flaw can be used to collect user credentials by tricking victims into re-authenticating, sending data to a third-party. Multiple software vendors deploy applications that can handle proxy connections. Until now, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, and Opera have acknowledged their products are affected. Lenovo said this bug does not impact its software. Other software vendors that are still evaluating the FalseCONNECT bug and may be affected include multiple Linux distros, Cisco, Google, HP, IBM, Juniper, Mozilla, Nokia, OpenBSD, SAP, Sony, and others.
Australia

Internal 'Set Of Blunders' Crashed Australia's Census Site (cso.com.au) 92

Slashdot reader River Tam explains the crash of Australia's online census site, citing the account of a security researcher who says IBM and the Australian Bureau of Statistics "were offered DDoS prevention services from their upstream provider...and said they didn't need it." From an article on CSO: The ABS and IBM gambled on a plan to ask its upstream network provider to block traffic from outside Australia in the event that a denial-of-service attack was detected... Offshore traffic to the site was blocked in line with the plan, however, another attack, for which the ABS had no contingency to repel, was directed at it from within Australia. The attack crippled the firewall and the census site's operators opted to restart it and fall back to a secondary firewall. However, they forgot to check that it had the same configuration as the primary firewall. That crippled the census site.

In an unfortunate confluence of events, IBM's security warning systems started flagging some unusual activity, which indicated that information on the ABS servers was heading offshore. The site's operators, thinking the DDoS activity was a distraction, interpreted the alarms as a successful hack...these were little more than benign system logs and the technical staff monitoring the situation poorly understood it. Amid the confusion they naturally erred on the side of caution, [and] decided to pull the plug on the site...

Transportation

More Airline Outages Seen As Carriers Grapple With Aging Technology (reuters.com) 145

An anonymous reader writes: Airlines will likely suffer more disruptions like the one that grounded about 2,000 Delta flights this week because major carriers have not invested enough to overhaul reservations systems based on technology dating to the 1960s, airline industry and technology experts told Reuters. Airlines have spent heavily to introduce new features such as automated check-in kiosks, real-time luggage tracking and slick mobile apps. But they have avoided the steep cost of rebuilding their reservations systems from the ground up, former airline executives said. Scott Nason, former chief information officer at American Airlines Group Inc, said long-term investments in computer technology were a tough sell when he worked there. "Most airlines were on the verge of going out of business for many years, so investment of any kind had to have short pay-back periods," said Nason, who left American in 2009 and is now an independent consultant. The reservations systems of the biggest carriers mostly run on a specialized IBM operating system known as Transaction Processing Facility, or TPF. It was designed in the 1960s to process large numbers of transactions quickly and is still updated by IBM, which did a major rewrite of the operating system about a decade ago.
Earth

IBM Creates World's First Artificial Phase-Change Neurons (arstechnica.com) 69

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Ars Technica: IBM has created the world's first artificial nanoscale stochastic phase-change neurons and has already created and used a population of 500 of them to process a signal in a similar manner as the brain. Ars Technica reports: "Like a biological neuron, IBM's artificial neuron has inputs (dendrites), a neuronal membrane (lipid bilayer) around the spike generator (soma, nucleus), and an output (axon). There's also a back-propagation link from the spike generator back to the inputs, to reinforce the strength of some input spikes. The key difference is in the neuronal membrane. In IBM's neuron, the membrane is replaced with a small square of germanium-antimony-tellurium (GeSbTe or GST). GST, which happens to be the main active ingredient in rewritable optical discs, is a phase-change material. This means it can happily exist in two different phases (in this case crystalline and amorphous), and easily switch between the two, usually by applying heat (by way of laser or electricity). A phase-change material has very different physical properties depending on which phase it's in: in the case of GST, its amorphous phase is an electrical insulator, while the crystalline phase conducts. With the artificial neurons, the square of GST begins life in its amorphous phase. Then, as spikes arrive from the inputs, the GST slowly begins to crystallize. Eventually, the GST crystallizes enough that it becomes conductive -- and voila, electricity flows across the membrane and creates a spike. After an arbitrary refractory period (a resting period where something isn't responsive to stimuli), the GST is reset back to its amorphous phase and the process begins again." The research has been published via the journal Nature.
Operating Systems

Xen Vulnerability Allows Hackers To Escape Qubes OS VM And Own the Host (itnews.com.au) 73

Slashdot reader Noryungi writes: Qubes OS certainly has an intriguing approach to security, but a newly discovered Xen vulnerability allows a hacker to escape a VM and own the host. If you are running Qubes, make sure you update the dom0 operating system to the latest version.
"A malicious, paravirtualized guest administrator can raise their system privileges to that of the host on unpatched installations," according to an article in IT News, which quotes Xen as saying "The bits considered safe were too broad, and not actually safe." IT News is also reporting that Qubes will move to full hardware memory virtualization in its next 4.0 release. Xen's hypervisor "is used by cloud giants Amazon Web Services, IBM and Rackspace," according to the article, which quotes a Qubes security researcher who asks the age-old question. "Has Xen been written by competent developers? How many more bugs of this caliber are we going to witness in the future?"
Security

'High-Risk Vulnerabilities' In Oracle File-Processing SDKs Affect Major Third-Party Products (csoonline.com) 11

itwbennett writes: "Seventeen high-risk vulnerabilities out of the 276 flaws fixed by Oracle Tuesday affect products from third-party software vendors," writes Lucian Constantin on CSOonline. The vulnerabilities, which were found by researchers from Cisco's Talos team, are in the Oracle Outside In Technology (OIT), a collection of SDKs that are used in third-party products, including Microsoft Exchange, Novell Groupwise, IBM WebSphere Portal, Google Search Appliance, Avira AntiVir for Exchange, Raytheon SureView, Guidance Encase and Veritas Enterprise Vault.

"It's not clear how many of those products are also affected by the newly patched seventeen flaws, because some of them might not use all of the vulnerable SDKs or might include other limiting factors," writes Constantin. But the Cisco researchers confirmed that Microsoft Exchange servers (version 2013 and earlier) are affected if they have WebReady Document Viewing enabled. In a blog post the researchers describe how an attacker could exploit these vulnerabilities.

TL;DR version: "Attackers can exploit the flaws to execute rogue code on systems by sending specifically crafted content to applications using the vulnerable OIT SDKs."
Government

Is The DOJ Using Obsolete Software To Subvert FOIA Requests? (theguardian.com) 85

"A new lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Department of Justice intentionally conducts inadequate searches of its records using a decades-old computer system when queried by citizens looking for records that should be available to the public," reports The Guardian. Slashdot reader Bruce66423 writes: An MIT PhD student has filed a suit in Federal court alleging that the use of a 21-year-old, IBM green screen controlled search software to search the Department of Justice databases...constitutes a deliberate failure to provide the data that should be being produced.
Ryan Shapiro's lawsuit alleges "failure by design," saying that the Justice Department records are inadequately indexed -- and that they fail to search the full text of their records when responding to requests "When few or no records are returned, Shapiro said, the FBI effectively responds 'sorry, we tried' without making use of the much more sophisticated search tools at the disposal of internal requestors." The FBI has a $425 million software system to handle FOIA requests, but refuses to use it, saying that would be "needlessly duplicative...and wasteful of Bureau resources."
Movies

Netflix Is The Least-Cancelled of All Major Streaming Services, Says Study (exstreamist.com) 72

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Exstreamist: A recent survey from IBM suggests that nearly 70% of streaming service subscribers never canceled their subscriptions. One of the more likely reasons subscribers cancel is because their credit cards expire and they never get around to updating the information in each service. The other most likely reasons subscribers cancel is because of advertisements (27%), which was above price (25%). Netflix is the least likely to get cancelled of the major services, according to the survey. Hulu and Amazon had a larger number of total cancellations. In terms of numbers, 40% of consumers have stated they have cancelled either Hulu or Amazon, with only 30% having cancelled Netflix. Shortly behind advertisements and price, 20% of users said a lack in quality or quantity of content would likely make them cancel their service. More towards the bottom, 17% said technical issues that hinder a smooth viewing experience would cause them to cancel. Roughly 73% of subscribers would download Netflix content, according to one survey. Another survey suggests that a majority of Netflix subscribers would rather cancel their subscription than see advertisements.
Security

Millions Of Xiaomi Phones at Risk Of Remotely Installed Malware (zdnet.com) 29

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: Millions of Xiaomi phones are vulnerable to a flaw that could allow an attacker to remotely install malware. The vulnerability, now fixed, was found in the analytics package in Xiaomi's custom-built Android-based operating system. Security researchers at IBM, who found the flaw, discovered a number of apps in the package that were vulnerable to a remote code execution flaw through a man-in-the-middle attack -- one of which would allow an attacker to run arbitrary code at the system-level. In other words, an attacker could inject a link to a malicious Android app package, which is extracted and executed at the system level.

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