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Industry & Technology

Facebook must face $35B facial-recognition lawsuit following court ruling

Ars Technica - 1 hour 56 min ago

Enlarge / The Facebook app displayed on the screen of an iPhone. (credit: Fabian Sommer | picture alliance | Getty Images)

Facebook's most recent attempt to extricate itself from a potentially landmark lawsuit has come to a dead end, as a federal court declined to hear another appeal to stop the $35 billion class action.

In San Francisco last week, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied Facebook's petition for an en banc hearing in the case. Usually, appeals cases are heard by a panel of three judges out of all the judges who work in a given circuit. An en banc hearing is a kind of appeal in which a much larger group of judges hears a case. In the 9th Circuit, 11 of the 29 judges sit on en banc cases.

Facebook had requested an en banc hearing to appeal the 9th's Circuit's August ruling, in which the court determined that the plaintiffs had standing to sue, even though Facebook's alleged actions did not cause them any quantifiable financial harm. The class-action suit can now move forward.

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After court loss, Ajit Pai complains about states regulating broadband

Ars Technica - 2 hours 8 min ago

Enlarge / Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 23, 2018, in National Harbor, Maryland. (credit: Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla )

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai may have belatedly concluded that federal regulation of broadband would be better for businesses than letting all 50 US states regulate Internet access.

Speaking at the WSJ Tech Live conference yesterday, Pai said that "a uniform, well-established set of regulations" is preferable to states regulating broadband individually. "[Pai] said allowing states and local governments to pass their own laws regulating Internet services, which inherently cross state lines, creates market uncertainty," according to CNET.

The CNET article included this direct quote from Pai:

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Study casts doubt on value of WHO’s “gaming disorder” diagnoses

Ars Technica - 2 hours 22 min ago

Enlarge / Two gamers with obvious unmet psychological needs. (credit: Philip Sowels/​Future Publishing/​Shutterstock)

Since the World Health Organization proposed new diagnoses for "hazardous gaming" and "gaming disorder" last year, there's been an ongoing scientific debate about which way the causation for these issues really goes. Does an excessive or addictive relationship with gaming actually cause psychological problems, or are people with existing psychological problems simply more likely to have an unhealthy relationship with gaming?

A recent study by Oxford's Internet Institute, published in the open access journal Clinical Psychological Science, lends some support to the latter explanation. But it also highlights just how many of the game industry's most devoted players may also be driven by some unmet psychological needs.

Getting at the problem

To study how so-called "dysfunctional gaming" relates to psychological needs and behaviors, the Oxford researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,004 UK adolescents and their caregivers. They asked the caregivers to evaluate their adolescents' levels of "psychosocial functioning:" how well the adolescents are able to internalize or externalize problems in their lives as evidenced by their behavior.

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Nikon Small World microscopy contest: We’re all winners

Ars Technica - 2 hours 35 min ago

Enlarge / A copper oxide mineral's crystals look out of this world at high magnification. (credit: Dr. Emilio Carabajal Márquez)

Covering the news means that most of what you do is new. While you may revisit a topic, it typically only happens after something about that topic has changed. Nevertheless, fall science coverage has a certain familiarity. First, there's the utter insanity of the Ig Nobel prizes, followed shortly by the mad rush to explain why people are being given actual Nobel Prizes before the news goes stale.

Somewhere after that, however, I get to experience one of my favorite tasks of the entire year: wading through dozens of absolutely spectacular images, trying to figure out which ones are most compelling. Yes, it's time again for the Nikon Small World microscopy contest.

As you'll see below, there are no bad images. But the best of them are both works of art and reminders of how limited our perspective on the world around us can be. Change the scale, change the wavelengths, or alter how things are prepared, and even familiar items like amino acids or a flower can be radically different from how we normally experience them.

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Dealmaster: Get a spare Xbox One controller for your Xbox, PC, or iPad for $40

Ars Technica - 2 hours 47 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a nice price on Microsoft's Xbox One wireless controller, which is down to $40 at various retailers, including Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon. While this is not the lowest price we've seen—and while we can't say it won't drop a few bucks further by Black Friday—it's still $20 off the gamepad's MSRP and $10-15 off its usual going rate online.

One reason we highlight this deal is the recent launch of Apple's iOS 13 update, which added support for the Xbox One pad as well as Sony's DualShock 4 controller over Bluetooth (alongside a raft of new worthwhile games via the Apple Arcade service). Besides that, the usual notes still apply here: the Xbox One controller requires AA batteries whereas the DualShock 4 has a rechargeable battery that tends to degrade over time; the Xbox One pad is a bit easier to set up for PC games outside of Steam; whether the asymmetrical joysticks and trigger feel on Microsoft's pad is better is largely a matter of personal preference, and so on. Regardless, if you need a spare pad for using beyond an Xbox, this is a solid deal.

If you're good on controllers, though, we have plenty more discounts on USB-C PD wall chargers, microSD cards, Amazon devices, AMD Ryzen processors, Bluetooth headphones, and much more. Have a look for yourself below.

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Robo-tank? Army picks contenders for robotic combat vehicle competition

Ars Technica - 3 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge / Meet RoboTank, your future tank platoon mate. (credit: Textron)

On October 18, the National Advanced Mobility Consortium—an organization of industry and academic researchers contracted by the US government to develop autonomous ground systems for the military—announced the selection of four companies to build prototype light robotic combat vehicles for the US Army. These are "non-developmental" prototypes, meaning they're based on existing technologies that could be turned into deployable systems with relatively minor modifications.

The Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light (RCV-L) program is part of the Army Futures Command's Next Generation Combat Vehicle effort. It seeks to provide soldiers in mechanized infantry and armor units with robotic "wingmen" that extend their reach and effectiveness on the battlefield. The Army hopes to have prototypes of the RCV-L as well as a heavier vehicle (the Robotic Combat Vehicle-Medium) in full testing in 2020. Two of each design will be fielded as "platoons" for testing, with the goal of wide deployment of tankbots by 2028.

Working in concert with new crewed combat vehicles, the robotic vehicles would provide additional sensors and firepower to bring to bear on an enemy in the field. By using robots to make the "first contact" with an enemy, unit commanders would be given more time to make decisions before committing human soldiers to the fight—or at least, that's the doctrinal thinking behind the Army's robotic combat crew goals.

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WeWork rescue 'hands co-founder Adam Neumann $1.7bn payout'

BBC Technology News - 3 hours 15 min ago
The cash-strapped office rental firm is reported to have accepted a rescue deal from Softbank.

Google Fi will soon connect you to two LTE networks at once

Ars Technica - 4 hours 34 min ago


Google Fi is getting an upgrade today with what Google is calling "Dual Connect" technology—the ability to connect to two of Google Fi's licensed mobile networks at once for faster switching.

With Google Fi, Google is operating as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)—a company that doesn't build its own networks but instead resells network access owned by one of the big carriers. Instead of doing this for one network, Google does it for three. Google Fi gives you access to Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular, picking the fastest network available at any given time. Normally, switching between these networks requires a small amount of disconnect time, but with this new "dual connect" technology, Fi phones will be able to hop between two networks seamlessly. Google says: "if you’re watching a video and Fi switches you to a better network, you won't experience any delays or pauses—you won’t even notice."

Getting this feature to work on a smartphone is a bit of a hack, and for now it will only work with the freshly released Pixel 4. Google is using Dual Sim Dual Standby (DSDS) hardware to connect to two networks at once, which isn't that crazy of an idea, but it's using DSDS to connect twice to the same network, that network being Google Fi. You'll have to have Fi activated on the internal eSim chip and have a physical card installed in the device, allowing your two SIMs to each pick one of Fi's MVNO networks. If you've been a purely eSIM Google Fi user, which normally needs no physical SIM chip, you'll need to order a physical SIM card, which you can do for free through the Google Fi app.

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How Flagstaff Arizona switched to LEDs without giving astronomers a headache

Ars Technica - 4 hours 56 min ago

Enlarge / A couple of different types of dark-sky-friendly LED streetlights. (credit: Scott K. Johnson)

“I feel like we’re protecting the last tree, in a way.” That’s what Flagstaff, Arizona, city council member Austin Aslan said at a recent meeting. The subject of that earnest statement might surprise you: it was streetlights. To be more specific, he was talking about a careful effort to prevent streetlights from washing out the stars in the night sky.

Flagstaff became the first city to earn a designation from the International Dark Sky Association in 2001. That came as a result of its long history of hosting astronomy research at local Lowell Observatory, as well as facilities operated by the US Navy. The city has an official ordinance governing the use of outdoor lighting—public and private.

Lighting issues

A few years ago, though, a problem arose. The type of dark-sky-friendly streetlight that the city had been using was going extinct, largely as a casualty of low demand. In fact, as of this summer, there are none left to buy. Meanwhile, the age of the LED streetlight has arrived with a catch: limited night-sky-friendly LED options.

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Neanderthal glue was a bigger deal than we thought

Ars Technica - 5 hours 7 min ago

This replica shows how Neanderthals might have used birch tar to haft a projectile point. (credit: Paul R. B. Kozowyk)

Fifty-thousand years ago, a Neanderthal living in Northwestern Europe put sticky birch tar on the back side of a sharp flint flake to make the tool easier to grip. Eventually, that tool washed down the Rhine or Meuse Rivers and out into the North Sea. In the 21st century, dredging ships scooped it up along with tons of sand, other stone tools, and fossilized bones, then dumped the whole pile on Zandmotor Beach in the Netherlands.

Despite all of that, the birch tar still clung to the flake, and it provides evidence that Neanderthals used a complex set of technology to make elaborate tools.

Living on the edge

Making birch tar at all is a fairly complex process. It takes multiple steps, lots of planning, and detailed knowledge of the materials and the process. So the fact that archaeologists have found a handful of tools hafted using birch tar tells us that Neanderthals were (pardon the pun) pretty sharp.

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The Flying V would be unlike any other passenger airliner, even in 2040

Ars Technica - 5 hours 53 min ago

Dutch airline KLM turned 100 earlier this month and decided to give itself a birthday present: a shiny, sleek, futuristic-looking, sustainable aircraft. Or at least the possibility of one in 2040. "This could be the next thing," says Dr. Roelf Vos, professor of flight performance and propulsion at Delft University of Technology and the head researcher on the Flying V project. "It at least deserves some investigation."

The Flying V, touted in press releases as "revolutionary," is what is known as a blended wing body, or BWB, aircraft, a design with no distinct wing and a body structure like more conventional aircraft. The shape reduces drag, which means the plane needs less fuel to operate. TU Delft claims the Flying V will consume 20% less fuel than a similarly sized traditional aircraft. "These are estimates," cautions Vos. "We still have 5-10 years of research before we could test a full-scale aircraft."

The design of the Flying V wasn't invented by Vos or even TU Delft or KLM; it was the idea of a Technical University of Berlin student, Justus Benad, working on his thesis project at airplane maker Airbus. He tested a scale model in 2014, and Airbus patented the design but didn't move further on the project. Vos saw the concept in a news article in 2015 and wondered if Benad's calculations were accurate. "I was skeptical," he said. He had two students review the concepts, one of whom went to Berlin to meet with Benad, and, together, they concluded the concept had potential.

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'Sensitive US Army data 'exposed by online leak'

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 7 min ago
Hotel room numbers, phone numbers and names were left exposed on an unencrypted server, researchers say.

Cloudflare embroiled in child abuse row

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 36 min ago
Campaigners accuse the company of making it harder to restrict abusive images.

Airstream builds Astrovan II for Boeing CST-100 astronaut transport

Ars Technica - 8 hours 17 min ago

"Everything was better in the old days" can be an appealing sentiment, particularly in these trying times. It's not true, of course—everything wasn't better back in the day, and human memory is excellent at ignoring all the horrible, terrible bits and just hanging on to the happy ones. But that doesn't mean all progress is necessarily great, either. Exihibit A: Astrovan II, the new vehicle meant to transport NASA's astronauts to the launchpad of the still-not-ready CST-100 Starliner crewed capsule.

In the old days, when NASA still had its own crew-rated launch capability, those crews made the nine-mile journey to the launchpad in style. From 1984 until the end of the Space Shuttle program, that meant getting into a modified Airstream Excella RV, dubbed the Astrovan. Astronauts and Airstream have a fair amount of history—one of the company's distinctive shiny aluminum trailers was also used as the Mobile Quarantine Facility for the Apollo program. So when Boeing wanted a new transport for forthcoming NASA missions using the CST-100, it too turned to the Ohio-based manufacturer.

The result is Astrovan II, built on a modified Airstream Atlas Touring Coach, which itself begins life as a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van chassis. "The original Astrovan played an important role in America’s Space Shuttle era. Many will remember seeing that familiar silver bullet exterior heading out to the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center. We’re excited for Astrovan II to continue Airstream’s part in helping put Americans into orbit," said Bob Wheeler, CEO and president of Airstream.

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Blue Origin announces a blue-chip team to return humans to the Moon

Ars Technica - 8 hours 28 min ago

On Tuesday, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announced that his company has a plan for NASA to return to the Moon by 2024. The company has assembled a proven team of US companies to design and build elements of a lunar landing system that will take humans from a high lunar orbit down to the Moon's surface.

"This is a national team for a national priority," said Bezos, announcing a partnership with three other companies—Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper—to support NASA's Artemis Program.

Blue Origin will serve as the prime contractor, building the Blue Moon lunar lander as the "descent element" of the system to carry the mission down to the lunar surface. Bezos' company will also lead program management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin will develop a reusable "ascent element" and lead crewed flight operations. Northrop Grumman will build the "transfer element," and Draper will lead descent guidance and provide flight avionics.

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The Outer Worlds review: Fall deeply into the best Fallout-like game in years

Ars Technica - 8 hours 57 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Obsidian Entertainment)

Fallout Worlds is one of the best... ahem, sorry, I keep slipping with the name. This week's The Outer Worlds is a brand-new game, set in a brand-new universe, but in nearly every way that counts, it's a Fallout game.

For one, the team at Outer Worlds creators Obsidian Entertainment includes team members from the original Fallout's development. That team later stretched its "3D Fallout" wings in 2010 by making the revered Fallout: New Vegas. So much pedigree, plus a late-2018 trailer that looked Fallout as all get-out, set serious expectations for this week's game launch on Windows 10, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

Even if you were to start playing Outer Worlds oblivious to those facts, you wouldn't need long to feel a sense of déjà vu. The Bethesda series' trappings, for one, are all over this offline, single-player Obsidian game. Create a character with a wide range of combat and non-combat ratings—and make tough decisions on which of those abilities to spend the most points on. Then dive into a first-person RPG where the game teases a ridiculous number of options and strategies to proceed.

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Plans for £26m tech institute at Bletchley Park

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 13 min ago
The institute at the codebreaking site would be home to 1,000 students, plans reveal.

The race to build a flying electric taxi

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 56 min ago
More than a hundred companies are working on electric aircraft designed to zip in and out of cities.

TikTok used by Islamic State to spread propaganda videos

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 1 min ago
Twenty four accounts are banned by TikTok for breaching the app's policies.

Airbnb probed by UK tax authorities

BBC Technology News - 13 hours 32 min ago
The home rental site has warned a tax inquiry by HM Revenue & Customs could lead to litigation.

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