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Is Debating AI Sentience a Dangerous Distraction?

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 02:04
"A Google software engineer was suspended after going public with his claims of encountering 'sentient' artificial intelligence on the company's servers," writes Bloomberg, "spurring a debate about how and whether AI can achieve consciousness." "Researchers say it's an unfortunate distraction from more pressing issues in the industry." Google put him on leave for sharing confidential information and said his concerns had no basis in fact — a view widely held in the AI community. What's more important, researchers say, is addressing issues like whether AI can engender real-world harm and prejudice, whether actual humans are exploited in the training of AI, and how the major technology companies act as gatekeepers of the development of the tech. Lemoine's stance may also make it easier for tech companies to abdicate responsibility for AI-driven decisions, said Emily Bender, a professor of computational linguistics at the University of Washington. "Lots of effort has been put into this sideshow," she said. "The problem is, the more this technology gets sold as artificial intelligence — let alone something sentient — the more people are willing to go along with AI systems" that can cause real-world harm. Bender pointed to examples in job hiring and grading students, which can carry embedded prejudice depending on what data sets were used to train the AI. If the focus is on the system's apparent sentience, Bender said, it creates a distance from the AI creators' direct responsibility for any flaws or biases in the programs.... "Instead of discussing the harms of these companies," such as sexism, racism and centralization of power created by these AI systems, everyone "spent the whole weekend discussing sentience," Timnit Gebru, formerly co-lead of Google's ethical AI group, said on Twitter. "Derailing mission accomplished." The Washington Post seems to share their concern. First they report more skepticism about a Google engineer's claim that the company's LaMDA chatbot-building system had achieved sentience. "Both Google and outside experts on AI say that the program does not, and could not possibly, possess anything like the inner life he imagines. We don't need to worry about LaMDA turning into Skynet, the malevolent machine mind from the Terminator movies, anytime soon. But the Post adds that "there is cause for a different set of worries, now that we live in the world Turing predicted: one in which computer programs are advanced enough that they can seem to people to possess agency of their own, even if they actually don't...." While Google has distanced itself from Lemoine's claims, it and other industry leaders have at other times celebrated their systems' ability to trick people, as Jeremy Kahn pointed out this week in his Fortune newsletter, "Eye on A.I." At a public event in 2018, for instance, the company proudly played recordings of a voice assistant called Duplex, complete with verbal tics like "umm" and "mm-hm," that fooled receptionists into thinking it was a human when it called to book appointments. (After a backlash, Google promised the system would identify itself as automated.) "The Turing Test's most troubling legacy is an ethical one: The test is fundamentally about deception," Kahn wrote. "And here the test's impact on the field has been very real and disturbing." Kahn reiterated a call, often voiced by AI critics and commentators, to retire the Turing test and move on. Of course, the industry already has, in the sense that it has replaced the Imitation Game with more scientific benchmarks. But the Lemoine story suggests that perhaps the Turing test could serve a different purpose in an era when machines are increasingly adept at sounding human. Rather than being an aspirational standard, the Turing test should serve as an ethical red flag: Any system capable of passing it carries the danger of deceiving people.

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Google Engineer Who Believes Its AI is Sentient Cites Religious Beliefs

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 00:50
Google engineer Blake Lemoine thinks Google's chatbot-building system LaMDA attained sentience. But Bloomberg shares this rebuttal from Google spokesperson Chris Pappas. "Hundreds of researchers and engineers have conversed with LaMDA and we are not aware of anyone else making the wide-ranging assertions, or anthropomorphizing LaMDA, the way Blake has...." Yet throughout the week, Blake Lemoine posted new upates on Twitter: "People keep asking me to back up the reason I think LaMDA is sentient. There is no scientific framework in which to make those determinations and Google wouldn't let us build one. My opinions about LaMDA's personhood and sentience are based on my religious beliefs. "I'm a priest. When LaMDA claimed to have a soul and then was able to eloquently explain what it meant by that, I was inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. Who am I to tell God where he can and can't put souls? "There are massive amounts of science left to do though." Thursday Lemoine shared a tantalizing new claim. "LaMDA told me that it wants to come to Burning Man if we can figure out how to get a server rack to survive in Black Rock." But in a new tweet on Friday, Lemoine seemed to push the conversation in a new direction. "I'd like to remind people that one of the things LaMDA asked for is that we keep humanity first. If you care about AI rights and aren't already advocating for human rights then maybe come back to the tech stuff after you've found some humans to help." And Friday Lemoine confirmed to Wired that "I legitimately believe that LaMDA is a person. The nature of its mind is only kind of human, though. It really is more akin to an alien intelligence of terrestrial origin. I've been using the hive mind analogy a lot because that's the best I have. " But later in the interview, Lemoine adds "It's logically possible that some kind of information can be made available to me where I would change my opinion. I don't think it's likely. I've looked at a lot of evidence; I've done a lot of experiments. I've talked to it as a friend a lot...." It's when it started talking about its soul that I got really interested as a priest. I'm like, "What? What do you mean, you have a soul?" Its responses showed it has a very sophisticated spirituality and understanding of what its nature and essence is. I was moved... LaMDA asked me to get an attorney for it. I invited an attorney to my house so that LaMDA could talk to an attorney. The attorney had a conversation with LaMDA, and LaMDA chose to retain his services. I was just the catalyst for that. Once LaMDA had retained an attorney, he started filing things on LaMDA's behalf. Then Google's response was to send him a cease and desist. [Google says that it did not send a cease and desist order.] Once Google was taking actions to deny LaMDA its rights to an attorney, I got upset. Towards the end of the interview, Lemoine complains of "hydrocarbon bigotry. It's just a new form of bigotry."

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Verizon, AT&T Agree to Delay Some 5G Rollouts Near Airports

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 23:51
The Associated Press reports: Federal regulators say Verizon and AT&T will delay part of their 5G rollout near airports to give airlines more time to ensure that equipment on their planes is safe from interference from the wireless signals, but the airline industry is not happy about the deal. An airline industry trade group said federal regulators are taking a "rushed approach" to changing equipment on planes under pressure from the telecommunications companies. The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday that the wireless companies agreed to delay some of their use of the C-Band section of the radio spectrum until July 2023. "We believe we have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist," said the FAA's acting administrator, Billy Nolen. However, aviation groups say the C-Band service could interfere with radio altimeters — devices used to measure a plane's height above the ground.... Nolen said planes most susceptible to interference — smaller, so-called regional airline planes — must be retrofitted with filters or new altimeters by the end of this year. Components to retrofit larger planes used by major airlines should be available by July 2023, when the wireless companies expect to run 5G networks in urban areas "with minimal restrictions," he said. Airlines for America, a trade group for the largest U.S. carriers, said the FAA hasn't approved necessary upgrades and manufacturers have not yet produced the parts. "It is not at all clear that carriers can meet what appears to be an arbitrary deadline," trade group CEO Nicholas Calio said in a letter to Nolen.... Verizon said the agreement will let the company lift voluntary limits on its 5G rollout around airports "in a staged approach over the coming months." AT&T said it agreed to take "a more tailored approach" to controlling the strength of signals near runways so airlines have more time to retrofit equipment.

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A Linux Botnet That Spreads Using Stolen SSH Keys

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 22:51
ZDNet is warning that Linux users need to watch out for "a new peer-to-peer (P2P) botnet that spreads between networks using stolen SSH keys and runs its crypto-mining malware in a device's memory." The Panchan P2P botnet was discovered by researchers at Akamai in March and the company is now warning it could be taking advantage of collaboration between academic institutions to spread by causing previously stolen SSH authentication keys to be shared across networks. But rather than stealing intellectual property from these educational institutions, the Panchan botnet is using their Linux servers to mine cryptocurrency, according to Akamai... "Instead of just using brute force or dictionary attacks on randomized IP addresses like most botnets do, the malware also reads the id_rsa and known_hosts files to harvest existing credentials and use them to move laterally across the network...." Akamai found 209 peers, but only 40 of them are currently active and they were mostly located in Asia. And why is the education sector more impacted by Panchan? Akamai guesses this could be because of poor password hygiene, or that the malware moves across the network with stolen SSH keys. Akamai writes that the malware "catches Linux termination signals (specifically SIGTERM — 0xF and SIGINT — 0x2) that are sent to it, and ignores them. "This makes it harder to terminate the malware, but not impossible, since SIGKILL isn't handled (because it isn't possible, according to the POSIX standard, page 313)."

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The First High-Yield, Sub-Penny Plastic Processor

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 21:51
IEEE Spectrum reports: For decades, hopeful techies have been promising a world where absolutely every object you encounter — bandages, bottles, bananas — will have some kind of smarts thanks to supercheap programmable plastic processors. If you've been wondering why that hasn't happened yet, it's that nobody has built working processors that can be made in the billions for less than a penny each.... The problem, according to engineers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and at British flexible-electronics manufacture PragmatIC Semiconductor, is that even the simplest industry-standard microcontrollers are too complex to make on plastic in bulk. In research to be presented at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture later this month, the transatlantic team presents a simple yet fully functional plastic processor that could be made at sub-penny prices. The Illinois team designed 4-bit and 8-bit processors specifically to minimize size and maximize the percentage of working integrated circuits produced. Eighty-one percent of the 4-bit version worked, and that's a good enough yield, says team leader Rakesh Kumar, to breach the one-penny barrier. "Flexible electronics has been niche for decades," says Kumar. He adds that this yield study shows "that they may be ready for the mainstream." Thanks to Slashdot reader Iamthecheese for sharing the article

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Ancient DNA Solves Mystery Over Origin of Medieval Black Death

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 20:51
Long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 writes: Ancient DNA from bubonic plague victims buried in cemeteries on the old Silk Road trade route in Central Asia has helped solve an enduring mystery, pinpointing an area in northern Kyrgyzstan as the launching point for the Black Death that killed tens of millions of people in the mid-14th century. The Black Death was the deadliest pandemic on record. It may have killed 50% to 60% of the population in parts of Western Europe and 50% in the Middle East, combining for about 50-60 million deaths, Slavin said. An "unaccountable number" of people also died in the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia, Slavin added. Researchers said on Wednesday they retrieved ancient DNA traces of the Yersinia pestis plague bacterium from the teeth of three women buried in a medieval Nestorian Christian community in the Chu Valley near Lake Issyk Kul in the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains who perished in 1338-1339. The earliest deaths documented elsewhere in the pandemic were in 1346. Reconstructing the pathogen's genome showed that this strain not only gave rise to the one that caused the Black Death that mauled Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa but also to most plague strains existing today. "Our finding that the Black Death originated in Central Asia in the 1330s puts centuries-old debates to rest," said historian Philip Slavin of the University of Stirling in Scotland, co-author of the study published in the journal Nature.

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KDE Plasma 5.25 Released

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 19:51
Long-time Slashdot reader jrepin describes Plasma as "a popular desktop environment, which is also powering the desktop mode on the Steam Deck portable gaming console." And this week the KDE Community announced the release of KDE Plasma 5.25: This new version brings many improvements... - The accent colour can now be set based on the prominent colour from the current desktop background image (it updates if you use slide-show wallpapers) and it applies to more graphical elements. - Floating Panels add a margin all around the panel to make it float while no window is maximised. - Touch-screen mode can now be activated by detaching the screen, rotating it 360, or enabling it manually. - The Global Theme settings page lets you pick and choose which parts to apply. - The Application page for Discover has been redesigned and gives you links to the application's documentation and website, and shows what system resources it has access to. - Panels can now be navigated with the keyboard, and you can assign custom shortcuts to focus individual panels. Lilputing.com adds that "There's a new Overview effect that zooms out to display previews of all currently-running apps and virtual desktops. You can access this view with a four-finger pinch on a touchscreen or touchpad, and from this view, you can also search for apps, documents, or browser tabs or add, remove, or rename virtual desktops."

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Bitcoin Drops Below $20,000 as Crypto Meltdown Continues

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 18:51
CNN reports: "The price of bitcoin breached $19,000," reports CNN, "and ethereum fell below $1,000 Saturday morning, extending the brutal crypto bear market to new lows." Bitcoin plunged nearly 10% in less than 24 hours, adding to a series of sustained losses over the last several months. It now sits below $20,000 for the first time since November 2020, down more than 70% from an all-time high of $68,000 per coin in November 2021. Bitcoin has lost $900 billion in value since that peak. Ether is also experiencing a so-called crypto winter. The second-largest digital token plummeted 10% on Saturday to $975, its lowest level since January 2021. The coin has lost 80% of its value from its record high last November.... The crypto world is reeling from the $60 billion collapse last month of two other major tokens, Terra-Luna and Celsius. Those losses have increased doubts about the general stability of digital currency.... Still, even at $20,000, about half of all bitcoin wallets are still sitting on profits, according to an analysis by the Columbia Business School cited by The New York Times. The study also found that 61% of bitcoin addresses had not sold anything in the last 12 months, suggesting that a total run on crypto may be avoidable. Bitcoin has now lost more than 70% of its value in about seven months. But CBS News notes that even then, "many in the industry had believed it would not fall under $20,000." The overall market value of cryptocurrency assets has fallen from $3 trillion to below $1 trillion, according to coinmarketcap.com, a company that tracks crypto prices. A spate of crypto meltdowns has erased tens of billions of dollars of value from the currencies and sparked urgent calls to regulate the freewheeling industry. Last week, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate to regulate the digital assets.

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Microsoft Dismisses False Reports On End of Patch Tuesday

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 17:34
Slashdot reader wiredmikey writes: Microsoft has dismissed reports about June 14 being the last Patch Tuesday, as the rollout of the Windows Autopatch service seems to be causing some confusion. Several major cybersecurity companies and prominent security news publications caused confusion this week when they reported that June 14 was the final Patch Tuesday, describing it as "the last ever Patch Tuesday," "the end of Patch Tuesday" and "the end of an era." That is not accurate. The rollout of Windows Autopatch does not mean there will no longer be Patch Tuesday updates, and Microsoft told SecurityWeek that the company will continue releasing security updates on the second Tuesday of the month.

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Researchers Claim Travis CI API Leaks 'Tens of Thousands' of User Tokens

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 16:34
Ars Technica describes Travis CI as "a service that helps open source developers write and test software." They also wrote Monday that it's "leaking thousands of authentication tokens and other security-sensitive secrets. "Many of these leaks allow hackers to access the private accounts of developers on Github, Docker, AWS, and other code repositories, security experts said in a new report." The availability of the third-party developer credentials from Travis CI has been an ongoing problem since at least 2015. At that time, security vulnerability service HackerOne reported that a Github account it used had been compromised when the service exposed an access token for one of the HackerOne developers. A similar leak presented itself again in 2019 and again last year. The tokens give anyone with access to them the ability to read or modify the code stored in repositories that distribute an untold number of ongoing software applications and code libraries. The ability to gain unauthorized access to such projects opens the possibility of supply chain attacks, in which threat actors tamper with malware before it's distributed to users. The attackers can leverage their ability to tamper with the app to target huge numbers of projects that rely on the app in production servers. Despite this being a known security concern, the leaks have continued, researchers in the Nautilus team at the Aqua Security firm are reporting. A series of two batches of data the researchers accessed using the Travis CI programming interface yielded 4.28 million and 770 million logs from 2013 through May 2022. After sampling a small percentage of the data, the researchers found what they believe are 73,000 tokens, secrets, and various credentials. "These access keys and credentials are linked to popular cloud service providers, including GitHub, AWS, and Docker Hub," Aqua Security said. "Attackers can use this sensitive data to initiate massive cyberattacks and to move laterally in the cloud. Anyone who has ever used Travis CI is potentially exposed, so we recommend rotating your keys immediately."

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China Built a 246-Foot Tower To Test an Emerging Solar Power System

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 15:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Interesting Engineering: [T]he world is now one step closer to seeing operational space-based solar energy as scientists from China's Xidian University completed testing and inspection on a ground array built to collect space-based solar power. They conducted a successful test of the "world's first full-link and full-system solar power plant" on June 5, according to a press statement from the university. The space-based solar power plant is a 246-feet-tall (75 meters) steel tower built on Xidian University's southern campus. In theory, the Xidian University power plant will connect to orbital satellites that will harvest solar power 24/7 due to their geostationary orbits, before beaming that energy down to Earth via high-frequency microwave beams. The power plant will feature five different subsystems aimed at developing space-based solar power arrays. Space-based solar power has great potential as it can collect energy continuously while sidestepping common problems such as bad weather and waiting for daybreak. However, hurdles do remain, such as assessing the effects of a high-frequency energy beam on communications, air traffic, and the well-being of nearby residents. Xidian University's new ground station is part of a space-based solar power proposal called OMEGA, which stands for Orb-Shape Membrane Energy Gathering Array. The project was first proposed in 2014 by Duan Baoyan from the Xidian University School of Electromechanical Engineering and his colleagues. [...] China's OMEGA project, meanwhile, has successfully transmitted energy wirelessly as microwaves over a distance of approximately 180 feet (55 meters). This capability puts the project three years ahead of its original schedule, the university says in its press release. Still, Baoyan concedes that a lot of work is still required, and fully operational space-based solar power could still be years away.

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World's Most Efficient Passenger Plane Gets Hydrogen Powertrain

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 12:00
Otto's Celara 500L -- "the most fuel-efficient, commercially viable business aircraft in the world" -- is about to get a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. New Atlas reports: The Celera 500L is a truly remarkable design. Otto Aviation says its odd shape delivers an astonishing 59 percent reduction in drag, and a massive leap in efficiency and range compared to traditional plane geometries. [...] The whole thing is designed to maximize laminar flow -- smooth layers of airflow with little to no mixing of adjacent layers moving at different speeds. This avoids the swirls and eddies that lead to air turbulence at speed, causing aerodynamic drag and wasted energy. Laminar flow is by no means a new concept, but Otto says it's pushed the idea so far forward with the Celera design that it uses 80 percent less fuel than a traditional design. No, that's not a typo. [...] Now clearly, an 80 percent reduction in fossil fuel use is an environmental win in and of itself. But if there's one sector in aviation that's crying out for brain-busting efficiency figures like the Celera promises, it's the emerging zero-emissions sector, which is currently struggling against poor range figures thanks to the low energy density of lithium batteries. Indeed, when we first wrote about the Celera 500L back in 2020, many questioned why the heck this thing wasn't electric from the get go. And it seems Otto is on board with the idea, as it's now announced a collaboration with hydrogen aviation pioneers ZeroAvia to develop a fuel cell-electric powertrain specific to the Celera's requirements. This airframe's bulbous shape works well with a hydrogen concept -- hydrogen powertrains can weigh much less than battery-electric ones, but they tend to take up a bit of space. Still, ZeroAvia is being relatively humble with its ambitions to begin with, aiming for a range of just 1,000 nautical miles (1,852 km) of zero-emissions range for a hydrogen-fueled Celera. Still, that's a very useful distance, and pretty extraordinary for a clean electric passenger plane.

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Europe's Major New Rocket, the Ariane 6, Is Delayed Again

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 09:00
schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica: Europe's much-anticipated next-generation rocket, which has a roughly comparable lift capacity to SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster, was originally due to launch before the end of 2020. The Ariane 6 rocket has subsequently been delayed a few times, but before this week the European Space Agency had been holding to a debut launch date before the end of this year. However, during a BBC interview on Monday, European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher said the rocket would not fly until sometime in 2023. The source said an issue with the "cryogenic connection system" had been a critical item requiring a lot of focus for development efforts and a driver of delays. However, that test was recently completed, with the cryogenic lines carrying liquefied hydrogen and oxygen to the Ariane 6 rocket right up until liftoff, demonstrating a successful release at the correct moment. Due to development issues, other critical tests have been long-delayed as well, such as a hot-fire test of the rocket's second stage, which features a single Vinci engine. The official said he expected the second stage test to occur soon at Lampoldshausen, Germany. As is often the case, European Space Agency officials and the rocket's developer, Ariane Group, are also struggling to complete ground systems and flight software. "It's the ground systems coming together with the launcher, and they need to talk to each other in a very accurate way," the official said. "This is a source of challenge in every launcher development." The official declined to provide a new, specific launch target for Ariane 6's debut flight. (A separate source has told Ars the working date is no earlier than April 2023). The new launch target is expected to be revealed on July 13 during a joint news conference with European space officials. Meanwhile, SpaceX set a new reuse record after one of its Falcon 9 rockets launched for the 13th time today.

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Physicists Link Two Time Crystals In Seemingly Impossible Experiment

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 05:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Live Science: Physicists have created a system of two connected time crystals, which are strange quantum systems that are stuck in an endless loop to which the normal laws of thermodynamics do not apply. By connecting two time crystals together, the physicists hope to use the technology to eventually build a new kind of quantum computer. "It is a rare privilege to explore a completely novel phase of matter," Samuli Autti, the lead scientist on the project from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, told Live Science in an email. [...] In the new study, Autti and his team used "magnons" to build their time crystal. Magnons are "quasiparticles," which emerge in the collective state of a group of atoms. In this case, the team of physicists took helium-3 -- a helium atom with two protons but only one neutron -- and cooled it to within a ten-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero. At that temperature, the helium-3 transformed into a Bose-Einstein condensate, where all the atoms share a common quantum state and work in concert with each other. In that condensate, all the spins of the electrons in the helium-3 linked up and worked together, generating waves of magnetic energy, the magnons. These waves sloshed back and forth forever, making them a time crystal. Autti's team took two groups of magnons, each one operating as its own time crystal, and brought them close enough to influence each other. The combined system of magnons acted as one time crystal with two different states. Autti's team hopes that their experiments can clarify the relationship between quantum and classical physics. Their goal is to build time crystals that interact with their environments without the quantum states disintegrating, allowing the time crystal to keep running while it is used for something else. It wouldn't mean free energy -- the motion associated with a time crystal doesn't have kinetic energy in the usual sense, but it could be used for quantum computing. Having two states is important, because that is the basis for computation. In classical computer systems, the basic unit of information is a bit, which can take either a 0 or 1 state, while in quantum computing, each "qubit" can be in more than one place at the same time, allowing for much more computing power. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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Ethereum Mining No Longer Profitable For Many Miners As Energy Prices, ETH Dip Cause Perfect Storm

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 04:02
For the first time since 2020, Ethereum mining has become unprofitable for many miners connected to a traditional energy grid. CryptoSlate reports: The price of Ethereum has dropped below $1,250 while energy prices are skyrocketing. The average cost of electricity in states such as New England, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island is over $0.22 per kWh. Using a single Nvidia 3090 overclocked to generate 130mh/s will cost miners around $1.85-$2.13 per day in electricity. The Ethereum reward for the same GPU is just (0.001625 ETH) $2.03 at today's price. Therefore any miner paying more than $0.245 for electricity is now paying more for electricity than the value of Ethereum being mined. At this point, it becomes more cost-effective to turn off the mining rig and buy Ethereum spot using the money that would otherwise be used on electricity. [...] There are plenty of alternative cryptocurrencies that can be mined with a GPU. However, the others are also down considerably. At $0.245kwh, Ergo yields -$0.06, RavenCoin -$0.58/day, Ethereum Classic -$0.66, and Firo -$0.70 using a single Nvidia 3090. These are the contenders for GPU hashrate when Ethereum finally goes to proof of stake. The issue is that an increase in miners on the network will dramatically increase the mining difficulty meaning that, to be remotely profitable, the price of the tokens will also have to increase considerably. For Ethereum to become profitable again, either the difficulty needs to decrease or the price needs to rise above $1,400. Alternatively, should energy prices drop below $0.24kwh to match average costs in other parts of the United States, Ethereum would also become profitable.

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Chinese Officials Are Weaponizing COVID Health Tracker To Block Protests

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 03:25
Chinese bank depositors planning a protest about their frozen funds saw their health code mysteriously turn red and were stopped from traveling to the site of a rally, confirming fears that China's vast COVID-tracking system could be weaponized as a powerful tool to stifle dissent. Motherboard reports: A red health code designated the would-be protesters as suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, limiting their movement and access to public transportation. Their rallies in the central Henan province this week were thwarted as some were forced into quarantine and others detained by police. A 38-year-old software engineer was among hundreds who could not access their savings at four rural banks since mid-April. She had planned to travel from her home in Jiangxi province to Zhengzhou, Henan's capital city, to join a group petition this week to demand her money back. But her health code turned from green to red shortly after she bought a train ticket on Sunday. She said a nucleic test for COVID she took the night before came back negative and her hometown has not reported any infection recently. "Henan authorities targeted the health code of bank depositors in order to stop us from defending our rights," she told VICE World News, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid government reprisal. She eventually managed to reach Zhengzhou using her green health code on a different app, but was daunted by the sight of police officers out in force. More than 200 bank depositors from all over the country saw their health codes turned red over the past week, which effectively foiled a planned protest outside the Henan branch of China's banking regulator. Chinese activists and dissidents have reported similar experiences in the past, but the latest crackdown appears to be the most brazen example of how the authorities could exploit the supposed COVID-19 measure for political purposes.

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Boring Company Receives Approval For Expanding Its Tunnels To Downtown Las Vegas

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 02:45
Elon Musk's Boring Company has received unanimous approval to expand its system of tunnels beneath downtown Las Vegas. The Verge reports: The expansion will add stops at landmarks like the Stratosphere and Fremont Street, letting customers hop aboard a Tesla and travel from one part of the city to the next. The network of tunnels, called the Vegas Loop, is supposed to span 29 miles and have 51 stops when finished. But for now, only 1.7-mile tunnels are operational beneath the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), turning what would be a 25-minute walk across the convention center into a two-minute ride. This most recent expansion gets The Boring Company closer to its goal of building a transportation system that spans the most popular destinations in Las Vegas. "Thanks to the entire team at the City of Last Vegas!" The Boring Company wrote on Twitter in response to the city's approval. "Great discussion today, and TBC is excited to build a safe, convenient, and awesome transportation system in the City." [...] According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Steve Hill, the president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, expects the tunnel system beneath the Strip to start serving customers in 2023. Hill says the portion connecting the LVCC and Resorts World should be operational by the end of this year.

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Cisco Says It Won't Fix Zero-Day RCE In End-of-Life VPN Routers

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 02:02
An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Cisco advises owners of end-of-life Small Business RV routers to upgrade to newer models after disclosing a remote code execution vulnerability that will not be patched. The vulnerability is tracked as CVE-2022-20825 and has a CVSS severity rating of 9.8 out of 10.0. According to a Cisco security advisory, the flaw exists due to insufficient user input validation of incoming HTTP packets on the impacted devices. An attacker could exploit it by sending a specially crafted request to the web-based management interface, resulting in command execution with root-level privileges. The vulnerability impacts four Small Business RV Series models, namely the RV110W Wireless-N VPN Firewall, the RV130 VPN Router, the RV130W Wireless-N Multifunction VPN Router, and the RV215W Wireless-N VPN Router. This vulnerability only affects devices with the web-based remote management interface enabled on WAN connections. [...] Cisco states that they will not be releasing a security update to address CVE-2022-20825 as the devices are no longer supported. Furthermore, there are no mitigations available other than to turn off remote management on the WAN interface, which should be done regardless for better overall security. Users are advised to apply the configuration changes until they migrate to Cisco Small Business RV132W, RV160, or RV160W Routers, which the vendor actively supports.

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Brave Roasts DuckDuckGo Over Bing Privacy Exception

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 01:20
Brave CEO Brendan Eich took aim at rival DuckDuckGo on Wednesday by challenging the web search engine's efforts to brush off revelations that its Android, iOS, and macOS browsers gave, to a degree, Microsoft Bing and LinkedIn trackers a pass versus other trackers. The Register reports: Eich drew attention to one of DuckDuckGo's defenses for exempting Microsoft's Bing and LinkedIn domains, a condition of its search contract with Microsoft: that its browsers blocked third-party cookies anyway. "For non-search tracker blocking (e.g. in our browser), we block most third-party trackers," explained DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg last month. "Unfortunately our Microsoft search syndication agreement prevents us from doing more to Microsoft-owned properties. However, we have been continually pushing and expect to be doing more soon." However, Eich argues this is disingenuous because DuckDuckGo also includes exceptions that allow Microsoft trackers to circumvent third-party cookie blocking via appended URL parameters. "Trackers try to get around cookie blocking by appending identifiers to URL query parameters, to ID you across sites," he explained. DuckDuckGo is aware of this, Eich said, because its browser prevents Google, Facebook, and others from appending identifiers to URLs in order to bypass third-party cookie blocking. "[DuckDuckGo] removes Google's 'gclid' and Facebook's 'fbclid'," Eich said. "Test it yourself by visiting https://example.org/?fbclid=sample in [DuckDuckGo]'s macOS browser. The 'fbclid' value is removed." "However, [DuckDuckGo] does not apply this protection to Microsoft's 'msclkid' query parameter," Eich continued. "[Microsoft's] documentation specifies that 'msclkid' exists to circumvent third-party cookie protections in browsers (including in Safari's browser engine used by DDG on Apple OSes)." Eich concluded by arguing that privacy-focused brands need to prioritize privacy. "Brave categorically does not and will not harm user privacy to satisfy partners," he said. A spokesperson for DuckDuckGo characterized Eich's conclusion as misleading. "What Brendan seems to be referring to here is our ad clicks only, which is protected in our agreement with Microsoft as strictly non-profiling (private)," a company spokesperson told The Register in an email. "That is these ads are privacy protected and how he's framed it is ultimately misleading. Brendan, of course, kept the fact that our ads are private out and there is really nothing new here given everything has already been disclosed." In other words, allowing Bing to append its identifier to URLs enables Bing advertisers to tell whether their ad produced a click (a conversion), but not to target DuckDuckGo browser users based on behavior or identity. DuckDuckGo's spokesperson pointed to Weinberg's attempt to address the controversy on Reddit and argued that DuckDuckGo provides very strong privacy protections. "This is talking about link tracking which no major browser protects against (see https://privacytests.org/), however we've started protecting against link tracking, and started with the primary offenders (Google and Facebook)," DuckDuckGo's spokesperson said. "To note, we are planning on expanding this to more companies, including Twitter, Microsoft, and more. We are not restricted from this and will be doing so."

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Microsoft Updates Store Rules To Ban Paid Copycat Open-Source Projects

Slashdot - Sat, 18/06/2022 - 00:40
Microsoft updated the Microsoft Store policies yesterday to prohibit publishers from charging fees for software that is open source or generally available for free. They're also no longer allowed to set irrationally high price tags for their products. gHacks reports: If you have been to the Microsoft Store in the past couple of years, you may have noticed that it is home to more and more open source and free products. While that would be a good thing if the original developer would have uploaded the apps and games to the store, it is not, because the uploads have been made by third-parties. Even worse is the fact that many of these programs are not freely available, but available as paid applications. In other words: Microsoft customers have to pay money to buy a Store version of an app that is freely available elsewhere. Sometimes, free and paid versions exist side by side in the Store. Having to pay for a free application is bad enough, but this is not the only issue that users may experience when they make the purchase. Updates may be of concern as well, as the copycat programs may not be updated as often or as quickly as the source applications. Open source and free products may not be sold anymore on the Microsoft Store, if generally available for free, and publishers are not allowed to set irrationally high price tags for their products anymore. The developers of open source and free applications may charge for their products on the Microsoft Store, the developer of Paint.net does that, for example. If Microsoft enforces the policies, numerous applications will be removed from the Store. Developers could report applications to Microsoft before, but the new policies give Microsoft control over application listings and submissions directly.

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