Tech News

Make Way for Merged Reality

Intel recently announced the development of a virtual reality headset that makes it possible for viewers to see nearby objects from the real world in an otherwise computer-generated view.

Intel will be offering the new technology to outside manufacturers at some point in 2017 and is not planning to sell the headsets itself.

paIntel’s efforts to develop this technology have been titled Project Alloy and the new product creates new opportunities for Intel to sell its RealSense depth-sensing cameras, Replay graphics-creation software and other proprietary inventions that may come in handy for virtual reality and augmented reality technology developers and manufacturers.

While Intel may have just thrown its name in the hat, the burgeoning VR industry has already become a race track featuring some major players including Facebook, HTC, Microsoft, Sony, and Apple.

That said, according to Intel’s chief executive Brian Krzanich, Project Alloy will likely prove competitive due to some unique features that it alone possesses and which threaten to “redefine what is possible with computing.”

One such example is the way that the Project Alloy headset cameras would make it possible for a user’s finger movements to appear in the virtual world and even manipulate virtual objects.

“Merged reality is about more natural ways of interacting with and manipulating virtual environments,” he explained in a blog. “[That liberates] you from the controllers and the nunchucks of today’s VR systems by immersing your hands- your real-life hands- into your simulated experiences.”

pa2Krzanich led an on-stage demonstration in which the hands of the wearer could be seen only if kept near the center of a user’s field of view. Krzanich’s own face was even able to appear within a VR world if he stood close enough to the wearer of the headset, though he showed up as a relatively low-res version of himself.

According to Big K, going wireless would it make it possible for an owner to avoid being jolted out of their VR experience due to the limit of their controller cords. That said, his system’s reliance on wi-fi would make any computer involved be just a bit slower in its response to a user’s actions, which could significantly lower the possible quality of a gamer’s experience.

Regardless, many developers are excited to see the fruits of Intel’s labors. Microsoft has even promised to support the new headset in the latest version of Windows 10. Ed Barton, a technology consultant with Ovum, had this to say about Project Alloy:

“Having a real-time rendition of your hands or other objects in VR could have appeal to enterprise applications, such as surgeon training with a body diagram or a mechanic having graphics overlaid onto an engine part. But when it comes to gaming, there hasn’t  been much clamour to be able to see you hands in real time,” he pointed out.

“Vive, for example, has addressed the issue with special controllers. It’s not something that people have been crying out for,” he concluded.

That said, little is known for certain about the future of the VR industry and what people will be clamouring for.

Was the DNC Breach the Work of Russian Hackers?

The recent breach of sensitive data stored on the DNC server has been making waves since the stolen information was published on WikiLeaks just a few days ago. As the information is sifted through (exposing problematic behavior on the part of handfuls of DNC higher-ups), questions have gone unanswered regarding the expertly-planned cyber espionage attack that was so successfully carried out against the national committee.

dnc leak2Cyber experts have noted that the scale, timeliness, and sensitivity of the data released imply a level of sophistication that would be difficult to find outside of state-sponsored activity. WikiLeaks’ decision to publish the documents into a search engine has indexed that data, making it that much easier for those looking for damning data to locate it. Email conversations between democratic party leaders revealing a collusion to give the nomination to Hillary Clinton, remarks regarding Bernie Sanders’ lack of religious emphasis, and many other sensitive topics have been sentenced to the public eye, with largely embarrassing results.

It’s worth mentioning that the documents were well-timed; all confidential information was exposed strategically; their surfacing just before the Democratic National Convention allowed for the highest possible level of chaos upon the convention’s onset.

As for who actually carried out the hacking? American authorities seem to be unanimously pinning the blame on Russian hackers, an allegation that gains evidence daily. For example, in mid-June when the DNC called in the the cyber threat analysis firm Crowdstrike to examine the committee’s servers, the company found “two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries present in the DNC network.” Crowdstrike then released a comprehensive report of its findings, which were released on June 14. Among its many discoveries, Crowdstrike found that one of the hacking groups had been snooping in the DNC’s servers for almost a year. The next week, two different cybersecurity firms independently confirmed Crowdstrike’s reports. The additional firms also found that the two hackers used malware and methods identical to those used in other attacks attributed to the suspected Russian hacking groups.

dnc leakThe day after Crowdstrike’s report was published, a hacker calling themselves “Guccifer 2.0” took credit for the hack and claimed that he or she was not affiliated with the Russian government and was instead a stand-alone hacker. Guccifer 2.o went on to claim that he had handed off much of what he had found to Wikileaks.

More compelling evidence linking the DNC breach to Russian state-sponsored hacking was found by King’s College in London professor Thomas Rid. Rid found that there was an identical command-and-control address hardcoded into the DNC malware that was also on the malware that was used to hack the German Parliament back in 2015. German officials had stated that the malware originated from Russian military intelligence.

Additional evidence includes that documents were translated into Cyrillic and that Guccifer, who claimed to be Romanian, did not speak coherent Romanian.

“It doesn’t strain credulitiy to look at the Russians,” said malware expert with CitizenLab Morgan Marquis-Boire. “This is not the first time that Russian hackers have been behind intrusions in US government, and it seems unlikely that it will be the last.”

The Kremlin has denied any Russian involvement in the leak.

 

Orlando Massacre Triggers Facebook Safety Check

On Sunday, Facebook activated a new safety feature in response to the horrifying massacre at the gay night club in Orlando, Florida that left 49 dead and many more wounded. Safety Check had been activated in other countries, but Sunday makes the first day that the feature will be available in the United States.

safety check2The feature was activated first in Paris after last year’s terrorist attacks ravaged the city for a night. Safety Check allows for users to notify loved ones and friends that they’re safe in a time of crisis, whether the issue is caused by meaningless violence, civil unrest, natural disasters or otherwise. Users can check on the people thought to be in whatever area is affected by the danger and mark friends and loved ones safe when they can confirm that they’re OK.

According to Facebook, Safety Check has been tweaked since its initial release in order to streamline its deployment in places other than Paris:

“Many people practically live on Facebook, so this feature is a convenient way for people to notify others of their status,” explained program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan Mike Jude. “Rather than having to call many people discretely, this allows anyone on your Facebook network to obtain your status.”

Facebook’s Peter Cottle wrote about Safety Check on June 2, not realizing that the feature would need to be used only 10 days later:

“We’re excited to continue working on Facebook’s role in crisis response over this coming year, as well as to test new ways for the community to initiate and spread Safety Check in the coming weeks.”

Cottle went on the explain how the feature works. Apparently, given the occurrence of a crisis, Facebook will run a small piece of code or hook that executes itself after every News Feed load. If someone is in the affected area, Facebook then invites that person to mark himself or herself safe with a feed prompt and a notification. Then Facebook searches for the person’s friends that are also in that area. Each friend will get a notification that invites them to participate in a Safety Check, and then Facebook will search through those people’s friends to see who might be affected. According to Facebook, it takes only a few minutes to move through up to 100,000 people. At full capacities, the feature can check in on millions of people in only 10-15 minutes.

safety check3“Police tend to get inundated during [emergencies], and they have very little information until well after the event is over,” commented principal analyst the Enderle Group Rob Enderle. “This is more real time and lets people communicate en masse.”

According to Charles Kind at Pund-IT, Facebook’s “massive user base could make Safety Check a valuable resource for people trying to establish the whereabouts and condition of loved ones.”

“Safety Check’s effectiveness depends on how, and how well, users utilize it,” he continued. “If they don’t buy in, Safety Check will be, at best only partially successful.”

Nothing not obvious in that statement. Safety Check has proven helpful not only in the Paris terrorist attacks but also after the devastating earthquake in Nepal last year.

Is ISIS a Cyberthreat?

A 25-page report released by Flashpoint last week stated that the Islamic State’s cyberwar capabilities remain unsophisticated, but are on the rise. The report, titled “Hacking for ISIS: The Emergent Cyber Threat Landscape,” purported that IS’s “overall capabilities are neither advanced nor do they demonstrate sophisticated targeting.” That said, the group is taking steps to increase the effectiveness of its attacks, making its internet exploits no laughing matter.

“Their capability of hacking military or NSA servers in the United States is far-fetched, but it’s not completely impossible,” stated Laith Alkhouri, the director of Middle East and North Africa research at Flashpoint and one of the authors of the report.

cybercal“Concern is high, not because they have sophisticated hacking skills but because they’re utilizing multiple ways of bringing in new talent, utilizing all the freely available tools online, trying to utilize malware that’s already available and building their own malware.”

According to the report, ISIS hasn’t developed the organization and skills of more capable and threatening adversaries of the United States. Flashpoint’s Director of Security Research Allison Nixon had this to say:

“Chinese and Russian hackers are organized criminal gangs or nation-state supported groups…They’re highly educated, highly skilled. They use custom malware and custom tools… On the other hand, ISIS supporters are more like script kiddies or hactivists. They have a low level of sophistication and engage in behavior patterns and use toolsets that we would see in any other attention-seeking group.”

“They’re using open source tools and very old public exploits,” Nixon continued. “They’re only capable of hacking sites that aren’t well maintained in the first place.”

Nixon went on to define the difference between ISIS and hacktivists: “Hacktivists don’t threaten physical violence. Physical violence is an important part of ISIS hackers… They’re interested in translating these online threats into physical attacks.”

Most of ISIS cyberwarriors’ hacking tools are taken from publicly available open source projects owing to the ease of obtaining an open sourced tool. Creating their own tools that functioned with the same effectiveness would require a significant amount of time and skill that is difficult for ISIS to access at this current time.

“As pro-ISIS cyber attacks and capabilities have gradually increased over time but remained relatively unsophisticated, it is likely that in the short run, these actors will continue launching attacks of opportunity,” said the report.

cybercaliphate“Such attacks include finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in websites owned by, for example, small businesses, and defacing these websites. Other attacks may include DDoS attacks.”

That said, the ISIS cyberactors are demonstrating an upward trajectory in both number of attacks and sophistication of attacks.

“We’re starting to see these groups coalesce their brand. They’re increasing their ranks in number. They’re increasing their ranks in skill. They’re increasing their ranks in languages, which means they’re increasing the channels on which they operate and which they distribute their claims of responsibility,” stated Alkhouri. “That menas they have a much more powerful message and a more robust structure than before… They are coalescing their ranks to become a hacking powerhouse.”

Meta Embarks On New Frontier of Augmented Reality

On Wednesday March 3, 2016 the brand Meta Technologies announced it would be starting to take preorders for it’s Meta 2 augmented reality wearable headset. Not only is this news big in the world of electromagnetism but the company has also set the lofty goal for itself that they would be shipping this mere $949 dollar head set no later than the third fiscal quarter this year.

Meta has painstakingly striven to develop a synthesis experience that CEO Meron describes as “the art of user interface, design with the the science of the brain,” at a 2016 TED talk conference.

as early as this fall they hope, developers can have the opportunity to as he believes, “make their augmented reality dreams come true”, promised Ryan M. Pamilin who is VP of sales at Meta. But make this augmented reality a reality is no easy step as he states. Siting not only the difficulties of scale and operation but the sheer lack of synergy or dynamic data solutions surrounding the industry and its operators as a whole.

maxresdgggefaultThat said the developers are confident that after only a few minutes of wearing the glasses you come to forget that you are wearing them at all, although many are skeptical because their is nothing like it to support such a claim. To this skepticism the Meta Developers are saying “bring it on” and taking the gloves off and believe it is so hard for people to take this leap because they’re hasn’t being anything like this. a wearable augmented reality headset for under $1,000.

There will be a learning curve similar to the in home computer or wide spread use of cell phones, However, many believe that this will not be a passing fad and will take over the way we experience data, and navigate the internet. a future is on the horizon where the line of real vs fake will be forever blurred. Where the meta physical implications that have been espoused will now be thrown into question leaving us to wonder “where am I?”

rrrrrrIt is very likely the case that this technology will be used on a daily basis, from work to home, and in very much the same way we are always on the internet via our smart phones or computers the relationship will be even more invasive. i.e. today  we know we are interacting with something, and that this thing, which is exists is separate of us, we go on our computer we and peak into a landscape or experience; but tomorrow we live the experience. Email updates will emerge in the foreground, as we walk to our desk, graphs appearing for the meeting the moment we wake up as we make breakfast for the kids. although this does have an obvious benefit to our productivity in the systematic execution of prescribed tasks it is important that we take pause and consider if this constant stimulation will affect the creativity that is borne out of reflective moments of boredom, that we consider our surroundings and our place in it.

That said, The Meta 2 drops this year, and demand is high so if you want to be in the first wave of the revolution now is the time to up your name on the list.

Apple and Microsoft Investigated for Child Labor Issues

Amnesty International and the African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) released a report today regarding child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the report, children ages seven and up are working 12-hour days in dangerous conditions to mine cobalt, a material that many tech firms use to create smartphones. The report also claims that large tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Samsung have not performed the basic checks necessary to ensuring that their mineral mining operations don’t use child labor.

cobaltCobalt is integral to the creation of rechargeable lithium batteries, which are found in many smart mobile devices. Over half the cobalt used globally originated in the Dominican Republic of Congo, which has often been criticized for its tolerance of child labor.

This is not news to human rights enthusiasts. In 2012, Unicef uncovered the fact that over 40,000 children had worked in DRC mines in the past year and that many of those mines harvested cobalt. Adult and child mine workers were interviewed, and many described being paid as little as $1 daily and enduring violence, intimidation and health problems on the job.

Amnesty International and Afrewatch claim that mines employing those people provided the cobalt in lithium batteries sold to 16 multinational brands. According to the report, the cobalt came from Congo Dongfang Mining, which is owned by the Chinese mineral company Huayou Cobalt. Huayou Cobalt then sells its minerals to battery manufacturers, who then sell their batteries to Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Vodafone, and a variety of other tech giants.

According to Huayou Cobalt, company heads were not aware that their suppliers relied upon child labor and in general labor in unsafe working conditions.

Samsung, Sony and Vodafone apparently denied an claims to having a connection with this supply chain or to DRC Cobalt in the first place. Apple responded by saying it was evaluating many different materials including cobalt for labor and environmental risks. Microsoft claimed that it had not traced cobalt use in its products all the way to the mine level “due to the complexes and resources required.”

cobalt2The DRC has met a variety of conflicts as a result of its possession of huge amounts of highly valuable natural resources. The demand for these resources brings plenty of buyers, causing the DRC to build up the largest workforce of miners in the world. However, these miners work in uncontrolled and dangerous conditions and are unchecked by environmental regulations, leading to land degradation and pollution.

Globally, the cobalt market has remained unregulated due to its possession outside the “conflict mineral” legislation that regulates the extraction of other minerals like gold and tin. Cobalt’s extremely high utility in the manufacture of smartphones and other mobile devices that run off small lithium batteries have perhaps made it necessary for it to be upgraded to “conflict mineral” status. This however, would likely face powerful lobbying by tech companies that prefer lower prices to human rights.

As to how knowledgable these companies were about the sources of their cobalt, it’s difficult to say. Though I for one would not be surprised if the secret’s outing was the biggest surprise this event had to offer the tech giants.

Does Your Computer Make You Laugh More?

Obviously society has been hugely affected by the rise of the internet and the information that it makes available to users. Many of these effects have been measured, but many more are so useless or subtle that no one has seen fit to look into them. One question this writer asks because she’s being paid to say anything is: do people laugh more as a result of the emergence of the internet? Probably yes. But what does that mean for society as a whole? Let’s start out by looking to what laughter is and how it affects you.

memeLaughter is simply the physiological response to humor, which is itself a difficult thing to explain. Laughter as a phenomenon consists of two different parts: a set of gestures and a produced sound (though we have all had times in which we laugh so hard we produce no sound at all). When we laugh, our brain pressures us to participate in both of these activities, and hearty laughs allow for changes to occur in many parts of the body such as the arm, leg and trunk muscles.

Laughter is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as “rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary actions.” It involves the contraction of at least fifteen facial muscles and the stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle, which is responsible for moving your upper lip. The respiratory system is interrupted by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, which is responsible for you gasping. Tear duct activation may occur, and the face may become red and wet.

Unfortunately for behavioral neurobiologist and laughter researcher Robert Provine, studying laughter is extremely difficult. He has found, however, that there are certain similarities among all laughter and that there a neurological process in the brain that leads people to be more prone to laughing if the people around them are also laughing.

Humor researcher Peter Derks claims that laughter response is “a really quick, automatic type of behavior.”

“In fact, how quickly our brain recognizes the incongruity that lies at the heart of most humor and attaches an abstract meaning to it determines whether we laugh,” he explained.

Cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte had this to say: “Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter, the more bonding within the group.”

trollStudies have also found that dominant individuals tend to use humor more than their subordinates. Controlling the laughter of a group can be a way of exercising power by controlling the emotional climate of said group. Some believe that laughter may have evolved to change the behavior of others.

What does this mean for an internet community ranging from trolls to bloggers? To some extent it means the creation of new circles of people across the world united by a shared sense of humor. It means that new social systems can function with humor as a major foundation of what everyone has in common and how power is attributed across the board. Memes are a thing.

Is Podcasting for You?

You’ve likely heard of them; internet radio stations you can download and listen to at your leisure instead of making sure to clear your schedule and tune in on the right day at the right time. Podcasts are a great invention that came alongside the internet, and they’ve allowed for huge amounts of niche radio stations to pop up and spout all kinds of knowledge and opinions. Here’s a little info on where podcasts came from and how you can start your own.

podcast broThe first podcast ever was created in 2004 by MTV video jockey Adam Curry and a software develeoper named Dave Winer. Curry had written a program called iPodder that allowed him to automatically download Internet radio broadcasts to his iPod, and then other software developers saw what he was going and improved on his idea, eventually creating the format for podcasting. Curry’s The Daily Source Code is now one of the most popular podcasts on the internet.

What’s great about podcasting is that it’s totally free from government regulation (unlike radio broadcasting, which requires that you purchase a license and comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s broadcast decency regulations). If you enjoy a good four-letter word now and then, chances this is good news. Despite this lack of regulation, copyright law still does apply to podcasters, so the government protects podcasters’ intellectual property without regulating it.

Podcasters are anything from highly paid employees of major corporations to people podcasting from home studios. They don’t rely on ratings or money, so people are free to talk about anything they want regardless of it being popular, allowing for there to be a podcast for every niche subject, from people just shooting the s*** to people totally committed to discovering UFOs and paranormal activity.

Some companies are actively trying to find a way to make money with podcasting. There are websites like podcastalley.com and podcast.net that act as a source for podcasts and now feature advertisements. Popular podcasts hosted by Tom Segura as well as the Stuff You Should Know podcast have their hosts present commercials for Me Undies and other random products.

podcast sisIf you’d like to start listening to a podcast, just choose a podcasting site and click on the hyperlink for whatever podcast sounds good to you. You could check out the iTunes store, The Podcast Network or The Podcast Directory if you want to browse for possible podcasts that suit your fancy. There are also apps on your mobile phone that you can download.

Audio files made for different sizes and capacities of audio streaming have been invented to compete with the standard MP3; there’s AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) and WMA (Windows Media Audio) for example. These advancements are so prevalent that no matter what you want, you can be sure that there’s a free version out there.

Maybe you’d like to create a podcast. Don’t even hesitate! It’s super easy. Just plug a microphone into your computer, install an audio recorder for Windows, Mac or Linux, create an audio file by making a recording of whatever you want on your podcast, and upload that audio file to one of the podcasting sites. If you want anyone to listen to it ever, you’re going to have to promote it pretty heavily.

You can also opt into videocasts if you’re interested in making more of a TV show type thing.

Advances in Deep Learning Can Help Computers Fight Malware

Malicious software is always engineered to hide that it’s malicious. Programs meant to fight malicious software must be sophisticated enough to identify it despite its attempts at camouflage. So far the conflict has raged on with neither type of software able to eliminate the other completely and each type of software having no choice but to become ever more advanced. However, resolution may be just around the corner.

Cybersecurity company Deep Instinct just released a security solution that utilizes “deep learning” to enable a program to learn to identify bad code on its own, without being programmed to recognize anything in particular.

deep learning“Deep learning draws its inspiration from the human mind. It organizes itself into a structure of synthetic neurons. It’s another term for neural networks,” explained Bruce Daley, principal analyst at Tractica. “It was rebranded because there was so little progress with neural nets.”

Daley went on to explain exactly what kind of advantage deep learning capabilities can offer an application: “With traditional programming, as you code, you have to anticipate all the situations that arise that you have to deal with. What deep learning does is take the data and build a model from what it finds in the data that’s statistically relevant.”

“So you don’t have to anticipate all the relationships the program will encounter,” he added. “It turns into something like making beer or making bread.”

Another distinction: deep learning is more advanced than machine learning. For example, in the context of facial recognition software, a program would contain information about how to identify a nose, eyes, bone structure, etc. A facial recognition program outfitted with deep learning capabilities would be able to learn the facial features itself.

The difference between a normal program and one equipped with deep learning is profound; traditional programming methods allow for the slightest change in malicious code to fool a program. Deep Instinct CTO Eli David explained, “It’s as if I show you the picture of a cat, then I modify a few pixels, and you can’t recognize it’s a cat.”

Deep learning allows a program to have a much more comprehensive understanding of what makes malicious software what it is, so a few metaphorical “pixels” won’t make all the difference.

“With deep learning, you can show just the tail of the cat, and it will return with high confidence that it’s a cat. It is extremely resilient to variance and modification,” explained David.

Tractica forecasts that applications that utilize deep learning will generate a $10 billion market by 2024.deep learning stuff

Deep Instinct clearly believes it, and is now wagering on cybersecurity being a fruitful subset of deep learning applications. Given 2015’s proliferation of high-profile cyberattacks and the push towards increased government surveillance, it’s not a bad bet.

For how advanced Deep Instinct’s security solution is, it remains pretty small; it takes up only 10 MB of memory, and is generally inactive so it doesn’t take up much processing power either.

“Most of the time this agent does nothing,” said David. “When it detects a new file–any type of file– it passes it through the deep learning module on the device. If the file is malware, it will remove it or quarantines it.”

Meet Solu

In terms of products that teeter between being industry disruptors and flashy gimmicks, the Finnish-engineered Solu may take the cake.

Don’t be fooled by the Solu’s delightfully small, square shape and cute, partially wooden exterior- this little device is actually more powerful than any mobile and is designed to be plugged into desktop screens when not used as the world’s smallest handheld personal computer. Its operating system is Windows-esque and connects easily to your contacts.

solu computer

The Solu can be paired with a keyboard and hooked up to a display with up to a 4K resolution. In these circumstances, the Solu can also be used as a computer mouse.

As an engineering project, the Solu attracted the aspiration of a team of Finnish tech leaders including Kristoffer Lawson, Javier Reyes and Nixu founder Pekka Nikande, all of whom were attracted by the opportunity to disrupt the personal computing establishment.

As Lawson said, “When the challenge is big enough, the smart people will get inspired.”

Lawson believes that the domination of Microsoft and Apple over the personal computing industry has been harmful towards its development. He believes that there are major areas for growth in personal computer developments that have been largely ignored.

One particular area of growth Lawson sees is the way that computers connect to the internet: “Yes we have email but we’re still fighting with backups, hard drive space and downloading and installing applications. The whole internet is not a natural part of the computer itself. If you run out of local resources, you’re screwed.”

Solu’s hardware is linked directly to a cloud service based out of Finland that the team has also engineered. The cloud allows for the user to scale up, while the device itself has a capacity of 32 GB.

Unlike Google’s Chromebook, the Solu is designed to work offline as opposed to being “basically just a web browser.”

Perhaps most striking about the Solu is its unique interface. As opposed to being organized by file type or location, memory spaces are presented as a web of bubble-ish nodes resembling a textbook image of a neural pathway.

solu2

Even the computer software payment model of Solu is unique. Users pay a fixed fee every month for as much cloud storage as they need and access to as many apps as they want. Solu is buckling down with some new developers to create its own apps and also works with Android apps.

Regardless of what happens with this strange little device, it is somewhat refreshing to see a new player enter the game, and bring along with it a host of new ideas about how people can use and relate to their virtual worlds. As stated on their website, Solu is truly “Rethinking the computer”:

“Our entire ecosystem is built around the way people work and play today, allowing you the freedom and flexibility to get things done wherever you are, whenever you need them done.”