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Crime

Was the Stanford Prison Experiment a Sham? (nypost.com) 88

Frosty Piss writes: The Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted in 1971 by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power by focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers. In the study, volunteers were randomly assigned to be either "guards" or "prisoners" in a mock prison, with Zimbardo serving as the superintendent. The results seemed to show that the students quickly embraced their assigned roles, with some guards enforcing authoritarian measures and ultimately subjecting some prisoners to psychological torture, while many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, by the officers' request, actively harassed other prisoners who tried to stop it. After Berkeley graduate Douglas Korpi appeared to have a nervous breakdown while playing the role of an inmate, the experiment was shut down. There's just one problem: Korpi's breakdown was a sham. Dr. Ben Blum took to Medium to publish his claims. "Blum's expose -- based on previously unpublished recordings of Zimbardo, a Stanford psychology professor, and interviews with the participants -- offers evidence that the 'guards' were coached to be cruel," reports New York Post. "One of the men who acted as an inmate told Blum he enjoyed the experiment because he knew the guards couldn't actually hurt him."

"There were no repercussions. We knew [the guards] couldn't hurt us, they couldn't hit us. They were white college kids just like us, so it was a very safe situation," said Douglas Korpi, who was 22-years-old when he acted as an inmate in the study. The Berkeley grad now admits the whole thing was fake. Zimbardo also "admitted that he was an active participant in the study, meaning he had influence over the results," reports New York Post. According to an audio recording from the Stanford archive, you can hear Zimbardo encouraging the guards to act "tough."
Programming

America's Former CTO Remembers Historic Coders (bard.edu) 83

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: In her Bard College commencement speech, ex-Google VP and former U.S. CTO Megan Smith revealed to graduates that she gave President Obama a computing history lesson on the same day he learned to code in 2014. "I walked into the Oval Office to do coding with President Obama, and, interestingly, Prince William had just stepped out," Smith explained (YouTube). "They had just had a meeting. I said to President Obama, you know what you and I are about to do is related to Prince William, and he said, how's that. Well, the Prince's wife Kate, her mother and grandmother were codebreakers at Bletchley Park, where they cracked the Nazi Enigma codes...." [Presumably Smith meant to say Kate's great-aunt, not mother — Carole Middleton wasn't born until 1955.]

To be fair to the President, Smith once confessed to not knowing much about computing history herself, explaining in a 2012 Official Google Blog post that she and other visiting tech luminaries were embarrassingly clueless about who Ada Lovelace was in a 2011 visit to England. "Last year, a group of us were lucky enough to visit the U.K. Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street, as part of the Silicon Valley Comes to the U.K. initiative," Smith wrote. "While there, we asked about some of the paintings on the wall. When we got to a large portrait of a regally dressed woman, our host said 'and of course, that's Lady Lovelace'... You can imagine our surprise when we learned she was considered by some to be the world's first computer programmer -- having published the first algorithm intended for use on Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine." One imagines Smith might also have been surprised to learn that many programmers older than Smith were already very aware of Lady Ada at that time thanks to the Department of Defense, who tried in vain to make Ada a household name for decades, but had little success popularizing the Ada programming language, which was named after Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.

Education

We're All Getting Dumber, Says Science (fastcompany.com) 501

dryriver shares a report from Fast Company: Researchers at Norway's Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research now have scientific proof of something we've long suspected -- we're all getting dumber. In their paper, "Flynn effect and its reversal are both environmentally caused," which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg report that IQ scores have been steadily dropping since the 1970s.

The study consisted of analyzing 730,000 IQ test results gleaned from young men entering Norway's compulsory military service from 1970 to 2009. They found that scores declined by an average of seven points per generation, a reversal of the so-called "Flynn effect" where IQ was seen to be rising during the first part of the 20th century. The decline may be due to environmental factors, but because the researchers couldn't find consistent trends among families, Bratsberg and Rogeberg discounted factors like parental education, family size, increased immigration, and genetics as significant causes.

Social Networks

Turkey Bans Periscope (stockholmcf.org) 87

stikves writes: According to online reports, a recent court order has banned Periscope across Turkey. The cited reason is the alleged violation of copyrights of a local company named "Periskop." This adds to the list of online services no longer available in Turkey, including Wikipedia, PayPal and WordPress, among others. While access from Turkey to the domain periscope.tv and to the Twitter account "periscopeco" is banned, users can still access Periscope services under the name Scope TR and Twitter account "scopetr." Lawyers from Twitter, Apple and Google requested rejection of the case, "saying it was impossible for a company like Twitter, operating in the U.S., to be aware of the existence of the same brand name in Turkey," reports Stockholm Center for Freedom.
Privacy

Spanish Soccer League App In Google Play Wants To Use Phone Mics To Enforce Copyrights (arstechnica.com) 77

The official app for the Spanish soccer league La Liga, which has more than 10 million downloads from Google Play, was recently updated to seek access to users' microphone and GPS settings. "When granted, the app processes audio snippets in an attempt to identify public venues that broadcast soccer games without a license," reports Ars Technica. From the report: According to a statement issued by La Liga officials, the functionality was added last Friday and is enabled only after users click "eyes" to an Android dialog asking if the app can access the mic and geolocation of the device. The statement says the audio is used solely to identify establishments that broadcast games without a license and that the app takes special precautions to prevent it from spying on end users. [La Liga's full statement with the "appropriate technical measures to protect the user's privacy" is embedded in Ars' report.]

[E]ven if the app uses a cryptographic hash or some other means to ensure that stored or transmitted audio fragments can't be abused by company insiders or hackers (a major hypothetical), there are reasons users should reject this permission. For one, allowing an app to collect the IP address, unique app ID, binary representation of audio, and the time that the audio was converted could provide a fair amount of information over time about a user. For another, end users frequenting local bars and restaurants shouldn't be put in the position of policing the copyrights of sports leagues, particularly with an app that uses processed audio from their omnipresent phone.

EU

Internet Luminaries Urge EU To Kill Off Automated Copyright Filter Proposal (theregister.co.uk) 40

A large group of Internet pioneers have sent an open letter to the European Union urging it to scrap a proposal to introduce automated upload filters, arguing that it could damage the internet as we know it. The Register: The European Parliament's Legal Affairs (Juri) Committee will vote on the proposal contained in Article 13 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive next week. The proposal would see all companies that "store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works" obliged to "prevent the availability... of works... identified by rightholders." Despite the inclusion of language that says such measures need to be "appropriate and proportionate," it has caused many to worry that the law will lead to a requirement for all platforms to introduce automated content filtering, and shift liability for any copyrighted material that appears online from the user that posts it to the platform itself.

"By inverting this liability model and essentially making platforms directly responsible for ensuring the legality of content in the first instance, the business models and investments of platforms large and small will be impacted," warns the letter [PDF] signed by "Father of the Internet" Vint Cerf, world world web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, as well a host of other internet luminaries including Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, security expert Bruce Schneier and net neutrality namer Tim Wu.

Patents

Inventor Says Google Is Patenting His Public Domain Work (arstechnica.com) 164

Rob Riggs writes: Jarek Duda, the inventor of a compression technique called asymmetric numeral systems (ANS), dedicated the invention to the public domain. Since 2014, Facebook, Apple, and Google have all created software based on his breakthrough. Google is now trying to patent a video encoding scheme using the compression technique. The inventor is fighting Google in the European courts and has won a preliminary ruling. The fight's not over and Google is also seeking a patent with the USPTO. A Google spokesperson says Duda came up with a theoretical concept that isn't directly patentable, "while Google's lawyers are seeking to patent a specific application of that theory that reflects additional work by Google's engineers," reports Ars Technica. "But Duda says he suggested the exact technique Google is trying to patent in a 2014 email exchange with Google engineers."
Science

Scientists May Have Discovered a New Fundamental Particle: Sterile Neutrino (theregister.co.uk) 94

Artem Tashkinov writes: It needs more sigmas, but Fermilab boffins in America are carefully speculating that they may have seen evidence of a new fundamental particle: the sterile neutrino. The suggestion follows tests conducted by the MiniBooNE (Mini Booster Neutrino Experiment) instrument, located near Chicago. Its mission is to detect neutrino mass through their oscillations. In the Standard Model of physics, neutrinos, like all particles, are initially assumed to be massless, but some observations, like neutrino oscillation, suggest there's mass there. The experiment that possibly detected sterile neutrinos collected 15 years of data from its commissioning in 2002, and the results have only now reached pre-press outlet arXiv.

Over 15 years, MiniBooNE detected a few hundred more electron neutrinos than were predicted in Standard Model theory. The extra particles suggests there is a fourth, heavier flavor. The findings bring the MiniBooNE team tantalizingly close to a "result" -- it's a 4.8 sigma result, when "discovery" demands 5 sigma.

Businesses

No More 'Miracles From Molecules': Monsanto's Name Is Being Retired (reuters.com) 236

Flexagon writes: Germany's Bayer announced today that in its link-up with Monsanto, it's retiring the "Monsanto" name, and with it the name of the company that originally sponsored Disneyland's "Adventure Thru Inner Space" attraction. The $63 billion takeover will wrap up on Thursday. "Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio," it said.

The decision to retire the name is a smart business move. "These days Monsanto is shorthand for, as NPR's Dan Charles has put it, 'lots of things that some people love to hate': Genetically modified crops, which Monsanto invented," reports NPR. "Seed patents, which Monsanto has fought to defend. Herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup, which protesters have sharply criticized for its possible health risks. Big agriculture in general, of which Monsanto was the reviled figurehead."
Power

Russian Scientists Upgrade Nuclear Battery Design To Increase Power Output (sciencealert.com) 150

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: A team of Russian researchers have put a new spin on technology that uses the beta decay of a radioactive element to create differences in voltage. The devices are made of stacks of isotope of nickel-63 sandwiched between a pair of special semiconducting diodes called a Schottky barrier. This barrier keeps a current headed one way, a feature often used to turn alternating currents into direct ones. Finding that the optimal thickness of each layer was just 2 micrometers, the researchers were able to maximize the voltage produced by every gram of isotope.

Nickel-63 has a half-life of just over 100 years, which in an optimized system like this adds up to 3,300 milliwatt-hours of energy per gram: ten times the specific energy of your typical electrochemical cell. It's a significant step up from previous nickel-63 betavoltaic devices, and while it isn't quite enough to power your smart phone, it does bring it into a realm of being useful for a wide variety of tasks.

First Person Shooters (Games)

'Descent' Creators Reunite For a New Game Called 'Overload' (steampowered.com) 138

Long-time Slashdot reader t0qer writes: In the early days of PC gaming, there was 3 major titles. Doom, Duke Nukem, and Descent. Descent was the first game to have true 3D environments and enemies, whereas Doom/Duke was considered "2.5D." Even though Descent never gained the popularity of Quake or Doom, it's had a dedicated fanbase that has continued playing and updating the game over the last 20 years.

The original programmers got together, and created a "Spiritual Successor" called Overload. Already garnering mostly postive reviews on Steam, the game features the same controls and overall feel of the original Descent, but without the frustration of having to set IRQ, DMA, and port jumpers for your sound blaster.

Engadget reports that the Overload devs "made sure to replicate what defined Descent and its two sequels, and what is still unique today: packing players in tight corridors to constrict their free-flying movement and transforming battles into maddening close-quarters space combat."

The game's lead designer tells them that first-person-shooter games "have evolved a lot, but that evolution has left some gaping holes in its wake."
AI

DeepMind Used YouTube Videos To Train Game-Beating Atari Bot (theregister.co.uk) 61

Artem Tashkinov shares a report from The Register: DeepMind has taught artificially intelligent programs to play classic Atari computer games by making them watch YouTube videos. Exploration games like 1984's Montezuma's Revenge are particularly difficult for AI to crack, because it's not obvious where you should go, which items you need and in which order, and where you should use them. That makes defining rewards difficult without spelling out exactly how to play the thing, and thus defeating the point of the exercise. For example, Montezuma's Revenge requires the agent to direct a cowboy-hat-wearing character, known as Panama Joe, through a series of rooms and scenarios to reach a treasure chamber in a temple, where all the goodies are hidden. Pocketing a golden key, your first crucial item, takes about 100 steps, and is equivalent to 100^18 possible action sequences.

To educate their code, the researchers chose three YouTube gameplay videos for each of the three titles: Montezuma's Revenge, Pitfall, and Private Eye. Each game had its own agent, which had to map the actions and features of the title into a form it could understand. The team used two methods: temporal distance classification (TDC), and cross-modal temporal distance classification (CDC). The DeepMind code still relies on lots of small rewards, of a kind, although they are referred to as checkpoints. While playing the game, every sixteenth video frame of the agent's session is taken as a snapshot and compared to a frame in a fourth video of a human playing the same game. If the agent's game frame is close or matches the one in the human's video, it is rewarded. Over time, it imitates the way the game is played in the videos by carrying out a similar sequence of moves to match the checkpoint frame.
In the end, the agent was able to exceed average human players and other RL algorithms: Rainbow, ApeX, and DQfD. The researchers documented their method in a paper this week. You can view the agent in action here.
Technology

Canon Has Sold Its Last Film Camera (techcrunch.com) 101

As spotted by PetaPixel, Canon this week announced with no fanfare that it's sold its last film camera. TechCrunch reports: The model in question is the EOS-1V, which, incidentally, the company actually stopped making a full eight years ago. Since it has simply been selling out the rest of its stock, which, it seems, has finally depleted. It's less of a bang than a prolonged whimper, but it's the end of an era, nonetheless, marking the first time Canon hasn't offered a film camera since the 30s, when its parent company started offering a device called the "Kwanon." Those who are feeling suddenly nostalgic, you can likely pick one up used fairly easily (though this news might bump up their premium a bit), and I'm sure the inevitable Kickstarter project to revive the technology can't be too far off, because that's how these things go now. Canon will continue to offer repair on the EOS-1V until October 31, 2025, "though that could end as early as 2020 for some, if parts and inventory run out sooner," adds TechCrunch.
Google

Google Listed 'Nazism' as the Ideology of the California Republican Party (gizmodo.com) 490

Less than a week ago, if you searched for the California Republican Party on Google, you might have read that the political party's ideologies included conservatism, market liberalism, and nazism. The latter listing has since been removed, and Google is blaming the results on Wikipedia "vandalism." From a report: Vice first reported the inclusion of "Nazism" under ideologies in Google's knowledge panel -- the box that shows up to the right of search results. It's unclear how long the term had been there, but the tech giant removed it after being notified by the publication. "We regret that vandalism on Wikipedia briefly appeared on our search results," Google tweeted on Thursday in response to California congressman and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. "This was not the the result of a manual change by Google. We have systems in place that catch vandalism before it impacts search results, but occasionally errors get through, and that happened here."
Linux

Robin "Roblimo" Miller, a Long-Time Voice of the Linux Community, Has Passed Away (wikipedia.org) 344

Reader rootmon writes: Our thoughts/prayers are with the family and friends of long time open source writer/journalist Robin "Roblimo" Miller who passed away this morning. Robin "Roblimo" Miller (born October 30, 1952) served as the Editor-in-Chief of Open Source Technology Group, the company which owned Slashdot, SourceForge.net, Freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, and ThinkGeek between 2000 to 2008. Miller formerly owned Robin's Limousine, a small limo company based in Elkridge, Maryland, the origin of his online nickname. Miller is best known for his involvement with Slashdot, where he was not only the corporate editorial overseer but also Interview Editor.

As a freelancer, Miller wrote for a number of print and online publications including Time.com, Baltimore City Paper, American Medical News, Innkeeping World, Machine Design, The Baltimore Sun, and Rewired.com. Miller is the author of three books: The Online Rules of Successful Companies, Point -- Click Linux!, and Point -- Click OpenOffice.org, all published by Prentice Hall. His most recent ventures revolved around Internet-delivered video, including video software "tours" and tutorials on Linux.com and his recent "side" venture, Internet Video Promotion, Inc. Miller has been a judge for the Lulu Blooker Prize and is on the online advisory board of the Online Journalism Review of the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California. (Biographical Info Quoted in Part from Wikipedia)
Further reading: Linux Journal: RIP Robin "Roblimo" Miller.

Remembering Miller, ZDNet journalist S. Vaughan-Nichols wrote, "He was funny, bright, quick with a quip, caring, and wise. I, and many others who had the pleasure of knowing him, will miss him enormously." Paul Jones, Clinical Professor at the School of Information & Library Science, and Director of ibiblio.org, wrote, "Robin taught me many things, besides the immense gift of his friendship, including 'the way to make money on the internet is to take on more than you spend.' Both funny and accurate in context and very much true to roblimo." Writer and engineer Emmett Initiative said, "He was my editor, which means he was my best friend and worst enemy. He was a kind and thoughtful man that made every writer around him at least 300% better. I already miss him."
AI

Microsoft Also Has An AI Bot That Makes Phone Calls To Humans (theverge.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: At an AI event in London today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed off the company's Xiaoice (pronounced "SHAO-ICE") social chat bot. Microsoft has been testing Xiaoice in China, and Nadella revealed the bot has 500 million "friends" and more than 16 channels for Chinese users to interact with it through WeChat and other popular messaging services. Microsoft has turned Xiaoice, which is Chinese for "little Bing," into a friendly bot that has convinced some of its users that the bot is a friend or a human being. "Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things," reveals Nadella. "It's a bit of a celebrity."

While most of Xiaoice's interactions have been in text conversations, Microsoft has started allowing the chat bot to call people on their phones. It's not exactly the same as Google Duplex, which uses the Assistant to make calls on your behalf, but instead it holds a phone conversation with you. "One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations," explains Nadella. "So now Xiaoice can be conversing with you in WeChat and stop and call you. Then you can just talk to it using voice." (The term "full duplex" here refers to a conversation where both participants can speak at the same time; it's not a reference to Google's product, which was named after the same jargon.)

AI

Ask Slashdot: Could Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics Ensure Safe AI? (wikipedia.org) 235

"If science-fiction has already explored the issue of humans and intelligent robots or AI co-existing in various ways, isn't there a lot to be learned...?" asks Slashdot reader OpenSourceAllTheWay. There is much screaming lately about possible dangers to humanity posed by AI that gets smarter and smarter and more capable and might -- at some point -- even decide that humans are a problem for the planet. But some seminal science-fiction works mulled such scenarios long before even 8-bit home computers entered our lives.
The original submission cites Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics from the 1950 collection I, Robot.
  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The original submission asks, "If you programmed an AI not to be able to break an updated and extended version of Asimov's Laws, would you not have reasonable confidence that the AI won't go crazy and start harming humans? Or are Asimov and other writers who mulled these questions 'So 20th Century' that AI builders won't even consider learning from their work?"

Wolfrider (Slashdot reader #856) is an Asimov fan, and writes that "Eventually I came across an article with the critical observation that the '3 Laws' were used by Asimov to drive plot points and were not to be seriously considered as 'basics' for robot behavior. Additionally, Giskard comes up with a '4th Law' on his own and (as he is dying) passes it on to R. Daneel Olivaw."

And Slashdot reader Rick Schumann argues that Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics "would only ever apply to a synthetic mind that can actually think; nothing currently being produced is capable of any such thing, therefore it does not apply..."

But what are your own thoughts? Do you think Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics could ensure safe AI?


Government

Congress Is Looking To Extend Copyright Protection Term To 144 Years (wired.com) 293

"Because it apparently isn't bad enough already, Congress is looking to extend the copyright term to 144 years," writes Slashdot reader llamalad. "Please write to your representatives and consider donating to the EFF." American attorney Lawrence Lessig writes via Wired: Almost exactly 20 years ago, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term of existing copyrights by 20 years. The Act was the 11th extension in the prior 40 years, timed perfectly to assure that certain famous works, including Mickey Mouse, would not pass into the public domain. Immediately after the law came into force, a digital publisher of public domain works, Eric Eldred, filed a lawsuit challenging the act [which the Supreme Court later rejected].

Twenty years later, the fight for term extension has begun anew. Buried in an otherwise harmless act, passed by the House and now being considered in the Senate, this new bill purports to create a new digital performance right -- basically the right to control copies of recordings on any digital platform (ever hear of the internet?) -- for musical recordings made before 1972. These recordings would now have a new right, protected until 2067, which, for some, means a total term of protection of 144 years. The beneficiaries of this monopoly need do nothing to get the benefit of this gift. They don't have to make the work available. Nor do they have to register their claims in advance.

Java

California Bypasses Science To Label Coffee a Carcinogen (undark.org) 277

travers_r writes: Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle affirmed last week that all coffee sold in California must come with a warning label stating that chemicals in coffee (acrylamide, a substance created naturally during the brewing process) are known to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. But judges, journalists, and environmental advocates fail to recognize the critical difference between probably and certainly, which fuels the inaccurate belief that cancer is mostly caused by things in the environment. From a report at Undark: "IARC is one of the leading scientific bodies in the world, and it is also one of several expert panels on which California relies for scientific opinions in such cases. The IARC has concluded that while there is sufficient evidence to consider acrylamide carcinogenic in experimental animals, there is insufficient evidence for carcinogenicity in humans. Therefore, its overall evaluation is that 'acrylamide is probably carcinogenic to humans.'
[...]
Leading experts, in fact, believe that roughly two-thirds of all cancers are the result of mutations to DNA that are caused by natural bodily processes, not exposure to environmental chemicals. This is quite the opposite of the prevailing belief among the public that most cancers are caused by exogenous substances imposed on us by the products and technologies of the modern world. It's this belief -- this fear -- that prompted voters to pass Proposition 65 in 1986. It was a time when fear of hazardous waste and industrial chemicals was high, when chemophobia -- a blanket fear of anything having to do with the word 'chemicals' -- was being seared into the public's mind."

Wikipedia

Last Stop For Wikipedia's Feuding Editors -- Online High Court (wsj.com) 57

Wikipedia has its own internal "Supreme Court," which adjudicates disputes, takes appeals, and even issues injunctions [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. The cases it hears are as petty as you'd expect. Fascinating story by WSJ: Wikipedia, the vast online crowdsourced encyclopedia, has a high court. It is a panel called the Arbitration Committee, largely unknown to anyone other than Wiki aficionados, which hears disputes that arise after all other means of conflict resolution have failed. The 15 elected jurists on the English-language Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee -- among them a former staffer for presidential candidate John Kerry, an information-technology consultant in a tiny British village and a retired college librarian -- have clerks, write binding decisions and hear appeals. They even issue preliminary injunctions.

Founded in 2001, Wikipedia operates largely through community consensus. All editors are volunteers, and anyone can write and edit its millions of articles. In online forums, editors debate content, sources and style, and typically manage to broker peace by talking -- or rather, typing -- it out. But every so often, tempers flare, necessitating a more stringent brand of justice. In 2003, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales created the committee, known as ArbCom, as the final stop in the site's dispute-resolution process. "There are things that wouldn't start an argument anywhere else that can still start an argument on Wikipedia," says Ira Matetsky, a Manhattan litigator and the unpaid panel's longest-serving current member. Among them: capitalization rules and whether individual television episodes deserve encyclopedia entries.

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