Top Stories for the Week of October 26, 2016

  • Episode 475
  • October 26, 2016
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday October 26, 2016

AT&T and Time Warner are merging to create an ISP, TV, and media giant

AT&T and Time Warner Inc. have made their rumored merger official, with AT&T to purchase the media company for $85.4 billion in cash and stock. The total transaction value is $108.7 billion when factoring in Time Warner's debt.

AT&T's announcement Saturday evening listed some of the many media properties the company will own if the merger is allowed by US regulators.

AT&T already is the largest pay-TV provider in the US thanks to last year's purchase of DirecTV. It is also the third largest provider of home Internet service after Comcast and Charter, and the second largest provider of mobile data and voice services after Verizon Wireless.

AT&T intends to close the transaction before the end of 2017. It will require review by the US Department of Justice and possibly by the Federal Communications Commission.

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump says his administration would block the AT&T/Time Warner merger "because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few."


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

An AI judge created by British scientists can predict human rights rulings with 79% accuracy.

An artificial intelligence "judge" that can accurately predict many of Europe's top human rights court rulings has been created by a team of computer scientists and legal experts.

The AI system—developed by researchers from University College London, the University of Sheffield, and the University of Pennsylvania—parsed 584 cases which had previously been heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and successfully predicted 79 percent of the decisions.

A machine learning algorithm was trained to search for patterns in English-language datasets relating to three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The cases examined were equally split between those that did find rights violations and those that didn't.

Despite the AI's success, the legal profession is safe for now. UCL computer scientist Nikolaos Aletras, who led the study, said: "We don’t see AI replacing judges or lawyers, but we think they’d find it useful for rapidly identifying patterns in cases that lead to certain outcomes."


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

A device that makes broccoli taste like chocolate has been developed.

Scientists at City, University of London recently showed off a device called the Taste Buddy that magically — well, electrically — tricks your tongue into thinking a vegetable, like broccoli, tastes like chocolate. All you have to do is put a device in your mouth and let it zap you a bit.

Taste Buddy works by stimulating taste buds in a way that allows it to imitate the sensations we get from sweet or salty foods. The hope is that this technology will convince people to eat healthy foods by making them taste like something they enjoy, with the natural conversion being from vegetables to saccharine treats.

Eventually the tech in Taste Buddy might be shrunk down and built into utensils, allowing people to decide the flavor of anything they eat.

Don't get too excited though. The team has given Taste Buddy a tentative release date of “within the next 20 years.”


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

'Smart' home devices were used as weapons in a massive website attack on Friday.

Hackers used internet-connected home devices, such as CCTV cameras and printers, to attack popular websites on Friday.

Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit were among the sites taken offline on Friday.

Each uses a company called Dyn, which was the target of the attack, to direct users to its website.

Security analysts now believe the attack used the "internet of things" - web-connected home devices - to launch the assault.

Dyn is a DNS service - an internet "phone book" which directs users to the internet address where the website is stored. Such services are a crucial part of web infrastructure.

On Friday, it came under a distributed denial of service attack which relies on thousands of machines sending co-ordinated messages to overwhelm the service.

The "global event" involved "tens of millions" of internet addresses.

The malware scours the Web looking for IoT devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords, and it has been determined that many of the devices involved in last week's attack came from Chinese manufacturers, with easy-to-guess usernames and passwords that cannot be changed by the user - a vulnerability which the malware exploits.

Once compromised, the malware enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target.

Jeff Jarmoc, head of security for global business service Salesforce, pointed out that internet infrastructure is supposed to be more robust. He tweeted, "In a relatively short time we've taken a system built to resist destruction by nuclear weapons and made it vulnerable to toasters."

It all serves as a reminder that despite the internet being a hugely robust communications system, there are still some pinch points that mean a targeted attack can cause widespread damage.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

A clever scam on Microsoft Windows utilizes the Blue Screen of Death to trick users into calling the scammers.

Microsoft has sounded the alarm over a fake installer for its Security Essentials, which attempts to trick victims into contacting bogus help centers.

Microsoft has sounded the alarm over a fake installer for its Security Essentials, which attempts to trick victims into contacting bogus help centers.

Tech-support scammers have stepped up their technical game, prompting a "severe" warning from Microsoft over new Windows malware that mimics Microsoft's free Security Essentials antivirus, and then displays a fake blue screen of death, or BSoD, with an error message and a suggestion to call a 1800 number that is not a Microsoft support center.

The malware disables Task Manager to prevent the user from terminating the fake BSoD and hides the mouse cursor to make the user think Windows is not responding.

This is a crafty example of an emerging tactic that's having greater success at roping people into tech support scams. Instead of cold-calling would-be targets, scammers are using online pop-up ads and fake security warnings to encourage people to contact a bogus support center.

Microsoft said on its Malware Protection Center blog, "Real error messages from Microsoft do not include support contact details."

They go on to say, "We've seen attackers becoming more sophisticated with their social-engineering tactics to try to mislead users into calling for technical support and then they are asked for payment to 'fix the problem'" ... a "problem" that doesn't exist.


Sent to us by: Bronze Shroud

A major breakthrough this week in AI-driven speech-to-text comes from the labs at Microsoft.

Speech recognition software isn't perfect, but it is a little closer to human this week, as a Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research team reached a major milestone in speech-to-text development

Their system reached a historically low word error rate of 5.9 percent, equal to the accuracy of a professional (human) transcriptionist. The system can discern words as clearly and accurately as two people having a conversation might understand one another.

According to Microsoft's blog, by combining their open-source Computational Network Toolkit, and obsessing over the project, the team was able to beat its goal of human parity by years in just months. They hit the parity milestone around 3:30 in the morning last Wednesday, when Xuedong Huang, the company’s chief speech scientist, woke up to the breakthrough.

Huang says this isn't a breakthrough just for AI wonks and researchers pulling all-nighters. It's a difference you'll likely notice when you're talking to an AI assistant in the near future


Sent to us by: Steve Dulaney


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