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Industry & Technology

Robot taught empathy through pain, and other tech news

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 51 min ago
BBC Click’s Soila Apparicio looks at some of the best technology news stories of the week.

West Midlands to get access to ultrafast home broadband

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 38 min ago
The West Midlands gigabit switch-on is the largest in the UK, says Virgin Media, but comes at a price.

Protecting whales from the noise people make in the ocean

BBC Technology News - 11 hours 55 sec ago
Oil drilling and construction is creating a din for sealife - new tech is hoping to turn the volume down.

Baldur’s Gate 3 gameplay reveal: A huge leap past THAC0, early access in 2020

Ars Technica - 11 hours 4 min ago

Larian Studios, the game maker behind the Divinity: Original Sin series, kicked off this weekend's PAX East expo with an eagerly awaited look at their next massive RPG: Baldur's Gate 3. This sequel to the acclaimed Dungeons & Dragons video game series, which was created by BioWare and left idle for over a decade, is already in a fully playable pre-alpha state, and an hour-long gameplay demo revealed what we can expect when the new game's "early access" version launches on PCs "in a couple of months."

In short: the Baldur's Gate games you know and love appear to have been delicately treated in their handover to Larian, with upgrades befitting the span of time since BG2 launched in 2001. This is a modern game, in terms of 3D environments, dialogue, motion capture, and quality-of-life tweaks, but it's also built on top of existing tabletop rulesets—and hearkens back to the era just before D&D 5E, when miniatures and tactical movement still reigned supreme.

The PAX East reveal event included footage of the game's epic, pre-rendered opening movie. As a jaded games critic in 2020, I rarely type that kind of sentence in earnest, but the footage's visual storytelling—about an evil force inflicting creepy eyeball-sucking worms onto a series of heroes to power a town-destroying Nautiloid, which is then chased off by heroes riding fire-breathing dragons through a portal into an icy tundra—is some of the most killer stuff I've seen attached to an RPG since, honestly, 2007's Lost Odyssey. After this opening cinematic, players learn that they've successfully captured and killed said Nautiloid, all while teleporting it (and ourselves) to a region roughly 200 miles east of the Baldur's Gate location in D&D's Forgotten Realms universe.

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Coronavirus: Livestreaming karaoke and reality TV in virus-hit China

BBC Technology News - 11 hours 15 min ago
Reality shows in China have found creative ways to keep going while people are urged to stay home.

NASA planning document may offer clues to changes in Artemis program

Ars Technica - 11 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / A video still showing a rendering of an Exploration Upper Stage in flight. (credit: NASA)

NASA is close to finalizing a plan to land humans on the Moon in 2024 and is expected to publicly discuss it next month. While the space agency has not released its revised strategy publicly, a recently updated "mission manifest" for the Space Launch System rocket may provide some clues about the new Artemis Program.

According to a planning document circulated at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center this week, titled "Moon 2024 Mission Manifest," the space agency has set target launch dates for its first 10 Artemis Moon missions. In doing so, the agency has shaken up the order of launches and emphasized the use of NASA's Space Launch System in the lunar return.

The document confirms an earlier report that the first Artemis mission to test SLS rocket will take place no earlier than April 2021. It also adds an additional Artemis mission in the run-up to the first human landing at the South Pole in late 2024:

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Facebook cancels F8 conference over coronavirus fears

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 11:28pm

Enlarge / Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Facebook's F8 summit in 2018. (credit: JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Facebook is canceling its massive F8 developers' conference over fears of COVID-19. The conference had been scheduled to begin on May 5 in San Jose, California.

"F8 is an incredibly important event for Facebook, and it's one of our favorite ways to celebrate all of you from around the world—but we need to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees, and everyone who helps put F8 on," wrote Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook's director of developer platforms.

Facebook will attempt to compensate for the closure of the main event with "locally hosted events, videos, and live streamed content," Papamiltiadis said.

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We are so on board for Jordan Peele’s clever reinvention of Candyman

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 11:15pm

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Us, Watchmen) stars as visual artist Anthony McCoy in Candyman, Jordan Peele's re-imagining of the 1990s horror franchise.

A visual artist inadvertently reawakens a monster from a Chicago urban legend in the first trailer for Candyman. Co-written by Jordan Peele and director Nia DaCosta (best known for her 2019 film Little Woods), it's technically another sequel to the 1992 film that inspired it rather than a straight-up remake. In fact, it looks to be following the trend of such recent projects as Watchmen and Cobra Kai: honoring the prior storyline(s) while bringing them firmly into the present day.

(Spoilers for original film below.)

Based on the Clive Barker short story "The Forbidden," the original 1992 Candyman starred Virginia Madsen as a Chicago graduate student in sociology whose thesis deals with urban legends. She hears about a series of murders in the Cabrini-Green public housing project. The killer is rumored to be the ghost of a late 19th-century artist named Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) who was lynched because he fathered an illegitimate child with a white woman. The mob cut off his right hand and smeared him with honey to attract bees to sting him before scattering his ashes over what is now the project's grounds.

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What’s scarier than hosts gone rogue? Westworld’s idea for privacy laws

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 10:30pm

Enlarge / Surely everyone in the world could trust these guys with 100% of their personal data, right? (credit: (WarnerMedia))

Delos Destinations—the company behind Westworld, Shogunworld, and other living theme parks—is optimistic about US lawmakers' ability to eventually agree on and enact some kind of sweeping privacy regulation. That day will come, HBO's fictional company tells us, in 2039: 19 years from today.

Email users who subscribed to Westworld updates from Delos Destinations may have received a message today about the Privacy Act of 2039 and its projected impact on Delos experiences.

"As you may have heard," the email from "Delos" begins, "US Congress has just passed the Privacy Act of 2039, which will be effective starting today. You will begin to see the impact of this legislation roll out over the coming weeks." The missive continues:

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The Raspberry Pi 4 gets a RAM upgrade: The 2GB version is now $35

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 10:19pm

The Raspberry Pi 4 is approaching its first birthday in a few months, but it's already getting an upgrade: more memory. The Raspberry Pi launched in June 2019 with 1GB of RAM for $35, 2GB of RAM for $45, and 4GB of RAM for $55, but today the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced that the 2GB model is getting a permanent price drop to $35.

The rest of the specs are the same as always: a Broadcom BCM2711 SoC with four 1.5GHz Cortex A72 CPU cores, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3 ports, two USB 2 ports, a headphone/composite video jack, and two micro-HDMI ports capable of powering two 4K monitors.

Interestingly, the foundation says the 1GB version of Pi 4 is sticking around and "will remain available to industrial and commercial customers, at a list price of $35." If you were using fleets of these things for some industry project before, you can still get the old version and not change anything. For everyone else, you probably want the version with more memory. The new pricing seems to already be active at most of the recommended Pi resellers.

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New US coronavirus case from area with quarantined evacuees from cruise, Wuhan

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 10:05pm

Enlarge / UC Davis Medical Center, where the patient with a COVID-19 infection of unknown origin is being treated. (credit: UC Davis)

A Northern California resident has contracted the new coronavirus despite having no known exposure through travel or obvious contact to an infected person—a first for the US.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the case late Wednesday, saying, “It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19,” meaning that the virus may be moving through members of the general US public undetected.

“It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected,” the agency said.

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Both Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions are on sale today

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 8:05pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is highlighted by a couple of deals on Xbox subscriptions, as 3-month membership codes for both Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate are on sale. The former is down to $15 from its usual $25, while the latter is down to $25 from its usual $45. Neither deal is an all-time low, but they're still good prices that we typically see whenever these memberships get discounted from reputable retailers.

For the unfamiliar, an Xbox Live Gold subscription is required to access the online components of most Xbox games and nets you a couple bonus games every month, much like Sony's PlayStation Plus service. Game Pass Ultimate, meanwhile, bundles a Gold membership with subscriptions to Microsoft's pseudo-Netflix-style Xbox Game Pass service for console and PC. We generally consider Game Pass to be a good deal on its own—its library has grown to include several worthwhile games, and Microsoft makes its own first-party games available on the service at launch. The company is heavily pushing Game Pass with its upcoming Xbox Series X console, but since it plans to make all of its "next-gen" games available on the current Xbox One for the first year or so of the Series X's life, Game Pass subscribers who don't plan on upgrading their hardware right away should still be able to get the most out of their membership.

Of note: if you already pay for Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft says that buying a 3-month Xbox Live Gold membership will convert to 50 days of Ultimate service. If you've never subscribed to Game Pass Ultimate, though, know that it's still possible to save hundreds of dollars on up to three years of service by stocking up on Gold memberships first, then grabbing an Ultimate of the latter for $1 extra, converting all that Gold subscription time to an Ultimate subscription in the process. We've gone over how this deal works before, but if you plan to use an Xbox for the next couple of years, it's still a great deal worth considering.

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HTTPS for all: Let’s Encrypt reaches one billion certificates issued

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 7:42pm

Enlarge / Encrypted communication has gone from "only if it's important" to "unless you're incredibly lazy" in four short years—and Let's Encrypt deserves a lot of the credit for that. (credit: nternet1.jpg by Rock1997 modified.)

Let's Encrypt, the Internet Security Research Group's free certificate signing authority, issued its first certificate a little over four years ago. Today, it issued its billionth.

The ISRG's goal for Let's Encrypt is to bring the Web up to a 100% encryption rate. When Let's Encrypt launched in 2015, the idea was pretty outré—at that time, a bit more than a third of all Web traffic was encrypted, with the rest being plain text HTTP. There were significant barriers to HTTPS adoption—for one thing, it cost money. But more importantly, it cost a significant amount of time and human effort, both of which are in limited supply.

Let's Encrypt solved the money barrier by offering its services free of charge. More importantly, by establishing a stable protocol to access them, it enabled the Electronic Frontier Foundation to build and provide Certbot, an open source, free-to-use tool that automates the process of obtaining certificates, installing them, configuring webservers to use them, and automatically renewing them.

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T-Mobile conducts layoffs as it prepares to complete Sprint merger

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 7:19pm

Enlarge / The logo of Deutsche Telekom, owner of T-Mobile, seen at Mobile World Congress in February 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

T-Mobile "has laid off a number of employees" in its prepaid business, Light Reading reported yesterday. Light Reading said three sources confirmed layoffs in the Metro by T-Mobile prepaid business, but "the extent of the layoffs is unclear." We contacted T-Mobile about the reported layoffs and will update this article if we get a response.

A federal judge approved T-Mobile's $26 billion acquisition of rival Sprint about two weeks ago, rejecting a lawsuit by 13 state attorneys general who warned that the merger will reduce competition in the wireless telecommunications market and harm consumers with higher prices.

New York Attorney General Letitia James decided not to appeal the ruling, and the merging firms say they expect to be one company by April 1. California telecom regulators still have not approved the deal, a potential factor that could delay the merger closing.

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Pandemic simulation game Plague Inc. pulled from iOS App Store in China

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 6:34pm

Enlarge / A virtual plague spreads from a virtual China in Plague Inc.

Plague Inc. maker Ndemic Creations says the game has been removed from sale on the iOS App Store in China because the relevant authorities say it “includes content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China.”

The popular game—which asks players to shepherd a virus' deadly spread around the world—has been available on the Chinese App Store for years without issue. Ndemic says it's "not clear to us if this removal is linked to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that China is facing," but it certainly seems like the most likely proximate cause.

"This situation is completely out of our control," Ndemic writes. "We are working very hard to try and find a way to get the game back in the hands of Chinese players—we don’t want to give up on you—however, as a tiny independent games studio in the UK, the odds are stacked against us. Our immediate priority is to try and make contact with the Cyberspace Administration of China to understand their concerns and work with them to find a resolution."

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War Stories: How Crash Bandicoot hacked the original PlayStation

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 5:15pm

Shot by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript.

When you hear the name Crash Bandicoot, you probably think of it as Sony's platformy, mascoty answer to Mario and Sonic. Before getting the full Sony marketing treatment, though, the game was developer Naughty Dog's first attempt at programming a 3D platform game for Sony's brand-new PlayStation. And developing the game in 1994 and 1995—well before the release of Super Mario 64—involved some real technical and game design challenges.

In our latest War Stories video, coder Andy Gavin walks us through a number of the tricks he used to overcome some of those challenges. Those include an advanced virtual memory swapping technique that divided massive (for the time) levels into 64KB chunks. Those chunks could be loaded independently from the slow (but high-capacity) CD drive into the scant 2MB of fast system RAM only when they were needed for Crash's immediate, on-screen environment.

The result allowed for "20 to 30 times" the level of detail of a contemporary game like Tomb Raider, which really shows when you look at the game's environments. Similar dynamic memory management techniques are now pretty standard in open-world video games, and they all owe a debt of gratitude to Gavin's work on Crash Bandicoot as a proof of concept.

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Everyone agrees: Facebook, Twitter should block disinfo—but probably won’t

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 4:43pm

Enlarge / Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding foreign influence operations' use of their social media platforms on September 5, 2018. (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

If you're feeling extremely cynical about social media's preparedness for the rest of the madcap 2020 election season, you're in good company: A whopping three-quarters of Americans don't expect Facebook, Twitter, or other large platforms to handle this year any better than they handled 2016.

That finding comes from the Pew Research Center, which polled Americans about their confidence in tech platforms to prevent "misuse" in the current election cycle. A large majority of respondents think platforms should prevent misuse that could influence the election, but very few think they actually will.

Overall, only 25 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat confident in tech platforms' ability to prevent that kind of misuse, Pew found. Meanwhile, 74 percent reported being not too confident or not at all confident that services would be able to do so. The responses were extremely similar across both Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning respondents.

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Google asked to justify Toronto 'digital-city' plan

BBC Technology News - February 27, 2020 - 4:39pm
Sister company Sidewalk Labs must explain why it has chosen digital solutions over non-digital ones.

YouTube 'not a public forum' with guaranteed free speech

BBC Technology News - February 27, 2020 - 3:32pm
First Amendment rights do not force YouTube to host or promote videos, a court rules.

Review: Altered Carbon comes back strong with twisty, fast-paced S2

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 2:30pm

The first season of Altered Carbon, the Netflix adaptation of Richard K. Morgan's 2002 cyberpunk novel of the same name, earned critical praise for its existential themes and visually stunning world-building, plus a few dings for uneven storytelling and excessive violence. The much-anticipated second season has all the same strengths and almost none of S1's weaknesses, delivering an engrossing storyline that delves deeper into the underlying mythology and history of the planet known as Harlan's World. Fans of the first season won't be disappointed.

(Spoilers for S1 below; some spoilers for S2, but no major plot twist reveals.)

Like the novel (the first of a trilogy), the series is set in a world more than 360 years in the future, where a person's memories and consciousness can be uploaded into a device—based on alien technology—known as a cortical stack. The stack can be implanted at the back of the neck of any human body (known as a "sleeve"), whether natural or synthetic, so an individual consciousness can be transferred between bodies. Income inequality still exists, however, so only the very rich can afford true immortality, storing their consciousness in remote backups and maintaining a steady supply of clones. Those people are called "Meths" (a reference to the biblical Methuselah, who supposedly lived for 969 years).

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