Last week, Mona Lisa smiled. A big, wide smile, followed by what appeared to be a laugh and the silent mouthing of words that could only be an answer to the mystery that had beguiled her viewers for centuries.
A great many people were unnerved.
Mona’s “living portrait,” along with likenesses of Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali, and others, demonstrated the latest technology in deepfakes—seemingly realistic video or audio generated using machine learning. Developed by researchers at Samsung’s AI lab in Moscow, the portraits display a new method to create credible videos from a single image. With just a few photographs of real faces, the results improve dramatically, producing what the authors describe as “photorealistic talking heads.” The researchers (creepily) call the result “puppeteering,” a reference to how invisible strings seem to manipulate the targeted face. And yes, it could, in theory, be used to animate your Facebook profile photo. But don’t freak out about having strings maliciously pulling your visage anytime soon.
Ballot to ban sales of Rekognition system to police attracted less than 3% of investors' votes.
Looking for bugs in computer code can be lucrative but there's more to security than just cashing in.
Sales of hacked personal data are booming in Russia as the penalties are rarely heavy.
This week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill to allow the composting of human remains within the state. It is the only state in the US—and possibly the only government in the world—to explicitly allow "natural organic reduction" of human remains.
The bill also legalizes alkaline hydrolysis, a base chemical process that also uses heat, pressure, and water to liquify remains. Bone is not liquified in the process, so it can be crushed and given to loved ones. Alkaline hydrolysis is legal in 19 other states, according to the New York Times.
The new law, which will take effect in May 2020, is a boon for Recompose, an organization that wants to offer composting as an alternative to green burials and cremation. Traditional burials usually require embalming chemicals and caskets that will remain in the ground for centuries if not millennia. Green burials, which forgo elaborate caskets and embalming chemicals, still require some amount of land, which can be expensive, especially in urban areas. Cremation, on the other hand, requires a significant amount of energy (mostly from fossil fuels) to complete, releasing greenhouse gases in the process.
Summer camp can be challenging enough for an awkward 13-year-old nerdy kid without aliens invading and turning the surrounding region into a war zone. That's the premise of Rim of the World, a fresh and fun original film from Netflix, written by screenwriter Zack Stentz (Thor, X-Men: First Class) and directed by McG (Charlie's Angels, Terminator Salvation). It's pretty much perfect summer fare, the kind of kid-centric action/adventure that used to bring audiences flocking to theaters in the 1980s. Stentz sat down to chat with Ars about his inspirations, and how he and McG successfully brought the story to the screen on a relatively modest budget.
(Some spoilers below.)
In the film, four misfit kids from very different backgrounds meet at a summer adventure camp in southern California's San Bernardino Mountains. Then aliens invade and Alex (Jack Gore), ZhenZhen (Miya Cech), Dariush (Benjamin Flores, Jr.) and Gabriel (Alessio Scalzotto) find themselves stranded alone in the woods when they miss the evacuation. An astronaut from the International Space Station crash-lands near the camp while the four are out hiking. She knows the location of the alien mother ship and gives the kids a flash drive with that data, asking them with her dying breath to take it to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. It's Earth's best hope to beat back the invasion—but the lab is 70 miles away, so the foursome must use their wits to make it there in time.
This week, two rare-earth mineral-processing companies announced a new joint-venture whose aim will be to establish a rare-earth ore processing plant in Hondo, Texas.
Lynas Corp., an Australian rare-earths processor, and Blue Line Corp., a chemical company which is already based in Texas, agreed to a partnership to "see that US companies have continued access to rare-earth products by offering a US-based source."
Rare-earths minerals are found in consumer electronics, military equipment, electric vehicles, and wind turbines and solar panels. China sees rare-earths metals as a potential wedge in current trade talks with the United States, because it mines and processes the majority of the rare-earths used around the world.
Update: It's Memorial Day weekend here in the US, and the Ars staff has a long weekend accordingly. 2019 marks 30 years since Tim Berners-Lee worked at CERN and came up with a little idea known as the World Wide Web. As all of us do a little Web browsing this weekend, we thought resurfacing this piece outlining those early browsers might make all of us even appreciate Internet Explorer today. This story originally ran on Oct 11, 2011, and it appears unchanged below.
When Tim Berners-Lee arrived at CERN, Geneva's celebrated European Particle Physics Laboratory in 1980, the enterprise had hired him to upgrade the control systems for several of the lab's particle accelerators. But almost immediately, the inventor of the modern webpage noticed a problem: thousands of people were floating in and out of the famous research institute, many of them temporary hires.
"The big challenge for contract programmers was to try to understand the systems, both human and computer, that ran this fantastic playground," Berners-Lee later wrote. "Much of the crucial information existed only in people's heads."
As we move from a season marked by unstoppable heating units and into one dominated by aggressive air conditioning. Figuring out how to optimize the thermostat involves a balancing of individual comfort and energy efficiency. But a new study suggests that there's an additional factor that should feed into decisions: the performance of any employees or students who happen to be subjected to the whims of whoever has access to the thermostat.
Unexpectedly, the new results show that men and women don't respond to different temperatures in the same way. And, in doing so, they raise questions about just what we've been measuring when other studies have looked at gender-specific differences in performance.You’re making me cold!
As someone whose mother admonished him to put on sweaters because my bare arms "made her cold," I'm well aware that there's a long-standing cliché about the sexes engaging in a battle of the thermostat. What I hadn't realized is that the existence of that battle is backed by data. Tom Chang and Agne Kajackaite are able to cite four references for the tendency of women to prefer their indoor environments warmer than men do. Chang and Kajackaite, however, found that the academic literature is silent on a related issue: do women have a good reason for wanting it warmer?
Will Africa's governments and consumers have to choose between using US and Chinese technology?
BBC's Megha Mohan finds out why voice assistant technologies often have female voices.
Update: It's Memorial Day weekend here in the US, and the Ars staff has a long weekend accordingly. Many will spend that time relaxing or traveling with family, but maybe someone will dust off their old MacIntosh and fire up Hypercard, a beloved bit of Apple software and development kit in the pre-Web era. The application turns 32 later this summer, so with staff off we thought it was time to resurface this look at Hypercard's legacy. This piece originally ran on May 30, 2012 as Hypercard approached its 25th anniversary, and it appears unchanged below.
Sometime around 1988, my landlady and I cut a deal. She would purchase a Macintosh computer, I would buy an external hard drive, and we would leave the system in the living room to share. She used the device most, since I did my computing on an IBM 286 and just wanted to keep up with Apple developments. But after we set up the Mac, I sat down with it one evening and noticed a program on the applications menu. "HyperCard?" I wondered. "What's that?"
I opened the app and read the instructions. HyperCard allowed you to create "stacks" of cards, which were visual pages on a Macintosh screen. You could insert "fields" into these cards that showed text, tables, or even images. You could install "buttons" that linked individual cards within the stack to each other and that played various sounds as the user clicked them, mostly notably a "boing" clip that to this day I can't get out of my mind. You could also turn your own pictures into buttons.
A website that bills itself as providing a safer way to store Bitcoin and other digital currencies has been using a coding sleight of hand to generate private keys that are suspiciously trivial for the operators to guess, leaving all funds stored in the wallets open to theft, researchers with a different service said on Friday.
WalletGenerator.net provides code for creating what are known as paper wallets for 197 different cryptocurrencies. Paper wallets were once billed as a secure way to store digital coins because—in theory, at least—the private keys that unlock the wallets are stored on paper, rather than on an Internet-connected device that can be hacked. (In reality, paper wallets are open to hack for a variety of reasons.) While the site advises people to download the code from this Github page and run it while the computer is unplugged from the Internet, it also hosted a simpler, stand-alone service above all the instructions for generating the same wallets.
Researchers from MyCrypto, which provides an open-source tool for cryptocurrency and blockchain users, compared the code hosted on Github and WalletGenerator.net and found some striking differences. Sometime between August 17 and August 25 of last year, the WalletGenerator.net code was changed to alter the way it produced the random numbers that are crucial for private keys to be secure.
Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.
The nominees for board gaming's biggest award, the German "Spiel des Jahres" trophy, were announced this week and feature a total absence of entries from designers Wolfgang Warsch and Michael Kiesling. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, those two absolutely dominated last year's awards).
This year, the jury of German critics went with light, easy-to-teach games for the family-friendly "Spiel des Jahres" award. Just One and Werwörter (Werewords in English) are word-based party games, while L.A.M.A. is a card-shedding game from design legend Reiner Knizia. All three play in under 20 minutes (!).
The drones use lidar to create a 3D picture to assess the health of what lies beneath the forest canopy.
No companies have been fined in the first year of tough new data laws, despite a sharp rise in breaches.
Just a little over a week after iOS 12.3 hit iPhones and iPads everywhere, Apple has released iOS 12.3.1—a minor update that fixes a couple bugs. Earlier this week, Apple also released a supplemental update for macOS 10.14.5 to fix issues with the T2 chip on some MacBook Pros, addressing a common user complaint.
The iOS update primarily focused on fixing some issues with the Messages app. More specifically, it addresses a bug that prevented the "report junk" option from appearing on applicable threads and another one that made unknown senders appear in your main inbox when they shouldn't. Additionally, it addresses an issue that affected VoLTE calls.
Apple's patch notes for iOS 12.3.1 are as follows:
How many more Star Wars films and TV series do we need? Our answer to that question became "at least one more" when we learned on late Thursday that a pretty juicy Lucasfilm project is in the works: the first-ever Knights of the Old Republic film.
Buzzfeed News says the project is currently linked to only one person: screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, who has worked on scripts for Terminator Genisys, Netflix's Altered Carbon, and Alita: Battle Angel (meaning no actors, directors, or producers are currently attached, which should indicate how early-stages this project currently is). This script, according to Buzzfeed, is the first of a possible trilogy. If true, that would slam Kalogridis's project up against Star Wars film trilogies from Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff and from The Last Jedi director/screenwriter Rian Johnson.
There's always a chance that this KOTOR-linked screenplay is the first step in a protracted process that never leads to production (spec scripts tend to come before true film development) or that it turns into something tailored for the upcoming Disney+ streaming service. Still, the KOTOR video game franchise, shepherded by the game makers at BioWare, has always been beloved for its characters and scripts. Even its MMO incarnation, which launched in 2011 to uneven reviews, has been consistently lauded for its engrossing universe and stories. Hence, we'll join our fellow Star Wars nerds and begin optimistically drooling already.
Late in the day on May 23, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum ordering the heads of the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and the Directors of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency to give Attorney General William Barr unfettered access to information about "intelligence activities relating to the campaigns in the 2016 Presidential election and certain related matters." The memorandum gives Barr the authority to declassify or downgrade the classification of any information he sees fit as part of the investigation.
Barr's investigation is not into electoral interference by foreign actors during the 2016 presidential campaign, but rather into whether US law enforcement and intelligence illegally spied on the Trump campaign. In an interview with Fox News earlier this month, Barr explained that "people have to find out what the government was doing during that period… If we're worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power and put their thumb on the scale."
The memorandum states that Barr can "declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates to the Attorney General's review." No restrictions are placed on what Barr can declassify, other than an instruction that "the Attorney General should, to the extent he deems it practicable, consult with the head of the originating intelligence community element or department."
Forty-seven Democratic members of Congress are calling for a net neutrality compromise with Republicans, who have refused to support a full restoration of the net neutrality rules repealed by the Ajit Pai-led Federal Communications Commission.
The Democratic-majority US House of Representatives voted in April to pass the Save the Internet Act, which would restore the Obama-era FCC's net neutrality rules. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared the bill "dead on arrival" in the Republican-majority Senate.
Republican lawmakers say they'll only accept a net neutrality law that isn't as strict—even though large majorities of both Democratic and Republican voters support the FCC's old net neutrality rules. On Wednesday, dozens of Democrats asked their party leadership to compromise with the GOP leadership.