On Friday, oil major Royal Dutch Shell and German energy storage company Sonnen announced that Shell would acquire Sonnen for an undisclosed amount.
Sonnen has been one of the top competitors with Tesla's Powerwall in the US home battery market. The company built its base in Germany, attaching batteries for self-consumption to homes with solar panels. Sonnen now claims 40,000 batteries installed in households in Germany, the US, and Australia.
The company's assets include proprietary software that optimizes a home's battery use in combination with solar power.
OpenAI, a non-profit research company investigating "the path to safe artificial intelligence," has developed a machine learning system called Generative Pre-trained Transformer-2 (GPT-2 ), capable of generating text based on brief writing prompts. The result comes so close to mimicking human writing that it could potentially be used for "deepfake" content. Built based on 40 gigabytes of text retrieved from sources on the Internet (including "all outbound links from Reddit, a social media platform, which received at least 3 karma"), GPT-2 generates plausible "news" stories and other text that match the style and content of a brief text prompt.
The performance of the system was so disconcerting, now the researchers are only releasing a reduced version of GPT-2 based on a much smaller text corpus. In a blog post on the project and this decision, researchers Alec Radford, Jeffrey Wu, Rewon Child, David Luan, Dario Amodei, and Ilya Sutskever wrote:
Due to concerns about large language models being used to generate deceptive, biased, or abusive language at scale, we are only releasing a much smaller version of GPT-2 along with sampling code. We are not releasing the dataset, training code, or GPT-2 model weights. Nearly a year ago we wrote in the OpenAI Charter: “we expect that safety and security concerns will reduce our traditional publishing in the future, while increasing the importance of sharing safety, policy, and standards research,” and we see this current work as potentially representing the early beginnings of such concerns, which we expect may grow over time. This decision, as well as our discussion of it, is an experiment: while we are not sure that it is the right decision today, we believe that the AI community will eventually need to tackle the issue of publication norms in a thoughtful way in certain research areas.
OpenAI is funded by contributions from a group of technology executives and investors connected to what some have referred to as the PayPal "mafia"—Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Jessica Livingston, and Sam Altman of YCombinator, former PayPal COO and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and former Stripe Chief Technology Officer Greg Brockman. Brockman now serves as OpenAI's CTO. Musk has repeatedly warned of the potential existential dangers posed by AI, and OpenAI is focused on trying to shape the future of artificial intelligence technology—ideally moving it away from potentially harmful applications.
With five measles outbreaks ongoing in the US, lawmakers are questioning both health officials and tech giants on their efforts to combat the noxious anti-vaccine misinformation fueling the spread of disease.
Last week, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate health committee, along with ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health and Human Services. The lawmakers asked what health officials were doing to fight misinformation and help states dealing with outbreaks. “Many factors contribute to vaccine hesitancy, all of which demand attention from CDC and [HHS’ National Vaccine Program Office],” the lawmakers wrote. On Thursday, February 14, the committee announced that it will hold a hearing on the subject on March 5.
Also Thursday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sent letters to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In them, Schiff expressed concern over the outbreaks as well as the tech companies’ role in enabling the dissemination of medically inaccurate information.
“You just have to believe!” is the kind of trite line you’d expect in a kids’ movie about a magic talking dog. But it seems the phrase doubles as important advice for college professors. That’s the upshot of a huge study at Indiana University, led by Elizabeth Canning, where researchers measured the attitudes of instructors and the grades their students earned in classes.Mind the gap
One of the disappointing problems in higher education is the frequent existence of an “achievement gap” between underrepresented minorities and other students. It seems to be the result of various obstacles that students face along the way, from stereotypes about which groups are naturally skilled in which fields, to cultural differences that make some students hesitant to seek help in a class, to a lack of advantages in primary and secondary education. A lot of things can get in the way.
So these scenarios don’t have to take the ugly form of a racist teacher outright telling a student they aren’t welcome. Many issues are unintentional and subtle. If a student has the perception, for any reason, that they aren’t expected to succeed, that can drain enough motivation to ensure that they don’t.
Facebook may have to pay a multi-billion dollar fine for violating its users' privacy—or face a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC has been investigating Facebook and is negotiating with the company "over a multi-billion dollar fine that would settle the agency's investigation," The Washington Post reported yesterday, citing "people familiar with the probe." New York Times sources also confirmed that the current negotiations "could amount to a record, multibillion-dollar fine."
The investigation focuses on whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 settlement with the FTC. In the 2011 case, the FTC said that Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public."
While NASA's commercial crew program continues to demonstrate progress—the first test flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon may occur as soon as March 2—there are no guarantees the vehicles will be ready for operational flights to the International Space Station by early 2020.
NASA's last contracted flight with Russia is for a mission set to launch in July. The Soyuz MS-13 vehicle will carry cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov, NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano for a six- or seven-month stay on the International Space Station. After this, NASA would be at risk of having no more of its people on the orbiting laboratory.
The agency's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel warned the agency last year that due to potential delays in the commercial crew program, NASA should look into buying more Soyuz seats from Russia. "Senior NASA leadership should work with the Administration and the Congress to guarantee continuing access to ISS for US crew members until such time that US capability to deliver crew to ISS is established," the safety panel recommended.