Dropped from Air Force jets, an autonomous 100-drone swarm plans and executes its mission

U.S. military officials have announced that they’ve carried out their largest ever test of a drone swarm released from fighter jets in flight. In the trials, three F/A-18 Super Hornets released 103 Perdix drones, which then communicated with each other and went about performing a series of formation flying exercises that mimic a surveillance mission.

But the swarm doesn’t know how, exactly, it will perform the task before it’s released. As William Roper of the Department of Defense explained…

Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature. Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.

They’re not required to behave like human sheeple. Should we worry?

Researchers uncover dormant botnet of 350,000 phony Twitter accounts

A massive botnet secretly infiltrated the Twitterverse in 2013 but has lain mysteriously dormant since then, say researchers.

❝ The rise of the Twitter bot has plagued the online world in recent years. These are Twitter accounts that are automated and require little or no human intervention. Many are entirely legitimate, publishing headlines and links to news stories.

But others are malicious. These Twitter bots produce spam, provide fake followers for anybody willing to pay, and can manipulate debates and public opinion in insidious ways that are hard to track and prevent. The effects of large swarms of Twitter bots — so-called botnets — are largely unknown…

❝ Today that changes thanks to the work of Juan Echeverria and Shi Zhou at University College London. These cybersecurity experts have stumbled across a Twitter botnet consisting of more than 350,000 automated accounts, a network of almost unimaginable proportions, that has existed undetected since 2013…its longevity raises serious questions about the potential impact of botnets and the way they are tracked and monitored…

❝ A simple assessment of the…accounts that created these tweets showed they had much in common. These accounts had never published more than 11 tweets, they never had more than 10 followers and less than 31 friends. They were all produced by Twitter for Windows phones.

But reading the tweets, Echeverria and Zhou realized that they all contained random quotations from Star Wars novels with hashtags inserted at random. A typical tweet is: “Luke’s answer was to put on an extra burst of speed. There were only ten meters #separating them now.”…

❝ …The researchers trained a machine-learning algorithm to recognize Star Wars bots and set it loose on a much larger database of 14 million English-speaking Twitter users.

The results were a shock. The machine-learning algorithm, with the help of some manual filtering, found some 350,000 accounts that had the same characteristics. These accounts had never tweeted more than 11 times, had fewer than 31 friends and were all produced by Twitter for Windows Phone.

What’s more, this entire botnet was created in just a few days in June and July 2013. At the time, it produced 150,000 tweets a day…Then it stopped. “When the creation of new Star Wars bots stopped on 14 July 2013, all the bots suddenly fell silent and remained so ever since…”

So what might these fake Twitter accounts be for? Although the accounts have been silent for some time, this makes them valuable since they are less likely now to be labeled as fake. For this reason, pre-aged bots have significant value on the black market…

❝ Clearly, the discovery of this giant botnet raises important questions about the extent to which the Twitterverse has been infiltrated by bots that can influence the dynamics of conversations, opinions, and even elections. The work leaves open the crucial question of who set up this botnet and why.

BTW – Echeverria and Zhou report they “…have recently discovered another botnet with more than 500k bots”.

French now have the right to ignore company emails on their own time

❝ France employees are getting the legal right to avoid work emails outside working hours…The new law, which has been dubbed the “right to disconnect”, comes into force on 1 January.

Companies with more than 50 workers will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails…

❝ The measure is part of a set of labour laws introduced in May…It was the only one of the laws – which also made it easier for firms to hire and fire employees – that did not generate widespread protest and strikes.

I’ll second that emotion. For most occupations, companies requiring email attention on your own time are folks I wouldn’t recommend working for.

Yes, there are exceptions. That’s not what this is about.

Can’t sleep from worrying about information overload?


Click to enlarge

❝ Since the 1970s, the term “information overload” has captured society’s anxiety about the growth in the production of information having potentially bad consequences for people as they struggle to cope with seemingly constant streams of messages and images. The advent of the internet, it was thought, would only exacerbate this, with the onset of ubiquitous connectivity turning information overload into something even more debilitating.

❝ A new Pew Research Center survey finds that, for the most part, the large majority of Americans do not feel that information overload is a problem for them. Some 20% say they feel overloaded by information, a decline from the 27% figure from a decade ago, while 77% say they like having so much information at their fingertips. Two-thirds (67%) say that having more information at their disposals actually helps to simplify their lives.

❝ The survey shows that most Americans are comfortable with their abilities to cope with information flows in their day-to-day lives. Moreover, those who own more devices are also the ones who feel more on top of the data and media flows in their lives. Those who are more likely to feel information overload have less technology and are poorer, less well-educated and older.

RTFA for more detail – yes, more information – than you might need about the topic. News junkies like me, science addicts, lifetime students – will love this.

Samsung opts for permanent solution to Galaxy Note 7 phones in the GOUSA

❝ Samsung is reportedly adopting even harsher methods to prevent people from using the few remaining Galaxy Note 7s in the wild, planning an imminent U.S. software update that will render them useless.

On Dec. 19 Samsung will push out an update preventing the phones from charging, according to a statement to The Verge. The code will be distributed through all major U.S. carriers within 30 days.

❝ Samsung noted that 93 percent of Note 7s sold in the country have already been returned. The update is meant to get people to participate in a long-standing recall offering refunds and exchanges, sometimes with extra financial incentives.

The company has been gradually escalating its software tactics. American Note 7 models are already unable to charge past 60 percent, and in Canada, Samsung will soon be disabling all wireless functions.

❝ Shortly after its launch late this summer, the Note 7 was plagued by a series of battery fires and explosions, possibly owing to an ultra-compact design rushed to beat Apple’s iPhone 7. Samsung attempted to recall and fix the initial batch of units, but this didn’t solve the problem, forcing the company to issue another recall and discontinue the product entirely.

Folks, if you’re part of that 7% solution do yourself a favor and return that bookend.

Amazon continues retail experiments – like how to checkout with no lines

❝ Amazon.com unveiled technology that will let shoppers grab groceries without having to scan and pay for them — in one stroke eliminating the checkout line.

The company is testing the new system at what it’s calling an Amazon Go store in Seattle, which will open to the public early next year. Customers will be able to scan their phones at the entrance using a new Amazon Go mobile app. Then the technology will track what items they pick up or even return to the shelves and add them to a virtual shopping cart in real time, according a video Amazon posted on YouTube. Once the customers exit the store, they’ll be charged on their Amazon account automatically.

Amazon has been experimenting with the grocery business since 2007 when it started AmazonFresh in the Seattle area, where the company is based. The service offers doorstep delivery of a limited selection of groceries in 16 U.S. markets, including Los Angeles, New York and Boston as well as London. Amazon is also building facilities that let shoppers pull in and pick up groceries ordered online. Now the company, which already operates a few brick-and-mortar book and college-campus stores, is testing a kind of convenience store…

❝ Amazon employees are testing out the 1,800-square-foot Seattle store, where they can buy ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options as well as grocery essentials from bread and milk to artisanal cheeses and locally made chocolates. Also available: Amazon Meal Kits, containing all the ingredients needed to make a meal for two in 30 minutes…

❝ If Amazon’s plan works like as promised, the company will have succeeded in not only getting rid of the register and lines but also automating the entire buying process.

Every little bit helps. We look for self-checkout and Apple Pay wherever we shop, now. Skipping even those steps is OK by me.

Tim the robot — monitoring the Large Hadron Collider

❝ Hundreds of feet below the French-Swiss border lays the Large Hadron Collider. The 17 miles of strange tunnels accelerate particles at close to the speed of light before smashing them together to see what happens.

That’s an oversimplification of a complicated process, one where a lot can go wrong. Someone has to monitor the miles of concrete, plastic, steel, and glass below the earth to avoid disaster and keep science moving. Someone does, someone called … TIM.

That tractor ain’t pulling a cargo trailer — it’s a huge hard drive!

snowmobileta

❝ Yes, today’s speediest internet connections make it faster to download movies than to go to the store and buy them. But downloading or uploading truly large amounts of data can still take days, months, or even years — think a film studio’s entire video archives or the satellite imagery collections of government agencies. That lag is a problem for Amazon, which wants companies to store their information in its lucrative cloud. But it’s also a natural one for Amazon — a logistics company at heart — to solve. So this week the company announced one of its strangest ideas yet: a tractor trailer that will transport your data to Amazon’s own data centers…

Amazon announced the new service, confusingly named Snowmobile, at its Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week. It’s designed to shuttle as many as 100 petabytes – around 100,000 terabytes – per truck. That’s enough storage to hold five copies of the Internet Archive (a comprehensive backup of the web both present and past), which contains “only” about 18.5 petabytes of unique data.

Amazon has long let businesses ship hard disks full of data to Amazon for uploading into the retail giant’s cloud. But copying 100 petabytes to individual hard drives isn’t practical. Snowmobile acts like a giant hard drive that comes to you…

❝ “On the security side, Snowmobile incorporates multiple layers of logical and physical protection, including chain-of-custody tracking and video surveillance,” Amazon cloud evangelist Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the service. In other words, Amazon is keeping a close eye on your data while it’s on the road. Each truck is weather-proofed and tamper-resistant and all data is encrypted, Barr says.

❝ …Amazon seems to believe that some companies will need multiple Snowmobiles. The site advertises itself as capable of handling data at the exabytes scale — or by Amazon’s new measurement, ten truckloads.

Cripes. Folks in logistics, nowadays, are solving problems that were’t even a figment of someone’s imagination just a decade ago.