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United Kingdom

'No Turning Back' on Brexit as Article 50 Triggered (bbc.com) 504

An anonymous reader shares a BBC report: Britain's departure from the European Union is "an historic moment from which there can be no turning back," Theresa May has told MPs. The prime minister said it was a "unique opportunity" to "shape a brighter future" for the UK. She was speaking after Britain's EU ambassador formally triggered the two year countdown to the UK's exit by handing over a letter in Brussels. It follows June's referendum which resulted in a vote to leave the EU. In a statement in the Commons, the prime minister said: "Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people and it acts too on the clear and convincing position of this House." She added: "The Article 50 process is now under way and in accordance with the wishes of the British people the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union."
Transportation

Dutch Scientist Proposes Circular Runways For Airport Efficiency (curbed.com) 321

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fast Company: While airport terminal architecture has a solid history of style and innovation, rarely is a proposal put forth to utterly redesign the runway. But that's precisely the aim of Henk Hesselink, a Dutch scientist working with the Netherlands Aerospace Center. Dubbed the "endless runway," Hesselink's brainchild is a 360-degree landing strip measuring more than two miles in diameter. Since airplanes would be able to approach and take off from any direction around the proposed circle, they wouldn't have to fight against crosswinds. And three planes would be able to take off or land at the same time. Hesselink's team uses flight simulators and computerized calculations to test the unconventional design, and have determined that round airports would be more efficient than existing layouts. With a central terminal, the airport would only use about a third of the land of the typical airport with the same airplane capacity. And there's an added benefit to those living near airports: Flight paths could be more distributed, and thereby making plane noise more tolerable. BBC produced a video detailing Hesselink's circular runway concept. The concept is fascinating but there are many questions the video does not answer. Phil Derner Jr. from NYC Aviation writes via Business Insider about some of those unanswered questions in his article titled "Why the circular runway concept wouldn't work." The fundamental issues discussed in his report include banked runway issues, curved runway issues, navigation issues, and airspace issues. What do you think of Hesselink's concept? Do you think it is preposterous or shows promise?
Government

Terrifying Anti-Riot Vehicle Created To Quash Any Urban Disturbance (boingboing.net) 195

"Are you an urban police force thinking about how to control your fellow humans?" jokes Cory Doctorow. "Look no farther! Your pals at Bozena have an all-new RIOT system, a crowd-control killdozer for all your protest-suppressing needs!" He's one of several web commentators marveling at the marketing copy for a Slovakian company's new anti-riot machinery, also spotted by Slashdot reader drunkdrone. Some quotes from the BOZENA RIOT SYSTEM site about the device's features:
  • Easy attachable bulldozer blade.
  • The [6,600 pound] shield comes equipped with launching ports designed for use of guns or other rubber projectiles launchers.
  • The trailer is capable of displacing the water/foam or its mixtures (available additives: pepper or painting substances) under the high pressure into the distance of several dozen meters.
  • Communication with rioters through the loudspeakers.
  • Designed to control riots in streets and urbanized areas...intended predominantly for the special military and police units responsible for the CROWD CONTROL during the violent political/social demonstrations, against football hooligans, etc.

AI

Who's Liable For Decisions AI and Robotics Make? (betanews.com) 180

An anonymous reader shares a BetaNews article: Reuters news agency reported on February 16 that "European lawmakers called [...] for EU-wide legislation to regulate the rise of robots, including an ethical framework for their development and deployment and the establishment of liability for the actions of robots including self-driving cars." The question of determining "liability" for decision making achieved by robots or artificial intelligence is an interesting and important subject as the implementation of this technology increases in industry, and starts to more directly impact our day to day lives. Indeed, as application of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technology grows, we are likely to witness how it changes the nature of work, businesses, industries and society. And yet, although it has the power to disrupt and drive greater efficiencies, AI has its obstacles: the issue of "who is liable when something goes awry" being one of them. Like many protagonists in industry, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are trying to tackle this liability question. Many of them are calling for new laws on artificial intelligence and robotics to address the legal and insurance liability issues. They also want researchers to adopt some common ethical standards in order to "respect human dignity."
Power

Millions of Smart Meters May Over-Inflate Readings by up to 600% (bleepingcomputer.com) 249

"Lab tests carried out by Dutch scientists have shown that some of today's 'smart' electrical meters may give out false readings that in some cases can be 582% higher than actual energy consumption," reports BleepingComputer. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The study involved several tests conducted on nine different brands of "smart" meters, also referred to in the industry as "static energy meters." Researchers also used one electromechanical meter for reference... Experiments went on for six months, with individual tests lasting at least one week, and sometimes several weeks. Test results varied wildly, with some meters reporting errors way above their disclosed range, going from -32% to +582%...

The results of the study also matched numbers posted on an online forum by a disgruntled Dutchman complaining about high energy bills... Researchers blamed all the issues on the design of some smart meters, and, ironically, electrical devices with energy-saving features. The latter devices, researchers say, introduced a large amount of noise in electrical current waveforms, which disrupt the smart meter sensors tasked with recording power consumption...

Long-time Slashdot reader ClarkMills points out the researchers estimate that "potentially inaccurate meters have been installed in the meter cabinets of at least 750,000 Dutch households," while the article suggests that worldwide, "the numbers of possibly faulty smart meters could be in the millions,especially after some governments, especially in the EU, have pushed for smart meters to replace classic electromechanical (rotating disk) meters."
AI

Backlash Builds Against Bill Gates' Call For A Robot Tax (cbsnews.com) 392

Bill Gates argued governments should tax companies that use replace humans with robots, which "provoked enough negative feedback to fry a motherboard," according to CBS News. Here's how they summarized some of the reactions:
  • "Why pick on robots?" former Treasury Secretary Summers asked in a Washington Post opinion piece, which called Gates "profoundly misguided." The economist argued that progress, however messy and disruptive sometimes, ultimately benefits society overall.
  • Mike Shedlock, a financial adviser with Sitka Pacific Capital Management in Edmonds, Washington, wrote on his blog that robot owners, who likely would pay the tax, would simply pass it along by jacking up prices.
  • The European Union's parliament in February rejected a measure to impose a tax on robots, using much the same reasoning as Gates' critics.

But even while acknowledging that technology can complement humans rather than replacing them, a Bloomberg columnist argues that "Gates is right to say that we should start thinking ahead of time about how to use policy to mitigate the disruptions of automation." So if we're not going to tax robots, then how should society handle the next great wave of automated labor?


EU

Munich's IT Lead: 'No Compelling Reason' To Switch Back To Windows From Linux (techrepublic.com) 203

"The man who runs Munich's central IT says there is no practical reason for the city to write off millions of euros and years of work to ditch its Linux-based OS for Windows," reports TechRepublic. Long-time Slashdot reader Qbertino summarizes a German-language article: Karl-Heinz Schneider, lead of Munich's local system house company IT@M, goes on to claim, "We do not see pressing technical reasons to switch to MS and MS Office... The council [in their recent plans] didn't even follow the analysts' suggestion to stick with using LibreOffice." Furthermore, Schneider stated that "System failures that angered citizens in recent years never were related to the LiMux project, but due to new bureaucratic procedures..." and apparently decisions by unqualified personnel at the administrative level, as Munich's administration itself states.
EU

EU Court Sets Limit On 'Right To Be Forgotten' In Company Registers (reuters.com) 28

The European Union's top court ruled in May 2014 that people could ask search engines, such as Google or Microsoft's Bing, to remove inadequate or irrelevant information from the web results produced from searches for people's names. Today, the court is limiting the so-called "right to be forgotten" principle, ruling that individuals cannot demand that personal data be erased from company records in an official register. Reuters reports: In Thursday's ruling the European Court of Justice said that company registers needed to be public to ensure legal certainty and to protect the interests of third parties. Company registers only contained a limited amount of personal information and, as executives in companies should disclose their identity and functions, it said. This did not constitute too severe an interference in their private lives and personal data. However, the court said there might be specific situations in which access to personal data in company registers could be limited, such as a long period after a company's dissolution. But this should be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Piracy

Streaming Pirate Content Isn't Illegal, UK Trading Standards Says (torrentfreak.com) 70

Every day millions of people use PCs, tablets, phones and Kodi-style devices to stream pirated content, but is it illegal? According to Trading Standards, local UK authorities tasked with investigating commercial organizations, if users only stream and don't download, they're likely exempt from copyright law. An anonymous reader shares a TorrentFreak report: "Accessing premium paid-for content without a subscription is considered by the industry as unlawful access, although streaming something online, rather than downloading a file, is likely to be exempt from copyright laws," the spokesperson added. This statement certainly carries some weight. Although in a different region of the UK, Trading Standards is the driving force behind the prosecution of Kodi box seller Brian Thompson who entered a not guilty plea in January. He'll face a trial in a couple of months but it now seems more clear than ever that his customers and millions like them around the country are not breaking the law, a position that's shared by the EU Commission.
Power

Underwater Pumped-Storage Hydroelectric Project Completes Its First Practical Test (forschung-energiespeicher.info) 238

What if you built massive concrete spheres -- 98 feet in diameter, with 10-foot walls -- under the ocean to help generate electricity during peak periods? Slashdot reader nachtkap reports that German researchers just finished testing their 1:10-scale prototype StEnSEA: It was retrieved from Lake Constance, where it was submerged at a depth of 100 meters [328-feet] since November. The system was developed by the Fraunhofer-Institut IWES in Kassel, Germany in collaboration with its inventors... The German Trade Department and Department of Education and Research as well as the German construction company Hochtief are also involved with the project.

The system's hollow concrete spheres are intended to be used in conjunction with off-shore wind-farms to serve as energy storage for peak hours. The spheres are ultimately supposed to be submerged near off-shore wind-farms and pumped free of water with excess energy. When additional energy is needed during peak hours the system goes into reverse and water rushes in, driving a turbine... At 700 meters the system has a capacity of 20MWh, with a linear capacity increase as depth increases.

EU

The City of Munich Might Stick With Linux (fsfe.org) 117

Munich's "LiMux" project brought FOSS software to their city's IT administration -- until a vote last month on whether to abandon Linux and return to Windows. "Since this decision was reached, the majority of media have reported that a final call was made to halt LiMux and switch back to Microsoft software," reports the Free Software Foundation Europe. "This is, however, not an accurate representation of the outcome of the city council meeting." An anonymous reader quotes their report: The opposing parties were overruled, but the decision was amended such that the strategy document must specify which LiMux-applications will no longer be needed, the extent in which prior investments must be written off, and a rough calculation of the overall costs of the desired unification... [Only then will the city council make their final decision...] We succeeded thus far in forcing the mayor Dieter Reiter to postpone the final decision, and this was possible through the unwavering pressure created by joint efforts between The Document Foundation, KDE, OSBA, and the FSFE together with all the individuals who wrote to city council members and took the issue to the media.

Although the mandate is highly suggestive in that it suggests that the existing vendor-neutral approach is to be replaced with a proprietary solution, it leaves the door open... The new mandate buys us some time. And we will keep going.

Some politicians said they'd never received this much input from the public before, and the Free Software Foundation Europe says the city's issues were caused "from organizational problems, including lack of clear structures and responsibilities," which should not be attributed to the Linux operating system. "LiMux as such is still one of the best examples of how to create a vendor-neutral administration based on Free Software."
Businesses

Apple Files 14-Point Appeal Against European Commission's $14 Billion Tax Edict (appleinsider.com) 176

An anonymous reader shares an AppleInsider report: Apple has filed its appeal with the European court of appeals, all declaring that the European Commission's decision to levy $14 billion in taxes on Apple on behalf of the EU is erroneous, against the rule of law, and should be stricken. The 14 points of appeal introduced by Apple on Monday challenge the European Commission (EC) on several fronts. Primarily, Apple contests that the Cork, Ireland, headquarters of Apple's European wing was properly set up, in accordance with all regulations and laws. Additionally, other apparent accounting blunders by the EC while making its decision were brought up as well. Apple points out that the taxable income attributed to the Ireland branch was misapplied, giving more weight to the Irish operation than it should, and that back taxes were being applied to worldwide profits.
Windows

EU Privacy Watchdogs Say Windows 10 Settings Still Raise Concerns (reuters.com) 161

Julia Fioretti, reporting for Reuters: European Union data protection watchdogs said on Monday they were still concerned about the privacy settings of Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system despite the U.S. company announcing changes to the installation process. The watchdogs, a group made up of the EU's 28 authorities responsible for enforcing data protection law, wrote to Microsoft last year expressing concerns about the default installation settings of Windows 10 and users' apparent lack of control over the company's processing of their data. The group -- referred to as the Article 29 Working Party -- asked for more explanation of Microsoft's processing of personal data for various purposes, including advertising. "In light of the above, which are separate to the results of ongoing inquiries at a national level, even considering the proposed changes to Windows 10, the Working Party remains concerned about the level of protection of users' personal data," the group said in a statement which also acknowledged Microsoft's willingness to cooperate.
Toys

German Government Tells Parents: Destroy This WiFi-Connected Doll (theverge.com) 142

It's illegal in Germany now to sell a talking doll named "My Friend Cayla," according to a story shared by Slashdot reader Bruce66423. And that's just the beginning. The Verge reports: A German government watchdog has ordered parents to "destroy" an internet-connected doll for fear it could be used as a surveillance device. According to a report from BBC News, the German Federal Network Agency said the doll (which contains a microphone and speaker) was equivalent to a "concealed transmitting device" and therefore prohibited under German telecom law... In December last year, privacy advocates said the toy recorded kids' conversations without proper consent, violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

Cayla uses a microphone to listen to questions, sending this audio over Wi-Fi to a third-party company that converts it to text. This is then used to search the internet, allowing the doll to answer basic questions, like "What's a baby kangaroo called?" as well as play games. In addition to privacy concerns over data collection, security researchers found that Cayla can be easily hacked. The doll's insecure Bluetooth connection can be compromised, letting a third party record audio via the toy, or even speak to children using its voice.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has said toys like this "subject young children to ongoing surveillance...without any meaningful data protection standards." One researcher pointed out that the doll was accessible from up to 33 feet away -- even through walls -- using a bluetooth-enabled device.
Microsoft

Bill Gates: The Robot That Takes Your Job Should Pay Taxes (qz.com) 388

In a recent interview with Quartz, Bill Gates said he believes that governments should tax companies that use robots who are taking human jobs, as a way to at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and to fund other types of employment. The money gained from taxing robots could then be used to finance jobs taking care of elderly people or working with kids in schools -- jobs which humans are particularly well suited for. Quartz reports: [Gates] argues that governments must oversee such programs rather than relying on businesses, in order to redirect the jobs to help people with lower incomes. The idea is not totally theoretical: EU lawmakers considered a proposal to tax robot owners to pay for training for workers who lose their jobs, though on Feb. 16 the legislators ultimately rejected it. "You ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the speed" of automation, Gates argues. That's because the technology and business cases for replacing humans in a wide range of jobs are arriving simultaneously, and it's important to be able to manage that displacement. "You cross the threshold of job replacement of certain activities all sort of at once," Gates says, citing warehouse work and driving as some of the job categories that in the next 20 years will have robots doing them. You can watch Gates' remarks in a video here, or read the transcript embedded in Quartz' report.
AI

EU Moves To Bring In AI Laws, But Rejects Robot Tax Proposal (newatlas.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: The European Parliament has voted on a resolution to regulate the development of artificial intelligence and robotics across the European Union. Based on a raft of recommendations drafted in a report submitted in January to the legal affairs committee, the proposed rules include establishing ethical standards for the development of artificial intelligence, and introducing an insurance scheme to cover liability for accidents involving driverless cars. Not every element in the broad-ranging report was accepted by the Parliament though, with a recommendation to institute a "robot tax" roundly rejected. The robot tax proposal was designed to create a fund that manages the repercussions and retraining of workers made redundant through the increased deployment of industrial and service robots. But those in the robotics industry were supportive of the Parliamentary rejection, with the International Federation of Robotics suggesting to Reuters a robot tax would have been harmful to the burgeoning industry, stifling innovation and competitiveness. The European Parliament passed the resolution comfortably with 396 votes to 123, with 85 abstentions.
Piracy

Swedish Court Rules: 'Block the Pirate Bay For Next 3 Years' (fossbytes.com) 60

"In 2014, many film studios teamed up to force the Swedish ISP Bredbandsbolaget to block the popular torrent website The Pirate Bay," reports Fossbytes. "It was also said that ISPs should be blocked if they refused to block copyright infringing websites." Now, a Swedish Patent and Market Court of Appeal has ordered The Pirate Bay and streaming portal Swefilmer to be blocked by Bredbandsbolaget for the next three years. Fossbytes reports: The court overruled the earlier ruling of the District Court, ordering the ISP to employ some technical measures to stop its customers from accessing the website and its different URLs. The court said that a blocking injunction would be proportional "in the light of EU law." Notably, under the EU law, it's possible for the copyright owners to get an injunction against the ISPs whose services are used to pirate content. This verdict is the first of its kind in Sweden, but similar injunctions have been announced in the past in other European nations. This ruling also opens new doorways for the copyright holders to target more torrent websites in the near future. Pirate Bay spokesperson Peter Sunde said in a statement to TorrentFreak: "The fight is not about TPB -- the users of TPB can just bypass this blockade easily. It's about the slippery slope it brings."
United States

EU Privacy Watchdogs Seek Assurances on US Data Transfer Pact (reuters.com) 36

European Union data privacy watchdogs will seek assurances from U.S. authorities that a move by U.S. President Donald Trump to crack down on illegal immigration will not undermine a transatlantic pact protecting the privacy of Europeans' data. From a report: European concerns have been raised by an executive order signed by Trump on Jan. 25 aiming to toughen enforcement of U.S. immigration law. The order directs U.S. agencies to "exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information." The exemption of foreigners from the U.S. law governing how federal agencies collect and use information about people has stoked worries across the Atlantic about the new administration's approach to privacy and its impact on cross-border data flows.
Media

Netflix Geoblocking Loosened Under New EU Law (thestack.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: "The European Parliament is now finalizing legislation which will allow EU residents to access their paid subscriptions for online media -- such as video streaming, games and music -- while visiting other EU countries," reports The Stack. Under the new rules, companies will not be able to arbitrarily block subscribers from accessing the content catalog of their home countries while visiting other parts of the European Union, with country of origin to be established by various possible methods besides IP address, including payment details, public tax information and 'checks on electronic identification'. The issue was brought to a head last year when Netflix began blocking the known IPs of VPN providers, often used by subscribers to access the catalogs of their home countries while travelling.
EU

Finland's Universal Basic Income Called 'Useless' By Trade Union Economist (bloomberg.com) 723

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Finland's basic income experiment is unworkable, uneconomical and ultimately useless. Plus, it will only encourage some people to work less. That's not the view of a hard core Thatcherite, but of the country's biggest trade union. The labor group says the results of the two-year pilot program will fail to sway its opposition to a welfare-policy idea that's gaining traction among those looking for an alternative in the post-industrial age. "We think it takes social policy in the wrong direction," said Ilkka Kaukoranta, chief economist of the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions, which has nearly one million members.

Since January, a group of unemployed Finns aged between 25 and 58 have been receiving a stipend of 560 euros ($600) per month. The amount isn't means-tested and is paid regardless of whether the recipient finds a job, starts a business or returns to school... Advocates say it eliminates poverty traps and redistributes income while empowering the individual and reducing paperwork... While limited in scope (it's conditional on the beneficiary having received some form of unemployment support in November 2016) and size (it's based on a randomly-selected sample of 2,000 jobless people), the Finnish trial may help answer questions like: "Does it work"? "Is it worth it"? And the most fundamental of all: "Does it incite laboriousness or laziness...?"

The trade union argues this UBI program would cost 5% of Finland's entire gross domestic product, making it "impossibly expensive."

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