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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 16th Mar 2016

To gain entry into the most exclusive club in Los Angeles, there is no need to wear a trendy outfit or to slip the bouncer a Benjamin. In fact, there isn’t even a line.

Instead, admission requires the approval of a scrupulous jury of 1,500 women. And if those women decide to let you into their secret club, a Facebook group called ‘Girls Night In,’ all 1,500 of them will become your very best friends.

‘Girls Night In’—or GNI, as its members call it—is like a giant online slumber party, one that never ends, slips into your pocket and can be called upon at any moment in the day that you need it. It is a constant stream of brutally frank chatter about relationships, work, sex, race, gender and, yes, cats, along with a bizarrely large quantity of nude selfies. It is made up mainly of women in their 20s and 30s who live in the Los Angeles area. Among its ranks are Instagram-famous models, former reality show contestants, celebrity makeup artists and the quasi-famous girlfriend of a very famous singer.

Lest you be confused (or hope to try to join it), you should know that it’s not actually called ‘Girls Night In,’ but rather changes names constantly based on a rotating series of inside jokes. Getting in requires recommendations from at least three women already in the group. “If you meet a nice girl in a bathroom while you are drunk i am really happy for you and for her but that’s not cause to add her to this group,” its rules advise. The rules of membership read even stricter: “EVERYTHING POSTED IN THIS GROUP IS PRIVATE, TOP SECRET AND SHOULD REMAIN IN THIS GROUP. SHARING INFO OR POSTS FROM THIS GROUP WITH OTHERS WILL RESULT IN EXPULSION FROM THE GROUP AND PUBLIC SHAMING.” Amazingly, people honor the no-sharing rule.

The members rely on the group’s hive mind to make decisions large and small.
If you get invited into ‘Girls Night In,’ it will probably change your life. It’s like joining a sorority—a digital sisterhood where women vent, fight, offer advice, trade tips, crack jokes and critique each other’s selfies. It’s an interactive, communal diary, and a support group for womanhood. But most important of all, it’s a focus group for your life. If you’re wondering how to respond to a text from a dude, whether you should buy that jumpsuit you’re trying on at Fred Segal or if your boobs looks smoking, just post your inquiry to the group for real-time feedback.

“It’s like your 1,000 best girlfriends on a group text,” founder Annaliese Nielsen told me. It’s a female hive mind and it might be the future of friendship.


Nielson, 32, has always been fascinated by meeting people on the internet.

“As soon as we got a computer all I did was use the internet to talk to other people,” she told me. “I was popular at school and had a ton of friends, but I was extremely interested in using the internet to talk to strangers.”

Nielsen, who started the altporn site Gods Girls in her twenties, now runs Crushee, which is like a dating site but for finding new friends. The consummate party girl, Nielsen plans weekly ‘Girls Night In’ meetups at bars and night swims at the Roosevelt Hotel’s popular pool in the summer. With her voluminous blond hair, Nielsen radiates glamor, yet also comes off as extremely down-to-earth. Group members routinely describe her as “fascinating,”

Annaliese Nielsen, the founder of the exclusive L.A. Facebook group Girls Night In

Two years ago, Neilsen spun ‘Girls Night In’ out of another Facebook group called Girls Night Out that had begun as a few hundred girls from the L.A. party scene but ballooned into a monster group with tens of thousands of members. Nielsen wanted to create a place on the internet where women could feel safe talking about anything.

“Sometimes when you ask your best girlfriends for advice they’re so biased toward you,” she told me. “If you’re being shitty to a guy they probably won’t even tell you because they’re ‘on your side.’ People who are a little more removed from each other can be more objective.”

In some ways, Nielsen’s vision was not so different from how people have always used the internet. From the early internet network Usenet to LiveJournal in the aughts to Facebook and Twitter now, online social networks are where we turn for support, commiseration and advice.

What’s different about ‘Girls Night In’ is the outsize role that the group plays in its members’ lives: many of its users submit their every decision, large and small, to the group, for its members’ feedback in real time. Many members post up to 10 times a day, and comment on other posts dozens of times more. (Women who don’t comment regularly are booted from the group.) Rather than turning to one or two really good friends for advice, the women of ‘Girls Night In’ consult a carefully curated crowd, constantly.

“It’s my life,” one 32-year-old member told me, echoing the comments of many others. “I rarely go on ‘normcore’ Facebook, as we call it. The group is my community, it is my support system. I almost always have the page open and am engaged in it most of the day between real life.”

Six years ago, Facebook debuted groups, along with the option to make them either “closed” or “secret.” To join a closed group, you need permission from the group’s creator. Same for secret groups, but secret groups also don’t show up in search. According to Facebook, most of those groups are small groups of friends and family composed of less than 100 people. But bigger secret groups like ‘Lolo’s Logic,’ ‘Binders Full of Women Writers’ and ‘Girls Night In’ are digital clubhouses where the network’s most interesting conversation and genuine social interaction now take place, instead of in public.

Facebook isn’t actually uncool. You just can’t see how the cool kids are using it.

Private Facebook groups like ‘Girls Night In’ are a fenced-off corner of the social media world where people speak honestly using their real names without fear of repercussion. You can post a boob shot knowing commenters will tell you how great they look but not repost it anywhere else on the web. You can air your angst about being married but still being upset about your ex-boyfriend of six years ago getting engaged. You can post a question knowing it will get a flurry of responses, and that they will be honest ones from people whose judgement you trust.

💅🏾 💅🏾 💅🏾

When I joined ‘Girls Night In,’ I felt a little like Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron in “Mean Girls” eating at the Plastics’ lunch table for the first time; it was like entering a completely different social world. I came to think of it as “Girl Internet”—and “Girl Internet” has a lot of rules.

The number one rule of “Girl Internet” is that no one can share what someone else posted outside of the group. The members agreed to let me join to write this story on the condition that I agreed to honor the group’s rules of secrecy unless I had permission to do otherwise. Nielsen told me that when the group first started, lots of women were removed for things like telling a guy about something that a member posted about them or tattling on someone to their boss.

“Now that the group is a fairly integral part of a member’s life,” she said. “I think they value it more than they value whatever they could gain by gossiping about it.”

I whiled away hours on the group Facebook page and spoke with more than two dozen members. Most of them told me that they spend up to six hours daily interacting with the group, and that its members now make up the vast majority of their offline social network, too. Multiple women told me the group’s dominance in their lives had created rifts with their best friends and romantic partners.

“My boyfriend is upset because I’m always on my phone,” one of them told me. “It’s the same issue a lot of couples face in this new age of technology. But instead of just being glued to my phone, it’s all messaging with GNI friends. Whenever there’s a question of ‘what are you doing’ or ‘who are you talking to’ the answer is always GNI. Always.”

"Most of my friendships are ALLLLL because of this amazing group," said Liz Moss, a member of Girls Night In.

It’s easy to see how it can be addicting. When I posted to the group to introduce myself, the post racked up hundreds of likes and more than 200 comments within an hour. There is always someone to give you instant advice or an ego-boosting “like” on that rant about your shitty day. If you post a selfie of your new haircut, hundreds of people will probably like it. It’s friendship on demand—if one person isn’t around to give you a virtual hug, inevitably someone else will be.

The other day, a woman posted to the group that a police officer had pulled her over. He didn’t ticket her, but did later Google her, found her number and texted her.

“I called the LAPD and reported because i felt so violated,” she wrote. “idk… did i do the right thing? i just wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

It’s friendship on demand—if one person isn’t around to give you a virtual hug, inevitably someone else will be.
She told me that she felt guilty reporting him, because he hadn’t given her a ticket, and wanted reassurance from the group that she’d done the right thing. She got that reassurance in the form of angry emoji, sad emoji and 53 comments equally outraged by her encounter.

Often the inquiries are moral (whether to keep a gifted cobra skin bag), practical (how to get mac-n-cheese off a suede couch) or just plain funny (“should I get a fake baby so I can drive in the carpool lane?”). Querying the group is better than just Googling or checking Yelp.

"GNI sort of worked to rehabilitate my relationship with women and how I view women in general," said Girls Night In member Selena Rox. "I didn't know much about feminism or how badly I needed it until I became apart of the group."

‘Girls Night In’ will happily be your therapist, too. A filmmaker who goes by Rae Threat told me that the group helped her accept her body and deal with an anxiety-causing case of psoriasis.

“I’m a completely different person from before I joined the group to who I am right now,” she told me. “I go out and don’t double-check my face for redness anymore. I don’t think that I’m too fat to feel beautiful. I happily greet people instead of shying away.”

Women in the group told me that it had helped them get jobs, informed them about politics and taught them how to be feminists. People talk about how to deal with being raped, cheated on or how to deal with their daughter being assaulted. During a recent medical emergency, one member posted that she needed help and hundreds of commenters rushed to assist her, online and off.

“I can post about the terrible and amazing things that happen in my life and I have a support system,” she said. “I cannot imagine my life without this group.”

Members are well aware that to outsiders all the selfies and gossipy chatter might make them come off as silly or vain.

“Yes, we have nude threads, which may seem narcissistic to some people, but considering how much women are judged and made to feel bad about our bodies, these silly threads can be a big confidence boost,” Chara, another member told me. She told me that she has used the group as a place to vent about an ex, as well as a place to find emotional support after she was raped.

“I can post about the terrible and amazing things that happen in my life and I have a support system. I cannot imagine my life without this group.”
Often, I was amazed by the kindness women in ‘Girls Night In’ extended to each other.

Terra Shapiro, a hairstylist and salon owner, told me that when she needed a cosigner on a loan to buy a car, 10 girls she had never met offered and one wound up actually cosigning the loan. After another woman’s house burned down, Nielson said the group raised more than $20,000 to help her. Recently, the group pooled money to pay the vet bills for a member’s sick bunny. After Nielsen posted that her grandfather was ill in Malaysia, she woke up the next morning and a flight had already been booked for her by the group.

As members have moved out of L.A., it has spawned spin-off groups in San Francisco, London, New York, Chicago and Miami as well as more than 20 groups devoted to subtopics such as cooking, intersectional feminism and Bernie Sanders.

Frequently members discuss what it’s like to be so “close” to 1,500 other people. It is isolating in a way—the group has its own language and political point of view and a specific kind of moral code. To be part of the group’s hive mind, you need to fit in, and that means adopting group-wide social norms. At least publicly, the women all seem to support Bernie and abortion and Kim Kardashian’s right to post as many nude selfies as she likes. Members who stray from these norms sometimes find themselves alienated or even chastised. Sometimes it eventually causes them to leave.

“There aren’t really Republicans,” a member named Natasha told me.

""From politics to periods, racism to relationship questions, and classism to car advice, this group provides a wealth of compassionate, learned, and intersectional information that helps us better ourselves and the world around each of us," said GNI member Eugenie Grey.


As I scrolled through post-Botox selfies, bad date tell-alls, and heart-wrenching confessions of traumatizing childhoods, it seemed at first that ‘Girls Night In’ was a group of women who were simply addicted to oversharing. In ‘Girls Night In,’ there is no thought or feeling too mundane to post.

But over time, I realized that ‘Girls Night In’ is just the natural end result of constant connectivity. This is what happens when you are surrounded by people who are always up to hear about your day and offer support. The desire for that constant, supportive communication is why services like fake girlfriends exist and why millions of people in China regularly talk to Microsoft’s digital assistant Xiaoice. ‘Girls Night In’ offers the same appeal, except from real life humans who you don’t have to pay.

While working on this story, I would sometimes have a funny thought, a joke I might want to text to my group of girlfriends but, because it was either the middle of the workday or the middle of the night, I’d reconsider. Then I would wonder what it would be like to post my inner monologue to ‘Girls Night In’ and instantly achieve the praise I was seeking.

Sometimes, in real life, it can be hard to connect—friendships exist across a log of missed calls, awkwardly unliked Facebook posts and unanswered texts. We’ve all probably felt the disappointment of texting your bestie with something urgent and then not hearing back for hours. But in ‘Girls Night In’ the expectation of connection is always fulfilled. Perhaps, in our increasingly connected culture, all of us really need 1,500 best friends, too.

Source: fusion.net
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 16th Mar 2016

A man has been charged with hacking the Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts of celebrities and stealing nude photos and videos from them.

The US authorities say Ryan Collins has agreed to plead guilty to the offence.

Prosecutors have recommended that he face a jail term of 18 months, although a judge could extend that to five years.
The 36-year-old is alleged to have stolen usernames and passwords via a phishing scam.

The Department of Justice said that Pennsylvania-based Collins had admitted to breaking into more than 100 accounts between November 2012 and September 2014.

He is said to have achieved this by sending emails to the victims that pretended to be from Google or Apple requesting their login details.

"[The] defendant used numerous fraudulent email addresses designed to look like legitimate security accounts from various internet service providers, including, for example, email.protection318@icloud.com, noreply_helpdesk0118@outlook.com and secure.helpdesk0119@gmail.com," said court filings.

Collins is accused of accessing at least 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts.

Once he had fooled their owners into handing over their details, prosecutors say, he searched through the victims' online data.
"Through his phishing scheme [the] defendant was also able to access full Apple iCloud back-ups belonging to numerous victims, including at least 18 celebrities, many of whom reside in the Los Angeles area," the court papers state.
"Many of these back-ups contained nude photographs and videos."

Naked photographs of Jennifer Lawrence were leaked online after an iCloud hack in 2014

The celebrities are not named, but the attacks coincide with stolen photos of the actresses Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and others being posted to the internet in 2014, which was blamed on an iCloud breach at the time.
Collins has not been accused of uploading the images for others to see.

"By illegally accessing intimate details of his victims' personal lives, Mr Collins violated their privacy and left many to contend with lasting emotional distress, embarrassment and feelings of insecurity," said David Bowdich, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.

"We continue to see both celebrities and victims from all walks of life suffer the consequences of this crime and strongly encourage users of internet-connected devices to strengthen passwords and to be sceptical when replying to emails asking for personal information."

The FBI added that the case against Collins was part of an "ongoing investigation", indicating that there may be further arrests.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 16th Mar 2016

The prefix "cyber-" is now a handy way of denoting words to do with the internet - from cybercrime, cyberbullying and cybersecurity to improbable activities such as cybersnogging. It followed an eventful path to reach its modern meaning,

In ancient Greek kubernao meant "steer a ship" and kubernetes was a steersman. Homer tells how the gods smote Odysseus's ship, so that the toppling mast crushed the steersman's head (kuberneteo kephalen).

The normal Latin transliteration of kubernetes gives us "cybernetes" - though practical seafaring Romans worried less about the rules and turned kubernao into guberno, from which we get "govern".

Plato used "kubernetika" to mean skill in steering, and in the 1940s the American mathematician, Norbert Wiener, derived from it "cybernetics" to mean "control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal".
In the popular imagination the term cybernetics and therefore cyber- became associated especially with humanoid robots, or similar controlled creatures such as the Cybermen, who first appeared in Doctor Who in 1966.

Cyber- words became a popular theme to do with robots or near-robots, including Dr Who's enemies the cybermen
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978) the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation calls a robot "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With".

The progression from ancient helmsman to comic robot is clear enough and the common theme is control. But how did cyber- go on to its present association with the internet?

The link is the term "cyberspace" - the virtual electronic world in which we explore, play, learn and share information.
Theoreticians of cyberspace such as Howard Rheingold acknowledge that the word comes from the science fiction writing of William Gibson, particularly his 1984 novel Neuromancer.

Its hero longs to return to the online world from which he has been banished, and the book lyrically describes virtual reality folding "through a dozen impossible angles, tumbling away into cyberspace like an origami crane".

But Gibson's account of how he coined the term cyberspace contains a lesson for anyone who reads too much into the derivations of words.

He tells how he needed a "really hot name" for the arena in which his stories would be set, and cyberspace "sounded like it meant something or it might mean something, but as I stared at it, my whole delight was that I knew it meant absolutely nothing".

If he had fancied instead something like "infosphere" or "digiworld", our terminology might be very different.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 16th Mar 2016

Home Secretary Theresa May has defended controversial new surveillance powers as MPs debated them for the first time.
The Investigatory Powers Bill will force the storage of internet browsing records for 12 months and authorise the bulk collection of personal data.

Mrs May said the measures were needed to keep the public safe and would uphold "both privacy and security".
Labour and the SNP said they backed the bill in principle but would withdraw support without substantial changes.
Labour's stance was branded "gutless" by the Lib Dems, who oppose the legislation.

The bill's second reading - where it was backed by 281 votes to 15 - gave MPs their first chance to debate it in the House of Commons. It represented an early step in a long parliamentary process which will see the details of the measures scrutinised at greater length over the coming months.

Rocky road ahead for surveillance bill

Surveillance bill: What's changed?

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said Labour would work constructively with Mrs May to get the legislation through Parliament but that "substantial changes" were needed to ensure the right balance "between collective security and individual privacy in the digital age".
Labour abstained at second reading and will be seeking amendments including a specific "presumption of privacy".

Andy Burnham says he is not giving the home office a 'blank cheque'
"We need new legislation but this bill is not yet good enough," he said. "Simply to block this legislation would, in my view, be irresponsible. It would leave the police and security services in limbo... We must give them the tools to do the job."
The proposals have already been significantly amended after a draft bill last year was heavily criticised by three parliamentary committees.

The government may be forced to give further ground if it is to get the law on to the statute book by the end of the year as it wants, although it is not expected to meet significant resistance until the bill reaches report stage and then goes to the House of Lords.

'Bulk powers'
Mr Burnham called for the use of surveillance powers to be limited to more serious investigations and for greater clarity on who can use them.

He said he did not see why agencies such as the Gambling Commission or the Food Standards Agency should have access to people's internet records, and said he would be calling on Mrs May to "severely reduce" the list of agencies who would get the new powers.

He also called for an independent review of "bulk powers" - the sweeping up of vast quantities of internet data and the collection of personal information from databases by the security services.

"I want a bill that helps the authorities do their job but protects ordinary people from intrusion and abuse from those in positions of power," he added.

The IP Bill seeks to place new obligations on telecoms companiesImage copyrightThinkstock
Image caption

The IP Bill seeks to place new obligations on telecoms companies

Mrs May has said Britain's spies must continue to be allowed to hack into foreign computer networks, under so-called "bulk equipment interference warrants", as this was "a key operational requirement for GCHQ".

She told MPs that bulk powers had played a significant role in every major counter-terrorism investigation over the past decade, including seven terror plots foiled in the past 18 months, and in responding to the bulk of cyber attacks against UK interests.
Operational requests for such information, she said, would have to be approved by a judge as well as the minister responsible under a regime of "robust and consistent safeguards".

But Conservative MP Owen Paterson, a former Northern Ireland secretary, said elected politicians accountable to Parliament and the public should be exclusively responsible for granting warrants.

The SNP said they were in favour of "targeted surveillance" but many of the powers being sought were of "dubious legality".
"We will work with others to try and amend the bill extensively," Joanna Cherry, the party's home affairs spokeswoman, said. "If the bill is not amended to our satisfaction, we reserve the right to vote it down at a later stage."

'Not fit'

The Lib Dems blocked Mrs May's previous attempt to legislate in this area, which was dubbed "the snoopers' charter", when they were part of the coalition government.

Speaking in the debate, former leader Nick Clegg said the bill was an improvement on previous proposals but was "not in a fit state" - telling MPs that it was still predicated on a "dragnet approach" to data retention and the powers it sought to grant were "formidable and capable of misuse".
"The implications of this are very big indeed," he said.
"It is that the government believes as a matter of principle that every innocent act of communication online must leave a trace for future possible interrogation by the state. No other country in the world feels the need to do this apart from Russia."

UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe told the BBC's Daily Politics he was "deeply concerned" by the Investigatory Powers Bill, saying it "could put us into an extreme position of monitoring our citizens".

Edward Snowden, the former CIA analyst turned surveillance whistleblower, said he was closely following Tuesday's debate. He tweeted: "Britons, note how your MPs vote today on IPBill. A vote in favour, or abstention, is a vote against you. "

And Amnesty International warned that "wide-ranging snooping powers" were being rushed through parliament at "break-neck speed".

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 15th Mar 2016

Biometrics Commissioner is not impressed

Police employees have been hacking the Police National Computer to unlawfully retain suspects' biometric data, it has emerged.

The manipulation of the national IT system has come in response to public demands to restrict the length of pre-charge bail, the Biometrics Commissioner has suggested.

In his 122-page annual report (PDF), the commissioner noted that it had become “not uncommon” for the police to release suspects in ongoing investigations without officially placing them on bail, as the forces “clearly feel under pressure” to meet the Home Office's guidance to bring charges within 28 days of an initial arrest.

Police databases are set up to automatically delete the biometrics data of people who are released without being put on bail. In some cases in which investigations are ongoing, although suspects have been released from custody, the police have taken to manipulating their systems to subvert the automatic deletion process – and in three situations, the commissioner believed this to be unlawful.

Many police forces have custody IT systems, which are synchronised with the Police National Computer (PNC), the UK's centralised collection of databases accessible to a broad range of law enforcement and investigatory authorities in the country.

When a police force releases an arrestee without placing them on police bail, their custody IT systems will either close or cancel that arrestee's bail record. This automatically generates a No Further Action (NFA) entry on the PNC, for which the automated procedure is to quickly delete the arrestee's biometric records from the relevant national databases, although there is a procedure for retaining that data, even in situations when the arrestee has no previous convictions.

The commissioner wrote that the automatic deletion “will happen even in circumstances where no decision has actually been made about the case and the arrestee has specifically been told that he or she remains under investigation.”

In his annual report, he stated:

Over the past few months I have become aware of a number of cases where biometric material has been lost – or at risk of loss – as result of this problem and I have little doubt but that there have been numerous other cases in which, by this route, unnecessary (and probably unnoticed) deletions have been triggered unwittingly by forces.
Breaking the law to uphold it
Not all of such information is being lost, however. Some forces are savvy to the issue and have hacked the PNC in different ways to avoid the deletion of suspects' biometric data, despite those suspects not being on police bail.

Explaining these hacks, the commissioner noted that some forces “manipulate the interface between the force custody system and the PNC so as to ensure that the closure of the custody record does not automatically update the relevant PNC record as NFA,” while others “allow the custody record automatically to update the PNC with an NFA disposal but then immediately manually amend that PNC disposal so as to remove the NFA disposal and to show the case as still pending.”

In some cases, forces have allowed “the custody record automatically to update the PNC with an NFA disposal but then immediately add a ‘Biometrics Commissioner’ or other ‘marker’ to the PNC record to ensure that the biometrics are retained.”

The “Biometrics Commissioner” marker, also known as a UZ marker, informs the PNC not to delete the data held as it may be being referred to the commissioner, for purposes such as getting a National Security Determination to extend the length of time that the data may be held.

There have been “numerous instances of the inappropriate use of a UZ marker,” however. The commissioner reported “a recent instance in relation to a police force which had for some months had three UZ markers present on the PNC in circumstances where no application had been made or notified to me.”

Although these markers have now been removed after numerous prompts to the force concerned, it seems almost certain that the relevant biometrics were being held unlawfully through much of that period.
While acknowledging that police are, in many of these instances, “feeling the pressure” to reduce the length of time in which suspects are held on police bail, the commissioner did not explicitly refer to reforms that the Home Secretary announced last year. Largely in response to protracted investigations such as Operation Yewtree, the Home Office waved around a statutory expectation that pre-charge bail would last less than 28 days.

At the time, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “It is simply not acceptable for individuals to spend months and in some cases years on pre-charge bail, with no system of review, only for charges never to be brought against them.”

The commissioner stated he had “repeatedly raised this 'no bail' problem with Home Office officials and others” and called for “appropriate guidance” to be issued regarding “the propriety/acceptability of releasing arrestees otherwise than on bail in circumstances where they are still under investigation.” ®

Source: theregister.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 14th Mar 2016

Minecraft is to become a testing ground for artificial intelligence experiments.

Microsoft, owner of the popular video game, revealed that computer scientists and amateurs will be able to evaluate and develop AI software using its virtual landscapes from July.

The company says Minecraft is more "sophisticated" than existing AI research simulations and cheaper to use than building a robot.

One expert said it had great potential.

"This is the state-of-the-art," said Prof Jose Hernandez-Orallo from the Technical University of Valencia, one of a small group of academics given early access to the software.

"At this moment there is nothing comparable, and this is just in its beginnings, so I see many possibilities for it."

To take advantage of the offer, users will need to install AIX - a software platform that hooks into Minecraft and allows the artificial intelligence code to control a character and get feedback about the consequences of its actions.

AIX will be open source, meaning the only cost involved will be that of buying a standard licence for the game.

The experiments will run on the researchers' own computers and be "roped off" from normal players. However, in time the aim is to allow people to interact with the code.

"People build amazing structures that do amazing things in Minecraft, and this allows experimenters to put in tasks that will stretch AI technology beyond its current capacity," explained Katja Hofmann, who leads the project at Microsoft Research's Cambridge lab in the UK.

"But eventually, we will be able to scale this up further to include tasks that allow AI agents to learn to collaborate with humans and support them in a creative manner.

"This provides a way to take AI from where it is today up to human-level intelligence, which is where we want to be, in several decades time."

First-person views

Improving AI software by getting it to play video games has been done before. But Microsoft suggests the open-ended nature of Minecraft makes it particularly useful because of the huge variety of situations it can simulate from first-person perspectives.

"It allows you to have 'embodied AI'," explained Matthew Johnson, the principal software engineer working on AIX.

"So, rather than have a situation where the AI sees an avatar of itself, it can actually be inside, looking out through the eyes of something that is living in the world.

"We think this is an essential part of building this kind of general intelligence."

Microsoft expects one of the most popular types of research will be reinforcement learning, in which an AI agent learns how best to carry out a task via a mix of experimentation and use of prior knowledge, rather than being told what to do.

This process was recently used by Google's AlphaGo program. Last week, it triumphed against one of the best ever players of the board game Go after having played thousands of games against itself to discover new strategies.

While that was a specialised task, Microsoft suggests Minecraft provides a way for AI to learn a wide range of concepts.

"Experimenters could design a task with features such as lava, which might be very dangerous for the agent, and then evaluate how quickly it can learn to interpret the environment," Ms Hofmann told the BBC.

"But the platform is also open to more general AI research, for example how to make agents integrate language and vision.

"We see this as a stepping stone to technology that will eventually be applied to robotics, but that we can first explore in a safer environment that we completely control and is very cheap to run."

Although AI specialists may get the most out of the platform, Microsoft stresses that AIX will also support simple programs that children can create, and the firm has promised to provide a range of teaching materials.

"We want people of all skills and ages to get involved," said Mr Johnson.

Prof Jose Hernandez-Orallo commended the idea.

"Kids could create agents in a world they are already fascinated with, and play with them," he said.

"This could boost young people's interest in artificial intelligence, and we expect that in the next 10 to 20 years we are going to need more people working in the area."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 14th Mar 2016

Well this doesn't happen every day: Amazon has announced a 'critical' software for the Kindle which, unless downloaded by a certain date, will render your e-reader essentially unusable.

Customers will need to update the software on their Kindles by 22 March or risk losing access to all of Amazon's Kindle services including the book store and being able to update wirelessly over WiFi.

According to Amazon these are the devices that will need the emergency software update:

Kindle 1st Generation (2007)
Kindle 2nd Generation (2009)
Kindle DX 2nd Generation (2009)
Kindle Keyboard 3rd Generation (2010)
Kindle 4th Generation (2011)
Kindle 5th Generation (2012)
Kindle Touch 4th Generation (2011)
Kindle Paperwhite 5th Generation (2012)
Amazon hasn't revealed why the update is so essential but it will almost certainly be grounded in security.

Here's how to update your Kindle:

Plug your Kindle in to charge during the update.
Connect to Wi-Fi.
From the Home screen of your Kindle, select Menu or tap the Menu icon. Then choose Sync and Check for Items. The update will begin automatically.
Leave your Kindle connected to both power and Wi-Fi overnight, or until the update is complete.
Now that's all over and done with, sit back, relax and bask in the knowledge that your Kindle is safe.

Source: huffingtonpost.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 14th Mar 2016

"I see you have your computer linked to the telephone line, can you tell us how you did that?"

Those are the words of a Thames TV host back in 1984 explaining the first steps needed to send an email before most people even knew what email was. Even for long-time Internet users, the imagery in the video is pretty amazing.

The video, posted just a couple of weeks ago, shows a bespectacled early Paleolithic era nerd firing up massive modem (a Minor Miracles WS2000) to connect his microcomputer computer to the Prestel network. But first, he has to get a phone connection going using, what else, a huge rotary telephone.

Yes, kiddies, that's what super geeks had to through to send email back in the olden days of the Internet in the '80s.

After the connection is made, the user logs into a service called Micronet 800, which provided tech-related news and information, software downloads, as well as other services like bulletin boards and early versions of the personal homepage.

Soon after, another user demonstrates how to send an email, which the host receives and then, quaintly, explains how the message can also be printed out.

Watching the first user labor to dial the seven digits to make the connection should make us all grateful that nowadays you can initiate a link to the Internet via something as simple as a voice command when querying Siri or Alexa.

All that to say, yes, we are all spoiled Internet users. So the next time it takes an extra 10 seconds to download that Candy Crush update, have a little patience before smashing your smartphone in anger.

It took a lot to get us to this point, be thankful.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

Source: mashable.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 9th Mar 2016

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is taking one for the team and forgoing his $14 million stock bonus to give it back to his employees.

The move is sure to boost morale among employees after the company's stock value took a drubbing following its earnings report in February. The stock, which had been trading around $192, fell more than 40% to $108 in the aftermath. It's since increased to $119.

Re/code's Kurt Wagner was the first to spot the move after the company failed to file a compensation form to the US Securities and Exchange Commission for Weiner. A company representative later confirmed that the LinkedIn CEO had put the stock back into the employee equity pool.

"Jeff decided to ask the Compensation Committee to forgo his annual equity grant, and to instead put those shares back in the pool for LinkedIn employees," the representative said.

The company confirmed that this was the first time Weiner has given up his shares.

Since the stock crash, Weiner has been trying to rally his employees into believing in LinkedIn's mission and that the stock market will once again value the social network for professionals highly.

At a company all-hands meeting, released by LinkedIn, Weiner argued that the company hasn't changed before or after the crash and that, one day, the valuation will catch up:

We are the same company we were the day before our earnings announcement. I'm the same CEO I was the day before our earnings announcement. You're the same team you were the day before our earnings announcement. And most importantly, we have the same mission, vision, and sense of purpose in terms of our ability to create economic opportunity. None of that has changed. It hasn't changed one iota.

Weiner is not the first tech CEO to have followed this playbook. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave away one-third of his ownership stake, or 1% of the company, back to employees in October following a round of layoffs.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 9th Mar 2016

Liz Wessel says she's always been the type of person who has no shame in reaching out to someone, whether or not she knows them.

Wessel is the CEO and cofounder of WayUp, a site used by hundreds of thousands of college students to find jobs at places like Microsoft, Uber, The New York Times, Disney, and Google — where Wessel previously worked.

Part of the reason she started WayUp with cofounder JJ Fliegelman was to combat nepotism, she explains, "so it should make sense that I don't really care about whether I have connections to a person."

"In college, my best cold email was to Roelof Botha, one of the top venture capitalists in the world," she recalls. "He was a role model of mine, and I emailed him asking what he thought that I should do after I graduate in order to best position myself to one day start my own company: take a job offer at Google, or take a job offer at a venture capital fund. He told me the former, and the rest was history," she explains. "It's because of that first cold email that I have since always encouraged friends and colleagues to cold email people."

Wessel says she and Fliegelman started their company when they were just 24 and 25 years old. "We had a combined four years of full-time work experience, so there were often times that employees would ask us questions that we couldn't answer, or would ask us for advice that we didn't want to get wrong," she says. "So, we started encouraging the team to cold email people who would better know the answer. One of our company values is 'Be a master at your craft, but know you're not the master.' So, I always encourage my team to cold email the actual 'masters' in their respective fields."

During a trip to California in early 2015, Wessel says she challenged her entire team to take advantage of the fact that they were surrounded by some of the greatest minds in tech. "I told everyone to cold email one expert in Silicon Valley who they normally wouldn't have the guts to email, and who they wouldn't be able to meet in New York City, where we're based."

Wessel led by example. She emailed her biggest role model with a very personalized message, asking for 15 minutes of her time. "The email was sent at 2 a.m. on a Monday, and at 8 a.m. I got a response: She invited me to come to dinner at her house the next night," says Wessel. "This is a woman who probably gets more cold emails than 99% of the executives in the world, yet here she was, responding to me."

The rest of the team followed suit. And it worked.

Nikki Schlecker, the leader of WayUp's Brand team, for example, cold emailed Guy Kawasaki. The famous marketing exec, who was one of Apple's early employees, not only agreed to grab coffee with Schlecker, but also live streamed the entire meeting.

"I 'dare' my employees to do this because, in the past year and a half, I have learned more than I ever thought possible, and I want to make sure my employees are learning just as much," explains Wessel. "As corny as it may sound, if you're not learning, you're not growing."

Another reason she does this: She strongly believes everyone should have at least one mentor — and cold emailing someone you admire is a great way to develop that type of relationship with them.

"Having a good mentor can keep you humble and motivated," she says. "Furthermore, it will help you learn more than reading a textbook or watching a how-to video. Nothing matters more to me than learning from great people, and when you're having a conversation with someone whose opinion you trust and value, and whose work you admire, it can help outline what success means to you, and the goals that you are working towards."

Wondering how to go about cold emailing your idol? Wessel shared a few tips:

Make the message personal. Do you have anything in common? Say what it is.
Keep the email short and sweet. If the person is busy, they won't want to (or have time to) read an essay.
Say what you want to get out of the meeting, and let it be something small. "I'd like to pick your brain," or "I'd love to get your advice on something" are appropriate asks. Never, ever ask for a job in this first email!
Have an eye-catching subject line.
Make yourself sound interesting enough so that the person wants to meet with you.
Thank them for their time and consideration.
"If you have someone in your field who inspires you to learn and understand how they got to where they are today, it helps you create that mountain top of your own," Wessel concludes.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
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