Category: Business

Silicon Valley’s top brains try to sort out the singularity

Some of Silicon Valley’s top brains are trying to work out how to stuff their grey matter into the machines they build.

Bryan Johnson, the founder of Braintree online payments, and Elon Musk have both been trying to work out how to store their brains on their PCs to obtain a form of immortality.

According to MIT Technology Review, Johnson is effectively jumping on an opportunity created by the Brain Initiative, an Obama-era project which ploughed money into new schemes for recording neurons.

That influx of cash has spurred the formation of several other startups, including Paradromics and Cortera, also developing novel hardware for collecting brain signals. As part of the government brain project, the defense R&D agency DARPA says it is close to announcing $60 million in contracts under a program to create a “high-fidelity” brain interface able to simultaneously record from one million neurons – the current record is about 200 – and stimulate 100,000 at a time.

Several tech sector luminaries are looking for technology that might fuse human and artificial intelligence. In addition to Johnson, Elon Musk has been teasing a project called “neural lace,” which he said at a 2016 conference will lead to “symbiosis with machines”.

And Mark Zuckerberg declared in a 2015 Q&A that people will one day can share “full sensory and emotional experiences,” not just photos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at Building 8, its secretive hardware division.

However, Elon Musk has been also moaning that the current speeds for transferring signals from brains are “ridiculously slow”.

 

More top execs flee Uber

Uber is in a bit of trouble as its top executives flee the organisation.

Company president Jeff Jones, a marketing expert hired to help soften its often abrasive image, has decided that there is nothing he can do for the outfit and has cleared out his desk.

Jones told the press he could not continue as president of a business with which he was incompatible.

“I joined Uber because of its mission, and the challenge to build global capabilities that would help the company mature and thrive long term. It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business,” he added.

Jones’ role was put into question after Uber earlier this month launched a search for a chief operating officer to help run the company alongside Chief Executive Travis Kalanick.

Jones had been performing some of those COO responsibilities. He joined Uber from Target Corp (TGT.N), where he was chief marketing officer and is credited with modernising the retailer’s brand.

Uber’s vice president of maps and business platform, Brian McClendon said he wants to leave the company at the end of the month to explore politics.

But they are the latest in a string of high-level executives to leave the company.

Engineering executive Amit Singhal was asked to resign due to a sexual harassment allegation stemming from his previous job at Alphabet Google. Earlier this month, Ed Baker, Uber’s vice president of product and growth, and Charlie Miller, Uber’s famed security researcher, departed.

Uber, while it has long had a reputation as an aggressive and unapologetic startup, has been battered like a Scottish Mars bar lately with multiple controversies over the last several weeks.

Some are even daring to question Kalanick’s leadership capabilities, although it is unlikely they do it to his face.

A former Uber employee last month published a blog post describing a workplace where sexual harassment was common and went unpunished. The blog post prompted an internal investigation that is being led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Bloomberg released a video that showed Kalanick berating an Uber driver who had complained about cuts to rates paid to drivers, resulting in Kalanick making a public apology.

Uber is facing a lawsuit from Alphabet self-driving car division that accuses it of stealing designs for autonomous car technology known as Lidar. Uber has said the claims are false.

Jones expected to be Kalanick’s No. 2. Jones and was tasked with overseeing the bulk of Uber’s global operations, including leading the ride-hailing program, running local Uber services in every city, marketing, and customer service, and working with drivers.

 

Samsung bribery case getting tacky

A South Korean court has reassigned the Samsung Group chief Jay Lee’s bribery trial to another judge.

Apparently, the judge had a connection to a woman Lee is accused of bribing.

To be fair to the judge, Lee Young-hoon, who presided over the March 9 pre-trial hearing for Jay Lee and four former and current Samsung Group executives alerted the authorities about his own connection.

But the decision comes a day after an opposition lawmaker accused Lee Young-hoon’s father-in-law of being a financial sponsor for Choi Soon-sil, a confidant of former president Park Geun-hye and a central figure in the graft scandal that led to Park’s removal from office and the Samsung chief’s indictment.

For those who came in late, Park was dismissed as president by the Constitutional Court on Friday last week and has been summoned by prosecution for questioning as a suspect in the bribery investigation.

The special prosecution team that indicted the Samsung chief accused Park of colluding with Choi to pressure big businesses to contribute to non-profit foundations backing her administration’s initiatives.

The court said in a statement that Lee Young-hoon’s father-in-law had denied the allegations and had not met or contacted Choi or her family since the assassination of Park’s father, former president Park Chung-hee, in 1979.

But the case is starting to look even messier than it was when Jay Lee was indicted by a special prosecution team on several charges including pledging $38.03 million in bribes to a company and foundations backed by Choi.

 

Judge nixes Google email scanning “settlement”

A federal judge  has thrown out a legal settlement which would have only paid lawyers but nothing to consumers who had the contents of their email scanned by Google without their knowledge or permission.

In a six page order, Judge Lucy Koh told Google and class action attorneys the proposed settlement was insufficient. Not just because it failed to clearly tell consumers what the search giant had done.

“This notice is difficult to understand and does not clearly disclose the fact that Google intercepts, scans and analyses the content of emails sent by non-Gmail users to Gmail users for the purpose of creating user profiles of the Gmail users to create targeted advertising for the Gmail users,” Koh wrote.

The case is mostly over whether Google’s email scanning practices amount to illegal wiretaps and a violation of California privacy laws. Google won a related lawsuit several years ago involving Gmail users.  This case is different, however, because it involves people who use other email providers—such as Microsoft, or Yahoo but whose messages are scanned without their permission when they send an email to a Gmail customer.

Google agreed to change the way it scans incoming messages so that it no longer reads emails while they are in transit, but only when they are in someone’s inbox. This is mostly a technicality but the company and the class action lawyers agree it puts Google in the clear as far as wiretap laws and they get a lot of money out it.

Judge Koh said the settlement does not provide an adequate technical explanation of Google’s workaround, which involves scanning in-transit emails for security purposes, and then later parsing them for advertising data.

“It does not disclose that Google will scan the email of non-Gmail users while the emails are in transit for the “dual purpose” of creating user profiles and targeted advertising and for detecting spam and malware,” Koh wrote.

The judge also added that another settlement last year, involving Yahoo’s scanning of emails, did not reflect the facts of the Google case.

Koh wants the case to proceed further and for the class action lawyers to push Google for recent documents about how the email scanning process really works. As the judge notes, the current settlement relies on documents that are three to six years old.

Any future settlement will presumably also have to do more to inform email users about Google’s scanning practices and, possibly, direct some of the settlement money to consumers instead of only the lawyers. Under the deal Koh rejected, Google would have paid $2.2 million to the attorneys, plus up to $140,000 in online ads to publicise the agreement.

Koh’s concerns reflect a sore point among many, including judges, who feel a long string of privacy settlements with big tech companies have done little to compensate consumers or improve privacy.

Trump insists that Obama was listening through his microwave

 

Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump is standing by his bizarre claim that former president Barrack Obama was listening into his election conversations through his microwave.

While every other member of the US Senate Intelligence Committee rejected Trump’s bizarre claim that the Obama administration wire-tapped him during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump is sticking to his guns, or rather his nukes.

The top Republican in Congress, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, added his voice to a growing chorus of lawmakers saying there was no sign of a wiretap.

But White House spokesman Sean Spicer forcefully defended the president, citing news reports of intelligence collection on possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia in the presidential campaign.

“There is no question that there were surveillance techniques used throughout this,” Spicer said.

The Republican president has accused his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, of wiretapping him near the end of the campaign. An Obama spokesman said that was “simply false”.

“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chairman, said in a statement.

Ryan also said there was no evidence of surveillance.

“The point is, the intelligence committees in their continuing, widening, ongoing investigation of all things Russia, got to the bottom – at least so far – with respect to our intelligence community that – that no such wiretap existed,” the House speaker told reporters.

Pressed at the White House briefing on whether Trump would back down from his wiretap accusations, Spicer said: “He stands by it”.

Spicer also chastised the media for focusing so much attention on comments disparaging Trump’s claim about surveillance. He said reporters had not focused enough on comments from officials denying evidence of any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

But that might have been because the news is really about Trump’s allegations that his associates had ties to Russian officials and the White House wants that buried. Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, last month after he failed to disclose contacts with Russia’s ambassador before Trump took office on January 20.

An official familiar with the investigations by Congress and intelligence and law enforcement agencies said investigators had looked as aggressively and thoroughly as they could for evidence of any spying on Trump or his associates but had found none.

At least four congressional committees included the startling accusation in their investigations of possible Russian meddling in the election campaign and Russian ties to Trump and his associates.

Oracle’s increased cloud profits are cool for Catz

Database outfit Oracle reported better than expected quarterly profit and adjusted revenue as the business software maker benefits from its transition to cloud-based products.

Sales of the company’s cloud-computing software and platform service rose nearly 62 percent to $1.19 billion.

However, it was not all plain sailing because its software licensing business fell nearly 16 percent. This is being seen by some analysts that Oracle has managed to move to the cloud to tackle the shrinking licensing business.

Safra Catz, Oracle chief executive, said during the earnings call that growth in revenue from its cloud business has overtaken new software licenses.

She said adjusted revenue from its Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) unit rose 86 percent to $1.1 billion on a constant currency basis, which was at the high end of its previous guidance.

Oracle’s net income rose to $2.24 billion in the third quarter ended 28 February, from $2.14 billion last year.

Oracle’s total adjusted revenue rose nearly three percent to $9.27 billion, marginally beating estimates.
The company revenue to grow between negative one percent and positive two percent.

North Korea turns to robbing banks

When he is not lobbing missiles into the Sea of Japan, shooting his rivals with anti-aircraft guns or having his brother poisoned, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is taking time out to rob Western banks.

Cyber security outfit Symantec said that a North Korean hacking group known as Lazarus was likely behind a recent cyber campaign targeting organizations in 31 countries, following high-profile attacks on Bangladesh Bank, Sony and South Korea.

Writing in its corporate bog Symantec said researchers have uncovered four pieces of digital evidence suggesting the Lazarus group was behind the campaign that sought to infect victims with “loader” software used to stage attacks by installing other malicious programs.

Symantec researcher Eric Chien said that it was reasonably certain Lazarus was responsible.

The North Korean government has denied allegations it was involved in the hacks, and said its glorious leader was at a wine and cheese evening when the attacks happened and there were nearly a dozen generals who can give him an alibi.

Symantec said it did not know if any money had been stolen. Nonetheless, Symantec said the claim was significant because the group used a more sophisticated targeting approach than in previous campaigns.

Lazarus has already been blamed for a string of hacks dating back to at least 2009, including last year’s $81 million heist from Bangladesh’s central bank, the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment that crippled its network for weeks and a long-running campaign against organizations in South Korea.

Symantec has one of the world’s largest teams of malware researchers, regularly analyses emerging cyber threats to help can defend businesses, governments and consumers that use its security products.

The firm analyzed the hacking campaign last month when news surfaced that Polish banks had been infected with malware. At the time, Symantec said it had “weak evidence” to blame Lazarus.

Symantec said the latest campaign was launched by infecting websites that intended victims were likely to visit, which is known as a “watering hole” attack.

IT security is still a man’s world darling

A new survey shows that while the IT world is pretty sexist, no part of it is worse than the IT Security industry, which is so backward it makes Neanderthals look like Homo Superior.

A report from the Centre for Cyber Safety and Education and the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) said that not only do women make up one in ten of the cyber security workforce, they are paid much less despite having a better education than their sexist male colleagues.

The survey of more than 19,000 participants around the world finds that women have higher levels of education than men, with 51 percent holding a master’s degree or higher, compared to 45 percent of men.

Yet despite out qualifying them, women in cybersecurity earned less than men at every level and the wage gap shows very little signs of improvement. Men are four times more likely to hold C and executive level positions, and nine times more likely to hold managerial positions than women, globally.

More worrying is that 51 percent of women report encountering one or more forms of discrimination in the cybersecurity workforce. In the Western world, discrimination becomes far more prevalent the higher a woman rises in an organisation.

Lynn Terwoerds, executive director of the EWF said that companies who under-represent and under-use female talent were facing both a critical business issue.

They were also hindering the development of world class cybersecurity organizations and resilient companies, as well as the nation’s safety and protection.

Women who feel valued in their position are in organisations which provide training and leadership development resources.

Robot kills fellow worker

In what could be a first, a robot is being sued for killing a human colleague.

In July 2015, Wanda Holbrook, “a maintenance technician performing routine duties on an assembly line” at an auto-parts maker in Ionia, Michigan, called Ventra Ionia Main, “was ‘trapped by robotic machinery’ and crushed to death”.

On March 7, her husband, William Holbrook, filed a wrongful death complaint in Michigan federal court, naming five North American robotics companies involved in engineering and integrating the machines and parts used at the plant. These included Prodomax, Flex-N-Gate, FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric.

Holbrook’s job involved keeping robots in working order. She routinely inspected and adjusted processes on the assembly line at Ventra, which makes bumpers.

Holbrook was performing her regular duties when a machine acted very irregularly, according to the lawsuit reported in Courthouse News.

Holbrook was in the plant’s six-cell “100 section” when a robot unexpectedly activated, taking her by surprise. The cells are separated by safety doors and the robot should not have been able to move. But it somehow reached Holbrook, and was intent on loading a trailer-hitch assembly part right where she stood over a similar part in another cell.

The machine loaded the hardware onto Holbrook’s head. She was unable to escape, and her skull was crushed. Co-workers who eventually noticed that something seemed amiss found Holbrook dead.

William Holbrook seeks an unspecified amount of damages, arguing that before her gruesome death, his wife “suffered tremendous fright, shock and conscious pain and suffering”.

He also names three of the defendants — FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric — in two additional claims of product liability and breach of implied warranty.

The case argues that the robots, tools, controllers, and associated parts were not properly designed, manufactured or tested, and not fit for use.

“The robot from section 130 should have never entered section 140, and should have never attempted to load a hitch assembly within a fixture that was already loaded with a hitch assembly. A failure of one or more of defendants’ safety systems or devices had taken place, causing Wanda’s death,” the lawsuit alleges.

SAP releases patches

The software maker which makes esoteric expensive business programmes which no one is really sure what they do, has patched vulnerabilities in its latest HANA software.

The holes had a high risk of giving hackers control over databases and business applications used to run big multinational firms.

Vulnerabilities in big business software are more lucrative to attackers as these tools store data and run transactions. The flaws were “zero day” vulnerabilities and were the most critical ever found in HANA.  For those who came in late, HANA runs SAP’s latest database, cloud and other more traditional business apps.

The holes were spotted by the insecurity outfit Onapsis which said that the vulnerabilities lay in a HANA component known as “User Self Service” (USS) which would allow malicious insiders or remote attackers to fully compromise vulnerable systems, without so much as valid usernames and passwords.

It reported 10 HANA vulnerabilities to SAP less than 60 days ago, which the German software maker fixed in near-record time.

The resulting patch issued by SAP on Tuesday was rated by it as 9.8 on a scale of 10, “very high” in terms of relative risk to its customers. SAP is releasing five HANA patches this week to fix a range of vulnerabilities uncovered in recent months.

Onapsis Chief Executive Mariano Nunez praised SAP for doing such a great job by releasing fixes much faster than in past situations.