Microsoft Promises to Crack Down on Terrorism

Last week, Microsoft announced that it planned to aid in the effort to fight terrorism. Their actions may be in response to the Obama administration’s request that Silicon Valley companies pitch in when it comes to abating terrorist activities and recruitment, much of which occurs online.

Volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), carry weapons during a parade in the streets in Al-Fdhiliya district, eastern Baghdad June 15, 2014. The insurgent offensive that has threatened to dismember Iraq spread to the northwest of the country on Sunday, when Sunni militants launched a dawn raid on a town close to the Syrian border, clashing with police and government forces.  REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani  (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY CONFLICT)

Microsoft’s assistance will come in the form of revised terms of use that then prohibit the posting of terrorist content on its various platforms. The existing prohibition on hate speech and advocacy of violence against others will be expanded and terrorist content will be defined as any material posted by or in support of any organizations in the Consolidated United National Security Council Sanctions list. The CUNSC includes groups that the UN Security Council considers terrorist organizations.

More specifically, this newest prohibition refers to material that depicts graphic violence, encourages violent action, endorses a terrorist group or its acts, or encourages people to join such groups. According to Microsoft, the company understood that it was necessary to find new ways to combat terrorism on digital media given the importance of the internet as a communications hub.

The company added that recent events have served as a reminder that the internet could be used for the worst reasons imaginable, as well as with the best intentions.

When Microsoft locates content that is in violation of its revised terms and conditions, it will continue to use its notice and takedown process as a means of removing it. In response to free speech advocates that may worry that this could be used as a means for censorship as opposed to for public good, Microsoft stated that it would remove links to terrorist-related content from Bing search results when the takedown would be required of search providers under local law. The company added that their system already operates under this process in France.

According to senior behavioral scientist at Rand Corp Todd Helmus, these antiterror efforts by Microsoft will likely be effective not only due to the new limits on access to terror networks:

twitter“What’s noteworthy about Microsoft and what you’re seeing from the other social media giants is that not only are there efforts to remove content or limit access to content, but also… opportunities for counter content… That’s also a very important aspect of this as well.”

According to Microsoft, the company receives government requests for customer data increasingly frequently. In 2015, Microsoft received over 39,000 requests that involved over 64,000 users globally.

Microsoft isn’t the only tech mogul to use its services to combat terrorist groups. Twitter, Facebook, and other major companies have also pledged to crack down on the use of their sites for terrorist activity.

Some find that while the intentions behind these efforts are noble, the actions themselves threaten the right to free speech.

“Creating a free-floating ban on certain types of speech, no matter how controversial, only serves to hide controversial ideas in the shadows- it makes no one safer,” argued ACLU attorney Lee Rowland. “Public dialogue about racism, terrorism and other evils is the most critical step in ultimately defeating it.”

What’s New With the Hyperloop

Buckle up ladies and gentlemen, we’ve entered the age of the Hyperloop, we sort of. The hyperloop. The first test took place this week in the deserts of Nevada and if you blinked you would have probably missed it. The 1500 LBS of aluminum whizzed by at a 120 MPH in 1.5 seconds and reached a speed of 300 MPH before it hit the sand berm there to protect it.

This was a major break through for the company, but they are maybe overstating how successful of a test it was in an attempt to reach more investors. In all honesty, it wasn’t really a hyperloop test in so far as it did not have the protective tube that has its reduced pressure to really show the public what they want to do. However, all things aside, they did get that hunk of medal moving pretty quick, in a fast time frame, and for that the dream of the billionaire whiz Elon Musk may be closer than we think, Who knows, this may be the standard for Mars when he colonizes it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Proponents of this wild idea say that such a system is going to fundamentally change transpiration and making neighbors of distant cities, renders carbon spewing trucks all but obsolete and obviating the misery of air travel while side stepping the political battles and massive cost associated with high speed rail. l

We often say that this is going to faster than most travel today, that is a fact. is it going to be greener and safer, possibly. But the biggest question that people are most concerned with is that it will be cheaper, and that question remains largely up in the air. The challenges are many and wide in their range of affect. The reason being is that of coarse, before Hyperloop One, or anyone else, can consider any of this, someone will have to figure out how the heck they are going to make this technology actually work in a cost effective manner. For all the wow factor the Hyperloop has, BamBrogan is a very good salesman.Whether or not this translates into inspiring market advancements moving forward remains to be seen.

When considering the safety issues Musk said that “the system is immune to wind, ice, fog and rain, the propulsion system is integrated into the tube and can only accelerate the capsule to speeds that are safe in each section. With human control errors and unpredictable weather removed from the system, very few safety concerns remain.”

wreofsfgaaccording to Buisnessweek, ” Musk figures the Hyperloop could be build for $6 billion dollars with people only pods, or 10 billion for the larger pods capable of holding people and cars. All together his alternative would be for times as fast as California’s proposed train, at one tenth the cost. Tickets, Musk says, would be much cheaper than a plane ride.” What that cost will actually be remains to be seen, but you figure that it will in terms of operation costs, but the thing that is unknown is whether or nor it can meet the demand.


Agriculture Leading Way For Tech Integration

With the world facing rising tensions with global warming and international food shortages, we look far and wide into the future for how to find the solutions to this. However, some are looking behind us, and even to the side and saying we can do this better. What I am referring to here is the notion that the thing we associate with being the most simple and low tech en-devours there is, primarily the production of food on a small scale or in organic farms is actually benefiting immensely from the aid of technologies and the adherence to integrated dynamic business solutions that are empowering them to break the cycle of large scale industrial farms that have been the sole jhkjhkjhbenefactors of tech to this point. Today that is all about to change and we are seeing a brighter, greener future. But many think this is closer than many think, like other advances in the industry. 

How are they benefiting from integrating tech into their daily operations ? in more ways than one that’s for sure. To understand how this process is taking place, you need to look at every aspect of how they normally go about their business from the initial soil sampling, to water distribution and seed lay out, all the way to distribution and transportation. It all starts with the idea of making things in greenhouses which has a larger up front cost but as we see the ability to have a much higher degree of quality control and the ability to fight against pests like no others justifies the investment. From here they have the ability to equip the green houses with many sensors and monitors that allow them to take much of the tedium and labor intensive aspects of the job and allocate it to their smartphone or computer. Next when it comes to watering this is one of the most wasteful things we do as a society in regards to our allocation of resources. Considering the fact that the way we irrigate has remained the same sgsince the times of ancient Mesopotamian or Egypt. That is to say that we still do flood based soil irrigation that is highly ineffective, hard to control, and abundantly wasteful. The tech solution is drip line irrigation and it allows the farmer the ability to directly distribute water to the necessary regions as they are needed. That is to say it is being administered directly to the roots, and with the coupling of the greenhouse limiting evaporation we see that this is using about 5-10% of traditional water usage. Not only that but the farmer has the ability to install sensors that are smart and on a network that administer water to the plants per their needs, so that there is not a drop wasted in the cultivation of plants. before this drones are able to administer the seeds to the places needed, although this is still a bit of a fringe technique it will probably be the norm someday. When it is time to take them to market, or should I say web the farmer has more freedom than ever before. Thus the means of production are being seized.

Tech Products, Just Around The Corner

In 1956 MIT presented in a kind of symposium a notion of the “house of the future” which at the time researches toyed with the idea of potentially having plastic homes, or other other wacky ideas like that where you could hose down your home, or have your cigarettes sucked out of your house like a bank statement suction hose. All of these ideas look silly in hind sight, but I can only imagine that where we think we’ll be in a few years will be just as, if not more ludicrous sounding to our future selves. At the very least what this symposium did was it put a target on the back of the future and said fire when ready to whoever was willing to dream big enough. It bridge the home as being something more than a structural thing but thought of it much like a machine and gave way for what we now are referring to as the internet of things. Everyday computers exponentiation their potential and computing powerrufdsadf

Here is a look at some of the innovations we can expect to have in our homes in the not so distant future that our children will grow up with.

Lighting Control:

Imagine coming home and hitting one button all the lights of your house go on to the setting you prefer. That would be awesome, but what if you remove the button from the equation and the lighting everywhere. Instead you enable a lower energy intensive sensor to go on, and just like that as you move through your house the energy usage follows you. No longer will you have to get up switch the light. More importantly we can imagine that if we expand this thinking to having the lights be programmable we can adjust the dimness settings for various hours of the day and get it exactly how we want it given our houses feel.

Power Tracking:

Going with this same line of thinking we realize that we need the means to track our power and resource usage more efficiently. We will have the means to do so no problem. Consider the ease at which we have the means to expand data and make connections via our smart phones and other devices, when we can couple this data we are already gathering at an astronomical rate, and then compare it against our energy usage we will be able to have a more predictive sense of what to expect and how to more effectually use what we need.

Home Robotic Assistance:

asdfasdfWith this think less Jetson’s, and more Iron man. The idea being that it will not be a jack of all trades robot that serves as a cyber butler, rather the appliances that we already have will be voice commanded and automatize considering on the task specific choir they are designed for. For instance you walk down stairs in the morning and just blurt out, “cafe late, 2 sugars” and bam, its there. Later your autonomous car will drive you to work while your autonomous vacuum tidy’s up the floor of your apartment.

Landmark U.S. Bill Considers the Future of Encryption

In a bipartisan effort put forth by United States Reps, Ted Lieu a democrat from the state of California, and Blake Farenthold a Republican from the state of Texas introduced legislation that aims to prevent and ensure that states are wholly blocked from banning the sale of smartphones with even the potential to operate under a smartphone capable platform.

The “ENCRYPT Act of 2016” as the bill is refereed to enables a state or any political subdivision of a state cannot in any way mandate or even request that smartphone manufacturer and or developers, sell and or providers converted products either design a “backdoor” past the encryption or modify existing security specifications to allow the government the surveillance of any and everyone they want. CyberSecusdfgrrrity

The Bill excludes the usage services or hardware from to decrypt or otherwise enable understandable data to remain otherwise unintelligible.  Essentially the bill seeks to halt attempts by the FBI and NSA or local law enforcement agencies in the U.S> to force high-tect companies to include security and encryption backdoor to allow information to devices.United_States_Capitol_Building

The thinking behind the bill can be understood as follows, by the mouth of Leau himself who states that, “I was concerned when I saw the New York State legislator’s bill that would mandate encryption backdoors, and got more concerned when the California state legislature introduced a similar bill…California is a Democratic state, and if a Democratic legislator introduces the bill, I figure it will pass.”

Lieu goes on to say that, “You can’t design a smartphone that would work in different states differently in terms of encryption, because people travel in different states all the time.”

As we can see this bill will have lasting implications moving forward. given the political climate of the Apple v. U.S. government in relation to the San Bernadino shooters, the implications will be wide spread and debated. Whether or not this bill passes we can safely assume that some case that relates to this topic will and should make its way before the superior court of the land and be hard by the supreme court. Today we live in a world where the line between public and private, accessible and inaccessable are more blurred then ever, and the rights and liberties of the citizenry needs to be protected in light of this reality. The fact that the bill is being put forth by a California Democrat and a Texas Republican, traditionally polar opposites of our politiical area should give us pause when we consider that the implications go far beyond partisan lines. The very fabric of liberty is being considered and what emerges from this era will define how posterity works and operates in relation to itself, others, the state, industry, advertisement, and basically every facet of our political and social arena.  It is easy to flee towards the path that curtails our liberty in light of fear or terror, but we should ask ourselves, if we are so willing to give up those rights we hold so dear, what are we really defending or fighting for when we say “we are a free nation?”

France Reigns in Facebook

It’s been a rough week for Facebook, who’s efforts towards constant growth and expanding its role in more and more people’s lives can at times rub governments the wrong way.

On Monday, for example, India’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority ruled that Facebook’s Free Basics app was to be banned throughout the country.

franceAllegedly altruistic, Free Basics is Facebook’s initiative to bring a limited, but free internet access to the approximately one third of the global population that has been left out of the last 20 years’ information revolution. Zuckerberg and his associates likely saw a lot of potential for their initiative in India, where only about 19% of the population has access to the internet.

However, Free Basics doesn’t offer the entire internet; instead it offers a limited version in which only some websites (including Facebook, obviously) are accessible to users. It was with that the TRA took issue, believing that Free Basics’ methodology for bringing the internet to the poor offered too much of a social risk in that it didn’t offer the entire internet, allowing for the possibility of censorship and manipulation by internet providers. Accordingly, it banned the app from the entirety of the country.

Now France has a bone to pick with the social media mogul as well. Its federal data protection authority CNIL recently have Facebook three months notice to comply with the French Data Protection Act after on-site and online inspections along with a documentary audit revealed that Facebook had failed to meet the FDPA requirements. The requirements include the following:

france2Facebook must stop compiling the data of French account holders for advertising purposes without a legal basis, stop processing data that’s irrelevant, excessive or inadequate with respect to the purposes pursued, and stop asking account holders to prove their identity by providing medical records. It also must obtain the explicit consent of account holders, based on specific information, for the collection and processing of their sensitive data- including religious and political views and sexual orientation. Facebook must inform account holders on the sign-up form and profile pages about the processing of their personal data, why data is transferred outside the EU and to whom, and the level of protection offered by third countries, and it must fairly collect and process data of non-account holders with regard to data collected using the “datr cookie” and the “like” button. Finally, Facebook must inform internet users and obtain their prior consent for placing cookies on their terminal.

“The Europeans take a tough stance, and it makes sense,” observed Laura DiDio, Strategy Analytics research director. She goes on to explain that our era is one in which who owns what data in a very interconnected virtual space must be ironed out.

“[Facebook is] using illegal means of collecting data and data transfer mechanism which was invalidated by the European Court of Justice last fall,” she notes. “I think it’s pretty nervy that they collect the browsing activity of anybody who surfs the Web, even if they don’t have a Facebook account- and I laugh at their response, which is always ‘We are willing to work with the European authorities.'”

Can Computers Recreate Human Sight?

Although it is so natural to you that you can’t even be conscious of it, your brain is constantly interpreting information and making from it the world as you know it. Since computers were invented, engineers have always wondered if they could ever make a computer that processed information in the same way as a human brain. Is it possible, for example, to create a computer than can analyze visual stimulus and see as humans do?

fmriThe answer to this question depends on the context in which it is framed.

A group of researchers led by the California Berkeley neuroscientist Jack Gallant created a computer that could accurately guess what a person was watching simply by analyzing that person’s fMRI data. Those researchers might answer that question with a resounding “Yes.”

Their experiment involved hooking people up to an fMRI machine and having them watch hours of movies and internet clips. After building a library of data baed on how people’s brains reacted to seeing certain people and objects on a screen, the researchers attempted to use their newfound data to then guess what someone saw based on videos they watch later, given their brain’s feed into an fMRI.

The researchers used a computer to compare the vast amount of brain reactions that a viewer had to unseen videos to the library of brain imaging data they had collected. It strung together computer pixels from previous videos to attempt to recreate its own account of what the participant saw.

According to the scientists, the computer was actually right 90 percent of the time, meaning that it could understand what people were seeing based on brain waves. However whether or not that counts as a computer “seeing” something is another matter.

Whether neurons can be seen as synonymous with computer transmitters remains a topic of debate. Studies have been done on how the brain’s nerve cells react to a variety of visual stimulus from objects to people. Other experiments have examined how organs react to colored stimuli and even nouns and verbs as they are spoken and visualized.

Oblique view of male head showing electrode placement on the scalp for an EEG (Electroencephalogram); SOURCE: Original; M_Brain_skull_EEG.mb

Oblique view of male head showing electrode placement on the scalp for an EEG (Electroencephalogram); SOURCE: Original; M_Brain_skull_EEG.mb

Computer modeling and engineering have enabled scientists to better understand and develop ways to predict trends and translate nonhuman brain’s reactions into usable data, especially reactions from rodents and primates.

Electroencephalogram (EEG) technology involves attaching electrodes to a person’s scalp and picking up faint activity inside the brain. This information can be processed by a computer that suddenly takes on “mind-reading” capabilities. There have even been EEG experiments that allow people to control a computer with their brain alone. This could be particularly helpful for people with health conditions that make speaking or moving extremely difficult; they could simply relay their thoughts over the computer.

Computers have even been taught to pick up on human social cues, meaning they can to some extent understand what a person is feeling or seeing based on analyzing his or her body language or voice.

That said, for all the refinement that computers have undergone, the human brain remains a huge mystery to scientists, psychiatrists, and computer engineers alike.

What is Your Computer’s Registry?

If you’re a PC person, you’ve likely heard of the Windows Registry. However, most are unclear on exactly what the function of the registry is and what role it plays in a well-functioning computer. Here’s an article to acquaint you with the concept and equip you with the tools you need to get the best possible results from your PC.

keysThe Windows Registry refers to a large conglomeration of files containing information about basically everything that occurs on your computer. This information ranges from web browsing data to program installation to driver information. All of this data is stored in the form of “keys,” which act sort of like a blueprint for how everything is organized and how it works together to run correctly.

Worth noting: only Windows computers have registries, so this information does not apply to mac users.

Your registry likely has hundreds of thousands of entries and new entries are being generated constantly. This constant build up of information can cause lag in computer performance, especially since Windows never removes registry entries. Even if you uninstall a program, the process by which that program is removed from your PC does not involve removing the registry keys from your Windows registry.

Luckily, it is possible to clean up your Windows Registry, Though you generally can’t reduce it to clean-slate form, you can at least remove enough content from it to allow for your computer to boot faster and perform better. Many users that opt into cleansing their Windows Registry report that they see fewer lags and less Windows hanging. You may even free up some extra disc space.

Before you jump onboard the registry cleaning wagon, keep in mind that your registry is a very sensitive place in your computer, and that incorrect cleaning methods can cause you some major problems. If your computer is running fine, it may be wiser to leave the whole system alone. In fact, if you manually edit your registry and make a mistake, it may become impossible for your computer to load Windows, which means none of your programs will have the firmware they need to operate correctly.

registry3Another drawback: performance improvements may be pretty negligible, while the process by which you manually (one-by-one) approve recommended deletions may take hours. Even if you download registry-cleaning programs you have to be careful, as often times programs have been found to delete important registry keys or essential DLL files.

That said, if you want to move forward with the cleanse there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your device from any mishaps. First off, it’s a good idea to create a back-up copy of your registry before you clean it, so if any important programs are deleted you still have access to them. Secondly, be sure to upload any sensitive or important data to an external hard drive or disk so that you don’t run the risk of losing everything if your computer crashes. From there you’re open to access the regedit.exe file and moving forward with the cleanse!

What Exactly is an Operating System?

Most computers come equipped with an operating system, which organizes and controls hardware and software in order to make sure that a device behaves in a flexible but predictable way. Here’s a little information about how they work and why they’re important.

microwaveFirst of all, keep in mind that not all computers have operating systems. For example, your microwave oven doesn’t have an operating system, nor do your brushless power tools. The more straight-forward the task of a computer, the less likely it is to need an operating system to guide its procedures. An operating system is truly meant to facilitate the functioning of a device that serves a variety of purposes, interacts with users in a complicated way, and needs to be able to be flexible enough to keep up with needs that change as time goes on.

Any desktop or laptop computer has an operating system. Windows is Microsoft’s popular operating system, whereas Apple utilizes a Macintosh operating system. There are hundreds of other, lesser-known operating systems available for more specialized devices and applications, but most users will have at least one device (likely their laptop or mobile phone) that runs off of one of these.

The point of an operating system is to allow for the user to make changes to how the device works depending on that user’s individual needs. Maybe, for example, a laptop computer user wants to upload some anti-malware software on their computer; the operating system allows for new software to be downloaded and integrated into the general functioning of the device, making these important changes necessary.

The operating system acts as the central manager for your computing device; it oversees hardware and software resources such as processors, memory, disk space, keypads, screens, address books, phone dialers, the battery, word processors, etc. This means that it manages the various programs and input methods that are competing for the attention of the CPU (central processing unit) and necessitate their own memory, storage, and input/output bandwidth.

APIThe operating system also allows for a stable and consistent way for applications to deal with hardware without having to be made for the device’s hardware specifically. The Application Program Interface (API) of an operating software makes it possible for a software developer to write an application on one computer and have it be more than likely that that application will then run on another computer of the same type even if the amount of memory or quantity of storage might differ.

Operating systems make it possible for different versions (or updates) of applications can continue to run on the same computer despite updates in software and hardware. Operating systems need to be extremely flexible in order to be compatible with the level of diversity found among computer products that are constantly being released into the market. Today’s systems have managed to accommodate many thousands of devices including printers, disk drives, and special peripherals in all different kinds of combinations.

Without operating systems, the entire tech industry would be held back by the impossible task of making every new innovation completely compatible with every diverse piece of hardware that came before it.


A Computer that Generates Images on Command

19-year-old Elman Mansimov has already graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in computer science. He started college at the age of 15 and has since designed an AI system that can create images based on captions written in normal vernacular.

neural networkThe system relies on computational nodes meant to mimic the activity of neurons in the human brain (also known as a neural network). While most neural networks take images as inputs and classify them with text, Mansimov and his colleagues engineered their project to take text as an input and generate images instead.

The neural network is split into three parts; the foundational network analyzes text and comes up with a “mental image” or representation of what the words mean.

Then the secondary neural network receives that representation and attempts to recreate an existing image in a training set of annotated images layer by layer. Simultaneously,  the second neural network provides information regarding the probability of ending up with the image the researchers asked for. This step takes into consideration the idea that a vagueness within the instructions or lack of detail programmed into the computer’s understanding of an object may lead its final image astray.

“When you imagine a yellow car,” Mansimov explained, “it could be a Mercedes or a BMW, so by adding the noise, it tries to add the distribution of all the possibilities there may be.”

The second network creates a blurry image that the third neural network ultimately sharpens.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 15:  A school bus drives down a street in Manhattan's East Village on January 15, 2013 in New York City. Drivers of the city's school buses are set to go on strike tomorrow after negotiations with Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed to reach an agreement; over 150,000 children will need to find an alternate method of transportation to school.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“The model isn’t sophisticated enough to reconstruct sharp samples, and it’s uncertain about what it’s generating, so it replies with uncertainty and blurry samples,” explained Mansimov. “It’s like when you’re uncertain what to say, you more or less start mumbling.”

Upon finishing the prototype, the team composed of Mansimov as well as a handful of University of Toronto graduate students as well as a few professors began to challenge their new system. They began by asking it to generate images of buses and other standard objects, then asking it to change the colors. The system could take that, so they began working with slightly harder images, namely, an open toilet sitting in a grassy field.

The AI was able to do it, though the image does seem a little blurry.

In terms of the next project, Mansimov claims that he plans to continue to improve his system, giving it more training so that it can generate images that are sharper and more recognizable.

He also hopes to program it so that it can not only generate images, but generate speech.

“As a proxy to see what’s happening with the model, I used images,” Mansimov explained. However, he claims that the model could be used for the human voice and potentially even make more natural-sounding voices for robots.

For now, this interesting AI feat is a testament to the progress of machine learning and deep learning; progress sure to be pushed forward by young creatives like Elman Mansimov.