News Roundup: Are we about to start mining the ocean for raw smartphone materials?
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News Roundup: Are we about to start mining the ocean for raw smartphone materials?

A roundup of the week’s tech news including OracleWorld, ISIS’ hacking skills, and God-like Operating Systems.

 

Seafloor mining

Our electronics use all kinds of rare and valuable metals. They are mined from all over the world, but are hard to find, expensive to extract, and often come at a high human cost. But soon we could be mining the sea for our smartphone martials.

The Japan Times is reporting that its successfully mined zinc, gold, copper and lead from deep-water seabed off the coast of Okinawa. According to the report, this was the largest extraction of its type, and produced the equivalent of Japan’s entire zinc yearly consumption.

Between this, Microsoft’s project to put datacentres on the seabed, and the rise of driverless boats and autonomous oceanic drones, tech is definitely starting to sail on the seven seas.

 

OracleWorld

Given that Oracle’s market share of the Cloud infrastructure market is minimal at best – Gartner has lumped the company in the “others” section of its latest report – it’s no great surprise there was a lot of news coming out of this year’s OracleWorld conference. 

The database giant hit the buzzword trifecta of AI, Blockchain, and serverless with its major announcements:

Big Red revealed an ‘autonomous database Cloud’ it claims scales, patches, and maintains itself free of human interaction.

Oracle’s Enterprise Blockchain Service is a Blockchain as a Service offering similar to those offered by Azure or IBM.

It’s new Fn platform apes the likes of AWS Lambda and Azure’s Cloud Functions and offers serverless, function-orientated architecture.

It wouldn’t be an Oracle conference without some mud-slinging. Founder and CTO Larry Ellison seemingly took offence at the existence of AWS and Splunk this year. Ellison said AWS’ Elastic Cloud wasn’t actually elastic (i.e. didn’t automatically scale), to which the company replied, “that’s factually incorrect… this sounds like Larry being Larry. No facts, wild claims, and lots of bluster.”

Ellison then claimed Spunk has “no real entity model and leaves data in many disparate vendor silos,” to which the company wrote a full blog post entitled “Splunk Fires Back at Ludicrous Larry”. In it, Splunk CEO Doug Merritt said he was worried by Oracle’s “fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding of the security market.”

In other Oracle news this week, the company has been hit with a gender discrimination lawsuit for wilfully failing to pay female employees the same wages as males for the same work.

 

Spying-related headlines

  • The WSJ is claiming Russia stole NSA hacking tools using Kaspersky's antivirus
  • The FBI doesn’t have to reveal who helped it hack into the San Bernardino iPhone
  • The NSA told Trump not to use personal email
  • The NSA and FBI have violated data collection protocol “hundreds of times
  • HPE allowed a Russian defence agency to review ArcSight’s source code
  • UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd said it was OK that she doesn’t understand how encryption works and that technology experts should stop “sneering” at her, in the same speech
  • The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) reported over 1,000 security incidents in its first year

In other news, the limited coding skills of ISIS hackers is stopping the terrorist group from developing its own secure communications. “ISIS is really, really bad at the development of encryption software and malware,” said DomainTools security researcher Kyle Wilhoit. “The apps are sh*t to be honest, they have several vulnerabilities in each system that renders them useless.”

If President Trump backs out of a nuclear deal with Iran it could see an increase of attacks from the country’s increasingly sophisticated hacker army, some security experts are warning.

 

SNAFUs

It seems some companies are trying to outdo each other for how badly they can screw stuff up. Yahoo! announced this week that the 2013 hack – already the biggest in history – actually saw all 3 billion customers affected, not the previously-announced 1 billion. Yep, every single Yahoo! account. 3 billion of them.

Equifax is trying it’s best not to be outdone. Recently ‘retired’ CEO Richard Smith admitted to Congress that it had known about the Apache Struts vulnerability for months but failed to patch it, the compromised data wasn’t encrypted, it stayed quiet about the hack so as not to alert more criminals to their weaknesses,  added a couple of million extra victims to the total affected, but ultimately the fault lies with one individual who didn’t do the patching. Congress replied saying that, unfortunately, it can’t “pass a law that fixes stupid.”

Yet, somehow, the IRS decided to award a new contract to the company. Several members of the US Senate have called for it to be cancelled.

The recent Deloitte hack was done using a Facebook catfish.

Microsoft, meanwhile, saw an issue with Azure pop up after a fire extinguisher was set off during a safety inspection.

 

Apple vs FCC

FCC boss Ajit Pai took an ill-educated pot-shot at Apple in the name of ‘public safety’.

“In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are  already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States…When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM chips can allow Americans to get vital access to life -saving information” he wrote in a statement.

“Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so. But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That’s why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones. It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first.”

Apple has replied saying that while it “cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis…iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.”

 

M&A

Apple has made a double swoop for Init.ai and Regaind, Amazon has acquired BodyLabs, Google has snapped up AIMatter, Microsoft now owns the previously-struggling AltspaceVR, Dialog Semiconductor has bought Silego Technology, Tibco has taken over Cisco’s Data Virtualization Business, ServiceNow has purchased Telepathy, Walmart has got its hands on Parcel, and Boeing has paid up for autonomous flight startup Aurora Flight Sciences.

Microsoft is killing off its Groove Music service, and Disney considered acquiring Twitter.

 

London the over-priced tech hub

House prices in London might be falling, but it still costs a bomb if you’re trying to run a business. According to property consultants Knight Frank, London’s tech district is the most expensive in the world. Shoreditch’s average cost of $90.75 per square foot is higher than even San Francisco ($77).

 

AI IQ

In the UK there used to be a terrible show called “Are you Smarter than a 10-year-old”, where adults would pit their knowledge against that of a child. In the future, we might be seeing the likes of Siri and Alexa taking on children’s quizzes.

A new study from researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the College of Information Science and Technology University of Nebraska Omaha looked to quantify the IQ of several AI systems and compare them to average humans.

It found Google had the cleverest AI, with an IQ of 47.28, followed by Baidu (32.92), Sogou (32.25), then Bing (31.98) and Siri (23.94). Unfortunately, the average IQ of a six-year-old is listed as 55 and the average adult around 100, so they still have a ways to go yet.

In other AI news, Mattel has cancelled Aristotle, its child-spying Alexa device.

 

Open Source

Walmart has Open Sourced Electrode Native; a project for migrating code to Facebook’s React Native. Oracle’s previously-mentioned Fn platform is Open Source. Apple has released the kernel of iOS and macOS for ARM processors. Google has released a little project designed to help web developers learn about machine learning, and teach systems within the browser.

Despite using Open Source itself, Oracle is telling the US Government not to bother. In a letter to the American Technology Council, Oracle claimed the idea that the Government should be agile, embrace software development, and be Open Sourced are “false narratives.”

Not only does the company say “the use of open source software has been declining rapidly in the private sector,” but that developing then releasing software to the community is an “unnecessary risk” as the code will be “assessed and exploited by adversaries”, as well as put the Government in “direct competition with U.S. technology companies, who are now forced to compete against the unlimited resources of the U.S. taxpayer.”

 

Praise the Penguin

The enthusiasm with which people fervently support Linux and Open Source occasionally reaches near-religious levels. But what about when religion and Linux meet? According to the Reg, for a brief period this week, Ubuntu's wiki page featured info on Computers4Christians: a group dedicated to spreading Christianity through the medium of Linux distributions.

C4C’s logo is a penguin holding a cross, and its faith-orientated C4C Lubuntu ReSpin distro comes with an open source Bible study tool, a King James Bible reader, a daily Bible verse widget, and a multi-version Bible search application.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech from driverless cars, AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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