FCC’s “Cyber Attack” Excuse Turns Out to Be About as Real as It Sounds

Dade yells "Hack the Planet" in Hackers

No one has ever, ever believed an “I was hacked” excuse for things going wrong on the internet without direct confirmation that it was actually true. In terms of believability, it comes in just barely ahead of “the Ambien made me racist.” The FCC’s claim that a cyber attack was responsible for bringing down the agency’s public comment system, while they were taking comments on their wildly unpopular plan to roll back net neutrality rules in May 2018, ranked just behind that, if only because it wouldn’t have been a “hack” … if it had actually happened at all.

Pretty much this entire time, no one has really believed them, because everything about that situation is embarrassing. If anything, we all just kind of assumed that the FCC’s comment system went down due to the sheer volume of people attempting to express their thoughts on the agency’s net neutrality plans—and if we know anything about internet commenters, it’s that they don’t really flood anywhere in massive numbers just to say, “This is good, and I like it, and you’re all swell people who deserve respect, or at least basic human decency. Have a lovely day.”

The FCC, on the other hand, seemed intent on convincing everyone that this was not the case, making it look like an attempt to save face, rather than own up to their plan’s intense negative reception and their system’s inability to handle a spike in traffic. In the time since, the agency has been stonewalling anyone who tried to obtain information about exactly what data they had on this imaginary cyber attack (including denying Freedom of Information Act requests because they had no documentation), as well as lying to Congress about it.

This continued up until yesterday, when FCC chair and net neutrality opponent Ajit Pai tried to get out ahead of the Inspector General’s official report on the incident, which debunks the cyber attack claims, with a strong “the buck stops elsewhere” attitude. Pai placed blame at the feet of former FCC chief information officer David Bray, who … honestly seems to be at fault here, based on the evidence in the now-released report, but Pai was sure to get extra petty and point out that Bray was hired by the “was hired by the prior Administration.” It’s also puzzling why the agency allowed the patently false story to circulate right up until a report was about to call them out.

It’s also weird that Bray was able to spread such a story story this time around, when he’d apparently tried to do so, unsuccessfully, the last time a segment on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight took down the FCC’s net neutrality comments, in 2014. (That’s right, the official government report on the matter attributes the 2017 outage to John Oliver’s minions, so if you’re a LWT viewer, expect a fairly smug shoutout on the show this week.) As Bray tells it, that’s because both of these hacks totally happened, but Obama administration FCC chair Tom Wheeler covered up the first one!

So … it’s the Obama administration’s fault that the FCC lied about a cyber attack for over a year, when that same lie, about a nearly identical incident, was halted in its tracks during … the Obama administration. Bonus points for finally landing on an excuse that comes off even more disingenuous than “I was hacked,” I guess.

(image: MGM)

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IRL Sex & the City Political Fanfic: Mr. Big Supports Miranda for Governor!

sex and the city, miranda, big, chris noth

As we all learned from everything that was 2016, it can be super dangerous to treat politics like it’s reality TV or general entertainment. On the other hand, the world is a garbage fire and it can be really nice to impose some frivolous distractions into our political landscape.

Cynthia Nixon is a highly qualified, incredibly serious and promising candidate for New York governor. She is not a television character. But you know what? She spent many, many years (which happened to coincide with my youth and the formative years of many others) playing  a television character–one which happened to be uniquely smart and self-actualized–and I believe it is 100% possible to view her as a serious political candidate while also taking total joy in imagining our current reality as an extension of the Sex and the City universe as we all dreamed to see it continue in a smart, adult timeline.

All of that is a far too lengthy explanation for my excitement over this news that Chris Noth–aka Mr. Big–is a supporter of Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial run, now that it’s been disclosed that Noth donated $2,500 to Nixon’s campaign.

Miranda notably loathed Big for all of the bullshit he put her best friend Carrie through. It brings me such joy to imagine that the thing that could finally bring them together, if not as friends but at least as political allies, would be Miranda’s run for governor.

Is this a totally normal thing not at all worthy of media coverage? Yes, obviously, it’s a man donating to the campaign of a political candidate, based on her platform or maybe even just their personal or professional relationship. It’s normal politics.

But is it also a way for fans to fantasize a S&tC fanfic extension in which Mr. Big and Miranda are finally on the same page, having made good on their personal beefs for the good of all New York? Can we imagine that these two opposites (if not full adversaries) have finally come together for the future of their state? Yes, of course we can and it’s beautiful.

While we’re making fanfic out of our actual world, it should be noted that other Sex & the City characters actors have also given financial support to Nixon’s campaign, including David Eigenberg (Steve) and Lynn Cohen (Magda). EVEN STEVE AND MAGDA ARE ONBOARD WITH MIRANDA’S GUBERNATORIAL RUN.

Again, this is all presented in jest. Cynthia Nixon is a very real candidate. But for many of us, especially young women, she has lived in our hearts as Miranda Hobbes for quite some time. We don’t have to deny her that place in our lives as she takes on this new one.

 

(via Vulture, image: HBO)

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I Was a Victim of the Great Twitter Purge

Twitter purge

Logging onto Twitter and seeing about two thousand of my followers suddenly gone was what it must feel like when a parent turns around and their child isn’t following them through a shopping mall any longer.

Also, that is probably extremely dramatic, but I loved looking at my nearly eight thousand followers and knowing that, among them, maybe some person out there was enjoying my nonsense.

Imagine my dismay the moment I logged on to Twitter today, only to discover that suddenly my follower count dropped faster than my energy levels when I see the heat index. Now, I am hardly the only one to suffer. Going into the great Twitter purge, users knew what would come of our follower counts when the big sweep took hold. Twitter was taking action to eliminate so-called “locked” accounts, accounts that were locked in the past for displaying spammy or bot-like activity.

Clearly, we weren’t ready to say goodbye to our fake friends. “Let the bots stay, let my almost eight thousand remain,” I cried out into the void as I watched my follower count dwindle down to its current standing of less than six thousand.

In a melodramatic flair, everyone began to share their tales of woe—who had lost what amount of followers? The main concern coming from how many our Twitter-obsessed president lost in total. His current standing? Only about 100,000 bots lost. Hmm.

Katy Perry also lost quite the number of followers, proving that not even writing hit songs will keep you safe. If this is the beginning of The Purge franchise in our real lives, those of us with lots of Twitter followers will, seemingly, suffer the most. According to Variety, other famous people like myself suffered greatly:

Follower counts for Justin Bieber fell 1.3%, Rihanna was down 0.6%, Ellen DeGeneres dropped 2.5%, Taylor Swift fell 2.7%, and Lady Gaga declined 1.9%. Barack Obama’s (@barackobama) total followers shrank by 2.1 million, or 2.1%, to 101.5 million.

We may never get our lost bots back. My treasured eight thousand is now much further than it was prior to this unwanted purge. At least Twitter is doing something about bot accounts that don’t do any harm rather than handling their crisis with Neo-Nazis! It’s great to see they have their priorities straight.

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Employees, GitHub Coders Pressure Microsoft to End Their Contract with ICE

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Hundreds of employees from both Microsoft and the recently acquired GitHub have threatened to leave the company unless they sever their contract with ICE. The tech giant currently has a $19.4 million dollar contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and ICE’s family separation policy has clearly had an impact on the employees. In a letter sent to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, employees said:

“We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits. We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE. As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”

Microsoft isn’t the only tech company whose employees are speaking out against government contracts. Recently, Google decided not to renew their Project Maven contract with the Department of Defense in response to the outcry from their employees.

The Microsoft employees are joined by coders at GitHub, which was acquired by Microsoft earlier this month for $7.5 billion dollars. In response to the ICE contract, GitHub workers released a statement of their own, saying:

“As members of the open source community and free software movement who embrace values of freedom, liberty, openness, sharing, mutual aid, and general human kindness, we are horrified by and strongly object to the Trump administration’s policies of detainment, denaturalization, deportation, and family separation as carried out by ICE.”

“We call on Microsoft to end its relationship with ICE and any federal agencies engaged in enforcing the cruel policies of this administration, which is destroying families and jailing asylum seekers, undocumented long-term residents, and even naturalized citizens under threat of deportation. Or, we will simply take our projects elsewhere.”

Nadella and Microsoft have responded to the statements, saying that their contract with ICE has nothing to do with forcibly separating children from their families. In a company-wide email, Nadella wrote “I want to be clear. Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border.” However, earlier this year the company was touting AI and facial recognition software as part of their work with the government.

The GitHub campaign was started by web developer and activist Daniel Sieradski, who summed up his feelings by saying, “Any entity that is complicit in facilitating these injustices should be named, shamed, and boycotted until they get on the right side of history.” We wish the employees at both companies the best of luck with their efforts and hope that the corporations servicing these atrocious policies condemn them. Complicity is not a good look on anyone, and we all know how history looks back on those who were just following orders.

(via Gizmodo, image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Koko, the Gorilla Who Learned Sign Language, Passes Away at 46

koko

If you were a kid in the ’90s, you wanted to do three things: go to Space Camp, complete the Temple Run on Legends of the Hidden Temple, and meet Koko, the sign language gorilla. Sadly, the world-famous gorilla has passed away at the age of 46, at her home at The Gorilla Foundation in the Santa Cruz mountains. The Gorilla Foundation released a statement saying, “Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world. She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”

Koko was born on the Fourth of July in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo, where she was named Hanabi-ko (Japanese for “fireworks child”). The western lowland gorilla was selected as an infant by animal psychologist Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson, who developed a language research project designed to teach a modified form of American Sign Language, known as “Gorilla Sign Language” or GSL. Koko was able to master more than 1,000 signs in GSL, and reportedly understood up to 2,000 English verbal words. She quickly became world famous for her remarkable intelligence and empathy for others.

In addition to GSL, Koko showed extraordinary intelligence and aptitude, learning to play the recorder and operate a camera. Her self portrait made the cover of the National Geographic in 1978. Did Koko invent the selfie? Sure looks like it.

Koko was widely recognized in pop culture after meeting several celebrities, such as Mister Rogers, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, and Robin Williams. When Williams died in 2014, Koko’s handlers said she expressed sadness at the news.

Koko was also famous for her love of kittens, and for expressing grief when her kitten Ball died. The beloved gorilla inspired generations of children and adults with her compassion and playful nature, reminding us that we are not so different from our fellow mammals. Rest in Peace, Koko.

(via NPR, image: PBS)

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Professor Alice Roberts Designs the “Perfect” Human Body and It’s Here to Haunt Your Nightmares

The quest for perfection has plagued mankind since the dawn of time. We’ve poured countless hours, resources, and money into anything and everything to improve ourselves, be it physically, emotionally, mentally, etc. There seem to be no limits to the Faustian bargains we seek to be the very best version of ourselves. Anatomist Alice Roberts delves into the problems with perfection in her new BBC Four special, Can Science Make Me Perfect?.

In the special, Roberts enlists the help of virtual sculptor Scott Eaton and SFX model maker Sangeet Prabhaker to design a “perfect” version of herself with evolutionary upgrades and improvements. She debuted the finished model in a presentation at the London Science Museum and the results were…something. The audience giggles as Roberts walks them through the “improvements” made to Alice 2.0, which include a chimp’s sturdy lower back to support the transition to walking upright as well as the shock-absorbing legs of an emu.

Included are tiny thigh pumps to improve circulation, a dog’s heart, and the lungs of a swan. Swans, like most birds, have ultra-efficient respiratory systems, which are necessary to be able to fly. Birds can breathe up to ten times faster than mammals, thanks to a one-way breathing system that rapidly intakes and expels enough oxygen to power the bird’s muscles (unlike mammals, whose lungs have a “dead end” where air must flow in and out on the same pathway).

In addition, Alice 2.0’s neck features a choke-proof windpipe, and her sensory capabilities are enhanced by large ears and enlarged, light-sensitive eyes. Oh, and to avoid painful childbirth/baby Bjorns, Alice 2.0 can now carry her baby in a marsupial-style pouch. The model comes complete with an iPhone, because of course it does. Part manimal, part Na’Vi, part Quatto, Alice 2.0 is truly a wonder…or a nightmare, depending on your perspective.

(via The A.V. Club, image: BBC Four)

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It’s Raining Seafood in China and Other Headlines I Never Thought I’d Write

Citizens of the Chinese coastal city Qingdao experienced a bizarre natural phenomenon this week, when a storm rained down octopi, shrimp, starfish and more aquatic sea life. The fishy weather was due to a tornadic waterspout, otherwise known as a tornado that occurs over a body of water. The high speed winds act as a vacuum, sucking up sea life, which ends up raining back down when the weather disperses. This phenomenon was depicted in the nature documentary series Sharknado, which captured raw real life footage of sharks decimating the city of Manhattan. #NeverForget.

sharknado

Folks in Qingdao took photos of the storm of ceviche that hit the city, and the images are pretty bonkers.

Imagine driving down the street when, out of nowhere, an octopus lands on your windshield. Try explaining that to GEICO.

As wild as this shellfish storm may seem, it is not an isolated phenomenon. Last year, several fish fell from the sky in Tampico, Mexico during a rainstorm. And the phenomenon of raining frogs dates back to 1st Century AD, when the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder documented a rain of fish and frogs.

This meteorological occurrence also pops up in the Old Testament. In the Book of Exodus, a plague of frogs is the second plague visited upon Egypt after the Pharoah denies Moses’s request for liberation. More recently, a rain of frogs occured in the town of Odzaci, Serbia in 2005. And if you’re looking for nightmare fuel, in 2014 a 1,000-foot-tall funnel of insects (probably locusts) appeared in Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal in what was termed a “bugnado“. BRB, never leaving the house again.

(via Newsweek, image: FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

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Stephen Hawking’s Voice Will Be Beamed Into Space, and Other Details from the Physicist’s Memorial Today

Stephen Hawking at New Space Exploration Initiative "Breakthrough Starshot" Announcement

On March 14th, 2018, we grieved the loss of the inspiring, brilliant, and endlessly charming Stephen Hawking who passed away at 76 years old. Today at noon, Westminister Abbey is holding a Service of Thanksgiving for the physicist, whose ashes will be buried in Scientist’s Corner, between Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

In a tribute that could not be more appropriate, an antenna in Spain will beam his voice around 3,500 light years into space towards the nearest known black hole (1A 0620-00) following the service. His voice will be set to a six-and-a-half minute piece of original music from Greek composer Vangelis. CNN reports that it is, according to senior adviser for science and exploration at the European Space Agency Mark McCaughrean, “pretty somber” and “about considering the Earth as a place people come form and need to look after.” He also calls it “a lovely, beautiful symbolic gesture.”

The service also includes tributes, addresses, and reading to be delivered by Kip Thorne, Tom Nobarro, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, Benedict Cumberbach, Lucy Hawking, and Tim Peake. 1,000 members of the public, decided by ballot, are also attending.

Stephen Hawking’s daughter, Lucy Hawking, calls it “a beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father’s presence on this planet, his wish to go into space and his explorations of the universe in his mind”.

(via CNN, image: Jemal Countess / Stringer)

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Google Will Not Renew Their Contract with the Pentagon’s Drone Program

google

In an announcement on Friday, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene stated that the company would not be renewing its contract on the controversial Project Maven, which provides artificial intelligence to the U.S. Department of Defense for drone footage analysis. Greene cited backlash from the public and Google employees in the announcement, saying that the company would not be continuing its work on the project once their current contract expires in 2019. The company plans on taking a step back from pursuing military contracts, and will be releasing a new new ethical principles about its use of AI in the coming weeks.

Project Maven has been subject to massive outrage and backlash, mainly from the Google employees themselves. A dozen employees resigned from the company, and over 4,000 employees signed an internal petition against the project. The petition asks Google to cancel the contract and decline to pursue any future work on behalf of the military, reading:

“This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already
struggling to keep the public’s trust. By entering into this contract, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google. Google’s unique history, its motto ‘Don’t Be Evil’, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.”

“We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google’s stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is
trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the US Government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable.”

Google had high hopes for Project Maven and the highly lucrative government contracts it promised. While Google executives said that the Project Maven contract was merely a deal to provide the Pentagon with open-source software, the contract had wide reaching implications for privacy and security. Essentially, Project Maven developed artificial intelligence for speeding up drone footage analysis by automatically classifying images of objects and people. Fears of a drone-based surveillance system raised ethical red flags throughout the company and led to employee and public backlash.

Despite stepping away from military contracts, Google is not alone in pursuing government involvement. Several large tech companies are actively bidding for highly profitable contracts with their emerging technologies. In addition, there doesn’t seem to be much governmental oversight into the ethical and legal ramifications of these deals. One only has to look at the Facebook Congressional hearings as an upsetting example, as the members of congress (many in their 70s and 80s) struggled to comprehend the company and its technology. To deal with the increasingly complex and nuanced issues of modern technology, we need an up to speed congress capable of understanding the very real threat that this technology possesses. Hopefully the 2018 elections will bring new blood into this archaic sector of government.

(via Gizmodo, image: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

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MIT Made a Psychopathic AI Because We’re Not Hurtling Towards the Apocalypse Fast Enough

anthony perkins

You would think that the killer combination of global warming, Doritos Locos tacos, and the Trump administration is sending us on a one-way ticket to the end of the world. Whelp, the nerds at MIT just asked us to hold their beer as they slammed their foot on the gas pedal. A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Killing Us All, I mean Technology have developed a psychopathic algorithm named Norman. Like Norman Bates, get it?

Norman was designed as part of an experiment to see what effects training AI on data from “the dark corners of the net” would have on its world view. Instead of exposing the AI to “normal” content and images, the software was shown images of people dying in violent circumstances. And where did MIT find such gruesome imagery? From Reddit, of course. Where else?

After exposure to the violent imagery, Norman was shown inkblot pictures and asked to interpret them. His software, which can interpret pictures and describe what it sees in text form, saw what scientists (okay, me) now describe as “some fucked up shit.” The procedure, commonly referred to as a Rorschach test, has been traditonally used to help psychologists figure out whether their patients perceive the world in a negative or positive light. Norman’s outlook was decidedly negative, as he saw murder and violence in every image.

MIT compared Norman’s results with a standard AI program, which was trained with more normal images of cats, birds and people. The results were…upsetting. After being shown the same image, the standard AI saw “a close-up of a vase with flowers.” Norman saw “a man is shot dead.” In another image, standard AI saw “a person is holding an umbrella in the air.” Norman saw “man is shot dead in front of his screaming wife.” And finally, in my personal favorite, normal AI saw “a black and white photo of a small bird” while Norman saw “man gets pulled into dough machine.”

Rather than running for the goddamn hills, MIT Professor Iyad Rahwan came to a different conclusion, saying that Norman’s test shows that “data matters more than the algorithm. It highlights the idea that the data we use to train AI is reflected in the way the AI perceives the world and how it behaves.” Ultimately, AI that is exposed to bias and flawed data will retain that world view. Last year, a report claimed that an AI-generated computer program used by a US court for risk assessment was biased against black prisoners. Based on skewed data, AI can be programmed to be racist.

Another study on software trained on Google News was conditioned to become sexist as a result of the data it received. When asked to complete the statement, “Man is to computer programmer as woman is to X”, the software replied ‘homemaker”. Dr Joanna Bryson, from the University of Bath’s department of computer science, said that machines can take on the view points of their programmers. Since programmers are often a homogenized group, there is a lack of diversity in exposure to data. Bryson said, “When we train machines by choosing our culture, we necessarily transfer our own biases. There is no mathematical way to create fairness. Bias is not a bad word in machine learning. It just means that the machine is picking up regularities.”

Microsoft’s chief envisioning officer Dave Coplin thinks Norman is an avenue to the important conversation of AI’s role in our culture. It must start, he said, with “a basic understanding of how these things work. We are teaching algorithms in the same way as we teach human beings so there is a risk that we are not teaching everything right. When I see an answer from an algorithm, I need to know who made that algorithm.”

(via BBC, image: Universal Pictures)

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