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Like GitHub Copilot without Microsoft telemetry • The Register

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Updated GitHub Copilot, one of several recent tools for generating programming code suggestions with the help of AI models, remains problematic for some users due to licensing concerns and to the telemetry the software sends back to the Microsoft-owned company.

So Brendan Dolan-Gavitt, assistant professor in the computer science and engineering department at NYU Tandon in the US, has released FauxPilot, an alternative to Copilot that runs locally without phoning home to the Microsoft mothership.

Copilot relies on OpenAI Codex, a natural language-to-code system based on GPT-3 that was trained on “billions of lines of public code” in GitHub repositories. That has made advocates of free and open source software (FOSS) uncomfortable because Microsoft and GitHub have failed to specify exactly which repositories informed Codex.

As Bradley Kuhn, policy fellow at the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), wrote in a blog post earlier this year, “Copilot leaves copyleft compliance as an exercise for the user. Users likely face growing liability that only increases as Copilot improves. Users currently have no methods besides serendipity and educated guesses to know whether Copilot’s output is copyrighted by someone else.”

Shortly after GitHub Copilot became commercially available, the SFC urged<?a> open-source maintainers not to use GitHub in part due to its refusal to address concerns about Copilot.

Not a perfect world

FauxPilot doesn’t use Codex. It relies on Salesforce’s CodeGen model. However, that’s unlikely to appease FOSS advocates because CodeGen was also trained using public open-source code without regard to the nuances of different licenses.

“The models that it’s using right now are ones that were trained by Salesforce, and they were again, trained basically on all of GitHub public code,” explained Dolan-Gavitt in a phone interview with The Register. “So there are some issues still there, potentially with licensing, that wouldn’t be resolved by this.

“On the other hand, if someone with enough compute power came along and said, ‘I’m going to train a model that’s only trained on GPL code or has a license that lets me reuse it without attribution’ or something like that, then they could train their model, drop that model into FauxPilot, and use that model instead.”

For Dolan-Gavitt, the primary goal of FauxPilot is to provide a way to run the AI assistance software on-premises.

“There are people who have privacy concerns, or maybe, in the case of work, some corporate policies that prevent them from sending their code to a third-party, and that definitely is helped by being able to run it locally,” he explained.

GitHub, in its description of what data Copilot collects, describes an option to disable the collection of Code Snippets Data, which includes “source code that you are editing, related files and other files open in the same IDE or editor, URLs of repositories and files paths.”

But doing so does not appear to disable the gathering of User Engagement Data – “user edit actions like completions accepted and dismissed, and error and general usage data to identify metrics like latency and features engagement” and potentially “personal data, such as pseudonymous identifiers.”

Dolan-Gavitt said he sees FauxPilot as a research platform.

“One thing that we want to do is train code models that hopefully output more secure code,” he explained. “And once we do that, we’ll want to be able to test them and maybe even test them with actual users using something like Copilot but with our own models. So that was kind of motivation.”

Doing so, however, has some challenges. “At the moment, it’s somewhat impractical to try and create a dataset that doesn’t have any security vulnerabilities because the models are really data hungry,” said Dolan-Gavitt.

“So they want lots and lots of code to train on. But we don’t have very good or foolproof ways of ensuring that code is bug free. So it would be an immense amount of work to try and curate a data set that was free of security vulnerabilities.”

Nonetheless, Dolan-Gavitt, who co-authored a paper on the insecurity of Copilot code suggestions, finds AI assistance useful enough to stick with it.

“My personal feeling on this is I’ve had Copilot turned on basically since it came out last summer,” he explained. “I do find it really useful. That said, I do kind of have to double check its work. But often, it’s often easier for me at least to start with something that it gives me and then edit it into correctness than to try to create it from scratch.” ®

Updated to add

Dolan-Gavitt has warned us that if you use FauxPilot with the official Visual Studio Code Copilot extension, the latter will still send telemetry, though not code completion requests, to GitHub and Microsoft.

“Once we have our own VSCode extension working … that issue will be solved,” he said. This custom extension needs to be updated now that the InlineCompletion API has been finalized by the Windows giant.

So essentially, the base FauxPilot doesn’t phone home to Redmond, though if you want a completely non-Microsoft experience, you’ll have to grab the project’s extension when it’s ready, if you’re using FauxPilot with Visual Studio Code.

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Elon Musk sells Tesla shares worth $6.9bn as Twitter trial looms | Elon Musk

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Elon Musk has sold $6.9bn (£5.7bn) worth of shares in Tesla after admitting that he could need the funds if he loses a legal battle with Twitter and is forced to buy the social media platform.

The Tesla CEO walked away from a $44bn deal to buy Twitter in July but the company has launched a lawsuit demanding that he complete the deal. A trial will take place in Delaware in October.

“In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close *and* some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” Musk said in a tweet late on Tuesday.

In other comments on Twitter on Tuesday, Musk said “yes” when asked if he was finished selling Tesla stock. He also said he would buy Tesla stock again if the Twitter deal does not close.

Musk has committed more than $30bn of his own money to the financing of the deal, with more than $7bn of that total provided by a coterie of associates including tech tycoon Larry Ellison, the Qatar state investment fund and the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance.

Musk, the world’s richest person, sold $8.5bn worth of Tesla shares in April and had said at the time there were no further sales planned. But since then, legal experts had suggested that if Musk is forced to complete the acquisition or settle the dispute with a stiff penalty, he was likely to sell more Tesla shares.

Last week Musk launched a countersuit against Twitter, accusing the platform of deliberately miscounting the number of spam accounts on the platform. Twitter has consistently stated that the number of spam accounts on its service is less than 5% of its user base, which currently stands at just under 238 million. Legal experts have said that Musk will find it hard to convince a judge that Twitter’s spam issue represents a “company material adverse effect” that substantially alters the company’s value – and therefore voids the deal.

Musk sold about 7.92m Tesla shares between 5 August and 9 August, according to multiple filings. He now owns 155m Tesla shares or just under 15% of the electric carmaker.

The latest sales bring total Tesla stock sales by Musk to about $32bn in less than one year. However, Musk remains comfortably ahead of Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest man with an estimated $250bn fortune, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index.

Tesla shares have risen nearly 15% since the automaker reported better-than-expected earnings on 20 July, also helped by the Biden administration’s climate bill that, if passed, would lift the cap on tax credits for electric vehicles.

Musk also teased on Tuesday that he could start his own social media platform. When asked by a Twitter user if he had thought about creating his own platform if the deal didn’t close, he replied: “X.com”.

With Reuters



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Iran reveals use of cryptocurrency to pay for imports • The Register

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Iran has announced it used cryptocurrency to pay for imports, raising the prospect that the nation is using digital assets to evade sanctions.

Trade minister Alireza Peyman Pak revealed the transaction with the tweet below, which translates as “This week, the first official import order was successfully placed with cryptocurrency worth ten million dollars. By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widespread in foreign trade with target countries.”

It is unclear what Peman Pak referred to with his mention of widespread use of crypto for foreign trade, and the identity of the foreign countries he mentioned is also obscure.

But the intent of the announcement appears clear: Iran will use cryptocurrency to settle cross-border trades.

That’s very significant because Iran is subject to extensive sanctions aimed at preventing its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and reduce its ability to sponsor terrorism. Sanctions prevent the sale of many commodities and technologies to Iran, and financial institutions aren’t allowed to deal with their Iranian counterparts, who are mostly shunned around the world.

As explained in this advisory [PDF] issued by the US Treasury, Iran has developed numerous practices to evade sanctions, including payment offsetting schemes that let it sell oil in contravention of sanctions. Proceeds of such sales are alleged to have been funnelled to terrorist groups.

While cryptocurrency’s anonymity has been largely disproved, trades in digital assets aren’t regulated so sanctions enforcement will be more complex if Iran and its trading partners use crypto instead of fiat currencies.

Which perhaps adds more weight to the argument that cryptocurrency has few proven uses beyond speculative trading, making the ransomware industry possible, and helping authoritarian states like Iran and North Korea to acquire materiel for weapons.

Peyman Pak’s mention of “widespread” cross-border crypto deals, facilitated by automated smart contracts, therefore represents a challenge to those who monitor and enforce sanctions – and something new to worry about for the rest of us. ®



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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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