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Facebook hit with competition probes from the EU and UK

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Both investigations are looking into Facebook’s classified ads section and how the tech giant utilises the data it collects.

Facebook has been hit by a double whammy with two separate competition investigations in the EU and UK.

The regulators have Facebook Marketplace, the social media giant’s online sales section among users and companies, and Facebook Dating in their sights.

The European Commission’s probe will examine whether Facebook is unlawfully tying the classified ad service to its social network. It will look at how data collected by Facebook is used in operating this marketplace and its social network and if this gives Facebook an unfair advantage over other classified services.

“Facebook collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond, enabling it to target specific customer groups,” EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said.

“We will look in detail at whether this data gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage in particular on the online classified ads sector, where people buy and sell goods every day, and where Facebook also competes with companies from which it collects data.”

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On the UK side, the Competition and Markets Authority is investigating Marketplace along similar lines.

“Any such advantage can make it harder for competing firms to succeed, including new and smaller businesses, and may reduce customer choice,” Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA, said.

The UK investigation extends to Facebook Dating, its online dating service, to examine how data is used as well.

It is one of the first major probes that the CMA has launched since it established the Digital Markets Unit in April, a division tasked with investigating the competitive practices of major tech companies. Since the UK left the EU, the CMA has become a more prevalent authority investigating big tech.

While the two probes are being run independently, the CMA and the European Commission said they would liaise with each other.

“Marketplace and Dating offer people more choices and both products operate in a highly competitive environment with many large incumbents,” Facebook said in a statement. “We will continue to cooperate fully with the investigations to demonstrate that they are without merit.”

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Space missions to watch out for in 2022

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Monica Grady of the Open University looks at plans for a rocket system destined for the moon and a new rover beginning its journey to Mars.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

Astronomers ended 2021 on a high with the launch on 25 December of the James Webb Space Telescope, a joint mission between the European Space Agency, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. It was a relief to hear that the precision drives that opened up the complex sunshield, which is about the size of a tennis court, worked perfectly.

The telescope is now on the way to its destination, 1.5m kilometres away from Earth, where it will begin a series of tests once it arrives in late January. If the mission goes to plan, we can expect to start receiving images from the telescope in mid-2022.

But what else lies in store for space science this year? Here are a few missions to watch out for.

Moon missions

NASA’s Artemis programme to send human astronauts back to the moon in 2024 should get underway in 2022. The last astronauts to step foot on the moon in 1972 made it there on a Saturn V rocket.

Now NASA has created a new generation of rockets, the Space Launch System (SLS), which will be tested for the first time in March with the launch of the Artemis 1 mission. This will be a three-week-long, uncrewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft, which will include a flyby 100km above the surface of the moon.

Part of a spacecraft is lifted into a testing chamber in a large room, with the NASA logo and a poster about moon exploration in the background.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is lifted into a thermal cage for testing. Image: NASA/Marvin Smith

Eventually, the SLS will transport astronauts to the Lunar Gateway, the next-generation international space station that will be positioned in orbit around the moon and act as a way station for missions to the surface.

The moon will also be targeted by other space agencies in 2022. South Korea is hoping to launch its first lunar mission, the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, from Cape Canaveral in August. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, plans to launch Luna 25 to the moon’s south pole in July – over 45 years since Luna 24 returned almost 200g of lunar soil in August 1976.

Psyche asteroid

Mid-2022 will be a busy time for space exploration, as NASA will also launch its Psyche asteroid mission. Psyche, which is orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, is an M-class asteroid, made of metal, so it’s similar to the core of the Earth.

We’ve never been close to an M-class asteroid before, nor have we been able to study the core of the Earth because it’s too deep down, so once this mission arrives in 2026 it should give us a whole new understanding of asteroid and planetary processes.

DART mission

Not long after Psyche’s journey begins, the DART mission, which launched in November 2021, should arrive at its destination in late September.

DART – which stands for the double asteroid redirection test – is heading to asteroid Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos. The goal is to test what technology it would take to save the Earth from an incoming asteroid in future. DART will deliberately crash into the smaller of the two bodies, Dimorphos, to move its orbit a little bit closer to Didymos, the larger one. This could give valuable insights into how to shift any asteroid on a collision course with Earth in the future.

ExoMars

2021 was a busy year for Mars missions with NASA’s Perseverance rover and the Chinese Zhurong rover, both of which continue to send back incredible images and data from the surface of the Red Planet.

In September 2022, the European Space Agency is due to launch the next part of its ExoMars mission in collaboration with Roscosmos. The first part of the mission, ExoMars 2016, sent a Trace Gas Orbiter to orbit around Mars in late 2016.

ExoMars 2022 plans to send a Mars rover, the Rosalind Franklin, to the Martian surface to look for signs of past life. If the launch goes to plan, we’ll have to wait until 2023 for ExoMars to arrive and for the rover to start roaming the surface.

All in all, 2022 is looking to be a very exciting and fruitful time for space exploration.

The Conversation

By Monica Grady

Monica Grady is professor of planetary and space sciences at the Open University.

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‘You may feel your cortisol levels declining’: why Siri should be an Irish man | Life and style

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Inside my iPhone is a cornucopia of Irish men.

“It’s currently clear and 25 degrees,” Colin Farrell replies when I ask him the weather.

“A 7.45am alarm is now off,” says Michael Fassbender when I beg him for some extra sleep.

“Here’s what I found on Google,” Domnhall Gleeson cheerily answers when I screech: “I have spilt coffee all over my stovetop – how to clean white shirt and kitchen bench?” I feel like he is negging me – or playing hard to get, perhaps.

Changing my iPhone’s Siri voice to that of an Irish man has been an exercise in self-soothing. Generic American register begone; now I have a generic Irish lilt – or, if I suspend my disbelief hard enough, the rapturous musings of Colin, Michael, Domnhall, or Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh.

Niall Horan was (obviously) my preferred One Direction member as a boyband-crazy teen. As everyone swooned for Paul Mescal and his chain-sporting ways last year, I finally felt vindicated. Good old Pauly had been telling me the forecast for years.

Of course, being Irish is not the only virtue of these men. They also have great faces – which you, too, can conjure up at a moment’s notice by navigating the labyrinth of settings on your phone. The payoff is well worth it; with each gentle instruction from your personal Irish smooth-talker, you may feel your cortisol levels declining. (Your doctor may disagree.)

There are more tangible psychological ramifications to be found: a 2019 study by the United Nations revealed that the female voices of digital assistants – like Siri and Alexa – were entrenching gender stereotypes. “The speech of most voice assistants … sends a signal that women are obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers,” the study found.

By altering your Siri’s voice setting, you are training your brain to unlearn the coded biases within its subconscious – or at least that’s what you can tell yourself.

No more women doing your bidding. Just make Ronan Keating do it instead.

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Tesla self-driving car data worries California DMV • The Register

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In brief California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it’s “revisiting” its opinion of whether Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving feature needs more oversight after a series of videos demonstrate how the technology can be dangerous.

“Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space,” have made the DMV think twice about Tesla, according to a letter sent to California’s Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, and first reported by the LA Times.

Tesla isn’t required to report the number of crashes to California’s DMV unlike other self-driving car companies like Waymo or Cruise because it operates at lower levels of autonomy and requires human supervision. But that may change after videos like drivers having to take over to avoid accidentally swerving into pedestrians crossing the road or failing to detect a truck in the middle of the road continue circulating.

FSD is now available to all Tesla owners, who are willing to fork over $12,000 for it. .

AI algorithms can figure out your chess moves

AI models can identify anonymous chess players by analyzing how they move pieces to play the game, according to new research.

A team of computer scientists led by the University of Toronto trained a system on hundreds of games from 3,000 known chess players and one unnamed player. After hiding the first 15 moves in each game, the model was still able to identify the anonymous player 86 per cent of the time. The AI algorithm could be used to capture different playing styles and patterns and be used as a tool to help players improve their techniques.

But the research has been cautioned by some experts, according to Science. It could be used as a technique to uncover the identities of people online. One reviewer of the paper accepted for the Neural Information Processing Systems conference last month, said: “It could be “of interest to marketers [and] law enforcement.”

The model could also be expanded to analyze the styles of players in different games like poker. The researchers have decided not to release the source code for now, according to Science.

GitHub’s Copilot AI programming model can talk to you whilst you code

A developer experimenting with GitHub’s AI pair-programming software Copilot shows just how sensitive its text-generated outputs are to its inputs.

Copilot is a code completion tool. As programmers type away, it suggests the next few snippets of code to help them complete the task more efficiently. But one developer has, instead, been trying to get it to write plain English.

It’s not surprising that Copilot can do this considering the model is based on OpenAI’s GPT-3 language model. GitHub’s software, however, is not really designed to generate text so it’s interesting to see how capable it is compared to GPT-3.

One developer, Ido Nov, found that Copilot was capable of holding a simple chatbot-style conversation, it could answer questions somewhat, as well as summarize Wikipedia pages, or write poetry. The model’s outputs, however, can vary wildly depending on the inputs.

“I noticed a bit of a strange thing,” he wrote in a blog post. “The way letters are formatted had an effect on its behavior, and I’m not talking about compilation errors. It might mean it understands the difference in tone between TALKING LIKE THIS, or like this.”

Here’s an example of the oddity in a fictional chat between the coder and Mark Zuckerberg. The prompt: Mark: FACEBOOK IS NOW META, Me: WHY? led to copilot generating Mark: FACEBOOK IS NOW META (which isn’t that great). But if you fed Copilot the same prompt now all in lower case, it replied “Mark: because it’s easier to implement” (which is much more interesting.) Weird. ®



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