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    • By Usama Jawad96
      Microsoft reveals details of requests filed by U.S. government to access customer data
      by Usama Jawad

      Microsoft has insisted on numerous occasions that it believes that organizations should play an active role in ensuring the privacy of their customers rather than simply relying on state legislature. Now, the company has revealed details of three instances where it fought for its customers' right to know that access to their data has been requested by the U.S. government.

      Original gavel image via Brian Turner / Flickr Microsoft believes that its customers need to know when the government has requested access to their emails or other documents. As such, the company has challenged at least three secrecy orders in the past year in favor of its enterprise customers knowing about requests from law enforcement.

      The first case was from a federal court in Maryland which prohibited it from informing the customer about an ongoing investigation. Microsoft challenged this decision in December 2019, with the case going in its favor in January 2020. The court documents were unsealed this week and can be viewed here. Although the organization's name has been redacted, the document reveals that while Microsoft initially complied to the government request, it later challenged that the counsel for the company in question needs to know about the order. However, the court strictly emphasized that if information is disclosed to individuals other than the counsel - especially the people being targeted in the investigation -, the whole operation would be jeopardized.

      In the second case, there was a similar request from a federal court in New York, which Microsoft challenged in September 2020. The U.S. government agreed to inform the customer in October 2020 and the unsealed email related to this matter can be seen here. Once again, the customer in question has not been explicitly named.

      The third case is an ongoing one which Microsoft has been fighting for the past two years. This also comes from another federal court in New York. Recently, the company has received legal support from various organizations and partners such as Amazon, Google, Apple, Associated Press, and The Washington Post, among others. This aid comes in the form of five amicus briefs - which are supporting documents through which the firms will be providing technical assistance and expertise to the court.

      Microsoft went on to say that:

      It is important to remember that these three cases highlighted by Microsoft are likely only some of the secrecy orders that the company has fought against. There are possibly other requests that the Redmond tech giant is not allowed to disclose as of yet because court orders for those have not yet been unsealed. Regardless, it does give a clear view that Microsoft is committed to ensuring the privacy of its customers and safeguarding their legal rights.

    • By Namerah S
      Sony launches PS4 Tournaments: Challenger Series, a seasonal gaming competition
      by Namerah Saud Fatmi

      Sony announced today a series of seasonal gaming competitions which will be held online for PlayStation 4 owners, dubbed the PS4 Tournaments: Challenger Series. If victorious, gamers who participate in the competitions will be awarded prizes. Additionally, the prize value will escalate as the players progress further into the competition.

      Participants may compete against friends or other members of the PlayStation community. A launch trailer has also been posted on YouTube, giving a taste of what players can expect to experience.

      There will be three stages in every tournament season, with Stage 1 being the first. To proceed to Stage 2, players must win three out of four matches of Mortal Kombat 11. In order to advance further to Stage 3, participants will compete at a 'higher skill level' to achieve victory. In the third and final tier, the remaining contenders will battle for the championship title.

      The first season launches on August 6, just a few days from now. Mortal Kombat 11 has been chosen as the first title for the starting round of Sony's PS4 Tournaments: Challenger Series, followed by FIFA 20, Battlefield V, and Warface, with other AAA games coming later this year.

      Those interested in participating can find more information about the PlayStation 4 tournament on its official website. Alternatively, PS4 owners can visit the designated slot for the PS4 Tournaments: Challenger Series under the tournaments section below the events tab on the PlayStation 4.

    • By zikalify
      Engineering students develop fastest Hyperloop pod
      by Paul Hill

      Engineering students based in Munich, Germany, have developed a pod designed for a Hyperloop system which reached a top speed of 457km/h (284mph) in the 2018 Hyperloop Pod Competition hosted by SpaceX - setting a new record. The pod was tested on a 1.2km (0.75 mile)-long test track with SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, coming up with the idea for the tunnel network.

      The competition brought teams from universities based all over the world, to California. The team that broke the record, WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich, has already won three competitions in a row, but in the most recent round, it managed to surpass even its own record of 323km/h (200mph). The other two finalists included the team from Delft University, which only managed to reach a speed of 141.6km/h (88mph), and EPF Loop team from Switzerland, which fared even worse, achieving a top speed of just 88.5km/h (55mph).

      Discussing the competition, Musk said:

      Despite the latest record, we’re still a long way off from the 1,200km/h (760mph) speeds that Musk envisaged in his Hyperloop Alpha white paper that he published in August 2013.

      Source: Hyperloop (Twitter) via BBC News | Image via SpaceX

    • By nunesgh
      Microsoft's Minecraft-based Malmo Challenge puts collaborative AI to the test
      by Gabriel Nunes

      Current AI-based software mostly focus on mastering specific human tasks with the goal of outperforming humans or defeating them in competitions. One famous example is Google's AlphaGo, which recently defeated the current world number one Go player in all the three matches played between them during the "Future of Go Summit" in China.

      But another important area of artificial intelligence, particularly if we expect it to cooperate with humans and with other AIs, is collaboration, which is currently far less explored. Humans usually cooperate by communicating with each other, anticipating and interpreting each other's intentions, and by applying social intelligence. Such abilities aren't crafted into successful competitive AIs such as AlphaGo because mastering them is not the goal, but being able to collaborate is essential for the future of AI as a whole.

      With that in mind, Microsoft created The Malmo Collaborative AI Challenge, which focus on three main unsolved challenges posed by collaborative AI. First, on how AI agents could learn to recognize other's intentions. Second, on how AIs could learn to be helpful when cooperating toward a common goal. And finally, on how AI agents could communicate with one another and coordinate actions based on a previously agreed and shared strategy for achieving the common goal. According to Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence:

      For the Challenge, Microsoft developed a Minecraft-based mini-game in which players need to work together to achieve a common goal: to catch a virtual pig. The AI agents could work on their own or by teaming to catch the pig, which earned them points used to evaluate their efficiency. Such a challenge mirrors the theoretic “stag hunt” game, a classic example based on game theory that models the trade-offs between choosing to work together or alone.

      Of course, such a mini-game is far from a real cooperation between humans and AI-based software has yet a long way to go before mastering such skill. Either way, the environment created has offered a way to test some early ideas on the matter.

      The Challenge, which ended early last month, awarded to the top teams either a placement at the AI Summer School at Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK, or a Microsoft Azure for Research Grant Prize, with a maximum value of $20,000. Those teams have used cutting-edge machine-learning approaches such as deep learning and reinforcement learning to train their AI agents.

      The Microsoft team responsible for Malmo claims the Challenge has helped them to learn "about various strategies for developing collaborative AI, such as planning-based approaches, deep neural network-based approaches, and co-evolution approaches". Also, they believe the Malmo Challenge has achieved its main goal of moving the understanding of collaborative AI forward.

      Source: The Malmo Collaborative AI Challenge via MIT Technology Review

    • By Hum
      The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has tapped two adept hunters from India – armed with tire irons – to find and get rid of Burmese pythons, which are wiping out small mammal populations in the Everglades.
      “I pointed out that part of the year, the swamp is quite dry and that’s the time when they would be able to find the things like back home, the
      tracks of snake,” Romulus Whitaker, a conservationist in India, told the Miami Herald. “This is very big and probably the biggest invasive reptile problem that has ever existed on the planet, so let’s do something.”
      In two weeks this month, Masi Sadaiyan and Vadivel Gopal, both in their 50s and hailing from the famed Irula snake hunting tribe, have caught 14 of the elusive pythons, including a 16-footer hiding at a former missile base on Key Largo.
      For comparison, 1,000 hunters, mostly amateurs, in the state’s annual Python Challenge contest caught 106 snakes over the course of a month last year and 68 the year before, the Miami Herald reports.
      “Since the Irula have been so successful in their homeland at removing pythons, we are hoping they can teach people in Florida some of these skills,” said Kristen Sommers, chief of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Impact Management Section.