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  1. Since 2017, many Kodi addon and 'pirate' app developers have chosen to discontinue their projects and disappear into the shadows. Yet, unlike historical shutdowns of torrent and streaming platforms, most of these moves haven't made the headlines. The informational black hole is notable but can be explained. Those targeted are compelled not to say a word. It’s impossible to say how many lawyers have been deployed to shut down piracy-related projects over the years. Dozens would be a conservative estimate but just one beating down the door can be an intimidating experience. In the early 2000s and for at least the next decade and beyond, many efforts to shut down pirate sites and services were accompanied by triumphant press releases. Arrests, court appearances, and usually negative verdicts against pirates became a rallying point for the content industries, with the head-on-a-pike deterrent proving a valuable tool in the propaganda wars. Last year, however, a new tactic appeared to gain momentum. In addition to strategic publicized cases against larger-scale infringers, a steady undercurrent of threats became evident in the Kodi addon and pirate application community. Rather than breaking down doors, content owners approached developers quietly, warning that shutting down is the only real way to avoid punishing legal action. Most of the approaches were made by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), the global anti-piracy coalition made up of 30 of the world’s most powerful entertainment companies. This fact has been made public by a number of developers, with some publishing correspondence on the web. Many others, however, simply announced their retirement and disappeared, often around the same time that other developers took the same course of action. When approached for comment most refused to offer details but it’s clear that decisions weren’t being made freely. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that many, in exchange for not having their lives ruined, agreed to take a vow of silence. After collating information from a number of sources, we can now reveal some of the tactics being used against developers involved in ‘pirate’ projects. While the details vary from case to case, most approaches begin with a detailed overview of the project the developer is involved in and various laws that ACE believe are being broken. This is followed up with details of a multi-point settlement deal which can potentially see the developer exit with a minimum of costs. As previously reported, some of the terms are fairly unpalatable, including an agreement to report on associates and colleagues involved in the project and associated projects. We have no idea whether anyone targeted has done so but we know the settlement agreement contains such clauses. However, aside from ending all infringing activities, the number one insistence is that recipients keep their mouths firmly shut. In order to protect those who have disclosed information, we aren’t publishing direct quotes from the settlement agreements. However, we can disclose that those entering settlements are forbidden from speaking to anyone (apart from their legal advisors) about the contents of the agreement, but it goes further than that. Those targeted are expressly forbidden from telling anyone that they have even been contacted or that discussions are taking place, something that really isolates people seeking to receive external help and advice. Furthermore, if the recipient’s case is discussed with ACE at all, no information – whether spoken or in written form – can be revealed to any third-party (outside legal counsel). As far as we can see from the documents available, this means they aren’t even allowed to discuss the terms with a close friend or family member. However, in return for their full cooperation, it appears that ACE will keep their identities a secret. If announcements to the press are made (which thus far hasn’t been the coalition’s modus operandi), ACE has told those who sign agreements that they won’t be named or identified in other ways. With this background, it’s not difficult to see why developers are choosing to shut down their projects and disappear quietly. While some will find the terms of ACE’s settlement agreement difficult, it’s undoubtedly better than the alternative. With billions of dollars up their collective sleeves, ACE members have unlimited access to legal weaponry and could drain the average person’s finances in a matter of months in legal fees alone. Quite why ACE has chosen to act against developers so quietly isn’t clear but given that most of their targets thus far have been bedroom-based Joe Publics, it’s possible that the “30 Goliaths versus David” imagery is something some its members would prefer not to be associated with. Finally, users worried by a potential hand over of information to authorities as highlighted by the Terrarium TV case this week (note: we have no confirmation that ACE was involved) shouldn’t be surprised when developers act to save their own skin. Privacy and security is the user’s own responsibility and in the Wild West of piracy, anything can happen.
  2. A Latvian hacker behind the development and operation of counter antivirus service "Scan4You" has finally been sentenced to 14 years in prison. 37-year-old Ruslans Bondars, described as a Latvian "non-citizen" or "citizen of the former USSR who had been residing in Riga, Latvia," was found guilty on May 16 in federal court in Alexandria, during which a co-conspirator revealed he had worked with Russian law enforcement. Bondars created and ran Scan4you—a VirusTotal like online multi-engine antivirus scanning service that allowed hackers to run their code by several popular antiviruses to determine if their computer virus or malware would be flagged during routine security scans before launching them into a real-world malware campaign. While legal scanning services share data about uploaded files with the antivirus firms, Scan4you instead informed its users that they could "upload files anonymously and promised not to share information about the uploaded files with the antivirus community." Bondars was one of the two hackers found to have been running Scan4you from 2009 to 2016 and helping other malware authors test and improve the malware they then "used to inflict hundreds of millions of dollars in losses on American companies and consumers." Bondars’ partner Jurijs Martisevs, who was also arrested while on a trip to Latvia and extradited to the United States, pleaded guilty to similar charges back in March this year. scan4you online antivirus scanner According to the Justice Department press release, Scan4you customers used the service to steal millions of payment cards from retail stores across the world, including the United States, which led to some $20.5 billion in losses. For instance, one Scan4you customer used the service to test malware that was subsequently used to steal approximately 40 million credit and debit card numbers, and other personal information from a US retail store, causing $292 million in losses. Another customer used Scan4you to assist the development of "Citadel"—a widely used malware strain that infected over 11 million computers worldwide, including in the United States and resulted in over $500 million in fraud-related losses. "Ruslans Bondars helped malware developers attack American businesses," said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. "The Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners make no distinction between service providers like Scan4You and the hackers they assist: we will hold them accountable for all of the significant harm they cause and work tirelessly to bring them to justice, wherever they may be located." Bondars was convicted of three counts, including conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and computer intrusion with intent to cause damage and was sentenced to 168 months in prison on Friday. Although US court never charged Bondars with direct involvement in any hacking, court documents show he used malware to rob online users and trick them into buying antivirus services they did not need. Moreover, prosecutors also say Scan4You was an "innovation" in malware that has inspired many copycats, which resulted in such services being readily available on the Internet.
  3. Organized crime is moving online and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is struggling to keep up, according to a briefing note prepared for RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki when she took over the top job earlier this year. The memo, obtained under the access to information law, may launch a renewed battle between the national police service and privacy advocates. "Increasingly, criminality is conducted on the internet and investigations are international in nature, yet investigative tools and RCMP capacity have not kept pace," says the memo tucked into Lucki's briefing book. "Growing expectations of policing responsibilities and accountability, as well as complexities of the criminal justice system, continue to overwhelm the administrative demands within policing." In 2016 nearly 24,000 cybercrime-related cases were reported to Canadian police, up 58 per cent over 2014. The report's authors note that cybercrime tends to be under-reported. •Federal budget shores up cyber defences but is silent on new jets and warships •Number of police officers per Canadian hits 13-year low, Goodale told •THE HOUSE: Modernizing the Mounties Encryption of online data has a been a persistent thorn in the RCMP's side. Lucki's predecessor lobbied the government for new powers to bypass digital roadblocks, including tools to get around encryption and warrantless access to internet subscriber information. "Approximately 70 per cent of all communications intercepted by CSIS and the RCMP are now encrypted ... 80 organized crime groups were identified as using encryption in 2016 alone," says the 274-page document. Some critics have noted that non-criminals — journalists, protesters and academics, among others — also use encryption tools online and have warned any new encryption legislation could undermine the security of financial transactions and daily online communication. Ann Cavoukian was Ontario's privacy commissioner for three terms; she now runs Ryerson University's Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence. She called the RCMP's push for more online policing power "appalling." "I guess we should remind them that we still live in a free and democratic society where people have privacy rights, which means that they should be in control of their personal information," she said. "If you're a law abiding citizen, you get to decide how your information is used and to whom it's disclosed. The police have no right to access your personal information online, unless of course they have a warrant." Lucki was specifically warned about criminal suspects "going dark," a term used to describe the gap between the lawful ability of police forces to obtain online evidence and changing technology. She also was advised the RCMP's court-authorized arsenal (things like court orders and "computer network exploitation techniques," which cover hacking) are "rapidly declining." "Get more efficient," said Cavoukian. Parliamentary committee promises to study issue A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that "encryption is critical to safeguarding our cybersecurity, privacy and the digital economy." "However, it has also created gaps for law enforcement and national security agencies," wrote Scott Bardsley in an email. Earlier this year, the House of Commons' public safety and national security committee released a 76-page report that recommended "no changes to the lawful access regime for subscriber information and encrypted information be made." But the committee didn't shelve the issue, promising instead to study the evolving challenges. "The government will support the standing committee on national security and public safety in its continued work to study these and other emerging technological issues related to cybersecurity," wrote Bardsley. "It will also continue to examine options to ensure agencies have the resources necessary to gain access to decrypted data required to address criminal activity." Cavoukian predicts "a real fight" over the issue. The RCMP receives about $8.5 million annually as part of the government's cyber security strategy. The RCMP didn't meet CBC's deadline for a comment. Attrition issues The briefing binder also flags the RCMP's persistent problem with replenishing its ranks when officers retire or otherwise leave the force. "The RCMP has a growing vacancy rate that exceeds its present ability to produce regular members at a rate that keeps pace with projected future demands," it warns. As of April 2018, there were 1,122 funded vacant regular member positions —a vacancy rate of 5.6 per cent. That's down slightly from the previous year, when the vacancy rate was 6.6 per cent. The briefing note says that in the last five years, there has been a "dramatic" increase in the number of new recruits needed to fill operational vacancies and evolving program requirements. About 1,280 cadets were expected to be enrolled in 2018-2019, up from 1,152 the previous year. In 2016, CBC News reported that the RCMP was dropping its requirement that applicants be Canadian citizens, and that it would accept applications from permanent residents. The RCMP also loosened entrance requirements to deal with a wave of retirements, low pay and the need to expand its pool of potential new officers. Starting this month, the RCMP is dropping its requirement that applicants must be Canadian citizens. It will now accept permanent residents. Post-secondary graduates no longer will have to write an entrance exam that measures aptitude for police work and the force will no longer require a physical abilities evaluation before people submit an application.
  4. BAE Systems is seeking to make the jet fighter cockpit of tomorrow a much simpler place by replacing conventional instruments and controls with a virtual reality system. This "wearable cockpit" would use artificial intelligence and eye-tracking technology to allow pilots to control their aircraft simply by looking and gesturing. The vision is that instead of a complex arrays of dials, touchscreens, buttons, and knobs, the sixth generation fighter interior will be dominated by wide expanses of blank plastic panels with only a few of the most vital readouts and controls available. That is, until the pilot puts on their helmet and turns it on. Then the panels, canopy, and even the pilot's person will be festooned with readouts and controls designed to quickly provide critical information and respond in the most efficient way possible. It will also be a cockpit that can be reconfigured as easily as the home screen on a smartphone. "In terms of future concepts, we are looking at what we are calling a 'wearable cockpit'," says BAE Lead Technologist Jean Page "Here, you remove many of the physical elements of the cockpit, and replace it with a virtual display, projected through the helmet. Essentially, it's a software-only cockpit that's upgradeable, adaptable and reconfigurable. "In such a world, we need to think about what controls are critical to the pilot and then make them easier to manage. Eye-tracking gives you the option of looking at something to highlight it and then making a gesture to 'press' a button, rather than having a series of physical buttons on the aircraft." Developed as part of the Tempest concept fighter, such a cockpit would have a number of advantages. Some of these would be quite obvious – fewer physical readouts and controls mean less material, less weight, and lower costs to build and maintain. In addition, a virtual cockpit could be modified by simply tweaking the software, and could even be altered in flight to match the mission. Such a cockpit can even learn, allowing engineers to make it more efficient by, for example, making sure a warning light wasn't set on the left-hand side of the pilot in a situation when he's more likely to be looking to his right. The result would be cues that would be easier to read and easier to react to. "The really clever bit will be that based on where the pilot is looking, we can infer the pilot's goal and use intelligent systems to support task performance and reduce the pilot's workload," says Page. "We want to do it in a way that doesn't always ask for permission, because that would get very annoying very quickly but equally, it is essential that it is always evident to the pilot what task the intelligent system is performing." Source: BAE Systems
  5. After months of hovering around its target, Japan's Hayabusa 2 mission has made contact. Two of the host spacecraft's landers (ROVER-1A and 1B) have touched down on the surface of the asteroid 162173 Ryugu and have already been hopping around as they take photos (like the one above) and gauge the space rock's temperature. As far as the mission has come, though, it's really just the start. Hayabusa 2 is also poised to launch ROVER-2, which adds optical and ultraviolet LEDs to spot floating dust particles. MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout), meanwhile, will tumble rather than fly but can use its camera, infrared spectrometer, magnetometer and radiometer to study the smaller structural details of the asteroid's looser surface material. The main Hayabusa 2 vessel should near the surface in October, when it will shoot a tantalum 'bullet' into the asteroid so that it can catch particle samples and return them to Earth. You'll be waiting a while for the samples to return. Hayabusa 2 doesn't leave until December 2019, and isn't expected to return home until December 2020. The payoff promises to be huge, though. Scientists will not only collect more samples than during the first Hayabusa mission, they'll have lander data that wasn't available after the first Hayabusa's Minerva robot failed.
  6. U.S. military forces are testing a new, lightweight one-person electric vehicle. The DSRaider all-terrain vehicle has the advantages of traditional ATVs in a smaller, more compact package. Ridden upright like a Segway and capable of carrying more than three hundred pounds across rough terrain, the DSRaider is aimed at soldiers, first responders, and outdoorsmen. DSRaider, an Israeli company, is marketing its EZRaider series of personal all-terrain vehicles as a sturdy, quiet transportation tool for commandos and other troops. The vehicle allows helicopter-borne troops to exit from a helicopter cargo ramp and off into rough terrain without stopping to unpack larger vehicles. The news site Breaking Defense states that, “U.S armed forces have evaluated the EZ Raider and, after a successful set of tests, have purchased a number of them in order to continue the operational evaluation.” The EZRaider line consists of the EZRaider, EZRaider HD2, and EZRaider HD4. Each carries a progressively larger load and can tow an additional payload in a trailer. The HD4 weighs 250 pounds and can carry 462 pounds or two fully equipped soldiers. Two 1200 watt electric motors drive the EZRaider to speeds of up 43 miles an hour, and a 60 volt, 3000 watt hour battery allows it to travel up to 24 miles on a single charge. As an electric vehicle, the EZRaider line is almost totally silent, allowing troops to move quickly and silently across their patrol routes or to their objectives. Unlike a gasoline engine the electric motor produces little heat, giving it a lower infrared signature than an internal combustion engine. According to the manufacturer, the vehicle is steered via handlebars like a jetski. In addition to "operational testing," which typically involves testing vehicles under realistic combat conditions, the personal all terrain vehicles were also tested in a law enforcement exercise in the U.S., where they were used “above and under the ground.
  7. The Russian government plans to demonstrate “stealth camouflage” technology for ground forces capable of changing its appearance. The camouflage, developed by Russian defense contractor Rostec, will be shown off at this week’s Army-2018 defense exposition in Moscow. According to Russian state media the camouflage can change its color and pattern depending on the soldier’s environment. Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov stated that the technology, “can reflect color changes and imitate complex graphical depictions, up to the leaves wavering in the wind.” Rostec plans to demonstrate the camouflage system on a helmet at Army-2018. It’s unknown exactly how the technology works except that it is “electrically controlled.” Rostec claims that the system could be used for soldier uniforms and even tanks and armored fighting vehicles. The camouflage system is part of the Ratnik-3 soldier improvement program shown above. Ratnik is a decade-long effort to improve the equipment of soldiers in the Russian Ground Forces, particularly the infantry, with new body armor, outdoor equipment, and weapons. Rostec says that 120,000 Ratnik kits have been provided to the Russian Army. Some of the more mundane equipment, such as clothing, compasses, and ear protection, isavailable on eBay. Ratnik-3 is the most ambitious stage to date, including stealth camouflage and a powered exoskeleton system designed to reduce fatigue and increase the carrying capacity of Russian soldiers. While previous iterations of Ratnik concentrated on fairly inexpensive kit, Ratnik-3’s goals are the most technologically complex and expensive to date. Even if Russian industry was able to perfect stealth camo and exoskeletons, it would likely be too expensive to fit to ordinary Russian troops, with small numbers of Russian special forces—spetsnaz—the likely recipients.
  8. The fierce bidding battle over Sky has come to a close -- Comcast has successfully outbid 21st Century Fox to acquire the UK media giant for $39 billion. It clinched the deal following an unusual blind auction through the UK's Takeover Panel, which helps moderate these large scale acquisitions. Comcast had led the bidding for months (including a $34 billion offer in August), but had to go through the Panel after neither side made a final offer. It's a huge coup for Comcast. Sky has 23 million customers across Europe, and has backed the production of shows for Amazon, HBO and Showtime. It's also well-known for its sports broadcasting, such as its Premier League channel. Comcast will soon have a much larger international presence in these fields. It'll certainly help make up for losing Fox's entertainment assets to Disney in July. For Fox, however, it's a serious blow. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation had been trying to snap up all of Sky over the past decade, but the phone hacking scandal at News International (where newspaper employees compromised phones in the name of stories) derailed that effort. After this defeat, it won't have Sky at all. It's unclear how Comcast's takeover will affect either its efforts or Sky's at this stage. With that said, it's safe to presume there will be some harmonization between the two. That might be good if it leads to easier access to content on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time, it's yet another example of a mega-merger -- Americans were already concerned about Comcast's size when it bought NBC, and now its empire will span across the ocean.
  9. US Air Force F-22s and F-35s will soon launch and control recoverable attack drones from the cockpit of the plane to expand air-combat operations, test enemy air defenses, conduct long-range ISR, and even deliver weapons. This fast-approaching technology, which calls upon advanced levels of autonomous navigation, is closer to reality due of DARPA's Gremlins program which plans to break new ground by launching — and recovering — four drones from an in-flight C-130 in 2019. Air recoverable drones, slated to become operational over just the next few years, will bring a new phase of mission options enabling longer ranges, improved sensor payloads, advanced weapons, and active command and control from the air. "The team looked at how fifth generation aircraft systems like the F-35 and F-22 respond to threats, and how they could incorporate Gremlins in higher risk areas," a DARPA statement said. For years, it has been possible to launch expendable drones from the air, without needing a ground control station, provided they do not return to an aircraft. Gremlins, by contrast, is a technical effort to engineer specially configured aerial drones able to both launch and return to a host aircraft. The program is now moving into a phase three, according to DARPA statements, which cite a new demonstration and development deal with Dynetics to execute the upcoming launch and recovery C-130 flight. "DARPA is progressing toward its plan to demonstrate airborne launch and recovery of multiple unmanned aerial systems, targeted for late 2019. Now in its third and final phase, the goal for the Gremlins program is to develop a full-scale technology demonstration featuring the air recovery of multiple low-cost, reusable UASs, or "Gremlins," a DARPA announcement said in early 2018 This technology, which hinges upon higher levels of autonomous navigation, brings a wide swath of improved mission possibilities. These include much longer attack and mission reach, because drones can begin missions while in the air much closer to an objective, without having to travel longer distances from a ground location or forward operating base. Furthermore, perhaps of even greater significance, air-launched returnable drones can be equipped with more advanced sensor payloads able to conduct ISR or even attack missions. A flight test at Yuma Proving Ground in early 2018 provided an opportunity to conduct safe separation and captive flight tests of the hard dock and recovery system. "Early flight tests have given us confidence we can meet our objective to recover four gremlins in 30 minutes," Scott Wierzbanowski, program manager in DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, said in a written statement in early 2018. Gremlins also can incorporate several types of sensors up to 150 pounds, DARPA statements said. Maturing a full-scale operational capability for this technology has force engineers to confront a range of technical challenges, Dynetics engineers told Warrior Maven. Safely docking a returning drone aboard a moving C-130 requires an as-of-yet unprecedented level of technical sophistication. "The key technological advance is achieving increased safety through software redundancies to be able to operate a vehicle of this size in close proximity to a C-130 and tether it to stabilize the vehicle," Tim Keeter, Deputy Program Manager and Chief Engineer, Gremlins, Dynetics, told Warrior Maven in a 2018 interview. Once stabilized, the drone can then be stowed safety in the cargo bay of the C-130, Keeter added. "This certainly involves precision navigation and we need the structure of the airframe to bear the burden," he said. In preparation for the upcoming drone air-recovery demonstration, Dynetics conducted a safe separation flight test from a mock air vehicle. "We are ready to fabricate," Keeter said.
  10. The commander of Army Futures Command told Congress this week that the command wants to field a long-range cannon that can shoot out to 1,000 miles. Gen. John "Mike" Murray testified at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Readiness to explain to lawmakers how the newly established Futured Command will change the Army's acquisition and modernization process. Development of long-range precision fires technology is the Army's number one modernization priority. In October, the service unveiled LRPF, along with its five other modernization priorities -- the next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, a mobile network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality -- as part of a plan to overhaul modernization and build a future force. "From a tactical fires perspective, we are going through basically a two-step upgrade to our current Paladin, going to the M109A7, which is a new chassis," Murray said. "The next step is coming very quickly. We call it the extended-range cannon artillery. ... We have already shot a ... round out of that tube and more than doubled the range of our current artillery. And the goal is to get that out even further." For operational fires, the Army is working on a Precision Strike Missile "that will have a range of approximately 499 kilometers," he said, adding, "Our current missile has a range of 350 kilometers." Murray said the Army wants to get out much farther with strategic fires. "We are looking very hard and starting down the path of hypersonics and also looking at what we call the Strategic Long Range Cannon, which conceivably could have a range of up to 1,000 nautical miles," he said. That’s the equivalent of 1,150 land miles. Murray didn't provide any further details but said in the short term, the Army is adding back "both cannon and rocket artillery into our formations." In air and missile defense, the Army plans to field mobile short-range air defense, or MSHORAD, "to keep up with our maneuver brigades," he said. Under a new streamlined acquisition approach, the service was able to shave five years off the development process, Murray said. "The initial estimate was we could field one in 2025. We are now down to [fielding] four battalions in fiscal year 2020. The requirements process was done in 90 days, as opposed to the three to five years."
  11. AI weapons could soon execute military strikes on their own. Some think that's a bad idea. As the power of artificial intelligence grows, the likelihood of a future war filled with killer robots grows as well. Proponents suggest that lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWs) might cause less “collateral damage,” while critics warn that giving machines the power of life and death would be a terrible mistake. Last month’s UN meeting on ‘killer robots’ in Geneva ended with victory for the machines, as a small number of countries blocked progress towards an international ban. Some opponents of such a ban, like Russia and Israel, were to be expected since both nations already have advanced military AI programs. But surprisingly, the U.S. also agreed with them. Picking Sides In July, 2,400 researchers, including Elon Musk, signed a pledge not to work on robots that can attack without human oversight. Google faced a revolt by employees over an Artificial Intelligence program to help drones spot targets for the Pentagon, and decided not to continue with the work. KAIST, one of South Korea’s top universities, suffered an international academic boycott over its work on military robots until it too stopped work on them. Groups like the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are becoming more visible, and Paul Scharre’s book Army of None, which details the dangers of autonomous weapons, has been hugely successful. But the government’s argument is that any regulation would be premature, hindering new developments which would protect civilians. The Pentagon’s current policy is that there should always be a ‘man in the loop’ controlling any lethal system, but the submission from Washington to the recent UN meeting argued otherwise: “Weapons that do what commanders and operators intend can effectuate their intentions to conduct operations in compliance with the law of war and to minimize harm to civilians.” So the argument is that autonomous weapons would make more selective strikes that faulty human judgements would have botched. “Most people don’t understand that these systems offer the opportunity to decide when not to fire, even when commanded by a human if it is deemed unethical,” says Professor Ron Arkin, a roboticist at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Most people don’t understand that these systems offer the opportunity to decide when not to fire, even when commanded by a human if it is deemed unethical." Arkin suggests that autonomous weapons would be fitted with an “ethical governor” helping to ensure they only strike legitimate targets and avoid ambulances, hospitals, and other invalid targets. Arkin has long argued for regulation rather than prohibition of LAWs. He points out that in modern warfare, precision-guided smart weapons are now seen as essential for avoiding civilian casualties. The use of unguided weapons in populated areas, like the barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian regime, looks like deliberate brutality. Smarter is better, and an autonomous system might just be better than a human one. Robotic Vision The greatest promise for smarter machines comes from deep learning, an AI technique that feeds massive amounts of sample data to a neural network until it learns to make necessary distinctions. In principle, deep learning might help distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, valid targets and invalid ones. Arkin warns that much more research needs to be conducted before fielding them in lethal systems, but there are already systems which can outmatch humans in recognition tasks. Australian beaches are now guarded by Little Ripper quadcopter drones equipped with an AI system known as SharkSpotter developed by the University of Technology in Sydney. This automatically scans the water for sharks and alerts the human operator when it sees something dangerous. SharkSpotter can identify humans, dolphin, boats, surfboards, rays, and objects in the water and tell them apart from sharks. “The system can detect and identify around sixteen different objects with high accuracy. These advanced machine learning techniques significantly improve aerial detection accuracy to better than 90 percent,“ says UTS researcher Nabin Sharma. This compares to about 20-30 percent for a human operator looking at aerial imagery, though the SharkSpotter’s identification is still checked by a human before raising the alarm. “There is no guarantee it would work under all conditions. But sometimes is better than never.” In combat, a drone operator squinting at a screen may struggle to tell whether people on the ground are insurgents with AK-47s or farmers with spades. Arkin says humans have a tendency toward “scenario fulfillment,” or seeing what we expect to see, and ignoring contradictory data in stressful situations. This effect contributed to the accidental shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes in 1987. “Robots can be developed so that they are not vulnerable to such patterns of behavior,” says Arkin. At the very least, these AI-guided weapons would be better than current ‘smart bombs’ which lack any discrimination. On August 9th a laser-guided bomb from the Saudi coalition struck a bus full of schoolchildren in Yemen, killing forty of them. “Recognition of a school bus could be relatively straightforward to implement if the bus is appropriately marked,” says Arkin. “There is no guarantee it would work under all conditions. But sometimes is better than never.” A Flaw in the Machine Noel Sharkey is professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield and chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. As a leading voice against AI weapons, he remains unconvinced that AI would be an improvement over current weapons technology. "After all of the hype about face recognition technologies, it turns out that they work really badly for women and darker shades of skin," says Sharkey. "And there are many adversarial tests showing how these technologies can be easily gamed or misled.” This was demonstrated in 2017 when some MIT students found a way of fooling an image-recognition system into thinking a plastic turtle was a rifle. "There are many adversarial tests showing how these technologies can be easily gamed or misled.” Today current artificial intelligence cannot make better battlefield judgements better than humans, but AI is getting smarter, and one day they could theoretically help limit the loss of innocent lives caught in the crossfire. “We cannot simply accept the current status quo with respect to noncombatant deaths,” says Arkin. “We should aim to do better.” When a Hobby Drone Becomes a Military Sniper Sharkey disagrees that autonomous weapons are the tools that will eliminate collateral damage, referencing a principle known as Marten’s clause. This clause states that "the human person remains under the protection of the principles of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience.” This means that however well machines work, they should not be making life-and-death decisions in warfare. “A prohibition treaty is urgently needed before massive international investment goes into LAWs,” says Sharkey. With DARPA announcing a new $2 billion investment in "next wave" military AI, time is running out. The U.S. decision to back the development of ‘killer robots’ is a controversial one, and the argument is far from over. But if LAWs are fielded first, we may find out the hard way which side is right.
  12. The US Navy has a new Head-Up Display (HUD) for combat divers that works even in zero-visibility conditions. Developed by James Fisher and Sons and the US Navy's Naval Surface Warfare Centre – Panama City Division, Shadow NAV is a visor projector that mounts on a standard diver's half-mask to provide hands-free underwater navigation capabilities. If your experience of the sea is video documentaries or diving holidays in the Bahamas, it's easy to think that the underwater world is like a giant aquarium where you can see for miles. While that's true in some places, many others are dark, choked with silt and algae, and generally awful. Combat divers more often than not have to work under these types of unpleasant, zero-visibility conditions, which can be so bad that wrist or swim board-mounted instruments become unreadable – even when they're self-illuminated or when lit with a torch. Because this information can include such literally vital data as depth and dive time for closed circuit oxygen rebreathers, this is much more than a simple inconvenience. Shadow NAV is designed to help both improve the data flow to combat divers and reduce the equipment needed during a dive with a mask-mounted HUD display that is not affected by low visibility conditions. Winner of a 2018 Excellence in Technology Transfer Award by the Federal Laboratory Consortium, it uses an an adjustable micro-optical display module that can flipped up when not in use. It provides a continuous display of the compass heading, diver depth in feet or meters, the time in minutes and seconds, and remaining battery. In addition, it uses low-light characters to preserve the wearer's night vision. "The Combat Diver may have a significant amount of essential equipment to carry while conducting missions, says Danny Gray, Products and Support Director at James Fisher and Sons. "Traditional kit such as the compass and depth gauges not only increases the amount of equipment required, but, more critically, they are of little, or no use in water with very limited visibility, even with auxiliary illumination. This puts the diver at too great a risk of injury or even fatality. "To address these challenges for potentially dangerous underwater combat missions, the expert technical team S3D at the NSWC PCD worked to develop a small, low-cost, low-power enhanced navigation capability to significantly improve safety standards for military divers and give them the best possible chance of successfully completing their missions. In bringing this to market, JFD will be making this capability widely available to divers operating across the globe." Source: James Fisher and Sons
  13. Coca-Cola is best known for its eponymous caffeine-based drink, but the firm now appears to be experimenting with a different drug: cannabis. According to Canada's BNN Bloomberg, the drinks giant is in talks with local producer Aurora Cannabis about developing marijuana-infused beverages. These would not aim to intoxicate consumers but to relieve pain. The firm declined to comment but said it was watching the cannabis drinks market closely. "Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive cannabidiol as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world," Coca-Cola said in a statement. Cannabidiol, a constituent of cannabis, can help ease inflammation, pain and cramping, but has no psychoactive effect. It comes as Canada prepares to follow certain US states in legalising cannabis for recreational use, after years of permitting it for medicinal purposes. It has given rise to a large pot growing industry and some high-profile partnerships. Earlier this year, beer giant Molson Coors Brewing said it would make cannabis-infused drinks with Hydropothecary, while Corona-beer maker Constellation Brands invested $4bn more into pot firm Canopy Growth. A partnership between Coke and Aurora would mark the first entry of a major manufacturer of non-alcoholic drinks into the market. Quoting unnamed sources, BNN Bloomberg said Coca-Cola was in "serious talks" with Aurora but no deal had been finalised. "They're pretty advanced down the path" of doing a deal, one source was quoted as saying. "It's going to be more of the 'recovery drink' category," the source added. Aurora, in a separate statement, said it would not discuss business development initiatives until they were finalised, but added: "Aurora has expressed specific interest in the infused beverage space, and we intend to enter that market." Coca-Cola's shares rose marginally in early trade this week.
  14. Canadian cannabis entrepreneurs and investors could face a lifetime ban from the US over their involvement in the industry, US media report. A senior US border official told news site Politico that Canadians in the burgeoning sector could be deemed inadmissible to the US. Canada is a month away from becoming the first industrialised nation to legalise recreational cannabis use. While some US states allow pot use, the drug remains federally illegal. There have been concerns within Canada's growing cannabis industry for months that they may face trouble crossing the border. In July, a Vancouver businessman was banned from entering the US for life because he had investments in US marijuana companies. Immigration lawyers have said they have heard similar stories from clients in the industry. There have also been concerns that more Canadians will find themselves denied entry into the US if they admit to using marijuana, or face increased searches or interrogation by US officials. Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations, told Politico that border officials will question Canadians about their marijuana use if they have cause to do so. "Our officers are not going to be asking everyone whether they have used marijuana, but if other questions lead there - or if there is a smell coming from the car, they might ask," he said. He also said that investors in the industry could also face a ban. "We don't recognise that as a legal business," Mr Owen said. US border officials can deny entry to people who admit to consuming pot or admit they plan to purchase or use marijuana in the US, even in a state where it is legal. People who have received bans still have the possibility of applying for a waiver from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In a statement, CBP said that "working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in US states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect a foreign national's admissibility to the United States". Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government officials have maintained that despite the change in law, there is no indication marijuana legalisation will shift the US approach in how it deals with Canadians crossing the boundary, and confirmed that involvement in the industry could result in denied entry. They say that despite one in eight Canadians using cannabis today, 400,000 people move between our two countries every day almost entirely without incident. Jordan Sinclair, with Canopy Growth, a major medical marijuana supplier said that while their employees have yet to face difficulties at the US-Canada border, the industry as a whole is seeking more clarity as to how cases will be consistently handled by border officials. He also said many Canadians may be investors in cannabis stocks through major pension funds and mutual funds without being aware of it. "There's absolutely no way you can say if you've invested in the industry you're not going to be allowed into the United States," he said. Recreational cannabis will be available legally in Canada nationwide as of 17 October. Medical marijuana has been legal since 2001. Nine US states - Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont, and California - have now legalised recreational and medicinal marijuana. But the drug remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance - alongside LSD, heroin, and ecstasy - under US federal law.
  15. Cannabis could be a kinder exit strategy for crustaceans doomed to the dinner plate. The next time you go to dinner at a fancy restaurant you might spot a chilled-out lobster hanging out in the seafood tank. While most of us would like to believe lobsters don't feel pain when we boil them alive for dinner, one restaurateur wants to find a more peaceful end for the tasty crustaceans. Maine-based seafood restaurant Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor is experimenting with cannabis to sedate lobsters before they are killed. Restaurant owner Charlotte Gill placed a test lobster she named Roscoe into a covered box with water at the bottom. She then had marijuana smoke blown into box for Roscoe to inhale. Later, Gill removed the bands on Roscoe's claws, and the lobster was allowed to roam free in the tank for nearly three weeks without any incidents of aggression. "The reason for keeping it so long, I wanted to make sure there were no adverse affects," Gill says. As a thank you to the lobster for participating in her experiment, Gill returned Roscoe to the sea. While pot sounds like a friendly way to de-stress lobsters before they are killed, not everyone believes the creatures need to be given such special treatment. "When you put them in boiling water, the primitive nervous system that does exist is destroyed so quickly they're unlikely to feel anything at all," Dr. Robert Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, told the Portland Press. Even though Gill is experimenting with the idea of selling pot-relaxed lobsters, she does emphasize that the creatures are not considered cannabis edibles. "THC breaks down completely by 392 degrees, therefore we will use both steam as well as a heat process that will expose the meat to a 420-degree extended temperature, in order to ensure there is no possibility of carryover effect," Gill said in the interview. Here's hoping lobsters everywhere get one last toke before they hit our dinner plates.