'Our AI systems must do what we want them to do'

Also: 'An email to a fellow academic could land you a 10 year prison sentence'

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QuoTW This week the remains of Blighty's missing Beagle 2 spacecraft, which has been out of sight for more than 11 years, was finally spotted on Mars. Despite the ex-probe having failed to deploy on the Red Planet as intended, Brit boffins hailed the mission a "great success."

Being the first European space vehicle to perform a controlled landing on another planet – even though it didn’t properly unpack itself on the surface and get to work – means the mission was a success, said Professor Mark Sims, from the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester.

Because of the compact size of Beagle 2, its RF antenna and solar panels were located in the lid, and in order to communicate with the probe all the panels had to open. Scientists speculate that a hard landing prevented this from happening. Prof Sims said:

Without the fourth panel opening we couldn’t communicate.

A success indeed. That is if the UK Space Agency had intended to launch a £48m probe onto Mars and kill it instantly upon landing.

Storage firm Nimble got rather blunt this week when discussing the departure of an exec:

Eric Mann made the personal decision to leave Nimble acknowledging that he underestimated the level of personal and professional commitment required to build and lead a high-performance sales team for one of the fastest growing storage companies in the industry.

The Mann in question was the company's former head of world wide sales and a 25-year industry vet with stints at EMC and NetApp. A rather inglorious, and unfair, way of cutting ties, we'd say.

Meanwhile, we all got another timely reminder that none of this really matters, as humanity will soon find itself under the cosh of our machine overlords. In an open letter, pioneering physicist Stephen Hawking and SpaceX boss Elon Musk – who sit on the Future of Life Institute's scientific advisory board alongside actor Morgan Freeman – have warned:

Our AI systems must do what we want them to do.

Back on Earth, Google axes its Glass Explorer program. In a post to the official Glass Google+ account on Wednesday, the Chocolate Factory said it will quit selling the current version of its spy-goggles to folks on 19 January, although it reportedly will still be available to developers and companies if they ask nicely.

The move comes following months of rumours that Google was close to mothballing its Glass project, after the tech failed to inspire a thriving developer ecosystem. The sci-fi headwear's team wrote:

Glass was in its infancy, and you took those very first steps and taught us how to walk. Well, we still have some work to do, but now we’re ready to put on our big kid shoes and learn how to run.

By that, they seem to mean they'll be lacing up their running shoes and legging it as fast as possible away from this particular dead duck.

From Vulture South: academics down under in Australia have taken issue with the nation's security law. Particularly, there's worry that the Defence Trade Control Act does not contain protections for academic researchers. Writes Defence Report:

An email to a fellow academic could land you a 10-year prison sentence.

The publication notes that once the law goes into effect this May, researchers in Oz could be forced to apply with the Department of Defence in order to share their research with overseas colleagues or academic journals.

The US and UK will hold a round of war games in an initiative announced just as Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama buddied up for a White House meeting and press conference. Cameron said of the exercises:

This is about pooling our effort so we stay one step ahead of those who seek to attack us.

The effort is set to kick off later this year with spies in Blighty's eavesdropping nerve-centre GCHQ taking on their counterparts in Uncle Sam's NSA and FBI.

Afraid of the undead? Then you might want to skip this one: a snippet of metadata Verizon injects into web traffic passing through its mobile network from its customers is being used by ad networks to create immortal cookies.

Because Verizon drops per-subscriber unique header into HTTP requests, ad network Turn has been able to track users and target them with particular adverts even after they delete their Turn cookies.

When asked about the practice, a Turn exec offered up this gem:

Clearing cookies is not a reliable way for a user to express their desire not to receive tailored advertising, and Turn absolutely respects a consumer’s opt-out preference when expressed in the only way the online ad industry is sure to recognise.

Meanwhile, Euro nations want greater surveillance of citizens' movements online following terror attacks in Paris. In a joint statement from a number of Europe's interior ministers, including France's Bernard Cazeneuve and Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May, the politicians said:

The partnership of the major internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible.

The next day, David Cameron reiterated that the Tories will once again attempt to push for unavoidable surveillance of Brits' internet activity, if his party returns to power after the General Election in May. He said in an ITV interview:

We do need to modernise our rules about interception.

I think we cannot allow modern forms of communication to be exempt from the ability, in extremism, with a warrant signed by the Home Secretary, to be exempt from being listened to.

That is my very clear view and if I am prime minister after the next election I will make sure we legislate accordingly.

Finally, and on a more cheerful note, ever wondered how crystal ball-gazing analyst houses come up with their predictions about what the future will look like? Well, all was revealed by IDC. The company apparently takes a "bottoms up" approach to its research. We'll drink to that. ®


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