By: Yuvraj Khullar

Taking away thousand of lives within a few months of its origination, the Blue Whale Challange is hitting the News Highlights every day.  Awareness regarding the same has become a must these days so that no more teenagers fall victim to this nasty game of life and death.

Blue Whale Challange

ROSS: World’s first AI Law Attorney

By: Vasudha Jha

With the advancement in technology, programmers have enhanced the much talked about AI systems to such an extent that now they can even help us with Law. Isn’t it thought-provoking of how much farther we can go with the AI systems present today and the ones yet to come?


Cyberattack hits 1,200 InterContinental hotels in US

Intercontinental declined to say how many payment cards were stolen in the attack, the latest in a hacking spree on prominent hospitality companies including Hyatt Hotels Corp, Hilton, and Starwood Hotels. — Reuters

Global hotel chain InterContinental Hotels Group Plc said 1,200 of its franchised hotels in the United States, including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, were victims of a three-month cyberattack that sought to steal customer payment card data.

The company declined to say how many payment cards were stolen in the attack, the latest in a hacking spree on prominent hospitality companies including Hyatt Hotels Corp, Hilton, and Starwood Hotels, now owned by Marriott International Inc.

The breach lasted from Sept 29 to Dec 29, InterContinental spokesman Neil Hirsch said on April 19. He declined to say if losses were covered by insurance or what financial impact the hacking might have on the hotels that were compromised, which also included Hotel Indigo, Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites properties.

The malware searched for track data stored on magnetic stripes, which includes name, card number, expiration date and internal verification code, the company said.

Hotel operators have become popular targets because they are easier to breach than other businesses that store credit card numbers as they have limited knowledge in defending themselves against hackers, said Itay Glick, chief executive of Israeli cyber-security company Votiro. “They don’t have massive datacentres like banks which have very secure systems to protect themselves,” said Glick.

InterContinental declined to say how many franchised properties it has in the United States, which is part of its business unit in the Americas with 3,633 such properties.

In February, InterContinental said it had been victim of a cyberattack, but at that time said that only 12 of its 286 managed properties in the Americas were infected with malware. — Reuters

This electronic cheetah-bot can help us develop more efficient robots

If you’ve seen any robot try to walk , you’ll know that they’re not very elegant. The reason is their cumbersome, inefficient gait, optimised to prevent them falling over , as opposed to being honed for speed.

By contrast, humans and animals are able to walk and run swiftly and smoothly, using the absolute minimum of energy. And roboticists want to know why. So PhD student Geert Folkertsma at the University of Twente has built a robotic cheetah that he hopes can help optimise the robots of the future.

“As you might expect of the fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah makes very efficient use of its energy,” Folkertsma says.

“I wanted to create a robot that runs the same way, with the aim of applying this knowledge to the development of new robots.”

The backbone

His cheetah-bot is pretty small – thirty centimetres long – and weighs in at just 2.5kg. That makes it twenty times lighter than the real thing and four times as small. “Not every element is where you would find it in the animal, but the spine, shoulders and hips occupy the same position,” said Folkertsma.

Studying video footage of real cheetahs and using software to analyse their movements, Folkertsma was able to figure out what makes the creature so efficient.

“The main difference between existing walking robots and my cheetah robot is the backbone,” he says.

“The trick was to imitate it without complicating matters unnecessarily: instead of vertebrae and intervertebral discs, we worked with a cleverly placed spring which delivers approximately the same effect.

“Cheetahs are also able to store a lot of energy in their muscles for later use. This too is something we have imitated by fitting carefully selected springs in our robot’s legs.”

Speed Issue

It doesn’t move as fast as you might expect for a robotic cheetah – just one kilometre per hour. The real thing, if it were scaled down to the same size, would run at 20 km/h. But it is able to move using only about 15 percent more energy than the real thing.

And Folkertsma says he’s working on the speed issue.

“A Master’s student is currently working on a newly developed robotic leg and the first tests, focusing on a single leg, are already promising,” he says.

“With four legs of this type, the robot will be able to run much faster; I think this will help us make genuine advances.”

Facebook has a plan to let you type with your brain

There’s mind-blowing technology, and then there’s brain-computer technologies.

Facebook’s “direct brain interface,” a creation of its secretive Building 8 division, could take tech-enhanced communication to the next level.

Facebook is exploring a silent speech system with a team of more than 60 scientists that would let people type 100 words per minute with their brain. “What if you could type directly from your brain… with the speed and flexibility of voice and the privacy of text?” Building 8 head Regina Dugan said at the second day of Facebook’s F8 developer’s conference here.

She noted the brain contains about 86 billion neurons and is capable of producing 1 terabyte of information per second. Think of a “brain mass for augmented reality,” she said.

The brain-to-text project is a couple years away and would require new, non-invasive sensors to measure brain activity hundreds of times per second, Dugan told USA TODAY after the keynote. A speech prosthetic for people with communication disorders would likely be the first application. “This (project) could be as transformative as the (computer) mouse,” she said.

While such a project represents a “huge leap”, the implications could be unsettling to consumers, many of whom think Facebook knows too much about their daily habits and actions — let alone their thoughts, says Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst at eMarketer.

Facebook is working with scientists, engineers and system integrators from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who specialize in machine learning methods for decoding speech and language.


“This is about decoding the words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain,” Dugan said. It would “be crazy amazing” but only a start, she said. One day, one may be able to share their thoughts independent of speech.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has shown a predilection for telepathy, which he calls “the future of communication.” Once virtual reality and augmented reality have run their course, he has theorized, a form of technology-enabled telepathy will help people capture and then share their thoughts and feelings with friends.

Last year, Facebook poached Dugan, who helped shape Google initiatives such as Project Tango (3-D mapping) and Project Ara (tools for building modular smartphones), to head Building 8, a research-and-product-development group considered vital to Facebook’s 10-year technology road map.

Dugan’s presentation highlighted a keynote devoted to Facebook’s future projects in connectivity, artificial intelligence and virtual reality/augmented reality

More from F8:

Facebook’s futuristic endeavor is the latest to explore the human brain.

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, last month announced the formation of Neuralink, a company that would merge computers with brains to keep up with artificial intelligence. In October, Braintree founder Bryan Johnson invested $100 million in start-up Kernel to build hardware and software to augment human intelligence. One goal is to facilitate communication between brain cells by hacking the “neural code” that lets people store and recall memories and information.

The implications for brain-to-text technology are mind blowing and cautionary, says Joshua Feast, CEO of Cogito, an artificial intelligence and behavioral science company spun out of MIT.

“This has the potential to be the most important application of artificial intelligence,” he says. “All AI technologies should be applied as a win-win-win for humans.”

“If not,” he warns, “they can be scary and creepy.”

Cabin or hold? Tech ban latest step in bomb detection battle

A ban on large carry-on electronics on some international flights lays bare a high-stakes scientific battle between militant groups and security chiefs that has already dramatically altered airline travel, especially since the September 2001 attacks in the United States.

Security experts say the decision to place devices bigger than a cellphone into checked bags on U.S.-bound flights from eight Middle East or North African states suggests Washington believes enough material can be packed in a laptop, usually disguised as its battery, to cause catastrophic damage.

Most experts agree today’s ever-thinner smartphones make it harder to hide enough explosive to down a large aircraft, but that they can be used to detonate devices located elsewhere.

The ban does not mean a powerful laptop-hidden explosive device would usually be any safer if it got into the hold, even though there has been research onto stronger bag containers.

But checked baggage is subject to screening in more controlled conditions, including explosives checks at U.S. and many foreign airports and the use of sniffer dogs which remain one of the most effective ways of detecting most types of bomb.

Ordinary x-ray machines of the type widely used to scan carry-on bags are less able to spot explosives which may have similar density to batteries. They are supplemented with machines to analyse a piece of cloth swiped over hands or bags at random or when needed but these do not cover all passengers.

There is a slender hope that a bomb smuggled in checked baggage could be harder to trigger manually than in the cabin, and also harder to place in a vulnerable location next to the fuselage skin, unless a baggage handler worked as an accomplice.

A suspected suicide bomber tried to blow up a Somali Airbus after it took off from Mogadishu last year using a computer bomb near the window, but he was sucked out of the jet without causing it to crash.

But while preventing manual detonation may deter some groups, it would not prevent sophisticated triggering techniques believed to have been perfected by Al Qaeda and affiliated groups.

Some expect the United States, which usually moves faster than the rest of the world in these matters, to modify the rules over time as more airports review their screening practices.

“The U.S. strategy is usually to kill the risk, without waiting for global agreement,” a Western security source said.

But the source acknowledged the rules “make no difference if you can get (a device) on board and trigger it remotely.”

Tuesday’s clampdown is not the first time carry-on objects have been limited according to their size.

Since 2006, liquids bought outside a secure area have been restricted to 100ml bottles after the UK foiled a plot to bomb U.S.-bound flights using explosives disguised as soft drinks.

Security experts say the strategy is to direct virtually all efforts towards preventing any harmful devices getting on the plane, but as a fallback to limit risky materials brought inside the cabin to levels that might limit potential damage.

While Wednesday’s car and knife attack outside the UK parliament confirmed the effectiveness of crude weapons on the ground, laptops have become central in an ever-more sophisticated battle over airline security as militants try to develop usable explosives that can evade modern detection.

But the terms of this struggle are changing constantly.

In 2014, after Al Qaeda published recipes for a “hidden” bomb, passengers were asked to turn on their devices before boarding to prove the battery was real. Bombmakers responded by experimenting with just enough extra battery to pass the test.

And an attack on an airport from publicly aaccessible areas like those seen in Brussels or Istanbul remains “far more likely” than an onboard detonation, according to Jonathan Wood, a director of UK consultancy Control Risks.

Headaches over shifting security measures don’t end there.

Although computer battery compartments and DVD drives have previously been identified as a security risk, it is only recently that regulators have also had to balance that against the risk of fire hazards from genuine lithium-ion batteries.

Some experts warn placing computers in the hold, often poorly packed, could generate new safety risks – concerns echoed by a United Nations agency late on Wednesday.

One problem is that while aviation has a well-tried mechanism for agreeing safety standards worldwide, security and counter-terrorism tend to be discussed in secret.

In 2011, Washington privately ordered U.S. carriers to disable emergency oxygen systems in the toilets of most airplanes because they depended on chemicals including potassium, which could be used to make a bomb.

But it also temporarily put airlines at odds with U.S. safety law, because it meant that passengers going to the bathroom during a U.S. flight could risk hypoxia in the event of depressurisation. Meanwhile, passengers still in their seats would grab masks fed by a different kind of oxygen system.

The Federal Aviation Administration rejected complaints that safety worries outweighed security, but later softened its recommendations as long as the devices were made tamper-proof.

IIIT-H creates seed fund network to invest in tech startups

IIIT-Hyderabad today announced the creation of a seed fund network to invest in tech startups in its incubator and elsewhere.

However, it did not disclose the fund size.

The fund will be from a network of investors comprising of technology professionals and successful entrepreneurs, International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT)-Hyderabad said in a statement.

It will invest in early stage tech startups involved in technologies like machine learning, computer vision, robotics, AR/VR, natural language processing and other sub-domains of artificial intelligence among others, it said.

The primary source of startups will be the various accelerator programs run by the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in IIIT-H and domain specific startups and seeding initiatives that will be taken up by the Centre.

Additionally, regular investment pitch days will be organised to scout for interesting early stage tech startups, it said.

“The venture capitalists who are senior industry leaders with extensive domain knowledge and peer networks will assist in creating a structure to support the start-ups and further enhance IIIT-H’s startup ecosystem,” the release said.

The seed fund is being started in conjunction with five leading investors who will help structure and govern the fund. These include Viiveck Verma, Vikrant Varshney, Ajay Jain, Anurag Garg and V V S N Raju, it said.

Surface Phone- Can it revive Microsoft’s Mobile Business?

According to rumours, Microsoft is developing a Surface phone as the next product in its Surface line of products. The huge amount of speculations that are going on for the phone, it may give iPhone a run for its money.

The latest speculations suggest an Intel Lake processor, which is a laptop class processor, an almost edge-to-edge display, liquid cooling tech and appears to be sleeker than Lumia phones.

Other top-notch specs include 20MP Carl Zeiss primary camera, compass, proximity sensor, 6GB or 8GB RAM, barometer and a fingerprint scanner embedded under the phone’s display, something not seen before.

Also, it’s rumoured to sport a 5.5 inch super AMOLED display.

But with these killer specs, would this phone be able to make a dent in the market?

It’s highly unlikely though if it runs Windows 10 Mobile. The phone may sport some really cool hardware but almost everyone is aware of the face that when it comes to software, Windows Mobile doesn’t stand a chance.

The company hoped that with Windows 10 Mobile and Project Islewood they’d be able to attract developers and gain a significant market share. Facebook ported the iOS Messenger and Instagram apps to Windows. However, it hasn’t helped much. None of the attempts of the company to attract developers are working. It has, on the contrary, removed apps from its store which hasn’t been updated for a long time, significantly decreasing its chances of having a success in the mobile market.

Also, there are rumours that it may be shipped with Windows 10 giving the phone PC-like performance. And some suggest that it’d be able to run Android apps much like what was there in BlackBerry 10.

Allowing to run Android apps in its native OS didn’t help BlackBerry, so there’s a little chance that it may help Microsoft. However, if they ship Windows 10 Mobile then the phone may be able to disrupt the market.

The phone would be marketed keeping businesses and tech enthusiasts in mind. Now that Lumia is dead, Surface may be company’s attempt at reviving its Windows Mobile line.

With the company upping the ante with each Surface launch, we may expect something really fabulous from the phone. Only time will tell whether it would prove to be a feather in Surface line’s cap or a disaster…Fingers crossed till then.