Man beats AI drone in first race of its kind

One of the world’s top drone pilots has beaten nine computer-piloted drones in a race around an obstacle course.

Swiss pilot Gabriel Kocher wore first-person-view goggles to pilot his drone through the course in six seconds.

The fastest automated drone, completing the unseen course in 12 seconds without the use of GPS or any human intervention, won a $ 1m (£0.76m) prize.

Organisers the Drone Racing League predicts AI-powered drones will dominate the competition by 2023.

Its first artificial-intelligence robotic racing contest was the result of a collaboration between aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and crowd-sourced problem-solving platform HeroX.

“Our team worked really hard throughout each stage to bring a robust and (most importantly) fast solution to the table,” said the prize-winning MVLab team.

“We are proud to have won despite the remarkable competitors that we had to face.”

Dr Steve Wright, senior research fellow in avionics and aircraft systems, at University of the West of England told BBC News: “Ten years ago if you needed a processor that could solve those sort of problems – how to fly a drone through a course – it would have been the size of a dinner plate and would have guzzled energy and got so hot you could fry an egg on it.

“Now, it’s the size of a playing card and doesn’t get all that hot – suddenly, it fits in a drone.”

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Elon Musk wins defamation case over ‘pedo guy’ tweet about caver

Elon Musk did not defame a British caver who helped in last year’s rescue of trapped Thai schoolboys by calling him a “pedo guy”, a US jury has found.

Vernon Unsworth sought $ 190m (£145m) in damages from the Tesla founder, arguing that the tweet damaged his reputation.

A public row broke out between the two men over the rescue of 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave in June 2018.

Mr Musk told the court this week the phrase “pedo guy” was common in South Africa, where he grew up.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after the jury reached its decision, Mr Musk said: “My faith in humanity is restored.”

Mr Unsworth’s lawyer Lin Wood said their side would leave the court “with our heads held high” but that the decision was “not a good verdict for society”.

“This verdict sends a signal, and one signal only – that you can make any accusation you want to, as vile as it may be and as untrue as it may be, and somebody can get away with it,” he said.

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The case had been closely watched as it was seen as testing the legal threshold in the US for defamatory material on social media.

Appearing dejected, Mr Unsworth himself added: “I respect the jury’s decision. I’d just like to say my legal team have been absolutely awesome. I came here for a verdict, unfortunately it’s not gone the way I expected but I respect the jury’s decision and thank them for that.”

Jurors took less than an hour to return their unanimous verdict, following a four-day trial at a federal court in Los Angeles.

Jury foreman Joshua Jones said Mr Unsworth’s legal team were unable to prove their case and should have focused more on the evidence.

“I think they tried to get our emotions involved in it,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

What was the row about?

Mr Unsworth, an experienced 64-year-old cave explorer, splits his time between the UK and Thailand.

During the rescue of the young football team, which captured the world’s attention, Mr Unsworth helped recruit expert cave divers who were instrumental in freeing the boys safely.

Mr Musk sent Tesla engineers and a small submarine to northern Thailand to help with the rescue effort, but the vessel was never used.

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Instead, he and Mr Unsworth got into a public war of words after the diver branded the offer of help a “PR stunt”.

During an interview with CNN, the diver suggested the billionaire “stick his submarine where it hurts”.

Mr Musk, who now has nearly 30 million followers, responded with a series of tweets about Mr Unsworth – including the one calling him “pedo guy”. It was later deleted.

Reporting from the courtroom

One of the smartest moves by Elon Musk’s defence was in introducing the concept of “JDart”, an acronym to describe their client’s conduct on Twitter in relation to the infamous “pedo guy” tweet.

A JDart, lawyer Alex Spiro explained, meant: a Joke that was badly received, therefore Deleted, with an Apology and then Responsive Tweets to move on from the matter. JDart.

It’s clumsy, for sure, but it meant Mr Spiro could offer the jury here a degree of structure around what before seemed senseless: Mr Musk may have acted foolishly with the J, but he soon “darted”, which is how you know he wasn’t being serious about the allegation.

Expect the JDart “standard” to be applied again and again, not just in libel trials, but in any arena where social media behaviour is under scrutiny – a parachute for anyone who, in the heat of the moment, says something idiotic online.

What else was said at court?

Testifying over two days on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr Musk told the court he did not expect the “pedo” tweet to be taken literally.

He said that at the time he thought Mr Unsworth was “just some random creepy guy” who was “unrelated to the rescue”.

Mr Musk apologised on Twitter and in court for his outburst.

Contesting this, Mr Wood cited another now-deleted tweet the billionaire sent to his followers saying: “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”

He also cited an email exchange that Mr Musk had with a Buzzfeed reporter who contacted him for comment on the threat of legal action, where the entrepreneur said: “Stop defending child rapists.”

Mr Wood said Mr Musk was a “billionaire bully” who had “dropped a nuclear bomb” on his client, and that the tweet had affected his career and relationships.

On Thursday, Mr Unsworth told the court that Mr Musk’s tweet had left him feeling “humiliated”.

Reporters in court said the diver appeared on the verge of tears as he told jurors: “It feels very raw. I feel humiliated. Ashamed. Dirtied. Effectively, from day one, I was given a life sentence without parole. It hurts to talk about it.”

He added: “I find it disgusting. I find it very hard to even read the word, never mind talk about.”

Alex Spiro, Mr Musk’s lawyer, argued that the “pedo guy” tweet was an offhand comment made in the course of an argument between the two men, which no-one could be expected to take seriously.

“In arguments you insult people,” he said. “There is no bomb. No bomb went off.”

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Electric eel lights up Christmas tree and other news

BBC Click’s Marc Cieslak look at some of the best technology stories of the week including:

  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin are stepping down from their current roles at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, but will remain on the firm’s board
  • Transport police in Australia have rolled out artificial intelligence cameras to identify drivers using their phones on the road
  • An electric eel is powering decorations next to his tank at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

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Elon Musk ‘pedo guy’ defamation trial to begin

Tesla boss Elon Musk is due to take the stand in a Los Angeles court and face the British diving specialist he accused of being a paedophile.

Vern Unsworth was among the team credited with co-ordinating the July 2018 rescue of 12 boys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand.

Mr Musk, in a now-deleted tweet, described Mr Unsworth as a “pedo guy”.

The entrepreneur gave no evidence to support the comment. He is being sued for defamation.

Lawyers representing Mr Unsworth have described Mr Musk’s tweets as “vile and false”. The British diver is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

Email to reporter

The outburst last year appeared to be in response to comments made by Mr Unsworth in an interview on CNN, in which he criticised Mr Musk’s decision to send a purpose-built mini-submarine to the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai Province to help with rescue efforts.

Mr Unsworth described it as a “PR stunt”, later adding that Mr Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts”.

Taking to Twitter, Mr Musk said: “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”

When questioned about the allegation by other Twitter users, Mr Musk replied with “bet ya a signed dollar it’s true”. That tweet was also later deleted.

After Tesla’s stock price dipped by as much as 4%, Mr Musk sent a tweet expressing an apology.

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“His actions against me do not justify my actions against him,” he wrote, explaining that his comments were “spoken in anger after Mr Unsworth said several untruths and suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub, which had been built as an act of kindness and according to specifications from the dive team leader”.

Tesla’s share price recovered.

However, Mr Musk went on to repeat the claim in an email exchange after being contacted by Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac.

“Stop defending child rapists,” Mr Musk wrote to the reporter. He had apparently intended the comments to be off the record but did not agree that with Mr Mac prior to emailing his response.

‘Common insult’

Mr Unsworth is seeking damages for the content of the tweets only, not the email exchange – though Los Angeles District Judge Stephen Wilson said it could be used to illustrate Mr Musk’s state of mind when sending the scrutinised tweets.

Mr Musk’s legal team insisted he would not be seeking an out-of-court settlement. Instead, he will argue that “pedo guy” was not an insult suggesting Mr Unsworth was a paedophile.

“Pedo guy was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up,” Mr Musk said in a court filing as part of a failed request to have the case thrown out of court. “It is synonymous with ‘creepy old man’ and is used to insult a person’s appearance and demeanour, not accuse a person of paedophilia.”

Mr Unsworth’s legal team referred to the explanation as “offensive to the truth”.

As well as agreeing to hear the case, Judge Wilson denied the defence’s request to define Mr Unsworth as a “public figure” – meaning lawyers for Mr Unsworth do not have to prove Mr Musk acted with “actual malice”, lowering the bar necessary to win the case.

Jury selection is due to begin on Tuesday at 09:30 local time (17:30 GMT), with the first witnesses – Mr Musk among them – likely to be called later on Tuesday.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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Apple to take ‘deeper look’ at disputed borders

Apple says it is taking “a deeper look” at how it handles disputed borders.

Ukraine criticised the tech giant for showing Crimea as part of Russia’s territory on its Maps and Weather apps.

An Apple spokeswoman says the company follows international and domestic laws and the change, which is only for users in Russia, had been made because of new legislation there.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 was condemned by much of the international community.

In a statement, Apple stressed “we have not made any changes to Apple Maps regarding Crimea outside of Russia.

“We review international law as well as relevant US and other domestic laws before making a determination in labelling on our Maps and make changes if required by law.”

Apple added it as a result of its review of how disputed borders are handled, it might make more changes in the future.

“Our intention is to make sure our customers can enjoy using Maps and other Apple services, everywhere in the world.”

Ukrainian condemnation

The changes to Apple’s Crimea map for users in Russia were announced earlier in the week by the State Duma, Russian parliament’s lower house, in a statement, which described the former boundaries as an “inaccuracy”.

“Crimea and Sevastopol now appear on Apple devices as Russian territory,” the statement read.

Russia treats the naval port city of Sevastopol as a separate region.

Apple has been in talks with Russia for several months and had hoped to keep Crimea as an undefined territory, part of neither Russia nor Ukraine.

Google, which produces its own popular map app, also shows Crimea as belonging to Russia when viewed from the country. That change happened in March.

Apple’s move brought sharp condemnation from Ukraine.

Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko tweeted: “Apple, please stick to hi-tech and entertainment. Global politics is not your strong side.”

Ukraine’s US embassy was equally critical on Twitter.

“We guess Ukrainians not giving any thanks to @Apple this #Thanksgiving. So let’s all remind Apple that #CrimeaIsUkraine and it is under Russian occupation – not its sovereignty,” it tweeted.

Russian ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov added his voice, calling the decision “unacceptable appeasement”.

He added: “Software is soft power. American tech companies should stand up for the values of innovation that made their success possible, not bow down to dictators for a little extra cash they don’t even need.”

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TikTok apologises and reinstates banned US teen

Chinese-owned social network TikTok has apologised to a US teenager who was blocked from the service after she posted a viral clip criticising China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims.

The firm said it had now lifted the ban, maintaining it was due to 17-year-old Feroza Aziz’s prior conduct on the app – and unrelated to Chinese politics.

Additionally, the firm said “human moderation error” was to blame for the video being taken down on Thursday for almost an hour.

TIkTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has insisted it does not apply Chinese moderation principles to its product outside of mainland China.

Ms Aziz posted on Twitter that she did not accept the firm’s explanation.

“Do I believe they took it away because of a unrelated satirical video that was deleted on a previous deleted account of mine? Right after I finished posting a three-part video about the Uighurs? No.”

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In an interview with BBC News reporter Vivienne Nunis, Ms Aziz said: “I will continue to talk about it, and I will talk about it on Twitter, on Instagram, on any platform I have, even TikTok.

“I’m not scared of TikTok, even after the suspension. I won’t be scared of TikTok.”

TikTok explanation

Eric Han, TikTok’s head of safety for the US, said Ms Aziz had been banned earlier this month after she posted a video containing an image of Osama Bin Laden.

“While we recognise that this video may have been intended as satire,” Mr Han said, “our policies on this front are currently strict.”

When TikTok bans users, it also prevents the same device being used to set up another account.

It was on a new account, set up on the same device, that Ms Aziz posted her video about the Uighur, done in the style of a make-up tutorial, a popular genre on the network.

TikTok said that account was disabled after it ran a “platform-wide enforcement” that locked out Ms Aziz’s device, as well as 2,406 devices belonging to other users who had fallen foul of the site’s policies.

Mr Han wrote: “Because the user’s banned account (@getmefamousplzsir) was associated with the same device as her second account (@getmefamouspartthree), this had the effect of locking her out of being able to access her second, active account from that device.

“However, the account itself remained active and accessible, with its videos continuing to receive views.”

But on Thursday morning, the viral video – which has been viewed more than 2 million times, across multiple networks – was also removed from TikTok, due to what Mr Han described as a “human moderation error”.

“It’s important to clarify that nothing in our community guidelines precludes content such as this video, and it should not have been removed,” he said.

“We would like to apologise to the user for the error on our part this morning.”

Rapid growth, added scrutiny

Human Rights Watch told the BBC that a lack of transparency is deserving of increased scrutiny.

“It is hard for outsiders to know the real reasons for the suspension of Aziz’s account,” said Yaqiu Wa, the non-profit’s China researcher.

“TikTok does not make public the data on the videos it removes or the users it suspends, or the artificial intelligence tools it uses to determine the removals and suspensions.

“While TikTok has repeatedly stressed that it does not take orders from the Chinese government in terms of what content it promotes or removes outside of China, it has done little to quench the suspicion, given that all Chinese companies are not only accountable to its shareholders, but also to the Chinese Communist Party.”

The incident marks an early, high-profile censorship dispute for TikTok, a network which has exploded in popularity over the past two years.

Globally, the app has now been downloaded 1.5 billion times, according to mobile intelligence analysts Sensor Tower.

It looks set to end 2019 as the third most-downloaded non-gaming app, ahead of rivals Facebook and Instagram.

That surge in popularity has caused concern in Western markets, due to the nature of its Chinese ownership.

In the US, TikTok’s deal to buy Musical.ly, a music-based social network, is now being examined by the US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The committee is looking specifically at data storage and privacy practices.

In February the firm was handed the largest ever fine for a US case involving children’s data privacy. The company agreed to pay $ 5.7m (£4.3m) over its handling of data on users who were under 13, acquired thanks to its takeover of Musical.ly.

_____

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee attacks Tories over misinformation

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The inventor of the World Wide Web has accused the Conservatives of spreading misinformation during the general election campaign.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee described the renaming of a Tory Twitter account as a fact checking body as “impersonation”.

“That was really brazen,” he told the BBC. “It was unbelievable they would do that.”

During a live TV leaders’ debate on Tuesday the Tory press office account @CCHQ was rebranded “factcheckuk”.

The renaming remained for the duration of the hour-long debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. The Conservatives have said “no one will have been fooled” by the move.

But Sir Tim said the renaming “was impersonation. Don’t do that. Don’t trust people who do that.”

He went on to compare what happened with someone impersonating a friend for the purpose of defrauding them. “What the Conservative Party has done is obviously a no no. That’s amazingly blatant,” Sir Tim said.

The Conservative Party has yet to respond to a BBC request for comment on Sir Tim’s criticism, but has previously insisted that it was clear at all times that the Twitter account belonged to the party.

The web’s creator also called on Facebook to stop allowing targeted political adverts. He issued a personal appeal to the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to ban them before the election.

Sir Tim said: “It’s not fair to risk democracy by allowing all these very subtle manipulations with targeted ads which promote completely false ideas. They do it just before the election, and then disappear.”

Better future

He was speaking as he unveiled Contract For The Web, an attempt to bring governments, companies and individuals together to shape a better future for the online world.

The contract sets out nine principles to halt the misuse of the web and protect it as a force for good. They include making the internet freely available and affordable, and respecting consumers’ privacy and their data.

A handful of countries have been involved in drawing up the contract, along with companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft. .

Sir Tim admitted that countries such as China and Russia were unlikely to sign up to the project. He also conceded that the US might not be too keen on a document which stresses the importance of net neutrality, the principle that internet providers should treat all net traffic equally.

Optimism

The Trump administration has sought to overturn net neutrality rules brought in under President Obama.

“The current administration hasn’t shown any interest in signing up to those kinds of principles,” he said. But he pointed out that elections were coming up in the UK and the US and urged people to talk to candidates about the Contract for the Web.

Thirty years after he created the World Wide Web at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Sir Tim admits that he is concerned about the way it has developed in recent years.

As for any optimism about what comes next, he is uncertain: “If optimism is seeing a place where it could be, which is very empowering to individuals and to humanity. Yes. I am very optimistic. If optimism is being very confident that we will get there – I’m not.”

The Web Foundation, which has spent the last year drawing up the detailed clauses behind the Contract for the Web, will now work to get more governments and companies to sign up to it.

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Google offers $1.5m ‘prize’ for spotting Pixel phone bugs

Google is raising its “reward” for uncovering security flaws in some of its Android smartphones from $ 200,000 to a maximum of $ 1.5m.

The new top “prize” is payable to those who spot bugs in the Titan M security chip in Google’s Pixel smartphones, as well as meeting specific criteria.

Google said it had paid out more than $ 4m to security researchers since 2015.

But security experts have doubts about whether the reward will deter people from making money from criminals.

Other firms, including Apple, Buzzfeed, Facebook and Samsung, also offer rewards for reporting security flaws.

Companies run so-called bug bounty schemes to encourage people to report flaws, so that they can be fixed, rather than selling the exploits to criminals.

Black market

The Titan M security chip in Pixel smartphones is designed to protect the integrity of their operating system and to store biometric data, which is used to unlock the phone.

To claim the $ 1.5m reward, a researcher would have to find a way to compromise that chip on a device running specific developer preview editions of Android.

However, one expert suggested the increased bounty was unlikely to change behaviour.

“Just like when Apple raised their bug bounty to $ 1m, Google’s move won’t compete with the ‘black market’ [of selling to criminals], which can raise prices any time,” said Katie Moussouris, chief executive of Luta Security.

“This price for external research raises questions for retention and recruitment of internal talent meant to prevent flaws.”

The BBC also offers a “bug bounty” to security researchers who report problems so that they can be fixed.

However, due to the way the broadcaster is funded by the public it offers a “unique BBC reward” rather than a cash prize.

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Election debate: Conservatives criticised for renaming Twitter profile ‘factcheckUK’

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Social networking site Twitter has said the Conservative Party misled the public when it rebranded one of its Twitter accounts.

The @CCHQPress account – the Tory press office – was renamed “factcheckUK” for Tuesday’s live TV debate involving Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

After the debate, the account reverted to its original branding.

Twitter said it would take “decisive corrective action” if a similar stunt was attempted again.

But the firm does not appear to have taken any action over this particular incident.

“Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election,” a spokesperson said.

“We have global rules in place that prohibit behaviour that can mislead people, including those with verified accounts. Any further attempts to mislead people by editing verified profile information – in a manner seen during the UK Election Debate – will result in decisive corrective action.”

The Tories were earlier criticised by genuine fact-checking agency Full Fact, which said in a statement: “It is inappropriate and misleading for the Conservative press office to rename their twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ during this debate.

“Please do not mistake it for an independent fact checking service such as FullFact, FactCheck or FactCheckNI.”

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly defended the rebranding.

He told BBC Newsnight: “The Twitter handle of the CCHQ press office remained CCHQPress, so it’s clear the nature of the site.”

Mr Cleverly added the decision to rebrand the account would have been made by the party’s digital team, which he said operated within his remit.

He said he was “absolutely comfortable” with the party “calling out when the Labour Party put what they know to be complete fabrications in the public domain”.

Reacting to the decision, the Labour Party tweeted: “The Conservatives’ laughable attempt to dupe those watching the #ITVDebate by renaming their twitter account shows you can’t trust a word they say.”

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, said the ploy was “straight out of Donald Trump or Putin’s playbook”, adding the Tories were “deliberately misleading the public”.

Analysis

By Amol Rajan, BBC media editor

Twitter is a minority interest. Journalists are over-represented on this platform compared to other social media, creating a profound danger that they misinterpret what happens on Twitter as representative of the wider world.

Nevertheless, an important threshold has now been repeatedly breached by Britain’s party of government, and Twitter is the site where it happened.

It is perhaps arguable that, like the doctored video of Sir Keir Starmer a fortnight ago, the re-branding of CCHQ as a fact-checking service falls into the broad category known as satire.

But that is a stretch. The effect will have been to dupe many unknowing members of the public, who genuinely thought it was a fact-checking service when it gave opinions on Jeremy Corbyn.

This is not to patronise voters, who are wise; rather, it is to recognise that in a world of information overload, what cuts through are stunts.

Which is why, ironically, in CCHQ this morning there will be younger staff who chalk this up as a victory.

Journalists thus face a dilemma: call out disinformation, and you play to the worst of social media, distracting from questions of policy; but ignore it, and the truth recedes ever further from view.

Twitter has policies regarding deceptive behaviour on the platform. The company said it can remove an account’s “verified” status if the account owner is said to be “intentionally misleading people on Twitter by changing one’s display name or bio”.

Other users on the platform subsequently changed their display names to mock the move. Among them, writer Charlie Brooker, who tweeted: “We have always been at war with Eastasia”, a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This latest controversial move on social media comes less than a month after the Conservative Party was criticised for posting a “doctored” video involving Labour’s Sir Kier Starmer, in which the shadow Brexit secretary was made to look as if he met a question, posed by ITV’s Piers Morgan, with silence.

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said the video, since taken down, was meant to be “light-hearted”. The party later posted an extended version of the interview.

Full Fact, which is a charity supported by donations from the likes of Google, described the incident as “irresponsible”.

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Xbox’s boss: Years before game streaming is mainstream

It will take many years before streaming video games becomes mainstream, the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, has said.

The best gaming experience was still on a console or PC, Mr Spencer told BBC Click’s Marc Cieslak.

His comments come just before Google launches its video game streaming service Stadia on 19 November 2019.

Xbox has a rival service called Project xCloud which is still in its public testing phase.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

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