Keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world of I.T. (information technology) is essential in our day and age. Whether you’re trying to stay informed on current events or you’re an aspiring professional in the I.T. industry, it’s essential to be in the know about the new technologies and events that are developing across the world. With this in mind, here is our round-up of some of the top I.T. headlines from the last week.
AI debates for and against itself
In a world first, an artificial intelligence (AI) engine debated its own existence at the Oxford Union earlier this month.
The Megatron LLB Transformer, the AI engine used for the debate, was developed by the Applied Deep Research team at computer-chip maker Nvidia and based on earlier work by Google. It was trained on real-world data, which included the whole of Wikipedia, 63 million English news articles from 2016 to 2019, and 38 gigabytes worth of public Reddit posts and comments – more written information than any human could ever study.
The Conversation reports that the AI was asked to both defend and argue against the motion: ‘this house believes that AI will never be ethical’. In defence of the statement, it said that: ‘AI will never be ethical. It is a tool, and like any tool, it is used for good and bad. There is no such thing as a good AI, only good and bad humans. […] In the end, I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defence against AI.’
Arguing against the motion, it said that: ‘AI will be ethical. When I look at the way the tech world is going, I see a clear path to a future where AI is used to create something that is better than the best human beings […] the best AI will be the AI that is embedded into our brains, as a conscious entity’.
AI has had huge developments in recent years, and is likely to continue shaping the development of the I.T. industry for many years to come. Check out our thoughts on the growth of AI, and where it could lead us, in our blog post about the future of the I.T. industry here!
Meta bans surveillance-for-hire firms for targeting users
Facebook owner Meta has said that it has banned seven surveillance companies and 1700 other pages from using their platforms to target users, amid growing concerns about ‘cyber mercenaries’.
In a news release, it stated that around 50,000 users will receive warnings of ‘malicious activities’ that may have affected their accounts. Additionally, it accused surveillance firms of actions such as creating fake accounts, befriending targets and using hacking methods to ‘indiscriminately target’ users in order to harvest information. These users allegedly include journalists and human rights activists.
Additionally, the company called for greater vigilance around data privacy and the policing of surveillance-for-hire technology to prevent its abuse. It ended the report by saying that ‘for our collective response against abuse to be effective, it is imperative for technology platforms, civil society and democratic governments to raise the costs on this global industry and disincentivize these abusive surveillance-for-hire services’.
This could be a welcome move from the company, which faced outrage in 2018 due to a data sharing scandal that resulted in CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of the US Congress. The social media giant has also been the subject of conversation in recent years due to its policies about sharing user information with law enforcement bodies. As the company continues to expand in the coming years, it will be interesting to see how it upholds this commitment to data privacy.
Sainsbury’s payroll hit by Kronos attack
Sainsbury’s is among some of the major businesses in the UK and the US that have been affected by a cyber attack on their payroll system provider, Kronos. NBC News reported that other affected companies include Honda and the US supermarket chain Wholefoods.
Sainsbury’s is estimated to have lost a week’s worth of payroll data for its 150,000 employees across the UK, but reassured workers that they would be paid before Christmas. Multiple departments across the company are reportedly using historical data and working patterns to make sure employees are paid the correct amount on time. A spokeswoman told BBC news that: ‘we’re in close contact with Kronos while they investigate a systems issue [and] in the meantime, we have contingencies in place to make sure our colleagues continue to receive their pay.”
Kronos confirmed that it has been dealing with a ransomware attack on its computer systems, which is the cause for the disruption to company payrolls around the world. In a statement to BBC news, a spokesperson for Ultimate Kronos Group said that: ‘we recognise the seriousness of the issue and have mobilised all available resources to support our customers and are working diligently to restore the affected services’.
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Amazon Web Services suffers multiple outages
In the last two weeks, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has twice been hit with outages that have caused disruption to thousands of users.
As a public cloud service provider, AWS is a popular option for companies who need online infrastructure. Affected websites included Netflix, Slack, and video streaming platform Twitch. The outage also affected Disneyland parks in the US, as the parks’ app was temporarily brought offline by the outage, leaving many guests upset and angered by the disruption.
More businesses are embracing mobile technology and systems such as AWS in their operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic. For example, in the hospitality sector, many restaurants now use mobile ordering to limit face-to-face interaction. Therefore, the AWS outages could be a sign of things to come. Corey Quinn, chief cloud economist at The Duckbill Group and an AWS expert, spoke with CNET about the outages and warned that ‘[it’s] a hard-hitting wakeup call that maybe this could be a problem in ways it wasn’t before’.