AI computers can’t patent their own inventions — yet — a US judge rules

Should an artificially intelligent machine be able to patent its own inventions? For a US federal judge, the larger implications of that question were irrelevant. In April 2020, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ruled that only “natural persons” could be credited as the inventor of a patent, and a US court decided Thursday that yes, that’s what the law technically says (via Bloomberg).

Not every country agrees with that direction. South Africa and Australia decided to go the other direction, granting one patent and reinstating a second patent application filed by AI researcher Steven Thaler, whose AI system DABUS reportedly came up with a flashing light and a new type of food container. Thaler is the one who sued the US in this case as well — he’s part of a group called The Artificial Inventor Project that’s lobbying for AI recognition around the globe.

You can read the US’s whole decision against Thaler for yourself at the bottom of this post, but it’s pretty simple when you boil it down:

  • The US Patent Act says inventors an inventor must be an “individual”
  • Previous legal decisions have clarified that “individuals” have to be people (not, say, companies)
  • It’s also pretty clear from context that the Patent Act was referring to people
  • AI systems are not people

Oh, and the court says it can only overrule a US agency’s decision if it’s arbitrary, capricious, or obviously illegal — but in this case, the USPTO already laid out its entire reasoning why it plans to stick to the status quo last April. It also asked for public comment in 2019, before it made its ruling.

As to the bigger question, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema had this to say:

“[T]here may come a time when artificial intelligence reaches a level of sophistication such that it might satisfy accepted meanings of inventorship. But that time has not yet arrived, and, if it does, it will be up to Congress to decide how, if at all, it wants to expand the scope of patent law.”

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Pokemon GO Thanksgiving 2021: Hoopa Unbound rules, catch, and release!

Pokemon GO has a set of events and in-game happenings going on during the long weekend of Thanksgiving, 2021. This series of events includes no less than one of the most powerful Pokemon in the Pokemon universe: Hoopa Unbound! We’ll also have some raid hour action, Cresselia, lots of blue-colored Pokemon (like Squirtle with sun glasses from the Squirtle Squad) and a few bonus gift package balloons from Ed Sheeran.

Ed Sheeran

Niantic / The Pokemon Company

Ed Sheeran has officially made his transition from normal massively-successful musical artist to digital gaming universe performer courtesy of Niantic’s own Pokemon GO. His appearance in the game isn’t quite the same as artists that have appeared in games like Fortnite or Roblox. Instead, you’ll hear the song Overpass Graffiti playing in the game at night from November 22nd until November 30.

You’ll also be able to watch Ed Sheeran play several songs from his new album by tapping the link in the News section of the Pokemon GO game UX. Until then, we’ll see a set of bonus gift balloons floating around (tap them for free stuff), and some special hoodies in the in-game shop.

Raid Bosses

Niantic / The Pokemon Company

Back in mid-November we started seeing Mega Lopunny in Mega Raids across the planet! This Thanksgiving Weekend will be the perfect opportunity for you and yours to find a spot where you can all gang up and have a fighting chance at actually defeating this big-time monster. Mega Lopunny will leave the raid circuit again starting on December 1, 2021.

You’ll also see Cresselia in raid battles until December 1. Both Cresselia and Mega Lopunny have the potential to be Shiny Pokemon. Cresselia caught during this period of battle will know the move Grass Knot! On Wednesday, November 24, 2021 at 6:00 PM Local Time there’ll be a Cresselia Raid Hour.

Starting November 26, there’ll be a Raid Hour event every evening starting at 6PM local time. November 26 will feature Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. November 27 will feature Heatran. November 28 will have a Raid Hour with Regirock, Regice, and Registeel. The November 29 Raid Hour event will include Virizion, Terrakion, and Cobalion.

Spotlight Hours and Bonuses

On the same days as the special Raid Hour events listed above, Pokemon GO will feature one Spotlight Hour per day, at an odd time. Generally we see a Spotlight Hour at 6PM, but because we’re having Raid Hour events then, we’re getting Spotlight Hours at noon until 1PM, local time.

The Spotlight Hour events will include potentially Shiny Pokemon each day, and each event will feature a Pokemon you’ll probably already have captured 10-billion of before now, save the last. On November 26 we’ll see a Spotlight Hour for Rattata, November 27 will have an event for Sableye. There’ll be a Pikachu Raid Hour on November 28, and November 29 will feature a Raid Hour with Bedlum!

From November 26 at 10AM local time until November 29 at 8PM local time, we’ll see two all-encompassing bonuses. One bonus delivers 2x Transfer Candy, the other gives you 2x Catch XP. As such, you’ll want to go ahead and catch and release Pokemon like you’ve never done before!

Hoopa Unbound

Back when we ran through the release of Furfrou, we saw the dawn of functionality for a new mechanic in Pokemon GO. That mechanic was the form change, or just “Forms” if you wish. Changing forms in Pokemon GO is similar to evolution – but a form change can be changed back, while an evolution is forever.

After you complete the season-long Misunderstood Mischief Special Research story, you’ll have access to the new Mischief Unbound Special Research. You will have until Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at 9:59 AM local time to complete the research you’ve been working on for weeks – Misunderstood Mischief. If you do, you gain access to Mischief Unbound for free.

If you do not complete Misunderstood Mischief by December 1, you will need to purchase access to Mischief Unbound in the in-game shop for $4.99 USD. But here’s the catch – if that wasn’t enough of a catch already – you’ll need to purchase that ticket by December 1.

So if you’re at a point where you’re progressing through Misunderstood Mischief, but you know there’s no way you’ll get through the whole thing by December 1, you’ll be able to purchase access to Mischief Unbound. But you’ll still need to complete Misunderstood Mischief in order to complete Mischief Unbound.

In other words – Misunderstood Mischief will sill be accessible after the cut-off date of December 1. It’s just that if you want to have access to Mischief Unbound, you’ll either need to complete Misunderstood Mischief OR purchase access to Mischief Unbound before December 1, 2021.

Once you complete both Misunderstood Mischief and Mischief Unbound, you’ll be able to allow Hoopa (Confined) to change form to Hoopa (Unbound)! This form change requires 50 Hoopa Candy and 10,000 Stardust (Bound to Unbound), or 10 Hoopa Candy and 2,000 Stardust (Unbound to Bound).

Completing Mischief Unbound also gives you a special fancy Hoopa T-Shirt. You could also just buy said shirt from the shop after the event ends – up to you!

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New US rules on spyware exports try to limit surveillance tech like Pegasus

The US Department of Commerce announced a new rule to prevent the sale of hacking tools to China and Russia, The Washington Post reports. The Commerce Department outlined the change in a press release on Wednesday, which requires US companies to have a license in order to sell spyware and other hacking software to countries “of national security or weapons of mass destruction concern.”

The rule is complex and purposefully so. If a US company wants to export spyware to a government that poses a national security concern, the company would need a license. But if the software is specifically for cyber defense and not sold to anyone associated with the government, no license would be needed. As The Post explains, companies will need a license to export hacking software and equipment to China, Russia, and other listed nations, whether for cyber defense or not.

“The United States is committed to working with our multilateral partners to deter the spread of certain technologies that can be used for malicious activities that threaten cybersecurity and human rights,” said Gina M. Raimondo, the US Secretary of Commerce.

The rule is set to go into effect in late January and targets tools and software like Pegasus. This intrusive software, made by Israel-based company NSO Group, was used by governments to spy on smartphones belonging to journalists and human rights activists. It’s able to steal data from mobile phones and even turn a device’s mic, all while going unnoticed.

Although the US is a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement, a voluntary export control regime that sets rules on the export of dual-use technologies, it’s one of the last of the 42 participating countries to impose restrictions on the sale of hacking tools. Security officials who spoke to The Post say that the US took so long to create the rule due to its complexity — if done incorrectly, having such a limitation could prevent cybersecurity specialists from collaborating with experts from other countries.

The Department of Commerce is allowing a period of 45 days for public comment and then another 45 days to make any additional changes before it officially goes into effect.

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FCC considers new rules to stop scammers from hijacking your cell phone

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday said it’s looking into tightening rules around cell phone service, in an effort to rein in SIM swapping scams and port-out fraud, two ways fraudsters can access a person’s cell phone account and phone number for nefarious purposes.

The agency says in a statement it has received numerous complaints “from consumers who have suffered significant distress, inconvenience, and financial harm” due to SIM swapping and port-out fraud. And, the FCC said, recent data breaches have exposed customer information that could make it easier for bad actors to carry out these kinds of attacks successfully.

SIM swapping is when someone hijacks your cell phone number so they can intercept two-factor authentication codes — the ones you use to verify a log-in or account access — to gain access to your account information. Typically, a bad actor is able to convince their victim’s cell phone carrier to transfer service to a different device, which the victim doesn’t have access to, but the bad actor does.

Port-out fraud happens when the fraudster poses as their victim and opens an account with a different cell phone carrier than the victim’s and has the victim’s phone number transferred — or “ported out” — to the new account with the different carrier.

In most instances, if the bad actor has access to a piece of personal identifying information, they can pull off either (or both) of these scams before the victim realizes what has happened.

Most security experts recommend using a third-party authenticator app to provide 2FA rather than receiving a text message with a log-in code, which is a less secure method.

The FCC has now issued a formal notice of proposed rulemaking and said in a press release it wants to amend the current rules to require carriers to adopt more secure methods of authenticating a customer’s identity before they redirect service or a phone number to a new device or carrier. The agency is also proposing requiring carriers to immediately notify a customer whenever a SIM change or port request is made on their account.

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Amazon walks back controversial game rules

Last month, we caught wind of a rather troubling set of rules Amazon imposed on developers working for its studios. Those rules primarily concerned personal projects of developers under contract with Amazon, and they were about as bad as they could be. However, after those rules were made public and developers and prospective players alike pushed back, Amazon has apparently decided to reverse them.

That’s according to Bloomberg‘s Jason Schreier, who reports that Amazon Game Studios lead Mike Frazzini announced the rule reversal in an email to staff this week. “These policies were originally put in place over a decade ago when we had a lot less information and experience than we do today, and as a result, the policies were written quite broadly,” the email reads.

“Quite broadly” might even be an understatement in this case. The long list of rules Amazon imposed on game developers included provisions that required their personal games to use Amazon’s publicly available products and services “whenever possible,” meaning that if a game had some cloud functionality, it was required to use AWS. Amazon also required game developers to make their personal games available through Amazon’s storefronts.

Arguably the worst rule required game developers to give Amazon a “royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid-up, perpetual, transferrable license” to “any and all” IP rights associated with the games they created. These rules also stated that game developers could only make their personal games on their own time. They couldn’t use Amazon resources to develop those games either, so Amazon was definitely trying to have its cake and eat it too with these rules.

Now, however, they seem to be a thing of the past. While we don’t know what kind of rules Amazon is replacing the old list with – if it’s replacing them with any – it’s hard to imagine a new set of rules being worse than the old policies.

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Tech News

Facebook: Trump suspension end date confirmed with tougher rules

Facebook will allow former President Donald Trump back onto the social network in two years time, finally putting a date on when the controversial suspension will be lifted. Trump was barred from using Facebook and Instagram in January 2021, after several posts deemed to incite the riots at the US Capitol Building on January 6.

Facebook opted to suspend Trump from using his accounts, as the then-President continued to perpetuate false rumors about the authenticity of the US election. Five people died during the riot, and more than 140 people were injured in the storming.

The decision by the social network was a divisive one, and was referred to Facebook’s independent Oversight Board after questions around both the validity of the suspension and the indefinite nature of the ruling. The Oversight Board pushed back last month, agreeing that barring Trump was appropriate, but insisting that Facebook must make the final decision on how long that suspension would be held for.

Today, Facebook made up its mind as promised. “Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,” Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs at Facebook, said in a statement. “We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year.”

It will mean that Trump can theoretically return to his suspended accounts on Facebook and Instagram in 2023. The penalty is the greatest of Facebook’s new policies for “public figures during times of civil unrest and ongoing violence,” which range from a month through to two years. However, assuming Trump does indeed return to the social networks, he’ll be under a probation of sorts.

“Violations after initial restrictions are subject to heightened penalties,” Facebook says, “up to and including permanent removal.”

Indeed, at the end of the two year suspension, Facebook “will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded,” Clegg says. “We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.”

Assuming the risk is considered low enough, Trump will face “a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions.”

As Clegg points out – perhaps preempting complaints by some – this will not prevent Trump from speaking publicly. It’s likely there’ll be some confusion around just what the First Amendment actually covers, and what Facebook’s responsibility toward protecting free speech actually is as a private company.

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Tech News

Ad networks were right to be horrified by Apple’s App Tracking rules

iPhone users have overwhelmingly been denying apps the ability to track data for advertising, new research suggests, with App Tracking Transparency apparently delivering a worst-case-scenario for personal data brokers. Added in iOS 14.5, which was released to iPhone in late April 2021, the new system requires app-makers to request explicit permission from users before they can share any data collected on them for targeting and advertising purposes.

Apps that do wish to do that must show a pop-up message with two clear options. If you use the Facebook app, for example, you’ll get the dialog: “Allow “Facebook” to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites? Your data will be used to measure advertising efficiency.”

There are two choices – “Ask App Not to Track” or “Allow” – which users must select from before they can continue to use the app. Ad networks and others had reacted with frustration to the system, arguing that it could have a significant impact on the lucrative user profiles that collated data helps build. Those can help advertisers target their campaigns most effectively.

Apple countered with the fact that App Tracking Transparency doesn’t actually change any of those data sharing abilities – it just requires specific permission before they can be carried out. Now, though, new research suggests the ad companies were probably right to have been worried.

Analysis firm Flurry Analytics, which is owned by Verizon Media, gets aggregated insights from over 1 million apps across 2 billion mobile devices per month. It’s been using that to track how many users actually opt-in to data sharing each day, in addition to the share of users that are “restricted” and thus cannot be asked for permission.

So far, Flurry says, the worldwide daily opt-in rate after the launch of iOS 14.5 just 12-percent, as of May 7, 2021. In the US, it’s even lower still: just 4-percent of users opt-in.

For those who are considered “restricted” for app tracking – that is, they have the global setting “Allow Apps to Request to Track” switched off, and so never see the request dialog for each app – that currently accounts for 5-percent of worldwide daily users, Flurry says. In the US it’s a little lower, at 3-percent.

Apple does offer app-makers and advertisers an alternative, its own identifying system. Dubbed SKAdNetwork, it’s been criticized by some third-parties as being another example of Apple trying to push its own services.

For end-users, though, it seems Apple’s new rules have struck a chord. The company has made privacy a key pitch in iOS and iPadOS in recent years, including trying to pull back the curtain on just what data sharing is going on among advertisers and data brokers, and how that can be used to make surprisingly accurate assumptions about individuals.

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Epic clarifies a bunch of Fortnite competitive rules ahead of FNCS

Epic will kick off a Chapter 2 – Season 6 FNCS broadcast this weekend, giving fans the opportunity to watch their favorite streamers compete against each other. This, of course, brings general interest to Fortnite competitive, the esports aspect of the battle royale game that happens to include a bunch of rules. Just ahead of FNCS comes Epic with a clarification about some of its limitations.

If you’re planning to participate in Fortnite tournaments, it’s a good idea to refresh yourself with the rules, particularly the ones introduced in the recent past. Epic specifically discusses a handful of restrictions in a new blog post, including its rules against intentional disconnects, illegal restarting, and betting on games.

As well, the company explains what players should know regarding region locking and leaderboard adjustments, noting that, for example, some tournaments have a rule against participating in more than one game server region. The FNCS is region-locked, while the Cash Cups — for now, at least — are not region locked.

It’s players’ responsibility to check whether a competitive event is region locked before switching regions. Likewise, players should know that tournament leaderboards may be adjusted after the event for various regions (such as a team being disqualified). Breaking a competitive rule can result in various punishments depending on the nature of the mistake, including losing prizes or session points.

In the cases where someone excessively or repeatedly breaks the rules, Epic warns the player may be permanently banned from all future Fortnite tournaments. If you plan to play Fortnite competitive, head over to Epic’s game blog to read the full list of rules and why they’re in place.

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EU proposes strict AI rules, with fines up to 6% for violations

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(Reuters) — The European Commission on Wednesday announced tough draft rules on the use of artificial intelligence, including a ban on most surveillance, as part of an attempt to set global standards for a technology seen as crucial to future economic growth.

The rules, which envisage hefty fines for violations and set strict safeguards for high-risk applications, could help the EU take the lead in regulating AI, which critics say has harmful social effects and can be exploited by repressive governments.

The move comes as China moves ahead in the AI race, while the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of algorithms and internet-connected gadgets in daily life.

“On artificial intelligence, trust is a must, not a nice to have. With these landmark rules, the EU is spearheading the development of new global norms to make sure AI can be trusted,” European tech chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

The Commission said AI applications that allow governments to do social scoring or exploit children will be banned.

High risk AI applications used in recruitment, critical infrastructure, credit scoring, migration and law enforcement will be subject to strict safeguards.

Companies breaching the rules face fines up to 6% of their global turnover or 30 million euros ($36 million), whichever is the higher figure.

European industrial chief Thierry Breton said the rules would help the 27-nation European Union reap the benefits of the technology across the board.

“This offers immense potential in areas as diverse as health, transport, energy, agriculture, tourism or cyber security,” he said.

However, civil and digital rights activists want a blanket ban on biometric mass surveillance tools such as facial recognition systems, due to concerns about risks to privacy and fundamental rights and the possible abuse of AI by authoritarian regimes.

The Commission will have to thrash out the details with EU national governments and the European Parliament before the rules can come into force, in a process that can take more than year.

($1 = 0.8333 euros)


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Tech News

Google Pixel 3 XL review: Winning the game by rewriting the rules

After spending nearly a week with the Pixel 3 XL, my three first impressions of Google’s newest handset haven’t changed: It’s the fastest Android phone I’ve ever used. The cameras are awesome. The notch is an eyesore.

Thankfully, the first two qualities make up for the third. Mostly. If the Pixel 3 XL didn’t have such an ostentatious notch, it would still be an ugly phone, but after a couple days I wouldn’t have cared anymore. Six days later, the notch is still the first thing my eyes go to every time I unlock my phone. It would be one thing if there was some next-generation camera or sensor that demanded such a large notch. But as it stands, there appears to be a lot of unnecessary space around the twin cameras, ambient light sensor, and speaker that live inside it.

pixel 3 xl notch Christopher Hebert/IDG

You’ll find two front cameras and a speaker in the notch. It sure looks like these components have excessive breathing room.

But I don’t want to waste too many words debating the merits of the Pixel 3 XL’s notch. Google has already signaled that it will be adding a way to black it out via software—which may or may not improve things—and it basically comes down to preference. If you can deal with it, get the Pixel 3 XL. If not, get the notchless Pixel 3. It’s that simple.

Because otherwise, the Pixel 3 is more than just another great Android phone. It’s the emergence of the Pixel as a bona fide smartphone platform. There are features of other phones that may be better—the Galaxy S9’s design, the Huawei P20’s camera hardware, the Note 9’s battery—but no single Android phone can top the end-to-end performance that the Google delivers with the Pixel 3.

A nice back, a great screen

The back of the Pixel has always looked better than the front, but that stark juxtaposition is amplified to an absurd level on the Pixel 3. The all-glass back of Google’s new phone is one of the nicest I’ve ever used, even in Google’s relatively pedestrian assortment of colors.

pixel 3 xl button Christopher Hebert/IDG

The green poewr button is the Pixel 3’s most distinctive design feature—other than the notch.

The new Pixel doesn’t need the reception-friendly glass window anymore, but the Pixel 3 nonetheless retains the trademark two-tone look of its predecessors. The corners of the square are now curved to match the phone’s shape, giving the design a natural flow it didn’t have before.

To mimic the aluminum look and feel of the first two Pixels, the bottom of the Pixel 3 XL is made of frosted glass, and it’s difficult to describe how luxurious it feels. Back when it created the iPhone 7’s “jet black” color, Apple developed a new manufacturing process that gave the aluminum a glass-like feel. Google’s frosted glass has the opposite effect: It makes the Pixel’s glass back feel like smooth aluminum. The result is a texture that’s less slippery and fingerprint-prone than most other glass phones. I’ve picked up a couple of scratches during my first case-less week with it, but they generally wiped off and aren’t nearly as noticeable as they are on other all-glass phones.

The sides of the Pixel 3 are aluminum to match the back color, with the non-black models once again featuring a colored power button to break up the monotony. And of course, there’s no headphone jack, though Google is finally bundling a pair of Google Assistant and Translate-capable USB-C Pixel Buds in the box.

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