Science

The Environmental Cost of Internet Porn (theatlantic.com) 165

An anonymous reader shares a report (condensed for space): Online streaming is a win for the environment. Streaming music eliminates all that physical material -- CDs, jewel cases, cellophane, shipping boxes, fuel -- and can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent or more. Scientists who analyze the environmental impact of the internet tout the benefits of this "dematerialization," observing that energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions will drop as media increasingly can be delivered over the internet. But this theory might have a major exception: porn. Since the turn of the century, the pornography industry has experienced two intense hikes in popularity. In the early 2000s, broadband enabled higher download speeds. Then, in 2008, the advent of so-called tube sites allowed users to watch clips for free, like people watch videos on YouTube. Adam Grayson, the chief financial officer of the adult company Evil Angel, calls the latter hike "the great mushroom-cloud porn explosion of 2008." Precise numbers don't exist to quantify specifics, but the impression across the industry is that viewership is way, way up. Pornhub, the world's most popular porn site, provides some of the only accessible data on its yearly web-traffic report. The first Year In Review post in 2013 tabulated that 14.7 billion people visited the site. By 2016, the number of visitors had almost doubled, to 23 billion, and those visitors watched more than 4.59 billion hours of porn. And Pornhub is just one site. Using a formula that Netflix published on its blog in 2015, Nathan Ensmenger, a professor at Indiana University who is writing a book about the environmental history of the computer, calculates that if Pornhub streams video as efficiently as Netflix (0.0013 kWh per streaming hour), it used 5.967 million kWh in 2016. For comparison, that's about the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year. And operating with Netflix's efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes.
Music

Apple Buys Shazam To Boost Apple Music (bloomberg.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple agreed to acquire music-identification service Shazam, taking ownership of one of the first apps to demonstrate the power of the iPhone, recognizing songs after hearing just a few bars of a tune. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but a person familiar with the situation said Apple is paying about $400 million for the U.K.-based startup. That would be one of Apple's largest acquisitions ever, approaching the size of its 1996 purchase of Next Computer Inc. which brought co-founder Steve Jobs back to the company. That transaction would be worth more than $600 million in today's dollars. The Shazam app uses the microphone on a smartphone or computer to identify almost any song playing nearby, then points users to places they can listen to it in future, such as Apple Music or Google's YouTube.

"Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users," Apple said in an emailed statement on Monday. "We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today's agreement. Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS," Apple also said. "Today, it's used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, across multiple platforms." The acquisition would help Apple embed that capability more deeply into its music offerings. The company's digital assistant Siri gained Shazam integration in 2014, so users could ask it what song is playing in the background.

Music

Apple Is Reportedly Buying Shazam For Nearly Half a Billion Dollars (phonedog.com) 60

Apple is close to acquiring Shazam, one of the most recognized services for music recognition. While the exact amount is unknown, the service may be purchased by Apple for around $400 million. PhoneDog reports: Apple is close to acquiring Shazam, say sources speaking to TechCrunch. The deal will reportedly be signed this week and could be announced as early as next Monday. A report from Recode echoes the news of Apple acquiring Shazam, adding that Shazam will likely be valued at around $400 million. Apple -- and other companies -- already offer a music recognition service, but Apple must see something in Shazam's services that it thinks can help improve its own music recognition if it's going to drop nearly half a billion dollars on this deal. Shazam is able to identify TV shows, films, and advertisements in addition to music, so perhaps Apple sees some benefit to these abilities, too.
Music

YouTube to Launch New Music Subscription Service in March (bloomberg.com) 58

An anonymous reader shares a report: YouTube plans to introduce a paid music service in March, according to people familiar with the matter, a third attempt by parent company Alphabet Inc. to catch up with rivals Spotify and Apple. The new service could help appease record-industry executives who have pushed for more revenue from YouTube. Warner Music Group, one of the world's three major record labels, has already signed on, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. YouTube is also in talks with the two others, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, and Merlin, a consortium of independent labels, the people said.
Businesses

Amazon Bringing Echo and Alexa To 80 Additional Countries in Major Global Expansion (geekwire.com) 38

Amazon is launching three of its Echo devices with Alexa in 80 additional countries starting today -- a major international expansion for the company's smart speakers and voice-based assistant. From a report: New markets for the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus include Mexico, China, Russia and other countries in regions and continents including Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Other Echo devices, such as the touch-screen Echo Show, are not included as part of the international expansion. Echo devices were previously only available in the US, UK, Germany, India, Japan, and Canada. Amazon earlier announced plans to bring Echo and Alexa to Australia and New Zealand next year. In addition, Amazon says its Music Unlimited subscription streaming service is available in 28 additional countries, including many of those where the Echo is now expanding, as well. Recommended reading: Don't buy anyone an Amazon Echo speaker.
The Almighty Buck

'We Could Fund a Universal Basic Income With the Data We Give Away To Facebook and Google' (thenextweb.com) 583

Tristan Greene reports via The Next Web: A universal basic income (UBI), wherein government provides a monthly stipend so citizens can afford a home and basic necessities, is something experts believe would directly address the issue of unemployment and poverty, and possibly even eliminate hundreds of other welfare programs. It may also be the only real solution to the impending automation bonanza. According to AI expert Steve Fuller, the problem is, giving people money when they lose jobs won't fix the issue, it's a temporary solution and we need permanent ones. Sounds fair, and he even has some ideas on how to accomplish this end: "We could hold Google and Facebook and all those big multinationals accountable; we could make sure that people, like those who are currently 'voluntarily' contributing their data to pump up companies' profits, are given something that is adequate to support their livelihoods in exchange."

It's an interesting idea, but difficult to imagine it's implementation. If the government isn't assigning a specific stipend value, we'll have to be compensated individually by companies. One way to do this, is by emulating the old coal mining company scrip scams of early last century. Employees working for companies would be paid in currency only redeemable at the company store. This basically created a system where a company could tax its own workers for profit. Google, for example, could use a system like that and say "opt-in for $10 worth of Google Play music for free," if they wanted to. Which doesn't help pay the bills when machines replace you at work, but at least you'll be able to voice search for your favorite songs. Another idea is to charge companies an automation tax, but again there's concerns as to how this would be implemented. A solution that combines government oversight with a tax on AI companies -- a UBI funded by the dividends of our data -- may be the best option. To be blunt: we should make Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other such AI companies pay for it with a simple data tax.

AI

Two Technologists Create Black Metal Album Using An AI (theoutline.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Outline: Coditany of Timeness" is a convincing lo-fi black metal album, complete with atmospheric interludes, tremolo guitar, frantic blast beats and screeching vocals. But the record, which you can listen to on Bandcamp, wasn't created by musicians. Instead, it was generated by two musical technologists using a deep learning software that ingests a musical album, processes it, and spits out an imitation of its style. To create Coditany, the software broke "Diotima," a 2011 album by a New York black metal band called Krallice, into small segments of audio. Then they fed each segment through a neural network -- a type of artificial intelligence modeled loosely on a biological brain -- and asked it to guess what the waveform of the next individual sample of audio would be. If the guess was right, the network would strengthen the paths of the neural network that led to the correct answer, similar to the way electrical connections between neurons in our brain strengthen as we learn new skills.
Software

Amazon Will Let Alexa Developers Use Voice Recognition To Personalize Apps (theverge.com) 30

Amazon today announced that third-party developers will be able to make use of the Alexa assistant's voice recognition feature to personalize apps for its line of Echo speakers. The news builds on the company's announcement in October that Alexa can now identify individual users' voices to personalize responses. The Verge reports: Until today, that recognition feature only worked for Amazon-built services like shopping lists, flash briefing news updates, and Amazon Music, among other built-in skills. Starting some time in early 2018, however, developers will be able to tap into those voice-based profiles to make apps more personalized to various members of a household. This yet again puts Amazon ahead of rival Google in the smart home and digital assistant fields. In addition to announcing voice recognition for third-party apps, Amazon also revealed today at its re:Invent conference that it's bringing Alexa notifications on Echo speakers to a wider pool of developers starting today.
Facebook

'Break Up Google and Facebook If You Ever Want Innovation Again' (theregister.co.uk) 268

Hal_Porter shares a report from The Register: If the tech industry wants another wave of innovation to match the PC or the internet, Google and Facebook must be broken up, journalist and film producer Jonathan Taplin told an audience at University College London's Faculty of Law this week. He was speaking at an event titled Crisis in Copyright Policy: How the digital monopolies have cornered culture and what it means for all of us, where he credited the clampers put on Bell then IBM for helping to create the PC industry and the internet. Taplin told his audience that he'd been moved by the fate of his friend Levon Helm, The Band's drummer, who was forced to go back on the road in his sixties, after radiation therapy for cancer. Helm died broke. Today, Taplin points out, YouTube accounts for 57 per cent of all songs streamed over the internet, but thanks to a loophole returns just 13.5 per cent of revenue. "That's not a willing buyer-seller relationship," he said, referring to the UGC loophole that Google enjoys, one not available to Spotify or Apple Music. But it isn't just songwriters and musicians who are poorly paid. The average person "works for two hours a day for Mark Zuckerberg" generating a data profile. Taplin pointed out that Bell held patents on many technologies including the transistor, the laser and the solar cell, that it agreed to license, royalty free, as part of a 1956 consent decree.

Taplin saw history repeated with IBM. Under the 1956 (again) consent decree IBM was obliged to unbundle software from hardware in the 1960s. But competition authorities again opened up an investigation in 1969 which ran for 13 years. Caution made IBM ensure its first microcomputer, the IBM PC, launched in 1981, was an open platform. IBM chose three operating systems to run on the first PC but clearly favoured an outsider, from a tiny Seattle outfit originally called "Micro-Soft." Then Microsoft got the treatment. "Every 20 years we have this fight -- and we're about to have it again," Taplin told the audience. Antitrust was necessary "not because they're too big, but because there's no market solution" to Google and Facebook. The barriers to entry are now so high nobody is going bust open the ad duopoly. Taplin cited Snapchat an example of a company that tried to innovate, but refused to take Facebook's buyout offer. Facebook has simply copied its features.

Piracy

Google and Apple Order Telegram To Nuke Channel Over Taylor Swift Piracy (torrentfreak.com) 37

An anonymous reader writes: Instant messaging client Telegram has for the first time blocked access to an entire channel following pressure from Google and Apple. A channel, called Any Suitable Pop, was found distributing copyright infringed copies of songs from Taylor Swift's new album 'Reputation'. It's understood that following complaints from Universal Music, Google and Apple ordered Telegram to take action.
Businesses

Why Apple's HomePod Is Three Years Behind Amazon's Echo (bloomberg.com) 96

Apple unveiled the HomePod, its first smart speaker to take on market-leading Amazon's Echo lineup of speakers, in June this year. Despite being three years late to the party, the HomePod has largely been pitched more as a speaker that sounds great instead of a device that sounds great but more importantly can also help you with daily chores. On top of this, Apple said last week it was delaying the shipment of HomePod from December this year to "early 2018." So why does a company, the market valuation of which is quickly reaching a trillion dollar, so behind its competitors? Bloomberg reports on Tuesday: Apple audio engineers had been working on an early version of the HomePod speaker for about two years in 2014 when they were blindsided by the Echo, a smart speaker from Amazon with a voice-activated assistant named Alexa. The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo's sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker. More than two years passed. In that time Amazon's Echo became a hit with consumers impressed by Alexa's ability to answer questions, order pizzas and turn lights on and off. Meanwhile, Apple dithered over its own speaker, according to people familiar with the situation. The project was cancelled and revived several times, they said, and the device went through multiple permutations (at one point it stood 3 feet tall) as executives struggled to figure out how it would fit into the home and Apple's ecosystem of products and services. In the end, the company plowed ahead, figuring that creating a speaker would give customers another reason to stay loyal. Yet despite having all the ingredients for a serious competitor to the Echo -- including Siri and the App Store -- Apple never saw the HomePod as anything more than an accessory, like the AirPods earphones.
Music

Stock Music Artists Aren't Always Happy About How Their Music Is Used (wired.com) 147

mirandakatz writes: If you're a stock music composer, you sign over the rights to whatever music you put up on a variety of hosting sites. That can get complicated -- especially when your music winds up being used to soundtrack hate speech. At Backchannel, Pippa Biddle dives into the knotty world of stock music, writing that stock music is 'a quick way for a talented musician to make a small buck. But there's a hidden cost: You lose control over where your work ends up. In hundreds, if not thousands, of cases, a tune becomes the backing track to hate speech or violent videos. Often such use violates the license the buyer agrees to when purchasing the track. But nobody reads the licenses -- and, more importantly, no one enforces them.'
Bug

iPhone X Owners Experience 'Crackling' or 'Buzzing' Sounds From Earpiece Speaker (macrumors.com) 104

MacRumors reports: A limited but increasing number of iPhone X owners claim to be experiencing so-called "crackling" or "buzzing" sounds emanating from the device's front-facing earpiece speaker at high or max volumes. Over two dozen users have said they are affected in a MacRumors discussion topic about the matter, while similar reports have surfaced on Twitter and Reddit since the iPhone X launched just over a week ago. On affected devices, the crackling sounds occur with any kind of audio playback, including phone calls, music, videos with sound, alarms, and ringtones. The issue doesn't appear to be limited to any specific iPhone X configuration or iOS version.
"The speakerphone for an $1100 phone should be at least as good as it was on the iPhone 6 and 7," complained one user, "but instead, it's crackly, edgy and buzzy."

"I believe we all knew the iPhone X would be highly scrutinized," writes Slashdot reader sqorbit, "but the reported problems appear to be stacking up."
Music

Apple's HomePod Gets Delayed Until 2018 (theverge.com) 49

Apple has reportedly delayed the release of its HomePod smart speaker until 2018. In a statement to The Verge, Apple says that it needs more time to work on the device. "We can't wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it's ready for our customers," an Apple spokesperson said. "We'll start shipping in the U.S., UK and Australia in early 2018." From the report: The speaker was originally set to be released in December. Priced at $349, the HomePod is slated to take on higher-end sound systems like Sonos, as well as smart assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. The cylindrical speaker features a seven-speaker array of tweeters, a four-inch subwoofer, and a six-microphone array, which puts it right on par spec-wise with the best speakers in its price range, but where it may fall short is Siri, which isn't really in the same class as Alexa or Google Assistant. That challenge is likely why Apple's focus at the launch of the HomePod back at WWDC in June was music first and smart features second.
Music

Ask Slashdot: Can You Convert Old iPods Into A Home Music-Streaming Solution? 118

Slashdot reader zhennian wants to stream music throughout his entire house, "and was hoping that with three old iPods I might be able to put together a centrally managed house-wide audio system." Ideally it would be possible to control what's playing from a central web interface using an app on an IOS or Android device. With the iPods already plugged into docking stations and on the home wifi network, I assume it should be possible.

A search of the Apple app store didn't bring up much and forking out $AUS400 for a Sonos One or equivalent seems wasted when I've already purchased iPod docks. Can anyone recommend an App that will still be compatible with old (ie. 2007) iPods and might do this?

Or is there a better cheap alternative? Leave your best answers in the comments. Can you convert old iPods into a home music-streaming solution?
Music

A Global Shortage of Magnetic Tape Leaves Cassette Fans Reeling (wsj.com) 276

A reader shares a report: Steve Stepp and his team of septuagenarian engineers are using a bag of rust, a kitchen mixer larger than a man and a 62-foot-long contraption that used to make magnetic strips for credit cards to avert a disaster that no one saw coming in the digital-music era. The world is running out of cassette tape (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). National Audio Co., where Mr. Stepp is president and co-owner, has been hoarding a stockpile of music-quality, an-eighth of an inch-wide magnetic tape from suppliers that shut down in the past 15 years after music lovers ditched cassettes. National Audio held on. Now, many musicians are clamoring for cassettes as a way to physically distribute their music. The company says it has less than a year's supply of tape left. So it is building the first manufacturing line for high-grade ferric oxide cassette tape in the U.S. in decades. If all goes well, the machine will churn out nearly 4 miles of tape a minute by January. And not just any tape. "The best tape ever made," boasts Mr. Stepp, 69 years old. "People will hear a whole new product."
Businesses

Pandora Loses 7 Million Listeners (siliconvalley.com) 115

An anonymous reader quotes the Bay Area Newsgroup: So many listeners have turned off Pandora that Friday could have been called the day the music died for the internet radio streaming pioneer. Late Thursday, Pandora said it ended its third quarter with 73.7 million active listeners, a decline of more than 7 million listeners from the 81 million it had in the same quarter a year ago. Declining listener numbers, along with weaker-than-expected advertising revenue and a disappointing fourth-quarter forecast, had investors tuning Pandora out on Friday, as the company's shares fell by almost 25 percent, to close at $5.59.

Pandora still has more listeners than Apple Music, which has 27 million paying subscribers. But the Oakland-based music streaming business trails its other major rival, Spotify, which has 140 million active listeners, including 60 million who pay a monthly fee for on-demand streaming and to avoid listening to commercials with their music.

For comparision, Pandora now has just 5.19 million paying subscribers for its two ad-free streaming music services.
Music

Ambitious Augmented Reality Startup Doppler Labs Shuts Down (theverge.com) 24

Wired reports that Doppler Labs, the company behind Here One smart earbuds, has announced that it's shutting down all operations today. The Verge reports: Founded in 2013, Doppler Labs debuted the prototype of its Here Active Listening System two years later in 2015. The battery-powered earbuds, according to Doppler Labs founder and CEO Noah Kraft, were built to enhance sound in the world around you. By using the accompanying app, users could, in theory, apply any manner of EQ settings that did everything from reduce overwhelming bass frequencies at a concert to dim the midrange chatter of co-workers while in an office. Kraft's vision for Doppler's future was an compelling idea -- "we want to put a computer, speaker, and mic in everyone's ear" -- but the Here Active Listening System was met with mixed reviews. In 2016, the company announced a new version of the earbuds, now called Here One. Dubbed "augmented reality earbuds," these earbuds allowed for streaming audio via Bluetooth, combined with the sound-enhancement tools seen in the Here Active Listening System. It seemed to offer the best of both worlds: a way to not only blend music or content playing in-ear with ambient noise, but the ability to adjust that ambient noise as well. Unfortunately, in bringing Here One to market the company was met with a raft of problems. According to Wired, a manufacturer change pushed production delivery from the fall 2016 to February 2017. There was also bad news on the battery front. The company hoped to offer 4.5 hours of battery life using augmented hearing and three hours of music streaming, but the unit's Bluetooth chip wound up diminishing those expectations.
Media

Is the Optical Cable Dying? (cnet.com) 299

Geoffrey Morrison from CNET explains how the optical cable is "dying a very slow death": The official term for optical audio cable is "Toslink," short for Toshiba Link. Developed in the early '80s to connect their CD players to their receivers, it was a red laser optical version of the Sony/Phillips "Digital Interconnect Format" aka S/PDIF standard. You've seen standard S/PDIF connections a bunch too; they're often called "coax digital." Optical had certain benefits over copper cables, but they were also more fragile, and for a long time, more expensive. Though glass cables were available, for even more money, most optical cables were made from cheap plastic. This limited their range to in-room use, primarily. Through the '90s and 2000's, the optical cable was near-ubiquitous: The easiest way to get Dolby Digital and DTS from your cable/satellite box, TiVo, or DVD player to your receiver. Even in the early days of HDMI, right next to it would be the lowly optical cable, ready in case someone's receiver didn't accept HDMI. But now more and more gear are dropping optical. It's gone completely on the latest Roku and Apple TV 4K, for example. It's also disappeared from many smaller TVs, though it lingers on in larger ones, a potentially redundant backup to HDMI with ARC. The reason for this? Soundbars...
Japan

Virtual Singer Uses Crowdsourced Songs To Become a Star In Japan (bloomberg.com) 96

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg. [Alternate version here]: During her 10-year career, she's released more than 100,000 songs in a variety of languages and opened shows for Lady Gaga. And yet Hatsune Miku, who boasts 2.5 million Facebook followers, doesn't actually exist -- at least not in the typical way we think of a flesh-and-blood diva. Miku is a computer-simulated pop star created more than a decade ago by Hiroyuki Ito, CEO of Crypton Future Media in Sapporo, Japan.

She started life as a piece of voice-synthesis software but since has evolved to become a singing sensation in her own right -- thanks to the creativity of her legions of fans. Crucial to Miku's success is the ability for devotees to purchase the Yamaha-powered Vocaloid software and write their own songs for the star to sing right back at them. Fans then can upload songs to the web and vie for the honor of having her perform them at "live" gigs, in which the computer-animated Miku takes center stage, surrounded by human guitarists, drummers and pianists.

Bloomberg's article includes some video clips of the virtual artist -- as well as her real-world fans.

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