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April 13, 2018  11:46 AM

Phishing for beer

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Uncategorized

Security researchers have identified several commonly used phishing attack vectors to lure unsuspecting users into a false sense of security, where they inadvertently give away personal information to complete strangers.

“Vishing” is the use of voicemail to solicit a return call in which a user is convinced to share personal information.

“Smishing” is when SMS text messages intended to lure recipients into clicking on a link that can lead to a webpage designed to steal credentials.

Pishing is when you get fed plenty of booze and then start mouthing-off, reveal a few secrets, passwords and PINs, tell your best mate and everyone around how much you love them and get up close and personal with the pub floor before being bundled into a cab.

Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile communications, if an IT admin find himself or herself in such a predicament, the logical course of action is to attempt to log into the corporate network over a secure connection and change the admin password real quick.

In our experience, this is easier said than done: cabs don’t seem to stay still for long enough for you to focus your fingers on the QWERTY touchscreen keyboard. Never mind, eh? Now is a perfect opportunity to tell the IT helpdesk how much you love them.

April 11, 2018  10:08 AM

This is the last Downtime written by humans: the robots have won

Alex Scroxton Alex Scroxton Profile: Alex Scroxton
Artificial intelligence

It’s the week of the 2018 London Book Fair at Olympia, and the worrying news has reached Downtime that our jobs are indeed under threat from the rise of the robots, with the publication of the first new Brothers Grimm fairytale in 200 years, written entirely by an artificial intelligence algorithm.

Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm, a meditation and sleep app, is the man to blame. Acton Smith describes his cynical attempt to drive journalists and writers out of business as a form of “literary cloning.”

“We’re doing for the Brothers Grimm what Jurassic Park did for dinosaurs,” he said. “We’re bringing them back from the dead, with modern science.”

Wait…. Has this man seen Jurassic Park?

Working with augmented content startup Botnik, Acton Smith and his anti-human conspirators ran the entire Grimm oeuvre, including such age-old classics as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel, through Botnik’s  Voicebox predictive algorithm, which develops an internal model of the most common words and sequences it finds to build a predictive keyboard that suggests how the story might go.

The resulting phrases and sentences suggested by the programme were then arranged into something legible by Botnik’s human slaves, including company founder Jamie Brew.

“We then filled in the gaps, either using further algorithmic suggestions from the keyboard or simply by writing details that struck us, the writers, as natural completions of the scene,” said Brew.

“This back and forth between machine and human input continued throughout the writing process, as the Botnik writers combined the output of the predictive algorithm, their own intuitions and the feedback of their editors at Calm to shape the final story,” he said. “The end result belongs not to any single machine or person or pair of brothers but to the whole interconnected system of inspiration and interpretation.”

The end result, The Princess and the Fox, is the tale of a king, a magic horse, a sad princess, a lowly miller’s son and a talking fox who helps the boy save the princess from having to marry a prince she does not love.

It begins…

Once upon a time there was a golden horse with a golden saddle and a beautiful purple flower in its hair. The horse would carry the flower to the village where the princess danced for joy at the thought of looking so beautiful and good.

“It’s magnificent,” she said to her father, the King of Bread and Cheese. “Will you give it something to eat and drink if I marry the prince?”

You see, the king had long since urged his daughter to marry the only eligible prince in the land. The problem was she did not love him and so had continued to refuse his proposal.

The king replied: “Come with me into the cellar of the castle, where I have got a piece of cake and juice for the strange thing that is your horse.”

If you want to read more, The Princess and the Fox is available to download from Calm as one of its Sleep Stories.

But perhaps most worryingly, this latest development shows just how quickly the robots are gaining on us. Botnik’s previous attempt at literature was released in December 2017. The robot-penned Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash was written by similar means and contained immortal lines such as ‘He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family. Ron’s Ron shirt was just as bad as Ron himself’ and ‘They looked at the door, screaming about how closed it was and asking it to be replaced with a small orb. The password was “BEEF WOMEN,” Hermione cried.’

At this rate, I reckon we’ve got about a week left. Oh well, we’ve had a good run, but it looks like the game is up. See you down the Job Centre, Bryan.


April 6, 2018  10:11 AM

The Daley fail

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

HTC has been forced to apologise and remove an advert starring Olympic diver Tom Daley, which wrongly suggests its HTC U11 device can be submerged any deeper than one metre.

Smartphones are obviously running out of new and exciting USPs, and the novelty of the phone’s squeezable sides clearly didn’t cut it for the marketing team. What’s happened here is they’ve decided to exaggerate its IP67 waterproof rating a bit.

In hiring British diving’s favourite son to implicate himself in this charade, capturing a plethora of selfies while somersaulting from great heights, HTC slightly contravenes its own usage guidelines.

We don’t think Daley’s at fault here, although Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail has no doubt already written up a “Please don’t pretend wet phones is the new normal” thinkpiece in another sad attempt to denigrate the silver medalist’s excellent life. Daley doesn’t need to be told twice to get his kit off, jump off diving boards or take selfies. Those are his three main things, and it’s his prerogative to accept money from anyone asking him to do them.

Can we really blame HTC either? Does it matter they’ve exaggerated how waterproof a phone is? Will the advertising watchdog not rest in its quest for accuracy until they see a once-deified Olympian recovering a handset from a blocked pub urinal?


March 21, 2018  8:17 PM

The sweet life of Cambridge Analytica

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Channel 4’s hidden-camera exposé on data firm Cambridge Analytica has made familiar faces of the puppeteers of democracy who wished to remain invisible, but we’re glad to meet them.

Not since the third season of Fargo have we seen an ultra-British supervillain as captivating as Mark Turnbull, the managing director of the company’s political division who boasts about tapping into human hopes and fears from behind two huge jars of sweets.

If you ignore the fact the great berk’s being filmed while revelling in his own stealth, it’s hard to escape the intoxicating air of a mastermind who’ll never be caught. His velveteen turn of phrase, likening Facebook user data mining to dropping a bucket down a well, almost justifies his gleeful game of manipulating electorates.

He turns up for the second act in fancy dress as Jack Nicholson in Chinatown before turning the concept of dirty online propaganda into yet more poetry: “We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and watch it grow.” Who is this guy?

Unfortunately for him, he’s merely the lackey to cold-eyed CEO Alexander Nix, who wades in on the third act to give the game away on all the honey traps, spies and fake news they get involved in. And just like that, he’s a national joke. All those clever ideas, and he winds up no better than Sam Allardyce and his pint of wine.


March 15, 2018  4:24 PM

The universe is full of idiots

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

In a country that, according to Michael Gove, has “had enough of experts”, you might have expected the death of Stephen Hawking to trigger a bunting rush not seen on these shores since the street parties of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The mood has instead been one of regret over the loss of a uniquely brilliant mind, with glowing tributes swelling out from even the unlikeliest of sources to celebrate the physicist’s trailblazing work, astonishing constitution and puckish sense of humour.

We should see it as our cue to start listening to experts. When Hawking mentioned the ramifications leaving the EU could have on scientific research funding, the majority of us rolled our eyes.

So many listened to Gove and other Vote Leave goons over a real-life professor, and it’s seen the UK’s world standing in areas such as robotics and climate change significantly underminedLooking back at it all, Hawking’s only crime was not being a big, red bus.

Most of us just aren’t as smart as he was, so we’re going to snub his thoughts on AI, too. There’s no doubt now, with even trusty Elon Musk tiring of caution like a peer-pressured teen dropping his homework to go out and smoke with the cool kids, that the first robot tears of laughter will be cried by the one reading back Hawking’s doomsday prophecies in the synthesised voice he once called his own.


March 8, 2018  10:26 AM

Now that’s what I call compliance

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Cloud-based customer relationship management software supplier Donorfy has taken the initiative in putting data protection officers nationwide out of their misery and compiling what can only be described as the definitive soundtrack to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The 78-track Spotify playlist – boasting suitably themed hits new and old, ranging from Dua Lipa’s New rules to the Stevie Wonder classic Signed, sealed, delivered (I’m yours) – is sure to see all those database managers out there cranking up the volume and embracing the looming deadline with relish.

If it hasn’t cheered bosses up, it’s at least removed everyone else’s dour image of them hunched over desks full of paperwork in bleak silence, agonising about data protection policies between intermittent glances at photos of the families they once got to eat dinner with. Now we can only visualise them grooving about like Drake after hours.

With that in mind, this playlist could spell trouble for companies everywhere. We’ve all been there when a deadline’s looming. One moment you’re tapping your feet to some Carly Rae Jepsen, the next it’s 25 May, you have 143 missed calls and your stomach’s being pumped by a judgemental doctor in Bangkok Hospital.


March 1, 2018  3:05 PM

They think it’s all – oh, VAR…

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Association football as we know it descended into farce at the hands of the use of fledgling video assistant referee (VAR) technology throughout Tottenham and Rochdale’s FA Cup replay tie at Wembley.

Referee Paul Tierney harnessed VAR to achieve panto-villain status as confusion reigned in the stands. Raw emotions were frequently amended and erased during the course of a first half where “goals” and “free kicks” – via minute-long consultations with the technology – weren’t always what they first seemed. Like a child with a new toy at Christmas, Tierney couldn’t put VAR down.

A quick look at the punters, braving Baltic conditions to support their teams on a Wednesday night only to not have a clue what was going on in front of them, provided scenes evocative of stranded families in airport departure lounges you’d see during some ash cloud situation on the news, hopelessly checking screens for their gate numbers after living off vending machine M&Ms and Hula Hoops for 18 hours.

It’s caused fans to deride the system as a plague on the game, but we don’t think that’s fair. There’s nothing wrong with VAR itself when used sparingly, which just means no more refs acting like Derek Acorah hosting a séance in the National Football Museum.


February 15, 2018  12:16 PM

Why doesn’t YouTube ban Logan Paul?

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, speaking at Recode’s Code Media conference in California, has insisted its macabre problem child Logan Paul hasn’t done enough to be kicked off the platform.

The company’s image has been run ragged by the maniacal vlogger since January’s media storm surrounding his disturbing uploads from a trip to Japan, after which he took some weeks out, reflected, apologised, posted an awareness video professing personal growth, then tasered a dead rat.

Wojcicki cited the suspension of all adverts on Paul’s channel as an appropriate penalty for his sinister “pattern of behaviour”, which feels like an open invitation for him to keep testing YouTube’s limits until an atrocity fit for an early-noughties Tom Green vehicle is reached.

By which point, with Paul sauntering around in a bloody deer carcass or something, this once pure and bountiful cultural hub might realise it’s left it too late to save its reputation.

Only when Wojcicki makes her way, aghast, through the snuff video content of her fallen kingdom – like Simba returning to Pride Rock; Chris Crocker trapped in a cage, singing “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts” for Paul from a cage of bones – will she know she could have done more to stop him.


February 1, 2018  2:25 PM

Matt Hancock: the app

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

News of new culture secretary Matt Hancock launching his own app sent Downtime direct to the App Store.

After a tantalising few seconds waiting for Matt Hancock to download, we open it up and join the party. Without warning or regard for your phone being on silent, the man himself fills the screen with a welcome message, and you’d be forgiven for forgetting he’s not there in the room addressing you personally: your very own living, breathing, straight-talking Polly Pocket.

We’re in. What to see first? We head over to the live stream, and encounter some initial disappointment to find it’s not a 24-hour, Big Brother-style arrangement. The Matt Hancock community bombards the comments section, begging him to go live, and we can’t help but feel jealous at the thought of having to share him.

We exit live stream to check out the library, where you can find a curation of his classic speeches and a gallery of all your favourite Matt Hancock moments, including Matt Hancock having his picture taken with a fibre broadband cabinet, Matt Hancock kneeling among pumpkins, and, of course, a horse eating out of the palm of his hand – and we know the feeling.

Productivity is at an all-time low as we continue to check our Matt Hancock app. Too much Matt Hancock? No. Never enough.


February 1, 2018  11:34 AM

Alexa makes children rude

Cliff Saran Profile: Cliff Saran
Uncategorized

Smart speaker devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are making children ask for things without say “please”, research from Childwise has found.
The research found that the way individuals communicate with such devices will be reflected in how they interact with people in the real world. Given that devices like Alexa tend to ignore words like “please ” and “thank you”, Childwise believes there is a very real risk kids will speak to real people in the way they order Alexa to do things. Here at Downtime, we are still trying to figure out why Alexa can turn on the TV and increase its volume – but when asked to increase the volume again, she claims she doesn’t know how to do it. “Alexa please, please, please increase the TV volume. Thankyou”

 

 


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