Gas puzzlers: American regulators investigate Fiat Chrysler for emissions cheating

Print section Print Rubric:  The Italian-American carmaker is in regulators’ headlights over emissions Print Headline:  Gas puzzlers Print Fly Title:  Fiat Chrysler UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Gas puzzlers Main image:  An exhausting process An exhausting process THE priorities of America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will doubtless change under Donald Trump. Mr Trump may well relax emissions rules for carmakers in return for concessions, such as keeping production in America rather than relocating to Mexico or other lower-cost countries. So it is perhaps no coincidence that on January 12th, before conditions change, the agency took action against Fiat Chrysler Automobile. It accused FCA (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using software in 104,000 Dodge ...

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Road outrage: To stop carmakers bending the rules on emissions, Europe must get much tougher

Print section Print Rubric:  To stop carmakers bending the rules, Europe must get much tougher Print Headline:  Road outrage Print Fly Title:  Regulating car emissions UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Road outrage Main image:  20170121_LDD002_0.jpg AMERICA’S system of corporate justice has many flaws. The size of the fines it slaps on firms is arbitrary. Its habitual use of deferred-prosecution agreements (a practice that is spreading to Britain; this week Rolls-Royce, an engineering firm, was fined for bribery—see article) means that too many cases are settled rather than thrashed out in court. But even crude justice can be better than none. To see why, look at Europe’s flaccid approach to the emissions scandal that engulfed Volkswagen (VW) in 2015 and now threatens others. Diesel-engined vehicles belch out poisonous ...

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Daily chart: Toxic emissions from cars may be several times higher than the legal limit

Main image:  CARMAKERS are again in regulators’ headlights over emissions, on both sides of the Atlantic. On January 13th French prosecutors announced they were investigating Renault for “suspected cheating” on diesel emissions. A day earlier, America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused Fiat Chrysler (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using undeclared software in 104,000 diesel-engined Jeeps and Dodge Ram pick-ups. The EPA says that the software increases emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the vehicles in normal use, and was not declared or justified by the carmaker. It is illegal to fail to inform the EPA of software that might affect emissions, although the agency stopped short of saying it was a "defeat device". In 2015 Volkswagen (VW) admitted installing “defeat devices” in several models that were designed to hide the true level of emissions from vehicles during the testing process. VW has coughed up more than $20bn so far in fines and compensation for the 600,000 American vehicles in question. America has much tougher laws on toxic NOx emission than Europe, with a limit of 40 mg per kilometre—half of the maximum allowed from European diesel models sold since September 2014. The United States also has far fewer diesel ...

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Something nasty from the tail pipe: American regulators accuse Fiat Chrysler of emissions cheating

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Something nasty from the tail pipe Main image:  20170114_wbp503.jpg FOR each of the past three years, Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) 3 litre V6 turbodiesel has made it to a list of the industry’s top ten engines compiled by Ward’s, a distinguished American car-industry trade publication. Its place on the shortlist for 2017 must now be in doubt. On January 12th America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused FCA (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using illegal software in conjunction with the engines. This, it says, allowed 104,000 vehicles—mostly Dodge pickups and some Jeeps, fitted with the 3 litre V6 turbodiesel—to exceed legal limits of toxic emissions. The news sent the firm’s shares plummeting by 17%, before recovering somewhat. Nervous investors feared a repeat of the huge penalty imposed on Germany’s Volkswagen (VW) for cheating American emissions laws. A day earlier VW had agreed to pay a criminal fine of $4.3bn for selling around 500,000 cars fitted with so-called “defeat devices” that are designed to ...

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The Economist explains: How machines learned to speak human language

Main image:  THIS past Christmas, millions of people will have opened boxes containing gadgets with a rapidly improving ability to use human language. Amazon’s Echo device, featuring a digital assistant called Alexa, is now present in over 5m homes. The Echo is a cylindrical desktop computer with no interface apart from voice. Ask Alexa for the weather, to play music, to order a taxi, to tell you about your commute or to tell a corny joke, and she will comply. The voice-driven digital assistants from America’s computer giants (Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri) have also vastly improved. How did computers tackle the problems of human language?Once, the idea was to teach machines rules—for example, in translation, a set of grammar rules for breaking down the meaning of the source language, and another set for reproducing the meaning in the target language. But after a burst of optimism in the 1950s, such systems could not be made to work on complex new sentences; the rules-based approach would not scale up. Funding for human-language technologies went into hibernation for decades, until a renaissance in the 1980s.In effect, language technologies teach themselves, via a form of pattern-matching. For speech recognition, computers are fed sound files on the one hand, and human-written ...

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Where humans still beat computers: Brain scan: Terry Winograd

Print section Print Rubric:  The Winograd Schema tests computers’ “understanding” of the real world Print Headline:  Terry Winograd Print Fly Title:  Brain scan UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  Where humans still beat computers Main image:  20161210_TQP046_0.jpg THE Turing Test was conceived as a way to judge whether true artificial intelligence has been achieved. If a computer can fool humans into thinking it is human, there is no reason, say its fans, to say the machine is not truly intelligent. Few giants in computing stand with Turing in fame, but one has given his name to a similar challenge: Terry Winograd, a computer scientist at Stanford. In his doctoral dissertation Mr Winograd posed a riddle for computers: “The city councilmen refused the demonstrators a permit because they feared violence. ...

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I hear you: Speech recognition

Print section Print Rubric:  Computers have made huge strides in recognising human speech Print Headline:  I hear you Print Fly Title:  Speech recognition UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  I hear you Main image:  20161210_TQD002_0.jpg WHEN a person speaks, air is forced out through the lungs, making the vocal chords vibrate, which sends out characteristic wave patterns through the air. The features of the sounds depend on the arrangement of the vocal organs, especially the tongue and the lips, and the characteristic nature of the sounds comes from peaks of energy in certain frequencies. The vowels have frequencies called “formants”, two of which are usually enough to differentiate one vowel from another. For example, the vowel in the English word “fleece” has its first two formants at around 300Hz and ...

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For my next trick: Coming to grips with voice technology

Print section Print Rubric:  Talking machines are the new must-haves Print Headline:  For my next trick Print Fly Title:  Looking ahead UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  For my next trick Main image:  20161210_TQD005_0.jpg IN “WALL-E”, an animated children’s film set in the future, all humankind lives on a spaceship after the Earth’s environment has been trashed. The humans are whisked around in intelligent hovering chairs; machines take care of their every need, so they are all morbidly obese. Even the ship’s captain is not really in charge; the actual pilot is an intelligent and malevolent talking robot, Auto, and like so many talking machines in science fiction, he eventually makes a grab for power. Speech is quintessentially human, so it is hard to imagine machines that can truly speak ...

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Finding a voice: What language technology can and can’t do

Print section Print Rubric:  Computers have got much better at translation, voice recognition and speech synthesis, says Lane Greene. But they still don’t understand the meaning of language Print Headline:  Finding a voice UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  Finding a voice Main image:  20161210_TQD001_0.jpg I’M SORRY, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” With chilling calm, HAL 9000, the on-board computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, refuses to open the doors to Dave Bowman, an astronaut who had ventured outside the ship. HAL’s decision to turn on his human companion reflected a wave of fear about intelligent computers. When the film came out in 1968, computers that could have proper conversations with humans seemed nearly as far away as manned flight to Jupiter. Since then, humankind has progressed quite a lot farther with building machines that it can talk to, and that ...

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Beyond Babel: The limits of computer translations

Print section Print Rubric:  Computer translations have got strikingly better, but still need human input Print Headline:  Beyond Babel Print Fly Title:  Machine translation UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  Beyond Babel Main image:  20161210_TQD003_0.jpg IN “STAR TREK” it was a hand-held Universal Translator; in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” it was the Babel Fish popped conveniently into the ear. In science fiction, the meeting of distant civilisations generally requires some kind of device to allow them to talk. High-quality automated translation seems even more magical than other kinds of language technology because many humans struggle to speak more than one language, let alone translate from one to another. The idea has been around since the 1950s, and computerised translation is still ...

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Health care: Will artificial intelligence help to crack biology?

Print section Print Rubric:  Artificial intelligence may help unpick the complexity of biology Print Headline:  The shoulders of gAInts Print Fly Title:  Medicine and computing UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The indecisive prime minister Fly Title:  Health care Main image:  20170107_STD001_0.jpg IN A former leatherworks just off Euston Road in London, a hopeful firm is starting up. BenevolentAI’s main room is large and open-plan. In it, scientists and coders sit busily on benches, plying their various trades. The firm’s star, though, has a private, temperature-controlled office. That star is a powerful computer that runs the software which sits at the heart of BenevolentAI’s business. This software is an artificial-intelligence system.  AI, as it is known for short, comes in several guises. But BenevolentAI’s version of it is a form of machine ...

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Podcast: Babbage: War of the words

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Podcast: Babbage Main image:  20170107_mma901.jpg Rubric:  We explore a clutch of new words from 2016 and how technology contributes to the evolution of language. Vishal Sikka, the CEO of a technology services company explains how artificial intelligence can enhance the labour force. Also, science correspondent Matt Kaplan on a new device to sniff out disease Published:  20170104 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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The Economist explains: What is the point of spam e-mail?

Main image:  To mark the publication of "Go Figure", a collection of The Economist’s explainers and daily charts, the editors of this blog solicited ideas on Facebook and Twitter. This week we publish five explainers suggested by our readers, who will each receive a copy of the book.   ACCORDING to internet folklore, the very first spam e-mail was sent in 1978, to around 400 recipients. The sender was given a ticking-off, and told not to do it again. Alas for that golden age. These days, a torrent of poorly spelled e-mails promising to cure wrinkles, enlarge penises, banish fat or wire millions in unclaimed offshore wealth is the fate of almost everyone with an e-mail address. Other e-mails aim to harvest usernames and passwords, or contain obfuscated links to malicious software designed to capture a user's computer. According to one estimate from SecureList, a cyber-security firm, roughly 60% of all e-mail is spam. But why? What is the point of the avalanche of spam?In a word, money. Spam is the digital cousin of ordinary, paper-based junk mail. Firms send this out because they think it will drum up business. By reducing the cost of communication, the internet turbocharges that business model. Real-world junk mail might be profitable if only one recipient in a thousand decides she needs ...

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Podcast: Babbage: Year end review and preview of 2017

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Podcast: Babbage Main image:  20161224_mma904.jpg Rubric:  How artificial intelligence moved from the research lab into the real world, plus the challenges facing cyber security. And we explore the development of data donorship in the year ahead. Kenneth Cukier hosts Published:  20161228 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Breaching-point: Incentives need to change for firms to take cyber-security more seriously

Print section Print Rubric:  Incentives need to change for firms to take cyber-security more seriously Print Headline:  Breaching-point Print Fly Title:  Internet security UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How to make sense of 2016 Fly Title:  Breaching-point Main image:  20161224_LDD002_0.jpg IT HAS been a cracking year for hacking. Barack Obama and the CIA accused Russia of electronic meddling in an attempt to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Details emerged of two enormous data breaches at Yahoo, one of the world’s biggest internet companies; one, in 2013, affected more than a billion people. Other highlights include the hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency; the theft of $81m from the central bank of Bangladesh (only a typo prevented the hackers from making off with much more); and the release of personal details of around 20,000 employees of the ...

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Google’s hippocampus: What DeepMind brings to Alphabet

Print section Print Rubric:  Alphabet has plenty of AI expertise, so why does it need DeepMind? Print Headline:  Google’s hippocampus Print Fly Title:  Artificial intelligence UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The lessons from Aleppo’s tragic fate Fly Title:  Google’s hippocampus Main image:  20161217_WBP001_1.jpg DEEPMIND’S office is tucked away in a nondescript building next to London’s Kings Cross train station. From the outside, it doesn’t look like something that two of the world’s most powerful technology companies, Facebook and Google, would have fought to acquire. Google won, buying DeepMind for £400m ($660m) in January 2014. But why did it want to own a British artificial-intelligence (AI) company in the first place? Google was already on the cutting edge of machine learning and AI, its newly trendy cousin. What value could DeepMind ...

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Podcast: Babbage: Thinking deeply

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Podcast: Babbage Main image:  20161217_mma903.jpg Rubric:  Alphabet's artificial intelligence company DeepMind doesn't make a profit, so why it is arousing long-term interest? Dr Pedro Alonso from the World Health Organisation explores advances in the fight against malaria. And the amateur enthusiast who found meteorite dust in the gutter Published:  20161214 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Winning laughter: “Software is eating the world”—including art, too?

IT IS easy to dismiss the latest project by Eyal Gever, an Israeli artist, as a joke, not least because it involves laughs. It also ticks all the boxes for buzzwords in the world of geeks: apps, the cloud, crowdsourcing, 3D printing, space travel (only “big data” and the “blockchain”—don’t ask—are mysteriously missing). Even so, starting on December 1st, “viewers” of Mr Gever’s new work will be able to download an app on their smartphones and use their own laughter to create a digital sculpture which is uploaded into the cloud. Participants worldwide will vote on the best piece, to be announced in January and printed a month later on the International Space Station (ISS). 20161202 11:06:34 Comment Expiry Date:  Sat, 2016-12-17

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Hack work: Insurers grapple with cyber-attacks that spill over into physical damage

Print section Print Rubric:  Insurers grapple with hacking that goes beyond data breaches Print Headline:  Hack work Print Fly Title:  Cyber-insurance UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Hack work Location:  NEW YORK Main image:  20161203_FND002_0.jpg AS HACKERS wreak havoc with depressing regularity, the insurance industry finds itself forced to contemplate a whole new set of risks. They range from the theft of millions of credit-card numbers from American retailers to the disabling of the power grid, as happened in Ukraine last December. The dedicated “cyber-insurance” policies that companies offer against data breaches have become relatively routine. But the risks they insure under other policies are also affected by ...

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Searching containers with AI: Machines are learning to find concealed weapons in X-ray scans

Print section Print Rubric:  Machines are learning to find concealed weapons in x-ray scans Print Headline:  Eyes at the border Print Fly Title:  Artificial intelligence UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Searching containers with AI Main image:  Prettier than an x-ray Prettier than an x-ray EVERY day more than 8,000 containers flow through the Port of Rotterdam. But only a fraction are selected to pass through a giant x-ray machine to check for illicit contents. The machine, made by Rapiscan, an American firm, can capture images as the containers move along a track at 15kph (9.3mph). But it takes time for a human to inspect each scan for anything suspicious—and in particular for small metallic objects that might be weapons. (Imagine searching an image of a room three metres by 14 metres ...

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Samsung buys Harman: Amp my ride

Print section Print Rubric:  In its biggest deal yet, Samsung bets on connected cars as a driving force Print Headline:  Amp my ride Print Fly Title:  Samsung buys Harman UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The new nationalism Fly Title:  Samsung buys Harman Location:  SEOUL Main image:  20161119_wbp001.jpg “THE car is the ultimate mobile device,” said Jeff Williams, an executive at Apple, last year. It was taken as another sign that the maker of iGadgets would be deepening its interest in the automotive sector (among other projects, it is developing an in-house smart car that is codenamed Project Titan). Now Samsung Electronics, its big rival in the smartphone world, is following. On November 14th the South Korean company said it would pay $8bn for Harman, a firm based in Stamford, ...

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Technology: Tinker, tailor, hacker, spy

Print section Print Rubric:  Who is benefiting more from the cyberisation of intelligence, the spooks or their foes? Print Headline:  Tinker, tailor, hacker, spy Print Fly Title:  Technology UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Shaken and stirred Fly Title:  Technology Main image:  20161112_SRP033_0.jpg “THE COMPUTER WAS born to spy,” says Gordon Corera, who covers intelligence for the BBC, Britain’s national broadcaster. The earliest computers, including Colossus and SEAC, were used by signals intelligence (known as SIGINT) in Britain and America to help break codes. But computers also happen to have become supremely good at storing information. Searching a database is a lot easier than searching shelves of files like those compiled by the East German secret police, the Stasi—which stretched for 100km. The job used to be to discover what a hostile country ...

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Babbage: Fighting falsehoods

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage Main image:  20161112_mma904_107.jpg Rubric:  We are joined by Martin Sweeney, co-founder of Ravelin, to explain how artificial intelligence is being used to stop fraud. Our environment correspondent discusses climate-change scepticism in America and the potential fallout from a Trump presidency. Also, a long-standing bet about the underpinnings of the universe needs to be settled Published:  20161110 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Cyber-security: Britain flexes its cyber-muscles

Print section Print Rubric:  Online attacks by foreign powers will be met in kind, vows the government Print Headline:  Britain flexes its cyber-muscles Print Fly Title:  Cyber-security UK Only Article:  UK article only Issue:  America’s best hope Fly Title:  Cyber-security Main image:  20161105_brp503.jpg PHILIP HAMMOND, the chancellor of the exchequer, is not a man given to making dramatic statements. Known as “Spreadsheet Phil” during his cost-cutting stint as defence secretary, he does dry better than the Sahara. Yet on November 1st, addressing a geeky conference hosted by Microsoft, Mr Hammond declared that not only was Britain developing its offensive cyber-capabilities, but it was doing so “because the ability to detect, trace and retaliate in kind is likely to be the best deterrent”. It was a statement of intent that few Western governments have been ...

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Cyber-security: Crash testing

Print section Print Rubric:  Recent attacks on the internet could be a prelude to far worse ones Print Headline:  Crash testing Print Fly Title:  Cyber-security UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Liberty moves north Fly Title:  Cyber-security Main image:  20161029_stp505.jpg “SOMEONE is learning how to take down the internet.” This was the headline of a blog post Bruce Schneier, a noted cyber-security expert, wrote in mid-September. It looked prescient when, on October 21st, Dynamic Network Services (Dyn), a firm that is part of the internet-address system, was disrupted by what is called a “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attack. (Essentially, a DDoS floods servers with requests until they can no longer cope.) For hours, hundreds of sites were hard to reach, including those of Netflix, PayPal and Twitter. The attack on Dyn was only the latest in a ...

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