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Google to change research process after uproar over scientists' firing

The Guardian

Google will change procedures before July for reviewing its scientists' work, according to a town hall recording heard by Reuters, part of an effort to quell internal tumult over the integrity of its artificial intelligence (AI) research. In remarks at a staff meeting last Friday, Google Research executives said they were working to regain trust after the company ousted two prominent women and rejected their work, according to an hour-long recording, the content of which was confirmed by two sources. Teams are already trialing a questionnaire that will assess projects for risk and help scientists navigate reviews, Maggie Johnson, the research unit's chief operating officer, said in the meeting. This initial change would roll out by the end of the second quarter, and the majority of papers would not require extra vetting, she said. Reuters reported in December that Google had introduced a "sensitive topics" review for studies involving dozens of issues, such as China or bias in its services.


AI could have profound effect on way GCHQ works, says director

The Guardian

GCHQ's director has said artificial intelligence software could have a profound impact on the way it operates, from spotting otherwise missed clues to thwart terror plots to better identifying the sources of fake news and computer viruses. Jeremy Fleming's remarks came as the spy agency prepared to publish a rare paper on Thursday defending its use of machine-learning technology to placate critics concerned about its bulk surveillance activities. "AI, like so many technologies, offers great promise for society, prosperity and security. Its impact on GCHQ is equally profound," he said. "While this unprecedented technological evolution comes with great opportunity, it also poses significant ethical challenges for all of society, including GCHQ." AI is considered controversial because it relies on computer algorithms to make decisions based on patterns found in data.


Medal of dishonour: why do so many people cheat in online video games?

The Guardian

Fall Guys had only been online for two days when it started. This bright, silly multiplayer game, in which rotund Day-Glo bean people race toward a finishing line avoiding giant tumbling fruit pieces – a sort of digital equivalent of a school sports day, albeit a slightly hallucinogenic one – had tens of thousands of players, but it didn't seem like it would attract cheaters. Surely it was too frivolous, too much about the shared joy of slapstick comedy? Yet in they came: players using speed hacks (a type of cheat that increases the speed your avatar can run at) to win races against other Day-Glo bean people. Even if you are not directly affected, it breaks the social contract.


Video game giant Blizzard celebrates 30 years with Diablo II Resurrected

The Guardian

In a normal year, Blizzard's annual fan convention would have involved tens of thousands of cosplayers, esports pros, players and developers meeting and mingling in Anaheim, California. But, thanks to Covid, the video game developer was forced to postpone 2020's convention and instead celebrate its 30th year with a virtual convention last weekend. Given this significant anniversary, it makes sense that many of the announcements were targeted at nostalgic fans. Three of Blizzard's older titles (Lost Vikings, Rock & Roll Racing and Blackthorne) have been bundled together in the Blizzard Arcade Collection. World of Warcraft Classic, which takes players back to the venerable MMO's earliest days, will get a recreation of its first expansion, Burning Crusade.


'We deserve more': an Amazon warehouse's high-stakes union drive

The Guardian

Darryl Richardson was delighted when he landed a job as a "picker" at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. "I thought, 'Wow, I'm going to work for Amazon, work for the richest man around," he said. "I thought it would be a nice facility that would treat you right." Richardson, a sturdily built 51-year-old with a short, charcoal beard, took a job at the gargantuan warehouse after the auto parts plant where he worked for nine years closed. Now he is strongly supporting the ambitious effort to unionize its 5,800 workers because, he says, the job is so demanding and working for Amazon has fallen far below his expectations. Last August, five months after the warehouse opened, Richardson began pushing for a union in what is not only the first effort to organize an entire Amazon warehouse in the United States, but also the biggest private-sector union drive in the south in years. "I thought the opportunities for moving up would be better. I thought safety at the plant would be better," Richardson said. "And when it comes to letting people go for no reason – job security – I thought it would be different."


How a game about making zines helped me recapture my creativity in lockdown

The Guardian

On some of the creative tool pages, tiny emojis are hidden, offering silly dialogue when you find them. A bacon brush lets you paint ribbons of rashers. A button lets you offer your zine to The Void, scrambling the screen and spewing back a piece of randomly generated glitch art. The software's bright layout and playful text is disarming – and when our guard is down, we can really make interesting things. My first run of zines made through this software were printed on bright yellow paper, and featured images of bananas cut to look like dolphins. There was some text inside, detailing a little of how burned out I felt, how exhaustion had drained the laughter out of me, and how these dolphins had brought some of it back.


Drug companies look to AI to end 'hit and miss' research

The Guardian

The hunt for new medicines has often been more like a game of roulette than high-end science. But now the pharmaceutical sector is on the cusp of a transformation, as it delves into cutting-edge technology to come up with new treatments for diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer's. Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to improve the industry's success rates and speed up drug discovery, potentially saving it billions of dollars, a recent survey by the analytics firm GlobalData has found. AI topped a list of technologies seen as having the greatest impact on the sector this year. Almost 100 partnerships have been struck between AI specialists and large pharma companies for drug discovery since 2015.


Google fires Margaret Mitchell, another top researcher on its AI ethics team

The Guardian

Google has fired one of its top artificial intelligence researchers, Margaret Mitchell, escalating internal turmoil at the company following the departure of Timnit Gebru, another leading figure on Google's AI ethics team. Mitchell, who announced her firing on Twitter, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement to Reuters, Google said the firing followed a weeks-long investigation that found she moved electronic files outside the company. Google said Mitchell violated the company's code of conduct and security policies. Google's ethics in artificial intelligence research unit has been under scrutiny since December's dismissal of Gebru, a prominent Black researcher in Silicon Valley.


The Legend of Zelda games – ranked!

The Guardian

The 3DS's multiplayer Zelda game wasn't so much bad (unless you tried to play it by yourself, laboriously switching between all three characters) as eminently forgettable. Its weird, camp send-up of Hyrule and three-player puzzles have slipped almost entirely from my mind in the years since I played it, and what I do remember mostly involved shouting impotently at the screen as some online playmate entirely failed to see the solution to a puzzle that was staring them in the face. I maintain that hardly anyone has actually finished this needlessly opaque side-scrolling follow-up to 1986's The Legend of Zelda, because: a) it's incredibly hard to figure out what the game wants you to do; and b) the final dungeon has TWO bosses, and if you can't finish it then you're turfed out to attempt the whole thing again. Long considered the worst game in the Zelda series, it hasn't improved with age. The touch controls were cool, but what everyone remembers about Phantom Hourglass is being sent back to the same dungeon again and again every time you threatened to make some small amount of progress.


Why do video games matter? 20 books every player should read

The Guardian

At this stage in the pandemic, you may have started to question the amount of time you're spending playing video games. Publishers have reported huge increases in the numbers of players on titles such as Call of Duty Warzone and Fifa 21, while Animal Crossing, launched in the first weeks of last year's lockdown, has sold more than 30m copies, mostly on its seductive promise to bring friends together for tea parties on cute little islands. Perhaps now, however, you want to spend some time away from games – but without abandoning them. Or maybe you want to find out why Assassin's Creed Valhalla has such an unassailable grip on your attention. Either way, here are 20 books that tell us more about games, or are likely to be interesting to people who play them a lot.