HP’s Keurig Moment, Europa’s Plumes, and a Partnership on AI | Vol. 3 / No. 49


HP’s Anti-Features | Image: Electronic Frontier Foundation, CC BY 3.0

HP Backtracks on DRM

In a move that will sound familiar to drinkers of coffee made by Keurig-brand machines, this week the Hewlett-Packard Company (HP to its friends) walked back its plan to prevent its printers from using third-party ink cartridges via a software update. In a recent software update, the affected HP printers stopped working with ink cartridges made by, well, anybody but HP — meaning millions of peoples printers just stopped working because nobody’s going to buy overpriced ink cartridges when there are cheaper, off-brand models available. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) issued a statement urging the company to reverse its decision last week, arguing that it would create a “security nightmare” for the company, with printer owners refusing important security updates on the off chance that it might disable their printer’s ability to use cheaper ink. But as TechCrunch writes, don’t expect a real apology — the closest the company has come is writing that they “should have done a better job of communicating about the authentication procedure to customers,” which is more “sorry for not communicating it better,” not “sorry we hijacked your machines so they’d only run using our proprietary (and more expensive) ink.” This won’t be the end of it, but for now HP is promising an update to un-break their printers. We’ll see how long that takes. You can read the EFF’s letter (written by Cory Doctorow) here, and TechCrunch’s coverage of the walk-back here.

Europan plumes | Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC BY 2.0
Europan plumes | Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC BY 2.0

Europa’s Plumes Reaffirmed

In 2012, a team of scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) released a report based on Hubble data that seemed to show plumes of water rising a hundred miles above the surface of the south pole of Jupiter’s moon Europa. This week another team of scientists, this time of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, seemed to confirm that result. Also using Hubble data (but this time looking for absorption spectra as the moon passed between the Hubble and Jupiter), the team made observations that bolster the water plume hypothesis. This is great news and provides a very compelling reason to go to Europa: the moon’s vast subsurface ocean is one of the more likely places in the solar system to find life, but sending a probe to test that would have required landing and drilling. But if the water is spewing into space at a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five miles high, scientists could just zoom through the clouds and test what they pass through. Moreover, if the plumes are coming up through the ice, then it would seem to suggest a good place to land a future Europa lander — in a place where drilling might be easier or not even necessary. Of course, sending a probe to Europa at all relies upon the US government continuing to fund planetary science missions, and as Casey Dreier points out over at the Planetary Society, that’s not always something that you can count on. You can read an explanation of the research there, or else check out NASA’s press release from earlier this week for more.


Image: Partnership on AI
Image: Partnership on AI

A Partnership On AI

Amazon, DeepMind/Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft all announced this week the formation of the Partnership on AI, a non-profit designed “to advance public understanding of artificial intelligence technologies (AI) and formulate best practices on the challenges and opportunities within the field.” Its membership is composed of key members of each company, and seems to have been set up as a way to allay the fears of researchers and high-profile individuals like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking who harbour deep concerns about the development of AI in secretive, corporate labs. The extent to which they’ll be sharing their latest research with one another is still unclear — they are, after all, direct competitors — but their list of tenets is laudable. It’s also a little unbelievable: it’s hard to imagine Google and Facebook really living up to a promise to work “to protect the privacy and security of individuals,” unless they mean “protect the privacy and security of individuals from everyone but us.” That said, it’s a step in the right direction. While Musk hasn’t responded, Open AI, the open-course artificial intelligence engineering company he’s funded, tweeted their support for the new nonprofit, writing “We’re happy to see the launch of Partnership on AI — coordination in the industry is good for everyone.” You can read more about the Partnership on AI at partnershiponAI.org.



There’s always more to see here at This Week In Tomorrow than just the Sunday Roundup, so in case you missed any of the stories we’ve already covered this week, here they are:


Best of the Rest

And then there’s all the stuff we didn’t get to this week because nobody pays us and we have day jobs and lives, so here’s your weekly linkspam!


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.