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Facebook is coming closer to humanizing its chatbots

Over the past several years, Facebook has devoted a considerable amount of its resources towards developing chatbots. It has made several advancements in this area, but is now focusing its efforts on improving conversational abilities. Despite their label, chatbots aren’t very good at making small talk.

In a recent report, Facebook’s researchers pointed to several key areas in which they need improvement. The first problem is that these A.I.s do not have any consistent personality. They don’t stick to the same set of facts about themselves throughout a conversation, which can make the experience feel unnatural.

Perhaps more frustrating is the fact that the A.I. can’t remember its own past responses or those of the person it is talking to, resulting in conversations that can easily go off the rails. Finally, when asked a question they don’t have an answer to, these bots will often make use of canned pre-programmed responses. Many modern chatbots are trained with lines taking from movies.

This, predictably, has some issues since even the best-written scripts are not natural conversations. Everything is written with the intent of informing the viewer about the film’s characters, world, or narrative. This can often result in strange or nonsensical responses.

In order to help remedy this problem, Facebook engineers have constructed their own datasets to help train the A.I. These datasets are taken from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace and consist of more than 160,000 lines of dialogue. The interesting thing about this data is that it isn’t entirely random.

The Verge reports that in an effort to create consistent personalities for their chatbots, Amazon’s team was instructed to create a short biography for their chatbots. For example, one of the chatbots is based on the following statements: “I am an artist. I have four children.

I recently got a cat. I enjoy walking for exercise. I love watching Game of Thrones.”

It’s hardly an award-winning novel, but it does serve to provide a bit of structure and consistency to the chatbots’ conversations, though it does have some downsides.

While these bots did score well on fluency and maintain a consistent personality, users found them less interesting than A.I. based on movie scripts.

For now, these chatbots have a long way to go before they can truly imitate human speech, but they are improving.

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Russian bots retweeted Trump 470,000 times in election run-up

Twitter tells a Senate committee that Russian bots retweeted Trump almost half a million times in the final months of the 2016 presidential election.

Screenshot by CNET

Here’s just the latest nugget to surface as a result of congressional probes of tech platforms used by Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election: Russia-linked accounts shared Donald Trump’s tweets almost half a million times in the run-up to Election Day. In a document posted by the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday (PDF), Twitter revealed that Russian bots retweeted Trump almost 470,000 times between Sept.

1 and Nov.

15, 2016. During that same timeframe, the Russian-linked accounts retweeted candidate Hillary Clinton less than 50,000 times, Twitter told the committee.

The figures were released just a day after a different Senate committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, published answers from Facebook, Google and Twitter to follow-up questions from its investigation on the same topic. But that 100-page response didn’t shed much light on details and was more about protocols. Twitter did say in that report to the intelligence committee, however, that it detects about 450,000 “suspicious” logins a day that may be bots or computer programs created to automatically post and respond to things on Twitter.

So that makes 470,000 Russian-bot retweets in two-and-a-half months for Trump — who was and continues to be a prolific tweeter — seem a little smaller. Still, the new disclosure from Twitter further illustrates how Russia meddlers manipulated the platform, something the company earlier this month said was more widespread than initially estimated. It’s now identified 3,814 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, which was the seat of the Russian propaganda effort.

In October, Twitter executives testified in front of Congress that it had found roughly 2,700 accounts affiliated with the election interference. Twitter pledged to let users of the service know if they were exposed to propaganda associated with a Kremlin-linked troll farm. And it’s created a task force to handle related issues that come up during the midterm elections in November.

It’s also banned Russian government-run news sites from buying ads.

US Tech Policy

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'Jackpotting' hack makes its way to ATMs in US

Now hackers are targeting US ATMs with a scheme called “jackpotting” that spews out cash.

Bill Varie/Getty Images

It’s not the first time we’ve heard of hackers making ATMs spew out cash like a casino slot machine. We actually saw so-called “jackpotting” demonstrated last summer at the Black Hat security conference and it’s reportedly been a real threat for banks in Europe and Asia for a couple years now. But a Saturday report from security expert Brian Krebs marks the stateside arrival of the crime, in which thieves install malicious software and/or hardware at ATMs that forces the release of the cash.

Up until now, such attacks “have somehow eluded US ATM operators,” Krebs said. “But all that changed this week after the U.S. Secret Service quietly began warning financial institutions that jackpotting attacks have now been spotted targeting cash machines here in the United States,” Krebs wrote.

On his website, Krebs on Security, he reported that the US Secret Service has warned financial institutions about the attacks in the past few days and notes that ATM maker NCR sent an alert about the threat to its customers. Reuters later confirmed alerts were sent out to customers of both NCR and ATM maker Diebold Nixdorf, noting that neither company identified any victims or how much money has been lost. Both companies confirmed to CNET that those alerts went out offering customers guidance on how to protect their machines.

The Diebold alert sent to its customers on Friday notes that the attacks were first reported in Mexico and target one of its out-of-production models. The Secret Service notice, according to Krebs, said hackers have targeted stand-alone ATMs “routinely located in pharmacies, big box retailers, and drive-thru ATMs.” The Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the Secret Service’s warnings.

First published Jan.

28 at 10:43 a.m.

PT.Update at 2:33 p.m.

PT: Adds confirmation of an alert sent out from NCR.

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We’ve been pronouncing Princess Eugenie’s name all wrong

When Princess Eugenie and new fiance Jack Brooksbank’s engagement was announced on Monday (22 January), TV news channels across the world were quick to report the story.But, when one Australian news presenter struggled to pronounce the 27-year-old royal’s name live on air, we realised that we might also have been getting it wrong this whole time…

“Princess Eugenie or ‘you-junny’ or ‘you-jenny’… I’ve been told, ‘you-jay-nee’! You-jay-nee!’, said TV journalist David Kochhe, clearly struggling. “Anyway, she will walk down the aisle later this year.”

Now, a bit of digging has revealed that you don’t actually pronounce Eugenie ‘you-jay-nee’, as Kocheh assumed and we’d always thought… In fact, the young royal has previously explained how to say her name properly – and it’s ‘Yoo-genny’ with the stress on the the first syllable, apparently. Chatting to the Telegraph about it back in 2008, Eugenie said that people often struggle with her name.

“Whenever we used to meet foreign people who were struggling with it, my mum and I would help them by saying, ‘It’s like Use Your Knees’. “But whatever. I am now used to every pronunciation.”

She also revealed that friends call her ‘Youj’ or ‘Bouj’. So, now we know: huge congratulations to Jack and Youj! [h/t Mail Online]

Via Prima (Image: Getty) Like this?

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Britain’s best fish and chip shop has been revealed

Everyone has their favourite when it comes to local fish and chip shops, but the UK’s finest has just been revealed at the 2018 National Fish & Chip Awards. The top prize, the Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Award, went to family-run Millers Fish & Chips in Haxby, North Yorkshire. It beat around 10,500 other outlets to the title and went through a vigorous seven-month judging process to claim the prestigious award at a ceremony in London on Wednesday night. To make the top 60 shortlist, which was announced in August last year, businesses from across the UK were judged on their frying skills, menu development, sustainable sourcing policies, staff training and marketing activity. Judges from the National Fish and Chip Shop Awards also made unannounced visits to the shops to report on customer service. The 10 regional winners were put forward to the final stage of the judging process last September. During the final stage of judging, held the day before the awards ceremony, the finalists were tested on the presentation, industry related topics and how to run a profitable business. MORE: MAKE YOUR OWN FISH AND CHIPS 


Commenting on their award win co-owner Nick Miller, who runs Millers Fish & Chips with his father David, said: “We entered the competition for the first time last year, and were so proud to get to the final, but to go all the way this time and scoop the ‘Oscar’ of the fish and chip world is truly amazing.   “At Millers, we wholeheartedly believe in making fish and chips accessible for everyone. We operate a separate frying area to cater for allergen-free diets, and offer a range of gluten-free, halal and vegetarian products, all cooked using only use the finest, locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients. “As a fourth-generation family business with a 77-year history, we bring the tradition associated with great British fish and chips together with a new, innovative approach. This really does mean everything to us, and we’re so proud of our ourselves, our staff and our business.” Also in the top three were Burton Road Chippy in Lincoln, and Harbourside Fish & Chips in Plymouth. In the mood for a plate of perfectly battered fish? See the top 10 regional winners below:

  • Cromars Classic Fish & Chips, St Andrews, Fife (Scotland)
  • Penaluna’s Famous Fish & Chips, Hirwaun, Rhonda Cynon Taff (Wales)
  • The Dolphin Takeaway, Dungannon, County Tyrone (Northern Ireland)
  • Millers Fish & Chips, Haxby, York, North Yorkshire (North East England)
  • Fylde Fish Bar, Marshside, Southport, Merseyside (North West England)
  • The Golden Carp Chippy, Redditch, Worcestershire (Midlands)
  • Burton Road Chippy, Lincoln, Lincolnshire (Eastern England)
  • Henley’s of Wivenhoe, Wivenhoe, Colchester, Essex (London & South East England)
  • Captain’s Fish and Chips, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Central & Southern England)
  • Harbourside Fish & Chips, Plymouth, Devon (South & West England)


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  1. ^ Millers Fish & Chips (www.millersfish.co.uk)
  2. ^ MAKE YOUR OWN FISH AND CHIPS (www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk)
  3. ^ VEGETARIANS CAN NOW HAVE FISH AND CHIPS (www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk)

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