Posted Apr. 17, 2017 at 5:35 a.m.

Tech wrap: Apple iCar?; Microsoft users safe from NSA; PC pioneer dies; Facebook targets fake accounts

Published: 2017-04-17 05:35:00
Updated: 2017-04-17 05:35:00

Bulldog Bulldog

In today's Bulldog wrapup of the latest technology news:

  • The iPhone of cars? Apple enters self-driving car race
  • Microsoft says users are protected from alleged NSA malware
  • Computer pioneer Robert W. Taylor dies at 85
  • Facebook targets 30,000 fake France accounts before election

The details:

  • The iPhone of cars? Apple enters self-driving car race

Apple is joining the fiercely competitive race to design self-driving cars, raising the possibility that a company that has already re-shaped culture with its iPhone may try to transform transportation, too.

Ending years of speculation, Apple's late entry into a crowded field was made official Friday with the disclosure that the California Department of Motor Vehicles had awarded a permit for the company to start testing its self-driving car technology on public roads in the state.

The permit covers three vehicles — all 2015 Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUVs — and six individual drivers. California law requires people to be in a self-driving car who can take control if something goes wrong.

Apple confirmed its arrival in the self-driving car market, but wouldn't discuss its intentions. Its interest in autonomous vehicle technology, however, has long been clear.

The Cupertino, California, company pointed to a statement that it issued in December. "

Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems," the company said then. "There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation."

Apple released that statement after Steve Kenner, a former Ford Motor executive who is now Apple's director of product integrity, notified federal regulators of the company's interest in self-driving cars in a letter.

Like others, Apple believes self-driving cars could ease congestion, prevent millions of crashes and save thousands of lives annually in traffic accidents often caused by drunk or distracted motorists.

Self-driving cars could also be a lucrative new market. And Apple has been searching for its next act for a while, one that will take it beyond its mainstay phones, tablets and personal computers.

  • Microsoft says users are protected from alleged NSA malware

Up-to-date Microsoft customers are safe from the purported National Security Agency spying tools dumped online, the software company said Saturday, tamping down fears that the digital arsenal was poised to wreak havoc across the internet .

In a blog post , Microsoft Corp. security manager Phillip Misner said that the software giant had already built defenses against nine of the 12 tools disclosed by TheShadowBrokers, a mysterious group that has repeatedly published NSA code . The three others affected old, unsupported products.

"Most of the exploits are already patched," Misner said.

The post knocked back warnings from some researchers that the digital espionage toolkit made public by TheShadowBrokers took advantage of undisclosed vulnerabilities in Microsoft's code. That would have been a potentially damaging development because such tools could swiftly be repurposed to strike across the company's massive customer base.

Those fears appear to have been prompted by experts using even slightly out-of-date versions of Windows in their labs. One of Microsoft's fixes, also called a patch, was only released last month .

"I missed the patch," said British security architect Kevin Beaumont, jokingly adding, "I'm thinking about going to live in the woods now."

  • Computer pioneer Robert W. Taylor dies at 85

Robert W. Taylor, who was instrumental in creating the internet and the modern personal computer, has died. He was 85.

Taylor, who had Parkinson's disease, died Thursday at his home in the San Francisco Peninsula community of Woodside, his son, Kurt Taylor, told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/2oerEuc) and the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/2nNyf2F).

In 1961, Taylor was a project manager for NASA when he directed funding to Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute, who helped develop the modern computer mouse.

Taylor was working for the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1966 when he shepherded the creation of a single computer network to link ARPA-sponsored researchers at companies and institutions around the country.

Taylor was frustrated that he had to use three separate terminals to communicate with the researchers through their computer systems.

ARPANET, as it was known, evolved into the internet. As Taylor predicted, the limited communications tool morphed into a system that supplies people with fingertip access to everything from encyclopedias to investment advice.

A few years later, Taylor went on to work at the Xerox Corp.'s famous Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC, where he was oversaw a team that helped create the Alto, a pioneering personal computer.

  • Facebook targets 30,000 fake France accounts before election

Facebook says it has targeted 30,000 fake accounts linked to France ahead of the country's presidential election, as part of a worldwide effort against misinformation.

The company said Thursday it's trying to "reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts."

It said its efforts "enabled us to take action" against the French accounts and that it is removing sites with the highest traffic.

Facebook and French media are also running fact-checking programs in France to combat misleading information, especially around the campaign for the two-round April 23-May 7 presidential election.

European authorities have also pressured Facebook and Twitter to remove extremist propaganda or other postings that violate European hate speech or other laws.

Facebook ramped up its efforts against the spread of false news and misinformation on its service in December, a month after the U.S. presidential election. The company said at the time that it will focus on the "worst of the worst" offenders and partner with outside fact-checkers and news organizations to sort honest news reports from made-up stories.

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