Posted May. 1, 2017 at 6:18 a.m.

Tech wrap: Robots v invasive species; Facebook v propaganda; Netflix hack Google CEO's $200M pay

Published: 2017-05-01 06:18:00
Updated: 2017-05-01 06:18:00

Bulldog Bulldog

In today's Bulldog wrapup of tech and science news:

  • Robots, high-tech tools join battle against invasive species
  • Facebook gearing up to fight political propaganda
  • Hacker releases stolen copies of Netflix series
  • Alphabet paid Google CEO Sundar Pichai $200M in 2016

The details:

  • Robots, high-tech tools join battle against invasive species

A robot zaps and vacuums up venomous lionfish in Bermuda. A helicopter pelts Guam's trees with poison-baited dead mice to fight the voracious brown tree snake. A special boat with giant winglike nets stuns and catches Asian carp in the U.S. Midwest.

In the fight against alien animals that invade and overrun native species, the weird and wired wins.

"Critters are smart — they survive," said biologist Rob "Goose" Gosnell, head of U.S. Department of Agriculture's wildlife services in Guam, where brown tree snakes have gobbled up nearly all the native birds. "Trying to outsmart them is hard to do."

Invasive species are plants and animals that thrive in areas where they don't naturally live, usually brought there by humans, either accidentally or intentionally. Sometimes, with no natural predators, they multiply and take over, crowding out and at times killing native species.

Now, new technology is being combined with the old methods — weed pulling, trapping and pesticides. Finding new weapons is crucial because invasive species are costly — $314 billion per year in damages in just the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, India and Brazil. It's also one of the leading causes of extinction on islands, such as Guam, according to Piero Genovesi, an Italian scientist who chairs the invasive species task force for an international organization .

"We have totally new tools that were just unthinkable a few years ago," Genovesi said.

Case in point: There are companies that now market traps for wild pigs that are triggered by cellphones.

  • Facebook gearing up to fight political propaganda

Facebook is acknowledging that governments or other malicious non-state actors are using its social network to influence political sentiment in ways that could affect national elections.

It's a long way from CEO Mark Zuckerberg's assertion back in November that it was "pretty crazy" to think that false news on Facebook influenced the U.S. presidential election. It's also a major sign that the world's biggest social network is continuing to grapple with its outsized role in how the world communicates, for better or for worse.

In a paper posted online on Thursday, Facebook security researchers and its chief security officer said the company will monitor the efforts of those who try to hurt "civic discourse" on its service, whether that's governments or other groups. It is also looking to identify fake accounts, and says it will notify people if their accounts have been targeted by such cyberattackers.

"(We) have had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people," the report states. It was written by researchers Jen Weedon and William Nuland and Facebook exec Alex Stamos and titled "Information Operations and Facebook."

  • Hacker releases stolen copies of Netflix series

A hacker claims to have followed through on a threat to release several episodes from the upcoming season of Netflix's hit series "Orange Is The New Black."

The hacker, which goes by the name The Dark Overlord, announced the move on Twitter early Saturday. The post included a link to an illegal file-sharing service where purportedly 10 episodes from the series' upcoming fifth season were available for download.

The Associated Press could not legally confirm the authenticity of the uploaded files.

New episodes of "Orange" are scheduled for official release on June 9.

Netflix did not immediately return a call seeking comment Saturday.

The hacker had been demanding that the video streaming service pay an unspecified ransom in exchange for not releasing the episodes prematurely online.

  • Alphabet paid Google CEO Sundar Pichai $200M in 2016

Google CEO Sundar Pichai (soon-DAHR pee-CHAY) received a $200 million compensation package last year for running the internet company that makes nearly all the money for Alphabet Inc.

Most of the pay consisted of Alphabet stock that the company valued at $198.7 million in securities documents filed Friday. Alphabet gave the award to Pichai in January 2016, a few months after he succeeded Larry Page as Google's CEO. Pichai still reports to Page, a Google co-founder who is now Alphabet's CEO.

Page limits his annual pay to $1 because he already has an estimated fortune of $41 billion.

The stock that Pichai received will vest in quarterly increments through January 2020.

The 44-year-old Pichai also received a $650,000 salary last year in addition to personal security services and air travel valued at $372,000.

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