The resurrected Blade Runner game is a genuine classic

Blade Runner was the first DVD I ever owned — not the movie, but Westwood Studios’ 1997 PC adventure game. Originally released on four CDs, the ambitious game was also bundled onto a single disc by Packard Bell as a way to demonstrate the powers of what would ultimately be our first family computer with a DVD drive.

I have no idea where that disc is today. Until yesterday, though, it would have been the only legal way I had of playing Blade Runner, a game long thought lost to time due to a combination of missing source code, tangled rights issues, dead studios, and incompatibility with modern hardware.

The new downloadable version, which just got a surprise release on GOG, weighs in at a meager 1.3GB. That’s big enough to need a DVD,…

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Robert De Niro’s Ex-Employee Asks Court to Strike Claims She Binge-Watched ‘Friends’

Graham Chase Robinson, an ex-employee of Robert De Niro who made headlines last summer after the “Raging Bull” star claimed she binge-watched “Friends” episodes on the job, is asking a court to dismiss his lawsuit against her. Robinson later counter-sued De Niro, accusing him of gender discrimination and fostering an abusive working environment. After filing, […]

A Wechat-based “mobile court” presided over by a chatbot has handled 3m legal procedures since March

The Chinese Supreme People’s Court has just released a report on a “mobile court” pilot program that’s been running since March to manage procedures in civil legal disputes through the Wechat social media platform, through which litigants are prompted by an AI chatbot “judge” (with a judicial avatar) to state their cases; the evidence is entered into the blockchain.

The cases are actually adjudicated by a human judge, with the automated system used to manage all the procedures to gather evidence and testimony prior to the judgment.

A separate “cybercourt” program has been running in Hangzhou since 2017 to settle online trade disputes, copyright claims, and product liability claims.

The Chinese Supreme Court touts the system as a means of streamlining justice by automating routine processes, which allows judges to focus on adjudicating cases, ensuring that litigants get their disputes resolved in timely fashion.

The AFP article on the measure is incredibly confusing, calling the chatbot an AI and blending descriptions of several programs; I had to read it three times before I realized that this was primarily a document collection assistant to make it easier for judges to review evidence, and not an “AI” that was rendering judgments. Also, they accept at face value the seemingly entirely superfluous inclusion of blockchain technology, which appears to exist solely for purposes of buzzword-compliance.

The digitization push is partly to help courts keep up with a growing caseload created by mobile payments and e-commerce in China, which has the world’s largest number of mobile internet users at around 850 million.

“(Concluding cases) at a faster speed is a kind of justice, because justice delayed is justice denied,” Hangzhou Internet Court Vice President Ni Defeng said.

Ni added that the use of blockchain technology is particularly useful, helping to streamline and create clearer records of the legal process.

In brave new world of China’s digital courts, judges are AI and verdicts come via chat app [AFP/Japan Times]

(via Interesting People)

The fight over encrypted messaging is just beginning

Jay Sullivan, Product Management Director for Privacy and Integrity in Messenger of Facebook, Inc. testifies during a hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee December 10, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Jay Sullivan, Product Management Director for Privacy and Integrity in Messenger of Facebook, Inc. testifies during a hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee December 10, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  | Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

In October, a group of top elected officials in western democracies wrote to Facebook expressing concern about the company’s plans to incorporate end-to-end encryption in all of its messaging products. US Attorney General Bill Barr, along with his rough equivalents in the United Kingdom and Australia, wrote that encryption would make it difficult or impossible for them to uncover instances where messaging was used to facilitate terrorism, child exploitation, and other crimes. They asked Facebook to reconsider its plans.

Anyway, the company thought about it and the answer is no. Here are WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart and Messenger honcho Stan Chudnovsky (in a PDF! sorry):

Cybersecurity experts have repeatedly proven that when you weaken…

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Mysterious Craters in the Seafloor Were Likely Formed by Garbage, Scientists Say

While surveying the seafloor off the coast of Big Sur, California, a team of scientists has made a bizarre and depressing discovery: thousands of miniature craters, many of which appear to have been formed by human garbage.

These trash craters, more formally known as “micro-depressions,” were spotted during a series of underwater autonomous vehicle (AUV) surveys led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in 2018 and 2019. Eve Lundsten, who presented the findings at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco today, said the discovery was totally unexpected. The team hadn’t sent its AUVs out to study garbage, but rather to elucidate the origins of a cluster of much larger seafloor craters in the same region that comprise North America’s biggest “pockmark field”.

“The trash was a surprise,” Lundsten said in an interview after her presentation. “We were not expecting to see trash.”

Scientists from MBARI caught their first whiff of the pockmark field—a region of the continental shelf featuring craters that are hundreds of feet wide and about 15 feet deep on average—during a 1999 shipboard survey. For more than a decade, the pockmarks remained a mystery. But in recent years, scientists have been redoubling their efforts to understand the features, following a surge of commercial interest in placing a floating offshore wind farm in these waters. In 2017, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration led a comprehensive mapping survey of the seafloor off Big Sur. Combining NOAA’s results with the earlier MBARI work, scientists now know there are around 5,200 pockmarks scattered across a 500 square-mile swath of seafloor.

In 2018, MBARI began a series of underwater robotic surveys in order to study the pockmarks in more detail. During the survey they came across a family of much smaller micro-depressions that are “completely unique,” according to Lundsten. These mini craters, which are about 35 feet wide and three feet deep on average, were roughly three times more abundant than their bigger crater cousins. Lundsten and her colleagues estimate there are about 15,000 of micro-depressions scattered across the pockmark field.

Even after all this recent survey work, the origins of the larger craters remain unknown, although through sub-seafloor mapping and radiocarbon dating, Lundsten and her colleagues can now say that some of them likely have been around for 400,000 years.

By contrast, the researchers are pretty sure the much younger micro-depressions are being excavated by debris, including garbage.

Nearly all of the small craters contained objects, including rocks, bits of kelp, and a whale skull. A “significant” portion of the craters, Lundsten said, also contained some form of trash, including buckets, fishing gear, and loads of plastic debris. One crater even held what looked like an entire bag of trash in the process of decomposing.

“Any object sitting on the seafloor is probably going to alter local currents and increase erosion,” Lundsten said, noting that this part of the seafloor is covered in very fine, fluffy mud that’s easily disturbed by a rogue trash bag.

It’s unclear whether these seafloor trash bins are unique to the California coast or if they can be found in other parts of the world, although given the ubiquity of plastic pollution in the oceans, it wouldn’t be shocking to find similar features elsewhere. The long-term ecological impact of the features is also unknown. But Lundsten said that for now, fish and invertebrates seem to be congregating around them and using the trash as habitat, as animals often do with human debris or infrastructure.

Whether California’s trash craters will persist over the long-term is also unclear. But if some record of them does wind up lasting through the ages in seafloor sediments, it’s possible they could become another shred of evidence in favor of the idea that we’re now living in a human-driven geological epoch called the Anthropocene.

Lundsten and her colleagues are still in the process of going through their data, which hasn’t yet been published, and they may still find answers to some of their lingering questions. For now, all we can be sure of is that if an offshore wind farm were built in these waters, it wouldn’t be the first sign humans have been here.

Classic 2D games reimagined in pseudo-3D

Enjoy this compilation of 1990s-era sprite games extruded into lowpoly 2½D extravaganzas. These are works of static art, but I’m sure I’ve seen this done “live” in-game recently, in an automated, playable way. (Note that there are a number of 2½D Super Marios already–these replicas are hand-made, like this video).