Your WIRED.co.uk daily briefing. Today, Huawei is suing Samsung over its use of Huawei patents in both China and the USA, Apple is reported to be developing a household digital assistant to rival Amazon's Echo, a new study has found that giving antibiotics to cattle increases their production of greenhouse gases, and more.
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1. Huawei is taking Samsung to court over 4G patents
Chinese tech giant Huawei has announced that it's taking Samsung to court in both China and the USA over the Korean firm's use of 4G patents held by Huawei (Recode). Huawei holds a large number of patents relating to mobile phone technology and cellular infrastructure, for which it recently reached deals with Ericsson and Apple for an undisclosed amount in royalties. Huawei Vice President of Strategic and External Affairs Bill Plummer told Recode that "as the holder of a vast portfolio of patents it is our responsibility to ensure that we are compensated for our innovation and likewise that others are compensated for theirs." Court documents made available in the US have been heavily redacted, making it unclear exactly which patents and even which causes of action are in dispute.
According to sources spoken to by The Information, Apple is developing a competitor to Amazon's Echo: a Siri-powered speaker to act as a personal digital assistant in the home (The Verge). The project is reported to be a long-term goal, to follow a current plan that could see Siri opened up to third-party developers via a new SDK that could be announced as early as this June. Proposed features for the speaker, which is said to have been in development since before Amazon released Echo, include the ability to control hardware and home appliances supported by Apple HomeKit.
Researchers have found that the routine administration of antibiotics to cattle increases the amount of methane produced by their dung, increasing the impact of cattle farming on the greenhouse gas emissions and the environment (BBC). Antibiotics kill off some of the microbes in the gut, and the antibiotic-resistant microbes that survive produce higher levels of methane: the researchers found that cowpats contaminated with antibiotics released 1.8 times more than a normal cowpat. The study illustrates the complex chain of effects that widespread use of veterinary antibiotics can have, although Prof Tim Morris of the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science told the BBC that "antibiotic misuse needs curbing for many reasons, and the findings in this paper are important where the drugs are being misused. However, without undue complacency, these findings should neither distract from more pressing priorities to curb antibiotic use, nor be inappropriately misused on wider questions over agriculture in the UK."
4. El Niño comes to a close amid fears over future weather systems
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology has announced that the warm El Niño Southern Oscillation weather system has drawn to the end of its active period, with Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures finally returning to normal levels (Bloomberg). In recent months, El Niño has contributed to freak weather conditions including months of record average global temperatures and winter-time melt in the Arctic. Meteorologists now anticipate that the cooling La Niña weather system is likely to form between June and August. La Niña, associated with cooler than average sea surface temperatures, frequently follows El Niño and is linked to powerful storms and hurricane activity in the Atlantic and across North America.
A recent wave of Twitter account hacks has seen popular accounts taken over by spambots posting racy images and links to pornographic websites (Motherboard). Security researchers report that over 2,500 accounts have been affected, all with large followings, and including accounts belonging to public figures such as electro-funk duo Chromeo and late New York Times journalist David Carr. Symantec's Satnam Narang told Motherboard that "being able to bust into that account, and use that account to post a tweet will make it more likely that people will click to their links compared to someone who has say, 100 followers or 20 followers." The spam campaign appears to have been successful and the inclusion of a number of old or dormant accounts leads security researchers to believe that the hackers may have been able to access them because the accounts reused passwords exposed in previous data breaches from other companies.
6. Poverty linked to epigenetic changes that increase likelihood of mental illness
A new study by researchers from the USA's Duke University has found that childhood poverty can prompt epigenetic changes that make an individual more prone to mental illness (Nature). In a study of 183 Caucasian children between the ages of 11 and 15 over a period of three years, the researchers found that children who grew up in poverty had different patterns of chemical stressors – methyl groups – that alter DNA structure to regulate how genes are expressed. The resulting changes are thought to affect the amount of serotonin the subjects' brains produced, while children with more methylation were found to have more active amygdalas and those with a family history of depression were more likely to become depressed themselves if more methyl groups were present.
7. Hyperloop capsule interior mock-up is less excitingly futuristic than you might hope
Hyperloop Transport Technologies, one of a number of firms working on the high-speed transportation tube system first proposed by Elon Musk, has released a artist's renditions and a video mock-up showing off how the features and interior of its super-fast capsules could look (The Verge). There's a clear emphasis on space-saving, with an aisle so compact that you'd struggle to carry any kind of bag down it, while claustrophobic commuters will be able to distract themselves with 'windows' that are actually screens capable of showing scenery outside the tunnel or details of your route.
Microsoft is keen to see as many users as possible moved onto its latest Windows 10 platform, but a recent change to the upgrade's default status in the Windows Update patching and update tool has led to accusations of deception on the software giant's part (The Independent). Windows by default installs all Recommended Updates, a category that now includes the free upgrade to Windows 10. However, many users are reporting that this change in status has been confusing, leading to unwanted upgrades. It was previously possible to simply dismiss and ignore the upgrade recommendation with no effect, but now users who don't wish to be moved on to the new operating system must manually change their Windows Update settings to no longer install 'recommended' updates and instead opt to receive only 'important' updates. Microsoft first announced that it would be changing the operating system upgrade's behaviour last year.
Valve Corporation is being sued for over $3 million (£2 million) by a former staffer who says that she was discriminated against and mocked by her supervisor following her surgical transition (Polygon). Having experienced these issues with a hostile work environment, she was then fired after making a complaint to Valve's HR department about unpaid translators who she says are being exploited and lured into working for the company for free on the basis of "false promises made by her supervisor." Valve has denied all allegations and requested that the case be dismissed.
Last night, vehicular football smash hit Rocket League became the first game to allow Xbox One and Windows PC users to play against each other (TechRadar). Promised earlier this year, the feature adds to the game's existing support for cross-play between PC and PS4 gamers. Rocket League developer Psyonix has expressed an interest in allowing Xbox One and PS4 players to compete against each other, too, but that's dependent on support and permission from Sony and Microsoft.
Virtual reality is still a technology caught in that rarefied state where, outside of early adopters and format devotees, many people can't quite believe it exists. Mention you have a VR kit to anyone who's aware enough to know what it is, but not committed enough to drop a couple of grand on a bleeding edge PC and a first-gen consumer headset, and the response is likely to be a cautious, almost whispered: "Is it.... Good?" The answer will depend on who's asking, particularly in the case of HTC Vive. The headset, co-developed by Taiwanese tech firm HTC and gaming magnate Valve, is unrivalled when it comes to showing off what virtual reality can do – especially at room scale, rather than chained to a desk – but it also spotlights how far the technology has to go before mainstream consumers will adopt en masse.
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