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Will COVID-19 break the internet?

(TECH NEWS) Internet usage is obviously up right now, but what can that do to the infrastructure? Tech companies say it’s the websites and local networks that are slow.

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With more people staying at home, working from home and doing school from home, the internet is being taxed. You might have noticed your own service running slower or low-quality video streaming. Do we have to worry about the internet crashing? The quick answer is – “It depends.”

Yes, Americans are stressing the internet

The internet is actually pretty resilient when it comes to bandwidth. The network cables that connect people to the internet are built to handle spikes in use. When you stream video, it’s designed to adjust to your connection for the best quality. Even though Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime are reducing the download speeds in the Europe market, there is no reason to suspect that the internet is going to shut down during this crisis.

That being said, Tech Crunch reports that download speeds in the United States are being affected in some markets. New York City, one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 virus had download speeds drop by about 24%. Austin saw a drop of 44%.

Rural markets are struggling. It’s hard to imagine that there are still some places in the United States that don’t have internet access. Other places may get internet, but the service can be unreliable on a good day. With the added stress of people staying home, service can be even spottier.

Traffic might be up on the internet, but the system was built to scale up. Think about how much more data is available today over two decades ago. And consider how many more users there are from even 10 years ago. More Americans are streaming movies and TV shows than ever before.

It’s local networks and websites that may see a problem

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said,
We’re trying to make sure that we can stay in front of this challenge. Right now, this isn’t a massive outbreak in every country around the world, but if it gets there, then we really need to make sure we’re on top of this from an infrastructure perspective and make sure that we can continue to provide the level of service that people need in a time like this.”

Google, Amazon and Facebook have been built for spikes in usage, but even Amazon’s website had a problem in 2018 on Prime Day when their servers couldn’t handle the number of shoppers. Big companies have the infrastructure in place to deal with the kinks of added traffic. There could be some issues that come up, but it’s unlikely to shut down things for too long.

It’s more likely that users will see issues in local websites that aren’t designed for the added traffic. Home networks will be stressed with multiple people trying to manage work and school at the same time. If you’re experiencing problems, check how many devices are trying to access the system within your own home. Go with SD streaming instead of HD.

The Internet was built to withstand a nuclear bomb

One BuzzFeed article believes that the likelihood of the internet breaking down is low. There may be challenges in some areas, especially as more providers lift data caps for its users. But most companies are aware of the problem and are trying to ramp up services to meet demands during this crisis.

Dawn Brotherton is a Staff Writer at The American Genius, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. Before earning her degree, she spent over 20 years homeschooling her two daughters, who are now out changing the world. She lives in Oklahoma and loves to golf. She hopes to publish a novel in the future.

Tech News

The paradox of CAPTCHAs: Too smart for humans vs AI?

(TECH NEWS) AI is catching up to our cybersecurity technology and often tricking humans too — so what’s next for CAPTCHAs and the internet?

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Person using phone with laptop to verify CAPTCHAs and code.

We’ve all encountered it before: The occasional robot test that feels impossible to beat. If you’ve felt like these tests, also known as CAPTCHAs, have gotten harder in the last couple of years, you aren’t wrong—and the reason is as ironic as it is baffling.

Simply put, AI are just as good as—and often better than—humans at completing CAPTCHAs in their classic format. As machine learning and AI become more advanced, the fundamental human attributes that make consistent CAPTCHA formats possible become less impactful, raising the question of how to determine the difference between AI and humans in the future.

The biggest barrier to universal CAPTCHA doctrine is purely cultural. Humans may share experiences across the board, but such experiences are typically basic enough to fall victim to the same machine learning which has rendered lower-level CAPTCHAs moot. Adding a cultural component to CAPTCHAs could prevent AI from bypassing them, but it also might prevent some humans from understanding the objective.

Therein lies the root of the CAPTCHA paradox. Humans are far more diverse than any one test can possibly account for, and what they do have in common is also shared by—you guessed it—AI. To create a truly AI-proof test would be to alienate a notable portion of human users by virtue of lived experience. The irony is palpable, but one can only imagine the sheer frustration developers are going through in attempting to address this problem.

But all isn’t lost. While litmus tests such as determining the number of traffic cones in a plaza or checking off squares with bicycles (but not unicycles, you fool) may be beatable by machines, some experts posit that “human entropy” is almost impossible to mimic—and, thus, a viable solution to the CAPTCHA paradox.

“A real human being doesn’t have very good control over their own motor functions, and so they can’t move the mouse the same way more than once over multiple interactions,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, a former click fraud expert from Google. While AI could attempt to feign this same level of “entropy”, the odds of a successful attempt appear low.

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Move over, Clubhouse: Slack adds their own audio chat rooms

(TECH NEWS) Slack planning to co-opt Clubhouse’s synchronous audio rooms has lead to mixed response. Did it really need to be done?

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Woman in green cardigan and headphones listening to audio chat room on mobile, where Slack becomes a competitor.

Slack is adding a synchronous audio chat room feature similar to what Clubhouse already has. While not everyone is happy about it, the addition is true to Slack’s ongoing form—if a little redundant.

Slack’s audio rooms would work similarly to Clubhouse’s current feature of the same persuasion. The rooms themselves would be ongoing for as long as they were open, and users would be able to drop in and out of calls at their leisure, even joining the conversation when permitted by the host or settings. In theory, it’s a cool way to round out Slack’s platform and make for yet another way for people to engage during the work day.

But not everyone is stoked about the addition. Pocketnow’s Nadeem Sarwar makes a strong point about the redundancy of adding a Clubhouse feature to the already-packed Slack deck: “…from a regular remote worker’s perspective, I’d rather use services such as Telegram, Discord, or Google Meet that we’ve grown accustomed to using for jumping into a group call with my teammates.”
“…[T]he need for audio chatrooms to get in a chaotic chat with colleagues, with whom you already chat over work and share memes five days a week, doesn’t make much sense,” he adds.

Sarwar also references research about remote meeting fatigue from Stanford and The Washington Post, positing that—since video conferences are already played out at this point—adding another quasi-conference option to Slack doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

He isn’t wrong. There are multitudinous conference options on the market now, many of which are free. One could argue that Slack, having marketed itself as a text-first communication hub, has no business entering the audio chat landscape.

That argument falls on its face when you consider Slack’s model—something both Sawar and the Slack CEO himself mention—involves “stealing” and implementing “good ideas” from others in order to make their own platform as comprehensive as possible. If one is able to use Slack for the majority of tasks that Google, Discord, and Clubhouse offer, that makes the platform a lot more attractive to users who are on the fence.

And, perhaps more importantly, it ensures that current users won’t migrate to a comparable platform in the future—especially if their colleagues are making the same choice.

It’s a smart move for Slack, especially given Clubhouse’s lack of Android support at this time—something Clubhouse has said probably still won’t launch for a couple of months.

The Clubhouse team, for their part, continues to add new features in efforts to maintain the platform’s upward mobility. One such feature is the option for paid subscriptions to content creators, allowing for people to monetize their presence on the platform. At the time of this writing, Clubhouse is valued at around $1 billion.

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Tech News

An industry first: IBM launches quantum developer certification program

(TECH NEWS) Developers with quantum computing skills can now prove they’ve mastered the subject with IBM’s first-ever Quantum Developer Certification.

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Quantum developer looking out of the window with a three monitor setup open to various coding programs.

Last week, IBM announced its first-ever developer certification for programming quantum computers, which is also the quantum industry’s first.

“Our team is extremely proud to be able to offer the first-ever quantum developer certification,” a company blog post read. “We hope its availability will provide a valuable learning path for developers and stakeholders looking to prepare themselves for quantum computing in the future.”

The IBM Quantum Developer Certification focuses on IBM’s software tools, specifically Qiskit, their open-source software development kit for quantum computing. Launched in 2017, Qiskit already has over 600,000 installs. And, it’s being used by developers to develop apps, improve code, and participate in hackathons and summer schools.

While the Quantum Developer Certification is the only quantum certification IBM offers now, it won’t be the last. IBM says it is “the first of several in a series of certifications.” This is part of the company’s quantum development roadmap to build a “diverse, global, cloud-based ecosystem of developers who can bring quantum computing skills to their own communities and industries.”

Offered through the Pearson VUE platform, the Quantum Developer Certification exam is 60 questions long. The exam will test a developer’s competency in the fundamentals of quantum computing concepts. Also, it will examine if a person can use Qiskit SDK from the Python programming language to “create and execute quantum computing programs on IBM quantum computers and simulators.”

This certification is exciting for the quantum community because it will officially demonstrate a person’s mastery of quantum computing. And, for the most part, I think most of us can agree that certifying your skills looks good on resumes, and it shows employers you’re serious about your career. However, getting one can be costly. Currently, IBM doesn’t have any scholarships in place, but they say they are working on rolling one out to those who are interested in getting certified.

Along with the certification, IBM is also supporting educators to prepare the future quantum workforce. They are giving educators access to IBM Quantum tools through their Quantum Educators Program and semester-long quantum computing course, Introduction to Quantum Computing and Quantum Hardware, and its free Qiskit digital textbook.

According to a report, quantum computing is predicted to become a $65 billion industry by 2030, and IBM wants to help companies “get their workforce quantum ready” for when it does.

“With our IBM Quantum Developer Certification, IBM Quantum is offering a path for people with all development backgrounds to earn a certification in programming with Qiskit, allowing them to leverage their quantum coding skills into a potential opportunity in this exciting new workforce,” the company blog post read.

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