Davos: Smart machines set to transform society

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Artificial intelligence will spur economic growth and create new wealth. Machines that “think” like humans will help solve huge problems, from curing cancer to climate change. Yet millions of human workers will need to retrain, as robots make their existing jobs redundant.

These are the contrasting messages provided by the world’s leading technologists during the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, as political and business leaders ponder how best to respond to the rise of smart machines.

Sebastian Thrun, the inventor of Google’s self-driving cars and an honorary professor at Delft University of Technology, told the Financial Times that “almost every established industry is not moving fast enough” to adapt their businesses to this change.

He suggested self-driving cars would make millions of taxi drivers redundant and planes running solely on autopilot would remove the need for thousands of human pilots.

One of the central themes of this year’s conference is the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” referring to how technological breakthroughs are expected to transform industries across the world. Delegates argued that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will have the transformative effect that steam power, electricity and ubiquitous computing achieved in previous centuries.

“[Artificially-intelligent machines] can look at a brainscan better than most radiologists, but they can also weld better than any human,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, the institution which has a partnership with Uber to build driverless cars. “It’s affecting white-collar and blue-collar jobs. Nobody is inherently safe.”

But Mr Thrun was optimistic that redundant roles will quickly be replaced.

“With the advent of new technologies, we’ve always created new jobs,” he said. “I don’t know what these jobs will be, but I’m confident we will find them”

Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, said: “This challenge of displacement is a real one, [but] I feel the right emphasis is on skills, rather than worrying too much about the jobs [which] will be lost. We will have to spend the money to educate our people, not just children but also people mid-career so they can find new jobs.”

ChakraCore GitHub repository is now open

In a December 2015 talk at JSConf US, we announced that we would be open-sourcing the key components of the Chakra JavaScript engine that powers Microsoft Edge. Today, we are excited to share with you that we’ve just made the sources for ChakraCore available under the MIT License at the ChakraCore GitHub repository. Going forward, we’ll be developing the key components of Chakra in the open.

The ChakraCore repository provides a fully supported and open-source standalone JavaScript engine, with the same characteristics as the Microsoft Edge’s Chakra engine, to embed in projects, innovate on top of and contribute back to. We will be accepting community contributions and input to ChakraCore. Once the changes from any pull request have been vetted, our goal is to ensure that all changes find their way to be shipped as a part of the JavaScript engine powering Microsoft Edge and the Universal Windows Platform on Windows 10.

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We are also publishing a roadmap for ChakraCore on our GitHub repository. With today’s release, you can build ChakraCore on Windows 7 SP1 or above with Visual Studio 2013 or 2015 with C++ support installed. In the future, we are committed to bringing it to other platforms, starting with Linux, and will keep the roadmap updated with details and status updates as we make progress. As a first step towards this goal, we have cleanly separated out Chakra’s JIT compiler, producing a build configuration that builds just the interpreter and runtime. This smaller build target is what we will initially enable cross platform porting. We also invite developers to help us in the pursuit either by letting us know which other platforms they’d like to see ChakraCore supported on, or even by helping port it to the platform of their choice.

In addition to cross platform support, some of the other  milestones on our roadmap include submitting a pull request to Node.js mainline to enable it to run with ChakraCore, continuing to make progress on JavaScript language innovation and standards, and improving the diagnostics support for ChakraCore. This includes advancing support for ECMAScript 2015 (aka ES6) and future ECMAScript proposals and making progress on Time Travel Debugging, which enables travelling back in time and across callbacks when debugging your app’s JavaScript code.

We look forward to seeing contributions from developers across the world and are eager to see what apps and solutions are built with this technology. Of course, we’d love to know where and how you use it, so keep sending us your feedback! You can reach us on Twitter at @ChakraCore or visit ChakraCore’s GitHub repo and leave us a note by opening an issue.

It’s an exciting day for the JavaScript community and everyone who’s been involved in this effort so far. We believe that developing in the open will allow the team to collaborate even more deeply with more developers around the world, resulting in better products for everyone.

Microsoft cuts off Windows 8's security updates on January 12

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Windows 8 is about to get a lot less secure.

After January 12, Microsoft will stop offering security patches for the three-year-old operating system. Users will have to upgrade to either Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 to keep receiving updates.

As Ed Bott notes Windows 8 is an exception to Microsoft’s typical support lifecycle policy, which provides 10 years of security fixes after the initial launch date. That’s because Microsoft considers Windows 8.1—a meaty update released nearly one year after Windows 8—to be a service pack, rather than an entirely new OS. Microsoft only guarantees two years of security patches for users who don’t update to the latest service pack.

Granted, Windows 8.1 is a major improvement over Windows 8, sanding down many of the initial release’s rough edges. It feels more substantial than a service pack, but shouldn’t introduce any major compatibility issues coming from Windows 8, so it’s hard to think of any good reasons for end users not to upgrade. (There’s also the option of upgrading to Windows 10 for free, at least until this fall.)

Still, metrics firms NetMarketShare and StatCounter both show that Windows 8 accounts for nearly 3 percent of desktop Internet usage. At least that’s not as high as Windows XP, which stopped getting security updates in April 2014 and still accounts for around a tenth of desktop Internet usage.

The impact on you at home: The end of Windows 8 support is most likely to affect enterprises who’ve delayed upgrading, and end users who’ve had problems installing Windows 8.1. If you’ve put off the upgrade for whatever reason, now’s the time to back up your files and make the jump.

Support Ending for the .NET Framework 4.0, 4.5 and 4.5.1 on Tuesday

In less than a week Microsoft will formally end support for versions 4.0, 4.5, and 4.5.1 of the .NET Framework. Users should upgrade to a later version such as the slightly incompatible .NET 4.5.2.

Before we move on, it should be noted that this only affects the 4.x series. The much older .NET 3.5 SP 1 will continue to be supported. In this context, support means having access to technical support, security updates, and hotfixes.

Compatibility

When upgrading to .NET 4.5.2, ASP.NET developers may see a compatibility issue. Though considered a security risk, developers previously had the ability to disable the view state message authentication code by setting enableViewStateMac to false at the application or page level. This is no longer permitted.

If you recompile your application for .NET 4.5.2 and use the DataObject.GetData to read from the clipboard, you could also run into problems.

For apps that target the .NET Framework 4 or that run on the .NET Framework 4.5.1 or earlier versions, DataObject.GetData retrieves HTML-formatted data as an ASCII string. As a result, non-ASCII characters (characters whose ASCII codes are greater than 0x7F) are represented by two random characters. For example, é (0xE9) is represented by é (0xC3 0xA9).

For apps that target the .NET Framework 4.5 or later and run on the .NET Framework 4.5.2, DataObject.GetData retrieves HTML-formatted data as UTF-8, which represents characters greater than 0x7F correctly.

If you choose to migrate to .NET 4.6, the breaking changes are more significant. See the Application Compatibility in the .NET Framework 4.6 guide for details.

Azure

If you have automatic updates turned on, your Windows Azure Guest OS will be upgraded to .NET 4.5.2 in January.

Microsoft is pulling the plug on Internet Explorer 8, 9, and 10 next Tuesday

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Microsoft is ending support for Internet Explorer 8, 9, and 10 next week on January 12th, releasing a final patch encouraging users to upgrade to one of the company's more recent browsers. The end of support means that these older versions of Internet Explorer will no longer receive security updates or technical support, making anyone who uses them much more vulnerable to hackers. A recently-announced patch will deliver the last few bug fixes, as well as an "End of Life" notification telling users to upgrade to IE 11 or Microsoft Edge — the company's successor to Internet Explorer, built for Windows 10.

This move has a been a long time coming, with Microsoft announcing the end of support for IE 8, 9, and 10 back in August 2014. And in March last year, the company relegated IE to "legacy" status, meaning that the browser will be kept around mostly for the sake of enterprise compatibility. Despite this, though, there are still thought to be several hundred million users using soon-to-be-obsolete versions of Internet Explorer. Those users are about to become a security risk, so Microsoft must be hoping that its "End of Life" warning encourages at least few million to upgrade. Then again, they might just switch to another browser altogether.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explains why it doesn't matter if only a handful of people have a Windows phone

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has explained in an interview with BuzzFeed why the company is not concerned about the market share of its mobile operating system, which is about 1.7% globally.

He said the company would be doing a "disservice" to itself by measuring its success solely by market share. "If you think of this more like a graph," he said of how people use products, "these [devices] are all nodes. Sometimes the user will use all of these devices … sometimes they'll use only one or two of our devices and some other platforms — so be it."

For Nadella, this is an important point: The company can work on Windows phones even if no one uses them because people use Windows 10 or Xbox or Office — and they're all one and the same.

"We want to make sure that we are completing the experience across all of these devices," he said.

Read the full interview with BuzzFeed.

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