TL;DR: FOSDEM 2024 highlights key Linux and open-source developments, with notable talks from Jozef Mlích and Linaro. AI innovations from Stability AI and Phind-70B lead in text-to-image and code generation. Cybersecurity insights expose China's espionage and new threats, while Signal and the University of Waterloo make strides in privacy. Fujifilm introduces the X100VI camera, Vice Media shuts down, London's BT Tower turns into a hotel, and the UK's Trident missile test falters, spotlighting a week of tech progress and challenges.


Jozef Mlích: Exploring Tech Horizons : Jozef Mlích reflects on his enriching experience at FOSDEM 2024, marking his debut as a speaker with a focus on the PineTime smartwatch, emphasising its potential from a developer’s viewpoint. The event also spotlighted Linux on mobile devices, showcasing a collaborative open-source ecosystem. Additionally, Mlích’s engagements hint at forthcoming developments in InfiniTime and Amazfish, alongside his passion projects NemoMobile and AsteroidOS, promising exciting advancements in mobile Linux projects.

Linaro’s Record-Breaking Showcase : Linaro made a significant impact at FOSDEM 2024 with eight talks, covering advancements in U-Boot for Qualcomm phones, open-source MIPI camera stacks, mainline Linux support for Qualcomm SoCs, and innovations in remote attestation. The discussions highlighted Linaro’s contributions to open-source development, showcasing efforts in enhancing Linux kernel support, developing camera solutions, and improving secure computing. This event underscored Linaro’s dedication to collaboration and innovation within the tech community.

Artificial Intelligence

Stable Diffusion 3 Unveiled: A Leap Forward in Text-to-Image AI Technology : Stability AI announces an early preview of Stable Diffusion 3, their most advanced text-to-image model yet, featuring enhancements in handling multi-subject prompts, image quality, and text spelling. The model, ranging from 800M to 8B parameters, is designed to provide scalable, high-quality options for various creative needs, emphasising democratised access. A forthcoming technical report will detail its diffusion transformer architecture and flow matching techniques. Commitment to safe and responsible AI is highlighted, with numerous safeguards introduced in preparation for the early preview. Stability AI continues to work towards making generative AI open, safe, and universally accessible, encouraging potential users to explore other commercial options before the public release of Stable Diffusion 3.

Phind-70B Unveiled: Surpassing GPT-4 Turbo with Speed and Precision : Phind-70B introduces a leap in code generation, boasting faster performance and higher accuracy than GPT-4 Turbo. With an 82.3% HumanEval score, it outperforms GPT-4 Turbo’s 81.1%, offering detailed code examples with less hesitation. Optimised on NVIDIA H100 GPUs for over 80 tokens per second, it promises an unmatched developer experience. Phind commits to open-source with plans to release Phind-34B model weights, emphasising community support and collaboration.

Revolutionising Code Quality: Meta’s AI-driven TestGen-LLM : Meta introduces TestGen-LLM, an innovative tool leveraging large language models to enhance unit testing. Deployed during Meta’s test-a-thons for Instagram and Facebook, it successfully improved test cases with a 73% acceptance rate for production deployment. This marks a pioneering step in using AI to boost software engineering practices at an industrial scale, promising significant advancements in code quality and reliability.


Unmasking I-Soon: A Glimpse Into China’s Cyber Espionage : A leak from I-Soon, a contractor for Chinese security agencies, has provided unprecedented insight into China’s cyber operations. The data reveals the competitive hacker-for-hire ecosystem driven by government needs, detailing how I-Soon compromised various international targets including governments and pro-democracy groups. This exposure, facilitated by machine translation, broadens the threat intelligence community’s understanding of China’s sophisticated cyber espionage tactics and emphasises the need for improved defensive strategies against these complex threats.

Eavesdropping on Fingerprints: The PrintListener Attack : Researchers have developed “PrintListener,” a method that hacks fingerprint systems by analysing the sound of screen swipes. This novel attack significantly improves success rates of unauthorised access by creating PatternMasterPrints from audio captures, posing a new threat to biometric security. The findings underscore vulnerabilities in fingerprint authentication, emphasising the need for enhanced security measures against such side-channel attacks.


Signal Enhances Privacy: Introduces Usernames to Mask Phone Numbers : Signal announces a significant privacy update allowing users to keep their phone numbers private. The new feature enables creating unique usernames for contact without revealing phone numbers. Additionally, users can control who finds them by phone number, enhancing privacy. These updates, currently in beta, will soon be available to all, requiring the latest app version for full functionality. Signal continues to prioritise user privacy without compromising on connectivity.

Privacy Alarm at University of Waterloo Over Facial Recognition Vending Machines : The University of Waterloo plans to remove smart vending machines after students voiced concerns over privacy, triggered by an error message indicating facial recognition technology usage. The issue came to light through student journalism, prompting actions to cover suspected camera openings on the machines. The vending service provider and manufacturers, Adaria Vending Services and MARS/Invenda respectively, have responded, highlighting operational details and privacy compliance claims of the technology involved.


Fujifilm X100VI: A New Era of Rangefinder Cameras : Fujifilm’s latest, the X100VI, builds on its TikTok-famous predecessor with a 40MP sensor, in-body image stabilisation, and enhanced autofocus, priced at $1,599. Despite using the same battery and SD card slot, its performance and film simulations make it a compelling choice for photography enthusiasts. Available in silver or black, it promises improved production rates with its shift to manufacturing in China, aiming to avoid the supply issues that plagued the X100V.

Everything Else

The Dawn of the Fifth Epoch in Distributed Computing: Amin Vahdat, Google Fellow, outlines the evolution and future of distributed computing in a keynote, identifying the transition to a fifth epoch. This new phase emphasises data-centric, declarative, and outcome-oriented computing, tackling cross-stack challenges to democratise access to knowledge. It requires overcoming limitations without Moore’s Law and Dennard scaling, focusing on declarative programming, hardware segmentation, software-defined infrastructure, secure computation, sustainability, and algorithmic innovation for a 1000x efficiency gain.

Vice Media’s Dramatic Downfall : Vice Media, once a symbol of digital media success valued at over $5 billion, has announced it will cease operations at and lay off hundreds. The company, which filed for bankruptcy last year and was sold for $350 million, is transitioning to a studio model, seeking partnerships with established media for content distribution. This shift marks the end of Vice’s independent news operation, a significant turn from its peak, amidst efforts to sell other assets like Refinery29.

London’s BT Tower to Transform into a Luxury Hotel : The iconic BT Tower, a staple of London’s skyline since 1965, is set for a transformative makeover into a hotel. Sold to MCR Hotels for £275 million, the tower will see its network operations relocated as part of BT Group’s strategy to modernise its services. This landmark deal, involving collaboration with Heatherwick Studio for the redesign, marks a significant shift in the tower’s utility, promising to preserve its historical significance while introducing a new era of public accessibility and architectural innovation.

Trident Missile Test Fails Again, Sparking Concerns Over UK’s Nuclear Deterrent : The UK faced another setback as a Trident missile test from HMS Vanguard failed, marking the second consecutive failure of its kind. Defence Secretary Grant Shapps witnessed the malfunction, where the missile’s booster rockets failed, causing it to land in the sea near the launch site. Despite this, Shapps expressed “absolute confidence” in Trident’s reliability. The incident has prompted calls for reassurance over the nuclear deterrent’s effectiveness from political figures and criticism from disarmament groups. The Ministry of Defence asserts that HMS Vanguard and its crew remain fully capable, emphasising Trident as the “most reliable weapons system in the world.”

Thank you for joining me in this week’s exploration of the tech universe. Amidst the endless stream of information, I strive to bring you news that is not only relevant but also thought-provoking. Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome. Don’t forget to spread the word about the Friday Tech Focus Newsletter and stay tuned for more curated insights next week!