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TL;DR: This week's tech news spotlighted the IEEE's removal of the "Lenna" image from tech papers, advancing gender equality in the tech industry. A look at Aurora, a robot designed to maintain airport safety in Alaska, and the Invisibility Shield 2.0 garnering Kickstarter support. In software development, we discuss the hidden costs of open-source software; and a comprehensive study on the impact of exercise and sleep quality on mental health. Cybersecurity stories focus on AT&T's major data breach and the insidious XZ Open Source Attack. Also covered are a new AI tool called Upscayl and excitement in the entertainment world with Apple TV+'s captivating new series "Silo" and anticipated sequels, including The Matrix and Dune. Finally, Google settles a lawsuit promising to delete browsing data from Chrome's Incognito mode.

Artificial Intelligence

Revamping Audio Experience: Stable Audio 2.0 Unveiled (~3 min.) : Stable Audio has launched its 2.0 version, introducing enhanced features like high-quality, full track generation up to three minutes long, and audio-to-audio capabilities. The model enables users to upload audio samples and transform these via natural language prompts into versatile sounds. This update expands on sound effect generation and style transfer, offering more creative control to musicians and artists. Building on the successes of its predecessor, Stable Audio 1.0 – a TIME’s Best Invention of 2023 awardee, the 2.0 version enhances the artistic toolkit with text-to-audio and audio-to-audio prompting capabilities.


Google’s Incognito Mirage: Settlement Requires Data Destruction and Policy Updates (~3 min.) : Google has reached a settlement in a lawsuit over Chrome’s misleading Incognito mode tracking. As part of the deal, Google will delete “billions of data points” which were improperly collected, and redefine its data gathering disclosures. The tech giant has also obliged to maintain a setting blocking Chrome’s third-party cookies by default for the next five years. The settlement outcome stresses the importance of transparency and honesty in tech companies, especially pertaining to privacy features.


Decoding the XZ Open Source Attack Timeline (~13 min.) : A carefully planned attack on the widely-used xz compression library is traced back to 2021 in a recently released timeline. A skilled attacker known as “Jia Tan” infiltrated the project, was awarded commit access and maintainer role, and discreetly integrated a backdoor into a part of xz, liblzma. This segment of software is a dependency for numerous Linux variants. Publicly disclosed on March 29, 2024, this security breach is a landmark in the annals of open-source software supply chain attacks.

AT&T’s Alarming Data Breach: 70 Million Users Affected (~3 min.) : In an unsettling revelation, AT&T has confirmed a significant data breach where details for 70 million customers were leaked on a hacker forum. The compromised data includes phone numbers, social security numbers, and billing addresses. This alarming incident underscores the persistent issue of cybersecurity in the contemporary digital world.

Evaluating AI Models in Cybersecurity: A Delicate Balance (~1 min.) : Generative artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models (LLMs) have transformed various sectors, including cybersecurity. However, critics argue for careful application of LLMs in cybersecurity due to significant implications and intricate specificities. Reliable evaluation of AI capabilities and associated risks require balanced focus on factual knowledge and practical tasks. For accurate assessments, experts recommend scoping tasks appropriately, basing tasks on real-world phenomena, minimising spurious results, and preventing misinterpretation of results.


Supercharge Your Images with Upscayl : Technology enthusiasts, meet Upscayl, the free and open-source AI image upscaler that allows you to enlarge and enhance low-resolution images without losing quality. Leveraging advanced AI algorithms, it magnifies images with a precision that mirrors magic! Linux users are in luck as they receive pre-release builds earlier, but Upscayl holds benefits for all as it’s available on all major desktop operating systems. Bear in mind though, a Vulkan compatible GPU is necessary to upscale images.


“Silo” Unleashes New Wave of Sci-Fi Greatness on Apple TV+ (~5 min.) : Apple TV+ rises to new heights with its latest sci-fi spectacle, “Silo”. Based on the acclaimed Wool series by Hugh Howey, Silo impresses viewers with its sophisticated storytelling reminiscent of literature rather than conventional streaming dramas. The plot centres around a massive underground bunker, the Silo, inhabited by over 10,000 individuals, unsure of how and why they are there. With an array of intriguing characters and audacious plots, the series sets an electrifying pace, keeping viewers on their toes, yet always keen to turn the next corner. It offers a thought-provoking analysis of contemporary societal issues, adding additional depth to its already rich narrative texture.

The Matrix Back in Action: All New Sequel in Sight (~1 min.) : Warner Bros. Discovery has commissioned Drew Goddard, known for penning The Martian, to write and direct a fresh take on a Matrix sequel, says a report from Deadline. The new film, still untitled with no disclosed premiere date, will be overseen by Lana Wachowski. No information regarding the return of the original franchise stars has been released yet. Goddard expressed his profound admiration for The Matrix, stating that the movies “changed both cinema and my life”.

“Dune 3” in Conceptual Phase with Denis Villeneuve at the Helm (~1 min.) : Following the success of “Dune: Part Two”, director Denis Villeneuve has been approached by Legendary to helm a third instalment in the franchise. While there’s no timeline for production yet, the studio expects “Dune 3” to precede Villeneuve’s adaptation of Annie Jacobsen’s Pulitzer-nominated book, “Nuclear War: A Scenario”. Given Villeneuve’s previous groundbreaking films, it’s certain his forthcoming projects will stir cinephiles worldwide.


Taking Digital Interaction up a Notch: Apple’s Vision Pro Spatial Personas (~5 min.) : Apple’s Vision Pro now offers users a spatial Persona setup, enhancing the interactive experience to simulate real-room communication. The spatial Persona feature includes a translucent background with elements such as head, hands, and torso for a nearly natural feel, and each participant can move in their real-world space as reflected virtually. Standard Personas focus on faces alone in small tiles, but spatial Personas aim to deliver a more immersive experience. This feature upgrade, now live in visionOS, can also be enjoyed in activities such as movie-watching, games, and video calls.

Everything Else

“Lenna” No Longer Welcome in Tech Journals (~4 min.) : As of April 1, IEEE Computer Society has announced it will no longer accept papers featuring the iconic 1972 Playboy image of Lena Forsén, more commonly known as “Lenna”. Originally selected for testing image processing systems due to its high-definition contrast and varied detail, the image has been under criticism for objectifying women and creating an unwelcoming environment for females in the tech industry. The benning of the Lenna image sets precedence towards eliminating its use in the technology and image processing field aiding in fostering a more equitable culture.

Robotic Coyote To Patrol Alaska’s Airport (~3 min.) : A Labrador-sized, headless robot named Aurora is set to patrol Fairbanks airport, Alaska’s second-largest, to deter migratory birds and other wildlife. Utilising predator-like movements during migratory bird season, Aurora will imitate a coyote or a fox using replaceable panels. The decision to use a robot was made following the rejection of a plan to employ flying drones spraying grape juice repellent. This move follows multiple animal strikes near airports across Alaska, with 92 reported last year, and aims to enhance safety and operations.

Invisibility Shield Hits Kickstarter (~3 min.) : The London-based Invisibility Shield Co. has released its Invisibility Shield 2.0, a consumer-grade device which uses high-grade polycarbonate and an array of lenses to create the illusion of invisibility. The shield works best with light-coloured clothing against a uniform background and has been used in various applications from television shows, paintball games, stage magic to wildlife observation. Available in three sizes; Mini, Full and Megashield, potential backers can own the shield for as little as £54 (about US$68).

Priceless Software: The Hidden Cost of Open Source (~9 min.) : Open source software, despite offering freedom and flexibility, carries hidden labour costs and potential vulnerabilities, making it a possible future vector for exploitation. While not as severe as the issues plaguing the coffee industry, the principle remains the same: there exists a price to be paid. A complex bargain between developers and companies ensues, with software developers often not having the authority to make purchases in a corporate environment. Several solutions to fund critical open source infrastructures exist; however, no streamlined transition or pathway exists for developers to make a living from maintenance. As such, the call for “more expensive” open source software reflects the need for society and corporations to recognise and compensate for the hidden costs involved.

Move More, Sleep Better: Groundbreaking Wearable Tech Study (~4 min.) : A comprehensive study by the University of Texas reveals intriguing connections between exercise, high-quality sleep and psychological well-being. The research used wearable tech to monitor the behavioural data of 82 participants in their natural environments, such as homes and workplaces, thus providing an in-depth look at daily routines’ effect on sleep and mood. The findings support previous evidence suggesting regular physical activity contributes to deeper, more restful sleep and subsequently increased energy and lowered stress. This research revolutionises sleep studies, paving the way to explore how lifestyle impacts sleep and mental health in realistic environments, rather than constrained lab settings.

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!