The Year in News: What Happened Next (Stories From September-December 2017)

It’s that time of year again when we look back at some of the news stories we’ve covered in 2017 and update you on later developments. We round up the year starting in September when Google announced Chrome would let users block websites (on a domain-by-domain basis) from autoplaying videos with sound. That’s now been added to the beta channel version of the browser and will debut in the next stable channel version early in 2018.

In October the BBC announced a new radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It will be based on both And Another Thing (the sixth book in the series, written with permission by Eoin Colfer after Douglas Adams’ death) and on Adams’ own notebooks. Dirk Maggs, who’ll head the project, recently spoke about it with a Douglas Adams fan site.

Google’s human champion-beating Go AI system AlphaGo became yesterday’s news when it lost 100 straight games to its successor AlphaGoZero. Whereas AlphaGo trained itself by analyzing data from human vs human games, AlphaGoZero was simply given the rules and played itself five million times in three days to figure out the best strategies. The success appeared to be because the original AlphaGo was stuck in human ways of thinking that constrained its potential. Google has since developed AlphaZero, another successor that is also mastering chess and shogi.

In November, MIT researchers showed how image recognition software could be tricked into misidentifying a photo of a 3D-printed ‘turtle’ as a rifle in 82 percent of test cases.  Since then the head of London’s police has revealed that a system designed to discover indecent images is proving problematic as it mistakes a screensaver of a sandy desert for naked skin.

Tesla completed the installation of a 100-megawatt battery bank in Australia, meeting Elon Musk’s promise to have it ready in 100 days or waive the costs. The battery is now in action and will store power from a wind farm as a way to even out loads and provide a back-up if the powergrid needs to be shut off in periods of excessive local demand.

And a designer showed off a series of fake smartphones designed to help ‘addicts’ keep their fingers occupied with rollable stone beads that simulate actions such as scrolling or swiping. While it originally appeared to simply be a provocative piece for an exhibition, the phones can now be ordered for between €185 and €195 (US$220-$230) plus shipping.

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