Google rolls back on another embarassing AI launch: Hashtag Trending for Monday, June 3rd, 2024

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Google faces and embarassing pull back on its new AI search overviews.  Cloud storage provided Snowflake pushes back against speculation that the reports that breaches from Ticketmaster and an international bank are linked to a breach in their security, small nuclear reactors have huge costs, and a frustrated victim strikes back to break up a multi-million dollar theft ring using Apple Air Tags.

These stories and more on this “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” edition of Hashtag Trending. I’m your host Jim Love, let’s get into it.

Google has been forced to pull back its new AI-powered “Overviews” feature from most search results after it generated a storm of ridiculous and blatantly wrong information summaries.  It’s reported that AI summaries have largely vanished from search results that previously displayed them prominently.

Liz Reid, Google’s new head of search, admitted in a blog post they’ve implemented “triggering refinements” to dramatically limit when the AI Overviews appear while they work on improving accuracy.

When CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled AI Overviews just last month, the idea was to provide quick informative blurbs on top of regular search pages for common queries. But it wasn’t long before users discovered the AI confidently dishing out nonsensical advice – like suggesting people put glue on pizza or eat rocks for nutrients.

Some of these misstatements can be viewed as hallucinations, but in many cases, the fact was that Google’s AI couldn’t distinguish between satire and humour and practicality.  But while the media focus was on the “bloopers” that went viral, others such as Fast Company’s Harry McCracken noted that non-controversial results often didn’t “feel radically different than the snippets that have long appeared at the top of many Google results pages.”

While meant to be a blockbuster AI upgrade, the glaring mistakes forced a serious rethink and yet another retreat for Google.

For most searches, AI Overviews are now M.I.A as Google’s engineers try to refine the unreliable technology before any further misinformation demolishes trust in their flagship product used by billions worldwide.

Frankly, many content providers may be breathing a sigh of relief on this. If Google had succeeded with this launch, it may have resulted in far fewer visits to the original website content. But although this AI’s not ready for primetime just yet, this is a temporary reprieve – it will undoubtedly be back in some form.

Sources include: Tribune-Herald and Fast Company

Snowflake, a cloud computing and storage as service company is pushing back against reports that breaches at Ticketmaster and Santander Bank stemmed from a vulnerability in their products. In a blog post, Snowflake’s chief information security officer stated quote “We have no evidence suggesting this activity was caused by any vulnerability, misconfiguration, or breach of Snowflake’s product.”

The company did acknowledge finding signs that a former employee’s demo account was accessed by the threat actor behind the incidents. Snowflake says this demo account contained no sensitive data and was not connected to its production systems.

Hackers are attempting to sell what they claim is confidential data belonging to millions of customers of the Spanish banking giant, Santander.  The bank has 200,000 employees globally including 20,000 in the UK.

Santander confirmed a data breach but did not verify the hackers’ claims about the scale. In a statement, Santander said customer data was accessed for its operations in Chile, Spain and Uruguay as well as information on all current and former employees.

The cybercrime gang ShinyHunters, the same group that claimed responsibility for recently hacking Ticketmaster, posted an ad on the dark web alleging it has obtained over 30 million people’s bank account details, 6 million account numbers and balances, 28 million credit cards, and human resources data from Santander.

Cybersecurity researchers believe both the Santander and Ticketmaster breaches stem from a major hack of data cloud company Snowflake.

Researchers at Hudson Rock claim the perpetrators stole Snowflake employee credentials to gain access to around 400 corporate customers.

While Snowflake acknowledged “unauthorized access” to a small number of accounts via a former employee’s demo login, it denies any vulnerability in its core products enabled the breaches.

There are reports emerging that additional companies may be affected.  It’s not just a question of allocating blame in this, it’s a question of whether this is just the start of a much bigger “supply chain” where many other company’s data could also be at risk.

As Snowflake prepares for its annual customer conference next week, the vendor is working to reassure clients that there are no vulnerabilities in its core data cloud products, despite the signs of a former employee’s account being misused.

Sources include: BBC and CRN

Small modular nuclear reactor technology has been seen as a possible safer and more manageable solution.  Microsoft announced that it was looking at these as at least a part of the solution to the growing need for power for its cloud data centres.  It’s estimated, that with the demands of AI and cloud computing, cloud data centre power usage will double by the end of this decade.

But a new report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis argues these miniature nuclear plants are still too expensive, too slow to build, and too risky to be a viable solution for meeting growing energy demands.

According to the report, every single small modular reactor built so far has blown past initial cost estimates, often by staggering amounts. Construction timelines have been grossly underestimated too, with projects taking up to 3 times longer than planned.

Even putting aside the potential safety concerns with an unproven technology, the report argues the ballooning expenses make small nuclear reactors an unsound investment compared to rapidly deployable renewable sources like wind and solar.

The report states, “the dollars invested in SMRs will not be available for building out a wind, solar and battery storage resource base. These lower-cost technologies are available today and can push the transition from fossil fuels forward significantly in the coming 10 years.”

With costs spiraling out of control and lengthy delays baked in, the review casts major doubt on whether the SMR hype matches reality. As the world races to expand clean energy, proponents claim these diminutive nuclear plants could play a role. But this report suggests they remain a risky and inefficient pipe dream – for now.

Sources include: New Atlas

A carpenter in Virginia had his tools stolen not once, but twice from his van by thieves. Fed up, he decided to get creative and slipped some Apple AirTags into his remaining tools in case the criminals struck again.

And strike they did. And with a little driving around he was able to track the stolen gear to a storage unit using the AirTags. He called police who got a search warrant and entered the storage unit.

What he and police uncovered was far more than just his tools. They found a staggering 15,000 other stolen tools worth millions of dollars, taken from local businesses, homes, and construction sites across the region by an organized theft ring.

Howard County Police Chief Gregory Der called it “one of the largest theft cases not only in Howard County but in this region.” Piles upon piles of stolen construction equipment filled 12 different storage locations – everything from saws and drills to generators and air compressors.

While no arrests have been made yet, Der said “we are investigating several suspects for their roles in this massive theft scheme and expect charges soon.”

Police have identified around 80 victims so far but believe there could be thousands more. They’ve set up an online form for potential victims to claim stolen property by providing details like serial numbers or identifying marks.

Sources include:  BoingBoing

And that’s it for today’s show. Remember that you can get us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We’re available on YouTube in both audio and video format.

Show notes are on Tech Newsday dot com or dot ca. Take your pick.

I’m your host Jim Love, have a Marvelous Monday.




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