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Let’s save the bees with machine learning – TechCrunch

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Machine learning and all its related forms of “AI” are being used to work on just about every problem under the sun, but even so, stemming the alarming decline of the bee population still seems out of left field. In fact it’s a great application for the technology and may help both bees and beekeepers keep hives healthy.

The latest threat to our precious honeybees is the Varroa mite, a parasite that infests hives and sucks the blood from both bees and their young. While it rarely kills a bee outright, it can weaken it and cause young to be born similarly weak or deformed. Over time this can lead to colony collapse.

The worst part is that unless you’re looking closely, you might not even see the mites — being mites, they’re tiny: a millimeter or so across. So infestations often go on for some time without being discovered.

Beekeepers, caring folk at heart obviously, want to avoid this. But the solution has been to put a flat surface beneath a hive and pull it out every few days, inspecting all the waste, dirt and other hive junk for the tiny bodies of the mites. It’s painstaking and time-consuming work, and of course if you miss a few, you might think the infestation is getting better instead of worse.

Machine learning to the rescue!

As I’ve had occasion to mention about a billion times before this, one of the things machine learning models are really good at is sorting through noisy data, like a surface covered in random tiny shapes, and finding targets, like the shape of a dead Varroa mite.

Students at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland created an image recognition agent called ApiZoom trained on images of mites that can sort through a photo and identify any visible mite bodies in seconds. All the beekeeper needs to do is take a regular smartphone photo and upload it to the EPFL system.

The project started back in 2017, and since then the model has been trained with tens of thousands of images and achieved a success rate of detection of about 90 percent, which the project’s Alain Bugnon told me is about at parity with humans. The plan now is to distribute the app as widely as possible.

“We envisage two phases: a web solution, then a smartphone solution. These two solutions allow to estimate the rate of infestation of a hive, but if the application is used on a large scale, of a region,” Bugnon said. “By collecting automatic and comprehensive data, it is not impossible to make new findings about a region or atypical practices of a beekeeper, and also possible mutations of the Varroa mites.”

That kind of systematic data collection would be a major help for coordinating infestation response at a national level. ApiZoom is being spun out as a separate company by Bugnon; hopefully this will help get the software to beekeepers as soon as possible. The bees will thank them later.

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Some Roku smart TVs are now showing banner ads over live TV

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Enlarge / A Roku streaming box. It seems these ads aren’t appearing on Roku’s own hardware like this device; instead, they’re appearing on TVs that license Roku’s software platform.

Some Roku smart TV owners are seeing banner ads appear over live content, according to a thread on the r/cordcutters subreddit.

A user named p3t3or posted the following message:

Welp, this is the last time I purchase or recommend a Roku. After a Sleep Number commercial, I just got a Roku ad sidebar while watching live TV. Really loved the Roku experience up until now, but this is a deal breaker.

The message was accompanied by the following photo:

An ad appears over a sports game on a Sharp-branded TV running Roku software.
Enlarge / An ad appears over a sports game on a Sharp-branded TV running Roku software.

The photo shows a Sharp TV running Roku software and displaying an ad for a bed over a live sports broadcast, plus a prompt to ‘press OK to get offer.”

These ads don’t seem to appear on Roku’s own hardware, like the Roku Ultra, Express, Streambar, or Streaming Stick. Rather, they show up on certain smart TVs running the Roku TV platform—and it might just be certain brands, like Sharp. Some owners of TCL Roku TVs commented that they had not seen the ads.

Fortunately, users in the thread reported that the feature can be disabled in privacy settings. But it’s possible that doing so may disable other Roku features.

Roku’s platform is not the only one adding ads to content. Users have complained previously about ads featured prominently on Samsung’s TVs, and while we haven’t seen reports of ads appearing over live content on LG’s webOS TVs, they do appear in other places in the TV’s software.

Further, some of these platforms collect and monetize user data, as we previously reported about Vizio TVs.

Smart TV platforms offer convenience, but it’s rare for software and services that receive ongoing free support and updates to operate without showing ads, monetizing user data, or both. The profit margins on TVs can be small outside of the high-end part of the market, and supporting software and live services over time costs money, so TV and platform makers are seeking out ways to generate recurring revenue on top of what they get from initial sales.

User complaints like these may reflect a trend to which there is no clear end.

We’ve reached out to Roku for comment and clarification about which devices serve these ads and what the effects of disabling them in settings might be.

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Google kills YouTube Originals, its original video content group

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Variety reports that Google’s original video content group, YouTube Originals, is dead. The YouTube division was founded six years ago to make exclusive, original content for the pay-per-month YouTube Premium service. Now the group is being shuttered, and YouTube’s global head of original content, Susanne Daniels, is leaving the company in March.

Just after the news broke, YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl posted a statement on Twitter:

YouTube is the web’s de facto video site, but Google still tends to chase any hot new web video trend that pops up. YouTube Shorts is a clone of TikTok. YouTube Gaming is a clone of Twitch. YouTube Stores were meant as an answer to Snapchat. YouTube Originals was a swipe at Netflix, which, back in 2016, was turning heads with award-winning shows like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Back then, the $12-per-month YouTube Premium started life as “YouTube Red,” and its offerings were called YouTube Red Originals.

At first, YouTube took a decidedly YouTube spin on original content and threw big budgets at the platform’s star content creators, resulting in shows like Scare PewDiePie, created by the executive producers of The Walking Dead. YouTube Originals eventually pivoted into more Hollywood-style content and saw some success in 2018 with The Karate Kid sequel Cobra Kai.

We’ve seen this story about a million times covering products by YouTube’s parent company, Google: after a new initiative does not achieve immediate, incredible success, Google starts scaling back its plans after about two years. By the end of 2018, reports surfaced that YouTube was scaling back its scripted video plans, and that YouTube Originals would go ad-supported, just like normal YouTube video. YouTube Originals’ more successful projects moved on to other video services, with Netflix picking up Cobra Kai for seasons 3 and 4.

Today, YouTube Premium is still around for $12 a month. The main perks are ad-free YouTube and YouTube Music, while the mobile app gets background playback and the ability to download content for offline use.

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Microsoft fixes Patch Tuesday bug that broke VPN in Windows 10 and 11

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Aurich Lawson

Microsoft’s monthly Patch Tuesday updates for Windows are generally meant to fix problems, but that isn’t how it always goes. January’s updates, released last week, caused a handful of problems for businesses in particular. The most serious, especially for people still dealing with pandemic-driven remote-work setups, was a bug that broke certain kinds of VPN connections. Microsoft has provided fixes for this and other issues as of today, a few days after acknowledging the problem on its Known Issues page.

According to Microsoft’s documentation and reporting from Bleeping Computer, the VPN connection issues affected “IPSEC connections which contain a Vendor ID,” as well as L2TP and IPSEC IKE VPN connections in Windows 10, Windows 11, and Windows Server versions 2022, 20H2, 2019, and 2016. Windows’ built-in VPN client seems to be the most commonly affected, but third-party VPN clients using these kinds of connections could also run into the error.

The latest round of Patch Tuesday updates also caused some problems for Windows Server, including unexpected reboots for domain controllers and failed boots for Hyper-V virtual machines. These problems have all been resolved by other out-of-band patches, though not before causing problems for beleaguered IT admins.

Microsoft has also resolved a problem that caused ReFS-formatted drives to not show up at all or to show up as raw, unformatted disks. Microsoft has also fixed this problem, though not before blaming the problem on the “unsupported” use of ReFS on removable drives. The ReFS filesystem was supported in the consumer versions of Windows for a few years, though Microsoft removed the ability to create ReFS drives a few years ago, restricting it to servers and the enterprise editions of Windows.

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