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A sign for Microsoft Corp. at the company’s office in the central business district of Lisbon, Portugal, on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022.

Zed Jameson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft warned on Wednesday that Chinese state-sponsored hackers had compromised “critical” U.S. cyber infrastructure across numerous industries with a focus on gathering intelligence.

The Chinese hacking group, codenamed “Volt Typhoon,” has operated since mid-2021, Microsoft said in an advisory. The organization is apparently working to disrupt “critical communications infrastructure between the United States and Asia,” Microsoft said, to stymie efforts during “future crises.”

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The National Security Agency put out a bulletin on Wednesday, detailing how the hack works and how cybersecurity teams should respond.

The attack is apparently ongoing. In an advisory, Microsoft urged impacted customers to “close or change credentials for all compromised accounts.”

U.S. intelligence agencies became aware of the incursion in February, around the same time that a Chinese spy balloon was downed, the New York Times reported.

The infiltration was focused on communications infrastructure in Guam and other parts of the U.S., the Times reported, and was particularly alarming to U.S. intelligence because Guam sits at the heart of an American military response in case of a Taiwanese invasion.

Volt Typhoon is able to infiltrate organizations using a unnamed vulnerability in a popular cybersecurity suite called FortiGuard, Microsoft said. Once the hacking group has gained access to a corporate system, it steals user credentials from the security suite and uses them to try to gain access to other corporate systems.

The state-sponsored hackers aren’t looking to create disruption yet, Microsoft said. Rather, “the threat actor intends to perform espionage and maintain access without being detected for as long as possible.”

Infrastructure in nearly every critical sector has been impacted, Microsoft said, including the communications, transport, and maritime industries. Government organizations were also targeted.

Chinese government-backed hackers have targeted critical and sensitive information from U.S. companies before. Covington and Burling, a prominent law firm, was hacked by suspected Chinese state-sponsored hackers in 2020.

In a joint statement with international and domestic intelligence services, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned that Chinese attacks pose a continued risk to American intellectual property.

“For years, China has conducted aggressive cyber operations to steal intellectual property and sensitive data from organizations around the globe,” CISA director Jen Easterly said in a statement.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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SoftBank CEO says AI that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will come out in 10 years

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SoftBank CEO says AI that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will come out in 10 years

Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group Corp., speaks during the company’s annual general meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, June 20, 2024. Son sketched out ambitions to help create AI thousands of times smarter than any human, making his most grandiose pronouncements since the Japanese conglomerate began taking steps to shore up its finances following a series of ill-timed startup bets. 

Kosuke Okahara | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Artificial intelligence that is 10,000 times smarter than humans will be here in 10 years, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said on Friday, in a rare public appearance during which he questioned his own purpose in life.

Son laid out his vision for a world featuring artificial super intelligence, or ASI, as he dubbed it.

The CEO first talked about another term — artificial general intelligence, or AGI — which broadly refers to AI that is smarter than humans. Son said this tech is likely to be one to 10 times smarter than humans and will arrive in the next three-to-five years, earlier than he had anticipated.

But if AGI is not much smarter than humans, “then we don’t need to change the way of living, we don’t need to change the structure of human lifestyle,” Son said, according to a live translation of his comments in Japanese, which were delivered during SoftBank’s annual general meeting of shareholders.

“But when it comes to ASI it’s a totally different story. [With] ASI, you will see a big improvement.”

Son discussed how the future will hold various ASI models that interact with each other, like neurons in a human brain. This will lead to AI that is 10,000 times smarter than any human genius, according to Son.

SoftBank shares closed down more than 3% in Japan, following the meeting.

Son is SoftBank’s founder, who rose to prominence after an early and profitable investment in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. He positioned SoftBank as a tech visionary with the 2017 launch of the Vision Fund, a massive investment fund focused on backing tech firms. While some of the bets were successful, there were also many high-profile failures, such as office sharing company WeWork.

After posting then-record financial losses at Vision Fund in 2022, Son said that SoftBank would go into “defense” mode and be more conservative with its investments. In 2023, the Vision Fund posted a new record loss, with Son shortly after saying that SoftBank would now shift into “offense,” because he was excited about the investment opportunities in AI.

Son has been broadly out of the public eye since then.

He returned to the spotlight on Friday to deliver a speech that was full of existential questions.

“Two years ago, I am getting old, rest of my life is limited, but I haven’t done anything yet and I cried so hard,” Son said, suggesting he feels he hasn’t achieved anything of consequence to date.

He added that he had now found SoftBank’s mission, which is the “evolution of humanity.” He also said he has discovered his own purpose in life.

“SoftBank was founded for what purpose? For what purpose was Masa Son born? It may sound strange, but I think I was born to realize ASI. I am super serious about it,” Son said.

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Amazon’s ditching the plastic air pillows in its boxes

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Amazon's ditching the plastic air pillows in its boxes

Amazon replaces plastic packaging: Here's what to know

Amazon said Thursday it has removed 95% of the plastic air pillows from its packaging in North America and will replace them with paper fillers made from 100% recycled content.

It marks Amazon’s largest plastic-packaging reduction effort and will help it remove nearly 15 billion plastic pillows annually.

“We are working towards full removal in North America by end of year and will continue to innovate, test, and scale in order to prioritize curbside recyclable materials,” VP of Mechatronics and Sustainable Packaging Pat Lindner said in the announcement.

The e-commerce company began transitioning away from plastic filler in October 2023 when it announced its first U.S. automated fulfillment center to eliminate plastic-delivery packaging. Amazon collaborated with suppliers to instead source paper fillers that are also curbside recyclable.

This is not the first step that Amazon has taken to reduce its packaging waste. In 2015, the company launched the Ships in Product Packaging program, an initiative designed to reduce the use of Amazon’s signature brown box and instead ship products in their original packaging.

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Startup Kinetic rolls out robots to fix electric cars, and someday robotaxis

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Startup Kinetic rolls out robots to fix electric cars, and someday robotaxis

Kinetic cofounders: CEO Nikhil Naikal, CTO Sander Marques, COO Chris Weber

Courtesy: Kinetic Automation

While electric vehicle demand is still increasing in the U.S., the sales growth rate for cars that pollute less has cooled down in 2024 due partly to the high cost of insurance and repairs for tech-laden new models.

A 2024 study by J.D. Power found that, despite the climate benefits, only 26% of car buyers in the U.S. were “very likely to consider purchasing” an EV in the next year, and more than 20% were “very unlikely to consider an EV purchase” at all.

That’s where Santa Ana, California startup Kinetic Automation comes in. By providing diagnostics and recalibration of the high-tech systems in modern vehicles, the company hopes to decrease costs associated with EV ownership and repairs.

The startup, which employs about 40 people full-time, has developed a robotic system that uses computer vision and machine-learning software to quickly diagnose issues with a vehicle’s digital systems.

Kinetic CEO and co-founder Nikhil Naikal explained that a lot of new models, especially battery electrics, are loaded with bells and whistles such as touchscreens and robust infotainment software, along with a variety of cameras and sensors that enable everything from rapid charging to driver safety features including forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control.

The existing collision repair industry is well-equipped to handle most physical fixes like replacing a bumper, a busted windshield, brakes and paint or adjusting alignment. But for many collision repair centers and auto dealerships, ensuring all sensors, software and computers are working properly can prove time-consuming and expensive.

Kinetic puts its robotic systems and technicians to work helping these shops and dealerships fix the finicky, “digital” aspects of customers’ cars.

Here’s how it works: A customer’s car rolls up to one of Kinetic’s service bays, where it is scanned from bumper to fender with machine vision sensors, some on a robotic arm that peers over the top of the vehicle.

The scan determines which systems need to be precisely programmed or need a recalibration. Then Kinetic’s software, which is connected to the vehicle’s systems, will initiate and track the completion of those fixes.

Kinetic uses robotics and AI to recalibrate the software and sensors in electric vehicles.

Courtesy: Kinetic Automation

The company built its first four service hubs in Las Vegas, and Orange County, San Bernardino and Riverside counties in California.

To fuel its growth, Kinetic has raised $21 million in a Series B round of venture funding led by Menlo Ventures, joined by Allstate Strategic Ventures, Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures and the company’s earliest investors Lux Capital, Construct Capital and Haystack Ventures.

Menlo Ventures’ Partner Shawn Carolan, who invested in Uber and Jump Bikes, said collision companies and auto dealerships that had worked with Kinetic as pilot customers helped convince his firm to lead the deal.

“They were saying, ‘This reduced our cycle time by days.’ Or ‘We got cars back to customers faster and cheaper,’ and ‘This made my life way easier,'” he explained. “So we knew this was already solving a tremendous pain point.”

Before starting Kinetic with his co-founders, COO Chris Weber and CTO Sander Marques, Naikal worked as the vice president of software engineering at Velodyne, a company that made lidar sensors that enable robots, drones and autonomous vehicles to detect and avoid objects in their surrounding environment. Velodyne merged with Ouster in 2023.

Weber previously worked as an operations leader at Uber, while Marques is a repeat tech entrepreneur whose prior company developed engine control modules for high-performance vehicles.

Kinetic will one day provide its services to robotaxi fleets, Naikal said, and to the owners of other autonomous vehicles. But for now, the startup is focused on hiring, training technicians and building out its service hubs across the U.S. to handle a higher volume of auto repairs, especially the electric vehicles that are growing to comprise a larger portion of cars on U.S. roads each year.

So far, Kinetic has most commonly worked on Ford Mach-E, GM Chevy Bolt, Hyundai Ioniq EVs, and some Teslas at its existing service hubs, the CEO said.

Market research firm Canalys forecasts that sales of battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles combined will reach 2.2 million units in 2024 in North America, representing about 12.5% of all new vehicle sales in the region.

“Motor vehicle insurance for EVs, and across the board, has been a major contributor to inflation rising something like 20% when you look at the Consumer Price Index over the last 12 months,” Naikal said. “I’d like to hope we can shave a few points off of that while making people more comfortable switching to electrics.”

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