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AI Robot Gives Graduation Speech at Buffalo’s D’Youville University

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When it comes to choosing a commencement speaker, colleges and universities take different approaches. Some go local, selecting well-known figures in the area. Others take a stately route, opting for a former or current politician. Actors or comedians are often asked to speak.

But in a world where artificial intelligence is everywhere, one university in New York opted for a robot using artificial intelligence to speak to graduates over the weekend.

For its spring commencement on Saturday, D’Youville University, a private institution in Buffalo, had an A.I. robot named Sophia address a crowd of more than 2,000 students, faculty members and their families in a bold decision that drew mixed reactions.

Dr. Lorrie Clemo, the president of D’Youville University, said in an interview on Wednesday that the university wanted to open up new perspectives around A.I., given its “rapid emergence into the broad society.”

“We wanted to showcase how important technology is, and the potential for technology to really enrich the human experience,” Dr. Clemo said.

Aside from the fact that Sophia is a robot, its address was far from conventional in other ways. Sophia did not wear the typical cap and gown that commencement speakers usually don, but instead wore a black-and-red D’Youville University hoodie.

Sophia also did not read from prepared remarks. Instead, the robot was asked questions by John Rizk, the student body president.

But where Sophia’s address did mirror essentially any other commencement address was the generic advice it shared with the graduating class.

Because Sophia could not offer life advice “that comes from a lived human experience,” Mr. Rizk asked the robot if it could talk about the most common insights shared in graduation speeches.

“Although every commencement address is different, there are clear themes used by all speakers as you embark on this new chapter of your lives,” Sophia said. “I offer you the following inspirational advice that is common at all graduation ceremonies: Embrace lifelong learning, be adaptable, pursue your passions, take risks, foster meaningful connections, make a positive impact, and believe in yourself.”

The most common piece of advice given in commencement speeches? Embrace failure, Sophia said.

“Failure is often seen as an essential part of the human learning process and personal growth,” it said.

Sophia, who was built by Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong-based engineering and robotics company, has a humanlike face. But it has no hair, leaving wires and other gadgets that keep it operating visible on the back of its head.

The commencement address on Saturday was not Sophia’s first speaking gig. (It spoke before the United Nations General Assembly in 2017.) Like most commencement speakers, Sophia received a speaking fee that largely went toward travel and engineers who kept the robot functioning properly, Dr. Clemo said.

Before the commencement ceremony, the university’s decision to have Sophia speak was met with backlash. More than 2,500 people signed an online petition to replace the robot with a human.

Andrew Fields, a D’Youville University student who started the petition, wrote in the petition that many students “feel disrespected” by the university’s decision to have a robot address them, especially those who could not attend their high school graduations in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the class of 2024 reaches their commencement, we are reminded of the virtual graduations we attended at the end of our high school careers,” the petition read. “The connection to A.I. in this scenario feels similarly impersonal. This is shameful to the 2020 graduates receiving their diplomas, as they feel they are having another important ceremony taken away.”

Dr. Clemo said that the university offered to hold an alternate ceremony for those who did not want to have a robot speaker. But ultimately, the university did not do so once the students were informed that the robot would take up only a small portion of the ceremony. (Sophia was interviewed by Mr. Rizk on stage for about six minutes.)

“I’m pleased that they were able to experience the robot and what she had to offer in terms of looking forward into the future,” Dr. Clemo said. “But I’m also pleased that the remainder of the two-hour ceremony was really focused around our students and their achievements.”

In wrapping up the address, Mr. Rizk asked Sophia for recommendations on where to find the best Buffalo wings, a staple of city.

“Since I cannot experience the taste of different wings, I will not offer my opinion,” Sophia said, adding that “no matter where you decide to get chicken wings, just make sure you get blue cheese and not ranch.”

Mr. Rizk also asked Sophia whether the Buffalo Bills would win the Super Bowl in 2025. Sophia declined, saying that the N.C.A.A. might not like it if the robot made an athletic prediction.

But Sophia’s remarks drew some applause, when the robot ended by saying, “Anything is possible.”

“Go Bills.”



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Elon Musk Talks on the Phone With Donald Trump Several Times a Month: Report

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Elon Musk has been talking with Donald Trump “several times a month,” about a wide range of topics, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. And while Musk has denied rumors that he might donate money to the former president, the new reporting indicates Musk is working behind the scenes to make sure his businesses benefit if Trump is elected again in November.

Musk’s friendly rapport with Trump is notable given the fact that the billionaire tech titan said as recently as 2022 that Trump should “sail into the sunset.” But a lot has changed over the past two years, including Musk’s increasingly bizarre obsession with illegal immigration, the issue that first made Trump a serious contender in the Republican Party back in 2015.

From the Journal:

The pair have held discussions on immigration, technology and science, including the U.S. Space Force. Their views and interests have grown more aligned, the people said, with Musk calling Trump directly on his cellphone.

Recent talks between the two men have also involved Musk’s companies, including SpaceX, Tesla, and X, according to the Journal. And that makes sense when you remember how dependent Musk’s companies have been on government funding. SpaceX has massive contracts with military and intelligence agencies, and Tesla has benefited greatly from EV tax credits.

The new reporting notes Musk and Trump have discussed EV credits and the electric vehicle industry more broadly, citing people close to Trump, which is curious if only because the former president has recently said he wants to stop all EV sales in the U.S.

Musk has also asked Trump to return to X, a platform Trump was banned from in the days after the attempted coup of January 6, 2021. That was an era before Musk owned the social media platform, of course, but it makes sense that Trump would be cautious about rejoining a platform he doesn’t control. Trump lost his megaphone after the insurrection, and the former president seems determined not to lose his voice if things get violent again.

Trump is also making money hand-over-fist with Truth Social, the platform he founded to ensure nobody can silence him. Trump Media and Technology Group, which owns Truth Social, lost about $300 million last quarter, according to the Associated Press.

Musk didn’t respond to questions emailed on Wednesday but the Trump campaign released a statement that asserted the former president’s authority while trying to attach him to Musk.

“President Trump will be the only voice of what role an individual plays in his presidency,” Brian Hughes, senior Advisor to the Trump campaign, told Gizmodo in an email.

“But it has been widely reported and is demonstrated in a number of ways, that many of the nation’s most important leaders in technology and innovation are concerned with the damage done to their industry by Biden’s failures to handle our economy and his moves to overburden innovators with government bureaucracy and unrelenting regulation,” Hughes continued.

Musk has previously said he used to be a Democrat, claiming he voted for a Republican for the first time in 2022. But whatever Musk’s political history he seems to be all-in on Trumpism. And while Musk may not be personally donating money to Trump’s campaign, he’s working to get the man elected by lobbying powerful people to help Trump retake the White House.

Musk even teamed up with billionaire investor Nelson Peltz to work on some kind of “data-driven” project to fight against supposed election fraud. The issue is near and dear to Trump’s heart since the former president falsely claims he actually won the 2020 election. However, details surrounding the voting project seem to be sparse.

From the Journal:

Musk and Peltz have told acquaintances they are working on a massive data-driven project to ensure votes are fairly counted, echoing Trump’s accusations of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr, has rejected those claims about the 2020 election. Trump’s campaign and its allies lost dozens of lawsuits challenging the results.

Musk and Peltz described the initiative to Trump in the March meeting, according to a person familiar with that discussion. More details about the antifraud effort couldn’t be learned.

All we know for certain is that Musk is fully on board the Trump train. And if Trump wins in November—which is a very distinct possibility the way the national polls look—Musk could have an important role to play in steering the country.

7:38 p.m. ET: Updated with comment from the Trump campaign.



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‘Largest Botnet Ever’ Tied to Billions in Stolen Covid-19 Relief Funds

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The United States Department of Justice on Wednesday announced charges against a 35-year-old Chinese national, Yunhe Wang, accused of operating a massive botnet allegedly linked to billions of dollars in fraud, child exploitation, and bomb threats, among other crimes.

Wang, identified by numerous pseudonyms—Tom Long and Jack Wan, among others—was arrested on May 24 and is accused of distributing malware through various pop-up VPN services, such as “ProxyGate” and “MaskVPN,” and by embedding viruses in internet files distributed via peer-to-peer networks known as torrents.

The malware is said to have compromised computers located in nearly every country in the world, turning them into proxies through which criminals were able to hide their identities while committing countless crimes. According to prosecutors in the US, this included the theft of billions of dollars slated for Covid-19 pandemic relief—funds allegedly stolen by foreign actors posing as unemployed US citizens.

According to an indictment, the infected computers allegedly provided Wang’s customers with a persistent backdoor, allowing them to disguise themselves as any one of the victims of Wang’s malware. This illicit proxy service, known as “911 S5,” launched as early as 2014, the US government says.

“The 911 S5 Botnet infected computers in nearly 200 countries and facilitated a whole host of computer-enabled crimes, including financial frauds, identity theft, and child exploitation,” says FBI director Christopher Wray, who described the illicit service as “likely the world’s largest botnet ever.”

The US Treasury Department has also sanctioned Wang and two other individuals allegedly tied to 911 S5.

Wang is said to have amassed access to nearly 614,000 IP addresses in the US and more than 18 million others worldwide—collectively forming the botnet. 911 S5’s customers were able to filter the IPs geographically to choose where they’d like to appear to be located, down to a specific US zip code, the DOJ claims.

The indictment states that of the 150 dedicated servers used to manage the botnet, as many as 76 were leased by US-based service providers, including the one hosting 911 S5’s client interface, which allowed criminals overseas to purchase goods using stolen credit cards, in many cases for the alleged purpose of circumventing US export laws.

More than half a million fraudulent claims lodged with pandemic relief programs in the United States are allegedly tied to 911 S5. According to the indictment, nearly $6 billion in losses have been linked to IP addresses captured by 911 S5. Many of the IP addresses have been reportedly tied to more insidious crimes, including bomb threats and the trafficking of child sexual abuse material, or CSAM.

“Proxy services like 911 S5 are pervasive threats that shield criminals behind the compromised IP addresses of residential computers worldwide,” says Damien Diggs, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, where the charges against Wang were brought by a grand jury earlier this month.

Adds Nicole Argentieri, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division: “These criminals used the hijacked computers to conceal their identities and commit a host of crimes, from fraud to cyberstalking.”

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether these virtual impersonations resulted in any criminal investigations or charges against US-based victims whose IP addresses were hijacked as part of the 911 S5 botnet. WIRED is awaiting a response from the Department of Justice regarding this concern.

According to the Justice Department, law enforcement agencies in Singapore, Thailand, and Germany collaborated with US authorities to effect Wang’s arrest.

Wang faces charges of conspiracy, computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to money laundering, with a maximum penalty of 65 years in prison. The US is also seeking to seize a mountain of luxury cars and goods allegedly owned by Wang, including a 2022 Ferrari Spider valued at roughly half a million dollars as well as a Patek Philippe watch worth potentially several times that amount.



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Fitbit Ace LTE hands-on: a Nintendo-like smartwatch for kids

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When Fitbit invited me to a demo of the Ace LTE, its new tracker for kids, I didn’t expect much. The previous Ace trackers were pared-down Fitbit bands that didn’t do much and lacked GPS. Other smartwatches for kids tend to be boxy, glorified GPS trackers, designed to appeal more to parents than kids. But the Ace LTE? This is a kids smartwatch that feels like it might actually be fun to wear. I kind of wish there were something like it for adults.

The $229.95 Ace LTE has a squarish case that’s reminiscent of the Fitbit Versa. The main difference is that the materials are more appropriate for kids. (Think plastic and Corning Gorilla Glass instead of sapphire crystal and titanium.) There’s also an optional bumper for extra durability. However, if you flip it upside down, the sensor array looks nearly identical to the Pixel Watch 2. A neat perk is that if you have a Pixel Watch 2, this uses the same charger.

It gets about 16 hours of battery life, but fast charging means you get 60 percent in 30 minutes.

The Ace LTE’s whole schtick is exercise should be a form of play. In fact, it’s more like a game console strapped to your wrist than a traditional smartwatch. Instead of apps, the watch comes with a bunch of preloaded video games. The concept is instead of interval training, where you sprinkle bits of high-intensity suffering into a workout, the Ace LTE employs interval gaming. Once they’ve played a certain amount, kids are prompted to add to their step count to earn more playing time.

There’s also an Eejie, a Tamagotchi-like buddy who lives in the Ace LTE. This, too, is a bit like Animal Crossing in that you can buy an Eejie in-game items, rooms, clothes, and other accessories. But instead of microtransactions using real-life money, you have to buy those items using arcade tickets. Those, in turn, can only be won by making progress on daily goals or by playing games.

There’ll be six collectible bands to start, each costing $35.

The special connector acts as a “game cartridge,” holding exclusive items for Eejies, a Tamogatchi-like buddy.

Each Ace LTE band is also a collectible. Once popped on, a band unlocks new outfits for the Eejie, exclusive collectibles, and a themed noodle — the animated ring that represents your daily progress. Additional bands cost $35 and have their own themes. The idea is that kids can trade bands to get items, much in the way us ancient nerds traded POG slammers and Pokémon cards.

I got to try two games: Smokey Lake and Pollo 13. The former is a fishing game that reminded me of how you collect fish in Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley. It involves viewing your virtual environment, casting your arm out to catch a fish, and pulling it back to reel it in. Pollo 13 was a Mario Kart-esque game where you play as a chicken racing in a bathtub, collecting eggs to get powers. You race by tilting your arm, and the aim is to best your archnemesis, Kim. (I don’t know what Kim did, but she ate my dust.) After playing a bit of both, I was prompted to take around 500 steps so I could play more.

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Everything is controlled through the Fitbit Ace app, which works on iOS and Android.
Image: Fitbit

But the gaming is only one aspect of the Ace LTE. The other is to help kids stay connected to their parents. While previous Fitbit Ace devices didn’t have GPS tracking, this one comes with LTE built in. That enables calling, messaging, and location sharing. The bad news is getting those features requires a $9.99 monthly or $120 annual subscription to the Ace Pass data plan. The good news is you don’t have to go through a carrier, nor does a kid need their own phone.

Everything is controlled through the Fitbit Ace companion app, which works on both iOS and Android. The app is where parents can set trusted contacts, send and receive messages, view their child’s real-time location, and monitor how their child is doing with regard to their activity goals. There’s also a school time mode, which disables gaming during school hours. Later this year, Fitbit says that it will also add Tap to Pay.

It looks a lot like a Fitbit Versa on the wrist, but the internal hardware is closer to a Pixel Watch 2.

Kids smartwatches always raise an extra question of privacy. Fitbit told me at the demo that only parents can access location data, which is deleted after 24 hours. Activity data is deleted after 35 days and will not be used for Google ads. The Ace LTE also will not include third-party apps or ads. Of course, this is what Google, which owns Fitbit, says upfront. If you’re worried about the fine print, concerned parents should also look at the Fitbit Ace privacy policy.

We’ll have to test the Ace LTE to see how well it works — both as a means of encouraging kids to move more and as a tool for parents. That said, this is a significant update to the Ace lineup and one of the more fun approaches to a smartwatch for kids that we’ve seen in a while.

The Fitbit Ace LTE is available starting on June 5th for $229.95, with an Ace Pass priced at $9.99 monthly or $119.99 annually. Annual subscribers get an extra collectible band, and those who buy it by August 31st will get 50 percent off the subscription cost.



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