Links: why Taylor Swift really sold 1m, Android user tries an iPad Air 2, robot AI risks?, what slowed Samsung’s metal phones, and more

“And here’s a song I wrote about social media…”
Taylor Swift at the O2. Photo by Tom O’Donoghue

A selection of 9 links for you. Keep out of reach of children. (This is life advice.)

artificial intelligence is a tool, not a threat >> Rethink Robotics

Rodney Brooks:

I think it is a mistake to be worrying about us developing malevolent AI anytime in the next few hundred years. I think the worry stems from a fundamental error in not distinguishing the difference between the very real recent advances in a particular aspect of AI, and the enormity and complexity of building sentient volitional intelligence. Recent advances in deep machine learning let us teach our machines things like how to distinguish classes of inputs and to fit curves to time data. This lets our machines “know” whether an image is that of a cat or not, or to “know” what is about to fail as the temperature increases in a particular sensor inside a jet engine. But this is only part of being intelligent, and Moore’s Law applied to this very real technical advance will not by itself bring about human level or super human level intelligence. While deep learning may come up with a category of things appearing in videos that correlates with cats, it doesn’t help very much at all in “knowing” what catness is, as distinct from dogness, nor that those concepts are much more similar to each other than to salamanderness. 

My (lengthy) review of the iPad Air 2 after 2 weeks of use as someone who mainly uses Android >> apple Reddit

I own an HTC One M7, previously owned an S2, I owned a Note 10.1 2014 edition tablet for 4 months before reselling it, and I tried out a Nexus 7 2013 for 2 weeks before returning it since I felt it was too small. I picked up the iPad Air 2 because I have generally enjoyed using my mom’s iPad in the past and considering the specs and form factor I was excited to try it.

This is a great review – honest, thoughtful, and a fresh perspective. And the comments too, which don’t take sides, aren’t point-scoring, aren’t snide. Perhaps because they don’t think of them as comments?

Here’s why the Samsung Galaxy A3 and A5 were leaked so often but announced very late >> SamMobile

Well, being Samsung’s first attempt at making smartphones with full metal bodies (ones that take away the traditional Samsung feature of removable batteries), the company was met with low production yields while manufacturing the metal casings. According to our source, the casings did not meet the quality requirements Samsung was aiming for, and only around 50 percent of the yield came out right. Samsung is a big company with a lot of resources, but it’s not that surprising that they had problems with making full metal devices as the company’s usual production lines have always been geared at making mostly fully plastic smartphone shells, and since very recently, those with metal on the sides.

The low yield is also a reason why the Galaxy A3 and A5 will initially be launched only in Asia – there are simply not enough units to go around, and given the popularity of low-cost devices in the Asian region, it’s the region where Samsung is focusing on in the beginning.

Never thought of “low yield” being something that affected metal shaping before. Also, gotta love “traditional” Samsung feature of replaceable batteries.

BlackBerry CEO sees fewer new devices, focus on profitability >> Reuters

“Once we turn this company to profitability again, I will do everything I can to never lose money ever again,” Chen told Reuters in an interview this week. “That is definitely something I am very focused on doing.”

The Hong Kong-born executive, 59, made his name at Sybase, a struggling database software firm that he rescued and sold a decade later to SAP for $5.8bb in 2010.

“If you look at my track record at Sybase, I think we made money for some 60 quarters in a row, even when the dotcom bubble blew up we were profitable. I like that philosophy,” said Chen, who added he believes the worst is now behind BlackBerry.

“We will survive as a company and now I am rather confident,” he said. “We’re managing the supply chain, we are managing inventories, we are managing cash, and we have expenses now at a number that is very manageable. BlackBerry has survived; now we have to start looking at growth.”…

…Morningstar analyst Brian Colello said: “Overall we think John is doing a solid job, but our concern continues to be: how will BlackBerry drive demand for its product. The demand side of the equation is still a concern, both around selling millions of devices each year and converting enterprise software users into paying buyers in a very competitive market.”

Chen has done an amazing job, yet even he hasn’t quite got BlackBerry out of the woods yet. Still, a year ago there were doubts the company would be here now.

Exclusive: Taylor Swift on being pop’s instantly platinum wonder… and why she’s paddling against the streams >> Yahoo Music

Chris Willman spoke to Swift, who described this element of her social media “strategy”:

And the thing with me posting pictures on Twitter of my fans holding the albums, that was an idea I had five minutes before I did it for the first time. On Tumblr they’ve been joking for months about how I’m always just lurking around the Internet, stalking their blogs. Predominantly, for the most part, most of these ideas were not thought of in some conference-room marketing meeting.

People always talk to you about marriages and relationships, and they say relationships take work, and you have to keep surprising each other. And that I think the most profound relationship I’ve ever had has been with my fans. That relationship takes work, and you have to continue to think of new ways to delight and surprise them. You can’t just assume that because they liked one of your albums, they’re going to like the new one, so you can make it exactly the same as you made the last one. You can’t just assume that because they were gracious enough to make you a part of their life last year, that they’re gonna want to do the same thing this year. I think that core relationship needs to be nurtured.

This is why she sold a million albums – not because she pulled it from Spotify. She’s using social media to get personal with her millions of fans.

Uber and its shady partners are pushing drivers into subprime loans >> Gawker

Nitisha Tiku:

The subprime lending market that plunged America into the Great Recession is back and as unscrupulous as ever. Instead of mortgages, this time a bubble has formed around auto loans, and reliably ruthless Uber is in the thick of it. Two “partners” in Uber’s vehicle financing program are under federal investigation, but Uber hasn’t slowed its aggressive marketing campaign to get drivers with bad credit to sign up for loans.

Regulators started looking at subprime auto lending this summer: General Motors and Santander Consumer USA—both partners in Uber’s vehicle financing service—received subpoenas from the Department of Justice in August…

…Here’s how Uber fits into all of this. The company’s financing program connects drivers with poor credit to auto lenders and dealers, promising better rates. Uber does not finance the loans itself. Rather, Uber introduces drivers to partners like General Motors, Toyota, “and several unnamed financial institutions.” Why? The startup wants drivers with nicer cars, but it badly needs more drivers overall to meet demand and feed its growth spurt. Human drivers aren’t as easy to scale as servers, causing competition between rivals like Lyft and Sidecar.

Terrific journalism by Tiku, refusing to be fobbed off by roundabout phraseology. This is what technology writing should be about – not just regurgitating press releases. (Though the headline would work just as well – perhaps better – without “shady”.)

This device diagnoses hundreds of diseases using a single drop of blood >> WIRED

Davey Alba:

One small drop of blood is dropped into a small receptacle, where nanostrips and reagents react to the blood’s contents. The whole cocktail then goes through a spiral micro-mixer and is streamed past lasers that use variations in light intensity and scattering to come up with a diagnosis, from flu to a more serious illness such as pneumonia—or even Ebola—within a few minutes. There’s also a vitals patch that users can wear to get continuous health readings—EKG, heart rate, body temperature—delivered to their smartphone or the rHEALTH device itself via a Bluetooth link. An app called CHAS (Comprehensive Health Assessment Unit) can walk the user through the process of self-diagnosis.

The real innovation of rHEALTH, according to Chan, is in getting all the diagnostics technologies packed together into one handheld device. By shrinking its components so much compared to traditional devices, Chan says, patients will need to give 1,500 times less blood than they would for regular tests.

It’s a portable handheld device. I do wonder if it could diagnose pneumonia (bacterial lung infection) from blood, though. But a huge step forward for non-expert diagnosis.

Amazon has knocked Tesco off the entertainment sales top spot >> Management Today

If Tesco’s embattled chief exec Dave Lewis was hoping that a Christmas rush for the latest Xbox hit would do anything to improve the supermarket’s fortunes, he might want to think again. Amazon is now the UK’s biggest seller of films, games and music after its market share jumped to 22.5% from 17.6% a year ago – knocking Tesco from the top spot.

Supermarkets have all suffered this year as more and more consumers armed with smartphones and tablets have headed online. Tesco’s share fell the most – from 20.6% in the three months to September last year to 15.1% for the same period last year, according to Kantar Worldpanel. Asda’s fell from 14.4% to 11%, Sainsbury’s fell from 7.9% to 7.2% and Morrison’s from 3.4% to 3.2%.

Is this one of those “he went bankrupt slowly, and then quickly” stories? (Note that it’s entertainment, and only content at that, not hardware.)

A tablet world away: Where Samsung and Apple lose out to brands you’ve never heard of >> ZDNet

Andrada Fiscutean:

Romanian brands’ marketing strategy is straightforward. “The tendency is to offer the lowest possible price and to launch new tablets every quarter,” the IDC analyst says. “The consumer market is focused on price and this is why local brands retain an important market share.”

The three local companies, who put their names on white label Chinese products, have helped the tablet became available to the masses in Romania. They offer mainly Android devices at an average price of $135, according to IDC, while their most affordable tablets are less than $60, a price Apple or Samsung cannot, or will not, compete with.

Romanians would have to work for three weeks to be able to afford the cheapest iPad, sold through official channels this October at around $375. The average monthly pay in the country was $486 in August, according to The National Institute of Statistics.

“Our mission always was to allow all Romanians access to technology, regardless of their budget,” Alexandru Dragoiu, CEO at E-Boda, told ZDNet. “Our public includes consumers living in large cities, as well as in towns and rural areas, who have limited budget and don’t need the highest possible specs.” The company is focused on selling 7in to 7.85in Android tablets at prices ranging between $70 and $230…

…Sociologist Marian-Gabriel Hancean, lecturer at the University of Bucharest, believes the rise of the local brands is not an effect of a romantic tendency to support Romanian products, but rather a pragmatic choice dictated by costs. “Their success has nothing to do with some sort of highly-developed patriotism,” he says. “Before the recession, bank loans generated a significant increase in the purchases of foreign products. I doubt people became patriots in such a short period of time.”

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