Start up: Brexit fuels uncertainty, Google faces new antitrust case, AI for the blind, and more


Expect to see lots more of these. Photo by stratageme.com on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. None invokes Article 50. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Brexit: Uncertainty around funding and skills likely to affect UK tech startups • Computer Weekly

Lis Evenstad:

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The tech startup industry as a whole was backing the remain campaign. However, the industry is now faced with a different and uncertain future that is likely to affect investment, funding and skills.

One of the main challenges the industry now faces is access to funding. Gartner predicts that as a result of the UK leaving the EU, IT spend will drop significantly not just at home, but in the rest of Europe.

John-David Lovelock, research vice-president at Gartner, said the current forecast growth for UK IT spending is 1.7%.

“The Brexit will drop this figure between 2% and 5%. In other words, UK IT spending growth will certainly be negative in 2016,” he said.

Frost & Sullivan’s research director for digital transformation Adrian Drodz and practice director EIA Ajay Sule added that access to funding and credit will be affected by Brexit.

“Although the Bank of England has been quick to state it has plans in place to support the UK economy and the financial services sector, concerns will be raised with regards to the ability to obtain credit and funding – especially among startups,” they said.

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link to this extract


Anarchy in the UK: Britain is sailing into a storm with no one at the wheel • The Economist

“Bagehot”:

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IT WAS a troubling exchange. On live television Faisal Islam, the political editor of SkyNews, was recounting a conversation with a pro-Brexit Conservative MP. “I said to him: ‘Where’s the plan? Can we see the Brexit plan now?’ [The MP replied:] ‘There is no plan. The Leave campaign don’t have a post-Brexit plan…Number 10 should have had a plan.’” The camera cut to Anna Botting, the anchor, horror chasing across her face. For a couple of seconds they were both silent, as the point sunk in. “Don’t know what to say to that, actually,” she replied, looking down at the desk. Then she cut to a commercial break.

Sixty hours have gone by since a puffy-eyed David Cameron appeared outside 10 Downing Street and announced his resignation. The pound has tumbled. Investment decisions have been suspended; already firms talk of moving operations overseas. Britain’s EU commissioner has resigned. Sensitive political acts—the Chilcot report’s publication, decisions on a new London airport runway and the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent—are looming. European leaders are shuttling about the continent meeting and discussing what to do next. Those more sympathetic to Britain are looking for signs from London of how they can usefully influence discussions. At home mounting evidence suggests a spike in racist and xenophobic attacks on immigrants. Scotland is heading for another independence referendum. Northern Ireland’s peace settlement may hang by a thread.

But at the top of British politics, a vacuum yawns wide. The phones are ringing, but no one is picking up.

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Still, mustn’t grumble, eh?
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Rohan Silva has no idea what he’s talking about • FT Alphaville

Kadhim Shubber takes issue with former No. 10 tech policy adviser Silva, who suggests cutting corporation tax to 10% to (re?-) attract businesses:

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He goes on to say that we should “transform the efficiency of our immigration system” by using “data analytics and machine learning”, which has become something of a verbal tic in the tech community.

This sort of thinking crops up whenever society faces complicated, difficult problems. If only taxes or regulation didn’t exist, neither would recessions or financial crises. It has the impression of being proactive — we don’t have time, just cut the red tape and save the economy already! — but is more likely to exacerbate the fractures in our society than heal them.

It will take months and years before we fully understand what happened in the UK last week, but it is highly plausible that this was the backlash of a class of people left behind by globalisation. They have much to be angry about: de-industrialisation; massive tax avoidance; the pain and misery caused by the financial crisis; the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small international elite. If we want to assuage this fury, we might start by better redistributing the fruits of globalisation.

In that context, turning the UK into a global tax haven would be akin to rubbing salt in the wound. Silva seems to imagine the economically disenfranchised people who just plunged the UK into crisis will be content to give him and other business owners more money. It’s not only a stupid idea, it’s a dangerous one that risks inflaming tensions.

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Godless mobile malware can root 90% of Android devices

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The mobile malware masquerades as harmless-looking mobile apps, including this Summer Flashlight app:

Several clean apps on Google Play also share the same developer certificate with malicious versions containing the Godless code. This means there is the potential for a user to be upgraded to a malicious version of an app without their knowledge.

If and when that infection occurs, Godless won’t lock their screen and demand hundreds of dollars in ransom. Neither will it place calls to mysterious Chinese phone numbers. Instead it will have the ability to download any app it chooses, including those that spam users with ads and/or install backdoors onto an infected device.

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More details on the Trend Micro blog post. It starts installing when the screen switches off – sneaky.
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Artificial intelligence is helping the blind to recognize objects • Co.Exist

Ben Schiller:

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To train the iPad app, you place things in front of the device’s camera at several angles, telling it about the items. Then you repeat the process, taking the objects away, so the app recognizes the difference. On subsequent occasions, it will be able to distinguish, say, your set of keys from another set of keys. “It’s like a new born baby—it’s learning all the time as you show it objects,” Marczak says. Probably the training would be done by a family member or friend.

The second app, called Aipoly, does something similar. It’s sophisticated enough to recognize clothing and colors, even in abstract works of art.

Marczak says ID Labs is working with visually impaired support groups to improve the EyeSense app, which is free to download (versions for Android and other phones are due soon). It also works offline if necessary.

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link to this extract


Google Maps gets a new, 700-trillion-pixel cloudless satellite map • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

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More than 1 billion people use Google Maps every month, making it possibly the most popular atlas ever created. On Monday, it gets a makeover, and its many users will see something different when they examine the planet’s forests, fields, seas, and cities.

Google has added 700 trillion pixels of new data to its service. The new map, which activates this week for all users of Google Maps and Google Earth, consists of orbital imagery that is newer, more detailed, and of higher contrast than the previous version.

Most importantly, this new map contains fewer clouds than before—only the second time Google has unveiled a “cloudless” map. Google had not updated its low- and medium-resolution satellite map in three years.

The improvements can be seen in the new map’s depiction of Christmas Island. Almost a thousand miles from Australia, the island was largely untouched by human settlement until the past two centuries. Its remoteness gives it a unique ecology, but—given its location in the middle of the tropical Indian Ocean—it is frequently obscured by clouds. The new map clears these away.

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link to this extract


Xbox Fitness sunset announcement • Microsoft Studios

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Since November 2013, Xbox Fitness has allowed you to experience the world’s best workouts with famous trainers, right in the comfort of your own home. As a service, Xbox Fitness has continually evolved since it launched on Xbox One, with new content and ongoing updates. Given the service relies on providing you with new and exciting content regularly, Microsoft has given much consideration to the reality updating the service regularly in order to sustain it. Therefore, the decision has been made to scale back our support for Xbox Fitness over the next year, and we want to provide our users with a timeline of the changes you will see.

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What chances for the Microsoft Band’s future?
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EU set to issue fresh formal antitrust charges against Google • WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak:

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In an interview with The Wall Street Journal shortly before the Android announcement, Ms. Vestager said the agency was “advancing” its investigations into whether Google is abusing its dominance with its advertising service, an area of concern first outlined under her predecessor, Joaquín Almunia.

The investigation in advertising hits at a lucrative area of business for Google, which accounted for 90% of the tech firm’s $75 billion in revenue last year.

At issue is whether the company prevents or obstructs website operators from placing ads on their websites that compete with Google’s advertising business.

The EU is also looking into whether Google restricts advertisers that use Google’s auction-based advertising service, where they bid for the placement of ads on search result pages, from moving to other search advertising platforms.

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In Europe it doesn’t rain, but it pours for Google. The UK is still part of the EU, so any decision would still be implemented over the next two years at least.
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Google’s cars need a clear road map to revenue • The Information

Amir Efrati considers partnership (vehicle makers won’t do it), licensing (vehicle makers won’t do it), and suggests what’s left:

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One natural path for Google is to reach consumers directly with an internet-based service. That’s its DNA. We know that Google’s car designers have thought long and hard about operating a “robo taxi” service to allow people to order cars on demand. It’s likely to go down that kind of path; its leaders have talked up the benefits of reducing car ownership so that one car could be used by many people throughout the day and night. Perhaps there will be subscription-type offerings that guarantee customers a pickup within a certain period of time, rather than the Uber-type system in which pickup times and prices can vary based on customer demand or driver availability.

By not needing to pay drivers, which represent the single biggest expense in ride-hailing, Google could price such a service below those run by Uber and other firms and build up its own customer base. But first, Google would need to produce these cars and get them deployed. Making thousands of new cars per year, particularly advanced models that have never been mass-produced before, would be a tough and expensive undertaking. Just ask Tesla how hard it is to make thousands of cutting-edge electric vehicles in a year.

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“Go-to-market” is the big important step between “have a great idea” and “make pots of money from great idea”.
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Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google • The Guardian

Mark Harris:

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Sidewalk Labs, a secretive subsidiary of Alphabet, wants to radically overhaul public parking and transportation in American cities, emails and documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

Its high-tech services, which it calls “new superpowers to extend access and mobility”, could make it easier to drive and park in cities and create hybrid public/private transit options that rely heavily on ride-share services such as Uber. But they might also gut traditional bus services and require cities to invest heavily in Google’s own technologies, experts fear.

Sidewalk is initially offering its cloud software, called Flow, to Columbus, Ohio, the winner of a recent $50m Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation.

Using public records laws, the Guardian obtained dozens of emails and documents submitted to Challenge cities by Sidewalk Labs, detailing many technologies and proposals that have not previously been made public.

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Harris is one of the best journalists out there; he keeps finding out stuff in these areas long before anyone else.
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We don’t know jack about the next iPhone • iMore

Michael Gartenberg:

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Since I worked at Apple, I’m often asked what employees think behind closed doors when they see these rumors and read the debates. The answer is, not much. Maybe a smile, maybe a sigh if the conversations are particularly off base, or if they miss the point entirely about what might finally be announced.

I have no doubt there are all sorts of prototype iPhones floating around the labs, some with headphone jacks and some without. Some with LCD displays and some with AMOLED. Some with… well, I could go on and on.

And that’s the real point. We could go around and around on any rumor, but for now, all of them, and all the debate around them, are like that tale told by that idiot:

Full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

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link to this extract


Microsoft still believes hand tracking is the future of PC input • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Microsoft wants to move beyond the keyboard and mouse to power the interfaces of the future. While the software maker has been investing in voice recognition and augmented reality scenarios, Microsoft’s research division has made some significant progress with hand tracking. Researchers are working on software that will allow virtual environments to track and recognize detailed hand motion. The breakthroughs could apply to virtual reality headsets, or just the ability to more accurately control virtual objects on a screen.

Microsoft is presenting some of it work at two academic research conferences this summer, offering a closer look at what might be our virtual future. Microsoft is focused on improving the accuracy of hand tracking, while reducing the amount of power required to process complex movements. “We’re getting to the point that the accuracy is such that the user can start to feel like the avatar hand is their real hand,” says Jamie Shotton, a principal researcher in computer vision at Microsoft’s UK research lab. “This has been a research topic for many, many years, but I think now is the time where we’re going to see real, usable, deployable solutions for this,” Shotton said.

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Unconvinced. How does it determine the difference between an intentional gesture and an unintentional one?
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Amazon to add dozens of brands to Dash buttons, but do shoppers want them? • WSJ

Sharon Terlep and Greg Bensinger:

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Several consumer-product executives said they have signed up for the gadget largely to ensure their brands maintain close ties to Amazon. The venture is more vital as a marketing tool than a product-delivery system, they said.

“It may not be the most intuitive feature,” said Ken McFarland, director of e-commerce for Seventh Generation Inc., which has Dash buttons for its cleaning products and diapers. “But Amazon is trying so many things and you don’t want to miss out on the ones that work. You want to be out there if it does happen to be a hit.”

Companies pay Amazon $15 for each button sold and 15% of each Dash product sale, atop the normal commission, which typically ranges from 8% to 15%, the people familiar with the matter said.

For their part, consumers pay $5 per button, though Amazon sweetens the deal by offering a $5 rebate for every button. The rebate is good toward the first purchase using that button. Only members of Amazon’s $99-per-year Prime membership are eligible to use the Dash buttons.

Helping expand Dash’s ranks: Amazon dropped a hefty buy-in fee of around $200,000 required of the first companies that signed up, according to people familiar with the terms.

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This resembles supermarkets charging companies to get their goods visible on shelves shoppers frequent – except here, the shelves are inside the shopper’s home. “Fewer than half” who have one have used it, according to Slice Intelligence, at a rate of about once every two months. The other bugbear? You don’t know what the price of what you’re summoning with a push is.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

One thought on “Start up: Brexit fuels uncertainty, Google faces new antitrust case, AI for the blind, and more

  1. “How does it determine the difference between an intentional gesture and an unintentional one?”

    That’s the easiest problem to solve – some sort of switch that lets it know that you are now intentionally gesturing.
    I’m sure people are working on ways to do this now to find what works well. The switch could be on the gesture hand, the non-gesture hand, your foot (like an accelerator) or even your tongue.

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