Start up: three steps to AI, Intel sets McAfee loose, Land Registry saved?, the wearable slowdown, and more

It’s the iPhone 7! Probably. Photo by tuaulamac on Flickr.

A selection of 15 links for you. Yeah, well, just do your best. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The hype — and hope — of artificial intelligence • The New Yorker

Om Malik:


Michelle Zhou spent over a decade and a half at I.B.M. Research and I.B.M. Watson Group before leaving to become a co-founder of Juji, a sentiment-analysis startup. An expert in a field where artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction intersect, Zhou breaks down A.I. into three stages. The first is recognition intelligence, in which algorithms running on ever more powerful computers can recognize patterns and glean topics from blocks of text, or perhaps even derive the meaning of a whole document from a few sentences. The second stage is cognitive intelligence, in which machines can go beyond pattern recognition and start making inferences from data. The third stage will be reached only when we can create virtual human beings, who can think, act, and behave as humans do.

We are a long way from creating virtual human beings. Despite what you read in the media, no technology is perfect, and the most valuable function of A.I. lies in augmenting human intelligence…

…Using Zhou’s three stages as a yardstick, we are only in the “recognition intelligence” phase—today’s computers use deep learning to discover patterns faster and better. It’s true, however, that some companies are working on technologies that can be used for inferring meanings, which would be the next step. “It does not matter whether we will end up at stage 3,” Zhou wrote to me in an e-mail. “I’m still a big fan of man-machine symbiosis, where computers do the best they can (that is being consistent, objective, precise), and humans do our best (creative, imprecise but adaptive).”


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Intel, TPG to form jointly-owned, cybersecurity company called McAfee • ZDNet

Stephanie Condon:


Intel has reached a deal to sell a majority stake in Intel Security to the private equity firm TPG, creating a jointly-owned, pure-play cybersecurity company called McAfee, Intel announced Wednesday.

Intel will get $3.1bn in cash for the deal, as well as a 49% stake in the new business. TPG will own the remaining 51% and will make a $1.1bn equity investment in the business. The transaction values Intel Security at $4.2bn.

Intel Security general manager Chris Young will be appointed CEO of the new company once the transaction closes. Young published an open letter to Intel Security’s stakeholders on Wednesday, outlining the benefits of the deal.


Bought it for $7.7bn in 2011. A relevant detail that somehow fell out of the story. So it gets $3.1bn and has 49% of $4.2bn, or $2.1bn: that’s $5.2bn. In other words, $2.5bn of value vanished in five years.
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Facebook’s ‘Trending’ feature exhibits flaws under new algorithm • WSJ

Georgia Wells:


After “trending” became automated on Aug. 26, Facebook replaced all headlines with a keyword, which users can hover over for a description of the story.

Some of the keywords don’t accurately represent the main topic of the news story. News recently labeled “The Hamptons” was about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s recent fundraising efforts there.

The credibility of “trending” news took a hit in the past week. It featured a story from conservative site about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly that falsely claimed that Fox News fired Ms. Kelly because she secretly supported Mrs. Clinton for president.

A Fox News spokeswoman said the story was an “egregious mistake.” said it isn’t responsible for the content that appeared on its site because it was taken from another site, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the story met standards because there was a sufficient number of articles about it.


“Exhibits flaws” is one way to put it.
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The “secret browser” inside iOS 10 • Recode

David McIntosh:


With iOS 10, people will have access to apps within iMessage that allow them to seamlessly add a visual layer to the messages they send — everything from disappearing text to animated GIFs, stickers and videos. These apps are invoked natively from within iMessage, and can tap into many of the same OS-level capabilities as an app that sits on your homescreen. Beyond exposing a tray of app icons inside iMessage, the platform enables users to send fully programmable apps (“MSMessages”) that are embedded in iMessage conversations that, when tapped, invoke a fully programmable and dynamic screen.

Apple is not the first to introduce this type of platform; Kik launched one of the first HTML5 Messaging platforms back in 2013, and Facebook Messenger pioneered messaging platforms. However, Apple brings two unique powers to bear: It owns and operates the largest and most-used messenger in North America as well as the underlying operating system itself, putting the company in a strong position to dominate the industry.

As more people take their conversations from the public web into private conversations via messengers, there’s an enormous opportunity for a new category of services as well as a threat to products that rely on public sharing and the web.


You mean Google, don’t you, David?
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Apple iPhone 7 Plus camera: Dual camera tech explained • Pocket-lint

Mike Lowe:


Pro photographers love their background blur, known as bokeh, which depends on wide apertures (and subject distance and focal length, to varying degrees) to produce that soft background and popping subject depth.

Now Apple wants to extend bokeh to the masses (or fauxkeh, given that it’s digitally produced) by using both the iPhone 7 Plus’s cameras in one. The 23mm (equivalent) wide-angle lens can be compared to the 56mm (equivalent) tele lens to create a depth map, with close-up subjects rendered in focus, more distant objects out of focus and the faux effect added.

We’re yet to see any manufacturer produce a perfect bokeh in post-production – HTC, Huawei, LG and more have certainly tried – so Apple’s limiting of this effect to its new Portrait mode may limit its potential to slip-up. We’ll have to wait and see.

Now both iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have that 23mm (equivalent) lens, with an f/1.8 aperture – which is brighter than the iPhone 6S’s f/2.2 aperture by a full stop and, therefore, lets in 50% more light than last time. It’s not the brightest lens on the market – Samsung already offers f/1.7 on its latest Galaxy phones – but will mean greater control and better low-light results than before.

Both cameras also offer optical image stabilisation for the first time – that was reserved for solely the Plus model previously.


So if OIS is now on both, you’ll probably get dual cameras on both models next year. That’s how it works. Huawei’s bokeh effect is smart – pick the focus point, pick an aperture. Have to see how Apple’s works out.
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The 16GB iPhone is dead • WSJ

Joanna Stern:


It will be remembered fondly for its cheaper price and less fondly for its catchphrase, “Storage Almost Full.”

The 16GB model is survived by three new models, all with plentiful amounts of storage (for now). Apple’s iPhone 7 will be the first iPhone to be available with a base of 32GB, starting at $649. On up from there, Apple will offer 128GB and 256GB.

Android competitors long have offered 32GB as the entry-level option, and most of those phones feature an option to expand storage via a MicroSD slot.

“I will deeply miss the 16GB storage option and the rush to delete photos so I could take just one more,” said no one ever.


Now that is how you do snark, people on Twitter. (Um, except there’s still a 16GB iPhone SE model.)
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Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter • Apple

Costs $9 in the US; costs £9 in the UK. At present exchange rate, $9 = £6.75; add VAT at 20% and that’s £8.10. Huh?
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Apple Watch Series 2 improves a tick with GPS • WIRED

Brian Barrett:


But the most significant changes are happening on the inside. It’s now waterproof, so you can wear it in the shower and use it to track your swimming workouts. The new Watch has GPS as well, which helps untether it from your iPhone even more. That’s good news for runners and wanderers, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of hit the battery life takes.

That’s an important step toward independence, the true goal of any smartwatch. But without being able to tap into mobile data, the Watch will still be the iPhone’s marionette, an extension of what your main display does rather than its own entity. That’s not altogether bad, and plenty of people enjoy the Watch as is. It’s something Apple reportedly, and rightly, has been working on, though. Until it happens, Apple’s iPhone killer will be brimming with untapped potential.

Otherwise, you’re looking at the usual spec bumps. Apple Watch Series 2 has a new chip that’s 50% faster and doubles the graphics performance, Apple says. There’s a new, brighter display that burns with the power of 1,000 nits.


Point for the headline. (“Improves a tick”.) Minus for not explaining what a nit is. (Gizmodo did in 2010.)

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This image shows how camera lenses beautify or uglify your pretty face • Gizmodo

Jesus Diaz, in November 2011:


If you have ever used a dating site and thought “damn, he/she looked so hot in those pictures! What happened?” or “wow! He/she looks a lot better in person!” you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s all about the lens distortion (which is also affected by the subject’s distance to the camera). Lenses make the world look different than it does through your eyes. They bend light rays, capturing the scene within a certain field of view into a limited bi-dimensional frame: the photograph. Depending on the lens’ focal length, the image will deform more or less, affecting how faces and objects look in photos.

You can see how the deformation works in this Eastwood’s series, who took the same photo with a wide range of optics, going from a 350mm to 19mm. Eastwood moved the camera to frame the subject in exactly the same position so you could clearly see the effect.


Seems relevant, now that some people will get access to telephoto capabilities on their phoens.
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Callblock’s new iOS app will block calls from over two million telemarketers • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:


A new application, Callblock, coming to the iTunes App Store, claims to block phone calls from over 2 million telemarketers by type, including things like robocallers, debt collectors, political campaigners, scammers, and more. To identify which calls should be blocked, the app uses a combination of public and private records, ongoing research, and user reports, the company explains. As new entries are added to the database, the app will automatically update to include the changes.

Callblock is the latest release from Rocketship, the bootstrapped and profitable app studio behind a popular mobile ad blocker called Adblock Fast, which today has 750,000 users and is rated 4.5 stars and 4 stars on the Apple App Store and Google Play…

…Using Callblock is a lot like using a mobile ad blocker on iOS. However, instead of going into Safari’s Settings, you head into Settings –> Phone, then toggle the Callblock switch on. In the app, you can then configure which type of calls you want to block, by checking or unchecking its series of rules.


Adblocking comes to phone calls.
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September 2015: What Apple’s 3D Touch aims to do: replace the physical iPhone home button • The Overspill

Me, just under a year ago, musing on 3D Touch and its possibilities:


What if – and it’s just speculation, you know, but what if – you were to put that “seems to move but doesn’t” technology into a phone? Yes, you’d have 3D Touch. That’s happened. But what if you put it into an iPhone home button? You could have something that seemed to move, and felt like it moved, but didn’t. You can double-click the Macbook trackpad; you could double-click a 3D Touch home button. But nothing moves. There’s just a piece of glass, and a sapphire circle for reading, and that’s it.

Think: when do you press the home button? When the phone is off and you’re enabling it, or to switch apps, or to get back to the home screen (so you can switch between app screens).

Most of the time – that is, time when you’re in apps – the Home button serves no purpose at all, except to be a grit-attracting water-allowing problem. Replacing it with a not-moving solid piece of glass would be a design and fault-resistance win.


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Basic wearables soar and smart wearables stall as worldwide wearables market climbs 26.1% in the second quarter • IDC


Shipments of wearable devices reached 22.5m in the second quarter of 2016 (2Q16) according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker. Despite a decline in shipments for one of the largest vendors, the overall market for wearable devices grew 26.1% year over year as new use cases are slowly starting to emerge.

“Fitness is the low-hanging fruit for wearables,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “However, the market is evolving and we’re starting to see consumers adopt new functionality, such as communication and mobile payments, while enterprises warm to wearables’ productivity potential.”

While the overall wearables market grew during 2Q16, its two categories traveled at different speeds and directions. Basic wearables (devices that do not support third party applications) grew 48.8% from 2Q15 levels while smart wearables (devices that support third party applications) declined 27.2% year over year.

“Basic wearables, which include most fitness trackers, have benefited from a combination of factors: a clear value proposition for end-users, an abundant selection of devices from multiple vendors, and affordable price points,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager, Wearables. “Consequently, basic wearables accounted for 82.8% of all wearable devices shipped during the quarter, and more vendors continue to enter this space. The danger, however, is that most devices end up being copycats of others, making it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves in a crowded market.”


IDC puts Apple Watch shipments for the second quarter at 1.6m, down from 3.6m the year before. You’re reading this after Apple’s announcement of the new model(s), so we can all expect a big boost to those sales in the third and especially fourth calendar quarters.

What struck me though is that there isn’t a single Android Wear vendor in the top five. (Samsung isn’t there either; presumably it’s sixth.) On Google Play, it still hasn’t passed 5m activations. That’s a platform that is really struggling.
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UK shelves privatisation of Land Registry • FT

Gill Plimmer:


The proposal was part of a programme of mooted sell-offs by the Treasury under the former chancellor George Osborne, aimed at raising £5bn by 2020.

But the plans attracted trenchant criticism from opponents including the Competition and Markets Authority, and John Manthorpe, former chief land registrar, who argued that a change in status could risk the confidence that homebuyers and other users have in the service.
The Open Data Institute, which was established by the government in 2012 to promote transparency as well as unions and other anti-privatisation campaign groups such as We Own It, also campaigned against the change in status.

A government source said: “No decision has been taken on the future of the Land Registry.
“A consultation on the Land Registry’s future closed in May and we are carefully considering our response. It is only right that new ministers take time to look at all their options before making a decision.”


Will feel happier when it’s definitely shelved, but this is good news for now.
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Exclusive: how Elizabeth Holmes’s house of cards came tumbling down • Vanity Fair

Nick Bilton digs into the Theranos story, and has this acute observation along the way:


In Silicon Valley, every company has an origin story—a fable, often slightly embellished, that humanizes its mission for the purpose of winning over investors, the press, and, if it ever gets to that point, customers, too. These origin stories can provide a unique, and uniquely powerful, lubricant in the Valley. After all, while Silicon Valley is responsible for some truly astounding companies, its business dealings can also replicate one big confidence game in which entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and the tech media pretend to vet one another while, in reality, functioning as cogs in a machine that is designed to not question anything—and buoy one another all along the way.

It generally works like this: the venture capitalists (who are mostly white men) don’t really know what they’re doing with any certainty—it’s impossible, after all, to truly predict the next big thing—so they bet a little bit on every company that they can with the hope that one of them hits it big. The entrepreneurs (also mostly white men) often work on a lot of meaningless stuff, like using code to deliver frozen yogurt more expeditiously or apps that let you say “Yo!” (and only “Yo!”) to your friends. The entrepreneurs generally glorify their efforts by saying that their innovation could change the world, which tends to appease the venture capitalists, because they can also pretend they’re not there only to make money. And this also helps seduce the tech press (also largely comprised of white men), which is often ready to play a game of access in exchange for a few more page views of their story about the company that is trying to change the world by getting frozen yogurt to customers more expeditiously. The financial rewards speak for themselves. Silicon Valley, which is 50 square miles, has created more wealth than any place in human history. In the end, it isn’t in anyone’s interest to call bullshit.


That the WSJ’s John Carreyrou was interested in calling bullshit – and, crucially, finding out facts with which to make that call – is what set him apart.
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Theranos: a library of articles and links 2006-2016 • Discoveries In Health Policy

Bruce Quinn MD PhD:


This blog began in December 2014, when a no-longer-existing blog ran a critical review of the favorable New Yorker article on Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.

For over a year, this blog entry records an informal log of online news articles about Theranos.   I do not review it for the dead links that likely accumulate over time.


Goes back to 2006. What’s noticeable (via Mike Masnick): lots of the writeups aren’t in the tech press at all (biotech, and biology, puzzles most tech writers; plus there’s no advertising in it, and barely any readers).
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: bitcoin isn’t exactly “tied to the desktop” (from yesterday’s commentary) – though the mobile implementations are a bit clunky.

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