Start Up: the AI conundrum, Motorola shuns Facebook, Russia bans VPNs, CRISPR on humans, and more

The next top-end iPhone now seems certain to have facial recognition. But what about fingerprints? Photo by theilr on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. August already? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Artificial intelligence is stuck. Here’s how to move it forward • The New York Times

Gary Marcus:


Even the trendy technique of “deep learning,” which uses artificial neural networks to discern complex statistical correlations in huge amounts of data, often comes up short. Some of the best image-recognition systems, for example, can successfully distinguish dog breeds, yet remain capable of major blunders, like mistaking a simple pattern of yellow and black stripes for a school bus. Such systems can neither comprehend what is going on in complex visual scenes (“Who is chasing whom and why?”) nor follow simple instructions (“Read this story and summarize what it means”).

Although the field of A.I. is exploding with microdiscoveries, progress toward the robustness and flexibility of human cognition remains elusive. Not long ago, for example, while sitting with me in a cafe, my 3-year-old daughter spontaneously realized that she could climb out of her chair in a new way: backward, by sliding through the gap between the back and the seat of the chair. My daughter had never seen anyone else disembark in quite this way; she invented it on her own — and without the benefit of trial and error, or the need for terabytes of labeled data.

Presumably, my daughter relied on an implicit theory of how her body moves, along with an implicit theory of physics — how one complex object travels through the aperture of another. I challenge any robot to do the same.


Marcus suggests an international effort. Isn’t that what Open.AI is meant to be?
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iPhone 8 infrared face detection and general device design revealed in HomePod firmware • Mac Rumors


Late last week, Apple released early firmware for its HomePod smart speaker, which won’t be launching to the public until December. HomePod will run a version of iOS, and the firmware released by Apple corresponds to iOS 11.0.2.

One iOS developer has dug into the firmware and discovered that it also contains hints of what we can expect for other devices. Most importantly, the firmware includes numerous references to infrared face detection within the BiometricKit framework that is currently home to Touch ID authentication, supporting claims that the iPhone 8 will rely at least in part on facial recognition. Developer Steven Troughton-Smith has also confirmed these discoveries…

…Other references point to infrared capture in BiometricKit, pointing toward the rumored infrared sensors on the front of the iPhone being involved in capturing images for authentication, rather than using visible light through a traditional camera.

Various references point toward the code name for this functionality being “Pearl,” while the code name for the iPhone 8 is “D22.” The iOS 11.0.2 HomePod firmware also includes a glyph for this D22 device representing an iPhone that looks much like the rumored iPhone 8, featuring a full-front display with a notch cut out at the top for the earpiece and sensors.

The iPhone 8 is expected to debut around the usual September timeframe, but availability may be delayed somewhat due to production difficulties. Apple has reportedly been trying to incorporate Touch ID fingerprint sensing beneath the device’s display, but some rumors have suggested Apple has had difficulty achieving that goal and may instead switch to facial recognition for authentication purposes.


I agree with John Gruber that “iPhone 8” isn’t likely to be the name for the OLED phone; “iPhone Pro” (his choice) or “iPhone X” seems much more likely, while LCD versions called iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will come out too.

But that raises the question of whether the iPhone X/Pro will have fingerprint unlock, as its lower-end siblings will. If it doesn’t, that’s going to require some amazing face unlocking.
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Motorola’s Huckfeldt: Facebook didn’t ‘move the needle’ in re-launch campaign • Mediapost

Larissa Faw:


Motorola, along with agency partners Ogilvy and Motomentum, a custom Publicis Media shop, is shifting the Moto Z campaign strategy away from social and digital media.

“We spent quite a lot on Facebook last year,” says Jan Huckfeldt, VP, global marketing & communications, Motorola, adding the social network even touted the partnership’s success as a case study in an earnings call.

However, Motorola discovered that this strategy didn’t “move the needle overall,” he says. “We were disappointed it did not grow enough.”

The Moto Z campaign is part of a re-launch  effort by Motorola and parent Lenovo that re-introduced the iconic catchphrase “Hello Moto” and aligned with social media influencers.

“When we launched for the first time, we were only distributed in Verizon which is only 35% of the distribution channel,” says Huckfeldt. “So we said, ‘Let’s be as targeted as possible'” by targeting the “low-hanging fruit” of Android users.

It turns out, however, that when a brand like Motorola needs to revive its entire identity, “digital and social are not good tools,” he says. “When consumers are going through content, when something doesn’t have a hook, they just skip it. It doesn’t break through the clutter.”


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Two sides to Apple’s China story • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan offers you a choose-your-own-narrative take on Apple’s removal of VPN apps in China:


Apple Inc.’s decision to remove VPN apps in China is selling out.

Apple Inc.’s decision to remove VPN apps in China is pragmatic.

By removing the means by which users skirt the Great Firewall, Apple is actually “aiding China’s censorship efforts,” because it is doing some of the hard work for the government.

By removing the means by which users skirt the great firewall, Apple is not really “aiding China’s censorship efforts,” but merely following the law by halting access to unlicensed apps.


But the final paragraphs are identical:


CEO Tim Cook has made it clear that the world’s most populous nation is extremely important to Apple, with the Greater China region accounting for almost 30% of sales. He’s betting a lot on China and can’t afford to screw it up now.


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Putin bans VPNs to stop Russians accessing prohibited websites • Reuters

Polina Devitt:


President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that prohibits technology that provides access to websites banned in Russia, the government’s website showed on Sunday.

The law, already approved by the Duma, the lower house of parliament, will ban the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and other technologies, known as anonymizers, that allow people to surf the web anonymously. It comes into force on Nov. 1.

Leonid Levin, the head of Duma’s information policy committee, has said the law is not intended to impose restrictions on law-abiding citizens but is meant only to block access to “unlawful content,” RIA news agency said.


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Uber’s search for new CEO hampered by deep split on board • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:


Over the past few weeks, Ms. Whitman met with several Uber board members individually, offering advice on how to address the company’s problems. The members were encouraged by the discussions, and some believed that she was a natural fit for the vacant chief executive role. And after weeks of searching for a top candidate, they were eager to try to win her over.

That group did not include Mr. Kalanick. He and several of his allies had a competing agenda that included their own preferred candidates for the top job and the possibility of returning Mr. Kalanick into an operational role, perhaps even as chief executive. His surrogates had also recently begun talks with the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank about an investment in Uber that could provide Mr. Kalanick a route to regaining power.

Meg Whitman, the chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, announced via Twitter that she was taking herself out of the running to succeed Mr. Kalanick. Credit Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The jockeying between factions has put billions of dollars on the line, as the Uber board fights over control of the $70 billion ride-hailing giant. Interviews with more than a dozen people close to the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are confidential, indicate that board members’ relationships have been damaged by leaks, shifting wildly as alliances are forged and then broken.

The backbiting has taken a toll. After it was reported that she was a candidate for the chief executive job, Ms. Whitman said last Thursday that “Uber’s C.E.O. will not be Meg Whitman.” She made her announcement in a series of messages on Twitter just as the Uber board was holding a quarterly meeting, at which they had planned to call a vote on whether to appoint her to the job.


They might as well give Isaac a seat on the board, since he knows as much as anyone there.
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Summer of Samsung: a corruption scandal, a political firestorm—and a record profit • Bloomberg

Brad Stone, Sam Kim and Ian King:


“What’s good for Samsung is good for South Korea” was once an overriding national sentiment. Following the Korean War, chaebol drove the country’s development into a global economic power. Now, polls show that domestic support for them has collapsed, amid fresh accusations that they’ve been illegally buying influence. The government formed by Moon Jae-in after [former president] Park’s removal includes prominent chaebol critics who are agitating for greater shareholder rights and less family control.

Inside Samsung Electronics, the anger looks like just another obstacle in a series of them. The company remains confident of its engineering prowess, but it has been working to transform a hierarchical culture that has long prized loyalty, tireless work, and deference. Although this culture has been well-suited to a hardware company, executives know it will have to change if Samsung Electronics is to compete with Silicon Valley in technologies such as cloud services and artificial intelligence.

The shift may take place, depending on the outcome of Lee’s trial, without the guiding hand of Samsung’s longtime stewards.


Long read, but worthwhile background. Bloomberg (Business Week) does an in-depth piece on Samsung every couple of years.
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Wearables: not dead, but need focus • CNBC

Christina Farr:


industry experts I spoke to in recent weeks aren’t quite ready to pull the plug on the trend. Investors are still taking meetings with wearables startups, and entrepreneurs continue to develop new hardware products.

Why? Well, it’s a combination of factors.

Health and fitness seems to be the most sticky application for wearables, an IDC report found. And it has the potential to be a real business, if companies can deliver insights from the growing volume of data. And if these insights are proven to drive long-term behavior change by convincing users to walk more or eat healthier, that’s the holy grail.

“I still think the data play is interesting, though it’s hard to bet on hardware,” said Stephen Kraus, a health investor with Bessemer Venture Partners who is continuing to meet with wearables start-ups.

Thus far, wearables makers have made money through consumer sales and enterprise contracts. But, in the future, these companies might find new revenue opportunities from other health industry stakeholders.

“Ultimately, the signal out of these devices will be large enough that it will matter to practitioners and pharmaceutical companies,” Kraus predicted.


Apple’s doing OK at it. Everyone else, not so much at the moment. Is it going to be another iPod market.
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First human embryos edited in US • MIT Technology Review

Steve Connor:


The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, MIT Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

Until now, American scientists have watched with a combination of awe, envy, and some alarm as scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China.

Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.


This would allow one to get rid of genetic disease, of course. A sidenote: Steve Connor is one of the best science journalists in the world. So this exclusive is reliable, and remarkable.
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Al Gore: ‘The rich have subverted all reason’• The Guardian

Carole Cadwalladr:


“In order to fix the climate crisis, we need to first fix the government crisis,” he says. “Big money has so much influence now.” And he says a phrase that is as dramatic as it is multilayered: “Our democracy has been hacked.” It’s something I hear him repeat – to the audience in the ballroom, in a room backstage, a few weeks later in London, and finally on the phone earlier this month.

What do you mean by it exactly? “I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power,” says Gore, “have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn’t. It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial groups. It’s clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to this existential threat.”


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First proof that Facebook dark ads could swing an election • New Scientist

Timothy Revell:


the first study detailing the process from start to finish is finally shedding some light. “This is the first time that I’ve seen all the dots connected,” says Joanna Bryson, an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Bath, UK.

At the heart of the debate is psychographic targeting – the directing of political campaigns at people via social media based on their personality and political interests, with the aid of vast amount of data filtered by artificial intelligence.

Though Facebook doesn’t explicitly provide the tools to target people based on political opinions, the new study shows how the platform can be exploited. Using combinations of people’s interests, demographics, and survey data it’s possible to direct campaigns at individuals based on their agreement with ideas and policies. This could have a big impact on the success of campaigns.

“The weaponised, artificially intelligent propaganda machine is effective. You don’t need to move people’s political dials by much to influence an election, just a couple of percentage points to the left or right,” says Chris Sumner at the Online Privacy Foundation, who is presenting the work this week at DEF CON in Las Vegas.

No one yet knows how much this can permanently change people’s views. But Sumner’s study clearly reveals a form of political campaigning with no checks and balances.


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Google’s new program to track shoppers sparks a federal privacy complaint • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg:


A prominent privacy rights watchdog is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a new Google advertising program that ties consumers’ online behavior to their purchases in brick-and-mortar stores.

The legal complaint from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to be filed with the FTC on Monday, alleges that Google is newly gaining access to a trove of highly sensitive information — the credit and debit card purchase records of the majority of U.S. consumers — without revealing how they got the information or giving consumers meaningful ways to opt out. Moreover, the group claims that the search giant is relying on a secretive technical method to protect the data — a method that should be audited by outsiders and is likely vulnerable to hacks or other data breaches.

“Google is seeking to extend its dominance from the online world to the real, offline world, and the FTC really needs to look at that,” said Marc Rotenberg, the organization’s executive director.

Google called its advertising approach “common” and said it had “invested in building a new, custom encryption technology that ensures users’ data remains private, secure and anonymous.”

The Washington Post detailed Google’s program, Store Sales Measurement, in May. Executives have hailed it as a “revolutionary” breakthrough in advertisers’ abilities to track consumer behavior. The company said that, for the first time, it would be able to prove, with a high degree of confidence, that clicks on online ads led to purchases at the cash register of physical stores.


The data protection horse has long since bolted in the US.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up: the AI conundrum, Motorola shuns Facebook, Russia bans VPNs, CRISPR on humans, and more

  1. Re the AI is Stuck piece and he author observation of his own daughter;

    “my 3-year-old daughter spontaneously realized that she could climb out of her chair in a new way: backward, by sliding through the gap between the back and the seat of the chair. My daughter had never seen anyone else disembark in quite this way; she invented it on her own — and without the benefit of trial and error, or the need for terabytes of labeled data.”

    It’s disappointing that even a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University can issue such an unverifiable statement as if it’s a absolute fact in support of a theory. (I do agree with the theory, by the way.)

    No-one can say with confidence what another human being has observed during far less than 3 whole years of existence.

    One could say it was possible the daughter had never seen such a thing before – even saying it was probable would be overstepping the mark as there is no way to know for sure,

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