Start Up: Intel’s smart glasses, why Apple pulled Telegram, China squashes cryptocoins, tablets fizzle, and more

Turns out that podcast listeners really do listen – a lot. Photo by Casey Fiesler on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Apologies for email recipients: today’s will be a double helping. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Intel made smart glasses that look normal • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


From the outside, the Vaunt glasses look just like eyeglasses. When you’re wearing them, you see a stream of information on what looks like a screen — but it’s actually being projected onto your retina.

The prototypes I wore in December also felt virtually indistinguishable from regular glasses. They come in several styles, work with prescriptions, and can be worn comfortably all day. Apart from a tiny red glimmer that’s occasionally visible on the right lens, people around you might not even know you’re wearing smart glasses.

Like Google Glass did five years ago, Vaunt will launch an “early access program” for developers later this year. But Intel’s goals are different than Google’s. Instead of trying to convince us we could change our lives for a head-worn display, Intel is trying to change the head-worn display to fit our lives.

Google Glass, and the Glassholes who came with it, gave head-worn displays a bad reputation. HoloLens is aiming for a full, high-end AR experience that literally puts a Windows PC on your head. Magic Leap puts an entire computer on your hip, plus its headset is a set of goggles that look like they belong in a Vin Diesel movie.

We live in a world where our watches have LTE and our phones can turn our faces into bouncing cartoon characters in real time. You’d expect a successful pair of smart glasses to provide similar wonders. Every gadget these days has more, more, more.

With Vaunt, Intel is betting on less.


Well. Intel doesn’t have the heft to make these in any volume; so who might? (The absence of a camera is a smart move, certainly.)
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Apple abruptly pulled Telegram last week when it learned app was serving child pornography • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:


9to5Mac has verified the authenticity of the email with Apple before publishing this story.

In the email, [Apple marketing VP Phil] Schiller takes an admirable and firm position on never allowing such vile content as child pornography to be distributed through the App Store.

»The Telegram apps were taken down off the App Store because the App Store team was alerted to illegal content, specifically child pornography, in the apps. After verifying the existence of the illegal content the team took the apps down from the store, alerted the developer, and notified the proper authorities, including the NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).«

The response also explains what Telegram CEO Pavel Durov referenced when responding to a user last week who asked why the app was pulled:

»We were alerted by Apple that inappropriate content was made available to our users and both apps were taken off the App Store. Once we have protections in place we expect the apps to be back on the App Store.«

Similar to Apple’s iMessage, Telegram offers a secure messaging feature that relies on end-to-end encryption for protecting the privacy of messages sent between users. This means the illegal content was likely not simply media being shared between users but more likely content being served up from a third-party plug-in used by Telegram.


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Podcast listeners really are the holy grail advertisers hoped they’d be • Wired

Miranda Katz:


Apple’s Podcast Analytics feature finally became available last month, and [podcaster Misha] Euceph—along with podcasters everywhere—breathed a sigh of relief. Though it’s still early days, the numbers podcasters are seeing are highly encouraging.

Forget those worries that the podcast bubble would burst the minute anyone actually got a closer look: It seems like podcast listeners really are the hyper-engaged, super-supportive audiences that everyone hoped.

“I think some people had an apocalyptic fear that, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to get this data and see no one’s listening,’” says Erik Diehn, CEO of Midroll Media. Thanks to surveys and data from Stitcher, Midroll’s distribution platform, the podcast network had long felt confident that a nightmare scenario was unlikely—and now thanks to Podcast Analytics, Diehn says, it’s finally indisputable fact. On average, according to Midroll’s data, podcast listeners are making it through about 90% of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads.


A sort-of captive audience, and prepared to listen at length.
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China to stamp out cryptocurrency trading completely with ban on foreign platforms • South China Morning Post

Xie Yu:


China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted the PBOC on Monday afternoon as saying it would tighten regulations on domestic investors’ participation in overseas transactions of ICOs and virtual currencies, as risks are still high in the sector.
Beijing’s tougher stance – which effectively bans all forms of activity related to digital currencies – aims to put the breaks on the ICO and virtual-currency trading mania that has been sweeping China. The frenzy among retail investors led to huge price volatility and several reported incidents of fraud, causing a headache for regulators increasingly worried about social unrest.

In one incident on Saturday, reported by mainland Chinese media TMT Post, angry investors had forcibly taken Jiang Jie, founder of an ICO project called ARTS, to the Beijing municipal financial bureau, alleging fraud after the value of a virtual coin issued by ARTS tumbled to 0.13 yuan in two weeks from 0.66 yuan after its ICO and listing on an exchange in late January.
Following reports of the latest crackdown, advertisements for cryptocurrencies have stopped appearing on Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, and social media platform Weibo.


What happens to all the Chinese bitcoin miners, then?
link to this extract

Detachable tablets return to growth during the holiday season as slate tablet decline continues • IDC



The worldwide detachable tablet market grew to 6.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2017 (4Q17), an increase of 10.3% from the previous holiday season, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. Growth for the entire year remained positive although it showed signs of slowing as detachable tablets grew 1.6% year over year in 2017, down from the 24% growth in 2016. However, some of the slowness was attributed to the launch cadence of high profile devices like the Surface, which was off schedule, leaving older models on shelves as consumers and businesses laid in wait for product refreshes.
“To date, much of the trajectory of the detachable market has been attributed to Microsoft and Apple pushing their wares in the U.S.,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “However, continued success of this category hinges on the willingness of other PC vendors to participate and more importantly, consumers from other countries to adopt the new form factor over convertible PCs.”


Detachables aren’t a big slice – 6.5m of 49.1m in the fourth quarter. But Google Android tablets are really struggling: Amazon (which doesn’t use Google’s services) overtook Samsung to take second place.
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‘I hope this is an instance of fake news’: FBI messages show the bureau’s real reaction to Trump firing James Comey • Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes:


Over the next few days [following Comey’s firing], a wealth of evidence emerged to suggest that Trump and [press secretary Sarah] Sanders were playing fast and loose with the truth. But we now have the documents to prove that decisively. Their disclosure was not a leak but an authorized action by the FBI, which released to us under the Freedom of Information Act more than 100 pages of leadership communications to staff dealing with the firing. This material tells a dramatic story about the FBI’s reaction to the Comey firing—but it is neither a story of gratitude to the president nor a story of an organization in turmoil relieved by a much-needed leadership transition.

Within a few days of the firing, both current and former FBI officials began pushing back against the White House’s claims. Then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Comey “enjoyed broad support within the FBI” and that “the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”

Here at Lawfare, Nora Ellingsen—who served as a counterterrorism analyst at the FBI for several years—talked with roughly 20 of her former colleagues. She characterized the opinion of Comey among the FBI’s rank and file as almost universally positive. “Nearly everyone loved him,” she wrote, and the “degree of consensus on this point … has been incredible.” She went on: “All of the people I talked to described having the same reaction when they heard that the director had been fired: complete shock, followed by deep sadness.”


Trump and Sanders told lies? It’s barely credible.
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Amazon pulls hair dryer after woman discovers it shoots fire • Canada Global News

Alexander Maveal:


Amazon has pulled several hair care products from their website after a South Carolina woman posted video of a hair dryer she ordered smoking and shooting fire.

“Oh my gosh. I can not freakin’ believe this,” Erika Augthun Shoolbred said in the video she posted to her Facebook page on Jan. 29. “Fire is coming out of the hair dryer.”

Shoolbred received the Salon Grade Hair Dryer at her home in Spartanburg, S.C. on Saturday.

“Talk about a bad hair day!” she added in her post, adding that the hair dryer became a “blow torch on its first use.”


Jeff Bezos beating Elon Musk to the flamethrower thing already.
Of course Musk’s flamethrower plan is offered as a “related story”. The picture of the dryer is scary, though.
link to this extract

South Wales cops crow about facial recognition arrests on social media • The Register

Rebecca Hill:


Campaigners have also voiced concerns about the fact innocent people’s faces are being scanned against criminal databases [when they go to a Six Nations rugby match], arguing this is edging the UK closer to a surveillance state.

“It is a great infringement of fans’ rights,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, adding that the police “have no clear basis” for using the tech.

“Thousands of innocent people will have their faces scanned against a database of half a million photos,” she said.

The Greater London Assembly – the group elected to hold the mayor to account – has also called for greater caution. Last year it wrote to mayor Sadiq Khan saying there was a “strong case” for him to ask the Met to stop the trials.

The GLA said it was “extremely disappointing” that the work has been done with “so little public engagement” and “in the absence of a legislative framework and proper regulation or oversight”.

That’s because the police are going ahead with the with the work in spite of the fact the government has yet to publish its biometrics strategy, which should give guidance on AFR and the retention of innocent people’s images.


Catching criminals: good. Potentially identifying anyone and not having a framework for them to challenge the basis on which you’re identifying them: bad, because it can be abused by authoritarians. This is where we’re at.
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Foxconn package cost Wisconsin eight times as much per job as similar 2017 state jobs deals • Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

Jason Stein:


The [Journal Sentinel] newspaper examined Foxconn and the 58 other deals from 2017 in which Wisconsin promised companies tax credits if they created or retained jobs. The analysis found:

• Foxconn’s $2.85bn in tax credits accounted for 96% of the credits that the state awarded in these 2017 deals, but the deal produced only 44% of the jobs.
• The other 18 companies with 2017 deals to create jobs — not retain them — are set to receive an average of $26,300 in tax credits per job from the state. The closest deal to Foxconn was with convenience store chain Kwik Trip, which is getting $63,800 per job to expand its La Crosse headquarters.
• Foxconn would earn $219,200 per job if it holds up its end of the deal with Wisconsin. That’s just over eight times as much per job as the average from the 18 other job creation deals and more than three times as much per job as Kwik Trip, the second costliest deal.
• When all the 58 deals — both for newly created and retained jobs — were analyzed, they cost about $7,200 per job, or far less than for Foxconn.
• The Foxconn deal would also result in lower investment levels in plant and equipment compared to most of the other deals. Foxconn would put in up to $3.52 of private investment for every $1 in state tax credits. But the other 58 deals would provide about $14.45 in private investment for every $1 in state tax credits.
Walker and his administration have repeatedly said that the Foxconn deal makes sense because it will create a new cluster of technology companies and transform the state’s economy. 

“The state recognized the once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by Foxconn is unlike that of any other project in the state’s history as Foxconn is bringing the future of electronics manufacturing to Wisconsin with the first LCD manufacturing facility outside of Asia,” said Mark Maley, spokesman for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Bartik, the economist, said it might be possible to justify the Foxconn deal if the company ends up creating a technology cluster in Wisconsin that is akin to the one seen in Silicon Valley. But he cautioned that an impact like that is rare.


It’s a big gamble; what’s the betting that if it all goes south they’re bailed out by the government?
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Our hackable political future • NY Times

Henry J. Farrell and Rick Perlstein:


Imagine it is the spring of 2019. A bottom-feeding website, perhaps tied to Russia, “surfaces” video of a sex scene starring an 18-year-old Kirsten Gillibrand. It is soon debunked as a fake, the product of a user-friendly video application that employs generative adversarial network technology to convincingly swap out one face for another.

It is the summer of 2019, and the story, predictably, has stuck around — part talk-show joke, part right-wing talking point. “It’s news,” political journalists say in their own defense. “People are talking about it. How can we not?”

Then it is fall. The junior senator from New York State announces her campaign for the presidency. At a diner in New Hampshire, one “low information” voter asks another: “Kirsten What’s-her-name? She’s running for president? Didn’t she have something to do with pornography?”

Welcome to the shape of things to come. In 2016 Gareth Edwards, the director of the Star Wars film “Rogue One,” was able to create a scene featuring a young Princess Leia by manipulating images of Carrie Fisher as she looked in 1977. Mr. Edwards had the best hardware and software a $200 million Hollywood budget could buy. Less than two years later, images of similar quality can be created with software available for free download on Reddit. That was how a faked video supposedly of the actress Emma Watson in a shower with another woman ended up on the website Celeb Jihad.

Programs like these have many legitimate applications. They can help computer-security experts probe for weaknesses in their defenses and help self-driving cars learn how to navigate unusual weather conditions. But as the novelist William Gibson once said, “The street finds its own uses for things.” So do rogue political actors. The implications for democracy are eye-opening.


I think they’re slightly less concerning the more widely available such things are, because familiarity means we can discount them more easily. Yes, it means that people can *deny* things they actually did; but the tools will emerge to determine the truth about such works.
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Inside Amazon’s artificial intelligence flywheel • Wired

Steven Levy:


Amazon did have one thing going for it. Since the company works backward from an imagined final product (thus the fanciful press releases), the blueprints can include features that haven’t been invented yet. Such hard problems are irresistible to ambitious scientists. The voice effort in particular demanded a level of conversational AI—nailing the “wake word” (“Hey Alexa!”), hearing and interpreting commands, delivering non-absurd answers—that did not exist.

That project, even without the specifics on what Amazon was building, helped attract Rohit Prasad, a respected speech-recognition scientist at Boston-based tech contractor Raytheon BBN. (It helped that Amazon let him build a team in his hometown.) He saw Amazon’s lack of expertise as a feature, not a bug. “It was green fields here,” he says. “Google and Microsoft had been working on speech for years. At Amazon we could build from scratch and solve hard problems.” As soon as he joined in 2013, he was sent to the Alexa project. “The device existed in terms of the hardware, but it was very early in speech,” he says.

The trickiest part of the Echo—the problem that forced Amazon to break new ground and in the process lift its machine-learning game in general—was something called far field speech recognition. It involves interpreting voice commands spoken some distance from the microphones, even when they are polluted with ambient noise or other aural detritus. One challenging factor was that the device couldn’t waste any time cogitating about what you said. It had to send the audio to the cloud and produce an answer quickly enough that it felt like a conversation, and not like those awkward moments when you’re not sure if the person you’re talking to is still breathing. Building a machine-learning system that could understand and respond to conversational queries in noisy conditions required massive amounts of data—lots of examples of the kinds of interactions people would have with their Echos. It wasn’t obvious where Amazon might get such data.

Far-field technology had been done before, says Limp, the VP of devices and services. But “it was on the nose cone of Trident submarines, and it cost a billion dollars.” Amazon was trying to implement it in a device that would sit on a kitchen counter, and it had to be cheap enough for consumers to spring for a weird new gadget. “Nine out of 10 people on my team thought it couldn’t be done,” Prasad says. “We had a technology advisory committee of luminaries outside Amazon—we didn’t tell them what we were working on, but they said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t work on far field recognition!’”


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Just Say It • Medium

Belikin Ilya:


iPad Pro is probably the most underutilized computing platform. Touch Pencil together are perfect for fast, intimate, and precise interactions. What is missing?
Keyboard shortcuts. Not the keyboards though, just shortcuts.
If you are a pro user what you want is fast interaction. You want to be effective in changing a mode, adding an object or accessing a property. On a desktop computer, the way to do this is the keyboard.

A pointer is there to provide context (selection, hover) and the keyboard is there to tell a computer what to do. Mostly with shortcuts like Cmnd and a keystroke or a short text search and Enter.

When the touch revolutionized the way we interact with computers it also took away the current context. It was okay for a small mobile device. But without the context of a pointer and ability to say what to do with something you are pointing at, interactions on tablets are cumbersome.

No, I do not want to tap and hold to copy a rectangle. I want to point at it and say “Duplicate”. On a Mac, one can do that with the pointer, click and Cmnd D.

I guess now it is obvious what is going to happen next. You will be able to tap and say. Tap on anything and speak in your calm voice. No need to switch to another input device (and lose time in transition between keyboard and mouse/touchpad).

Just tap and speak. The computer already has all the context and all the capabilities necessary to understand. You are close, no need to raise your voice. Say it casually. Say it softly.


And then realise that all the people in the office or cafe where you’re working are looking at you in an unimpressed manner. There’s a reason voice control hasn’t taken off, ever: you only do it if you absolutely must, or else you’re in a private setting such as your home.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Monday’s email didn’t arrive because I missed a tickbox off the WordPress interface, and didn’t spot the error until it was too late. My apologies.

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