Start Up: more on the Google man-ifesto, ARKit ahoy, hacking slot machines, Mumbai’s lethal railways, and more


Teens have smartphones. What has that changed? Photo by Photoglovey on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Have smartphones destroyed a generation? • The Atlantic

Jean Twenge is a sociologist, and says the arrival of smartphones has made a huge difference:

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Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

In the early 1970s, the photographer Bill Yates shot a series of portraits at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Tampa, Florida. In one, a shirtless teen stands with a large bottle of peppermint schnapps stuck in the waistband of his jeans. In another, a boy who looks no older than 12 poses with a cigarette in his mouth. The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yates’s camera with the self-confidence born of making your own choices—even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones.

Fifteen years later, during my own teenage years as a member of Generation X, smoking had lost some of its romance, but independence was definitely still in. My friends and I plotted to get our driver’s license as soon as we could, making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. Asked by our parents, “When will you be home?,” we replied, “When do I have to be?”

But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

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I’d also love to hear whether any sociologists have begun studying the effects on infants of mothers who are more interested in a black rectangle they’re holding than the infant’s face. That’s the next “smartphone” generation.
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I am disappointed but unsurprised • Medium

Erica Joy:

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Saying yes to that question [the question being: “do we want this to be an environment where racists and sexists feel safe and supported to share their views?”] (and so it’s clear, choosing not to answer that question is the equivalent of saying yes to it) means a company should give up any notions of being diverse or inclusive. Saying “we want an environment that allows all opinions and a free exchange of ideas” to that question means a company has deemed racism and sexism viable opinions, worthy of being freely exchanged, instead of the hatred and bigotry that they are.

That message will be heard loud and clear by the targets of said hatred and bigotry, and will be antithetical to any other attempts at building a diverse and inclusive company. Employees will tell their friends (or the media in this case) about what the company is really about, and any efforts at improving diversity will be hampered. Inclusion will be a non-starter, since employees cannot feel included in an environment where their peers believe they aren’t worthy of being there and will say so, freely.

Employees cannot advance in a system that is built on peer evaluation if their peers believe them to be fundamentally subpar. Employees cannot feel a sense of belonging or, as Google itself told us, thrive in an environment when they do not feel psychologically safe.

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As was also pointed out elsewhere, if you have the broadest possible recruitment pool, then you increase your chance of getting the best candidates.
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The Apple ARKit proves the future of augmented reality will be on your phone • WIRED

Jason Tanz:

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much of the stuff built with ARKit seems downright banal. One app lets you see how a new throw pillow would look on your couch. A menu app shows the proferred food as it might appear on your table. Sure, some developers are filling rooms with virtual water or building portals into alternate dimensions, but it’s the close-to-the-ground stuff that’s generating the most enthusiastic response. One video, which garnered 12,000 likes on the popular @MadeWithARKit Twitter feed, merely shows a digital tape measure unspooling.

That modesty of vision isn’t a handicap. It’s precisely why ARKit apps are more likely to catch on where other, more ambitious approaches have failed. It’s easy to forget, amid all the overheated rhetoric and consciousness-expanding possibilities, but most people don’t want technology to usher them into an entirely new plane of existence. They just want it to solve problems and make their lives easier.
Call it the Inductive Theory of Platform Development—successful consumer technologies don’t start with grand ideas that trickle down into products. They begin as small solutions that expand to become grand ideas.

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This is absolutely correct, but I don’t think AR will begin and end on the phone. Glasses are such an obvious next move.
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Meet Alex, the Russian casino hacker who makes millions targeting slot machines • WIRED

Brendan Koerner:

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Alex’s life-changing introduction to slots came about a decade ago, while he was working as a freelance hacker. A Russian casino hired him to learn how to tweak machines manufactured by Novomatic, an Austrian company, so that their odds would favor the house more than usual: The machine had been programmed to pay out 90% of the money it took in, a figure that Alex’s client wanted him to adjust down to 50%.

In the course of reverse engineering Novomatic’s software, Alex encountered his first PRNG. He was instantly fascinated by the elegance of this sort of algorithm, which is designed to spew forth an endless series of results that appear impossible to forecast. It does this by taking an initial number, known as a seed, and then mashing it together with various hidden and shifting inputs—the time from a machine’s internal clock, for example. Writing such algorithms requires tremendous mathematical skill, since they’re supposed to produce an output that defies human comprehension; ideally, a PRNG should approximate the utter unpredictability of radioactive decay.

After wrapping up the casino gig, Alex spent six months teaching himself everything he could about PRNGs—in part because he admired their beauty but also because he knew that such expertise could prove profitable.“I mastered it to the point where I can develop such algorithms myself, on a level I am yet to see in a gambling machine,” says Alex, who will never be accused of lacking confidence. “It’s in my bloodstream now. I feel the numbers; I know how they move.”

In 2008 Alex unleashed his newfound mastery on the gambling world, hiring a small group of employees to “milk” Novomatic machines throughout eastern Europe. (Three years later, Novomatic became the first slots manufacturer to warn its customers that some of its PRNGs had been compromised.)

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Fascinating read. Nothing seems to be invulnerable apart from real radioactivity.
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John Lanchester reviews ‘The Attention Merchants’ by Tim Wu, ‘Chaos Monkeys’ by Antonio García Martínez and ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ by Jonathan Taplin · London Review of Books

John Lanchester:

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One man’s fake news is another’s truth-telling, and Facebook works hard at avoiding responsibility for the content on its site – except for sexual content, about which it is super-stringent. Nary a nipple on show. It’s a bizarre set of priorities, which only makes sense in an American context, where any whiff of explicit sexuality would immediately give the site a reputation for unwholesomeness. Photos of breastfeeding women are banned and rapidly get taken down. Lies and propaganda are fine.

The key to understanding this is to think about what advertisers want: they don’t want to appear next to pictures of breasts because it might damage their brands, but they don’t mind appearing alongside lies because the lies might be helping them find the consumers they’re trying to target. In Move Fast and Break Things, his polemic against the ‘digital-age robber barons’, Jonathan Taplin points to an analysis on Buzzfeed: ‘In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News and others.’ This doesn’t sound like a problem Facebook will be in any hurry to fix.

The fact is that fraudulent content, and stolen content, are rife on Facebook, and the company doesn’t really mind, because it isn’t in its interest to mind. Much of the video content on the site is stolen from the people who created it. An illuminating YouTube video from Kurzgesagt, a German outfit that makes high-quality short explanatory films, notes that in 2015, 725 of Facebook’s top one thousand most viewed videos were stolen. This is another area where Facebook’s interests contradict society’s. We may collectively have an interest in sustaining creative and imaginative work in many different forms and on many platforms. Facebook doesn’t. As Martínez explains in [the book] Chaos Monkeys, it has two goals: growth and monetisation.

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Long but definitely worth it, especially for the internet entrepreneur who describes one of the big internet firms as “scuzzy”. And for what Zuckerberg was studying for his other degree – the one not in computer science.
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First evidence that social bots play a major role in spreading fake news • MIT Technology Review

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How does fake news spread in the first place?

Today we get an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Chengcheng Shao and pals at Indiana University in Bloomington. For the first time, these guys have systematically studied how fake news spreads on Twitter and provide a unique window into this murky world. Their work suggests clear strategies for controlling this epidemic.

Diffusion network for the article titled “Spirit cooking: Clinton campaign chairman practices bizarre occult ritual,” published by the conspiracy site Infowars.com four days before the 2016 U.S. election.

At issue is the publication of news that is false or misleading. So widespread has this become that a number of independent fact-checking organizations have emerged to establish the veracity of online information. These include snopes.com, politifact.com, and factcheck.org.

These sites list 122 websites that routinely publish fake news. These fake news sites include infowars.com, breitbart.com, politicususa.com, and theonion.com. “We did not exclude satire because many fake-news sources label their content as satirical, making the distinction problematic,” say Shao and co…

…Having made a judgment on the ownership of each account, the team finally looked at the way humans and bots spread fake news and fact-checked news.

To do all this, the team developed two online platforms. The first, called Hoaxy, tracks fake news claims, and the second, Bolometer, works out whether a Twitter account is most likely run by a human or a bot.

The results of this work make for interesting reading. “Accounts that actively spread misinformation are significantly more likely to be bots,” say Shao and co. “Social bots play a key role in the spread of fake news.”

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link to this extract


The Kronos needle in the AlphaBay haystack • emptywheel

“emptywheel” (the site has multiple authors) points out that it’s odd how quickly the FBI alighted on the Kronos malware sale on AlphaBay, given how much else there was to look at:

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look at the overall numbers FBI boasted for AlphaBay when it announced its takedown on July 20, nine days after the indictment targeting Hutchins.

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AlphaBay reported that it serviced more than 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors. Around the time of takedown, the site had more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals, and more than 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms, and fraudulent services. By comparison, the Silk Road dark market—the largest such enterprise of its kind before it was shut down in 2013—had approximately 14,000 listings.

The operation to seize AlphaBay’s servers was led by the FBI and involved the cooperative efforts of law enforcement agencies in Thailand, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France, along with the European law enforcement agency Europol.

“Conservatively, several hundred investigations across the globe were being conducted at the same time as a result of AlphaBay’s illegal activities,” Phirippidis said. “It really took an all-hands effort among law enforcement worldwide to deconflict and protect those ongoing investigations.”

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Of the 40,000 vendors charged within a month of takedown, of the 250K drug listings and the 100K fraudulent services listings, the guy who sold Kronos once for $2,000 (whom Tom Fox-Brewster thinks might be a guy named VinnyK) — and by virtue of American conspiracy laws, Hutchins — were among the first 20 or so known to be charged for using AlphaBay.

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All the indicators are that someone who was nabbed in the AlphaBay sting was somehow implicated in Kronos, and put Hutchins’s name forward as a co-conspirator. It’s a way to get the feds off your back.
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Financial Times returns to Apple’s App Store after six-year hiatus • WSJ

Jack Marshall:

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The company hopes its new app, available for iPhone and iPad, will help boost subscriber engagement with its content and in turn increase the revenue it is able to extract from its customers over the long term.

“We know that an engaged reader results in a larger lifetime value,” said Cait O’Riordan, the FT’s chief product and information officer. “We want to know if a native app can help drive that engagement number.”

Since 2011, Apple device users have only been able to access the FT’s full range of content via its mobile website. The FT decided to invest in its web offering rather than a “native” iOS app partly because of Apple’s requirement to be paid a 30% cut of any subscription revenue generated from apps in its App Store, according to people familiar with the matter.

The new iOS app will therefore only be accessible to existing FT subscribers. New readers won’t be able to purchase subscriptions from within the app itself, but must instead do so from the FT’s website before logging in.

This model means the FT can avoid giving Apple a cut of subscription revenue and will allow it to collect payment information and other valuable data directly from its subscribers. Spotify and other subscription-based services have taken a similar approach in recent years.

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The end-run around the subscription problem (Amazon does the same thing on Kindle books) seems like a suitable solution to the problem. One wonder why it took the FT six years to figure this out.

Also – minor point – shouldn’t the final word in the headline be “absence” rather than “hiatus”? The app was withdrawn. It didn’t pause.
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An everyday brush with disaster on Mumbai’s crowded railway • FT

Simon Mundy:

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Samir Zaveri pondered my bloodshot eye and stitched-up shin and shook his head at my good fortune. On a table between us was a sheath of documents detailing the casualties on Mumbai’s trains in recent years — police figures obtained by Zaveri under India’s Right to Information Act.

The statistics are a grim testament to the terrible safety record of the country’s transport network — even as this rising power pursues grand projects such as a $17bn high-speed rail link between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

Mumbai’s trains are often described as the city’s “lifeline”, carrying 7m passengers a day — largely people from the sprawling suburbs who work in offices on the narrow peninsula of old Bombay. Yet last year alone, 3,202 people were killed on the system, while a further 3,363 suffered amputations or other serious injuries.

About a third of these casualties result from people walking over train tracks in the absence of boundary walls. Most others, Zaveri says, stem from overcrowding on a network that packs about 5,560 passengers on to each 12-car train in peak hours, against a rated safe capacity of 3,522.

Zaveri lost both legs aged 17 after slipping on the track. While sitting in a disabled carriage in 2006, looking around at others whose limbs were lost on the railways, he decided to act. The result was a series of court petitions, arguing that the railway authorities were breaching their constitutional duty to protect their passengers’ lives.

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This article’s intro (lede to Americans) deserves some sort of award. It reads:

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You gain a certain perspective on India’s safety challenges from lying on a Mumbai railway platform, under a surging crowd, while a moving train cuts into your lower leg.

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Overall, the article goes to show that driverless cars are only a small fraction of the problem.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: an LTE Apple Watch?, Pentagon bans DJI drones, Google sought Snapchat, reactions on Google, and more


Hidden Figures: maybe someone at Google needs to watch this more and write “man-ifestos” less. Photo by minhee.cho on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

If you use a browser extension [particularly VPNs], your full Internet history may be for sale – and easily de-anonymized • Privacy Online News

Glyn Moody:

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The research consisted of some social engineering by the journalist Svea Eckert, followed by data analysis by Andreas Dewes. Eckert set up a Web site and LinkedIn profile for a fake company called Meez Technology, allegedly based in Tel Aviv, which purported to offer “data-driven consulting”. Using Meez Technology as cover, Eckert contacted Web analytics companies and data brokers, asking for Internet browsing histories of German citizens, which she said Meez Technology was interested in acquiring for its data analysis.

In the end, one gave her 14 days’ free access to a month’s worth of “clickstream data” – the complete browser histories – as a sample of what it could offer. The information included 3 billion URLs from three million German users, spread over 9 million different sites. Many companies said they were unable to supply URLs for German users, but were able to offer this information for people in the US and UK.

Once the researchers obtained their dataset, Dewes tried to de-anonymize the individuals it referred to. For some users, this was simple. Dewes had the complete URL, not a truncated portion, so it often showed data that was transmitted to the site in question. Sometimes that included the user’s name. For example, when someone visits their own analytics page on Twitter, the URL contains their Twitter username. Since it is only visible to them and Twitter, that’s not usually a problem. But when Internet browsing datasets include the full URL, it is, because it means that all the URLs linked to an otherwise anonymous user can now be associated with the person identified through one of them – in this case, Twitter. Out of the 3 million anonymous profiles obtained by the researchers, over 100,000 individuals could be identified in this way.

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Someone thinks they’ve solved the mystery behind who Donald Trump thanked on Twitter • Mashable

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Sure, fake news runs rampant now more than ever—but don’t let it distract you from another threat: fake Twitter accounts. 

When Donald Trump tweeted his appreciation on Saturday to a “supporter” named Nicole Mincey/@protrump45, Twitter user @Rschooley debunked the account’s identity, explaining in a thread exactly why “Nicole” and a variety of other Twitter users were in fact fakes, not actual Trump supporters. 

Buckle up—this gets interesting. 

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It is interesting: the person behind this account, and a number of linked accounts, uses a site called Placeit.com to grab stock photos and slot pro-Trump slogans into “drop image here” spaces. They build up a big network of bots. And they sell merchandise off it.

Now, the question is: how much due diligence did the White House’s social media manager, who one assumes did the retweet rather than Trump, do before the shout out to this “supporter”? If none – that’s lazy. If they knew this was a front to sell stuff, that’s worse because it’s promoting a business using the White House account.

So either lazy or venal. And meanwhile, a huge bot network using stolen or faked pictures, making money out of social media partisanship. What a world.
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Exclusive: here’s the full 10-page anti-diversity screed circulating internally at Google • Gizmodo

Kate Conger with the authentic scoop on the “man-ifesto”, which can be summed up through its own TL:DR:

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• Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

• This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

• The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

• Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression

• Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression

• Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

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You can also get an idea of his thinking via his (zero chance it’s a woman author) framing of political positions:

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Left Biases: Compassion for the weak; Disparities are due to injustices; Humans are inherently cooperative; Change is good (unstable); Open; Idealist

Right Biases: Respect for the strong/authority; Disparities are natural and just; Humans are inherently competitive; Change is dangerous (stable); Closed; Pragmatic

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So left-wing people are idealists, while right-wing ones are pragmatic? Google’s “open” credo makes it left-wing? It’s a really bizarre collection of assertions which wouldn’t look out of place in a university junior common room. I wonder if Google is looking at its recruiting systems in light of this.
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So, about this Googler’s manifesto • Medium

Yonatan Zunger was until recently a senior person at Google:

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Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.

All of these traits which the manifesto described as “female” are the core traits which make someone successful at engineering. Anyone can learn how to write code; hell, by the time someone reaches L7 or so, it’s expected that they have an essentially complete mastery of technique. The truly hard parts about this job are knowing which code to write, building the clear plan of what has to be done in order to achieve which goal, and building the consensus required to make that happen.

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One begins to see the problem, though. Google (and so many other companies) make you prove yourself at the low-level field, in writing code, and then promote people to the engineering process level. Men, particularly intense narrow-vision men, might excel at that first process. Then in the next one they’re awful. And so you see screwups like Google Buzz.
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A Googler’s anti-diversity screed reveals tech’s rotten core • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

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reactions to the screed are sound, but they risk missing a larger problem: The kind of computing systems that get made and used by people outside the industry, and with serious consequences, are a direct byproduct of the gross machismo of computing writ large. More women and minorities are needed in computing because the world would be better for their contributions—and because it might be much worse without them.

Workplace equity has become a more visible issue in general, but it has reached fever pitch in the technology sector, especially with respect to women. When the former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published an explosive accusation of sexism at that company earlier this year, people took notice. When combined with a series of other scandals, not to mention with Uber’s longstanding, dubious behavior toward drivers and municipalities, the company was forced to act. CEO Travis Kalanick was ousted (although he remains on the board, where he retains substantial control)…

…If you rolled back the clock and computing were as black as hip-hop, if it had been built from the ground up by African American culture, what would it feel like to live in that alternate future—in today’s alternate present? Now run the same thought experiment for a computing forged by a group that represents the general population, brown of average color, even of sex, and multitudinous of gender identity.

Something tells me the outcome wouldn’t be Google and Twitter and Uber and Facebook…

As my colleague Mark Guzdial puts it, women used to avoid computer science because they didn’t know what it is. Now they avoid it because they know exactly what it is.

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And Bogost points out, Google struggles to achieve a truly diverse workplace. People complain about affirmative action, but can’t see the disaffirming action they carry out all the time.
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Apple plans to release a cellular-capable Watch to break iPhone ties • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman, Scott Moritz and Ian King:

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Intel Corp. will supply the LTE modems for the new Watch, according to another person familiar with the situation. That’s a big win for the chipmaker, which has been trying for years to get its components into more Apple mobile devices. Qualcomm Inc. has been the main modem supplier for iPhones and other Apple mobile gadgets, but the two companies are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute. Apple added Intel as a modem supplier for some iPhones last year.

Apple is already in talks with carriers in the U.S. and Europe about offering the cellular version, the people added. The carriers supporting the LTE Apple Watch, at least at launch, may be a limited subset of those that carry the iPhone, one of the people said. However, AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. in the U.S. plan to sell the device, according to other people familiar with the matter. The new device could still be delayed beyond 2017 – indeed, the company had already postponed a cellular-capable smartwatch last year. Apple, Intel and the carriers declined to comment.

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It “could still be delayed”? Schrödinger’s Watch. This would make sense, but only in the limited situations – as I see it – where you don’t have your phone with you. When is that? In my experience, when you are out exercising. While a lot of people who have a Watch might use it to exercise, I’m not so sure many of them would want a data-capable Watch just for getting messages or similar while out and about.

Unless it could really do apps – such as Uber and so on. That might change things a little.
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‘Cyber vulnerabilities’ prompt US Army to ban ‘all use’ of DJI drones • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

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The US Army appears to have issued a global order banning its units from using drones made by Chinese firm DJI, citing “cyber vulnerabilities”.

The memorandum, apparently issued by the US Army’s Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, orders all US Army units with DJI products to immediately stop using them.

“Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the US Army halt use of all DJI products,” the memo read.

In the memo, soldiers are also ordered to remove all batteries and storage media from their DJI drones and await further instructions.

DJI told The Register: “We are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the US Army’s unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision. We are happy to work directly with any organization, including the US Army, that has concerns about our management of cyber issues.”

The firm’s spokesman added: “We’ll be reaching out to the US Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities’.”

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Probably the rumours that DJI drones are beaming data back to China. Could that be it, by any chance?
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Google offered to buy Snapchat for at least $30bn in early 2016, insiders say • Business Insider

Alex Heath:

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Three people, including people inside and close to the company, separately confirmed they had heard the chatter and price tag, with one calling it an “open secret” among Snap’s upper ranks and certain tech industry circles.

Business Insider first heard the rumor of Google’s $30bn-plus interest in Snap last year and heard further tales of the discussions from more insiders over the past several days.

It’s unclear how formal the discussions these insiders say happened may have been, but Snap and Google have long been close. Informal discussions between companies are frequent in the tech world, especially surrounding major events, like an initial public offering or a large round of fundraising.

Google’s initial offer would have been discussed just before Snap raised its Series F round of private funding in May 2016, valuing the company at $20 billion. CapitalG, the growth equity fund managed by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, ended up quietly participating in the round.

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Yet another big fish that got away from Google. Hard to feel it would have gone well inside it, though.
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Apple has proven me wrong about HomeKit • The Verge

The ever-demonstrative Internet of Shit:

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Ikea, which announced its own smart lighting system in 2016, looks to be one of the first companies to take advantage of this change: it’ll add HomeKit support, presumably via a software update, later this year. So there should be no need to pay for replacement hardware like when Philips required users to buy a HomeKit-compatible version of its Hue hub. In the future, these HomeKit-via-software updates could mean products from Nest get HomeKit compatibility, simply because the company will be able to expand its user base retrospectively. What remains to be seen is how many device makers will follow the charge.

There’s one other key feature that makes HomeKit interesting: if device makers want to use it, they’re required to integrate directly with Apple’s Home app and can’t force you to use a third-party app exclusively. That’s huge, simply because it grants you the freedom to avoid touching the device maker’s software on your phone if you don’t want it, and it allows you to interact with the smart home directly through Apple’s app without an intermediary. In theory, it means you really own your devices, and they shouldn’t just break if the company that makes them disappears since you’ll still have a direct connection with each device, thanks to HomeKit.

HomeKit still assumes everyone in your house has an iPhone in their pocket all the time, but with the announcement of the Apple HomePod smart speaker, that changes as well. Android-loving family and friends can just use their voice to tap into your smart home, which brings it on par with Amazon and Google (albeit at a far higher price of $349) when it ships later this year.

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This begins to make sense in a comprehensive, ecosystem way. Whether it’s enough to catch up with Amazon is another question, but Ikea’s smart home system is highly regarded.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Brit ‘Wannacry’ hero arrested in US, Google’s bad app crackdown, ransomware’s future, slower tablets, and more


William Gibson isn’t just a severed head floating in blackness; he has some thoughts to offer about dystopias. Photo by Frédéric Poirot on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

William Gibson talks ‘Archangel,’ apocalypses, and dystopias • Vulture

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Abraham Riseman: How do you account for the recent surge in popular fiction about the collapse of civilization into dystopia or Armageddon?

William Gibson: This could be a case of consumers of a particular kind of pop culture trying to tell us something, alas. Seriously, what I find far more ominous is how seldom, today, we see the phrase “the 22nd century.” Almost never. Compare this with the frequency with which the 21st century was evoked in popular culture during, say, the 1920s.

AR: Do you mean it’s ominous because people are so pessimistic that they can’t even imagine a future?
WG: Well, that’s the question — why don’t we? I don’t know.

AR: Why do you think we, as a culture, are so endlessly obsessed with stories about last-ditch attempts to stave off the end of the world?
WG: The end of the world is universal shorthand for whatever we don’t want to happen. We have very little control over anything much at all, individually, so fantasies of staving off the end of the world are fairly benign fantasies of increased agency.

AR: What grim future do you fear most? A brutal dystopia? A nuked-out wasteland? A chaotic world war?
WG: I don’t think of those as very distinct states. It’s certainly possible to have all three at once.

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Lots to mull over in this one.
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Google Play will now downrank poorly performing apps • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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Google today announced it’s rolling out a change to its Play Store so that better-performing apps – meaning those that experience fewer crashes and those that don’t drain your smartphone battery – will be ranked higher than apps with bugs and other performance issues.

The goal with this new ranking algorithm is to ensure that the best apps are being promoted, which in turn leads to increased app usage and engagement, the company says.

The impetus for this change came after Google realized that around half of the 1-star reviews on the Google Play Store were about app stability problems.

Apps that don’t work well frustrate users, who often turn to the reviews to leave a complaint. Over time, a number of bad reviews and low star ratings can impact the app’s place in the charts and search results. But if an app is popular enough, a large number of installs can still, to some extent, override its negative reviews and push the app back up into a higher position than it rightly deserves.

«

First comment I saw on Twitter about this: “Does that mean the Facebook app is going to be removed?”
link to this extract

 


The campaign against Facebook and Google’s ad “duopoly” is going nowhere • Buzzfeed

Alex Kantrowitz:

»

Snap’s stock skyrocketed the day it hit the public markets, and investors celebrated — but only briefly. Snap’s first earnings report came in well below Wall Street expectations, and its stock cratered. The company’s shares now trade $4 below their IPO price.

Snap’s poor performance can be traced back in part to Facebook’s decision to ruthlessly copy nearly every part of its product. But the story doesn’t end there. Advertisers, some of whom have publicly criticized Facebook and Google on a range of issues from brand safety to misleading metrics, don’t seem to be allocating money to competitors like Snap in a way that would facilitate the competition they claim to desire.

“Pretty much everyone will say it is much healthier to have multiple players competing with each other,” Randall Rothenberg, CEO and president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry trade group, told BuzzFeed News. “After they’ve said that, they all go and they pay into a handful of dominant players.”

With Snap struggling, advertisers are starting to name new companies for the role it was supposed to fill. “Amazon is going to be an increasingly important force and one we have to better understand,” Martin Sorrell, CEO of ad agency holding company WPP, said last month. And some are even pointing to the Verizon-owned AOL and Yahoo as possible challengers.

But if anything, dollars are moving away from challengers into the big platforms’ pockets. “We’ve moved millions of dollars going into Snapchat into Instagram Stories ads because they’re less expensive and have a much higher view-through rate,” one ad agency executive told BuzzFeed News.

«

This is a little depressing, to be honest.
link to this extract

 


Briton who stopped WannaCry attack arrested over separate malware claims • The Guardian

Alex Hern and Sam Levin:

»

Marcus Hutchins, the 23-year-old British security researcher who was credited with stopping the WannaCry outbreak in its tracks by discovering a hidden “kill switch” for the malware, has been arrested by the FBI over his alleged involvement in another malicious software targeting bank accounts.

According to an indictment released by the US Department of Justice on Thursday, Hutchins is accused of having helped to create, spread and maintain the banking trojan Kronos between 2014 and 2015.

The Kronos malware was spread through emails with malicious attachments such as compromised Microsoft word documents, and hijacks credentials like internet banking passwords to let its user steal money with ease.

Hutchins, who is indicted with another unnamed co-defendant, stands accused of six counts of hacking-related crimes as a result of his alleged involvement with Kronos. “Defendant Marcus Hutchins created the Kronos malware,” the indictment, filed on behalf of the eastern district court of Wisconsin, alleges.

Hutchins, better known online by his handle MalwareTech, had been in Las Vegas for the annual Def Con hacking conference, the largest of its kind in the world. He was at the airport preparing to leave the country when he was arrested, after more than a week in the the city without incident.

«

This is utterly weird. Here’s the indictment, via Motherboard. It names (but obscures) the name of someone else who was apparently in Wisconsin. It sounds like the other person has fingered Hutchins. Whether that’s true is a different matter.
link to this extract

 


China cracks down after investigation finds massive peer-review fraud • Science

»

[China’s Ministry of Science and Technology’s] MOST’s 27 July announcement marked the culmination of an investigation into the mass retraction this past April of 107 papers by Chinese authors that appeared in a single journal, Tumor Biology. The papers, published between 2012 and 2016, were pulled after editors found “strong reason to believe that the peer review process was compromised,” Editor-in-Chief Torgny Stigbrand, of Umeå University in Sweden, wrote on 20 April on the website of the publisher Springer. (Springer, an arm of Springer Nature, published Tumor Biology until December 2016; the journal is now operated by SAGE Publications.)

Investigators say the authors engaged in an all-too-common scam. Tumor Biology allowed submitting authors to nominate reviewers. The Chinese authors suggested “experts” and provided email addresses that routed messages from the journal back to the researchers themselves, or to accomplices—sometimes third-party firms hired by the authors—who wrote glowing reviews that helped get the papers accepted.

The MOST investigation focused on 101 papers for which there was evidence of faked peer review, according to a summary of a press conference posted on the agency’s website. Investigators concluded that for 95 of the papers third party agencies had provided phony experts or false reviews. In six cases, one or more of the authors perpetrated the fraud themselves.

«

The scientific process working as it should; the demand for publication as a measure of success producing perverse consequences as you might expect. (Thanks to Walt French for the link.)
link to this extract

 


Xiaomi becomes world’s No.1 wearables vendor in Q2 2017 • Strategy Analytics

»

Steven Waltzer, Industry Analyst at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global wearables shipments reached 21.6 million units in Q2 2017, rising 8% year-on-year from 20.0m in Q2 2016. Strong demand for low-cost fitnessbands in China and premium smartwatches across the United States drove the uptick.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Xiaomi shipped 3.7 million wearables worldwide in Q2 2017, rising 23% annually from 3.0m units in Q2 2016. Xiaomi captured 17% global marketshare and overtook Fitbit and Apple to become the world’s largest wearables vendor.

“Xiaomi’s Mi Band fitness trackers are wildly popular in China, due to their highly competitive pricing and rich features such as heart-rate monitors, step-counters and calendar alerts. Fitbit shipped 3.4m wearables for 16% marketshare worldwide in Q2 2017, almost halving from 29% a year ago. Fitbit is at risk of being trapped in a pincer movement between the low-end fitnessbands sold by Xiaomi and the fitness-led, high-end smartwatches sold by Apple.”

«

Xiaomi’s fitness bands are probably making some good money. Might even be saving its margins. But the comparison purely on units, done for public consumption (since detailed reports likely have prices), isn’t useful. Apple shifted 2.8m Watches, by this estimate. That’s more than any other smartwatch vendor. It’s increasingly hard to see Android Wear OEMs even taking part in this space. Though the one that’s got problems is Fitbit: number sold cratering, and Hail-Mary-pass-smartwatch still some months away.
link to this extract

 


Transcripts of Trump’s calls with Mexico and Australia • Washington Post

Greg Miller, Julie Vitkovskaya and Reuben Fischer-Baum:

»

‘This deal will make me look terrible’: Full transcripts of Trump’s calls with Mexico and Australia

«

Oh my. I’m linking to this because it’s an important document, in its time, because it demonstrates – in the starkest form – how astonishingly bad Trump is at diplomacy, otherwise known as persuading people to do what you want them to do.

Such as this, from Trump to Mexico’s Pena Nieto:

»

Because you and I are both at a point now where we are both saying we are not to pay for the wall. From a political standpoint, that is what we will say. We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out.

«

Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall. (Not that there will be a wall, but anyway.)
link to this extract

 


Stolen nude photos and hacked defibrillators: is this the future of ransomware? • The Guardian

Alex Hern is at Defcon in Las Vegas:

»

Kleczynski, and his colleague, Adam Kujawa, who directs research at Malwarebytes, predict that criminals will evolve new ways of encouraging victims, both corporate and individual, to pay up rather than simply restoring from back-ups and ignoring the payment request.

New on the scene is a form of ransomware known as “doxware,”. “Basically what it says is ‘pay, or we’ll take all the stuff we encrypted and we’ll put it online with your name on it’,” says Kujawa.

The name comes from “doxing”, the term for publishing private information on the internet to bully, threaten or intimidate, and the idea of automating it isn’t hypothetical. A number of similar attacks have already occurred in the wild. At one end of the spectrum was the Chimera ransomware, which hit German companies in 2015. The malware encrypted files and asked for around £200 ($260) to return them, but also came with the warning that if victims did not pay up, “we will publish your personal data, photos and videos and your name on the internet”.

Chimera, however, didn’t actually have the capability to publish anything online – the warning was bluster, designed to scare victims into paying up. But in other cases, the threat of publishing data is very real.

In May, hackers stole files from a Lithuanian plastic surgery clinic, containing highly personal information about 25,000 former clients: names, addresses and procedures performed, as well as passport scans, national insurance numbers and nude photos of patients. They put the database online through the encrypted network Tor, and asked for payments from individual patients to remove their personal information from the site. Prices started at €50 for those patients who just had names and addresses in the site, but rose to €2,000 for the more invasive information stolen.

«

link to this extract

 


Tablet market decline slows in second quarter as low-cost tablets offer temporary relief • IDC

»

Once touted as the savior of the market, detachable tablets also declined in the second quarter as consumers waited in anticipation of product refreshes from high-profile vendors like Apple and Microsoft. However, with new product launches towards the end of the second quarter, the detachable market is expected to maintain a stronger position in the second half of the year.

“There’s been a resetting of expectations for detachables as competing convertible notebooks offered a convincing and familiar computing experience for many,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “To date, the 2-in-1 market was bifurcated as Apple and Microsoft led with detachables while the PC vendors led with convertibles. Though that is slowly changing as smartphone vendors and traditional PC vendors begin to offer compelling alternatives, the pace has been rather slow as Surface and iPad Pro still dominate shelf space and mindshare.”

Market turmoil aside, three of the top five vendors managed to increase share and grow on an annual basis with price being the largest driving factor. However, these gains may be temporary as the replacement cycle of tablets is still long (closer to traditional PCs rather than smartphones) and first-time buyers have become a rare commodity. With downward pressure on pricing from big name brands, “whitebox” tablet vendors and smaller brands are starting to turn their attention away from tablets and IDC expects this trend to continue.

«

Apple, Huawei and Amazon all saw growth; total market shrank by 3.4%. Samsung is stuck in the middle – isn’t cheap, brand isn’t strong enough. It stayed steady, but it hasn’t done anything significant in the tablet market for some time. Strategy Analytics reckons Samsung’s sales declined.

Next big question: will Apple put OLED in tablets? Or is that an expense too far?
link to this extract

 


HBO hack: insiders fear leaked emails as probe widens • Hollywood Reporter

Tatiana Siegel:

»

On July 27, Richard Plepler’s worst corporate nightmare unfolded. The HBO CEO learned that his company’s network had been breached by an apparently coordinated cyberattack that experts explained could expose a staggering 1.5 terabytes of data. That would be roughly seven times the size of the epic 2014 hack of Sony Pictures.

The attack was sophisticated, insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter, targeting specific content and data housed in different locations, suggesting multiple points of entry. Even more chilling, there was no ransom demand, say sources, leaving the motive in question and raising the specter that video footage, internal documents or even email correspondence could be leaked.

Two days later, HBO sent an alarming email on a Saturday to its 2,500-plus employees, notifying them that the company had been hit, followed by a second email warning staff not to open suspicious emails. On July 30, hackers going by the name of little.finger66 boasted to the media about pulling off “the greatest leak of cyber space era” [sic]. As a teaser, they provided a link to a script for an Aug. 6 episode of Game of Thrones and promised much more. At the same time, unaired episodes of Ballers and Room 104 began surfacing online.

To put in context the 1.5 terabytes — or 1,500 gigabytes — claim, in the Sony case, about 200 gigabytes of data was released online, a damaging deluge that brought the studio to its knees and led to the ouster of then co-chair Amy Pascal. “A traditional business-grade DSL link would take about two weeks at full blast to exfiltrate that much data,” says Farsight Security CEO Paul Vixie, noting that a finished Blu-ray is about 30 gigabytes. “If not for video and sound, a corporation the size of HBO might fit [entirely] in a terabyte, including all the email and spreadsheets ever written or stored.”

«

No threats; no ransom; no destruction of data. This looks like professional hackers trying to get content for piracy networks to me. Entirely unlike the Sony hack.
link to this extract

 


Smartphone volumes decline slightly in Q2 2017 amid anticipation of strong second half product launches • IDC

IDC, unlike Counterpoint (which reckoned there was 6% growth), thinks smartphone volumes declined by 1.3% to 341.6m in Q2:

»

While the smartphone industry contracted slightly in the second quarter, it is worth noting that the leading vendors all saw positive shipment growth. Samsung and Apple both held shares relatively constant from the second quarter a year ago, while the other three vendors rounding out the top 5 – Huawei, OPPO, and Xiaomi – all grew shares. The one change in terms of ranking within the top 5 was Xiaomi slightly outpacing vivo, but not by much.

“In my opinion, the biggest change in the second quarter is the size of the contraction among the ‘Others’ outside of the top 5 OEMs,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “It’s no secret that the smartphone market is a very challenging segment for companies to maintain or grow share, especially as already low average selling prices declined by another 4.3% in 2016. The smaller, more localized vendors will continue to struggle, especially as the leading volume drivers build out their portfolio into new markets and price segments.”

As we look toward the second half of 2017, IDC expects to see two quarters of positive year-over-year growth, leaving 2017 as a rebound year. Samsung is riding momentum from the Galaxy S8 products, with the presumed August announcement of the Note 8 right around the corner. In parallel, anticipation continues to build for the next round of iPhones that the industry expects Apple to announce in September. Outside of these two industry leaders, the companies to watch will continue to be the next three to five OEMs and how they navigate to position themselves in growing markets.

«

“Others” (not Samsung, Apple, Huawei, OPPO, vivo, Xiaomi) shrank by 16%. This is starting to look like the same thing as the PC market.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: what’s a TV antenna?, pop-up inventor apologises, China’s smartphone power, and more


CRISPR gene editing has been used to edit the germline of embryonic cells. The next question is: should it be licensed? Photo by ZEISS Microscopy on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

In breakthrough, scientists edit a dangerous mutation from genes in human embryos • The New York Times

Pam Belluck:

»

The study, published in the journal Nature, comes just months after a national scientific committee recommended new guidelines for modifying embryos, easing blanket proscriptions but urging the technique be used only for dire medical problems.

“We’ve always said in the past gene editing shouldn’t be done, mostly because it couldn’t be done safely,” said Richard Hynes, a cancer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who co-led the committee. “That’s still true, but now it looks like it’s going to be done safely soon,” he said, adding that the research is “a big breakthrough.”

“What our report said was, once the technical hurdles are cleared, then there will be societal issues that have to be considered and discussions that are going to have to happen. Now’s the time.”

Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University, with colleagues in California, China and South Korea, reported that they repaired dozens of embryos, fixing a mutation that causes a common heart condition that can lead to sudden death later in life.

If embryos with the repaired mutation were allowed to develop into babies, they would not only be disease-free but also would not transmit the disease to descendants.

The researchers averted two important safety problems: They produced embryos in which all cells — not just some — were mutation-free, and they avoided creating unwanted extra mutations.

“It feels a bit like a ‘one small step for (hu)mans, one giant leap for (hu)mankind’ moment,” Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist who helped discover the gene-editing method used, called CRISPR-Cas9, said in an email.

«

(The study isn’t paywalled.) CRISPR is coming, and perhaps a lot faster than many people have expected. The key question will be whether it will be done on the germline – the embryos that are then implanted, or egg or sperm cells that are then used to create embryos.
link to this extract


On the death of Bassel Khartabil • MIT Media Lab

Joi Ito:

»

I was devastated to learn yesterday that my friend Bassel Khartabil Safadi, a mentor, former colleague, and open source developer, was executed by the Syrian government. All of us at the Media Lab send our heartfelt condolences to his family, and join the community mourning this great loss.

I first met Bassel in 2009 while working at Creative Commons, an organization dedicated to open access to content on the Internet. Bassel was our main technical contact in the Middle East and he played a vital role in the open access movement in Syria. On a road trip from Beirut to Damascus, he boasted about the beauty and history of his hometown and it did not disappoint. I remember meeting his many interesting and eclectic friends: artists, architects, engineers, and how Bassel set up websites dedicated to their work. I appreciated his values, his humor, and his devotion to his country. Bassel was, above all, someone who loved Syria and worked to bring one of the oldest cities in the world into the 21st Century.

«

Terribly sad; and only one tiny fragment of the awful waste of the Syrian civil war.
link to this extract


Millennials unearth an amazing hack to get free TV: the antenna • WSJ

Ryan Knutson:

»

Dan Sisco has discovered a technology that allows him to access half a dozen major TV channels, completely free.

“I was just kind of surprised that this is technology that exists,” says Mr. Sisco, 28 years old. “It’s been awesome. It doesn’t log out and it doesn’t skip.”

Let’s hear a round of applause for TV antennas, often called “rabbit ears,” a technology invented roughly seven decades ago, long before there was even a cord to be cut, which had been consigned to the technology trash can along with cassette tapes and VCRs.

The antenna is mounting a quiet comeback, propelled by a generation that never knew life before cable television, and who primarily watch Netflix , Hulu and HBO via the internet. Antenna sales in the U.S. are projected to rise 7% in 2017 to nearly 8 million units, according to the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group.

Mr. Sisco, an M.B.A. student in Provo, Utah, made his discovery after inviting friends over to watch the Super Bowl in 2014. The online stream he found to watch the game didn’t have regular commercials—disappointing half of his guests who were only interested in the ads.

“An antenna was not even on my radar,” he says. He went online and discovered he could buy one for $20 and watch major networks like ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS free…

…Carlos Villalobos, 21, who was selling tube-shaped digital antennas at a swap meet in San Diego recently, says customers often ask if his $20 to $25 products are legal. “They don’t trust me when I say that these are actually free local channels,” he says.

Earlier this year, he got an earful from a woman who didn’t get it. “She was mad,” he recalls. “She says, ‘No, you can’t live in America for free, what are you talking about?’”

«

Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my.
link to this extract


The man who invented pop-up ads says ‘I’m sorry’ • Forbes

Jay McGregor:

»

Ethan Zuckerman, the man who invented pop-up ads, has apologised to the world in a lengthy explanation of his original intentions.

Writing for The Atlantic, Zuckerman explains that he had unintentionally created one of the most hated forms of advertising on the web.

In the late 90s Zuckerman worked for Tripod.com, a website that marketed content and services to graduates. Tripod later changed business model after the initial concept failed to catch on, becoming a webpage-hosting provider and “proto-social network” instead.

Tripod tried a number of revenue streams to keep the business going including; selling merchandise, a subscription service and even a paid-for magazine. But what really worked was advertising, and this is where it all began.

As Zuckerman explains in his essay: “At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad.

“It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.”

«

The Zuckerman article is great, and I highly recommend it. It just didn’t lend itself to a succinct extract. Also, you now have a pub quiz question: “the popup ad was invented because a car advertiser found itself associated with what?”
link to this extract


Google and Facebook’s ad-supported internet isn’t sustainable in India, Africa and rest of the global south • Quartz

»

As billions more digital citizens connect this decade, a critical question arises: Does the internet’s current business model work in newly-connected regions?
 
Research shows the ad-supported internet of developed economies isn’t sustainable in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.
 
The answer is “no.” Increasingly, research and practice show the ad-supported internet of developed economies isn’t sustainable in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. And so billions of new users face an inflection point: miss out on the richness of the internet. Or, develop new business models to ensure the web remains open and accessible.

In the United States, the UK and other regions with lengthy access pedigrees, the success of an ad-supported internet maps to a handful of factors. Digital advertisers are operating in robust economies with ample consumer spending. Users are typically equipped with modern hardware and abundant data plans, allowing them to effortlessly stream video and navigate thickets of tabs and browser windows. This lets publishers track activity and show lots of targeted, high-value advertisements. As a result, Facebook earns a quarterly average revenue per user (ARPU) of $19.81 in the U.S. and Canada, compared to just $1.41 in Africa and Latin America. Indeed, almost half of Facebook’s revenue comes from just 12% of its users, many in North America.

In emerging markets, low disposable incomes make audiences much less valuable to advertisers. Audiences in Nigeria will pay 1/10 or less for an ad compared to one in the U.S. And many low-income users have feature phones or low-end smartphones that struggle to access modern websites and apps. These are further limited in their use by the high costs of data. The result is that for much of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, “going online” and engaging with digital content and services is a fundamentally different experience than it is in the West.

«

There’s an associated report: “Paying Attention to the Poor: Digital Advertising in Emerging Markets“.
link to this extract


Q2 2017: Chinese brands now contributing to almost half of global smartphone shipments • Counterpoint Research

»

Commenting on the growth of Chinese brands, Tarun Pathak, Associate Director at Counterpoint Research said, “Chinese brands have been successful in not only cementing their positions in their home country, but also managing to expand beyond mainland China at the same time. Most of these players took offline as the primary channel strategy to enter new markets. In addition they have backed their channel strategies with aggressive marketing spend in both above-the-line and below-the-line campaigns. This has made them accessible to partners, including operators, in new territories. These brands will continue to expand their reach beyond China during the second half of this year. India, South Asia and Africa will be the key focus geographies to drive additional scale and market share. The geographic diversification will also help offset any turbulence in the domestic China market, which is increasingly saturated.”

Commenting on vendor performance during the quarter Research Analyst, Shobhit Srivastava, noted, “The competitive landscape is now changing drastically across many regions. In developed markets the top three brands are strengthening their hold. In emerging markets meanwhile, rankings continue to be volatile, with new players also entering the top ten rankings within a few quarters of launch. This has led to various strategies by OEMs during the quarter to counter competition. These includes ODM tie-ups, operator tie-ups in prepaid markets, cutting down excessive portfolios and even offering devices for free (Jiophone launch). We expect further innovation (and desperation) in go-to-market strategies by different OEMs struggle for traction in fast-moving market environments.”

«

Huawei is looking like it will overhaul Apple some time in the next year.

link to this extract


Why Google stores billions of lines of code in a single repository • Communications of the ACM

Rachel Potvin and Josh Levenberg:

»

Google’s monolithic software repository, which is used by 95% of its software developers worldwide, meets the definition of an ultra-large-scale4 system, providing evidence the single-source repository model can be scaled successfully.

The Google codebase includes approximately one billion files and has a history of approximately 35 million commits spanning Google’s entire 18-year existence. The repository contains 86TB of data, including approximately two billion lines of code in nine million unique source files. The total number of files also includes source files copied into release branches, files that are deleted at the latest revision, configuration files, documentation, and supporting data files; see the table here for a summary of Google’s repository statistics from January 2015.

In 2014, approximately 15 million lines of code were changed in approximately 250,000 files in the Google repository on a weekly basis. The Linux kernel is a prominent example of a large open source software repository containing approximately 15 million lines of code in 40,000 files.14

Google’s codebase is shared by more than 25,000 Google software developers from dozens of offices in countries around the world. On a typical workday, they commit 16,000 changes to the codebase, and another 24,000 changes are committed by automated systems. Each day the repository serves billions of file read requests, with approximately 800,000 queries per second during peak traffic and an average of approximately 500,000 queries per second each workday. Most of this traffic originates from Google’s distributed build-and-test systems.

«

First the numbers are astonishing; then the processes by which colossal problems are avoided. The automated systems alone are worth considering.
link to this extract


Struggling Americans once sought greener pastures—now they’re stuck • WSJ

Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg on how people aren’t moving for jobs any more in the US:

»

For many rural residents across the country with low incomes, government aid programs such as Medicaid, which has benefits that vary by state, can provide a disincentive to leave. One in 10 West Branch residents lives in low-income housing, which was virtually nonexistent a generation ago. Civic leaders here say extended networks of friends and family and a tradition of church groups that will cover heating bills, car repairs and septic services—often with no questions asked—also dissuade the jobless and underemployed from leaving.

Tom Quinn, president of the local Kirtland Community College, says the rationale boils down to: “I’ve got good social services. I’m stuck in one big rut. If you ask me to go to Indianapolis, I can’t—even if there’s a job there.”

“People can’t move,” says Mandi Chasey, county economic development director.

Another obstacle to mobility is the growth of state-level job-licensing requirements, which now cover a range of professions from bartenders and florists to turtle farmers and scrap-metal recyclers. A 2015 White House report found that more than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a license to do their jobs, with the share licensed at the state level rising fivefold since the 1950s.

Janna E. Johnson and Morris M. Kleiner of the University of Minnesota found in a nationwide study that barbers and cosmetologists—occupations that tend to require people to obtain new state licenses when they relocate—are 22% less likely to move between states than workers whose blue-collar occupations don’t require them.

«

Remarkable: a combination of housing costs, healthcare costs, and weird licensing. Since when did a barber require a licence? Why?
link to this extract


Theranos low on cash after settlement with Walgreens • WSJ

Christopher Weaver and Michael Siconolfi:

»

Theranos said Tuesday it settled a lawsuit by the Walgreen Co. unit of Walgreens Boots Alliance that claimed the blood-testing firm breached their contract and misled the drugstore chain about its capabilities.

Neither Theranos nor Walgreens would disclose terms of the settlement, though people familiar with the matter said the amount was more than $25 million. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that a tentative settlement had been reached, calling for Theranos to pay Walgreens less than $30m.

The embattled Silicon Valley firm told investors in June that it had about $54m left on hand. It was spending about $10m a month then, but anticipated further reducing its burn rate.

Theranos in June was seeking to raise about $50m from existing investors. The company declined to comment on whether it had succeeded in doing so, or on its current cash position. It isn’t clear when Theranos will make the payments to Walgreens.

Theranos also maintains insurance policies that could cover certain settlement and legal costs, according to court records.

«

Would investors really put another $50m into Theranos, knowing all that they do? Do they feel the sunk cost is so big already ($686m, according to Crunchbase) that another fifty million dollars won’t hurt much more?
link to this extract


Botched release of beta HomePod OS reveals details of new 2017 iPhones and HomePod • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

»

How in the world does something like this happen? My understanding is that Apple is (or at least was) on the cusp of a widespread deployment of prototype HomePods to employees. Someone prepared an over-the-air software update and because it was intended to be distributed only to Apple employees, the OS was compiled without all the usual flags set to omit code that pertains to unreleased hardware. (Kind of makes sense, insofar as HomePod itself is unreleased hardware.) Building the OS without those flags set may not have been a mistake. But distributing it via a world-readable server was.

«

I’ve heard rumours for some years that a select few Apple staff were testing some sort of smart speaker at home. This leaked deployment explanation would make sense. Apple does have an occasional talent for premature ejaculation of details like this.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the smart speaker bubble, iPads up!, hacking Alexa, more iPhone leaks, Facebook’s non-bots, and more


LEGO’s augmented reality with boxes is just a start – and Apple’s hoping to capitalise. Photo by antjeverena on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. So there you are. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tim Cook: augmented reality will make iPhone ‘even more essential’ • CNBC

Josh Lipton and Todd Haselton:

»

Speaking with CNBC after Apple’s earnings report on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that augmented reality is going to make smartphones even more important to users.

“The smart phone is becoming even more important to people because it’s going across so much of your life and you can tell by some of the things we did at WWDC that that will only continue,” Cook told CNBC’s Josh Lipton. “And with things like AR… I think it becomes even more essential than it currently is. I know it’s hard to believe, but I think that’s the case.”

Apple introduced ARKit during WWDC in June, which allows developers to create augmented reality apps. Millions iPhones already on the market will be able to take advantage of the new apps, which will allow users to peer through their iPhones into a world overlaid with new information and objects.

Imagine, for example, seeing a restaurant’s menu while standing outside on the street, or overlaying dinosaurs in the living room for your kids to interact with.

«

That’s insufficiently imaginative. Imagine measuring a room by pointing your phone at its corners; seeing exactly what a piece of furniture from a catalogue will look like in that exact room; seeing the ratings for wines on the shelf; hearing an extract from a CD based on its cover; price comparison in public spaces; figuring out tips. (Take a look at the tweets of Luke Wroblewski for more.)

Basically, journalists are both too imaginative and insufficiently imaginative about the potential here.
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Apple’s Q3 FY17 financial results • Six Colors

Jason Snell:

»

Apple announced its third-quarter financial results for fiscal 2017 today. In the most recent quarter, the company earned $45.4bn in revenue, up from $42.4bn in the year-ago quarter.

«

The most surprising – to most people – element was iPad sales, which grew by 2% in revenue and 15% in units year-on-year, implying that the newly cheaper pricing for the 9.7in basic iPad (now cheaper than the iPad mini) is driving sales. Here are the graphs; plenty more where these came from.


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Hack that turns Amazon Echo into a spying device can’t be fixed by software patch • Motherboard

Louise Matsakis:

»

The Amazon Echo can be turned into a spying tool by exploiting a physical security vulnerability, according to Mark Barnes, a researcher at cybersecurity firm MWR InfoSecurity. His research shows how it’s possible to hack the 2015 and 2016 models of the smart speaker to listen in on users without any indication that they’ve been compromised.

The issue is unfixable via a software update, meaning millions of Echos sold in 2015 and 2016 will likely have this vulnerability through the end of their use.

Barnes executed the attack by removing the bottom of the smart speaker and exposing 18 “debug” pads, which he used to boot directly into the firmware with an external SD card. Once the hack is complete, the rubber base can be reattached, leaving behind no evidence of tampering.

With the malware installed, Barnes could remotely monitor the Echo’s “always listening” microphone, which is constantly paying attention for a “wake word.” (The most popular of these is “Alexa.”) Barnes took advantage of the same audio file that the device creates to wait for those keywords.

“I’m listening to that same file. I’m effectively listening the same way that processor is listening for a keyword,” he told me in a phone interview.

It’s important to note that Amazon Echo speakers come with a mute button, which turns off the microphone completely. Hitting the button would prevent hackers from being able to listen in on a compromised Echo. It would also prevent the normal use of the device until it is unmuted.

«

Only affects 2015 and 2016 Echo. So hey, Amazon recommends buying a new one!
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SEC asks Twitter why it doesn’t disclose daily user number • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:

»

The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked Twitter Inc. a question that many investors also have: why not disclose your number of daily active users?

Twitter reports the number of monthly active users, which stood at 328 million for two quarters. The company tells investors to focus instead on the percentage growth of people who use it daily, which has increased more than 10% in each of the last three quarters. But Twitter doesn’t say what that percentage represents.

In a May 10 letter, the SEC asked for Twitter to explain that choice, and “tell us how the percentage change information provides an investor with a clear understanding of user engagement on your platform.”

In the company’s lengthy response, it argued that showing growth was more important than showing the number. In fact, Twitter said, showing the number of DAUs would invite unfair comparison to Facebook, which calculates its number including people who use its separate Facebook messaging application. “Investors would not be able to compare performance between the Company and this other company,” San Francisco-based Twitter wrote. Facebook has six times the number of monthly users as Twitter.

«

Yeah, just trying to slide around that one.
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New iPhone leaks show tap to wake, attention detection, and virtual home button • The Verge

Thuy Ong:

»

A potential “attention detection” feature is also mentioned in the [HomePod firmware] code, with some speculating that may mean the phone will remain silent for notifications if it knows you’re looking at the screen already. Facial references such as “mouthstretch,” “mouthsmile,” and “mouthdimple” were also found, which are most likely a nod to Apple’s rumored facial recognition feature that can even detect faces in the dark using infrared.

A “tap to wake” feature has also been discovered, and should be similar to the Windows Phone function that allows users to double-tap the screen to wake the phone.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The home button looks to be gone in favor of a virtual one, but some held out hope that though Troughton-Smith didn’t find evidence of an ultrasound Touch ID, a fingerprint sensor under the display was still a possibility. Troughton-Smith shot that down too, tweeting, “I mentioned ultrasound, yes, but I searched for much, much more. There is no evidence whatsoever of any new kind of Touch ID.” The virtual home button is called the “home indicator,” and will most likely be hidden in certain contexts such as when watching a video.

«

Matt Birchler looked back at the leaks last year, and found that by this time of the year pretty much everything about the new phones had leaked, one way or another. Apple is helping along by releasing this firmware, of course. What I don’t get is why Apple released HomePod firmware.
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Amazon suspends sales of Blu phones due to privacy concerns • CNET

Alfred Ng:

»

The online retailing giant told CNET that it was suspending sales of phones from Blu, known for making ultra-cheap Android handsets, due to a “potential security issue.”

The move comes after security firm Kryptowire demonstrated last week how software in Blu’s phones collected data and sent it to servers in China without alerting people. Blu defended the software, created by a Chinese company called Shanghai Adups Technology, and denied any wrongdoing. A company spokeswoman said at the time it “has several policies in place which take customer privacy and security seriously.” She added there had been no breaches. 

Blu said it was in a process of review to reinstate the phones at Amazon. 

The issue of privacy and how data is collected is a hot topic thanks to a year’s worth of reports about Russian hacking and its intrusion into the 2016 presidential race, as well as news in the last few months about ransomware attacks that hijack people’s computers, to be unlocked (if you’re lucky) for a fee.

Amazon, for one, wasn’t taking any chances. 

“Because security and privacy of our customers is of the utmost importance, all BLU phone models have been made unavailable for purchase on Amazon.com until the issue is resolved,” Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon directed customers to contact Blu’s customer support. 

«

Do people know that their data is going to end up on Google or Amazon servers? I wonder. This seems more like an OMG CHINA reaction – though I think I would have the same reaction, to be honest.
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No, Facebook did not panic and shut down an AI program that was getting dangerously smart • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:

»

In recent weeks, a story about experimental Facebook machine learning research has been circulating with increasingly panicky, Skynet-esque headlines.

“Facebook engineers panic, pull plug on AI after bots develop their own language,” one site wrote. “Facebook shuts down down AI after it invents its own creepy language,” another added. “Did we humans just create Frankenstein?” asked yet another. One British tabloid quoted a robotics professor saying the incident showed “the dangers of deferring to artificial intelligence” and “could be lethal” if similar tech was injected into military robots.

References to the coming robot revolution, killer droids, malicious AIs and human extermination abounded, some more or less serious than others. Continually quoted was this passage, in which two Facebook chat bots had learned to talk to each other in what is admittedly a pretty creepy way.

Bob: I can i i everything else

Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: you i everything else

Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

The reality is somewhat more prosaic. A few weeks ago, FastCo Design did report on a Facebook effort to develop a “generative adversarial network” for the purpose of developing negotiation software… The bots were never doing anything more nefarious than discussing with each other how to split an array of given items (represented in the user interface as innocuous objects like books, hats, and balls) into a mutually agreeable split.

«

Ho hum.
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Google says AI better than humans at scrubbing extremist YouTube content • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:

»

The company is using machine learning along with human reviewers as part of a mutli-pronged approach to tackle the spread of extremist and controversial videos across YouTube, which also includes tougher standards for videos and the recruitment of more experts to flag content in need of review.

A month after announcing the changes, and following UK home secretary Amber Rudd’s repeated calls for US technology firms to do more to tackle the rise of extremist content, Google’s YouTube has said that its machine learning systems have already made great leaps in tackling the problem.

A YouTube spokesperson said: “While these tools aren’t perfect, and aren’t right for every setting, in many cases our systems have proven more accurate than humans at flagging videos that need to be removed.

“Our initial use of machine learning has more than doubled both the number of videos we’ve removed for violent extremism, as well as the rate at which we’ve taken this kind of content down. Over 75% of the videos we’ve removed for violent extremism over the past month were taken down before receiving a single human flag.”

One of the problems YouTube has in policing its site for illicit content is that users upload 400 hours of content every minute, making filtering out extremist content in real time an enormous challenge that only an algorithmic approach is likely to manage, the company says.

«

Machines beat humans at yet another strategy game.
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Talking speakers just arrived—and there’s already a bubble • WSJ

Li Yuan:

»

Within a day of Apple announcing its voice-activated HomePod speaker in June, Song Shaopeng, founder of smart-speaker technology startup Sugr Electronics Corp., fielded calls from three electronics manufacturers with the same request. All wanted his help to make HomePod-like products…

…An added inducement to jump in [to the smart speaker space] is that Amazon’s, Google’s and Apple’s smart speakers don’t offer voice interfaces in Chinese—and those are hard to build…

Smart speakers aren’t just hardware. They require complex software to recognize and execute voice commands and provide content ranging from weather forecasts, traffic reports, music, news, books and services from shopping to payment. The speakers are supposed to interact with users and learn their preferences over time.

That means heavy research and development.

“It’s like when you were trying to build a smartphone in 2007 only to find that you had to build the Android operating system and the mobile apps running on the phone too. It’s not something for small startups,” says Mr. Song, the Sugr founder.

Ximalaya’s owner, Shanghai Zendai Ximalaya Network Technology Co., partnered with the new AI subsidiary of app developer Cheetah Mobile Inc., which hired more than 200 engineers to work on the smart speaker.

“It was a lot of work,” says Mr. Li, the vice president. He says they used over 80,000 different voices to ensure the speaker understands when people call its name “Xiaoya.” When they changed the cover fabric for the speaker, the voice recognition rate fell from 90% to 10%. They then spent a month rewriting the algorithm.

«

1) it’s only when Apple gets into it that Chinese companies feel it’s validated
2) these versions will be the worst of all worlds – won’t have the Apple sound quality (reported to be very high) but won’t have Alexa’s combination of voice recognition quality and home ordering, nor Google’s voice recognition quality and, um, Google content.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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.”

«

Surprising.
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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.

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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.”

«

link to this extract


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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link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Pandora’s Australian halt, Apple cuts VPN apps in China, Charlie Gard truths and fictions, and more


The US Department of Energy had a presence in Second Life. That might be all that’s left soon. Photo by rikomatic on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Pandora shuts down in Australia and New Zealand after five years • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

»

The digital radio company, which launched in Australia and New Zealand in 2012, is officially closing down its app and website in the territories on Monday (July 31).

Approximately 5m registered customers in the region will be locked out of their accounts, having received a message from Pandora which tells them: “We’re honored to have connected so many listeners with the music they love these past few years. Thank you for your loyalty and the opportunity to serve you.”

The cost-cutting move will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on Pandora’s global active monthly listener count, which was last officially pegged at 76.7m in Q1.

However, it sets up the beginning of a new US-focused era at Pandora, which offloaded ticketing arm Ticketfly to Eventbrite for $200m last month – while selling an effective 16% stake in its business to SiriusXM for a $480m investment.

«

That noise you hear is the fat lady clearing her throat.
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P&G cuts more than $100m in ‘largely ineffective’ digital ads • WSJ

Alexandra Bruell and Sharon Terlep:

»

Procter & Gamble said that its move to cut more than $100m in digital marketing spend in the June quarter had little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective.

Almost all of the consumer product giant’s advertising cuts in the period came from digital, finance chief Jon Moeller said on its earnings call Thursday. The company targeted ads that could wind up on sites with fake traffic from software known as “bots,” or those with objectionable content.

“What it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective, where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands,” he said.

«

That’s from a total spent of $2.45bn, it seems. It’s not cutting back on Facebook spending, though. Seems like worse news for ad tech companies than the big two of Facebook and Google.
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Apple says it is removing VPN services from China App Store • Reuters

Cate Cadell:

»

Apple says it is removing virtual private network (VPN) services from its app store in China, drawing criticism from VPN service providers, who accuse the U.S. tech giant of bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators.

VPNs allow users to bypass China’s so-called “Great Firewall” aimed at restricting access to overseas sites.

In January, Beijing passed laws seeking to ban all VPNs that are not approved by state regulators. Approved VPNs must use state network infrastructure.

In a statement on Sunday, an Apple spokeswoman confirmed it will remove apps that don’t comply with the law from its China App Store, including services based outside the country.

Beijing has shut down dozens of China-based providers and it has been targeting overseas services as it bids to tighten its control over the internet, especially ahead of the Communist Party congress in August…

…”We view access to Internet in China as a human rights issue and I would expect Apple to value human rights over profit,” Sunday Yokubaitis, president of Golden Frog, which oversees VyprVPN told Reuters on Sunday…

…VPN providers say that while the apps are not available on the store, users are still able to manually install them using VPN support built into Apple’s operating system.

«

What’s not clear: whether already-installed copies of those apps will vanish from users’ handsets.
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Why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the White House • Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis:

»

A month after the election Pyle [Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, which, upon inspection, proved to be a Washington, D.C., propaganda machine funded with millions of dollars from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries] arrived for a meeting with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Deputy Secretary Sherwood-Randall, and Knobloch. Moniz is a nuclear physicist, then on leave from M.I.T., who had served as deputy secretary during the Clinton administration and is widely viewed, even by many Republicans, as understanding and loving the D.O.E. better than any person on earth.

Pyle appeared to have no interest in anything he had to say. “He did not seem motivated to spend a lot of time understanding the place,” says Sherwood-Randall. “He didn’t bring a pencil or a piece of paper. He didn’t ask questions. He spent an hour. That was it. He never asked to meet with us again.”

Afterward, Knobloch says, he suggested that Pyle visit one day each week until the inauguration, and that Pyle agreed to do it—but then he never showed up, instead attending a half-dozen meetings or so with others. “It’s a head-scratcher,” says Knobloch. “It’s a $30-billion-a-year organization with about 110,000 employees. Industrial sites across the country. Very serious stuff. If you’re going to run it, why wouldn’t you want to know something about it?”

There was a reason Obama had appointed nuclear physicists to run the place: it, like the problems it grappled with, was technical and complicated. Moniz had helped lead the U.S. negotiations with Iran precisely because he knew which parts of their nuclear- energy program they must surrender if they were to be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. For a decade before Knobloch joined the D.O.E., in June 2013, he had served as president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “I had worked closely with D.O.E. throughout my career,” he says. “I thought I knew and understood the agency. But when I came in I thought, Holy cow.”

«

When Michael Lewis writes about a topic, it’s something to pay attention to. This is a very long article – save it for your lunch hour perhaps – but it’s very important. The closing lines:

»

if you are seeking to preserve a certain worldview, it actually helps to gut science. Trump’s budget, like the social forces behind it, is powered by a perverse desire—to remain ignorant. Trump didn’t invent this desire. He is just its ultimate expression.

«

link to this extract


Charlie Gard: facts, medicine, and right-wing fictions • Medium

I wrote about this case, which has created a huge amount of misunderstanding – a lot of it in the US, but quite a lot in the UK too. Here’s the first of three key misconceptions:

»

“there was a treatment”.

No, there wasn’t. The specific variant of mitochondrial DNA depletion disease which Charlie Gard had, RRM2B, affects both muscle and brain, and has never been effectively treated, much less reversed or “cured”. There is no known cure for mitochondrial disease, though there are treatments of varying efficacy for some variants. If you know someone who was “treated” and is now “better”, it was a less aggressive variant. (A doctor of genetics told me on Twitter that this is an incredibly rare variant of the range of diseases, and “one of the most catastrophic”. This variant affects the DNA in the nucleus so that the mitochondrial DNA is not renewed, which means that the cells progressively can’t generate energy. RRM2B is so rare there have only been about 20 documented cases ever.)

“TK2”, another variant of MDDS, doesn’t affect the brain as RRM2B does. Professor Michio Hirano (on whom more later) has had some limited success treating TK2 patients. But he’s never tried treating a RRM2B patient. (Unsurprising, given its rarity.)

«

There is more, including the legal points. I’ve had a lot of responses from doctors and lawyers – so far (on Sunday) all positive. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this story.
link to this extract


Social media and Charlie Gard: populism versus public services? • LSE Polis

Ranjana Das is a senior lecturer at Surrey University:

»

My research on the social media presence of this community [supporting the parents’ wishes re Charlie Gard] has shown up some pretty classical markers of populist politics which individuals, most of whom very emotionally affected by Charlie’s case, have been displaying, and I argue that these findings hold implications for public relationships to healthcare that we now need to consider in a constantly mediated society. Populism has long been discussed as an ideology which posits an image of the forgone, or left-behind as the opposition to the establishment peopled by ‘the elites’.

The role of the media is key here of course. Kramer’s use of media populism defines it as the use of “stylistic and ideological elements by some media, viz. the construction and favouritism of in-groups, hostility toward, and circumvention of the elites and institutions of representative democracy, sentiments (thus on an emotionalizing, personalizing, and ostentatiously plainspoken discourse.”

It is precisely this that the social media campaign around Charlie Gard has demonstrated.

«

link to this extract


Sci-Hub’s cache of pirated papers is so big, subscription journals are doomed, data analyst suggests • Science

Lindsay McKenzie:

»

There is no doubt that Sci-Hub, the infamous—and, according to a U.S. court, illegal—online repository of pirated research papers, is enormously popular. (See Science’s investigation last year of who is downloading papers from Sci-Hub.) But just how enormous is its repository? That is the question biodata scientist Daniel Himmelstein at the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues recently set out to answer, after an assist from Sci-Hub.

Their findings, published in a preprint on the PeerJ journal site on 20 July, indicate that Sci-Hub can instantly provide access to more than two-thirds of all scholarly articles, an amount that Himmelstein says is “even higher” than he anticipated. For research papers protected by a paywall, the study found Sci-Hub’s reach is greater still, with instant access to 85% of all papers published in subscription journals. For some major publishers, such as Elsevier, more than 97% of their catalog of journal articles is being stored on Sci-Hub’s servers—meaning they can be accessed there for free.

Given that Sci-Hub has access to almost every paper a scientist would ever want to read, and can quickly obtain requested papers it doesn’t have, could the website truly topple traditional publishing? In a chat with ScienceInsider, Himmelstein concludes that the results of his study could mark “the beginning of the end” for paywalled research.

«

The “beginning of the end” has been predicted for science paywalls many times. We’ll see if this marks that true start.
link to this extract


Update your Android now – many holes fixed including ‘BroadPwn’ Wi-Fi bug • Naked Security

Paul Ducklin:

»

The most intriguing [Android] bug this month, however, is an RCE flaw in the Broadcom Wi-Fi code that’s used by Android devices equipped with certain Broadcom wireless chips.

According to Google, “a proximate attacker [could] execute arbitrary code within the context of the kernel”.

In plain English, that means a crook who’s within Wi-Fi range could fire off booby-trapped network packets at your Wi-Fi hardware, trigger a bug in the wireless device…

…and end up with the same programmatic powers as the Android operating system on your device…

…What we can’t tell you is when the vendors of devices other than Google’s own Nexus and Pixel phones will be ready with their patches – if you’re worried, ask your vendor or the carrier who supplied your device.

Also, we can’t give you a handy list of the thousands of different Android devices out there that not only include Broadcom wireless cards but also have firmware that’s affected by the BroadPwn bug.

Once again, if you are worried, ask your supplier or mobile carrier.

«

So it looks as though, as long as your Android phone gets the July 2017 security fixes, it will be protected against the BroadPwn attack. Unknown: when/whether your Android phone will get those.
link to this extract


Oh shit, Will.i.am could soon be in charge of your smart home • Gizmodo UK

Rhett Jones:

»

Among Will.i.am’s gadgets that haven’t taken off, he’s released: a $315 iPhone case that had its own app called i.am+foto.sosho, a smart watch that was actually a smart cuff that was actually two smart cuffs that you wear at the same time, and, most recently, some high-end headphones that make you look like you’re wearing two of Lieutenant Uhura’s earpieces at the same time. In 2016, he launched another smart watch that required you to pay $28 a month for some sort of service and it had no apps. “The last paradigm was the apps thing,” he said at the time. And he was right. And it still is.

That shit’s in the past and Will is all about the future. The future is smart homes. 2017 is expected to be “the year of the smart home” and one recent report estimates that the tech will have a compound annual growth rate of 13.61% through 2023. Will.i.am’s company, i.am+ announced today that it has acquired the beleaguered smart home device maker Wink and together they are going to control everything in your house.

«

In general, Will.i.am getting into a sector is a good sign for the sector, but not for him.
link to this extract


Pebble, webOS design exec joins Google to lead Home, Chromecast design • Variety

Janko Roettgers:

»

Before joining Pebble, [Liron] Damir led the webOS design efforts at HP, and then at LG. webOS was initially developed as a mobile operating system to take on Android and iOS, but HP scrapped these efforts when it realized that it couldn’t compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung. The company sold webOS to LG in early 2013, which ended up using the operating system for its smart TVs.

Damir is joining the Google Home group at an interesting time. Google Home itself launched as a product without a screen, and Chromecast has been positioned as a device without an on-screen user interface, instead relying on mobile apps for content selection and control.

However, Google demonstrated at its developer conference in May that it is working on closely integrating both products, which will require more complex on-screen interfaces.

«

Damir was briefly at Andy Rubin’s Essential – which seems to be leaking executives at an amazing rate.
link to this extract


Apple agreed to pay €1.7bn to Nokia for patents • Nokiamob

“Stipe”:

»

In today’s financial results, Nokia mentioned that it had increased cash inflow thanks to an “up-front cash payment of approximately EUR 1.7 billion, part of which was recognized in the second quarter 2017 results.” When Nokia announced back in May that it settled all litigation with Apple, they also said that they will update its capital structure optimization program, as one reader pointed out, which means Apple agreed to pay a big one-time amount.

We contacted Nokia to confirm if the “up-front cash payment of €1.7bn ($2bn) (of which a part was recognized in Q2 results)” is from Apple, and Nokia’s PR team confirmed that and invited us to join the investor webcast at 2pm CEST here for more details.

We can conclude that Nokia scored a good deal with Apple.

«

Nokia confirmed it’s from Apple in the conference call. Hardly as if Apple can complain the amount is confidential, given its size and those involved.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: a Wi-Fi worm, Twitter flaps, Samsung’s struggle, North Korea v tech, open Flash?, and more


California’s smog may be getting a $3bn cleanup, via subsidies for electric vehicles. Photo by Metro Transportation Library on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. See? Friday already with no extra effort. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Broadpwn: remotely compromising Android and iOS via a bug in Broadcom’s Wi-Fi chipsets • Exodus Intelligence

Nitay Artenstein:

»

As modern operating systems become hardened, attackers are hard at work looking for new, powerful and inventive attack vectors. However, remote exploits are not a simple matter. Local attacks benefit from an extensive interaction with the targeted platform using interfaces such as syscalls or JavaScript, which allows the attacker to make assumptions about the target’s address space and memory state. Remote attackers, on the other hand, have a much more limited interaction with the target. In order for a remote attack to be successful, the bug on which it is based needs to allow the attacker to make as few assumptions as possible about the target’s state.

This research is an attempt to demonstrate what such an attack, and such a bug, will look like.
Broadpwn is a fully remote attack against Broadcom’s BCM43xx family of WiFi chipsets, which allows for code execution on the main application processor in both Android and iOS. It is based on an unusually powerful 0-day that allowed us to leverage it into a reliable, fully remote exploit.

«

This is the attack for which Apple provided a security update last week, I believe. (Android update status: unknown.) It’s potentially devastating: a Wi-Fi worm which only requires you to associate with the attacking Wi-Fi network.
link to this extract


It looks like the state of California is bailing out Tesla • Business Insider

Wolf Richter:

»

The California state Assembly passed a $3bn subsidy program for electric vehicles, dwarfing the existing program. The bill is now in the state Senate. If passed, it will head to Governor Jerry Brown, who has not yet indicated if he’d sign what is ostensibly an effort to put EV sales into high gear, but below the surface appears to be a Tesla bailout.

Tesla will soon hit the limit of the federal tax rebates, which are good for the first 200,000 EVs sold in the US per manufacturer beginning in December 2009 (IRS explanation). In the second quarter after the manufacturer hits the limit, the subsidy gets cut in half, from $7,500 to $3,750; two quarters later, it gets cut to $1,875. Two quarters later, it goes to zero.

Given Tesla’s ambitious US sales forecast for its Model 3, it will hit the 200,000 vehicle limit in 2018, after which the phase-out begins. A year later, the subsidies are gone. Losing a $7,500 subsidy on a $35,000 car is a huge deal. No other EV manufacturer is anywhere near their 200,000 limit. Their customers are going to benefit from the subsidy; Tesla buyers won’t.

This could crush Tesla sales.

«

You can argue it both ways – it’s a bailout, but it’s also making California’s air less polluted by proxy. So taxpayers are paying, in a roundabout way, for cleaner air. If they buy an electric car, they get a refund – and more – on that taxation. Subsidies are odd things.
link to this extract


Twitter fails to grow its audience, again • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:

»

Twitter Inc. failed to attract more monthly users in the second quarter, spooking investors looking for evidence that the company is on a sustainable long-term growth path. The shares tumbled the most in nine months, even as quarterly revenue topped analysts’ projections.

A long-term turnaround depends on Twitter expanding its audience. That number stands at 328 million monthly active users — the same as in the prior quarter, the San Francisco-based company said in a statement Thursday. Revenue fell 4.7% and the company’s net loss also widened, affected by a $55m writedown of the value of its investment in SoundCloud, the German music streaming service.

Twitter is still working to prove that it can build a sustainable, growing business…

…“It’s a niche platform,’’ said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research. “It always was and always will be.’’

«

Takeover target in a few years’ time? Or will it just be left to stumble on, not quite burning enough cash to flame out?
link to this extract


Sense of crisis felt at Samsung Electronics despite Its best-ever performances • BusinessKorea

Michael Henh:

»

Samsung Electronics announced on July 27 that the company chalked up operating profit of 14.1trn won (US$12.6bn) in the second quarter of this year. The figure was the highest among non-financial companies in the world. However, the absence of vice chairman Lee Jae-yong who is the highest decision maker at Samsung casts a dark shadow on Samsung. Large-scale investment plans have virtually vanished at Samsung.

“A large investment in the semiconductor industry a few years ago made Samsung what the company is today. Now is the time to prepare for the future, but now Samsung’s business activities are virtually put on hold,” said a senior Samsung Electronics official.

The disappearance of Samsung’s large-scale M&A announcements is also largely due to the absence of its owner. Samsung shelled out 9trn won (US$8.1bn) last year to acquire Harman, a global electronic auto parts company, and secured competitiveness by acquiring 10 small and large companies over the past five years. However, Samsung Electronics’s investment has not been made since the vice chairman Lee’s arrest. Current investments were like the implementation of agendas that were planned in the past.

«

Surprising, but the article makes a good case that Samsung Electronics is not progressing – even if it is profiting.
link to this extract


Opinion: why North Korea should worry the tech world • PC Magazine

Tim Bajarin:

»

Some years back, on a trip to Asia, which included a stop in South Korea, I asked a top tech official what concerns him the most. He said the collapse of North Korea and the fact that millions of North Koreans would rush over the border and paralyze South Korea’s region and economy. As a result, I have been watching North Korea’s efforts to advance its nuclear program, and what I fear is more than just saber-rattling.

In April, President Trump spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping and reportedly told him that if China doesn’t help solve the North Korean problem, the US will address the issue on its own. Now, I don’t profess in the slightest to know what it means to “go it alone,” but as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said, “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with North Korea.

Given the fact that our current administration is unpredictable and has little experience in dealing with a crisis like the one we have in North Korea, anything is possible, including some type of strike to try and take out its nuclear sites…

…A good friend of mine, who travels to this area of the world 10 to 12 times a year and really understands the political side of these countries, says that the only way to normalize North Korea, which may sound counterintuitive, is to help it find a way to feel more secure. North Korea will focus on prosperity and abandon its nuclear ambitions only when it feels safe and a part of the northeast Asian economy. More sanctions or military action will not end well. This is a wise observation, and I would hope that our current administration has someone inside that understands this option.

«

This point about making North Korea feel safe, rather than threatened, is counterintuitive; but it makes perfect sense.
link to this extract


Adobe Flash fans want a chance to fix its one million bugs under an open source license • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:

»

While Adobe is finally mercy killing Flash, its multimedia software that helped power countless web applications like games and videos faced but widespread criticism for its rapid decline in usefulness and growing number of security vulnerabilities, some fans want to keep it alive as an open-source project for the future.

A petition circulated by web developer Juha Lindstedt is asking Adobe not to pull the software off the market entirely, but instead release it as an open-source project which could fix its many problems. Over 900 people have already starred it on Github.

“Flash is an important piece of Internet history and killing Flash Player means future generations can’t access the past,” Linstedt wrote. “Games, experiments and websites would be forgotten.”

“Open sourcing Flash would be a good solution to keep Flash projects alive safely for archive reasons,” Lindstedt added. “Don’t know how, but that’s the beauty of open source: You never know what will come up after you go open source!”

«

This would be an excellent move. It is an important part of web history.
link to this extract


Apple Glasses Are Inevitable • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»

Augmented reality glasses check off all of the boxes for a product in Apple’s wheelhouse and are deserving of a rare green light to market. 

• Hardware and software integration. There is room for Apple to create value by controlling both the hardware and software comprising AR glasses. The sum will be greater than its parts.
• Wearables manufacturing. Apple is learning quite a bit about manufacturing techniques and materials from Apple Watch and AirPods. These lessons can be transferred over to glasses, an item that will need to include a plethora of technology yet remain light.
• AR technology. Apple’s big bet on AR will represent the catalyst for turning glasses and sunglasses into something more. An engaged base of iOS developers experimenting with ARKit will give Apple Glasses a hospitable app environment.
• Personal technology evolution. AR glasses represent the evolution of Apple’s decades-long quest to make technology more personal – allowing people to get more out of technology without having it take over their lives.
• Fashion and luxury themes. Apple Watch has taught Apple much about how to get people to wear personal technology.
• Health/Medical. The ability to improve one’s vision fits within Apple’s expanding interest in health and medical.
• Retail demoes. Nearly 500 Apple Retail stores offer prime demo areas for customers to try on various glasses. 

«

I bet that a demo area for augmented reality glasses in an Apple Store would be crowded the whole day long. Glasses plus AirPods plus, perhaps, Watch.
link to this extract


Apple patent reveals the exciting possibility of augmented reality smartglasses • Patently Apple

Jack Purcher:

»

Apple acquired Metaio the creator of ‘Thermal Touch’ and a new Augmented Reality Interface for Wearables and beyond back in 2015. Their technology is thought to be behind Apple’s push into augmented reality and ARKit. This year a Metaio patent application surfaced under Apple for moving furniture in augmented reality. Apple was also granted a patent for indoor navigation that covered new capabilities for a future iDevice camera allowing it to recognize building names or paintings and then adding AR identifying markers on the user’s iDevice photos.

Today another original Metaio patent application under Apple has surfaced relating augmented reality. More specifically it covers a method for representing points of interest in a view of a real environment on a screen of an iPhone with interaction functionality. The buzz is that the patent covers AR smartglasses as noted in our cover graphic, something that Apple has been adding to a series of new and updated trademarks of late

«

Augmented reality glasses from Apple seem like an inevitability, as Cybart says above.
link to this extract


YouTube’s head of music confirms YouTube Red and Google Play Music will merge • The Verge

Micah Singleton:

»

YouTube’s head of music confirmed that the company is planning on merging its Google Play Music service with YouTube Red to create a new streaming offering. During a panel session for the New Music Seminar conference in New York, Lyor Cohen stated that the company needed to merge the two services to help educate consumers and bring in new subscribers.

“The important thing is combining YouTube Red and Google Play Music, and having one offering,” Cohen said when asked about why YouTube Red isn’t more popular with music users. He didn’t address whether or not the two apps would merge — but it seems very unlikely.

Right now, YouTube’s music ecosystem is unnecessarily complicated. There’s YouTube Red, which removes ads from videos and lets you save them offline, while also giving you access to Google Play Music for free. Then there’s YouTube Music, which anyone can use, but it gets better if you’re signed up for YouTube Red. And YouTube TV is also a thing — an entirely separate thing — but it’s not available everywhere yet.

The merger has been rumored within the industry for months, and recently picked up steam after Google combined the teams working on the two streaming services earlier this year.

«

“Help educate consumers and bring in new subscribers” implies that people don’t know about these subscription services and that they need them. Badly?
link to this extract


Opinion: I’m not happy about the lack of a headphone jack on the Pixel 2, but I’ll gladly live with it • 9to5 Google

Ben Schoon:

»

I fully understand where people are coming from with the loss of a headphone jack. It’s an important part of a mobile device as it’s probably the most common way to output audio on the planet. People rely on it daily in their cars, with their earbuds, and in plenty of other situations. Losing it is not fun, and I can see how it could be a deal-breaker.

That said, I’m honestly fine with it going away at this point. A year ago, I wouldn’t have said the same thing. Why? At that point, alternate methods of audio output weren’t as commonplace, or cheap. A pair of Bluetooth earbuds were pretty expensive, and USB-C audio output was still a mess.

Now, however, we’ve reached the point where those aren’t issues. Just the other day I saw a pair of Bluetooth headphones in a retail shop for just $10 (and I regret not picking them up to see if they were any good). That, and a quick look at Amazon, shows that the costs of audio in a post-headphone jack world are decreasing.

«

Not surprising that the justifications would start rolling in – if you’re writing for a site reliant on people who like Google, you’re not likely to diss it – but I particularly enjoyed him saying later in the piece that the Pixel 2 lacking a headphone jack would drive other OEMs to follow suit.

The Pixel 2 is going to sell a few million, based on past experience. I don’t think its influence will be that big. And other Android OEMs have already ditched the jack for some models – notably Motorola at the lower end.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: re last week’s commentary about Spotify v Netflix: I suggested that Netflix’s advantage is that it can upsell people on 4K video. Lots of you responded that its real advantage is that it creates its own content – which means that it reaps all the profit, whereas Spotify has to keep paying labels and musicians.

The logical conclusion: Spotify should start its own record label.

Start Up: towards better passwords, Pixel sans jack?, TomTom’s wearable trouble, Ive’s round work at Apple, and more


Google is phasing out Instant Search suggestions. Photo by FindYourSearch on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Passwords Evolved: Authentication Guidance for the Modern Era • Troy Hunt

Hunt takes a long look at the whole password topic; this is one about blocking previously breached passwords:

»

Getting back to the whole credential stuffing thing for a moment, once passwords are disclosed they must be considered “burned”, that is they should never be used again. Ever. Once they’re out there in the wild, an untold number of other parties now have those credentials which therefore significantly heightens the risk anyone uses them now faces. Imagine having access to a billion email address and password pairs taken from actual data breaches as I highlighted in the credential stuffing post:

NIST talks about the problem as follows:

»

When processing requests to establish and change memorized secrets, verifiers SHALL compare the prospective secrets against a list that contains values known to be commonly-used, expected, or compromised. For example, the list MAY include, but is not limited to: Passwords obtained from previous breach corpuses.

«

In layman’s terms, this means that when someone registers or changes their password, you should be checking to ensure it’s not a password that’s previously appeared in a data breach. It doesn’t matter that it may not have been the user who is presently registering that used the password in the breach, the mere fact that it has now been leaked publicly increases the chances of it being used in an attack. They also mention that the password shouldn’t be a dictionary word or a “context-specific word”; when I wrote about CloudPets leaving their database publicly exposed, I pointed out how even bcrypt hashes were easily crackable by using a small password dictionary including words such as “cloudpets”. Don’t let people use a password which is the name of the service they’re signing up to because they will!

«

If you consider that pretty much every password has been used and breached for six or seven characters, it shows the problem’s breadth.
link to this extract


Google has dropped Google Instant Search • Search Engine Land

»

After launching Google Instant — Google’s method of showing search results as you type them — several years ago, Google has removed the feature from search effective today.

Google Instant launched in 2010 under the leadership of Marissa Mayer. Mayer called this change a “fundamental shift in search” and the news was covered across all major media when it launched.

Now with the changes in how searchers use mobile — and over 50% of all Google searches being on mobile — Google decided to do away with this feature. A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land:

»

We launched Google Instant back in 2010 with the goal to provide users with the information they need as quickly as possible, even as they typed their searches on desktop devices. Since then, many more of our searches happen on mobile, with very different input and interaction and screen constraints. With this in mind, we have decided to remove Google Instant, so we can focus on ways to make Search even faster and more fluid on all devices.

«

«

Alternative explanation: Google Instant got the company into huge amounts of boiling-hot water because the suggestions from the autocomplete were so horrendously biased that it sought a fix – and there is no fix except to remove it.
link to this extract


TomTom could be stepping back from wearable tech and action cams • Wareable

Hugh Langley:

»

TomTom is reassessing its place in the sports wearables market, following disappointing sales. Wareable has also learned that a handful of key executives have left the company, and that the company shelved plans for a Bandit 2 action camera.

TomTom’s Q2 earnings revealed a 20% year-on-year decline in consumer revenue, with TomTom quoting a poor performance in its Sports segment. “The wearables market has fallen short of expectations,” said TomTom CEO Harold Goddijn in an investors call, “and because of this and because we want to focus on Automotive, Licensing and Telematics businesses, we are reviewing strategic options for our Sports business.”

Needless to say that doesn’t sound good, and Goddijn did not rule out possibly closing the Sports segments. “We need to look at it,” he said. “We can’t carry on as we are going at the moment.”

«

Langley found that a ton of execs in that space have left the company. We look forward to Fitbit’s results in the next few days. Contenders in the wearable market are dropping like flies.
link to this extract


Points to keep in mind when reading any upcoming story about Elon Musk • West Coast Stat Views

“Mark”:

»

This is a good time to reiterate a few basic points to keep in mind when covering Elon Musk:

1.    Other than the ability to make a large sum of money through some good investments, Elon Musk has demonstrated exceptional talent in three (and only three) areas: raising capital for enterprises; creating effective, fast-moving, true-believer corporate cultures; generating hype.

2.    Though SpaceX appears to be doing all right, Musk does not overall have a good track record running profitable businesses. Furthermore, his companies (and this will come as a big slap in the face of conventional wisdom) have never been associated with big radical technological advances. SpaceX is doing impressive work, but it is fundamentally conventional impressive work. Before the company was founded, had you spoken with people in the aerospace community and asked them “what is closest to being Mars ready, who has it, and who are the top people in the field?”, the answers would have been the type of engine SpaceX currently uses, TRW (which sued SpaceX for stealing their intellectual property), and the chief rocket scientist SpaceX lured away from TRW. By the same token, Tesla is pretty much doing what all of the other major players in the auto industry are doing in terms of technology.

3.    From the beginning, Musk has always had a tendency to exaggerate and overpromise. Smart, skeptical journalist like Michael Hiltzik and the reporters at the Gawker remnants have taken any claim from Elon Musk with a grain or two (or 20) of salt.

4. That said, in recent years things have gotten much, much worse. Musk has gone from overselling feasible technology and possibly viable business plans to pitching proposals that are incredibly unlikely then supporting them with absurdly unrealistic estimates and sometimes mere handwaving.

«

I haven’t paid Musk much attention, to be honest. I’m not sure point 2 has much weight: building successful businesses isn’t about radical technological advances; often, those two are opposed, because RTAs are costly and pay off slowly. (Mark has other points to make too, though.)
link to this extract


Trump, Scott Walker to reveal Foxconn factory plans in Wisconsin • CNBC

Justin Solomon and Anita Balakrishnan:

»

Apple-supplier Foxconn will announce a plant in Wisconsin on Wednesday evening, accompanied by President Donald Trumpand Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a source with knowledge of the announcement told CNBC.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will also be present at the announcement in Washington, a source said. No exact location for the plant has been chosen — but the area of southeast Wisconsin between Milwaukee and Chicago is under consideration, according to a source.

A source said that seven states were considered for the expansion, but Wisconsin appears to be a preliminary winner, and Ohio is a contender. About 10,000 jobs could be created.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Foxconn may be eyeing a new U.S. plant for display panels.

Foxconn is also known as Hon Hai Precision, a longtime supplier to Apple and other electronics companies that has come under scrutiny in the past over labor practices in China. It is unclear if Apple is involved in Wednesday’s announcement.

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link to this extract


How Jony Ive masterminded Apple’s new headquarters • WSJ

Christina Passariello:

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In the early days of planning, Ive and [Steve] Jobs shared “drawings, books, and created expressions of feelings,” says [Jobs’s widow Lauren] Powell Jobs, who often witnessed the longtime partners collaborating. Some principles were a given, such as the belief that natural light and fresh air make workers happier and more productive. The prototyping prerequisite made for a logical match with Foster + Partners, which also practices modeling and prototyping. Norman Foster visited Ive in his top-secret design studio during one of their early meetings. It emerged that the two design gurus have other interests in common, including a love of the work of English painter Bridget Riley, whose graphic black-and-white art plays tricks on the mind.

From the beginning, Ive had an “absolute obsession with the idea that it was built like a product, not like a piece of architecture,” says industrial designer Marc Newson, one of Ive’s oldest friends, who has contributed to Apple designs in recent years.

Ive takes a subtly British dig at other tech campuses sprouting across Silicon Valley. “A lot of the buildings that are being built at the moment are products of software-only cultures,” says Ive. “Because we understand making, we’ll build [a prototype] and try it and use it, and see what works and what doesn’t.” Facebook commissioned Frank Gehry to make its headquarters, with unfinished plywood walls and cables and cords that dangle from the ceiling. Bjarke Ingels’s and Thomas Heatherwick’s plan for Google’s new campus calls for a giant metal roof canopy.

Ive was used to taking on projects in new domains—such as music players and smartphones—so designing a campus didn’t feel like a leap. In fact, Ive thinks the line separating product design from architecture shouldn’t be so rigid. Architecture is “a sort of product design; you can talk about it in terms of scale and function and materials, material types,” he says. “I think the delineation is a much, much softer set of boundaries that mark our expertise.”

…The desire for light and air, crossed with the need for enough density to house 12,000 employees, gave shape to Apple Park’s main building. Ive, tracing an infinity sign in the air, says they considered complex forms, including a trilobal design, a sort of giant fidget spinner. Ultimately they decided that only a ring shape could give the feeling of being close to the elements.

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Decoding the Enigma with Recurrent Neural Networks • Github

Sam Greydanus:

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Now we’re ready for something a lot more complex: the Nazi Enigma. Its innards consisted of three rotating alphabet wheels, several switchboards, and ten cables. All told, the machine had 150,738,274,900,000 possible configurations!


How the Enigma works. Note that the three wheels can rotate as the decoding process unfolds

Background. Breaking the Enigma was an incredible feat – it even inspired the 2014 film The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. Turing was one of the most important figures in the project. He also introduced the notion of Turing-completeness. In an ironic twist, we’ll be using a Turing-complete algorithm (the LSTM) to decode the Enigma.

We’ll train the model on only one permutation of switchboards, cables, and wheels. The keyword, then, is three letters which tell the model the initial positions of the wheels.


Basic training objective where “EKW” is the keyword. The keyword defines the initial positions of the three alphabet wheels

Making it happen. I synthesized training data on-the-fly using the crypto-enigma Python API and checked my work on a web-based Enigma emulator. I used each training example only once to avoid the possibility of overfitting.

The model needed to be very large to capture all the Enigma’s transformations. I had success with a single-celled LSTM model with 3000 hidden units. Training involved about a million steps of batched gradient descent: after a few days on a k40 GPU, I was getting 96-97% accuracy!

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Greydanus has done a lot of interesting stuff in this space. He’s an undergraduate physics student at Dartmouth College in the US. His next project: trying to get RNNs to decode RSA-encoded text.
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Biased AI is a threat to civil liberties. The ACLU has a plan to fix it • FastCo Design

Diana Budds:

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The ACLU is primarily concerned with three areas where AI is at work: criminal justice; equity as it relates to fair housing, fair lending, and fair credit; and surveillance. The partnership is nascent, so the organization is still formulating exactly how it will address these themes. For starters, it will launch a fellowship related to AI and form working groups around these areas. It will also host workshops to help determine its position on these issues–like, for instance, how to frame questions that arise as municipalities begin to adopt AI and how to support civil liberties advocates as they look to the ACLU for guidance on how technology should be restricted, deployed, or designed.

Goodman points out that as AI matures and becomes more affordable, more organizations and jurisdictions are incorporating it into their practices, opening up the floodgates for more bias to enter society. “We’re at the [AI] adoption moment,” she says. “In some ways we’re at the beginning of the new era where the rules of the road are being established with respect to how AI is involved with government.”

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Particularly worrying are the uses of AI in policing, sentencing, financing and lending. All are likely to increase any biases if they use the existing systems – which, in general, are biased against minorities.
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Google Pixel 2 ditching 3.5 mm headphone jack, if these CAD renders are accurate • AndroidAuthority

“Team AA”:

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The devices in the renders clearly adhere to Google’s design language, featuring that unmistakable two-piece back plate, and circular rear fingerprint scanner. They don’t differ too much from last year’s iterations in terms of appearance, though there are some new additions, namely, front-firing stereo speakers and an all-new camera.

It had been speculated that the new Pixel phones, or at least the larger XL variant, would come with dual cameras. This doesn’t seem to be the case, and instead, it looks like they will feature a large, single lens. This should provide for some exceptional photo quality, if its anything like the original Pixel’s camera, but some might be disappointed to see that it protrudes slightly from the handset’s body.

Now, here’s the real interesting part. Remember how Google took a jab at Apple’s removal of the 3.5 mm headphone jack last year in its Pixel commercial? Well, it appears that the search giant has ditched the 3.5 mm standard this year and went with just a single USB Type-C port. We hope that this means the new Pixel duo will be IP68-certified, because, otherwise, a lot of fans will probably be outraged.

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If – and it’s always a big if with “renders” – this is the case, how are people going to use their corded headphones? Will there be a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter in the box? But if there is, does that save on the expense of the 3.5mm socket? Apple has the advantage that (1) it has a line of Bluetooth headphones – more than one if you include Beats (2) its margins mean it could afford to include a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter with every iPhone 7. That’s not the same for Google, even on the Pixel, because its volumes are so small in comparison.

Possibly Google has decided that the Pixel is used far more in modern cars (have Bluetooth) and at home (with Bluetooth speakers) and that if you use corded headphones it’s time to move on. If, of course, “the renders” are correct.
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Creating the honest man • Süddeutsche Zeitung

Kai Strittmatter:

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China’s future is already being rehearsed here. Rongcheng is one of three dozen pilot projects in China. In this town, they are creating the honest man. “People first need to gain an understanding of what we’re doing here,” Director Huang Chunhui says in Rongcheng. The Office of Honesty goes by another name these days, he explains, because “as we went along, we noticed that the name was somehow too vague”. So Huang now heads the “Office of Creditworthiness”. They are working on fine-tuning the system. Director Huang draws an egg on a piece of paper, cutting off the top and bottom of the egg with a stroke of his pen. “This is society,” he says. “At the top, you’ve got model citizens. And at the bottom, you’ll find the people that we need to educate.”

Then he explains the system. Each company and person in China is to take part in it. Everyone will be continuously assessed at all times and accorded a rating. In Rongcheng, each participant starts with 1000 points, and then their score either improves or worsens. You can be a triple-A citizen (“Role model of Honesty”, with more than 1050 points), or a double-A (“Outstanding Honesty”). But if you’ve messed up often enough, you can drop down to a C, with fewer than 849 points (“Warning Level”), or even a D (“Dishonest”) with 599 points or less. In the latter case, your name is added to a black list, the general public is informed, and you become an “object of significant surveillance”. This is how the Rongcheng municipality’s handbook “Administrative Measures for the Trustworthiness of Natural Persons” describes it.

“Mr. Director,  what type are you then?” “Hmm”, he answers. “The last time I checked, I think I was triple-A.” He rummages through his wallet and pulls out a plastic card. “Here is the ID for our public bicycle rental system. As a triple-A citizen, I don’t have to pay a deposit and can ride a bicycle for an hour and a half free of charge.” One of his employees rushes to his side and cites the system’s founding document from 2014: ““Allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”. The director nods.

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Yes, it is like the Black Mirror “Nosedive” episode – except that that didn’t include government oversight, which is implied here. (Via Nick Carr, whose analysis is also worth reading.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google’s growth struggle, ding dong Flash!, linkrot measured, FFVII unfinished, and more


Google is getting into nuclear fusion. Photo by carrierdetect on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 14 links for you. Save some for lunch. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alphabet Q2 earnings: stock slides • Business Insider

Steve Kovach:

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Alphabet’s overall revenue topped expectations thanks in part to growth in the “other revenues,” the division of Google which includes segments like the hardware and cloud businesses.  Other revenues were $3.09bn in Q2, up from $2.17bn in the year-ago quarter.

Porat cited strength in Google’s cloud business, as well as sales of its new Home smart speaker and wifi products.

But revenue growth in Google’s core online search advertising business decelerated during the quarter, as the company pays larger amounts of money to partners that deliver traffic to Google’s search engine, including Apple’s iPhone. 

Net revenue for Google’s ad business, which excludes the fees paid to partners, was up 16% during the second quarter, a slowdown from the roughly 20% net revenue growth that Google logged in the year ago period. 

Macquarie analyst Schachter pointed to the Q2 net revenue as a “meaningful deceleration.” It’s not the end of the world, Schachter said, but it illustrates the changes to Google’s business model as more and more of its search traffic now comes from mobile devices like iPhones that require Google to share some of the revenue.

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“Traffic acquisition costs” are starting to rise, which isn’t good for profitability. YouTube seems like the saviour as the rest of the ad business peaks. Meanwhile, there’s still the worry about further fines from the EU.
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Why Google Fiber failed to disrupt the ISPs • The Ringer

Victor Luckerson:

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On Tuesday, Greg McCray stepped down as CEO of the company’s ISP business (now formally housed under Access, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet). His departure comes just nine months after Craig Barratt left the same role. Meanwhile, the Access division has faced staffing cuts, and aggressive plans to expand to more cities are on hold indefinitely. Google Fiber began as an experiment, then briefly seemed poised to grow into a legitimate contender against the ISP incumbents. But today it serves as proof that providing high-speed wired internet is a losing proposition, even for one of the world’s wealthiest companies…

…Fiber always had a too-good-to-be-true allure that fascinated journalists, excited local communities, and annoyed competitors (“We’ll be watching your next move from our rear view mirror,” AT&T said in a surprisingly salty blog post last summer).

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I think it’s that “too good to be true” element which drew so much attention. But the business just didn’t make sense.
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Google enters race for nuclear fusion technology • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

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Google and a leading nuclear fusion company have developed a new computer algorithm which has significantly speeded up experiments on plasmas, the ultra-hot balls of gas at the heart of the energy technology.

Tri Alpha Energy, which is backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has raised over $500m (£383m) in investment. It has worked with Google Research to create what they call the Optometrist algorithm. This enables high-powered computation to be combined with human judgement to find new and better solutions to complex problems.

Nuclear fusion, in which atoms are combined at extreme temperatures to release huge amounts of energy, is exceptionally complex. The physics of nuclear fusion involves non-linear phenomena, where small changes can produce large outcomes, making the engineering needed to suspend the plasma very challenging.

“The whole thing is beyond what we know how to do even with Google-scale computer resources,” said Ted Baltz, at the Google Accelerated Science Team. So the scientists combined computer learning approaches with human input by presenting researchers with choices. The researchers choose the option they instinctively feel is more promising, akin to choosing the clearer text during an eye test.

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Never going to be against investment in fusion. Bring it on.
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Adobe will kill Flash web browser technology in 2020 • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

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The Flash Player has been there for you all along, inside your browser, making it possible for you to play online games, stream radio station music and watch YouTube videos. But after a two-decade run, Adobe is killing it off.

Countless nails have been hammered in Flash’s coffin in recent years, most notably by Apple’s Steve Jobs and also by Adobe itself. Now, though, there’s a date for the funeral: Dec. 31, 2020.

Flash has been a website workhorse — online gaming site Kongregate has more than 100,000 Flash games — but don’t fret over the demise of the pioneering software. It’s more appropriate to rejoice, since the software today is a security risk and major source of browser crashes.

“I am glad Adobe is ending Flash’s life. It has honestly made the web a worse place for more than a decade,” said Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin.

Indeed, Adobe’s move is momentous enough that the biggest names in web tech – Apple, Google, Facebook, Mozilla and Microsoft – coordinated announcements to tell us what’s going on and to reassure us all that it’s going to be fine.

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Of the many Flash obituaries, Shankland’s is the most comprehensive both about future and history.
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Despite Charlie Gard’s tragic story, we must respect the process of our courts • The Guardian

Ian Kennedy:

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Around 20 years ago, I was just about to leave for the airport in Auckland when I got a call from some lawyers. It was 7am. Would I meet them urgently in half an hour to advise on a case? I said of course, provided I could catch my plane.

A boy had suffered a catastrophic injury while being operated on: his neck had been broken. Though alert and talkative, he was paralysed. His parents had told his doctors that they wanted care to be withdrawn (he was on a ventilator) so that he could die peacefully. He wasn’t terminally ill, but they thought it best given what the future would hold.

There was no precedent in New Zealand. My advice was that the parents’ views were not the last word; the lawyers should go to court, ensure that the child was separately represented by a lawyer, and that the only question for the court was what was in the child’s best interests. The advice was followed. The child was made a ward of court, was cared for and lived on.

I’m sure that those who have involved themselves in the case of Charlie Gard would applaud what happened in Auckland. But if they do, they would also have to acknowledge a number of things that have been part of our approach to the care of children since the 19th century.

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The Charlie Gard case has seen some of the worst reporting in ages, because it mixes three things: a complex disease that few understand; an infant unable to represent themselves in any way; a “miracle cure” being held out as a hope. (In reality, the “cure” hadn’t even been tested on mice, let alone humans, and the doctor involved made no effort to acquaint himself with the detail despite invitations from Gt Ormond St since January.)

This piece makes terrific points – the overarching one being that children are not property and parents do not have rights over them; they have duties towards them.
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Modelling information persistence on the web • ResearchGate

Daniel Gomes and Mario Silva, in 2006:

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Models of web data persistency are essential tools for the design of efficient information extraction systems that repeatedly collect and process the data. This study models the persistence of web data through the measurement of URL and content persistence across several snapshots of a national community web, collected for 3 years. We found that the lifetimes of URLs and contents are modelled by logarithmic functions.

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If like me you were interested by the piece about how milliondollarhomepage is seeing linkrot, you might find this old piece entertaining. Still needs a modern update.
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LG Display to take on Samsung as it lifts OLED investment • Reuters

Joyce Lee:

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LG Display Co Ltd outlined plans to invest $13.5bn to boost output of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens over the next three years, aiming to cement its lead in big panels for TVs and make inroads against rival Samsung in smartphone displays.

The investment plans, roughly 25% more than its usual capital spending on an annual basis, also signal that the South Korean firm is shifting its focus to OLED from liquid crystal displays (LCDs) as demand for thinner and more flexible panels surge, analysts said.

LG Display is the world’s No. 1 LCD maker for televisions and also manufactures nearly all large OLED screens for televisions globally. But it has barely a foothold in the market for OLED smartphone screens where rival Samsung Display, a unit of Samsung Electronics, has a more than 90 % share…

…Its planned 15 trillion won investment over three years implies an average of 5 trillion won in capital spending per year, above its usual 4 trillion won, but analysts said it will probably not be enough.

“For small and mid-sized OLED, it is expected to receive additional investment from somewhere else, perhaps Apple,” said Lee Min-hee, analyst at Heungkuk Securities.

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LG clearly wants that OLED money; and that’s clearly what our smartphones and TVs are going to use in the near future.
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The truth about Trump and deregulation • Bloomberg

Cass Sunstein:

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whatever the White House says, there’s a big difference between eliminating potential ideas for the future and actually removing regulations from the books.

To appreciate the difference, consider another development last week that received hardly any attention. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency proposed to leave an important Obama administration air pollution regulation entirely untouched.

In 2010, the EPA finalized a rule designed to reduce health risks from nitrogen oxides. 1 Scientific evidence showed that people with asthma, children and older adults face significant risks from exposure to levels of nitrogen oxides that exceeded the 2010 standard. In view of that, and the legal issues that would be triggered by an effort to reverse the Obama-era rule, it was a lot easier for Trump’s EPA to stick with it than to try to loosen it.

There’s a broader lesson here. Whenever agencies want to cut regulations, they have to go through the same time-consuming processes that govern the issuance of regulations in the first place.

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies must begin with a formal proposal to eliminate the rule. The proposal has to offer a new analysis of the law and the evidence. That takes a while to produce — often two months and possibly much longer.

After the proposal comes out, the Administrative Procedure Act requires a period for public comment. Under existing executive orders, that period will usually last for at least two months. If the issues are complicated, the public is going to demand and probably get more time — potentially as much as six months.

After the comments come in, some of the hardest work begins.

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“Getting rid of regulations” is easy to say, much harder to justify and do.
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One man’s two-year quest not to finish Final Fantasy VII | The New Yorker

Simon Parkin:

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In 2012, David Curry, a thirty-four-year-old cashier from Southern California, came across a post on an online forum by someone who went by the handle Dick Tree. It contained a herculean proposal: Tree planned to play the 1997 video game Final Fantasy VII for as many hours as it took to raise the characters to their maximum potential, without ever leaving the opening scene, which unfolds in a nuclear reactor. Final Fantasy VII is a role-playing game, a form popularized in the nineteen-seventies by Dungeons & Dragons, in which players’ feats—beasts felled, maidens wooed—are quantified with “experience points.” Accrue enough of these points, and your character ascends a level, at which point it confronts stronger opponents worth more points. Curry estimated that, even playing for a few hours every day, Tree’s attempt to raise a character to Level 99 by fighting only the game’s weakest enemies would take more than a year to complete.

Nevertheless, Tree attracted a following of forum users, including Curry, who cheered the project on and watched it unfold in sporadic posts. Over time, Curry told me recently, Tree’s updates became more infrequent. After two years, Tree stopped altogether. “I got fed up with Dick Tree,” he said. “So I declared that I would do it myself.”

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Wonderful (long) piece.
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Only 26% of internet users in Morocco own a PC/laptop • Global Web Index

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Today we begin a short series of charts examining digital consumers within four countries that have been added to our Core research program – Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria. We begin by delving into one of the most striking differences in device usage between these markets and the global picture – the minor role played by PCs and laptops.

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You might say “not surprising”, but it’s useful to keep in mind – especially when you look at the smartphone penetration.
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The government should fight ‘corporate villainy’ in tech, Senator Cory Booker says • Recode

Eric Johnson:

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“We’ve got to start having a conversation in this country: How are we going to measure the success of the tech sector?” [Democratic senator] Booker asked. “Is it by its ability to create a small handful of billionaires, or the ability for us to create pro-democracy forces — empowering individuals, improving quality of life, improving financial security, expanding opportunity — the kind of things we want largely for democracy?”

Booker compared the size and power of Silicon Valley to Wall Street and indicated that he’d like to see America being more aggressive, like the E.U., which levied a $2.7 billion fine levied on Google last month.

“We have regulatory agencies that just aren’t doing their jobs,” Booker said. “You see this with big banks. The entire crisis we just came through, what’s amazing to me is we haven’t learned the lessons and we’re not protecting the consumer.”

“So should the U.S. government take a look at Google?” Romm asked.

“I think the U.S. government absolutely should take a look at Google,” Booker said.

“On grounds for an antitrust case?”

“I think the U.S. government should be far more active in antitrust actions because when they have taken actions, it’s often created collateral benefits to society.

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The actual truth behind the guy who got stuck in an ATM • Cracked

Robert Evans:

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This makes it sound as if a clumsy, oafish ATM repairman bumbled into a little room behind the ATM and closed the door behind himself without thinking, stammering, “Oh shit!” between ponderous mouthfuls of of hoagie.

The reality was less hilarious. James was working on an ATM at a bank that was still under construction. The door didn’t lock behind him; it got jammed up with debris. “It was actually stuck on some of the metal and some of the screws.”

The true story makes James sound less like Mr. Magoo and, well, substantially more hardcore. “I tried everything else. I tried setting off alarms and whatnot. At the end I was just thinking I had to get out of there soon. So I’m yelling at people, ‘Hey, I’m in there, can you get me out,’ and they all would leave. That happened four or five times.”

See, this was a drive-up ATM, and the sounds of people’s engines would drown out James’ frantic shouting. He’d left his phone charging in his car, so he couldn’t call for help. He quickly realized that his only method of communicating with the outside world was the ATM’s receipt slot.

“As they’re making transactions, I’m seeing the receipts come out. And I just felt to myself, I gotta find some paper, make a note. Normally I don’t have a pen on me. I did have my knife, I figured if I just cut myself, I could write like that.” But before he had to resort to writing in his own blood like Sideshow Bob, James found a dried-out sharpie on the ground. He sucked on the end to wet the ink and wrote out his now-infamous note:

The first people he slid a note to assumed this was a prank: “I guess they giggled and took off on me. I guess they thought it was a joke.”

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Windows 10 is making too many PCs obsolete • Computerworld

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols:

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Microsoft released its latest Windows 10 update earlier this year. The name, Creators Update, makes it sound bigger than it is; it’s really a minor step forward. But about 10 million Windows 10 customers have to face up to an unpleasant surprise: Their machines can’t update to Creators Update.

That’s how many poor sad sacks bought a Windows 8.x laptop in 2013 or 2014 with an Intel Clover Trail processor. Any of them who have tried to update their PC with the March 2017 Creators Update, version 1703, had no success and were presented with this message: “Windows 10 is no longer supported on this PC.” Boy, that must have been fun!

Not the end of the road for your three-year-old machine, though. I mean, you could always keep running the last version of Windows 10 on your PC. It wasn’t as if you went directly to a permanent blue screen of death. And anyway, Microsoft eventually backed off some, announcing that, while you can’t update those machines, you can still get security patches.

Now, that’s one giant corporation with a big heart.

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This is a weird story – on a par with “Apple’s new software will make your old phone obsolete”. Every update is going to leave some machines behind. If the security updates are there, what’s the worry?

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Roomba vacuum maker iRobot could sell spatial mapping data to smart home companies • VentureBeat | AI | by Reuters

Jan Wolfe:

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So-called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology right now enables Roomba, and other higher-end Robovacs made by Dyson and other rivals, to do things like stop vacuuming, head back to its dock to recharge and then return to the same spot to finish the job.

Guy Hoffman, a robotics professor at Cornell University, said detailed spatial mapping technology would be a “major breakthrough” for the smart home.

Right now, smart home devices operate “like a tourist in New York who never leaves the subway,” said Hoffman. “There is some information about the city, but the tourist is missing a lot of context for what’s happening outside of the stations.”

With regularly updated maps, Hoffman said, sound systems could match home acoustics, air conditioners could schedule airflow by room and smart lighting could adjust according to the position of windows and time of day.

Companies like Amazon, Google and Apple could also use the data to recommend home goods for customers to buy, said Hoffman.

One potential downside is that selling data about users’ homes raises clear privacy issues, said Ben Rose, an analyst who covers iRobot for Battle Road Research. Customers could find it “sort of a scary thing,” he said.

Angle said iRobot would not sell data without its customers’ permission, but he expressed confidence most would give their consent in order to access the smart home functions.

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The water in the pot of privacy gets just a notch warmer.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified