Start up: Apple’s AI hires, Spotify’s smart music, why refugees have smartphones, and more


What’s the motive for downloading the top 40 every week from a torrent site? Completism? Photo by DigitalTribes on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Handle with care. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: Apple ups hiring, but faces obstacles to making phones smarter » Reuters

Apple has ramped up its hiring of artificial intelligence experts, recruiting from PhD programs, posting dozens of job listings and greatly increasing the size of its AI staff, a review of hiring sites suggests and numerous sources confirm.

The goal is to challenge Google in an area the Internet search giant has long dominated: smartphone features that give users what they want before they ask.

As part of its push, the company is currently trying to hire at least 86 more employees with expertise in the branch of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, according to a recent analysis of Apple job postings. The company has also stepped up its courtship of machine-learning PhDs, joining Google, Amazon, Facebook and others in a fierce contest, leading academics say.

But some experts say the iPhone maker’s strict stance on privacy is likely to undermine its ability to compete in the rapidly progressing field.

It’s certainly the case that Apple’s privacy stance is, as Sameer Singh says, its “strategy tax” (a strategy tax is an approach to a business area that prevents you exploiting it to the maximum: “Windows everywhere” was Microsoft’s strategy tax that prevented it doing mobile really well, Google’s is the need to collect data). The question is how much you do need that pooled personal information (as opposed to anonymous information) to do this well.
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Field Notice: FN – 63697 – Protective Boot on Certain Network Cables Might Push the Mode Button and Cause an Unexpected Reset on the 48-Port Models of Cisco Catalyst 3650 and 3850 Series Switches » Cisco

“Certain” network cables being “pretty much every Ethernet cable you buy”. Like this:

Design screwups like this deserve their own Tumblr. Of note: the Cisco 3650 was released on October 10 2013; this note is dated October 30 2013. Of course it wasn’t caught in testing, but one suspects that customers discovered this pretty much on day one.
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Inside Spotify and the future of music » Tech Insider

Alex Heath:

Spotify’s progress in sorting its library of 35 million songs can be traced back to The Echo Nest, a music intelligence company that was created within the MIT Media Lab a decade ago. Spotify bought The Echo Nest last March in what was reported to be a $100m deal.

Jim Lucchese, CEO of The Echo Nest, tells Tech Insider that his team of about 70 people are focused on delivering “the right listening experience at the right time” within Spotify.

They do this by analyzing the makeup of every song, how people are talking about music online, and how people are listening to it. While the company continues to work with clients like Rdio, Microsoft, Sirius, and Vevo, as it did before it was sold, its most cutting-edge work is developed and honed for Spotify.

One of The Echo Nest’s first projects for Spotify, reported last September on FiveThirtyEight, was developing dossiers of every user’s listening habits, which are now called “taste profiles.”

Ajay Kalia, who oversees the project, tells us they realized early on that there’s an important distinction between the music you listen to and music you actually like.

For example, just because I play a lot of instrumental, ambient music while I’m at work doesn’t mean that I have a particular affinity for those kinds of artists. And just because your significant other plays a lot of country music while you’re both in the car doesn’t mean you want a bunch of country playlists shoved at you.

This “listen to but not like” has often been the problem about music. This makes it sound as though Echo Nest is human-curated, which it really isn’t.
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Google nears re-entry to mainland China » The Information

Amir Efrati:

As part of its broader China push, Google is expected to offer new incentives to phone makers to upgrade Android phones to the latest versions of the operating system, says one person briefed on its plans. The company wants more phones to run the advanced version of Android so that the software platform and experience can be more consistent for app developers and consumers.

As more Chinese app developers look to extend their apps beyond China’s borders and more non-Chinese app makers try to tap the Chinese market, Google wants to ensure all the apps work well across Android devices globally. Thus, hardware partners that will distribute Android Wear or Google Play in China will need to adhere to certain global compatibility standards, says the person familiar with the plan.

For its app store, Google has promised authorities that it will follow local laws and block apps that the government deems objectionable, say the people familiar with Google’s plans. In some parts of the world and among Internet policy wonks, this move will be viewed as a back-tracking from Google’s posture following its departure from China in 2010. At that time Google ended its engineering operations in China and moved its Chinese-language Web-search engine to a Hong Kong-based Web domain, out of reach of mainland China officials, after being breached from a cyber attack that it linked to the Chinese government.

Authorities denied involvement in the attack, which successfully breached many American companies and is known as Operation Aurora. At the time, though, Google co-founder Sergey Brin publicly compared China to the totalitarian Soviet Union in which he grew up. (Mr. Brin is now part of Alphabet, Google’s soon-to-be parent company, and isn’t involved in Google’s day-to-day affairs.)

Some forces within Google always believed that the company’s and Mr. Brin’s response was rash. It should have viewed the China-based hacking, which occurred in late 2009, as a natural consequence of being a major tech company in an age of increasing cyber attacks by all governments.

A long extract (but it’s a long article). That last paragraph is telling; Eric Schmidt was the pro-China voice, Brin the no-to-China voice, and Larry Page effectively had the casting vote back in 2010. Sundar Pichai clearly leans towards Eric Schmidt’s stance: better to deal than to stand on principle.
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Police raid fails to dent UK Top 40 music piracy » TorrentFreak

Police arrested a Liverpudlian who was a determined uploader of the top 40 releases to torrent sites:

Yet again it appears that the arrest last week was a case of rightsholders and police targeting low-hanging fruit. Using widely available research tools we were able to quickly uncover important names plus associated addresses, both email and physical. It seems likely that he made close to no effort to conceal his identity.

Due to being in the police spotlight it will come as little surprise that there was no weekly upload of the UK’s Top 40 most-popular tracks from OldSkoolScouse last Friday, something which probably disappointed the releaser’s fans. However, any upset would have been very temporary indeed.

As shown below, at least four other releases of exactly the same content were widely available on public torrent sites within hours of the UK chart results being announced last Friday, meaning the impact on availability was almost non-existent.

But who, seriously, actually wants to listen to all the top 40 tracks week after week? It would be pretty numbing even if you worked in the business. I bet this guy barely listened to the music. He, and the downloaders who waited avidly for the songs, strike me as more like stamp collectors: uninterested in what is conveyed, obsessed with completing sets.
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iPhone supply chain makers set to see strong sales in September, say sources » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Steve Shen:

Incoming parts and components orders for the new iPhones are even stronger than orders for the iPhone 6 devices in the corresponding period of a year earlier, indicated the sources, adding that shipments of updated iPhones will once again squeeze sales of other vendors including Samsung Electronics, Sony Mobile Communications and LG Electronics, commented the sources.

Thus, sales of the new iPhones are expected to dominate smartphone sales globally in the fourth quarter of 2015 as current sales of LG Electronics’ G4, HTC’s One M9/M9+ series products and Sony Mobile’s Xperia Z3+ have been lower than expected, indicated the sources.

To lessen the impact of the release of the new iPhones, Samsung has been implementing a “Ultimate Test Drive” program that encourages current iPhone users to pay US$1 to test its Galaxy Note 5 or Galaxy S6 Edge+ for one month.

Good luck with that, Samsung.
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Academic study reveals urban and rural broadband speed gaps » ISPreview UK

Mark Jackson:

The study (‘Two-Speed Britain: Rural Internet Use‘) claims that more than 1 million people in Britain are “excluded or face challenges in engaging in normal online activities because they live in remote rural areas“, where slow or non-existent Internet connectivity is still a serious problem.

The report separated areas into several groups and examined each separately: Deep Rural (remote), Shallow Rural (less remote) and Urban internet users. It reveals that just 5% of those in Urban areas had an average broadband speed below 6.3Mbps, but in Deep Rural areas only 53% could achieve this “modest speed“.

Furthermore the gap is unsurprisingly found to be most pronounced in upland areas of Scotland, Wales and England, but also in many areas in lowland rural Britain. It affects 1.3 million people in deep rural Britain, and 9.2 million people in less remote areas with poor internet connection (or ‘shallow’ rural areas).

The report itself isn’t available for download (yet?) because neither Oxford University nor dot.rural has actually put a usable link up.
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Surprised that Syrian refugees have smartphones? Sorry to break this to you, but you’re an idiot » The Independent

James O’Malley, in somewhat straightforward mood:

So we know that Syria isn’t dirt poor and we know that there’s a lot of mobile phones: but why smartphones? Well, why not? In the West many people own desktop computers, laptops and tablets as well as smartphones. But if you had to give up many of your possessions and live on $1850/year, after clothes and food, what would you buy next? It is hard to think of a more useful thing to own than a smartphone, especially if you’re fleeing your home.

Even when utility isn’t considered, the reason Syrians are using smartphones and not old Nokia 3210s is the same reason that benefits claimants have (gasp!) “flatscreen” TVs… have you tried buying any other kind lately? Budget Android smartphones can be picked up for well under £100, and come with cameras, large screens and everything you would expect from a modern phone. As we’re now in the habit of replacing our phones with a new model every year or two the price of slightly older phones also drops significantly.

The headline certainly falls into the “no mimsy hedging here” bucket.
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Start up (May 21): Cisco in Russia, more Google Maps malarkey, a Watch forecast cut, and more

Somehow this didn’t publish on May 21 as it should have. Bah.


Android Wear lets you do all sorts of watchfaces. Photo by leolambertini on Flickr.

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

After sanctions, Cisco altered sales records in Russia » BuzzFeed News

Aram Roston and Max Seddon, with a blockbuster piece:

After Western sanctions began shutting down sales of high-tech internet equipment to Russia’s military and security forces, employees at technology giant Cisco Systems Inc. altered sales records and booked deals under a false customer name, according to internal company documents. The intent, according to a confidential source with deep knowledge of Cisco’s Moscow operations, was to dodge the sanctions by masking the true customers behind more innocuous-sounding straw buyers.

Nonononononotatall we were just correcting some errors, says Cisco.
Remind me again about how Buzzfeed is just cat pictures and listicles?


Sex, monsters and outrage » Public Address

Joshua Drummond on the outrage (overhyped) about students in a sex education class being handed literature that, um, outraged some people:

By analogy, it’s a lot like students studying World War Two. Some knowledge of the Nazis’ peculiar, perverted ideology and the conditions in which it flourished is necessary to understand how the war got going. But no-one’s being taught that Nazis are rad, any more than they’re being taught that unmarried women are sluts in this particular case. The lesson was – and why not have some fun with paraphrasing – intended to point out the unfortunate truth that there are a lot of dicks in the world and some of them try to force their dickery on others. I’d have thought this was a pretty important lesson, especially when it comes to sexual health, and where better to experience it than in the (relatively) safe space of a health education class?

No! said Labour education spokesperson Chris Hipkins, who thundered mildly: “It’s fine for schools to be using stuff to provoke kids into thinking but there’s a fine line between provoking critical thought and something that’s offensive. That, I think, crosses the line.”

Well, I suppose that’s up for debate. Should students be privy to the extremist views of nutcases?

What’s most worrying is that, as always happens, the initial distortion gets far more broadly distributed than the correction.

Think about that: the wrong stuff always gets the broader distribution.


Facebook’s Internet.org comes under fire for being a walled garden » Fortune

Mathew Ingram:

In effect, says the EFF, the structure of Internet.org means that Facebook has set itself up as a gatekeeper when it comes to accessing the Internet, and this means that it has “issued an open invitation for governments and special interest groups to lobby, cajole or threaten them to withhold particular content from their service.” Until the social network truly opens up the project to anyone and everyone, Internet.org will “not be living up to its promise or its name,” the foundation says.


Today’s solar panels are fine for tomorrow » Solar Love

Steve Hanley:

An interdisciplinary MIT study led by the MIT Energy Initiative has led to a 332-page report entitled The Future of Solar Energy. Among its key findings are that today’s solar panels are all that is needed to supply the world with many terawatts of clean solar power by 2050 (a terawatt is equivalent to 1,000,000 megawatts). The other main point the study makes is that it will take political will to finally wean the world off of fossil fuels.

I was pointed to this on Twitter by Leonardo DiCaprio. Yup, him. Not personally, you understand.


KGI lowers Apple Watch forecast to 15 million » WatchAware

Abdel Ibrahim, commenting on 9to5Mac reporting on KGI research lowering its estimat for the lead from 20-30m to “just” 15m:

As with any new product, it takes time for things to get going. New features, functions, and even new versions are what will be the most important test for Apple Watch in the coming years. Most V1 products are usually adopted by the comparatively small minority of Apple fans who are interested in the company’s latest gadgets.

15m feels astonishing. For a v1 product? And as Ibrahim points out, that’s a lot more than Android Wear seems to be doing (downloads passed 1m in late February, now around 1.2m).


Proper Google Maps app appears on Android Wear via latest phone app update » Android Central

Andrew Martonik:

The app can be launched from the app launcher or by voice with an “open Maps” command, and when opened you get a full screen top-down map experience. You can scroll around, pinch-to-zoom (barely) and even switch between true North and device direction views. Zoom in/out buttons appear on the top of the screen when you tap it, which is much better than pinching, and you also get a small pin button that lets you quickly scroll through nearby places and navigate to them — though when you fire up navigation from the Maps app on the watch it still corresponds with launching Maps on your phone.

There’s even a neat feature that gives you a simple black and white outline map when the watch doesn’t receive interaction for while, just like the ambient watch faces do.

Aside from the handful of reboots of our phone and watch that were necessary just to get it to run, the app still seems rather unstable. Several times in just a few minutes of playing with the app it has failed to respond or open up navigation properly — we have a feeling that this isn’t quite ready without a new version of Google Play Services or potentially a new version of Android Wear on the watch.

Options for resizing: pinch-to-zoom or prodding a plus/minus onscreen tab. Neither seems ideal. The black/white outline map is horrible. The “list of pins” looks smart.


How do I get rid of the “Try the New Drive” banner? » Google Product Forums

Q: It is super annoying and it won’t go away. I’ve tried going to the new drive and then coming back, but it’s still there. I like the old drive a lot better than the new one and I want to stay on it. This banner is basically trying to force me to use the new drive which I *don’t want to do*. Anyone know if there’s a way to get rid of it??

And wouldn’t you know, there’s a Googler ready with an answer. However…


Apple Watch and Continuous Computing » Stratechery

Ben Thompson has a fantastic examination of the Watch’s potentials, and limits, as well as Apple’s advantages and strategic disadvantage:

it’s clear that what the mouse was to the Mac and multi-touch was to the iPhone, Siri is to the Watch. The concern for Apple is that, unlike the others, the success or failure of Siri doesn’t come down to hardware or low-level software optimizations, which Apple excels at, and which ensures that Apple products have the best user interfaces. Rather, it depends on the cloud, and as much as Apple has improved, an examination of their core competencies and incentives argues that the company will never be as good as Google. That was acceptable on the phone, but is a much more problematic issue when the cloud is so central to the most important means of interacting with the Watch.

A key advantage: lots of people who will buy it and use it, creating a virtuous circle for developers who write for it. (Yes, a calculator for the Watch.)


Breaking News: Howard University shows up as ‘N***er University’ on Google Maps » Seely Security

Bryan Seely:

A few hours ago, Bomani X @AceBoonCoon  updated his twitter feed with yet another one of his shocking discoveries on Google Maps.  Yesterday the world took notice when he posted an image of his Google Maps results where he found that when he searched for the keyword ‘nigga’ or ‘nigger’ , the White House would come up. Unfortunately, President Obama and his family are not the only targets of this deplorable prank. When you run a Google Maps search for ‘nigger university’ you get search results for ‘Howard University,’ a private university in Washington, D.C.

Beginning to look like we’re discovering the limits of useful crowdsourcing. (Though of course the Google search for “miserable failure” of a few years ago was already showing the dangers.)


Driverless cars may cut US auto sales by 40%, Barclays says » Bloomberg Business

Keith Naughton:

US auto sales may drop about 40% in the next 25 years because of shared driverless cars, forcing mass-market producers such as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. to slash output, a Barclays Plc analyst said.

Vehicle ownership rates may fall by almost half as families move to having just one car, according to a report published Tuesday by the analyst, Brian Johnson. Driverless cars will travel twice as many miles as current autos because they will transport each family member during the day, he wrote.

Large-volume automakers “would need to shrink dramatically to survive,” Johnson wrote. “GM and Ford would need to reduce North American production by up to 68% and 58%, respectively.”…

…When most vehicles are driverless, annual U.S. auto sales will fall about 40% to 9.5%, while the number of cars on American roads declines by 60% to fewer than 100m, he estimated.

“While extreme, a historical precedent exists,” Johnson wrote. “Horses once filled the many roles that cars fill today, but as the automobile came along, the population of horses dropped sharply.”

Hard to argue against that one.