Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Google Pixel 2 review: It's biggest problem has nothing to do with the phone - The Washington Post

Also see Google’s Pixel 2 Smartphone Is a Powerful Extravagance (NYT)

"There’s also one big problem with the Pixel 2 that has nothing to do with the phone itself: It’s relatively hard to get. Google has agreed again to make the Pixel 2 available through just one carrier, Verizon. While consumers can also get the phone unlocked through Google’s own website, it is, generally speaking, a phone that must be sought out. It’s not going to present itself to you in stores or kiosks that aren’t Verizon’s, and that puts it at a disadvantage — particularly among those who want to comparison shop in stores.

Overall, Google's infused the Pixel 2 with smart software that complements its no-fuss but high-quality hardware. Google's home court advantage shines through and it has made two of the best phones out there. Those looking for an Android phone that takes full advantage of the operating system will love the Pixel 2 — that is, if you're willing to go out there looking for it."
Google Pixel 2 review: It's biggest problem has nothing to do with the phone - The Washington Post

How the Frightful Five Put Start-Ups in a Lose-Lose Situation - The New York Times

Compete different

"So if you’re worried about the power of the Frightful Five — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft — just look at how IBM, Hewlett-Packard or monopoly-era Microsoft fell to earth. They were all victims of “creative destruction,” of an “innovator’s dilemma,” the theories that bolster Silicon Valley’s vision of itself as a roiling sea of pathbreaking upstarts, where the very thing that made you big also makes you vulnerable.

Well, maybe not this time.

The technology industry is now a playground for giants. Where 10 or 20 years ago we looked to start-ups as a font of future wonders, today the energy and momentum have shifted almost completely to the big guys. In addition to the many platforms they own already, one or more of the Five are on their way to owning artificial intelligence, voice assistants, virtual and augmented reality, robotics, home automation, and every other cool and crazy thing that will rule tomorrow."
How the Frightful Five Put Start-Ups in a Lose-Lose Situation - The New York Times

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Facebook acquires anonymous teen compliment app tbh, will let it run | TechCrunch

Tbd if tbh is part of Facebook's new plan for elections >= 2018...

"Facebook wants tbh to be its next Instagram. Today, Facebook announced it’s acquiring positivity-focused polling startup tbh and will allow it to operate somewhat independently with its own brand.

tbh had scored 5 million downloads and 2.5 million daily active users in the past nine weeks with its app that lets people anonymously answer kind-hearted multiple-choice questions about friends who then receive the poll results as compliments. You see questions like “Best to bring to a party?,” “Their perseverance is admirable?” and “Could see becoming a poet?” with your uploaded contacts on the app as answer choices."
Facebook acquires anonymous teen compliment app tbh, will let it run | TechCrunch

Google created machine-learning software that can program machine-learning software. (Slate)

On a related note, the cover of the latest issue of the New Yorker:

"The company’s A.I. project, AutoML, has successfully taught machine-learning software how to program machine-learning software. In some cases, the machines programmed better A.I. software than even the Google researchers could design. AutoML ran a test comparing a human-programmed image identification system to a machine-programmed one. The program created by the machine was able to score 43 percent on a task that required it to find objects in a picture. The best that the human-made software could score was 39 percent. Yet the AutoML software can only write programming for relatively basic A.I. tasks at the moment.

The hope is that the software will be able to perform the tedious yet highly complicated tasks that A.I. engineers are loathe to spend their time on—a bit like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice enchanting brooms to fetch water for him. This could theoretically free up engineers to pursue more ambitious projects that would otherwise require an exorbitant amount of time and labor. Researchers predict that advances in this field could accelerate the pace at which A.I. is implemented in other industries, such as health care."
Google created machine-learning software that can program machine-learning software.

Tesla's Former Battery Director Joins Farming Startup Plenty - Bloomberg

In other tech foodie news, see Kimbal Musk Wants to Feed America, Silicon Valley-Style (NYT)

"Tesla Inc.’s former director of battery technology has joined Plenty Inc. to lead the vertical farming startup’s plan to build indoor growing rooms around the world.

Kurt Kelty, who joined Tesla in 2006 and left earlier this year, was one of the longest-serving executives at the carmaker led by Elon Musk. He joins SoftBank Group Corp.-backed Plenty as the senior vice president of operations and market development. Kelty had previously spent more than 14 years at Panasonic Corp."
Tesla's Former Battery Director Joins Farming Startup Plenty - Bloomberg

Facebook Is Looking for Employees With National Security Clearances - Bloomberg

Tangentially, see As U.S. Confronts Internet’s Disruptions, China Feels Vindicated (NYT)

"Facebook Inc. is looking to hire people who have national security clearances, a move the company thinks is necessary to prevent foreign powers from manipulating future elections through its social network, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Workers with such clearance can access information classified by the U.S. government. Facebook plans to use these people -- and their ability to receive government information about potential threats -- to search more proactively for questionable social media campaigns ahead of elections, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is sensitive. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment."
Facebook Is Looking for Employees With National Security Clearances - Bloomberg

How Valuable Is a Unicorn? Maybe Not as Much as It Claims to Be - The New York Times

A unicorn reality check

"In Palo Alto, Calif., just down the road from many of the biggest tech companies and the most influential venture capitalists, a professor at Stanford University has quietly been working on a project to crunch the valuation numbers behind some of these private companies.

Ilya A. Strebulaev and another professor working with him, Will Gornall of the University of British Columbia, have come to a startling conclusion: The average unicorn is worth half the headline price tag that is put out after each new valuation."
How Valuable Is a Unicorn? Maybe Not as Much as It Claims to Be - The New York Times

Monday, October 16, 2017

This Guy Says He’s The First Person To Attempt Editing His DNA With CRISPR (BuzzFeed)

Perhaps wait until this technique is out of beta; on a related note, see An anarchist takes on the drug industry — by teaching patients to make their own meds (STAT)

"“I want to live in a world where people get drunk and instead of giving themselves tattoos, they’re like, ‘I’m drunk, I’m going to CRISPR myself,’” said Zayner, who has a few tattoos of his own, in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “It sounds crazy, but I think that would be a pretty interesting world to live in for sure.”

Under the Food and Drug Administration’s rules, his experimenting appears to be legal — or at least, not illegal. But it’s less clear to what extent, if any, Zayner is responsible for any harm to people who copy him. It’s a gray area that the FDA doesn’t regulate, and may become more pressing as amateur scientists disseminate their experiments, methods, and equipment online."
This Guy Says He’s The First Person To Attempt Editing His DNA With CRISPR

Inside X, Google’s Moonshot Factory - The Atlantic

From a ~7,000-word Google X profile
"These ideas might sound too random to contain a unifying principle. But they do. Each X idea adheres to a simple three-part formula. First, it must address a huge problem; second, it must propose a radical solution; third, it must employ a relatively feasible technology. In other words, any idea can be a moonshot—unless it’s frivolous, small-bore, or impossible. 
The purpose of X is not to solve Google’s problems; thousands of people are already doing that. Nor is its mission philanthropic. Instead X exists, ultimately, to create world-changing companies that could eventually become the next Google. The enterprise considers more than 100 ideas each year, in areas ranging from clean energy to artificial intelligence. But only a tiny percentage become “projects,” with full-time staff working on them. It’s too soon to know whether many (or any) of these shots will reach the moon: X was formed in 2010, and its projects take years; critics note a shortage of revenue to date. But several projects—most notably Waymo, its self-driving-car company, recently valued at $70 billion by one Wall Street firm—look like they may."
Inside X, Google’s Moonshot Factory - The Atlantic

Hackers have turned Politifact’s website into a trap for your PC - The Washington Post

Truth and coin sequences

"The hack was discovered Friday by security researcher Troy Mursch, who noticed that visiting Politifact.com caused his computer's CPU to run at its maximum capacity.

The anomaly left telltale signs of Coin Hive — a piece of code that can be installed on websites that, when active, diverts unused computational power on visitors' computers toward generating a Bitcoin-like currency called Monero. Under ordinary circumstances, said Mursch, Coin Hive is used by some websites as an alternative to advertising. But in the case of PolitiFact, somebody has programmed the site to run multiple versions of Coin Hive simultaneously, basically bringing any visitor's computer to a processing halt."
Hackers have turned Politifact’s website into a trap for your PC - The Washington Post

Tesla’s New Car Smell – Monday Note

Final paragraphs from a Tesla reality check

"But perhaps Tesla’s greatest challenge isn’t within the company. It’s the “Mary and Carlos” threat. Mary Bara is GM’s CEO; Carlos Ghosn is the emperor of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi-Avtovaz conglomerate that recently jumped to the #1 position in the auto industry. Both industry chieftains now wield credible competitors to Tesla’s Model 3: the Chevy Bolt and the newer Nissan Leaf. The Bolt is in production, I see it in parking lots around Palo Alto, and the newer Nissan Leaf, promised for early 2018, succeeds the unsung, world’s best-selling electric car, the “older” Leaf introduced in 2010.
The Bolt and the Leaf come from experienced manufacturers. Elon Musk ran the table with with his earlier Model S and X creations. But now he may be facing competent competition."
Tesla’s New Car Smell – Monday Note

Friday, October 13, 2017

What Facebook Did to American Democracy - The Atlantic

Final paragraphs

"The information systems that people use to process news have been rerouted through Facebook, and in the process, mostly broken and hidden from view. It wasn’t just liberal bias that kept the media from putting everything together. Much of the hundreds of millions of dollars that was spent during the election cycle came in the form of “dark ads.”

The truth is that while many reporters knew some things that were going on on Facebook, no one knew everything that was going on on Facebook, not even Facebook. And so, during the most significant shift in the technology of politics since the television, the first draft of history is filled with undecipherable whorls and empty pages. Meanwhile, the 2018 midterms loom."
What Facebook Did to American Democracy - The Atlantic

Opportunity for everyone (Google Keyword blog)

Excerpt from a Sundar Pichai post; also see Google Offers Help to Industries It Helps to Destroy (Wired) and Google Unveils Job Training Initiative With $1 Billion Pledge (NYT)
"First, Grow with Google is there to give anyone in America the tools and training they need to get a job, for free. We understand there’s uncertainty and even concern about the pace of technological change. But we know that technology will be an engine of America’s growth for years to come.
We’ve launched an online hub—google.com/grow—where job seekers, teachers, local business owners, and developers can get significant training and professional certificates.
So if you’re looking to learn or teach the skills that employers value, look up Applied Digital Skills. We’ve been workshopping this with 27,000 students at middle and high schools. It teaches you the basics of working with tech in the modern world: from spreadsheets to email. It’s now available to everyone, and we’re looking to expand it to community colleges and vocational programs. We’re also launching a G Suite certification that will allow people to prove their proficiency in essential workplace tools."
Opportunity for everyone

Twitter breaks its silence on McGowan suspension | TechCrunch

Also see #WomenBoycottTwitter, Supporting Rose McGowan (NYT)

"At this point it would appear that Twitter’s sense of irony runs very deep indeed. And/or its store of hypocrisy. Because, as others have previously pointed out, the company has long used a policy of not commenting on individual accounts to shield itself from accountability — e.g. from criticism that it’s providing a platform to nazis and white supremacists.

Yet now, in this instance when it’s facing a high profile storm of criticism for selectively silencing McGowan (a verified Twitter user with more than 750k followers) and for simultaneously failing to silence the abuse flowing over its own platform, it’s suddenly okay breaking its own rule as it tries to extricate itself from blame and criticism that it’s also complicit in enabling the abuse of women.

Safe to say, this really is what leading from behind looks like."
Twitter breaks its silence on McGowan suspension | TechCrunch

Google is essentially building an anti-Amazon alliance, and Target is the latest to join - Recode

Amazon competitors welcome Home; for an overall Google reality check, see Google and the Disintermediation of Search (Tech.pinions)
"On Thursday, Target and Google announced that they are expanding what was a years-old delivery partnership from a small experiment in a handful of cities to the entire continental U.S.

The expansion will allow Target to become a retail partner in Google’s voice-shopping initiative, which lets owners of the Google Home “smart” speaker order items through voice commands like owners of the Echo can do from Amazon.

The announcement comes seven weeks after Walmart inked a similar deal with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of products through the service. Other big-box retailers like Home Depot are also on board."
Google is essentially building an anti-Amazon alliance, and Target is the latest to join - Recode

How Facebook’s Ad System Works - The New York Times

For a broader online advertising reality check, see Internet Advertising: Technology, Ethics, and a Serious Difference of Opinion (Communications of the ACM)

"In early September, Facebook revealed that it had identified about $100,000 in ads purchased on its social network by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin. Distributed between June 2015 and May of this year, the more than 3,000 ads added to evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

Similar ad purchases by Russian agents were also uncovered on other internet services like Google and Twitter.

The online ads in question do not necessarily fit the traditional idea of advertising, and Facebook’s ads are particularly unusual."
How Facebook’s Ad System Works - The New York Times

In Surprise Move, Samsung CEO to Step Down After Record Profit - Bloomberg

Manage different; also see From Jail to Retirement, Samsung Loses Top Execs (Bloomberg)

"The chief executive officer of Samsung Electronics Co. is stepping down in a surprise resignation after decades at the company, saying the business needed new leadership following a bribery scandal that led to the imprisonment of its de facto chief.

Kwon Oh-hyun, who also serves as co-vice chairman, announced his retirement on Friday as the Suwon-based company reported record operating income of 14.5 trillion won ($12.8 billion) on booming demand for displays and memory chips. He said the company faces an “unprecedented crisis” despite the financial success."
In Surprise Move, Samsung CEO to Step Down After Record Profit - Bloomberg

Tech Giants, Once Seen as Saviors, Are Now Viewed as Threats - The New York Times

Tumultuous tech titan times
"The election is far from the only area of concern. Tech companies have accrued a tremendous amount of power and influence. Amazon determines how people shop, Google how they acquire knowledge, Facebook how they communicate. All of them are making decisions about who gets a digital megaphone and who should be unplugged from the web.

Their amount of concentrated authority resembles the divine right of kings, and is sparking a backlash that is still gathering force. 
“For 10 years, the arguments in tech were about which chief executive was more like Jesus. Which one was going to run for president. Who did the best job convincing the work force to lean in,” said Scott Galloway, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “Now sentiments are shifting. The worm has turned.”"
Tech Giants, Once Seen as Saviors, Are Now Viewed as Threats - The New York Times

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why we switched from Slack to Workplace by Facebook (Clevy.io CTO Francois Sechet)

Now would probably be a good time for Slack to IPO...

"Workplace is just like regular facebook in almost all possible ways — but private to you and your team. It means that you get a personal wall, pictures, events, groups, live video, screen sharing, audio and video calls… basically, a little, closed facebook, with your logo in the top left corner.
This means that you get the same tool you already know, with the same features, except in a smaller, closed environment, at work. Onboarding is extremely intuitive (basically non-existent if you already opened facebook before).
While with Slack you have to add a lot of things if you want more than just a glorified chat app, in Workplace everything is builtin from scratch. You get everything you possibly need for your internal communication and much more. Pick Workplace and be done, basically. Did I mention it is very inexpensive?"
Why we switched from Slack to Workplace by Facebook

Inventing the Future | Oculus

From an extensive AR reality check; tangentially, see Tim Cook says the tech “doesn’t exist” for quality AR glasses yet (Ars Technica)
"While AR glasses have the potential to be one of the most important technologies of the twenty-first century, that won’t happen unless some very challenging practical constraints are overcome. They must be light and comfortable enough to wear all day, run off a wearable battery for many hours per charge without getting uncomfortably hot, work in full sunlight and in darkness, and have excellent visual and audio quality, both virtual and real. They must be completely socially acceptable – in fact, they need to be stylish. They need an entirely new user interface. Finally, all the rendering, display, audio, computer vision, communication, and interaction functionality needed to support virtual objects, telepresence, and perceptual/mental superpowers must come together in a system that operates within the above constraints. [...] 
There is no combination of existing technologies that meet all those requirements today. The honest truth is that the laws of physics may make it impossible to ever build true all-day AR glasses; there’s no Moore’s Law for optics, batteries, weight, or thermal dissipation. My guess is that it is in fact possible (obviously, or I wouldn’t be trying to make it happen), and if it is possible, I think it’s highly likely that all-day AR glasses will happen within the next ten years, but it is an astonishingly difficult technical challenge on half a dozen axes, and a host of breakthroughs are going to be needed."
Inventing the Future | Oculus

Facebook announces a wireless $200 virtual-reality headset - The Washington Post

See this Oculus post for more details

"Facebook dropped a bombshell on the virtual-reality world Wednesday: a $200 virtual-reality headset that doesn't require wires or a smartphone to work.

The headset could go a long way toward helping Facebook get virtual reality into the hands of a “a billion people” — a (time-frame-free) goal chief executive Mark Zuckerberg set Wednesday at a developers conference hosted by its VR company, Oculus. Virtual reality has been a major focus for Facebook and other major tech firms such as Microsoft and HTC, but consumers haven't been quite as enthusiastic. The new headset, however, addresses two major problems analysts have said stand in the way of adoption: high prices and a complicated setup process."
Facebook announces a wireless $200 virtual-reality headset - The Washington Post

Hive Switches From Mining Gold to Bitcoin, Surges Six Six-Fold - Bloomberg

In other bitcoin news, see Betting on bitcoin (Boston Globe)

"Frank Giustra, the Canadian mining maverick who amassed a fortune building what would become one of the world’s largest gold companies, is digging for another kind of gold: cryptocurrencies.

The company he’s backed, Vancouver-based Hive Blockchain Technologies Inc., is among the first publicly traded stocks to provide exposure to crypto mining -- the vast data crunching needed to verify the blockchain and the volatile currencies they produce like bitcoin and ether.

So far, his decision to dig for data servers has paid off. Hive’s shares have soared about 540 percent, giving it a market value of C$437 million ($350 million), since it took over the listing of Leeta Gold Corp. and began trading on Sept. 18. After only three days, the company raised C$30 million in a share sale led by GMP Securities LP."
Hive Switches From Mining Gold to Bitcoin, Surges Six Six-Fold - Bloomberg