Tuesday, October 16, 2018

As the Internet Splinters, the World Suffers -- NYT

Final paragraphs:
"What this future will bring for Europe and the United States is not clear. Mr. Gomes’s leaked speech from inside Google sounded almost dystopian at times. “This is a world none of us have ever lived in before,” Mr. Gomes told employees. “All I am saying, we have built a set of hacks, and we have kept them.” He seemed to hint at scenarios the tech sector had never imagined before. The world may be a very different place since the election of Donald Trump, but it’s still hard to imagine that what’s deployed in China will ever be deployed at home. Yet even the best possible version of the disaggregated web has serious — though still uncertain — implications for a global future: What sorts of ideas and speech will become bounded by borders? What will an increasingly disconnected world do to the spread of innovation and to scientific progress? What will consumer protections around privacy and security look like as the internets diverge? And would the partitioning of the internet precipitate a slowing, or even a reversal, of globalization?

A chillier relationship with Europe and increasing hostilities with China spur on the trend toward Balkanization — and vice versa, creating a feedback loop. If things continue along this path, the next decade may see the internet relegated to little more than just another front on the new cold war."
As the Internet Splinters, the World Suffers -- NYT

Fidelity just made it easier for hedge funds and other pros to invest in cryptocurrencies -- CNBC

Highlights below; for more details, see Fidelity Digital Assets: The Journey From Idea To Market (Fidelity Digital Assets on Medium):
  • "Fidelity Investments, which administers more than $7.2 trillion in client assets, announced a new and separate company called Fidelity Digital Asset Services on Monday.
  • The firm will handle custody for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and will execute trades on multiple exchanges for investors such as hedge funds and family offices. 
  • Other crypto companies have debuted similar products, but Fidelity is the first Wall Street incumbent to officially provide cryptocurrency solutions such as custody. 
  • “Our goal is to make digitally native assets, such as bitcoin, more accessible to investors,” Fidelity Investments Chairman and CEO Abigail Johnson says."
Fidelity just made it easier for hedge funds and other pros to invest in cryptocurrencies -- CNBC

M.I.T. Plans College for Artificial Intelligence, Backed by $1 Billion -- NYT

For more details, see MIT reshapes itself to shape the future (MIT News)
"Every major university is wrestling with how to adapt to the technology wave of artificial intelligence — how to prepare students not only to harness the powerful tools of A.I., but also to thoughtfully weigh its ethical and social implications. A.I. courses, conferences and joint majors have proliferated in the last few years.

But the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is taking a particularly ambitious step, creating a new college backed by a planned investment of $1 billion. Two-thirds of the funds have already been raised, M.I.T. said, in announcing the initiative on Monday.
[...]
The goal of the college, said L. Rafael Reif, the president of M.I.T., is to “educate the bilinguals of the future.” He defines bilinguals as people in fields like biology, chemistry, politics, history and linguistics who are also skilled in the techniques of modern computing that can be applied to them."
M.I.T. Plans College for Artificial Intelligence, Backed by $1 Billion -- NYT

Did Uber Steal Google's Intellectual Property? -- The New Yorker

Final paragraphs from an approximately 9.7K-word profile:
"Levandowski is upset that some people have cast him as the bad guy. “I reject the notion that I did something unethical,” he said. “Was I trying to compete with them? Sure.” But, he added, “I’m not a thief, and I’m not dishonest.” Other parents sometimes shun him when he drops his kids off at school, and he has grown tired of people taking photographs of him when he walks through airports. But he is confident that his notoriety will subside. Although he no longer owns the technology that he brought to Google and Uber, plenty of valuable information remains inside his head, and he has a lot of new ideas. An investment fund recently started due diligence on one of his proposals: a new self-driving-truck company. He anticipates that some of the funding for it will come from overseas, including from Chinese investors. It is ironic, given that federal trade-secret laws were written to prevent intellectual property from travelling abroad, that a trade-secret prosecution may push Levandowski into foreign hands. But he’s fine with it; what he cares about is having a next act. There are work-arounds, it seems, for everything, even for an unsavory past.

“The only thing that matters is the future,” he told me after the civil trial was settled. “I don’t even know why we study history. It’s entertaining, I guess—the dinosaurs and the Neanderthals and the Industrial Revolution, and stuff like that. But what already happened doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to know that history to build on what they made. In technology, all that matters is tomorrow.”"
Did Uber Steal Google's Intellectual Property? -- The New Yorker

How Sears Was the Amazon of Its Day -- NYT

Excerpts:
"High up in the Sears Tower, management couldn’t see that the retail landscape was changing. Sears couldn’t compete effectively with Walmart and the growth of big box merchandisers such as Toys “R” Us. But more important, the company could not summon the vision to anticipate the internet. By 1993, Sears had closed its national network of warehouses and exited the catalog business — which is basically e-retailing without the “e.” Amazon shipped its first book in 1995.
[...]
Certainly, Amazon looks unassailable in its current form. So did every retailer that became the biggest dog on retail’s porch. They were all innovative. They all pushed the boundaries on pricing, sourcing, marketing, regulation, employment, expansion and tax breaks. They all ultimately lost their way. Sears is the latest chapter in that story. And probably not the last."
How Sears Was the Amazon of Its Day -- NYT

Expanding Our Policies on Voter Suppression -- Facebook Newsroom

No, Brad Parscale, the post subject is not about new Facebook service offerings for political campaigns; also see Exclusive: Facebook to ban misinformation on voting in upcoming U.S. elections (Reuters)
"As part of our ongoing efforts to prevent people from misusing Facebook during elections, we’re broadening our policies against voter suppression — action that is designed to deter or prevent people from voting. These updates were designed to address new types of abuse that we’re seeing online.

We already prohibit offers to buy or sell votes as well as misrepresentations about the dates, locations, times and qualifications for casting a ballot. We have been removing this type of content since 2016. Here is an example:










Last month, we extended this policy further and are now banning misrepresentations about how to vote, such as claims that you can vote by text message, and statements about whether a vote will be counted. (e.g. “If you voted in the primary, your vote in the general election won’t count.”) We’ve also recently introduced a new reporting option on Facebook so that people can let us know if they see voting information that may be incorrect, and have set up dedicated reporting channels for state election authorities so that they can do the same."
Expanding Our Policies on Voter Suppression -- Facebook Newsroom

Monday, October 15, 2018

The new Palm is a tiny phone to keep you away from your phone -- The Verge

A new candidate for the future-collector's-item domain
"There’s a new phone with the word “Palm” on it that’s tiny, intriguing, and has very little to do with Palm beyond that word printed on the back. It comes from a startup in San Francisco, which purchased the rights for the name from TCL last year. It costs $349.99 and will be available in November, but you can’t go out and buy it on its own. It’s only available as an add-on to a current line. Also, Steph Curry is somehow involved.

It is a weird little thing.

The Palm phone is a device that you can add on to your Verizon plan, which shares your phone number. It’s a phone designed for you to use on the weekends, when you’re going out for the evening, or just generally when you want to be a little less distracted by your big phone with all its apps. That said, it runs a full version of Android 8.1 and all the apps from the Google Play Store."
The new Palm is a tiny phone to keep you away from your phone -- The Verge

The Big Blockchain Lie -- Project Syndicate

From a timely blockchain reality check; on a related note, see The Prophets of Cryptocurrency Survey the Boom and Bust (The New Yorker)
"In practice, blockchain is nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet. But it has also become the byword for a libertarian ideology that treats all governments, central banks, traditional financial institutions, and real-world currencies as evil concentrations of power that must be destroyed. Blockchain fundamentalists’ ideal world is one in which all economic activity and human interactions are subject to anarchist or libertarian decentralization. They would like the entirety of social and political life to end up on public ledgers that are supposedly “permissionless” (accessible to everyone) and “trustless” (not reliant on a credible intermediary such as a bank).
Yet far from ushering in a utopia, blockchain has given rise to a familiar form of economic hell. A few self-serving white men (there are hardly any women or minorities in the blockchain universe) pretending to be messiahs for the world’s impoverished, marginalized, and unbanked masses claim to have created billions of dollars of wealth out of nothing. But one need only consider the massive centralization of power among cryptocurrency “miners,” exchanges, developers, and wealth holders to see that blockchain is not about decentralization and democracy; it is about greed."
The Big Blockchain Lie -- Project Syndicate

How an Unlikely Family History Website Transformed Cold Case Investigations -- NYT

Solve different
"Aesthetically, GEDmatch.com resembles an internal company wiki in need of an update. But what it offers to researchers and criminal investigators is tremendous flexibility. There are now more than 17 million DNA profiles in genealogical databases, but most of the bigger sites restrict what can be uploaded, banning not only crime scene evidence but anything processed by an external lab. GEDmatch will take it all — blood processed by an obscure lab, spit processed by 23andMe — for free, so long as it’s in the right format.

The site is also useful for people building an extensive family history. The average person can find any number of cousins on existing genealogy sites. But the key, for a genetic sleuth, is figuring out precisely how those cousins are related to a person of interest, and to each other. The tools that Mr. Olson created — primarily because he found the math intriguing — enable users to see the precise genetic segments where cousins overlap. From the site’s one million or so profiles, a skilled genetic detective can often puzzle out an individual’s identity from a single third cousin match.

“There’s nothing else like it,” said Barbara Rae-Venter, a genetic genealogist who used the site to help crack the Golden State Killer case."
How an Unlikely Family History Website Transformed Cold Case Investigations -- NYT

Jeff Hawkins Is Finally Ready to Explain His Brain Research -- NYT

A major milestone for Numenta
"Mr. Hawkins says that before the world can build artificial intelligence, it must explain human intelligence so it can create machines that genuinely work like the brain. “You do not have to emulate the entire brain,” he said. “But you do have to understand how the brain works and emulate the important parts.”

At his company, called Numenta, that is what he hopes to do. Mr. Hawkins, 61, began his career as an engineer, created two classic mobile computer companies, Palm and Handspring, and taught himself neuroscience along the way.

Now, after more than a decade of quiet work at Numenta, he thinks he and a handful of researchers working with him are well on their way to cracking the problem. On Monday, at a conference in the Netherlands, he is expected to unveil their latest research, which he says explains the inner workings of cortical columns, a basic building block of brain function."
Jeff Hawkins Is Finally Ready to Explain His Brain Research -- NYT

Friday, October 12, 2018

Most White Americans’ DNA Can Be Identified Through Genealogy Databases -- NYT

Also see So many people have had their DNA sequenced that they've put other people's privacy in jeopardy (LA Times), which notes "The authors said the same process would work for about 60% of Americans of European descent, who are the people most likely to use genealogical websites, Erlich said. Though the odds of success would be lower for people from other backgrounds, it would still be expected to work for more than half of all Americans, they said."
"The genetic genealogy industry is booming. In recent years, more than 15 million people have offered up their DNA — a cheek swab, some saliva in a test-tube — to services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com in pursuit of answers about their heritage. In exchange for a genetic fingerprint, individuals may find a birth parent, long-lost cousins, perhaps even a link to Oprah or Alexander the Great.

But as these registries of genetic identity grow, it’s becoming harder for individuals to retain any anonymity. Already, 60 percent of Americans of Northern European descent — the primary group using these sites — can be identified through such databases whether or not they’ve joined one themselves, according to a study published today in the journal Science.

Within two or three years, 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA, researchers found. The science-fiction future, in which everyone is known whether or not they want to be, is nigh."
Most White Americans’ DNA Can Be Identified Through Genealogy Databases -- NYT

Peeling back the curtain: How the Economist is opening the data behind our reporting (The Economist)

Starting with the Big Mac index
"While we take care to identify our sources, we have not often published the data behind them. Sometimes, this is for good reason: some data are proprietary or otherwise not ours to publish. Often, we have simply not made the time to do it. This is a shame: releasing data can give our readers extra confidence in our work, and allows researchers and other journalists to check — and to build upon — our work. So we’re looking to change this, and publish more of our data on GitHub.
Why now?
Years ago, “data” generally meant a table in Excel, or possibly even a line or bar chart to trace in a graphics program. Today, data often take the form of large CSV files, and we frequently do analysis, transformation, and plotting in R or Python to produce our stories. We assemble more data ourselves, by compiling publicly available datasets or scraping data from websites, than we used to. We are also making more use of statistical modelling. All this means we have a lot more data that we can share — and a lot more data worth sharing."
Peeling back the curtain: How the Economist is opening the data behind our reporting (The Economist)

Facebook purged over 800 U.S. accounts and pages for pushing political spam -- The Washington Post

See Removing Additional Inauthentic Activity from Facebook (Facebook Newsroom) for more details; also see Made and Distributed in the U.S.A.: Online Disinformation (NYT)
"Facebook said on Thursday it purged more than 800 U.S. publishers and accounts for flooding users with politically-oriented spam, reigniting accusations of political censorship and arbitrary decision-making.

In doing so, Facebook demonstrated its increased willingness to wade into the thorny territory of policing domestic political activity. Some of the accounts had been in existence for years, had amassed millions of followers, and professed support for conservative or liberal ideas, such as one page that billed itself as “the first publication to endorse President Donald J. Trump.” Facebook’s ability to monitor manipulation of users is under an intense spotlight in the weeks ahead of the U.S. midterm elections."
Facebook purged over 800 U.S. accounts and pages for pushing political spam -- The Washington Post

Thursday, October 11, 2018

After 10 million miles, Waymo's cars are on another level -- CNET

Also ~7 billion miles on simulated roads; see this John Krafcik post for more details on the milestone
"Whenever I talk to John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo (the former Google Self-Driving Car Project), I'm always left with one overriding feeling: sadness for his competition. I've been lucky to ride in many an ostensibly self-driving car. Some were very impressive indeed. Others left me giving thanks the moment I stepped out. But none of the dozens of companies out there working to develop autonomy systems has ever given me the impression that they're anywhere close to what Waymo is doing.

That feeling was reinforced by the announcement today that Waymo's cars have crossed their 10 millionth driverless mile on public roads. 10 million miles. No other company is as transparent as Waymo when it comes to sharing information about testing, and so it's impossible to know for sure, but I don't think any of its rivals come close.

Really, though, numbers don't matter. It's more about lessons learned, and Waymo has evolved to the point where its technology is now having to solve the kind of minutiae that wasn't even on the radar back when this whole thing was still called the Google Self-Driving Car Project."
After 10 million miles, Waymo's cars are on another level -- CNET

Google’s Waze is making a big, nationwide bet on carpooling -- The Verge

See this post by Waze founder Noam Bardin for more details
"For many drivers, Waze is the go-to app for circumnavigating pesky traffic jams. Now, the Alphabet-owned company is making a risky move into ride-hailing — or, more specifically, carpooling. On Wednesday, Waze announced the nationwide rollout of Waze Carpool, a dedicated app that lets drivers offer rides to people who are traveling on a similar route.

First launched in the Bay Area in 2016, Waze Carpool has since expanded to five additional states in the US as well as Waze’s country of origin, Israel. The company says it wants to leverage its “superior routing technology” to help commuters fill empty seats in their cars and, in the process, hopefully reduce the number of cars on the road. And with a community of 100 million active monthly users worldwide, Waze Carpool has big ambitions about its impact on daily transportation habits."
Google’s Waze is making a big, nationwide bet on carpooling -- The Verge

The Battle for the Home -- Stratechery

Final paragraphs from a Stratechery review of Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook competition for the next wave of home devices/services
"There is one final question that overshadows all-of-this: while the home may be the current battleground in consumer technology, is it actually a distinct product area — a new epoch if you will? When it came to mobile, it didn’t matter who had won in PCs; Microsoft ended up being an also-ran.

The fortunes of Apple, in particular, depend on whether or not this is the case. If it is a truly new paradigm, then it is hard to see Apple succeeding. It has a very nice speaker, but everything else about its product is worse. On the other hand, the HomePod’s close connection to the iPhone and Apple’s overall ecosystem may be its saving grace: perhaps the smartphone is still what matters.

More broadly, it may be the case that we are entering an era where there are new battles, the scale of which are closer to skirmishes than all-out wars a la smartphones. What made the smartphone more important than the PC was the fact they were with you all the time. Sure, we spend a lot of time at home, but we also spend time outside (AR?), entertaining ourselves (TV and VR), or on the go (self-driving cars); the one constant is the smartphone, and we may never see anything the scale of the smartphone wars again."
The Battle for the Home -- Stratechery

Bitcoin Tumbles as Cryptocurrencies Join Global Asset Selloff -- Bloomberg

A timely *coin reality check
"Cryptocurrencies have wiped out more than $600 billion in value from a January peak as the boom in initial coin offerings last year fades further into memory. Mainstream adoption of digital currencies has failed to materialize this year amid a series of exchange hacks and increased regulatory scrutiny.

“It is clear by now that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies represent the mother of all bubbles,” Nouriel Roubini, chairman at Roubini Macro Associates and a professor at NYU Stern School of Business, said in prepared testimony for a U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing on cryptocurrencies and blockchain scheduled Thursday in Washington. “No asset class in human history has ever experienced such a rapid boom and total utter bust and implosion.”"
Bitcoin Tumbles as Cryptocurrencies Join Global Asset Selloff -- Bloomberg

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The battle in your ear buds: The bros of political podcasting and their quest to reinvent punditry -- The Washington Post

Later in the article: "Since its January 2017 debut, “Pod Save America” has been downloaded more than 320 million times. What began as a hobby for Obama alumni has morphed into a thriving business that is also a crusade to save a teetering republic." Pod Save America's HBO series special starts Friday.
"Each is “emblematic of an astounding level of political polarization in the United States right now,” says Dannagal G. Young, an associate professor of communication at the University of Delaware. They are united, though, by the ingratiating powers of their increasingly popular medium. The percentage of Americans listening to a podcast every week has more than doubled in the past five years, according to Edison Research.

“Podcasts have become this really viable and popular form of intimate, discursive experience,” Young says. “People are in their cars or at the gym, and listening, and you feel like it’s them talking to you.”"
The battle in your ear buds: The bros of political podcasting and their quest to reinvent punditry -- The Washington Post

A Future Where Everything Becomes a Computer Is as Creepy as You Feared -- NYT

From a timely Internet of Things reality check
"The trouble, though, is that business models for these device don’t often allow for the kind of continuing security maintenance that we are used to with more traditional computing devices. Apple has an incentive to keep writing security updates to keep your iPhone secure; it does so because iPhones sell for a lot of money, and Apple’s brand depends on keeping you safe from digital terrors.

But manufacturers of low-margin home appliances have little such expertise, and less incentive. That’s why the internet of things has so far been synonymous with terrible security — why the F.B.I. had to warn parents last year about the dangers of “smart toys,” and why Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, has identified smart devices as a growing threat to national security."
A Future Where Everything Becomes a Computer Is as Creepy as You Feared -- NYT

New Pixel Phones and Other Gadgets Keep Google in the Hardware Hunt -- NYT

See this Google post for more details; also see Stop and Ask: Why Does Google Need Hardware? (Bloomberg), which notes "It would be generous to call Google a niche seller of smartphones"
"The gadgets are Google’s third wave since it started making consumer devices in 2016. The internet company has pushed these products as a way to showcase its prowess in areas like artificial intelligence and image processing.

Yet the efforts have not had a meaningful impact on Google’s sales or market share. For a company that makes most of its money selling advertising next to search results, the hardware increasingly appears to be an expensive hobby. One of its biggest hits thus far is a Google-branded wireless router, which is too much of a niche product to serve as the foundation of a hardware strategy."
New Pixel Phones and Other Gadgets Keep Google in the Hardware Hunt -- NYT