Monday, June 26, 2017

The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence - The New York Times

From a timely AI reality check

"Unlike the Industrial Revolution and the computer revolution, the A.I. revolution is not taking certain jobs (artisans, personal assistants who use paper and typewriters) and replacing them with other jobs (assembly-line workers, personal assistants conversant with computers). Instead, it is poised to bring about a wide-scale decimation of jobs — mostly lower-paying jobs, but some higher-paying ones, too.

This transformation will result in enormous profits for the companies that develop A.I., as well as for the companies that adopt it. Imagine how much money a company like Uber would make if it used only robot drivers. Imagine the profits if Apple could manufacture its products without human labor. Imagine the gains to a loan company that could issue 30 million loans a year with virtually no human involvement. (As it happens, my venture capital firm has invested in just such a loan company.)

We are thus facing two developments that do not sit easily together: enormous wealth concentrated in relatively few hands and enormous numbers of people out of work. What is to be done?"
The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence - The New York Times

Apple’s AR is closer to reality than Google’s | The Verge

Coming soon to an iOS device near you

"Apple has often been accused of acting like it invented things that others have been doing for years. That complaint is not without merit, however Apple can lay claim to transforming existing things into mainstream successes, which takes no small amount of invention in its own right. Fingerprint authentication and contactless payments are just two recent examples, having both existed in Japan and on niche devices for over a decade before Apple raised them to global prominence with the iPhone.

Next up on Apple's agenda is augmented reality, the act of superimposing digital data and visuals atop a live video feed of your surroundings — something that Google, Microsoft, and many others have been experimenting with for a long time. Apple is far from being able to claim it invented AR, but its new ARKit in iOS 11 is already showing signs to suggest that Apple will help bring AR into the mainstream faster and better than anyone else."
Apple’s AR is closer to reality than Google’s | The Verge

Google will stop scanning content of personal emails | Technology | The Guardian

Less scroogled

"The company did read the emails in personal Gmail accounts in order to target users with personalised adverts but said in a blogpost it would stop doing so in order to “more closely align” its business and consumer products. Its business offering, part of G Suite, has never involved scanning emails.

“G Suite’s Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalisation,” wrote Diane Greene, the senior vice president in charge of Google Cloud. “Google has decided to follow suit later this year in our free consumer Gmail service. Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalisation after this change.”"
Google will stop scanning content of personal emails | Technology | The Guardian

The Man Who Helped Turn Toronto Into a High-Tech Hotbed - The New York Times

From a profile of a pioneer
"Dictate a text on your smartphone, search for a photo on Google or, in the not too distant future, ride in a self-driving car, and you will be using technology based partly on Dr. Hinton’s ideas. 
His impact on artificial intelligence research has been so deep that some people in the field talk about the “six degrees of Geoffrey Hinton” the way college students once referred to Kevin Bacon’s uncanny connections to so many Hollywood movies.

Dr. Hinton’s students and associates are now leading lights of artificial intelligence research at Apple, Facebook, Google and Uber, and run artificial intelligence programs at the University of Montreal and OpenAI, a nonprofit research company."
The Man Who Helped Turn Toronto Into a High-Tech Hotbed - The New York Times:

Cisco adapts to the rise of cloud computing (The Economist)

From a Cisco reality check
"But Cisco’s franchise is facing two threats. First, the more computing is done in the cloud, the less firms have to buy their own gear, including networking equipment. Instead of paying for an “end-to-end network” from Cisco, big cloud operators such as Amazon and Microsoft prefer gear that precisely fits their requirements. This is why Cisco’s cloud sales have disappointed, while more specialised vendors such as Arista have made inroads. The second threat is that software is increasingly important to how networks are run: that makes it easier for rivals to sidestep or overtake Cisco’s products.

Under Mr Robbins, Cisco has responded in several ways. It is offering tailor-made products to the big cloud providers. It has beefed up its software and services business and, to ensure more stable revenues, is making more of its products available as a subscription. Earlier this year the firm bought AppDynamics, which makes software to monitor the performance of corporate applications, and Viptela, whose programs manage networks, for $3.7bn and $610m respectively. Subscriptions and other recurring income now make up a tenth of Cisco’s revenues from products."

Cisco adapts to the rise of cloud computing 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Uber Made an Unusual Legal Pledge to the Head of Its Driverless Car Project - Bloomberg

On a related note, see Uber Can’t Be Fixed — It’s Time for Regulators to Shut It Down (Harvard Business Review)

"Uber’s legal fees promise is further evidence that the talent competition in the driverless car sector is cut-throat. It was a highly risky benefit to offer, according to Jim Pooley, a lawyer at Orrick in Menlo Park, California.

The indemnification document may be “very powerful” evidence that Uber suspected Levandowski would be taking proprietary information from Waymo, said Pooley, who has more than 35 years of litigation experience and is the author of the “Secrets: Managing Information Assets in the Age of Cyberespionage.”"
Uber Made an Unusual Legal Pledge to the Head of Its Driverless Car Project - Bloomberg

Facebook changes mission statement to ‘bring the world closer together’ | TechCrunch

The new Facebook mission statement: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

"Zuckerberg announced the change today at the Facebook Communities Summit for top Group admins where it announced new Group management tools. “For the last decade or so we’ve been focusing on making the world more open and connected. But I used to think that if we just give people a voice and help some people connect that that would make the world a whole lot better by itself,” Zuckerberg admits. “Look around and our society is still so divided. We have a responsibility to do more, not just to connect the world but to bring the world closer together.”

Rather than have the new mission be just a philosophy, Zuckerberg says Facebook is turning it into a goal. “We want to help 1 billion people join meaningful communities. If we can do this it will not only reverse the whole decline in community membership we’ve seen around the world… but it will also strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.” Right now Facebook considers there to be only 100 million meaningful group members."
Facebook changes mission statement to ‘bring the world closer together’ | TechCrunch

We’re one step closer to getting cheaper, faster Internet from space - The Washington Post

Looking forward to my last Verizon bill in <= 2019

"For many, it's been a years-long pipe dream: Ultra-fast, lag-free Internet that comes to your PC or smartphone via satellite instead of a wire into your home. Facebook, Google and even SpaceX have all explored the idea, partly in hopes of selling broadband access to a growing market with enormous potential — the developing world.

But now, a former Googler and friend of Elon Musk has beaten them all to the punch, becoming the first to receive permission to actually build a next-generation satellite Internet service that targets U.S. customers. If it takes off, the project could benefit Americans nationwide by providing broadband anywhere in the United States, particularly in rural areas where it can be difficult to provide fast Internet connections using traditional ground-based cables."
We’re one step closer to getting cheaper, faster Internet from space - The Washington Post

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Google's Eric Schmidt: We need critical thinking now more than ever | Guardian Small Business Network | The Guardian

From an overview of a timely Eric Schmidt reality check
"He acknowledged that the fast pace of innovation had made many wary of change. But he emphasised that machine learning and artificial intelligence hold opportunities for a broad range of sectors, including farming, energy, fashion, and healthcare, even if they operated very differently to today. 
“The largest taxi company has no taxis, that’s Uber. The largest accommodation company has no real estate, that’s Airbnb. The largest phone company has no infrastructure, that’s Skype. The most valuable retailer has no inventory, that’s Alibaba. The largest movie theatre, has no movie theatres, that’s Netflix.

“These of course are huge disruptions ... and incumbents [always] resist change. When Henry Ford released his Model T car, it was dismissed as a fad because horses are here to stay. In 1928, a doctor warned that rail travel at high speeds would cause passengers to die of asphyxiation. And – my favourite – in 2007, [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer said there was no chance the iPhone was going to achieve any significant market share.”"
Google's Eric Schmidt: We need critical thinking now more than ever | Guardian Small Business Network | The Guardian

Jeff Bezos' lessons from Washington Post for news industry (CNBC)

See the full article for additional advice

""Democracy dies in darkness." Before introducing its infamous tagline in the wake of President Donald Trump's election, the Post worked on it for more than a year trying to make it sound a little less ... dark. But it couldn't figure out a way.

"We wanted a positive version of 'democracy dies in darkness,' and literally we had some of the smartest writers in the world try to invert 'democracy dies in darkness' to get a positive version of it, and we couldn't do it, so we said to hell with it."

His final advice: "When you're writing, be riveting, be right and ask people to pay. They will pay.""
Jeff Bezos' lessons from Washington Post for news industry

Why we’re betting against real-time team messaging – Ambition & Balance

From a post by the CEO of Twist creator Doist; also see Twist is Slack without the annoying distractions (TechCrunch)

"Whether it’s Facebook or Slack, today’s communication apps compete to grab your attention and maximize your time spent inside their apps. That’s how they raise VC money and bolster huge valuations (Slack is currently valued at 3.8 billion dollars).
We want Twist to do well and be profitable, but we want it to be because it truly empowers teams (including ours) to do their best work, not because it hijacks their time and attention. It’s about having a product that’s built to serve users’ needs and not the other way around.
It’s going to be a long, uphill battle. Calm, asynchronous communication isn’t the norm. It’s going to take a major shift in thinking to recognize that focus and balance are vital assets that companies need to protect in order to be successful."
Why we’re betting against real-time team messaging – Ambition & Balance

Google Glass is apparently back from the dead, starts getting software updates | Ars Technica

Perhaps not dead yet

"After Glass' initial launch and failure, the Glass team "graduated" Google X and moved it under the control of Nest's then-boss Tony Fadell. Fadell had the group "reset their strategy" for a new version, and Google even hired a bunch of people from Amazon's Fire Phone team, but a followup never came. The last we heard from the group was a foldable prototype unit that hit the FCC at the end of 2015.

The new updates certainly make it seem like no one has been doing Glass development work over the last three years. Both the firmware and app seem mostly unchanged compared to the version from three years ago other than the aforementioned bug fixes. It's very odd that Google would suddenly start sending out updates, especially to a device that is around five years old. I'd imagine most Glass units are even broken at this point or in need of new flash storage or a battery replacement. Is the Glass team starting up again, or was someone at Google just really bored this week?"
Google Glass is apparently back from the dead, starts getting software updates | Ars Technica

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Apple began "Project Purple" because Steve Jobs hated Microsoft exec, says Scott Forstall (AppleInsider)

More iPhone 10th anniversary insights -- context: "In his first public interview since leaving Apple in 2012, former head of iOS development Scott Forstall provided commentary on his background, the first iPhone and his relationship with company cofounder Steve Jobs."
"According to the former executive, it was Jobs' hatred of a particular Microsoft executive that sparked his interest in tablet computing. Jobs' wife Laurene had a friend whose husband worked for Microsoft, Forstall said. This unnamed executive apparently rubbed Jobs the wrong way on multiple occasions, but it was one meeting in particular that set the tech guru off.

Microsoft was developing a tablet platform based on stylus interactions that was cutting edge for the time. The unnamed executive "shoved it in Steve's face" that the technology would "rule the world." Pooh-poohing the notion of a stylus first user interface, Jobs decided to challenge Microsoft with Apple's own solution."
Apple began "Project Purple" because Steve Jobs hated Microsoft exec, says Scott Forstall

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has resigned due to investor pressure, and a search for a new leader is on - Recode

A new chapter begins for Uber

"Kalanick had become a giant liability to the car-hailing company for a growing number of reasons, from sketchy business practices to troubling lawsuits to a basic management situation that was akin to really toxic goat rodeo.

Thus, he had to go, even though some sources said he had the voting power to stay.

But big investors also have leverage and a big enough group of them joined to use it. Those investors include Benchmark, Fidelity and Menlo Ventures, all of whom sent Kalanick a joint letter called “Moving Uber Forward” on Tuesday afternoon. Interestingly, Google Ventures was not among the group, even though its parent company Alphabet is now in a major lawsuit with Uber over the alleged theft of self-driving car technology from its Waymo unit."
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has resigned due to investor pressure, and a search for a new leader is on - Recode

Apple smart glasses for augmented reality could leverage iPhone power, UBS says (CNBC)

View different
""Advanced sensors and camera capabilities will enhance the iPhone; eventually there could be independent hardware offerings, perhaps iGlass," UBS analyst Steven Milunovich said. "We can imagine a pair of glasses with quintessential Apple design (iGlass), which enable a Hololens-type experience," the company said, referring to Microsoft's bulky alternative.

"However, the amount of compute power and sensors required likely pose a serious design challenge. If Apple could find a way to send massive amounts of data from the eyeglasses to the iPhone where the bulk of the compute would occur, the eyewear could have a more attractive design. The issue then becomes how to transfer massive amounts of complex data between devices quickly.""
Apple smart glasses for augmented reality could leverage iPhone power, UBS says

Amazon Bites Off Even More Monopoly Power - The New York Times

From a timely Amazon reality check

"But antitrust officials would be naïve to view this deal as simply about groceries. Buying Whole Foods will enable Amazon to leverage and amplify the extraordinary power it enjoys in online markets and delivery, making an even greater share of commerce part of its fief.

The company has established its level of dominance because of the failings of our current antitrust laws. To understand why, you first need to understand the scope of Amazon’s power. It has captured 43 percent of all internet retail sales in the United States, with half of all online shopping searches starting on Amazon. In 2016, it had over $63 billion in revenue from online sales in the United States — or more than the next 10 top online retailers combined. It controls 74 percent of e-book sales, is the largest seller of clothes online and is set to soon become the biggest apparel retailer in the country."
Amazon Bites Off Even More Monopoly Power - The New York Times

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Google launches its AI-powered jobs search engine | TechCrunch

See Connecting more Americans with jobs (Google Keyword blog) for more details

"Looking for a new job is getting easier. Google today launched a new jobs search feature right on its search result pages that lets you search for jobs across virtually all of the major online job boards like LinkedIn, Monster, WayUp, DirectEmployers, CareerBuilder and Facebook and others. Google will also include job listings its finds on a company’s homepage.

The idea here is to give job seekers an easy way to see which jobs are available without having to go to multiple sites only to find duplicate postings and lots of irrelevant jobs."
Google launches its AI-powered jobs search engine | TechCrunch

Amazon’s New Customer – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Acquire different

"This is the key to understanding the purchase of Whole Foods: to the outside it may seem that Amazon is buying a retailer. The truth, though, is that Amazon is buying a customer — the first-and-best customer that will instantly bring its grocery efforts to scale.

Today, all of the logistics that go into a Whole Foods store are for the purpose of stocking physical shelves: the entire operation is integrated. What I expect Amazon to do over the next few years is transform the Whole Foods supply chain into a service architecture based on primitives: meat, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, non-perishables (Whole Foods’ outsized reliance on store brands is something that I’m sure was very attractive to Amazon). What will make this massive investment worth it, though, is that there will be a guaranteed customer: Whole Foods Markets."
Amazon’s New Customer – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Tech Titans Make Pilgrimage to White House to Discuss Government Systems - The New York Times

Just another day in White House Reality TV
"“Government needs to catch up with the technology revolution,” said Mr. Trump, who strolled in at the end of the meeting to greet the tech titans. “We’re going to change that with the help of great American businesses like the people assembled.”   
He later said, drawing laughter, “We have approximately $3.5 trillion of market value in this room — but that’s almost the exact number that we’ve created since my election.”

Few technology specialists from the White House attended. The administration has not filled several major science and technology positions. But the business and economics team closest to the president attended, including Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, and Dina Powell, senior counselor for economic initiatives."
Also see What you need to know about Trump’s meeting with tech CEOs (The Washington Post), which concludes:
"“The whole belief that you're going to bring these high-level thinkers to a table for an hour or two and have them solve all these things is at the heart of what this administration's problems are,” said one tech industry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the topic more freely. “As Trump has said, 'Who knew health care could be so difficult?' Well, who knew that cloud infrastructure could be so difficult? Who knew that Big Data could be so difficult? They're all about the scalps in the room.”"
Tech Titans Make Pilgrimage to White House to Discuss Government Systems - The New York Times

The Race Is On to Challenge Google-Facebook ‘Duopoly’ in Digital Advertising - WSJ

From a digital advertising reality check

"Google and Facebook together collect nearly half of global spending. Last year, the U.S. online ad market expanded by nearly $12 billion and the two firms accounted for over 77% of that spending growth, according to eMarketer.

Advertisers are hoping for the emergence of a legitimate third player to provide competition that can give them more leverage and help keep prices in check. For ad agencies, the matter is existential: Google and Facebook have the resources to deploy entire teams to work with marketers directly, cutting out the middleman."
The Race Is On to Challenge Google-Facebook ‘Duopoly’ in Digital Advertising - WSJ

The iPhone Is 10 Years Old. Here’s the Story of Its Birth. - The New York Times

Final paragraphs of a The One Device review

"But when he gets back to the actual iPhone’s creation, Merchant tells a far richer story than I — having covered Apple for years as a journalist — have seen before. If you’ve ever worked on a hopeless project that felt like it was going nowhere, you will draw spiritual strength from Merchant’s account of life in the Purple trenches. It includes fascinating dead ends and might-have- beens (a prototype based on the original iPod’s click wheel, backlit in blue and orange); personal sacrifices (“The iPhone is the reason I’m divorced”); obscure technical hurdles (the phone’s infrared proximity sensor, which turns the screen off when it’s near your head, wouldn’t recognize dark hair); backstage tension at the launch (I was actually there, watching Jobs rehearse the famous iPhone keynote, but apparently missed everything); even a symbolic onstage assassination (when Jobs publicly demonstrated swiping to delete a contact, he used Apple vice president Tony Fadell’s name, foreshadowing Fadell’s imminent departure).

The iPhone masquerades as a thing not made by human hands. Merchant’s book makes visible that human labor, and in the process dispels some of the fog and reality distortion that surround the iPhone. “The One Device” isn’t definitive, but it’s a start. What we need is the critical equivalent of a Pentalobe, a book that will crack open the meaning of the iPhone, to properly interrogate this digital symbiont, or parasite, that has introduced new kinds of both connection and disconnection into our lives. If the iPhone was a revolution, who or what exactly was overthrown? One of the stories Merchant tells comes from Grignon, who was the first person to receive a call on the iPhone. The punch line is that he didn’t pick up. “Instead of being this awesome Alexander Graham Bell moment, it was just like, ‘Yeah,… go to voice mail,’” Grignon says. “I think it’s very apropos, given where we are now.”"
The iPhone Is 10 Years Old. Here’s the Story of Its Birth. - The New York Times

Monday, June 19, 2017

Republican Data-Mining Firm Exposed Personal Information for Virtually Every American Voter (The Intercept)

Oops... See The RNC Files: Inside the Largest US Voter Data Leak (UpGuard) for more details
"What UpGuard appears to have discovered, sitting on an Amazon cloud storage drive with no password or username required for access by anyone on the internet, was terabytes of the data used to map the voter proclivities and demographics key to finding voters in those buckets. Beyond personal information like religion, age, and probable ethnicity, certain database files among those made public include individual scores for nearly 50 different beliefs, according to UpGuard’s analysis
[...]
Most Americans would likely be disturbed that this kind of information was generated about them in the first place, to say nothing of the fact that it was accidentally made public by the very companies being paid by the Republican Party to make it, with essentially zero security precautions of any kind taken with how it was stored in the cloud."
Republican Data-Mining Firm Exposed Personal Information for Virtually Every American Voter

How Uber and Airbnb Became Poster Children for the Disruption Economy - The New York Times

Excerpt from a multi-book review by Walter Isaacson
"Three new fast-paced narrative books written by seasoned business journalists (all of whom I have known since my days in the magazine world) detail the personal, financial and social aspects of the rise of these companies. “Wild Ride,” by Adam Lashinsky, executive editor of Fortune, is a crisp and lively look at both the good and bad aspects of the rise of Uber and its C.E.O., Kalanick. His Fortune colleague Leigh Gallagher has similarly produced a colorful account of Airbnb and its C.E.O., Brian Chesky, “The Airbnb Story.” And Brad Stone of Bloomberg News has intertwined the two tales in “The Upstarts,” a richly researched and highly readable narrative that provides additional layers of insight by weaving in contrasting stories of competing companies that failed. 
In addition to these narratives, which are generally celebratory, it is also useful to read a darker counterpoint, Jonathan Taplin’s “Move Fast and Break Things,” which argues that the radical libertarian ideology and monopolistic greed of many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs helped to decimate the livelihood of musicians and is now undermining the communal idealism of the early internet. “The original mission of the internet,” he writes, “was hijacked by a small group of right-wing radicals to whom the ideas of democracy and decentralization were anathema.”"
How Uber and Airbnb Became Poster Children for the Disruption Economy - The New York Times

Four steps we’re taking today to fight online terror (Google Keyword blog)

Check the full post for details

"While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now.

We have thousands of people around the world who review and counter abuse of our platforms. Our engineers have developed technology to prevent re-uploads of known terrorist content using image-matching technology. We have invested in systems that use content-based signals to help identify new videos for removal. And we have developed partnerships with expert groups, counter-extremism agencies, and the other technology companies to help inform and strengthen our efforts.

Today, we are pledging to take four additional steps."
Four steps we’re taking today to fight online terror

Amazon’s Whole Foods buy removed nearly $22 billion in market value from rival supermarkets - Recode

New retail math; also see How Amazon Is Changing the Whole Concept of Monopoly (The New Republic)
"Amazon’s Friday morning announcement that it was acquiring Whole Foods sent the high-end grocery’s stock soaring. This was bad news for Whole Foods’ grocery competitors, who now face a fierce battle with Amazon.

Target, Kroger, Costco, Walmart, Dollar General, SuperValu and Sprouts lost a combined market value of $21.7 billion in one day — 6 percent of their total worth, according to data from FactSet.

Whole Foods, on the other hand, gained more than $3 billion in market cap, up 29 percent, from Thursday to Friday and nearing its $13.7 billion purchase price."
Amazon’s Whole Foods buy removed nearly $22 billion in market value from rival supermarkets - Recode

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Apple’s Tim Cook on Donald Trump, the HomePod, and the Legacy of Steve Jobs - Bloomberg

From a wide-ranging interview

"How do you respond to critics who say Apple isn’t as ­innovative as it once was?
We invest for the long term. We don’t feel an impatience to be first. It’s just not how we’re wired. Our thing is to be the best and to give the user something that really makes a difference in their lives. When you look back in time, the iPod was not the first MP3 player. The iPhone was not the first smartphone. The iPad was not the first tablet. I could go on.
If you get caught up in the shiny thing du jour, you lose sight of the biggest forest. When I think about the big things, I think about AR. We’re not the first people talking about AR. Nor was it our objective to be. We wanted something well thought out that we could integrate into the platform and unleash a lot of developers to do some really cool stuff with it. We’ve got a great initial start there. Same thing on the home speaker. We’ve been working on this multiple years. We didn’t feel an urgency to get something because somebody else had it. It’s actually not about competing, from our point of view. It’s about thinking through for the Apple user what thing will improve their lives."
Apple’s Tim Cook on Donald Trump, the HomePod, and the Legacy of Steve Jobs - Bloomberg

Friday, June 16, 2017

Amazon to Acquire Whole Foods Market | Business Wire

Amazon appears to be on something of a shopping spree lately... A WSJ reporter noted, in a tweet, "Amazon did not just buy Whole Foods grocery stores. It bought 431 upper-income, prime-location distribution nodes for everything it does."
"Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Whole Foods Market, Inc. (NASDAQ:WFM) today announced that they have entered into a definitive merger agreement under which Amazon will acquire Whole Foods Market for $42 per share in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $13.7 billion, including Whole Foods Market’s net debt.

“Millions of people love Whole Foods Market because they offer the best natural and organic foods, and they make it fun to eat healthy,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Whole Foods Market has been satisfying, delighting and nourishing customers for nearly four decades – they’re doing an amazing job and we want that to continue.”"
Amazon to Acquire Whole Foods Market | Business Wire

An Artificial Intelligence Developed Its Own Non-Human Language - The Atlantic

Keep calm and carry on...

"In the report, researchers at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab describe using machine learning to train their “dialog agents” to negotiate. (And it turns out bots are actually quite good at dealmaking.) At one point, the researchers write, they had to tweak one of their models because otherwise the bot-to-bot conversation “led to divergence from human language as the agents developed their own language for negotiating.” They had to use what’s called a fixed supervised model instead.

In other words, the model that allowed two bots to have a conversation—and use machine learning to constantly iterate strategies for that conversation along the way—led to those bots communicating in their own non-human language. If this doesn’t fill you with a sense of wonder and awe about the future of machines and humanity then, I don’t know, go watch Blade Runner or something."
An Artificial Intelligence Developed Its Own Non-Human Language - The Atlantic

Snap stock has fallen back to its $17 IPO price - Recode

Another company on a similar trajectory this week: Cloudera

"That means that pretty much everyone who bought Snap stock in the days before it hit public markets is back to even on the deal. But anyone who bought the stock on its IPO day or after is in the red. Snap’s stock has dropped 30 percent in value since it closed at $24.48 on its first full day of trading.

There doesn’t appear to be any particular catalyst for Thursday’s stock dip, but people are concerned about Snap’s user growth and weren’t thrilled with its Q1 revenue, which came in below analyst estimates."
Snap stock has fallen back to its $17 IPO price - Recode

Full transcript: NYU business school professor and L2 founder Scott Galloway on Recode Decode - Recode

Excerpt from the transcript of a timely and thought-provoking podcast

"I think Facebook is love. I think one of the wonderful things about our species is we have a need to be loved and a need to love others. I think the strongest indicator of whether you live to 100 — and this isn’t my research, this is a great book called “Blue Zones” — is how many people you care for and how many people you feel empathy for. I think Facebook does help us connect, have more interaction and feel empathy for other people. I think Facebook is “love.” I think it’s probably the best-managed company in the world right now. I think the best visionary, if you will, the best storyteller is Amazon. You just hear him talk and I want to buy the stock. He’s sort of the next generation Warren Buffett.

I think in terms of a visionary with adult supervision, and great management with Sheryl Sandberg, an ability to attract really thoughtful talented people, I just think they’re an outstanding organization. They’re also responsible for the most agile move I think in the last 20 years in business, and that is 0 percent of our revenue from mobile, what was it four years ago, and within 36 months they’re at 80 percent mobile. Yahoo saw mobile coming, The Wall Street Journal saw, all of us saw mobile coming. It wasn’t a shocker, but one company was able to pivot and get 80 percent of their revenues from it. This is arguably the most agile, nimble company in the world."
Full transcript: NYU business school professor and L2 founder Scott Galloway on Recode Decode - Recode

Facebook Enlists AI, Human Experts in New Push Against Terrorism - Bloomberg

See Hard Questions (Facebook Newsroom) for more details

"“Although academic research finds that the radicalization of members of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda primarily occurs offline, we know that the internet does play a role -- and we don’t want Facebook to be used for any terrorist activity whatsoever,” Bickert and Fishman write.

Over the past year Facebook has increased its team of counterterrorism experts and now has more than 150 people primarily dedicated to that role. Many of these people have backgrounds in law enforcement and they collectively speak almost 30 languages. In addition, Facebook has thousands of employees and contractors around the world that respond to reports of violations of its terms of service, whether that’s online bullying, posting porn or hate speech."
Facebook Enlists AI, Human Experts in New Push Against Terrorism - Bloomberg

Slack Is Said to Be in Talks to Raise $500 Million - The New York Times

A less constrained Slack; also see Five Reasons Why an Amazon-Slack Deal Could Make Sense (Bloomberg)
"Slack, an office messaging company, is in talks to raise around $500 million at a valuation around $5 billion, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the financing.

The funding talks are advanced enough that investors are committed to the deal, but Slack could still change its mind, those people said. The company, based in San Francisco and Vancouver, British Columbia, has already raised about $500 million over the past three years and was valued by investors last year at about $4 billion."
Slack Is Said to Be in Talks to Raise $500 Million - The New York Times

At Last, Jeff Bezos Offers a Hint of His Philanthropic Plans - The New York Times

Philanthropize different
"The message was classic Bezos — challenging conventional wisdom, seeking the wisdom of the market and highlighting his various businesses. Yet it failed to answer a question that is likely to follow him more often if and when he becomes the richest man: What are his plans to give away some or all of his wealth? 
Mr. Bezos, who owns about 17 percent of Amazon, has enjoyed what could be the most rapid personal-wealth surge in history. As Amazon’s share price has more than tripled since 2015, its leader has added more than $50 billion to his net worth, bringing his current total to nearly $83 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He is now less than $7 billion shy of taking the title of the world’s richest person from Bill Gates, who has held the crown for 18 of the past 23 years."
At Last, Jeff Bezos Offers a Hint of His Philanthropic Plans - The New York Times

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Surface Laptop makes the new Surface Pro mostly a nonstarter | TechCrunch

Toaster-fridge twilight time?

"It’s been a week with the new Pro — Microsoft’s part-tablet/part-laptop hybrid machine —  and I already find myself looking longingly at the Surface Laptop. It’s not that the latest Surface Pro isn’t a good and capable machine (it is), it’s just that, well, the Laptop is much better for my needs — and, I’m sure, the needs of most users. Having a keyboard built into your machine is a lot more useful than you might think.

The convertible category is the sort of thing that looks great on paper — the idea of essentially getting two products for the price of one. But at the end day, how often do most users really switch back and forth? In this past week, I only pulled off the keyboard case once: when it came time to take the photos for this story. For the rest of my needs, there’s no reason to not just keep it in place."
The Surface Laptop makes the new Surface Pro mostly a nonstarter | TechCrunch

Focus on the important things with Highlights in Slack (Slack blog)

In other Slack news, see Message Startup Slack Said to Draw Interest From Amazon.com (Bloomberg)

"Imagine returning to work after a long vacation — or even a string of back-to-back meetings — and having important information summarized for you. Think how fast you’d be able to catch up on what you’ve missed and get the context to pick up where you left off. Now with Highlights in Slack, you can do just that.
Befitting of the name, Highlights call attention to your most important messages in Slack. They are Slack’s best prediction of the information that matters to you, and are based on your interactions with people, channels, files, and apps. Highlighted messages will appear both directly within the channels you work in and collated at the top of All Unreads. Now, on to how they work."
Focus on the important things with Highlights in Slack

Facebook is building chat bots that can negotiate and plan ahead like actual humans - Recode

Also see Facebook made a bot that can lie for better bargains (Engadget); perhaps not what Turing had in mind...

"Facebook claims the bots got smart enough to negotiate with humans who didn’t realize they were dealing with a machine. As explained in a Facebook blog post: “Interestingly, in the [Facebook AI Research] experiments, people did not realize they were talking to a bot and not another person — showing that the bots had learned to hold fluent conversations in English in this domain.”

Facebook says that the bots even learned to bluff, pretending to care about an outcome they didn’t actually want in order to have the upper hand down the line. “This behavior was not programmed by the researchers but was discovered by the bot as a method for trying to achieve its goals,” reads Facebook’s blog post."
Facebook is building chat bots that can negotiate and plan ahead like actual humans - Recode

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus tops Consumer Reports rankings, putting pressure on next iPhone - The Washington Post

Later in the article: "One thing to note about the rankings is that the calendar tends to favor Samsung. The company usually releases its products earlier in the year before the Consumer Reports rankings come out, while Apple tends to wait until the fall. And as long as Samsung keeps its edge in features and design, this will continue to work to its advantage over Apple." Also see iPhone 7 & 7 Plus remain top-selling phones in U.S. as Samsung’s S8 sales disappoint (9to5Mac)
"The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus stood atop the newly released smartphone rankings by Consumer Reports on Tuesday, beating out Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 7.

According to Consumer Reports, the Galaxy S8 Plus won the top spot in the annual ranking because of its high-quality camera, extended battery life and its long, slender appearance.

Its little sibling, the Galaxy S8, came in second. Samsung also took the top spot in the 2016 consumer rankings with its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge."
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus tops Consumer Reports rankings, putting pressure on next iPhone - The Washington Post

Amazon debuts $20 Dash Wand with Alexa inside, and tonight's it's basically free | VentureBeat | AI | by Khari Johnson

Check this Amazon page for details

"The Dash Wand is the latest Alexa-enabled device to come to market, following the Echo Show and Echo Look last month, devices that respectively brought a visual interface and computer vision to the Alexa experience.

The Dash Wand is the size of a small remote control and fits in your palm. The device can scan bar codes to add items to your Amazon shopping list, and pressing the button on top lets you speak to Alexa for all the things Alexa does, from controlling voice apps to calling your mom or ordering a pizza."
Amazon debuts $20 Dash Wand with Alexa inside, and tonight's it's basically free | VentureBeat | AI | by Khari Johnson

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Amazon is now bribing Prime members to avoid credit card fees - The Verge

Tbd when Amazon will simplify the process by allowing you to direct-deposit all of your income to an Amazon account
"There are some small complications, but for the most part the program seems straightforward enough. First you have to give Amazon your debit card number as well as your bank account and routing info. You then have to transfer cash directly into an Amazon account. And then you can pay for your stuff on Amazon using that balance. 
In exchange for the hassle, Amazon will give out a 2 percent bonus on all cash loaded into its system this way. While that means your money is stuck inside Amazon, it’s not a bad deal for anyone who regularly uses the site to buy stuff — which is probably a lot of Prime members."
Amazon is now bribing Prime members to avoid credit card fees - The Verge

The secret origin story of the iPhone - The Verge

Check the source page for an extensive excerpt

"This month marks 10 years since Apple launched the first iPhone, a device that would fundamentally transform how we interact with technology, culture, and each other. Ahead of that anniversary, Motherboard editor Brian Merchant embarked on an investigation to uncover the iPhone’s untold origin. The One Device: The secret history of the iPhone, out on June 20th, traces that journey from Kenyan mines to Chinese factories all the way to One Infinite Loop. The following excerpt has been lightly condensed and edited."
The secret origin story of the iPhone - The Verge

Alphabet shareholders want more voting rights but Larry and Sergey don’t want it that way - Recode

On a related note, see How Uber’s Chief Is Gaining Even More Clout in the Company (NYT)

"At Alphabet, the parent company of Google, voting power is even more concentrated because of a limited supply of supervoting shares belonging mostly to Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Basically, it’s a founders’ company with the founders controlling the outcome of the vote.

One proposal this year in particular demonstrates just how much control Page and Brin have because of their special voting powers, and it’s a proposal that deals with that very issue."
Alphabet shareholders want more voting rights but Larry and Sergey don’t want it that way - Recode

Uber CEO to Take Leave, Have Diminished Role After Scandals - Bloomberg

Also see One Way to Fix Uber: Think Twice Before Using It (NYT)

"Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick told staff he plans to take a leave of absence, without disclosing a return date. The company will be run by a management committee as it tries to navigate a wave of scandals.

Upon Kalanick’s return, Uber will strip him of some duties and appoint an independent chair to limit his influence, according to an advance copy of a report prepared for the board."
Uber CEO to Take Leave, Have Diminished Role After Scandals - Bloomberg

Verizon Completes $4.48 Billion Purchase of Yahoo, Ending an Era - The New York Times

Also see Marissa Mayer's farewell note (tl;dr: it wasn't my fault!)

"Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer, resigned from the company after the deal closed. Although she failed to turn around Yahoo’s long-struggling business, she was well compensated for her five years leading the company, earning $246 million, or an average of $1 million a week, based on the company’s final stock price. During her tenure, Yahoo’s share price more than tripled as the value of its Asian investments soared.

Yahoo’s stockholders will retain shares in a new company called Altaba that will own its $52 billion stake in Alibaba Group and its $9 billion stake in Yahoo Japan.

“Looking back on my time at Yahoo, we have confronted seemingly insurmountable business challenges, along with many surprise twists and turns,” Ms. Mayer wrote in a farewell note to employees. “Working with you has made my time as C.E.O. nothing short of a privilege.”"
Verizon Completes $4.48 Billion Purchase of Yahoo, Ending an Era - The New York Times

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Google is God, Facebook is love and Uber is ‘frat rock,’ says brand strategy expert Scott Galloway - Recode

Excerpts from a wide-ranging podcast and a preview of what promises to be an interesting book: The Four: The Hidden DNA of the Tech Giants (to be published in October)

"Apple: “The most value-creating decision in the last two decades was Apple’s crazy, irrational decision to forward-integrate into something they knew nothing about, and that was retail. The pre-purchase branding is getting duller and duller. But go buy a Samsung phone in a Verizon or an AT&T store. It’s an awful, soul-crushing and confusing, uninspiring ... go to an Apple store, you just want to hang out.”

Google: “Google is God. I think it’s replaced God for us. As societies become more wealthy, more educated, religious institutions tend to play a smaller role in their lives, yet our modern-day anxieties and questions grow. There’s an enormous spiritual void for a divine intervention ... One in five queries posed to Google have never been asked before in the history of humankind. Think of a cleric, a rabbi, a priest, a teacher, a coach that has so much credibility that one in five questions posed to that individual have never been asked before.”"
Google is God, Facebook is love and Uber is ‘frat rock,’ says brand strategy expert Scott Galloway - Recode

The New York Times is expanding comments with the help of Google’s AI - Recode

See this Jigsaw page for some comment toxicity rating examples

"The Times today is rolling out a new structure of comment moderation using software from Google called Perspective, developed by the company’s incubator, Jigsaw. The tool will automatically approve some comments and help moderators wade through others more quickly.

“What moderator really is about is about scale,” said Times community editor Bassey Etim, who oversees a core team of 14 moderators; she is project manager for the new content management system for the Times’ moderators, which uses Perspective. He said moderators won’t be replaced by the software, but that their jobs would be augmented."
The New York Times is expanding comments with the help of Google’s AI - Recode

Cook Says Apple Is Focusing on Making an Autonomous Car System - Bloomberg

But in the final paragraph: "In the interview on Bloomberg Television, Cook was hesitant to disclose whether Apple will ultimately manufacture its own car. "We’ll see where it takes us," Cook said. "We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.""

"After years toiling away in secret on its car project, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has for the first time laid out exactly what the company is up to in the automotive market: It’s concentrating on self-driving technology.

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said in an interview on Bloomberg Television on June 5. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.”
“We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects,” Cook said in his most detailed comments to date on Apple’s plans in the car space. “It’s probably one of the most difficult A.I. projects actually to work on.”"
Cook Says Apple Is Focusing on Making an Autonomous Car System - Bloomberg

Does the Xbox still make sense in a mobile gaming world? - The Washington Post

More cascading consequences of Microsoft's mobile meltdown

"Microsoft pulled out all the stops this week  — flashing lights, pounding music, fake smoke — to debut its new $500 game console, aimed at the kind of hard-core gamer who appreciates a good glamour shot of a microprocessor. But how many will actually buy it?

That's the question looming around Microsoft's launch, as the technology giant touts its most powerful console ever to an audience that increasingly is becoming more casual.  Mobile games now make up 42 percent of the game industry's revenue worldwide, according to a report from game industry analysis firm Newzoo. It is expected to pass the 50 percent mark by 2020. Console sales have continued to grow, but at a much slower pace — keeping more or less steady with 20 percent of revenue for the industry.

"It's a fairly limited market," said analyst David Cole of DFC Intelligence, of the group of gamers the Xbox One X is reaching. Mobile, Cole said, is where there is real growth potential for the market. But Microsoft, with no mobile device and no mobile distribution channel, isn't well positioned to tap into the rise of the casual gamer, he said."
Does the Xbox still make sense in a mobile gaming world? - The Washington Post

Review: Microsoft's Surface Laptop | ZDNet

From a Mary Jo Foley review; also see Microsoft Surface Laptop Review: Worth the Wait (The Verge)
"So what's my lappability rating on Surface Laptop? I'd give it a 7.5. It's more lappable than I thought it might be when I had a few moments with it at the Surface Laptop launch in early May. But its 3:2 aspect ratio and location of the batteries behind the screen still leave it a bit more top heavy than I'd like. I also find the screen a bit wobbly when poked/touched and the base a bit slippery, requiring me to hold the device in place firmly with my wrists. All that said, I'd still call this Microsoft's most lappable Surface device to date.

I understand not everyone wants or needs to use a laptop on her/his lap. On a flat surface, the newest Surface is well balanced, even when using touch, which is not the case with the Surface Book in my limited experience. The Surface Laptop also works with Microsoft's pens and Dial, but I didn't try it with either. I am one of the estimated 70 percent of Surface users who don't need or use a pen. I also don't often use touch, as the trackpad on this device is quite good."
Review: Microsoft's Surface Laptop | ZDNet

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is much more “pro” than what it replaces | Ars Technica

From a extensive review; tl;dr: great hardware that's optimized for iOS 11 (expected in the fall)

"So we’re left to evaluate the improved hardware without the virtue of the improved software that Apple announced with it. And it is very good hardware! I mean, it’s still an iPad. It’s still a big slab that’s mostly screen. It does all the regular iPad stuff, a little faster and a little better. It’s a noticeable improvement over both last year’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the cheaper, more basic $329 iPad. And now that Apple has synced up the core hardware features of the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPads Pro (same A10X, same RAM, same camera, same screen tech), you can now pick the size and weight you want without making any other compromises.

Those improved specs, the better keyboard, and all of iOS 11’s new features (most notably the file manager and the new multitasking features) also earn these tablets more right to the “Pro” name than their predecessors had. The new hardware won’t change your mind if you already think iPads have no business being “Pro,” but in the fall when iOS 11 comes out these tablets are going to be more computer-y than they have been at any point in their seven-year history. There are still things that you really just can’t do with them, software development chief among them, but for writers or artists or even video editors the combination of hardware and software is increasingly convincing."
Review: The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is much more “pro” than what it replaces | Ars Technica

Apple Silicon and Machine Learning – Monday Note

From a Jean-Louis Gassée Apple hardware + software reality check; also see WWDC 2017 — Some Thoughts (Steven Sinofsky)
"The industry came to accept the idea Apple has one of the best, if not the best, silicon design team; the company just hired Esin Terzioglu, who oversaw the engineering organization of Qualcomm’s core communications chips business. By moving its smartphones and tablets — hardware and software together — into the 64-bit world, Apple built a moat that’s as dominant as Google’s superior Search, as unassailable as the aging Wintel dominion once was.
I think we might see another moat being built, this time in the fields of Augmented Reality (AR), Machine Vision (MV), and, more generally, Machine Learning (ML)."
Apple Silicon and Machine Learning – Monday Note

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Apple’s Tim Cook urges MIT grads to keep humanity at center of their work - The Boston Globe

Also see Tim Cook: Technology Should Serve Humanity, Not the Other Way Around (MIT Technology Review)

"Cook drew chuckles from the audience — who greeted him by waving their iPhones in the air — as he recounted his path to the top of the transformative tech company.

“I went to grad school at Duke, looking for the answer,” he said of his search for purpose. “I tried meditation. I sought guidance in religion. I read great philosophers and authors. And in a moment of youthful indiscretion, I might even have experimented with a Windows PC.”"
Apple’s Tim Cook urges MIT grads to keep humanity at center of their work - The Boston Globe

Friday, June 09, 2017

Important information about Docs.com end of service - Office Support

Microsoft's Docs.com dies a second time; the first Docs.com, launched in 2010, was a joint Microsoft/Facebook service for using Office Online apps via a Facebook account, and Docs.com was relaunched in 2015 with Sway support and some collaboration features. Check this Wikipedia article for more details.

"Microsoft is retiring the Docs.com service on Friday, December 15, 2017 and we are hereby advising all users to move their existing Docs.com content to other file storage and sharing platforms as soon as possible, as Docs.com will no longer be available after this date.

Following Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn, SlideShare has joined the Microsoft family, and represents the ideal platform for publishing your Word, PowerPoint, and PDF content with its audience of 70 million professionals, and vast content library. For custom sharing, OneDrive offers additional tools, permission settings, and security to help share and protect your data and content. With the retirement of the Docs.com service, we hope to streamline our offerings in this space and provide you with a more cohesive experience."
Important information about Docs.com end of service - Office Support

Apple’s Very Different Approaches to VR and AR – Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis

Final paragraphs from a timely Apple *R reality check

"So yes, Apple showed us its first forays into both VR and AR at WWDC, but those first steps into each market look very different. Apple’s VR strategy is indicative of its desire to support creators and developers as they mostly build products for consumption on other platforms, while Apple’s AR bet is very much about supporting its own users on its own platforms. The latter is a vastly bigger market today than the former, and much better aligned with Apple’s existing strengths and its user base. That’s going to make it a big player in AR by the end of the year even as it takes much slower more subtle steps into VR.

And of course none of this closes the door to an eventual entry by Apple into that other flavor of AR, the headset market, or as I think it will actually be by the time Apple enters: the glasses-based variety. Everything it and its developers are learning and building today will be applicable to that eventual more immersive version of AR too."
Apple’s Very Different Approaches to VR and AR – Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis

Amazon needs to court Walmart shoppers because the wealthiest Americans already have Prime - Recode

A Prime case study in market domination

"Amazon Prime membership is lowest among households that make less than $41,000 per year, according to a survey earlier this year by investment bank Piper Jaffray. That means Amazon has the most room to grow among lower-income consumers.

Households that made more than $112,000 per year, on the other hand, are nearing saturation, with 82 percent in possession of Amazon Prime memberships, according to a survey of 5,500 U.S. teens about whether their families had Prime memberships. The insight comes from a ongoing Jaffray survey on what brands teens consume and what trends teens follow. It bases income on average household income for each teen’s zip code."
Amazon needs to court Walmart shoppers because the wealthiest Americans already have Prime - Recode

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Apple confronts Trump climate agenda during NBA finals - CNET

Advertise different -- check "Earth - Shot on iPhone" (Apple on YouTube) to view in HD

"During game No. 3 of the NBA finals, Apple ran an ad that talked about how the Earth itself is "a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena."

Written and narrated by cosmologist Carl Sagan, the ad contrasted beautiful images shot on iPhones with a dire message of environmental danger.

Amid these gorgeous, expansive images, Sagan intoned: "There is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.""
Apple confronts Trump climate agenda during NBA finals - CNET

Airbnb finally has a solution for its pledge to host 100,000 refugees - The Verge

See this Airbnb post for more details

"Open Homes solves many of the logistical problems Airbnb has faced in trying to help refugees in the past, most notably the manual matching between hosts and those who are displaced. Airbnb’s approach is not the first to match those who need aid with housing — joining the ranks of organizations like France’s SIGNA and UK-based Refugees at Home — but it is the most cohesive and simplified approach the company has presented to date. It also allows for a faster process to match those in need with homes, meaning fewer missed opportunities to help in real time.

As of now, there are 6,000 listings available for use on Open Homes around the world, half of which are offered by individuals who are not existing Airbnb hosts, but simply have a desire to help. Airbnb’s five-year goal is to provide free short-term housing to 100,000 people in need."
Airbnb finally has a solution for its pledge to host 100,000 refugees - The Verge

The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers - The New York Times

Meanwhile, while many people have been distracted by the latest self-destructive rants of the Tweeter in Chief, the article also notes "This would be all the more important if a bill that was just overwhelmingly passed in the House becomes law. The bill could make it a felony — punishable by 15 years in jail — if teens send consensual nude photos of themselves."

"There is a very real biological basis for this behavior. The combination of social media pressure and an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that helps us rationalize decisions, control impulsivity and make judgments, can contribute to offensive online posts.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the areas of teens’ brains focused on reward processing and social cognition are similarly activated when they think about money and sex – and when they view a photo receiving lots of likes on social media. When teens viewed photos deemed risky, researchers found the brain regions focused on cognitive control were not activated as much, suggesting that it could be harder for them to make good decisions when viewing images or videos that are graphic in nature. Teens seeking external validation become intoxicated by sensationalist engagement, sometimes sending compromising photos or comments. Of course, some adults have fallen into the same trap."
The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers - The New York Times

Bitcoin’s Valuation Is Confusing Currency Analysts - Bloomberg

Final paragraph: ""You can’t really come up with a valuation for it and it doesn’t yield anything yet people perceive it as a safe place just in case everything else goes completely nuts," said Brad Bechtel, a currency strategist at Jefferies LLC."

"The market capitalization of digital currencies has soared to around $100 billion since the start of the year, with bitcoin almost tripling in price to as high as $2,938.50 on Tuesday, as the frenzy around cryptocurrencies grows. Demand is swelling as more companies embrace blockchain and the similar technologies backing the various methods of exchange and some investors see it as a haven from uncertainty across the globe.

While the technology is used as a means of payment -- the most basic function of money -- it may be better to view digital currencies like gold or say, a painting, than a traditional currency. Bitcoin is more volatile than even the most capricious fiat currencies and its decentralized structure makes it difficult to consider valuation."
Bitcoin’s Valuation Is Confusing Currency Analysts - Bloomberg

Facebook’s Role in European Elections Under Scrutiny - The New York Times

A call for targeted political marketing transparency

"“It’s a fundamental conversation to have about how we regulate this,” said Nick Anstead, a media and communications expert at the London School of Economics. “Facebook has a responsibility to tell its users who is buying advertising that is targeting their votes.”

In response, the company says its roughly two billion users worldwide have complete control over which ads they are shown on the network, and that it is the responsibility of individual political parties to comply with their countries’ electoral laws. Facebook adds that its commercial agreements and protection of individuals’ privacy restrict it from sharing more data on how information is distributed on the platform."
Facebook’s Role in European Elections Under Scrutiny - The New York Times

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Trump's blocking of Twitter users violates U.S. Constitution: rights institute | Reuters

Tumultuous Twitter times; also see Twitter Users Blocked by Trump Seek Reprieve, Citing First Amendment (NYT)
"A free-speech institute on Tuesday sent a letter to President Donald Trump demanding the prolific tweeter unblock certain Twitter users on grounds the practice violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Trump's @realDonaldTrump account recently blocked a number of accounts that replied to his tweets with commentary that criticized, mocked or disagreed with his actions. Twitter users are unable to see or respond to tweets from accounts that block them.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York said in its letter that the blocking suppressed speech in a public forum protected by the Constitution."
Trump's blocking of Twitter users violates U.S. Constitution: rights institute | Reuters

The iPad takes a big step toward being the computer for everyone - The Verge

Excerpt from an iPad Pro (and iOS 11) reality check

"Getting to grips with the iOS 11-powered iPad Pro at Apple’s event yesterday, my colleague Jake Kastrenakes noted that he never felt like he could move quickly and efficiently around iOS before, but the new version is the first one that feels like it could change that. I’m on exactly the same page: iOS has always felt like a more leisurely way to use a mobile device, not quite the lean and mean productivity workhouse that I could sculpt together in macOS. But with more robust split-screen multitasking and the ability to float additional apps and picture-in-picture video on the screen, I foresee finally being able to get Real Work done on an iPad.

Being able to manipulate files in the self-explanatory Files browser is basically the tipping point: I get the extra degree of control I’ve always felt has been missing on iOS, and now I’m wondering exactly what I’d be losing if I switched to doing my research and writing on one of Apple’s tablets. Sure, I’d need to hunt down a good third-party keyboard, but there’s never a shortage of good accessories for Apple devices. By making the changes it’s made in iOS 11, Apple looks to have successfully attracted professional holdouts like me while still retaining its touch-friendly and accessible interface for the majority of others."
The iPad takes a big step toward being the computer for everyone - The Verge

Apple doubles its $10/month iCloud storage plan to 2TB, adds family sharing | TechCrunch

Or you could pay $9.99/month (or $99.99/year) for Office 365 Home, providing Office and 1TB OneDrive storage (each) for up to 5 users; conveniently, the new iOS 11 Files app will simplify working with OneDrive (and Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive)

"The company will now allow customers to share either their 200GB or 2TB iCloud storage plans with members of their entire family. This could bring costs down for larger families, who before were paying for each member’s iCloud plan individually.

Family Sharing will be possible with iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, both of which will ship to the general public this fall. But you can pre-emptively opt in to the new $10/mo 2TB plan today, which is available across current devices and OS versions."
Apple doubles its $10/month iCloud storage plan to 2TB, adds family sharing | TechCrunch

Ponzi Scheme Meets Ransomware for a Doubly Malicious Attack - The New York Times

Extreme antisocial networking

"The victim had a choice: Pay the hackers a ransom of one bitcoin, a digital currency worth roughly $2,365, in exchange for regaining access to the computer, or try to infect two new people on behalf of the attackers. If someone the victim knew fell for the bait and became infected, the attackers would consider the ransom paid and cede control of the infected computer.

The attack late last year was, according to the cybersecurity researchers who discovered what they now call the Popcorn Time ransomware, the first Ponzi scheme for one of the internet’s oldest types of cyberattacks."
Ponzi Scheme Meets Ransomware for a Doubly Malicious Attack - The New York Times

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Amazon Gave Your Notes & Highlights a New Home on the Web | The Digital Reader

Check this page if you use Kindle annotations and found the kindle.amazon.com user experience lacking

"For many years now Amazon has enabled Kindle users to manage and share their annotations via a website at Kindle.Amazon.com (just one of many ways you can curate your notes).

Now Amazon has launched a new and much-improved way for readers to access their Kindle notes and highlights"
Amazon Gave Your Notes & Highlights a New Home on the Web | The Digital Reader

Announcing OneDrive support for the Files app in iOS 11 - Office Blogs

Also see Box Previews the Future of Work with Apple at WWDC (Box blog) and Coming to iOS 11: Dropbox support in the new Files app (Dropbox blog); Google Drive and some other services will also be accessible from Files

"OneDrive makes it easier for you to access your files, and we are continually working to ensure you have the best OneDrive experience on every platform and every device. OneDrive already supports many iOS capabilities, including OneDrive for iMessage, the Share extension, and Apple Pencil and split-screen support on iPad. Today, Apple announced the new Files app at WWDC for iOS 11, and we are excited to announce support for the new app and its file management capabilities. OneDrive integration with the Files app will make it easier for you to access your content from any Apple device and will provide a better file management experience on iOS for your personal and work OneDrive and SharePoint sites. We will share more details when iOS 11 releases."
Announcing OneDrive support for the Files app in iOS 11 - Office Blogs

Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election (The Intercept)

Also see Intelligence Contractor Is Charged in First Leak Case Under Trump (NYT)
"This NSA summary judgment is sharply at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial last week that Russia had interfered in foreign elections: “We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so.” Putin, who had previously issued blanket denials that any such Russian meddling occurred, for the first time floated the possibility that freelance Russian hackers with “patriotic leanings” may have been responsible. The NSA report, on the contrary, displays no doubt that the cyber assault was carried out by the GRU.

The NSA analysis does not draw conclusions about whether the interference had any effect on the election’s outcome and concedes that much remains unknown about the extent of the hackers’ accomplishments. However, the report raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results."
Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election

WSJ ends Google users’ free ride, then fades in search results - The Boston Globe

"First click free" trade-offs
"After blocking Google users from reading free articles in February, the Wall Street Journal’s subscription business soared, with a fourfold increase in the rate of visitors converting into paying customers. But there was a trade-off: Traffic from Google plummeted 44 percent. [...] 
The Journal decided to stop letting people read articles free from Google after discovering nearly 1 million people each month were abusing the three-article limit. They would copy and paste Journal headlines into Google and read the articles for free, then clear their cookies to reset the meter and read more, Watford said.

The Journal now only lets Google users see a short snippet at the top of its articles, restricting the rest to its 2.2 million subscribers or people who arrive via social media. In the most recent quarter, the Journal’s digital subscribers grew about 30 percent compared with the prior year, driven partly by barring Google users from reading for free."
WSJ ends Google users’ free ride, then fades in search results - The Boston Globe

Apple Needs to Reinvent Itself. It Just Might Be Doing So. - The New York Times

Final paragraphs from a timely Apple reality check; for an overview of yesterday's Apple announcements, see These are the six big things Apple announced today (The Washington Post)

"If you follow the tech industry you know these are all hot topics that other companies are investing in heavily. Apple is still a laggard, and I wouldn’t expect it to beat Google in an A.I. contest anytime soon.

But it doesn’t need to. All Apple has to do is stay competitive — it’s got to invest just enough in the A.I.-driven future to keep its devices compelling. There’s no mistake, now, that it’s doing so."
Apple Needs to Reinvent Itself. It Just Might Be Doing So. - The New York Times

Monday, June 05, 2017

Digital Coins Are Making Bitcoin's Rip-Roaring Rally Appear Tame - Bloomberg

Behold the ICO (initial coin offering) wave -- digital tulips?...
"While the record-breaking rally in bitcoin has captivated markets, demand for other digital coins is surging as companies raise millions in minutes, or even seconds, from investors wanting in on the next big tech startup. Last week it took 30 seconds for Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich to issue about $35 million of basic attention token, the unit of exchange in a blockchain-based advertising platform built on top of the company’s Brave browser. 
Digital tokens tied to the blockchain platform issued this year have more than doubled in price on average since trading started, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Tech startups are increasingly selling coins that can be used on their projects instead of resorting to traditional financing methods such as venture capital."
Digital Coins Are Making Bitcoin's Rip-Roaring Rally Appear Tame - Bloomberg

Oculus Founder Plots a Comeback With a Virtual Border Wall - The New York Times

Evidently still living in virtual reality

"And he has a new start-up in the works, a company that is developing surveillance technology that could be deployed on borders between countries and around military bases, according to three people familiar with the plan who asked for anonymity because it’s still confidential. They said the investment fund run by Peter Thiel, a technology adviser to Mr. Trump, planned to support the effort.

In an emailed statement, Mr. Luckey confirmed that he was working on a defense-related start-up.

“We are spending more than ever on defense technology, yet the pace of innovation has been slowing for decades,” he wrote. “We need a new kind of defense company, one that will save taxpayer dollars while creating superior technology to keep our troops and citizens safer.”"
Oculus Founder Plots a Comeback With a Virtual Border Wall - The New York Times

Friday, June 02, 2017

Microsoft clones Snapchat’s Stories for its reimagined Skype experience (Marketing Land)

Check this Microsoft post for more details

"Skype was first released in 2003 as a messaging and free calling tool — ahead of its time. Since then it has evolved, been acquired by Microsoft and been completely overshadowed by the rise of other messaging apps and social networks.

Today, Microsoft announced a reimagined Skype — one that looks a lot more like Snapchat.

Beyond simply implementing a version of Snapchat Stories, however, the new Skype sees itself as a search and transactional tool that will enable people to find information and things to do. Like Facebook Messenger, it also sees the integration of bots as a way to interact with brands and companies via the app"
Microsoft clones Snapchat’s Stories for its reimagined Skype experience

OneLogin suffers breach—customer data said to be exposed, decrypted | Ars Technica

Oops...

"One customer affected by the OneLogin attack told Ars that he was having to "rebuild the whole authentication security system... OUCH!"

OneLogin told fretful customers in an internal notification that they would need to work through a number of steps to secure their accounts, including generation of new API credentials and OAuth tokens. Any users served by the firm's US data centre have been hit by the breach, OneLogin said.

"While we encrypt certain sensitive data at rest, at this time we cannot rule out the possibility that the threat actor also obtained the ability to decrypt data," OneLogin said. "We are thus erring on the side of caution and recommending actions our customers should take, which we have already communicated to our customers.""
OneLogin suffers breach—customer data said to be exposed, decrypted | Ars Technica

Google plans to clean up the web with Chrome ad blocker next year - The Verge

See this Google blog post for details

"Google will introduce an ad blocker to Chrome early next year and is telling publishers to get ready.

The warning is meant to let websites assess their ads and strip any particularly disruptive ones from their pages. That’s because Chrome’s ad blocker won’t block all ads from the web. Instead, it’ll only block ads on pages that are determined to have too many annoying or intrusive advertisements, like videos that autoplay with sound or interstitials that take up the entire screen.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, the executive in charge of Google’s ads, writes in a blog post that even ads “owned or served by Google” will be blocked on pages that don’t meet Chrome’s guidelines."
Google plans to clean up the web with Chrome ad blocker next year - The Verge

Apple, Facebook and Google are among the many tech giants angry with Trump’s decision to leave the Paris agreement - Recode

I have yet to see a single credible and fact-based comment in support of Trump's latest travesty

"With Trump’s decision now final, though, many tech leaders found themselves in open war with the White House. The first rebuke came from Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, who said he would cease advising Trump on two business councils he had joined in order to aid the administration on economic issues.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg similarly blasted Trump’s move, writing in a note to users that it would be “bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and it puts our children's future at risk.” Amazon tweeted its support for the Paris agreement, as did Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — and Uber took to Medium to call the president’s decision a “disappointment.”

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook communicated his frustrations in an email to his employees, which said the president’s decision “will have no impact on Apple’s efforts to protect the environment.”"
Apple, Facebook and Google are among the many tech giants angry with Trump’s decision to leave the Paris agreement - Recode

Facebook shareholders are not happy with how it’s handling fake news - The Washington Post

Check the full article for some Mark Zuckerberg comments on the "fake news" challenge

"Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced sharp criticism Thursday during the company’s annual shareholders meeting about how the company operates, deals with violence and handles fake news.

Shareholders submitted five proposals critical of the company’s top-heavy structure, as well as the way Facebook curates its content. All five were heard and rejected by majority vote; Zuckerberg controls more than 50 percent of Facebook’s shareholder votes.

Arjuna Capital and Baldwin Brothers, two smaller investors, called on Facebook to publish a report examining the public policy implications of its guidelines around “fake news.”"
Facebook shareholders are not happy with how it’s handling fake news - The Washington Post

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Google beefs up Gmail security to fight phishing attempts (Engadget)

See this Google post for more details

"First, Google has implemented a machine learning model to keep spam out of your inbox and to better detect phishing messages. The company estimates that between 50 and 70 percent of Gmail messages are spam and the new system blocks them with 99.9 percent accuracy. The machine learning system works with Google Safe Browsing to selectively delay emails (less than 0.05 percent of them) for added phishing analyses. It then generates URL click-time warnings for suspicious links.

Additionally, G Suite users trying to reply to someone outside of their company will get a warning asking if they really want to send the message. But users' existing and regular contacts will be picked up by Gmail so you're not bugged with excessive warnings.

Finally, Google also announced improved detection of malicious attachments in order to keep out sneaky ransomware and malware pushes, saying, maybe a little dramatically, "While the bad guys never rest, neither do we.""
Google beefs up Gmail security to fight phishing attempts

Gaming’s cultural influence gets Mary Meeker’s attention in her new Internet report - The Washington Post

Check this page for the full 355-slide annual report; also see Mary Meeker’s 2017 internet trends report: All the slides, plus analysis (Recode)
"Meeker considers gaming the most engaging form of social media and suggests that early interactive gaming paved the way for much of the contemporary Web. She points to how notable features of gaming, including interactive storytelling, messaging and novel camera angles, have been adopted by other forms of popular media and technology. Mobile messaging apps, car companies, streaming services and sports media have all taken a page from the world of video games. Perhaps, she said, gaming has helped prime society for the development of human-computer interaction.

She tallies the global revenue for interactive gaming at $100 billion globally, with a 9 percent increase from 2015. When gaming is compared with other digital media, it beats out other popular platforms in terms of the amount of time users spend with it. People spend 51 minutes on average playing console games every day, edging out Facebook (50 minutes), Snapchat (30 minutes) and Instagram (21 minutes), according to her report."
Gaming’s cultural influence gets Mary Meeker’s attention in her new Internet report - The Washington Post

Apple Is Manufacturing a Siri Speaker to Outdo Google and Amazon - Bloomberg

Hear all about it -- maybe -- at next week's WWDC keynote

"Apple hopes that more advanced acoustics technology will give the speaker an edge over competitors, according to people with knowledge of the product’s development. Along with generating virtual surround sound, the speakers being tested are louder and reproduce sound more crisply than rival offerings, the people said. Apple has also considered including sensors that measure a room’s acoustics and automatically adjust audio levels during use, one of the people said.

Apple will also likely let third-party services build products for the speaker. Last year, Apple opened up Siri on the iPhone to the likes of Uber Technologies Inc. and Facebook Inc., allowing a user to order a ride or send a WhatsApp message with a voice command.

The device will be a hub for Apple’s HomeKit home automation system, letting users control devices such as lights, door locks and window blinds. At present, an Apple TV or iPad is required to control that equipment from outside the home or automatically. The Echo and Google Home both support third-party services and smart home appliances."
Apple Is Manufacturing a Siri Speaker to Outdo Google and Amazon - Bloomberg

Alphabet Driverless Ambitions Looked Stalled. Then It Sued Uber - Bloomberg

Driving innovation

"But behind the scenes, Waymo was shoring up its engineering bench and improving the technology. Since being spun out of Alphabet’s X lab in December, the division has hired aggressively, including several engineers from Terra Bella, the satellite division Google sold earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the situation. Waymo also designed new hardware that helps vehicles see their surroundings better. Another auto manufacturing deal with Honda Motor Co. is in the works, and earlier this month, Waymo announced a U.S. partnership with Uber nemesis Lyft Inc.

Uber’s fortunes, meanwhile, have cratered. Executives have been leaving amid a broader culture crisis, ignited by claims of pervasive sexual harassment across the company. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to issue an internal report on this issue to the company this week. Among those who have left: Sherif Marakby, a high-profile hire from Detroit responsible for deals with carmakers at Uber’s self-driving unit. Earlier this month, he returned to Ford. Several other engineers from Uber’s self-driving program have also recently left, defecting for autonomous companies started by former Uber and Waymo roboticists, according to their LinkedIn profiles."
Alphabet Driverless Ambitions Looked Stalled. Then It Sued Uber - Bloomberg

Uber Limits Loss to $708 Million in First Quarter - The New York Times

"Limits loss" compared to losing $991M last quarter; it's all relative...

"“These results demonstrate that our business remains healthy and resilient as we focus on improving our culture, management and relationship with drivers,” an Uber spokesman said in a statement. “The narrowing of our losses in the first quarter puts us on a good trajectory towards profitability.”

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In the latest in a string of executive departures, Uber also said Wednesday that its finance leader, Gautam Gupta, was leaving to join a start-up. Uber said it was looking for someone with experience running financial operations for a public company."
Uber Limits Loss to $708 Million in First Quarter - The New York Times