Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Amazon Go and the Future – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Final paragraphs of a timely Amazon strategy reality check

"I don’t seek to minimize real struggles, much less the real displacement that will come from technologies like Amazon Go writ large. For decades technology helped the industrial world work better; more and more, technology is replacing that world completely, and there will be pain. That, though, is precisely why it is worth remembering that the world is not static: to replace humans is, in the long run, to free humans to create entirely new needs and means to satisfy those needs. It’s what we do, and the faith to believe it will happen again will be the best guide in figuring out how.

As for Amazon, the company’s goal to effectively tax all economic activity continues apace. Surely the company is grateful about the attention Facebook is receiving from the public, even as it builds a monopoly with a triple moat. The lines outside Amazon Go, though, are a reminder of exactly why aggregator monopolies are something entirely new: these companies are dominant because people love them. Regulation may be as elusive as Marx’s revolution."
Amazon Go and the Future – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

IBM hasn't been this unimportant to the market in at least 40 years (CNBC)

Maybe it's time for IBMCoin...

"After providing a disappointing earnings outlook last week, "Big Blue" now makes up about 0.6 percent of the S&P 500 and has sunk to 35th in the index, according to FactSet. Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said it's the lowest IBM has been in his four decades following the market at S&P.

While investors have been pouring money into tech mega-cap companies like Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft, even showing some enthusiasm of late for Cisco, Intel and Oracle, they've given IBM a giant shrug.

Of the 10 most valuable U.S. tech companies, only IBM is down over the past year. Intel, the next worst performer among the group, has gained 24 percent, and the S&P 500's technology index has jumped 42 percent."
IBM hasn't been this unimportant to the market in at least 40 years

Bitcoin May Split 50 Times in 2018 as Forking Craze Accelerates - Bloomberg

What could possibly go wrong?... Tangentially, see Bitcoin broker Coinbase booked $1 billion in revenue last year — so the company has told hovering VCs to back off (Recode) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Bitcoin: It may fail but we now know how to do it (Medium)
"“Unfortunately, most fork-based projects we see today are more of a sheer money grab,” said George Kimionis, chief executive officer of Coinomi, a wallet that lets Bitcoin owners collect their new forked coins. “Looking back a few years from now we might realize that they were just mutations fostered by investors blinded by numerical price increases -- rather than honest attempts to contribute to the blockchain ecosystem.”

He predicts forking may soon sideline a more popular alternative, initial coin offerings, in which startups raise money by selling entirely new tokens. That market has gotten crowded after raising about $3.7 billion last year, and smaller offerings have struggled."
Bitcoin May Split 50 Times in 2018 as Forking Craze Accelerates - Bloomberg

Tesla’s Pay Deal to Keep Elon Musk: All or Nothing - The New York Times

Incent different -- check the full article for details; in other Elon Musk company news, see SpaceX gets good news from the Air Force on the Zuma mission (Ars Technica) and Musk's Boring Company Presents L.A. Tunnel Plan (Bloomberg)
"Mr. Musk has often said he is not driven by money. So what is it about this incentive plan that appeals to him?

“None of it is intended for dynastic wealth creation,” he said. “The reason that it’s important to me personally is that there’s some pretty big things that I want to do.”

“I want to contribute as much as possible to humanity becoming a multi-planet species,” he said, alluding to a goal he has talked about often, including having people live on Mars. “That obviously requires a certain amount of capital.”"
Tesla’s Pay Deal to Keep Elon Musk: All or Nothing - The New York Times

Once Cozy With Silicon Valley, Democrats Grow Wary of Tech Giants - The New York Times

Later in the article: "Fundamentally, the problem is that “disinformation campaigns and legitimate advertising campaigns are effectively indistinguishable on leading internet platforms, ” Mr. Ghosh and Mr. Scott wrote."

"A few months later, Mr. Ghosh quit his job at Facebook, where he worked on privacy and public policy issues. On Tuesday, a Washington think tank, New America, and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society published a report he co-wrote, asserting that technology behind digital advertising — the financial lifeblood of Facebook, Google and Twitter — has made disinformation campaigns more effective.

“The problems were much broader than we imagined, and it was not just about one tool or platform,” said Mr. Ghosh, who with his co-author, Ben Scott, worked on devising Mrs. Clinton’s tech policy platform. “It’s the profit model underlying the whole digital advertising system.”"
Once Cozy With Silicon Valley, Democrats Grow Wary of Tech Giants - The New York Times

SpaceX’s Big Rocket, the Falcon Heavy, Finally Reaches the Launchpad - The New York Times

Also see Falcon Heavy Expands the SpaceX Fleet (NYT)

"“We were pretty na├»ve about that,” Mr. Musk said in July at a conference in Washington, D.C. “At first, it sounds really easy. Just stick two first stages on as strap-on boosters. How hard can that be? But then everything changes. All the loads change. Aerodynamics totally change. You’ve tripled the vibration and acoustics.”

The central core was redesigned and reinforced to handle the stresses, one of the key reasons that the Heavy is more than three years behind schedule. While the two side boosters are reused from earlier Falcon 9 launches, the core is all new, as is the second stage."
SpaceX’s Big Rocket, the Falcon Heavy, Finally Reaches the Launchpad - The New York Times

Monday, January 22, 2018

Google Executives Pledge to Scour More Content Ahead of Midterm Elections - Bloomberg

Also from the source MSNBC/Recode interview (which will air on MSNBC Friday 1/26 at 10:00 PM ET): Google CEO Sundar Pichai compares impact of AI to electricity and fire (The Verge)

"Google’s search engine and its news-aggregation service have been criticized for showing misleading answers and distributing false stories online. Meanwhile, YouTube is facing one of the worst crises in its roughly 18-year existence after advertisers found their marketing messages running alongside extremist and offensive videos. YouTube has also been swept up in investigations into whether Russia used social media to influence the 2016 presidential election.

"All of us are obviously very upset that somebody could have influenced the election," Pichai said. However, he warned that it’s difficult for such a large company to decide what is true or false. "Drawing the line is becoming increasingly hard," he said. "We’re a global company. We operate in many countries. People disagree.""
Google Executives Pledge to Scour More Content Ahead of Midterm Elections - Bloomberg

Facebook Says Social Media Is Not Always Healthy for Democracy - Bloomberg

See Hard Questions: Social Media and Democracy (Facebook Newsroom) for more details; also see Cass Sunstein's essay, Guest Post: Is Social Media Good or Bad for Democracy? (Facebook Newsroom), which begins "On balance, the question of whether social media platforms are good for democracy is easy. On balance, they are not merely good; they are terrific. For people to govern themselves, they need to have information. They also need to be able to convey it to others. Social media platforms make that tons easier."

"“From the Arab Spring to robust elections around the globe, social media seemed like a positive,” Katie Harbath, who runs the Facebook team that builds relationships with governments around the world, wrote in a blog post. “The last U.S. presidential campaign changed that, with foreign interference that Facebook should have been quicker to identify, to the rise of ‘fake news’ and echo chambers.”

Following the November 2016 election, Menlo Park, California-based Facebook has frequently promised to work harder and devote more resources to fixing such issues. But it also usually emphasized that bad actors made up a small percentage of activity and that, overall, the company was doing something good for society. Facebook’s post today is the most self-critical assessment of the company’s impact to date, complete with an admission that its efforts may not be successful."
Facebook Says Social Media Is Not Always Healthy for Democracy - Bloomberg

Tim Cook: I keep my tween nephew away from social networks - CNET

Tbd how many U.S. middle school systems effectively require a Facebook account at this point, e.g., to coordinate student group projects; tangentially, see Consensus view now appears to be to guide children’s screen-time, not limit it (9to5Mac)
"Cook's nephew will soon be a teenager. The minimum official age to have a Facebook account is 13, yet some have said for years that this is regularly flouted. Some estimates have put Facebook participation among under-13s at 7.5 million.

A recent UK study showed that 51 percent of 12-year-olds and 28 percent of 10-year-olds have a social media profile.

In December, perhaps to address this reality, Facebook launched a Messenger Kids app specifically for the under-13s."
Tim Cook: I keep my tween nephew away from social networks - CNET

There Is Nothing Virtual About Bitcoin’s Energy Appetite - The New York Times

From a *coin entropy reality check; tangentially, see Here’s why you can’t buy a high-end graphics card at Best Buy (Ars Technica)
"In the virtual currency world this creation process is called “mining.” There is no physical digging, since Bitcoins are purely digital. But the computer power needed to create each digital token consumes at least as much electricity as the average American household burns through in two years, according to figures from Morgan Stanley and Alex de Vries, an economist who tracks energy use in the industry.

The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries — which country depends on whose estimates you believe. And the network supporting Ethereum, the second-most valuable virtual currency, gobbles up another country’s worth of electricity each day."
There Is Nothing Virtual About Bitcoin’s Energy Appetite - The New York Times

Friday, January 19, 2018

Facebook is going to start ranking news sources — once its users tell it how to rank news sources - Recode

See News Feed FYI: Helping Ensure News on Facebook Is From Trusted Sources (Facebook newsroom; pretty sure it's a "trusted source...") for more details

"But what’s most telling about today’s announcement is that Facebook remains insistent on arguing that it’s not really in a position to make judgements about the stuff it shows its two billion users — someone else needs to do it.

“The hard question we’ve struggled with is how to decide what news sources are broadly trusted in a world with so much division,” Zuckerberg writes in a blog post today.

But to be clear, it’s not because the people who work at Facebook, who build their own internet-beaming drones, aren’t smart enough to figure out the difference between the New York Times and the Denver Guardian, which doesn’t actually exist. It’s that they don’t want to do it, Zuckerberg says. ”We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that’s not something we’re comfortable with.”"
Facebook is going to start ranking news sources — once its users tell it how to rank news sources - Recode

The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought - Bloomberg

From an extensive profile by Eric Newcomer and Brad Stone; on a related note, see Travis Kalanick is walking away with $1.4 billion as Uber's deal with SoftBank closes Thursday (CNBC)

"A year ago, before the investor lawsuits and the federal investigations, before the mass resignations, and before the connotation of the word “Uber” shifted from “world’s most valuable startup” to “world’s most dysfunctional,” Uber’s executives sat around a hotel conference room table in San Francisco, trying to convince their chief executive officer, Travis Kalanick, that the company had a major problem: him."
The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought - Bloomberg

SEC cools traders’ hot plans for cryptocurrency-based exchange traded funds | TechCrunch

On a related note, see Bitcoin could be here for 100 years but it's more likely to 'totally collapse,' Nobel laureate says (CNBC)

"In a strongly worded letter to the heads of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and the Investment Company Institute, the director of the division of investment management, Dalia Blass said that there were “significant outstanding questions” around how funds that held large amounts of cryptocurrencies (and related products) would satisfy the necessary regulatory requirements.

In the letter Blass identified a number of areas of concern for the regulatory agency including the valuation of underlying cryptocurrency assets held by mutual funds or exchange traded funds; the actual liquidity of the assets that these funds would hold; the institutions that would provide custodial oversight for the assets; and the exposure of the assets to both market manipulation and trading arbitrage."
SEC cools traders’ hot plans for cryptocurrency-based exchange traded funds | TechCrunch

Google announces patent agreement with Tencent amid China push (Reuters)

Coincidentally, see Tencent Widens Its Lead Over Facebook (Bloomberg)

"Google has previously said that agreements such as these reduce the potential of litigation over patent infringement.

The agreement with the Chinese social media and gaming firm Tencent covers a broad range of products and paves the way for collaboration on technology in the future, Google said on Friday, without disclosing any financial terms of the deal.

Tencent oversees China’s top social media and payments app, WeChat, which has close to a billion users. It also oversees one of the country’s most popular app stores and hosts the country’s biggest gaming and livestream platforms."
Google announces patent agreement with Tencent amid China push

IBM Ends 22-Quarter Streak of Falling Revenue - The New York Times

See IBM Reports 2017 Fourth-Quarter and Full-Year Results (IBM newsroom) for cloudy accounting details such as "Cloud revenue over the last 12 months was $17.0 billion, including $9.3 billion delivered as-a-service and $7.8 billion for hardware, software and services to enable IBM clients to implement comprehensive cloud solutions" and creative "cognitive" categorization, e.g., "Cognitive Solutions (includes solutions software and transaction processing software)"
"In a statement, Ms. Rometty noted the strong growth in the new businesses, which IBM collectively calls “strategic imperatives” and now represent 46 percent of the company’s revenue. “We are pleased with our overall revenue growth in the quarter,” she said. Company executives said they expected revenue growth to continue throughout 2018. 
In after-hours trading, IBM shares fell 3.5 percent. The company’s shares had risen nearly 10 percent this year, and some investors were apparently expecting stronger results."
IBM Ends 22-Quarter Streak of Falling Revenue - The New York Times

How to tame the tech titans - Competition in the digital age (The Economist)

From a timely platform market dynamics reality check

"But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market itself, providing the infrastructure (or “platforms”) for much of the digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users “pay” for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade.

There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers (see article). The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation."
How to tame the tech titans - Competition in the digital age

Microsoft aligns its different Office code bases as of the latest Mac Office release | ZDNet

I'll believe this is significant when I see intra-page unread activity indicators in macOS OneNote

"Office for iPad, when it initially shipped in 2014, made use of the converged codebase as of the second release in 2017, as did Office for Android, Office for Win32 and, as of January 18, Mac Office.

While Microsoft isn't promising 100 percent feature parity across its various Office flavors, officials say the shared cross-platform code means Microsoft should be able to light up new Office features more quickly and closer to simultaneously. And customers who use Office on different platforms should see more fidelity across the versions as a result of this work."
Microsoft aligns its different Office code bases as of the latest Mac Office release | ZDNet

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Amazon Has a Plan toBecome Profitable. It’s Called Advertising - Bloomberg

Final paragraph: "Ultimately Amazon could upend the entire advertising industry, although some analysts believe Google will withstand the threat, as it did when Facebook pushed into the market. The ad money going to Amazon isn’t necessarily being redirected from Google. Instead it is dollars once allotted for television or offline retail promotions, according to Resolution Performance Media’s Manas, who says: “I’m seeing it come from all sorts of nooks and crannies.”" Also see Amazon’s ad business is growing faster than Google’s and Facebook’s, although the duopoly still dominates (Digiday)
"Having bet on Amazon cloud services and pushed the shares past $1,300, investors are now salivating about the ad business, which doesn’t require big investments in new data centers or shipping hubs and generates fat margins. On Monday, BMO Capital Markets upped its Amazon price target to $1,600 a share, based largely on the growth of the ad business. Some analysts are predicting Amazon will reach $2,000, making it the first company with a $1 trillion market value.

“Advertising is the most profitable business in the world,” says Jay Kahn, a partner at Light Street Capital, who notes that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. gets more than half its revenue from ads. “For Amazon, advertising is going to be more profitable than its cloud business.” Amazon declined to comment."
Amazon Has a Plan toBecome Profitable. It’s Called Advertising - Bloomberg

Google’s Self-Training AI Turns Coders into Machine-Learning Masters - MIT Technology Review

See the Cloud AutoML page and Cloud AutoML: Making AI accessible to every business (Google Cloud blog) for more details
"The technology is limited for now, but it could be the start of something big. Building and optimizing a deep neural network algorithm normally requires a detailed understanding of the underlying math and code, as well as extensive practice tweaking the parameters of algorithms to get things just right. The difficulty of developing AI systems has created a race to recruit talent, and it means that only big companies with deep pockets can usually afford to build their own bespoke AI algorithms. 
“We need to scale AI out to more people,” Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud, said ahead of the launch today. Li estimates there are at most a few thousand people worldwide with the expertise needed to build the very best deep-learning models. “But there are an estimated 21 million developers worldwide today,” she says. “We want to reach out to them all, and make AI accessible to these developers.”"
Google’s Self-Training AI Turns Coders into Machine-Learning Masters - MIT Technology Review

IBM May Finally Stop Shrinking. But Is It a Turnaround? - The New York Times

From an IBM reality check by Steve Lohr

"For five and a half years, nearly the entire tenure of its chief executive, Virginia M. Rometty, IBM has reported a steady erosion of revenue.

Selling off its chip manufacturing and smaller data-center computer businesses contributed to the decline. So, too, did the fact that new businesses like cloud computing, data analytics and artificial intelligence had not yet grown big enough to make up for the downturn in IBM’s traditional hardware and software products.

But IBM’s half-decade losing streak will most likely end on Thursday, analysts predict, when the company reports its quarterly performance."
IBM May Finally Stop Shrinking. But Is It a Turnaround? - The New York Times

The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its role in society - The Official Microsoft Blog

Visit this page to read more about the research and download the full (pdf) book

"All of this leads us to what may be one of the most important conclusions of all. Skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions. If AI is to reach its potential in serving humans, then every engineer will need to learn more about the liberal arts and every liberal arts major will need to learn more about engineering.

While we don’t have a crystal ball that shows us the future, we do know that we’re all going to need to spend more time listening to and learning from each other. We hope that The Future Computed can contribute to this conversation."
The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its role in society - The Official Microsoft Blog

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ripple co-founder loses $44 billion on paper during cryptocurrency crash (CNBC)

Somehow the "Larsen now holds the equivalent of just $15.8 billion" part makes it difficult to feel sympathy...
"The digital currency plunge has wiped billions from the paper fortune of a cryptocurrency billionaire in just a few weeks.

Ripple's XRP coin has fallen 74 percent from an all-time high of $3.84 hit on Jan. 4, erasing $44 billion from the holdings of Chris Larsen, co-founder and executive chairman of Ripple.

With XRP trading near $1 Wednesday, Larsen now holds the equivalent of just $15.8 billion, according to CNBC calculations using figures from Forbes. Citing sources at Ripple, Forbes said earlier this month that Larsen has 5.19 billion of XRP and a 17 percent stake in the start-up. Ripple holds 61.3 billion of the 100 billion XRP coins in existence."
 
Ripple co-founder loses $44 billion on paper during cryptocurrency crash

Apple accelerates US investment and job creation - Apple

Also see Apple, Returning Overseas Cash, to Pay $38 Billion Tax Bill (Bloomberg)

"Apple today announced a new set of investments to build on its commitment to support the American economy and its workforce, concentrated in three areas where Apple has had the greatest impact on job creation: direct employment by Apple, spending and investment with Apple’s domestic suppliers and manufacturers, and fueling the fast-growing app economy which Apple created with iPhone and the App Store. Apple is already responsible for creating and supporting over 2 million jobs across the United States and expects to generate even more jobs as a result of the initiatives being announced today.
Combining new investments and Apple’s current pace of spending with domestic suppliers and manufacturers — an estimated $55 billion for 2018 — Apple’s direct contribution to the US economy will be more than $350 billion over the next five years, not including Apple’s ongoing tax payments, the tax revenues generated from employees’ wages and the sale of Apple products."
Apple accelerates US investment and job creation - Apple

Expanding our global infrastructure with new regions and subsea cables (Google blog)

Check the full post for more details

"At Google, we've spent $30 billion improving our infrastructure over three years, and we’re not done yet. From data centers to subsea cables, Google is committed to connecting the world and serving our Cloud customers, and today we’re excited to announce that we’re adding three new submarine cables, and five new regions.

We’ll open our Netherlands and Montreal regions in the first quarter of 2018, followed by Los Angeles, Finland, and Hong Kong – with more to come. Then, in 2019 we’ll commission three subsea cables: Curie, a private cable connecting Chile to Los Angeles; Havfrue, a consortium cable connecting the U.S. to Denmark and Ireland; and the Hong Kong-Guam Cable system (HK-G), a consortium cable interconnecting major subsea communication hubs in Asia.  

Together, these investments further improve our network—the world’s largest—which by some accounts delivers 25% of worldwide internet traffic. Companies like PayPal leverage our network and infrastructure to run their businesses effectively."
Expanding our global infrastructure with new regions and subsea cables

Slack Hopes Its AI Will Keep You from Hating Slack - MIT Technology Review

From an extensive Slack + AI update

"But while it can be an efficient way to collaborate, keeping up with Slack can become a full-time task, particularly when you return from a few days away and find thousands of status updates, scattered across dozens of channels. Slack estimates that the average user sends 70 messages per day. How can you know which are must-reads and which can be skipped?

Slack’s solution: artificial intelligence. In early 2016, the startup hired Stanford-trained computer scientist Noah Weiss to make the platform smarter and more useful. Over the past year and a half, Weiss’s group has used machine learning to enable faster, more accurate information searches within Slack and identify which unread messages are likely to matter most to each user. Eventually, Weiss aims to make Slack function like your ruthlessly organized, multitasking assistant who knows everything that’s going on and keeps you briefed on only the most salient events."
Slack Hopes Its AI Will Keep You from Hating Slack - MIT Technology Review

Bitcoin Steadies After Slump Shakes Global Cryptocurrency Market - Bloomberg

For other *coin dynamics, also see Crypto Junkies’ Favorite Messaging App Is Planning the Biggest ICO Ever (Bloomberg), Did Bitcoin Just Burst? How It Compares to History's Big Bubbles (Bloomberg), and Steven Johnson's broad Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble (NYT)
"It’s been a week of reckoning for the cryptomarket, with some $300 billion knocked off its market value in three days. Reports have mounted in various countries of regulators trying to curb an explosion of speculation in digital coins and potential fraud. Meanwhile Bitcoin’s market share is dropping as research increases into rival names -- from Bitcoin Cash and Stellar to sub-$1 billion coins like Ox, Qash, even Golem.

“Cryptocurrency holders are trying to decide whether to abandon Bitcoin,” said Steven Englander, head of research and strategy with Rafiki Capital. “The dilemma is that once you stop pricing Bitcoin and its derivatives as new assets that will head to the moon, the pricing model is more conventional and much less breathtaking,” he said in a note to clients."
Bitcoin Steadies After Slump Shakes Global Cryptocurrency Market - Bloomberg

Bitcoin price falls below $10,000 as dramatic sell-off enters second day (The Telegraph)

For an optimistic perspective, see Bitcoin Price Fall: Investors Hold, Saying Cryptocurrency Crash Is a 'Yearly Pattern' (Newsweek)

"Although the price recovered slightly on Wednesday morning it has still collapsed dramatically since mid December, when it was trading at almost $20,000.

Fears of governments cracking down on digital currencies, combined with a wave of panic selling, have led many of them to drop heavily in the last few days. Bitcoin has fallen 25pc in three days  while others including Ethereum and Ripple have also suffered heavily.

Authorities in China, South Korea and Germany have all indicated they are preparing crackdowns on digital currencies in the coming days. While Bitcoin's price has surged in the last year, many investors and financial regulators have continued to warn about its risk."
Bitcoin price falls below $10,000 as dramatic sell-off enters second day

It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone - The New York Times

Focus different

"Yet even though Apple is not part of the ad business, it exerts lots of control over it. Every tech company needs a presence on the iPhone or iPad; this means that Apple can set the rules for everyone. With a single update to its operating system and its app store, Apple could curb some of the worst excesses in how apps monitor and notify you to keep you hooked (as it has done, for instance, by allowing ad blockers in its mobile devices). And because other smartphone makers tend to copy Apple’s best inventions, whatever it did to curb our dependence on our phones would be widely emulated."
It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone - The New York Times

China’s Total Information Awareness: Second-Order Challenges - Lawfare

TIA, China edition

"One challenge relates to U.S. intelligence collection. If the Chinese government can recognize every person on the street and easily track a person’s comings and goings, this will make it even harder for foreign intelligence agencies to operate inside the country. Not only will U.S. and other Western intelligence agents be even easier to follow (electronically), but the Chinese government will also be able to identify Chinese nationals who might be working with Western intelligence services—perhaps using machine learning and pattern detection to extract patterns of life. China’s facial recognition efforts thus facilitate its counterintelligence capacities.

A second challenge is posed by the fact that this technology surely will spread to other (probably authoritarian) countries. China seems committed to becoming a (maybe the) leader in artificial intelligence, and is promoting startups that focus in this area. No doubt China will seek to export AI technology to other states that seek a high level of government and social control over their populations. Sooner or later, the United States therefore will need to decide what it thinks about the use of pervasive video surveillance and, more specifically, whether this kind of surveillance violates basic human rights norms."
China’s Total Information Awareness: Second-Order Challenges - Lawfare

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Maybe Facebook Should Abandon the News Feed Altogether (NewCo Shift)

Final paragraphs from a John Battelle Facebook reality check

"So imagine with me what might happen if Facebook were to become a truly neutral platform — an AWS for attention and identity, if you will. What if the company dedicated itself to a set of stable policies that encouraged other companies to tap into its social graph, its vast identity database, its remarkable engagement machinery?* Instead of squeezing everyone through the monolithic orifice of News Feed, what if Facebook changed the narrative completely, and reshaped itself as a service anyone could tap to create new kinds of value? Facebook could set the rules, take its cut, and watch tens of thousands (millions?!) of applications bloom. More than a few of them, I’d wager, would be extraordinary new interpretations of the News Feed —and because they’d compete in the marketplace of ideas, with individual citizens deciding which of them they’ve decided to consume, Facebook would be off the hook as the sole provider of society’s informational nutrition.

Of course this idea is crazy, complex, fraught, and seemingly impossible. But it sure beats the alternative — where one company, and one company alone, is responsible for determining what information the majority of society consumes. No one — Facebook included — seems to want that anymore."
Maybe Facebook Should Abandon the News Feed Altogether.

The Senate’s push to overrule the FCC on net neutrality now has 50 votes, Democrats say - The Washington Post

Check the Facebook Town Hall page to contact your representatives and share your net neutrality perspective

"To pass the Senate, backers of the resolution must recruit one more Republican member to their ranks. The measure must survive the Republican-majority House and be signed by President Trump to take effect.

After an independent agency makes a decision — such as the FCC's net neutrality deregulation — federal lawmakers have a window of 60 legislative days to reverse the move under the Congressional Review Act. As of last Tuesday, 40 senators had signed on to the resolution to challenge the FCC under the act. Since then, 10 more have joined the effort.

Democrats have said they plan to make net neutrality a midterm campaign issue, forcing vulnerable GOP candidates to stand with their party and adopt a position that, according to some surveys, is at odds with that of the broader public."
The Senate’s push to overrule the FCC on net neutrality now has 50 votes, Democrats say - The Washington Post

BofA Tops IBM and Payments Firms With Most Blockchain Patents - Bloomberg

In other *coin news, see Bitcoin Tumbles 20% as Fears of Cryptocurrency Crackdown Linger (Bloomberg)
"Bank of America Corp. may not be willing to help customers invest in bitcoin, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t plowing into the technology underlying the cryptocurrency.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender has applied for or received at least 43 patents for blockchain, the ledger technology used for verifying and recording transactions that’s at the heart of virtual currencies. It is the largest number among major banks and technology companies, according to a study by EnvisionIP, a New York-based law firm that specializes in analyses of intellectual property."
BofA Tops IBM and Payments Firms With Most Blockchain Patents - Bloomberg

Big Brother on wheels: Why your car company may know more about you than your spouse. - The Washington Post

Data driven

"Dunn may consider his everyday driving habits mundane, but auto and privacy experts suspect that big automakers like Honda see them as anything but. By monitoring his everyday movements, an automaker can vacuum up a massive amount of personal information about someone like Dunn, everything from how fast he drives and how hard he brakes to how much fuel his car uses and the entertainment he prefers. The company can determine where he shops, the weather on his street, how often he wears his seat belt, what he was doing moments before a wreck — even where he likes to eat and how much he weighs.

Though drivers may not realize it, tens of millions of American cars are being monitored like Dunn’s, experts say, and the number increases with nearly every new vehicle that is leased or sold."
Big Brother on wheels: Why your car company may know more about you than your spouse. - The Washington Post

Alexa, We’re Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do With You - The New York Times

From a virtual assistant reality check; also see the Voice section of Steven Sinofsky's CES 2018: Real Advances, Real Progress, Real Questions
"The challenge isn’t finding these digitized helpers, it is finding people who use them to do much more than they could with the old clock/radio in the bedroom.

A management consulting firm recently looked at heavy users of virtual assistants, defined as people who use one more than three times a day. The firm, called Activate, found that the majority of these users turned to virtual assistants to play music, get the weather, set a timer or ask questions.

Activate also found that the majority of Alexa users had never used more than the basic apps that come with the device, although Amazon said its data suggested that four out of five registered Alexa customers have used at least one of the more than 30,000 “skills” — third-party apps that tap into Alexa’s voice controls to accomplish tasks — it makes available."
Alexa, We’re Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do With You - The New York Times

Monday, January 15, 2018

39 million Americans reportedly own a voice-activated smart speaker - The Verge

On a related note, see Where’s Cortana? Microsoft is playing the long game as Amazon and Google dominate CES (GeekWire)

"One in six US adults (or around 39 million people) now own a voice-activated smart speaker, according to research from NPR and Edison Research. The Smart Audio Report claims that uptake of these devices over the last three years is “outpacing the adoption rates of smartphones and tablets.” Users spent time using speakers to find restaurants and businesses, playing games, setting timers and alarms, controlling smart home devices, sending messages, ordering food, and listening to music and books. Over half of respondents keep their smart speaker in the living room, followed by the kitchen (21 percent), and master bedroom (19 percent).

The survey of just under 2,000 individuals found that the time people spend using their smart speaker replaces time spent with other devices including the radio, smart phone, TV, tablet, computer, and publications like magazines. Over half of respondents also said they use smart speakers even more after the first month of owning one. Around 66 percent of users said they use their speaker to entertain friends and family, mostly to play music but also to ask general questions and check the weather."
39 million Americans reportedly own a voice-activated smart speaker - The Verge

Alibaba's AI Outguns Humans in Reading Test - Bloomberg

Also see Alibaba and Microsoft systems beat humans in Stanford reading test (Financial Times)

"Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. put its deep neural network model through its paces last week, asking the AI to provide exact answers to more than 100,000 questions comprising a quiz that’s considered one of the world’s most authoritative machine-reading gauges. The model developed by Alibaba’s Institute of Data Science of Technologies scored 82.44, edging past the 82.304 that rival humans achieved.

Alibaba said it’s the first time a machine has out-done a real person in such a contest. Microsoft achieved a similar feat, scoring 82.650 on the same test, but those results were finalized a day after Alibaba’s, the company said."
Alibaba's AI Outguns Humans in Reading Test - Bloomberg

The bitcoin bubble is a joke, and you’re the punchline - The Washington Post

For another *coin reality check, see Everyone Is Getting Hilariously Rich and You’re Not (NYT)

"The first group are the true believers. They're the techno-libertarians who think it's only a matter of time until bitcoin replaces the dollar because of the way its extremely limited supply means that it tends to gain, rather than lose, value over time. (Never mind that this also means that nobody ever wants to spend it.)

The second are the more realistic believers. They're the bankers and lawyers and various other middlemen who worry that bitcoin might eventually cut them out because of how it automatically creates a public record of who owns what — which is why they need to figure out how to use it first.

And the third are the cynics who want to capitalize on the current craze by pretending their businesses are really bitcoin ones, and bidding up the stocks of ones that do engage in such fancy. That, after all, is how such non-cutting edge companies as Kodak and the Long Island Iced Tea Company both managed to triple in value in a matter of days. It's just musical chairs for grown-ups: everyone knows this is nonsense, but everyone thinks they can be the second-to-last person to sell."
The bitcoin bubble is a joke, and you’re the punchline - The Washington Post

Facebook is done with quality journalism. Deal with it. (Monday Note)

From a timely Facebook + journalism reality check; also see Facebook’s startling new ambition is to shrink (The Verge)
"Facebook came up with glowing new products like Newsfeed, Instant Articles, and Facebook Live, providing silly advice for thriving on the platform (“Play on emotion, folks, users love it! — Hem, this might be difficult, we are business news providers…”). Facebook promised a deluge of eyeballs. Caught in the headlights, deer-like publishers silenced their mental warning that said to look deeper, and gave up loads of content in exchange for nearly nothing.

After investing significantly in dedicated teams to produce, promote, and strategize their presence on Facebook, publishers of editorial quality were left with hemorrhaging viewerships and a trickle of revenue. (A group of profusely funded media innovators like BuzzFeed, Vice and others —who cleverly designed their products to blend neatly into Facebook—started out doing well, but now face disappointment).

Those who imagined Las Vegas, now find themselves stuck in Detroit."
Facebook is done with quality journalism. Deal with it.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Facebook Finally Blinks - The Atlantic

Final paragraphs from a Franklin Foer Facebook reality check

"Media will feel the sting, but it’s for the best. And on some level, media knows it. The hostile coverage of Silicon Valley these past few months reflects a certain psychodrama. For years, media has resented its dependence on Facebook and Google, yet it suppressed any vitriolic sentiments. These companies carried such cultural prestige, and media felt so enslaved to them, that it broadly restrained their venting of their complaints. With the election of Trump, all of media’s pent up rage came pouring into the opinion. It was suddenly acceptable to bash these companies. Every day, the big newspaper seemed to publish a new critical expose of them.  

But instead of clobbering Facebook one more time, media should now thank it. Facebook has just done media the biggest favor of them all. It has forced media to face the fact that digital advertising and ever-growing web traffic will never sustain the industry, especially if that traffic comes from monopolies like Facebook hoping to claim the entirety of digital advertising dollars for themselves. Media can’t deny this, but it doesn’t want to sustain the pain and heartbreak that comes with transition; and it’s reluctant to relent the notion that it might exploit Facebook to achieve global scale. Now, Zuckerberg has broken that too—and freed media from a delusion that it should have discarded long ago."
Facebook Finally Blinks - The Atlantic

Congress Renews FISA Warrantless Surveillance Bill For Six More Years | WIRED

Also see House Extends Surveillance Law, Rejecting New Privacy Safeguards (NYT)

"The spying initiatives Snowden brought to light are authorized under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which was set to expire later this month. On Thursday, Congress voted down an effort to reform Section 702, and instead passed a bill that expanded warrantless surveillance of US citizens and foreigners. The newly passed bill reauthorizes Section 702 for six years, long after President Trump’s first term in office will have expired.

The amendment that the House of Representatives shot down would have added significant privacy safeguards to the law, including the requirement that intelligence agents get a warrant in many cases before searching through emails and other digital communications belonging to US citizens. The bill Congress did pass, meanwhile, codifies some of the most troubling aspects of Section 702, according to privacy advocates. The legislation still needs to pass in the Senate, where fewer representatives are interested in significantly reforming the law."
Congress Renews FISA Warrantless Surveillance Bill For Six More Years | WIRED

GM Drops the Steering Wheel and Gives the Robot Driver Control - Bloomberg

Waymo might argue GM won't be first, but it's still a major mobility milestone; see GM Will Launch Robocars Without Steering Wheels Next Year (Wired) for more details; tangentially, see This car tech makes you a better driver by reading your mind. We gave it a test drive (Washington Post)
"When GM starts testing its autonomous electric sedan in San Francisco ride-sharing fleets, it’ll likely be the first production-ready car on the roads without the tools to let a human assume control. The announcement Friday is the first sign from a major carmaker that engineers have enough confidence in self-driving cars to let them truly go it alone.

“What’s really special about this is if you look back 20 years from now, it’s the first car without a steering wheel and pedals,” said Kyle Vogt, chief executive officer of Cruise Automation, the San Francisco-based unit developing the software for GM’s self-driving cars."
GM Drops the Steering Wheel and Gives the Robot Driver Control - Bloomberg

Facebook Overhauls News Feed to Focus on What Friends and Family Share - The New York Times

Also see this Mark Zuckerberg post and Media Organizations Grapple With the New Facebook (NYT)

"The shift is the most significant overhaul in years to Facebook’s News Feed, the cascading screen of content that people see when they log into the social network. Over the next few weeks, users will begin seeing fewer viral videos and news articles shared by media companies. Instead, Facebook will highlight posts that friends have interacted with — for example, a photo of your dog or a status update that many of them have commented on or liked.

The changes are intended to maximize the amount of content with “meaningful interaction” that people consume on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview. Facebook, he said, had closely studied what kinds of posts had stressed or harmed users. The social network wants to reduce what Mr. Zuckerberg called “passive content” — videos and articles that ask little more of the viewer than to sit back and watch or read — so that users’ time on the site was well spent.

“We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “We need to refocus the system.”"
Facebook Overhauls News Feed to Focus on What Friends and Family Share - The New York Times

MSNBC and Recode Launch New Conversation Series to Air on MSNBC - Vox Media

See this Recode page for more details

"Today we’re thrilled to announce a new conversation series from MSNBC and Recode that will bring together leading thinkers across technology, business and politics through townhall-style conversations and one-on-one interviews and panel discussions. The series will air on MSNBC.

The inaugural event from the series, set to air January 19th, will focus on Google, YouTube, and will examine the potential challenges and successes of tech’s disruption of the workplace, and what it means for the future of the country. Co-hosts Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Ari Melber, will conduct in-depth interviews with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, each discussing their company’s activities and roles in job creation and preparing for the future of work, as well as the impact of the broader policy landscape."
MSNBC and Recode Launch New Conversation Series to Air on MSNBC - Vox Media

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Everything Your Google Home Can Do Is Now Listed on One Incredibly Useful Website (Lifehacker)

See the Google Assistant What it can do page for a skillful list
"If you picked up a Google Home over the holidays you may be wondering what it’s good for besides checking the weather and playing music. Google’s smart speakers may not boast as many third-party skills as Amazon’s Alexa, but there’s still a ton you can do.  
With that in mind, Google set up a new page where you can find everything its AI Assistant is capable. There are over “1 million things to try” according to Google, but to make things easy the list is broken down into categories like “Home control,” “Games & fun,” and “Productivity.” The main page also points to new and trending skills, along with a search bar in case you still can’t find what you’re looking for."
Everything Your Google Home Can Do Is Now Listed on One Incredibly Useful Website

Jeff Bezos: where the $106bn man belongs on the all-time rich list | Business | The Guardian

And then there's Putin...

"Officially, he is the richest man on the planet – the latest in a list of plutocrats stretching all the way back to Croesus, the king of Lydia in the 6th century BC who was so rich he had an expression name after him. Only once before has one man been worth twelve figures, when Bill Gates’s fortune hit its peak of $100bn at the height of the dotcom bubble in 1999. Bezos overtook Gates last year and the gap has widened almost daily.

Even so, the impact of inflation means Bezos is not the richest man who ever lived. He is not even the richest American who ever lived: that title would go to one of the titans of US industry from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller and Henry Ford all amassed fortunes that would make the Amazon founder a relative pauper once rising prices were taken into account."
Jeff Bezos: where the $106bn man belongs on the all-time rich list | Business | The Guardian

Google’s Assistant, Chasing Alexa, Is Said to Plan Revamped Consumer Push - Bloomberg

Also see CES 2018: Amazon Alexa v Google Assistant fight gets fierce (BBC)

"Google’s new Assistant strategy is said to emulate one of Apple’s key advantages: A recognizable suite of consumer products. While Amazon is eager to market its Echo devices, people who spoke to the company said at CES that its primary objective for Alexa is to drive more sales and traffic back into its Prime subscription service and e-commerce mothership.

That tactic was evident in Amazon’s logic for offering Alexa on products that compete with the Echo speakers, like speakers from Sonos. “A lot of our partners sell on Amazon," said Rabuchin, the Alexa vice president. "We’re happy if someone picks a Sonos one over one of our devices. They still sign in as an Amazon customer.”"
Google’s Assistant, Chasing Alexa, Is Said to Plan Revamped Consumer Push - Bloomberg

New York City sues Shell, ExxonMobil and other oil companies over climate change - The Washington Post

Also see To Fight Climate Change, New York City Takes On Oil Companies (NYT)

"The suit, filed Tuesday against BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, claims the companies together produced 11 percent of all of global-warming gases through the oil and gas products they have sold over the years. It also charges that the companies and the industry they are part of have known for some time about the consequences but sought to obscure them.

“In this litigation, the City seeks to shift the costs of protecting the City from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat,” reads the lawsuit, brought by New York corporation counsel Zachary Carter and filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York."
New York City sues Shell, ExxonMobil and other oil companies over climate change - The Washington Post

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What a $4,000 Treadmill Means for the Future of Gadgets - The New York Times

One of many comments on the article: "I wish someone made bikes that could be ridden outside. Wait. What?"
"In an industry dominated by smartphone apps, cloud services and cheap knockoffs, hardware companies have had a hard time getting traction. But Peloton said it did nearly $400 million in sales last year, up from about $170 million in 2016, and said it planned to reach profitability this year. It’s done all this on the strength of a singular insight: The gadget itself isn’t as important as the service. 
Peloton does not sell just a simple piece of hardware. Instead, the company spent tens of millions of dollars creating an inviting experience, complete with brand-ambassador celebrities and high-end retail locations. At the core of its business is a beguiling online service: Get on the bike, turn on the screen, and you are instantly connected with live fitness classes tailored to your preferences and athletic abilities. It’s like having a personal trainer who comes to your house whenever you like."
What a $4,000 Treadmill Means for the Future of Gadgets - The New York Times

Amazon's Alexa Voice Assistant Coming to Toyota's Cars This Year - Bloomberg

Tangentially, see Alexa is eating Siri's lunch at CES 2018, and HomePod isn't going to make a difference (Macworld)
"The world’s largest online retailer is seeking to remain in constant contact with customers by making its Alexa platform and Echo digital assistants as ubiquitous as possible. Amazon has similar arrangements with other carmakers, and in November it announced a suite of voice-activated work tools to bring Alexa to the office.

Toyota Motor Corp. joins Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Nissan Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Daimler AG, BMW AG and Ford Motor Co. in either letting Alexa into their vehicles or integrating the voice service into the connectivity systems that link customers’ cars and mobile phones. It’s a noteworthy development for the Japanese company because it’s been resistant to other big tech giants. The carmaker hasn’t offered Apple Inc.’s CarPlay or Alphabet Inc.’s Android Auto on its touchscreens."
Amazon's Alexa Voice Assistant Coming to Toyota's Cars This Year - Bloomberg

Microsoft Says Chip Fix May Significantly Slow Some Servers - Bloomberg

Actual results may vary

"Microsoft cautioned in a blog post that servers, the computers that underpin corporate networks, used for certain tasks may show "more significant impact." Not all servers will be affected, it said. Microsoft, which didn’t provide specific numbers, said it is testing a variety of systems and will update users on what it finds.

PCs running Windows 10 and sold since 2016 will face slowdowns of less than 10 percent, which Microsoft said will probably not be noticeable to users. Customers with older Windows 10 PCs will notice some slowness because those machines contain older chips. Machines running Windows 7 and Windows 8 from 2015 or earlier will be the most affected with users noticing a decrease in system performance, Microsoft said."
Microsoft Says Chip Fix May Significantly Slow Some Servers - Bloomberg

Timeline 2018: tracking bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies – Wikitribune

Check the full article for an ongoing *coin reality check

"Bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies in general can be expected to be even more significant this year after surging in prominence, value and importance over the past year.

Proponents see blockchain as the future of security. They see bitcoin and its like as a revolution in stores of value. Others see a bubble in the making. Either way, we’re determined to track the subject – several of our most popular stories last year were about cryptocurrencies. Help us build this timeline of the major or just intriguing developments in bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies."
Timeline 2018: tracking bitcoin, blockchain and cryptocurrencies – Wikitribune

CES 2018: Kodak soars on KodakCoin and Bitcoin mining plans - BBC News

See this Kodak page for more details; also see Kodak Last-Gasp Hope: KodakCoin (NYT)
"Shares in photo firm Eastman Kodak soared nearly 120% after it revealed plans to mint its own crypto-currency, the KodakCoin.

The US firm said it was teaming up with London-based Wenn Media Group to carry out the initial coin offering (ICO).

It is part of a blockchain-based initiative to help photographers control their image rights."
CES 2018: Kodak soars on KodakCoin and Bitcoin mining plans - BBC News

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Gaming addiction classified as disorder by WHO - BBC News

A discouraging milestone for the gaming industry

"Gaming addiction is to be listed as a mental health condition for the first time by the World Health Organisation.

Its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD) will include the condition "gaming disorder".

The draft document describes it as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes "precedence over other life interests".

Some countries had already identified it as a major public health issue."
Gaming addiction classified as disorder by WHO - BBC News

Jeff Bezos Is Now Worth More Than Bill Gates Ever Was - Bloomberg

Check the full post for a ~5-minute "How Jeff Bezos Became the King of E-Commerce" video

"The latest jump has pushed Bezos’s fortune definitively above the high reached by Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates in 1999. The Amazon founder passed Gates in October with a net worth of $93.8 billion and his fortune crossed $100 billion for the first time a month later when the holiday shopping season kicked off on Black Friday.

Gates, 62, would have a net worth of more than $150 billion if he’d held onto assets that he’s given away, largely to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He has given away almost 700 million Microsoft shares and $2.9 billion of cash and other assets since 1996, according to an analysis of his publicly disclosed giving."
Jeff Bezos Is Now Worth More Than Bill Gates Ever Was - Bloomberg

Tech Backlash Grows as Investors Press Apple to Act on Children’s Use - The New York Times

Also see Apple faces a shareholder backlash over what the iPhone may be doing to our kids (Washington Post) and Apple Plans More Features for Parents to Control Kids' Phone Use (Bloomberg)
"By going after Apple, Jana and Calstrs, which together own about $2 billion worth of the company’s stock, have selected the tech giant that is perhaps least dependent on its users’ time. Because Apple makes most of its money selling hardware, rather than through digital advertising, it theoretically could afford to encourage its users to spend less time with its products.

“Apple’s business model is not predicated on excessive use of your products,” Jana and Calstrs said in their letter to the company.

For this reason, said Ms. Turkle, the M.I.T. professor, “it turns out that Apple is the company best positioned to act.”"
Tech Backlash Grows as Investors Press Apple to Act on Children’s Use - The New York Times

Washington Monthly | How to Fix Facebook—Before It Fixes Us

From an extensive Facebook reality check by Roger McNamee; also see Facebook Can’t Be Fixed (John Battelle)

"It reads like the plot of a sci-fi novel: a technology celebrated for bringing people together is exploited by a hostile power to drive people apart, undermine democracy, and create misery. This is precisely what happened in the United States during the 2016 election. We had constructed a modern Maginot Line—half the world’s defense spending and cyber-hardened financial centers, all built to ward off attacks from abroad—never imagining that an enemy could infect the minds of our citizens through inventions of our own making, at minimal cost. Not only was the attack an overwhelming success, but it was also a persistent one, as the political party that benefited refuses to acknowledge reality. The attacks continue every day, posing an existential threat to our democratic processes and independence.

We still don’t know the exact degree of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. But the debate over collusion, while important, risks missing what should be an obvious point: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other platforms were manipulated by the Russians to shift outcomes in Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, and unless major changes are made, they will be manipulated again. Next time, there is no telling who the manipulators will be."
Washington Monthly | How to Fix Facebook—Before It Fixes Us

CES 2018: Inside the Lab Where Amazon's Alexa Takes Over The World | WIRED

The Alexa inside story; on a related note, see Google is introducing a new Smart Display platform (The Verge)
"While one team at Amazon works on the Echo products themselves—including the Echo Spot, Show, Dot, Plus, and probably a bunch more since you started reading this sentence—and another works on the Alexa service itself, a different team is working on engineering Alexa's world takeover. While Apple and Google offer access to their assistants slowly and methodically, Amazon has flung the doors off their hinges and let anyone in. The company knows the path to success is not just in Echo devices, and that Amazon can't possibly make every gadget anyone wants to use. So they've created a new division called Alexa Voice Services, which builds hardware and software with the aim of making it stupendously easy to add Alexa into whatever ceiling fan, lightbulb, refrigerator, or car someone might be working on. "You should be able to talk to Alexa no matter where you're located or what device you're talking to," says Priya Abani, Amazon's director of AVS enablement. "We basically envision a world where Alexa is everywhere.""
CES 2018: Inside the Lab Where Amazon's Alexa Takes Over The World | WIRED

Did SpaceX’s secret Zuma mission actually fail? - The Verge

Also see SpaceX-Launched Satellite for the U.S. Military May Be Lost, Officials Say (Bloomberg) and The mystery behind the fate of a top secret satellite comes at the height of one of Elon Musk’s biggest rivalries (Washington Post)
"So what actually happened? No one is saying for certain, but there are a couple scenarios in which the Falcon 9 could have performed as it was supposed to and the spacecraft didn’t deploy correctly. Typically, SpaceX uses its own hardware on top of its rocket to send a satellite into orbit, what is known as a payload adapter. It’s an apparatus that physically separates the satellite from the upper part of the rocket and sends it into orbit. However, a previous report from Wired noted that Northrop Grumman provided its own payload adapter for this mission. And if that payload adapter failed, it would have left the satellite still attached to the upper portion of the rocket. That’s certainly a mission failure, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the fault of the Falcon 9."
Did SpaceX’s secret Zuma mission actually fail? - The Verge

Monday, January 08, 2018

First Amazon Alexa-Enabled Digital Glasses to Debut at CES - Bloomberg

Something to see; on a related note, see Why Amazon’s master plan for Alexa includes things like voice-controlled Bose headphones (Recode)
"The first augmented-reality glasses with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant will be shown next week at CES in Las Vegas -- manufactured by a 75-employee company rather than the e-commerce giant’s growing devices division.

Vuzix Corp. will show off a pair of smart glasses that can talk to Amazon.com Inc.’s voice-activated digital assistant and display information to the wearer’s field of view, Vuzix Chief Executive Officer Paul Travers said in an interview. Vuzix’s Alexa integration is part of an Amazon program that allows third-party hardware manufacturers to put the digital assistant into their products. In October, Sonos Inc. unveiled a smart speaker with Alexa’s system for controlling music playback. The strategy is designed to put Amazon’s service, which generates revenue for the company, in as many places as possible to sell more products."
First Amazon Alexa-Enabled Digital Glasses to Debut at CES - Bloomberg

Friday, January 05, 2018

Using thought to control machines - The next frontier (The Economist)

Also see How brains and machines can be made to work together (The Economist)

"As our Technology Quarterly in this issue explains, the pace of research into BCIs and the scale of its ambition are increasing. Both America’s armed forces and Silicon Valley are starting to focus on the brain. Facebook dreams of thought-to-text typing. Kernel, a startup, has $100m to spend on neurotechnology. Elon Musk has formed a firm called Neuralink; he thinks that, if humanity is to survive the advent of artificial intelligence, it needs an upgrade. Entrepreneurs envisage a world in which people can communicate telepathically, with each other and with machines, or acquire superhuman abilities, such as hearing at very high frequencies.

These powers, if they ever materialise, are decades away. But well before then, BCIs could open the door to remarkable new applications. Imagine stimulating the visual cortex to help the blind, forging new neural connections in stroke victims or monitoring the brain for signs of depression. By turning the firing of neurons into a resource to be harnessed, BCIs may change the idea of what it means to be human."
Using thought to control machines - The next frontier

Elon Musk's SpaceX has a new advantage: Blowing up its own rocket, automatically — Quartz

Fail different

"SpaceX, however, pursuing cheaper and more efficient launches, worked with the Air Force to turn over that duty to a GPS-equipped on-board computer, an “Automatic Flight Safety System” that debuted in 2017. Now, if the company’s Falcon 9 rocket goes outside prescribed bounds when launched from Cape Canaveral, it can activate its own self-destruct sequence.

No other US rocket has this capability yet, and it could open up new advantages for SpaceX: The US Air Force is considering launches to polar orbits from Cape Canaveral, but the flight path is only viable if the rockets don’t need to be tracked for range-safety reasons. That means SpaceX is the only company that could take advantage of the new corridor to space."
Elon Musk's SpaceX has a new advantage: Blowing up its own rocket, automatically — Quartz

In Norway, Electric and Hybrid Cars Outsell Conventional Models - The New York Times

A hopeful leading indicator

"Sales of electric and hybrid cars in Norway outpaced those running on fossil fuels last year, cementing the country’s position as a global leader in the push to restrict vehicle emissions.

Norway, a major oil exporter, would seem an unlikely champion of newer, cleaner-running vehicles. But the country offers generous incentives that make electric cars cheaper to buy, and provides additional benefits once the vehicles are on the road."
In Norway, Electric and Hybrid Cars Outsell Conventional Models - The New York Times

Mark Zuckerberg's 2018 personal challenge

Mistakes were made... Also see Mark Zuckerberg’s personal challenge this year is to fix Facebook (Recode) and Mark Zuckerberg pledges ‘to do the job he already has,’ basically (Washington Post)
"My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues. We won't prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we're successful this year then we'll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.

This may not seem like a personal challenge on its face, but I think I'll learn more by focusing intensely on these issues than I would by doing something completely separate. These issues touch on questions of history, civics, political philosophy, media, government, and of course technology. I'm looking forward to bringing groups of experts together to discuss and help work through these topics."
Mark Zuckerberg

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Apple says its dangerous Chicago roof was a result of a software malfunction | The Verge

You're melting it wrong...

"Last week, parts of Apple’s new flagship retail store in Chicago had to be roped off, as dangerous icicles started to form on the roof. Although many believed the design of the MacBook Air-like roof was flawed, Apple later explained that the problem was instead a software issue that caused its heating system to break.

Apple spokesman Nick Leahy told The Chicago Tribune last week that the building’s architects, from the London-based Foster+Partners, had designed the store to be snow-friendly. “The roof has a warming system that’s built into it,” said Leahy. “It needed some fine-tuning and it got reprogrammed today. It’s hopefully a temporary problem.”"
Apple says its dangerous Chicago roof was a result of a software malfunction | The Verge

Microsoft issues emergency Windows update for processor security bugs - The Verge

Also see Intel Memory Access Design Flaw Already Addressed by Apple in macOS 10.13.2 (MacRumors)

"Microsoft is issuing a rare out-of-band security update to supported versions of Windows today. The software update is part of a number of fixes that will protect against a newly-discovered processor bug in Intel, AMD, and ARM chipsets. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the company will issue a Windows update that will be automatically applied to Windows 10 machines at 5PM ET / 2PM PT today.

The update will also be available for older and supported versions of Windows today, but systems running operating systems like Windows 7 or Windows 8 won’t automatically be updated through Windows Update until next Tuesday. Windows 10 will be automatically updated today."
Microsoft issues emergency Windows update for processor security bugs - The Verge

Researchers Discover Two Major Flaws in the World’s Computers - The New York Times

Both discovered by Google Project Zero; also see Intel Says Range of Chips Vulnerable to Hack, Denies ‘Bug’ (Bloomberg)
"The two problems, called Meltdown and Spectre, could allow hackers to steal the entire memory contents of computers, including mobile devices, personal computers and servers running in so-called cloud computer networks.

There is no easy fix for Spectre, which could require redesigning the processors, according to researchers. As for Meltdown, the software patch needed to fix the issue could slow down computers by as much as 30 percent — an ugly situation for people used to fast downloads from their favorite online services."
Researchers Discover Two Major Flaws in the World’s Computers - The New York Times

The bitcoin bubble will likely burst, and here’s why - The Boston Globe

Final paragraphs from a timely bitcoin reality check

"Bitcoin also suffers from a serious design flaw. The “mining” operations are now using so much computing time that the resulting electricity use (and carbon emissions) amount to significant social costs. While such design flaws are probably correctable, the very act of tampering with bitcoin could kill the confidence of its users.

Why, then, did bitcoin soar in value this past year? Why did tulip prices soar in Holland in 1636 only to plummet the next year? Why did shares in South Sea Company soar in London in 1720 before collapsing? Why did Pets.com launch at $14 a share in the dot-com bubble in 2000, only to collapse to 14 cents soon afterward? And why, perhaps, did the Dow rise by 25 percent this past year? The most likely answer is that the deep human desire for quick and easy wealth all too often ends as quick and easy despair."
The bitcoin bubble will likely burst, and here’s why - The Boston Globe

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Idiot Former Sheriff Sent to Internet Jail (Gizmodo)

But threatening nuclear war by tweet is apparently still okay by Twitter's rules, if you're president
"Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, the Donald Trump supporter best known for suspicious deaths in a jail he oversaw, blowing a potential job at the Department of Homeland Security amid a plagiarism scandal, and decorating his uniform with nearly as many dubious pins as a North Korean general, can add temporarily thrown in Twitter prison to his resume. 
This weekend, Clarke saw media reports mentioning that the FBI executed a search warrant on his email accounts after his deputies accosted and detained a man who had shook his head at him in an airport. He responded by tweeting off a series of ludicrous missives denouncing the “LYING LIB MEDIA” and threatening to “MAKE THEM TASTE THEIR OWN BLOOD.” One of the tweets was accompanied by a photoshopped image of Clarke kicking another man with CNN’s logo superimposed over his face."
Idiot Former Sheriff Sent to Internet Jail

'Kernel memory leaking' Intel processor design flaw forces Linux, Windows redesign • The Register

Also see Intel Makes a Mistake in The CPU Design, Windows and Linux Scramble to Fix It (Security Affairs)

"A fundamental design flaw in Intel's processor chips has forced a significant redesign of the Linux and Windows kernels to defang the chip-level security bug.

Programmers are scrambling to overhaul the open-source Linux kernel's virtual memory system. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to publicly introduce the necessary changes to its Windows operating system in an upcoming Patch Tuesday: these changes were seeded to beta testers running fast-ring Windows Insider builds in November and December.

Crucially, these updates to both Linux and Windows will incur a performance hit on Intel products. The effects are still being benchmarked, however we're looking at a ballpark figure of five to 30 per cent slow down, depending on the task and the processor model. More recent Intel chips have features – such as PCID – to reduce the performance hit. Your mileage may vary."
'Kernel memory leaking' Intel processor design flaw forces Linux, Windows redesign • The Register

NSA’s top talent is leaving because of low pay, slumping morale and unpopular reorganization - The Washington Post

They can always outsource more surveillance to Facebook and Google...

"The National Security Agency is losing its top talent at a worrisome rate as highly skilled personnel, some disillusioned with the spy service’s leadership and an unpopular reorganization, take higher-paying, more flexible jobs in the private sector.

Since 2015, the NSA has lost several hundred hackers, engineers and data scientists, according to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter. The potential impact on national security is significant, they said."
NSA’s top talent is leaving because of low pay, slumping morale and unpopular reorganization - The Washington Post

SpaceX shows a video flyby of its Falcon Heavy rocket (Engadget)

Launch different

"The scale of the craft is pretty impressive, as the video clearly shows. "With more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff -- equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft at full power -- Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two," SpaceX notes.

Details of the mission are still sketchy, but Musk has said that the rocket will go into a "billion year elliptic Mars orbit" with a cherry read Tesla Roadster onboard as dead weight. Why? For the lulz, of course. "Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring," Elon Musk wrote last month."
SpaceX shows a video flyby of its Falcon Heavy rocket

Bitcoin Loses Some Dazzle as Second-Tier Crypto Coins Catch Up - Bloomberg

Altcoin altreality
"“The altcoins today, in large part, are not trying to be bitcoin competitors,” said Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research LLP in London. “They are doing something else entirely -- ethereum as a smart-contracts platform, iota as a machine-economy token, ripple for interbank payments, and so on.” How each is used “should become increasingly relevant as the novelty of crypto wears off.”  
Relative performance is now a multibillion-dollar question as professional investors search for ways to value digital assets that seem to defy traditional techniques, such as profit and dividend potential for equities, or industrial-demand outlooks for commodities. Correlation, for example, is one of many technical-analysis tools used across asset classes in forecasting, and altcoins historically have moved mostly in step with bitcoin."
Bitcoin Loses Some Dazzle as Second-Tier Crypto Coins Catch Up - Bloomberg

Amazon, Salesforce Shifting Business Away From Oracle: Report - Bloomberg

Larry Ellison will have to find some new customer competitors to taunt; also see Oracle Slips: Drexel Calls Amazon, Salesforce Story ‘Fake News’ (Barron's)
"Amazon.com Inc. and Salesforce.com Inc., two of Oracle Corp.’s biggest customers, are actively working to replace Oracle software running on crucial business systems with lower cost open-source database software, the Information reported, citing people familiar with the discussions.

The technology news site said Amazon and Salesforce have already made significant progress toward weaning themselves off Oracle all together. They have ample motivation to do so: While Oracle’s database is widely considered the world’s most advanced, it’s also expensive compared with the competition, the Information reported. Oracle’s shares slid in New York Tuesday."
Amazon, Salesforce Shifting Business Away From Oracle: Report - Bloomberg

Expect 2018 to Be More Sane? Sorry, It’s Not Going to Happen - The New York Times

Closing Nate Silver quote: "“So I do think people are now realizing the world is less predictable than we thought it was,” Mr. Silver said. “But in some ways that’s a return to normal.”"

"Just a few years ago, there was a dawning sense that technology would give us a peek around the corner. Thanks to reams of information — sensors and surveillance everywhere, and computing capacity to make sense of it all — it looked as if we were entering a “Minority Report”-type world, where much of the future could be foretold in our numbers. Google could predict flu trends, election-stats nerds could predict political outcomes, and predictive policing algorithms were going to give us a handle on crime.

Yet what has happened is rather quite different. Instead of revealing unseen order and predictability in the world, technology has unleashed a cascade of forces that have made the world more volatile — and thus made the future hazier and more open to out-of-the-blue results."
Expect 2018 to Be More Sane? Sorry, It’s Not Going to Happen - The New York Times

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The Library of Congress Quits Twitter | The New Yorker

From a timely Twitter reality check:
"Last Tuesday, the Library of Congress announced that it, too, has had enough, and politely recused itself. “The Library now has a secure collection of tweet text, documenting the first 12 years (2006-2017) of this dynamic communications channel—its emergence, its applications and its evolution,” Gayle Osterberg, the director of communications for the library, wrote. “Today, we announce a change in collections practice for Twitter. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, the Library will acquire tweets on a selective basis—similar to our collections of web sites.” The phrasing was elegant, but the sentiment was nonetheless familiar: “Quitting this shit!!!!”"
Final paragraph:
"That the Library of Congress has now chosen to be more selective about its work feels perceptive, and germane to our moment. Healthy consumption of the Internet requires curation. Though reading widely and expansively offline remains crucial, the present Internet deluge still means we all have to make serious choices about what we let in. (Some people call this “self-care.”) The downsizing can be nutritive. “Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing,” William S. Burroughs once said. Maybe the library’s choice is a significant sign of our times—an admission that sometimes everything is too much."
The Library of Congress Quits Twitter | The New Yorker