"The book's title refers to a third phase in evolutionary history. For almost 4 billion years, both hardware (bodies) and software (capacity for generating behaviour) were fixed by biology. For the next 100,000 years, learning and culture enabled humans to adapt and control their own software. In the imminent third phase, both software and hardware can be redesigned. This may sound like transhumanism — the movement to re-engineer body and brain — but Tegmark's focus is on AI, which supplements mental capabilities with external devices.Artificial intelligence: The future is superintelligent : Nature : Nature Research
Tegmark considers both risks and benefits. Near-term risks include an arms race in autonomous weapons and dramatic reductions in employment. The AI community is practically unanimous in condemning the creation of machines that can choose to kill humans, but the issue of work has sparked debate. Many predict an economic boon — AI inspiring new jobs to replace old, as with previous industrial revolutions. Tegmark wryly imagines two horses discussing the rise of the internal combustion engine in 1900. One predicts “new jobs for horses ... That's what's always happened before, like with the invention of the wheel and the plow.” For most horses, alas, the “new job” was to be pet food. Tegmark's analysis is compelling, and shared by economists such as Paul Krugman. But the question remains: what desirable economy might we aim for, when most of what we now call work is done by machines?"
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Also see A physicist explores the future of artificial intelligence (Science); if you're going to be in the Boston area 9/15, also consider A Reno Family Foundation Symposium – Life 3.0 at the Museum of Science, with Max Tegmark and Erik Brynjolfsson (free, but tickets required)
From a Zephyr Teachout article on Google's New America problem:
"About 10 years ago, Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor who coined the term network neutrality, made this prescient comment: “To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king.”Final paragraph:
Wu was right. And now, Google has established a pattern of lobbying and threatening to acquire power. It has reached a dangerous point common to many monarchs: The moment where it no longer wants to allow dissent."
"Google’s actions forced the Open Markets team to leave New America. But, thankfully, it did not succeed in silencing them entirely. Open Markets will continue on as a separate organization, which I will chair. Their work exposing corporate monopolies and advocating for regulation is more important than ever. Google shows us why."Google forced out New America's Open Markets division. What's next? - The Washington Post
Also see Firmware Update to Address Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Identified in Abbott's (formerly St. Jude Medical's) Implantable Cardiac Pacemakers: FDA Safety Communication
"Turns out former Vice President (and erratic shooter) Dick Cheney was right all along: Your heart can be hacked. At least if you have a pacemaker, that is. On Tuesday, the FDA recalled 465,000 of the medical devices -- the ones that help control your heart beat -- citing security vulnerabilities. The pacemakers, which come from health company Abbott (formerly St. Jude Medical), require a firmware update. Fortunately, it can be installed by a health care provider in just three minutes. The models affected include the Accent, Anthem, Accent MRI, Accent ST, Assurity, and Allure."FDA recalls close to half-a-million pacemakers over hacking fears
Looking forward to September 12th...
"Here’s a peek into how the camera may come into play: As soon as you pick up your gadget, it will see you and know you are the owner and unlock the screen. Overseas, you will be able to point the camera at a restaurant menu to translate items into your native language. When shopping for furniture, you can point your phone camera at your living room floor and place a virtual rendering of a coffee table down to see how it looks and move around and peek underneath it.The Smartphone’s Future: It’s All About the Camera - The New York Times
Some of this futurism is already starting to happen.
Next month, Apple plans to hold a special event to introduce a set of new iPhones, including a premium model that can scan 3-D objects — including your face. Samsung, the No. 1 phone maker, also recently introduced the Galaxy Note 8, highlighting its fast dual-lens camera as the signature feature. And rivals will soon work to catch up with Samsung and Apple."
For an overview of broader trends in this context, see The Brave New World of Gene Editing (New York Review of Books)
"The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, a milestone that is expected to transform treatment in the coming years.F.D.A. Approves First Gene-Altering Leukemia Treatment, Costing $475,000 - The New York Times
The new therapy turns a patient’s cells into a “living drug,” and trains them to recognize and attack the disease. It is part of the rapidly growing field of immunotherapy that bolsters the immune system through drugs and other therapies and has, in some cases, led to long remissions and possibly even cures."
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
From an extensive Alexa profile; on a related note (from 2012), see To boldly search: Google reveals how Star Trek inspired its vision for the future of computing (Daily Mail)
"But despite Alexa’s human name and female persona, Zorn counters that Amazon doesn’t aim to turn its voice assistant into another member of your family. Instead, the team’s guiding light and original idea for the Echo is the all-knowing but behind-the-scenes computer from “Star Trek.”Amazon's on a mission to make Alexa on your Echo more human
“We don’t have an explicit desire for customers to anthropomorphize more or less than they do,” Zorn says, as if reading aloud the warning label on the tush of a giant metal robot. “We’ve recognized that some do.”
To find out about Alexa’s future, I visited Amazon’s HQ for a rare opportunity to talk to four Alexa execs about their digital assistant’s budding personality, origin story and smart-home capabilities. I also went to Princeton University, where a group of graduate students are developing an Alexa-based socialbot that can chat with people about a handful of topics."
Hey Siri, is anybody likely to actually use this integration?... Check this Microsoft post for more details
"For the past year, the two companies have been coordinating behind the scenes to make Alexa and Cortana communicate with each other. The partnership, which the companies plan to announce early Wednesday, will allow people to summon Cortana using Alexa, and vice versa, by the end of the year.‘Cortana, Open Alexa,’ Amazon Says. And Microsoft Agrees. - The New York Times
It is unusual for big tech companies to cooperate on important new technologies that they want to stand out from the competition. Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google and nearly every other big tech company is pouring huge amounts of money into making digital assistants that are smarter and can do more, seeing them as a new way for people to interact naturally with devices and online services."
"Google’s willingness to spread cash around the think tanks and advocacy groups focused on internet and telecommunications policy has effectively muted, if not silenced, criticism of the company over the past several years, said Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. His group, which does not accept any corporate funding, has played a leading role in calling out Google and other tech companies for alleged privacy violations. But Mr. Rotenberg said it is become increasingly difficult to find partners in that effort as more groups have accepted Google funding.Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant - The New York Times
“There are simply fewer groups that are available to speak up about Google’s activities that threaten online privacy,” Mr. Rotenberg said. “The groups that should be speaking up aren’t.”"
On a related note, check this Ezra Klein podcast interview with Angela Nagle: From 4Chan to Charlottesville: where the alt-right came from, and where it's going
"“Originally it was little black-hat hacker crews who were at war with each other — they would take docs, like documents, from a competing group and then claim they had ‘dox’ on them,” said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University who wrote a book about the hacker vigilante group Anonymous. “There was this idea that you were veiled and then uncovered.”How ‘Doxxing’ Became a Mainstream Tool in the Culture Wars - The New York Times
Now the online hunt to reveal extremists has raised concerns about unintended consequences, or even collateral damage. A few individuals have been misidentified in recent weeks, including a professor from Arkansas who was wrongly accused of participating in the neo-Nazi march. And some worry that the stigma of being outed as a political extremist can only reinforce that behavior in people who could still be talked out of it."
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
For more details, see ARCore: Augmented reality at Android scale (Google Keyword blog); on a related note, see In the Augmented Reality Race Microsoft Is Now Playing Catch Up Despite Early Announcements (Supersite Windows)
"The Alphabet Inc. company released a mobile developer tool on Tuesday to get more AR features on Android phones without those costly hardware tweaks. Called ARCore, the software helps mobile apps and websites better track physical objects and overlay them with virtual images. Google will now pitch Android partners on its software, rather than courting them to be compatible with Tango.Google Delivers an Answer to Apple on Augmented Reality - Bloomberg
ARCore will be available for developers to preview on Tuesday with Google’s own Pixel phones and Samsung Electronics Co.’s S8 smartphone. Google plans to add more Android devices over time and fully launch the software this winter. "We have a path to getting this on north of 100 million phones very quickly," said Clay Bavor, who leads Google’s virtual reality and AR efforts."
What, no Cortana support?... On a related note, see Alexa’s new music feature makes your speakers work like Sonos (CNET)
"Sonos has been criticized for being late to the smart speaker game. But that looks like it's about to change in a big way if what we’ve seen in the FCC comes to fruition on stage in October. Will Sonos free us from Apple, Google, and Amazon ecosystem lock-in by letting us choose between Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa voice assistants as it does with their respective music services? You'll have to tune in on October 4th to find out."Sonos to announce new smart speaker on October 4th - The Verge
Yes, but will Oracle still be allowed to advertise on Facebook (see the next post)?
"In the battle between Oracle and Salesforce for cloud software supremacy, Oracle is about to add 5,000 new soldiers to its army.Oracle: 5,000 new warriors will join cloud fight with Salesforce
On Monday, Oracle said it will hire 5,000 new professionals to work on its cloud-based products and services. According to Oracle, these hires will include “new engineers, consultants, sales and support people” for what the company says is “already the world’s fastest growing multi-billion-dollar cloud business.”"
Also see Finally, Facebook no longer lets fake news sites advertise to you (Mashable)
"False news is harmful to our community. It makes the world less informed and erodes trust. At Facebook, we’re working to fight the spread of false news in three key areas:Blocking Ads from Pages that Repeatedly Share False News | Facebook Newsroom
- Disrupting the economic incentives to create false news;
- Building new products to curb the spread of false news; and
Today’s update helps to disrupt the economic incentives and curb the spread of false news, which is another step towards building a more informed community on Facebook."
- Helping people make more informed decisions when they encounter false news.
Appropriate emoticon tbd...
"In earthquake-prone Japan, the public has grown accustomed to seeing regular alerts on television and their cellphones advising them to seek cover or move inland in advance of a tsunami. But on Tuesday, residents received a rare warning: A missile was approaching from North Korea and was likely to fly over parts of Japan.Japan Wakes to a Text Message: Missile Approaching - The New York Times
Citizens living beneath the missile’s flight path received a beeping alert on their cellphones at 6:02 a.m., just four minutes after the projectile was launched, rousing some from sleep."
Leading by example
"“The reality is that government, for a long period of time, has for whatever set of reasons become less functional and isn’t working at the speed that it once was. And so it does fall, I think, not just on business but on all other areas of society to step up.”Apple’s Tim Cook Barnstorms for ‘Moral Responsibility’ - The New York Times
That was Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, across the table from me over breakfast here in downtown Austin late last week at the end of a mini-tour across the country during which he focused on topics usually reserved for politicians: manufacturing, jobs and education."
Monday, August 28, 2017
On a related note, see Joe Biden's 'We Are Living Through a Battle for the Soul of This Nation' (The Atlantic)
"In a resignation letter obtained by NextGov, eight members of the 28-person National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) said that the president’s “actions have threatened the security of the homeland I took an oath to protect.” The letter states that the Trump administration is not “adequately attentive to the pressing national security matters within the NIAC’s purview,” and that Trump has paid “insufficient attention” to the growing threats that the US faces to its cybersecurity.
The letter also points to Trump’s failure to condemn neo-Nazis and white nationalists following this month’s violence in Charlottesville, as well as his decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, which the signees cite as evidence of the president’s “disregard for the security of American communities.”"Members of Trump’s cybersecurity council resign in protest - The Verge
Internet censorship in China: new rules aim to prevent anyone who hasn't provided their real identity from commenting online — Quartz
Online communities and discussion forums in China are likely to get a bit quieter
"So what exactly constitutes forbidden topics on the Chinese internet? An unnamed CAC official told a journalist the following when asked about the new rules (first translated by The Diplomat):Internet censorship in China: new rules aim to prevent anyone who hasn't provided their real identity from commenting online — Quartz
Good luck avoiding all of those."
- opposing the principles of the constitution of China
- endangering national security, revealing state secrets, subverting state power, and undermining national reunification
- damaging national honor and interests
- inciting national hatred, ethnic discrimination, and undermining national unity
- undermining the state’s policies on religion or promoting cults and feudal superstitions
- spreading rumors or disrupting social order
- spreading obscenity, pornography, violence, or terror, or abetting a crime
- insulting or slandering others and infringing upon the lawful rights and interests of others
- violating any other laws and regulations
"The Neurable prototype shows what is possible today. Using electroencephalography, or EEG — a means of measuring electrical brain activity that has been around for decades — the company can provide simple ways of mentally interacting with a game. Some companies hope to go much further, and want to build ways of performing nearly any computing task with the mind. Imagine a brain interface for rapidly typing on a smartphone.A Game You Can Control With Your Mind - The New York Times
Even for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs like Mr. Musk, setting that goal pushes technological optimism to new heights. Some efforts seem particularly quixotic. Mr. Musk said in one interview that Neuralink planned to develop ways of implanting hardware in the skulls of completely healthy people."
Friday, August 25, 2017
Excerpt from a timely reality check:
"For all that, the early efforts from each of these companies have met with mixed success at best so far. Facebook’s phone push with HTC never went anywhere, leaving it entirely without a stake in mobile platforms, while Oculus hasn’t been a huge seller in the VR market and Oculus’s business is still formally immaterial to Facebook’s overall finances.The Big Software Company Hardware Push – Tech.pinions
Google’s hardware has a mixed record too, with the Motorola acquisition a failure, the Pixel laptop and tablets also-rans in their respective markets, and the Pixel phone a modest seller in its first year thanks to limited supply and distribution channels. The Google Home seems to be selling decently well as the only real competition to the Amazon Echo, but it’s far from clear what its long-term business plan is here – advertising seems the obvious revenue model, but is fraught with risk and likely to encounter significant resistance from paying customers.
Microsoft’s Surface is arguably the big success story here, though even then it’s a tiny player in the overall PC market, it took several years of work to figure out the right model for the Surface Pro hardware and software, and it has of course recently seen blowback from last year’s reliability issues. The Nokia acquisition, meanwhile, may have become an inevitability by the time it happened, but certainly hasn’t panned out well either. And HoloLens has an interesting role in the enterprise and education markets, but is far from a mainstream AR or VR product."
An "it just works" Apple TV display might be a popular option for people tired of juggling remotes; also see Roku is the top streaming device in the U.S and still growing, report finds (TechCrunch)
"Apple is planning to unveil a renewed focus on the living room with an upgraded Apple TV set-top box that can stream 4K video and highlight live television content such as news and sports, according to people familiar with the matter.Apple Is Planning a 4K Upgrade for Its TV Box - Bloomberg
The updated box, to be revealed alongside new iPhone and Apple Watch models at an event in September, will run a faster processor capable of streaming the higher-resolution 4K content, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t yet public. The 4K designation is a quality standard that showcases content at twice the resolution of 1080P high-definition video, meaning the clarity is often better for the viewer. Apple is also testing an updated version of its TV app, which first launched in 2016, that can aggregate programming from apps that already offer live streaming."
Elon Musk promised full self-driving abilities despite engineers’ safety concerns: report - The Verge
On a related note, see Exclusive: Tesla's 'long-haul' electric truck aims for 200 to 300 miles on a charge (Reuters); in a deeper development, see Elon Musk’s Boring Company wins approval to dig a two-mile test tunnel in California (The Verge)
"A major cause of this conflict has apparently been the way Musk chose to market Autopilot. The decision to refer to Autopilot as a “full self-driving” solution — language that makes multiple appearances on the company’s website, especially during the process of ordering a car — was the spark for multiple departures, including Sterling Anderson, who was in charge of the Autopilot team during last year’s announcement. Anderson left the company two months later, and was hit with a lawsuit from Tesla that alleged breach of contract, employee poaching, and theft of data related to Autopilot, though the suit was eventually settled.Elon Musk promised full self-driving abilities despite engineers’ safety concerns: report - The Verge
A year before that, a lead engineer warned the company that Autopilot wasn’t ready to be released shortly before the original rollout. Evan Nakano, the senior system design and architecture engineer at the time, wrote that development of Autopilot was based on “reckless decision making that has potentially put customer lives at risk,” according to documents obtained by the WSJ."
Not Pixel perfect
"HTC Corp., the beleaguered manufacturer that once ranked among the world’s top smartphone makers, is exploring options that could range from separating its virtual-reality business to a full sale of the company, according to people familiar with the matter.Smartphone Maker HTC Explores Strategic Options - Bloomberg
The Taiwanese firm is working with an adviser as it considers bringing in a strategic investor, selling its Vive virtual reality headset business or spinning off the unit, the people said. HTC has held talks with companies including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private."
Prime time for grocery price competition; also see Amazon cuts Whole Food prices in clear signal of sweeping changes to come (Washington Post) and Amazon’s Price Cuts on Food Leave Rivals Bracing for Impact (Bloomberg)
"Mr. Bezos has always been willing to lose money, disappoint shareholders and start discount wars in his efforts to challenge and inflict pain on competitors. In the 23 years that Amazon has been in business, he has done it again and again — with books, diapers and now groceries — fundamentally changing entire retail categories.
“I absolutely think it’s putting the rest of the market on notice,” Bob Hetu, an analyst at Gartner, the technology research firm, said of Amazon’s announcement on pricing.
Investors drove Kroger shares down more than 8 percent on Thursday; shares of Walmart, the nation’s biggest grocer, fell about 2 percent. Both companies’ shares also fell sharply when the deal was announced in June."Amazon Plans to Lower Some Prices at Whole Foods - The New York Times
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Android on Chromebooks is gaining momentum after a rough start
"Put another way, the majority of Chromebooks out in the world do not yet have access to Android apps. But there are over 30 Chromebook models that can access this functionality today, and of course all new Chromebooks now and going forward will offer it too. The situation has improved dramatically since last year, for sure, but it’s also improved markedly just since the beginning of the summer.Android on Chromebook Edges From Fantasy Into Reality - Thurrott.com
And with that, it’s time to switch from the current “nothing to see here” mode and accept that the Chromebook threat to Windows is real. It’s also time to wake up and acknowledge that Windows 10 S, as currently designed, represents the weakest possible response that Microsoft could have offered. And unless and until this situation changes, I expect Chromebooks, and other Chrome OS devices, to continue eating into Windows 10’s usage and market share. This is Microsoft’s market to lose."
A multifaceted sign of the Twitter times (the campaign is up to $38,054 at the time of this post)
"Former undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson is looking to crowdfund enough money to buy Twitter so President Donald Trump can't use it.Former CIA officer wants to buy Twitter to kick Trump off - ABC News
Wilson launched the fundraiser last week, tweeting, "If @Twitter executives won't shut down Trump's violence and hate, then it's up to us. #BuyTwitter #BanTrump." The GoFundMe page for the fundraiser says Trump's tweets "damage the country and put people in harm's way."
As of Wednesday morning, she had raised less than $6,000 of the billion-dollar goal.
In an emailed statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the low total shows that the American people like the president's use of Twitter.
"Her ridiculous attempt to shut down his First Amendment is the only clear violation and expression of hate and intolerance in this equation," the statement read."
"As program members refer more people, they can unlock “secret level” prizes. Their latest secret-level offer is a truly unique experience: helping Elon Musk dig a tunnel.Help Elon Musk Sell Teslas And He'll Reward You By Letting You Dig a Tunnel for Him
Tesla news site Teslarati posted a screenshot of one of the referral program’s latest offers. “You’ve unlocked the second secret level. Share your referral code to give 5 more of your friends free unlimited Supercharging and $1,000 off a new Model S or Model X,” the message reads. “Once all 5 take delivery, we’ll give you the opportunity to drive an electric tunnel boring machine with The Boring Company in Hawthorne, CA.”"
"At any time, there are now 25,000 virtual self-driving cars making their way through fully modeled versions of Austin, Mountain View, and Phoenix, as well as test-track scenarios. Waymo might simulate driving down a particularly tricky road hundreds of thousands of times in a single day. Collectively, they now drive 8 million miles per day in the virtual world. In 2016, they logged 2.5 billion virtual miles versus a little over 3 million miles by Google’s IRL self-driving cars that run on public roads. And crucially, the virtual miles focus on what Waymo people invariably call “interesting” miles in which they might learn something new. These are not boring highway commuter miles.Inside Waymo's Secret World for Training Self-Driving Cars - The Atlantic
The simulations are part of an intricate process that Waymo has developed. They’ve tightly interwoven the millions of miles their cars have traveled on public roads with a “structured testing” program they conduct at a secret base in the Central Valley they call Castle."
Check this Mark Zuckerberg post for more details
"You will soon be able to subscribe to publications after reading their stories in Facebook’s Instant Articles, the company confirmed Wednesday. CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that the company will begin testing subscriptions inside Instant Articles, the company’s fast-loading news format, later this fall. “If people subscribe after seeing news stories on Facebook, the money will go directly publishers who work hard to uncover the truth, and Facebook won't take a cut,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post. “We plan to start with a small group of U.S. and European publishers later this year and we’ll listen to their feedback.”Facebook confirms it will add subscriptions to Instant Articles - The Verge
News that paid subscriptions were coming was first reported by Recode last month. Big publishers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have begun moving away from Instant Articles amid concerns that the format caused them to lose money without substantially growing their audiences on Facebook. If Facebook can help those publishers increase subscription revenue, some have indicated that they would be willing to come back."
"Amazon’s bid to become a bigger player in the grocery business took a major step forward Wednesday, as federal antitrust regulators approved the internet company’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market.Amazon-Whole Foods Deal Clears Last Two Major Hurdles - The New York Times
And earlier in the day, Whole Foods shareholders voted to approve the $13.4 billion deal, which will give Amazon a major bricks-and-mortar presence with more than 460 stores in a huge retail category where success has eluded the company."
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
In other smartphone news, see Report: Carrier sources indicate Apple iPhone 8 event date set for September 12 (9to5Mac)
"Now Samsung stares down the demons of its past with the Note 7’s successor, the Galaxy Note 8, which launches in New York today. This will be the most atypical Note launch in the line’s seven-year (there was no Galaxy Note 6 as Samsung skipped a number last year to sync up with its Galaxy S product numbering) history. In past times, our expectations of the Galaxy Note series have been to see Samsung at its most ambitious and ostentatious: the very best specs available, the most eye-catching designs, and the most grand and splashy presentation possible. But this year, we all want to just see the Galaxy Note 8 survive unscathed by the calamity that dragged down its predecessor. All our hopes and expectations basically amount to: please don’t explode."Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 faces one low, but unconditional expectation - The Verge
On a related note, see At Rally, Trump Blames Media for Country’s Deepening Divisions (NYT)
"A more lasting plan involves directly intervening in the process of radicalization. Consider The Redirect Method, an anti-extremism project created by Jigsaw, a think tank founded by Google. The plan began with intensive field research. After interviews with many former jihadists, white supremacists and other violent extremists, Jigsaw discovered several important personality traits that may abet radicalization.A Hunt for Ways to Combat Online Radicalization - The New York Times
One factor is a skepticism of mainstream media. Whether on the far right or ISIS, people who are susceptible to extremist ideologies tend to dismiss outlets like The New York Times or the BBC, and they often go in search of alternative theories online.
Another key issue is timing. There’s a brief window between initial interest in an extremist ideology and a decision to join the cause — and after recruits make that decision, they are often beyond the reach of outsiders. For instance, Jigsaw found that when jihadists began planning their trips to Syria to join ISIS, they had fallen too far down the rabbit hole and dismissed any new information presented to them."
To which a common reader response is likely: "Wait, Google has an online shopping mall?..." Also see Google and Walmart are partnering on voice shopping in a challenge to Amazon’s Alexa (Recode)
"The two companies said Google would start offering Walmart products to people who shop on Google Express, the company’s online shopping mall. It’s the first time the world’s biggest retailer has made its products available online in the United States outside of its own website.Google and Walmart Partner With Eye on Amazon - The New York Times
The partnership, announced on Wednesday, is a testament to the mutual threat facing both companies from Amazon.com. Amazon’s dominance in online shopping is challenging brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart, while more people are starting web searches for products they might buy on Amazon instead of Google."
Must be a slow news day for the NYT
"Five people familiar with Apple’s car project, code-named “Titan,” discussed with The New York Times the missteps that led the tech giant to move — at least for now — from creating a self-driving Apple car to creating technology for a car that someone else builds. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about Apple’s plans.Apple Scales Back Its Ambitions for a Self-Driving Car - The New York Times
The project’s reduced scale aligns Apple more closely with other tech companies that are working on autonomous driving technology but are steering clear of building cars. Even Waymo, the Google self-driving spinoff that is probably furthest along among Silicon Valley companies, has said repeatedly that it does not plan to produce its own vehicles."
Monday, August 21, 2017
From a timely Elizabeth Kolbert book review:
"Either out of conviction or simply out of habit, the gatekeepers of yore set a certain tone. They waved through news about state budget deficits and arms-control talks, while impeding the flow of loony conspiracy theories. Now Chartbeat allows everyone to see just how many (or, more to the point, how few) readers there really are for that report on the drought in South Sudan or that article on monopoly power and the Internet. And so it follows that there will be fewer such reports and fewer such articles. The Web is designed to give people what they want, which, for better or worse, is also the function of democracy."Who Owns the Internet? - The New Yorker
On a related note, see This Group has Successfully Converted White Supremacists Using Compassion. Trump Defunded It (The Intercept)
"This was also a moment these hate groups were anticipating; getting banned in an opaque, unilateral fashion was always the way out and, to some degree, it suits them. In the last year, hard-right communities on social platforms have cultivated a pre-emptive identity as platform refugees and victims of censorship. They’ve also been preparing for this moment or one like it: There are hard-right alternatives to Twitter, to Reddit and even to the still-mostly-lawless 4chan. There are alternative fund-raising sites in the mold of GoFundMe or Kickstarter; there’s an alternative to Patreon called Hatreon. Like most of these new alternatives, it has cynically borrowed a cause — it calls itself a site that ‘‘stands for free speech absolutism’’ — that the more mainstream platforms borrowed first. Their persecution narrative, which is the most useful narrative they have, and one that will help spread their cause beyond the fringes, was written for them years ago by the same companies that helped give them a voice."How Hate Groups Forced Online Platforms to Reveal Their True Nature - The New York Times
So sort of a combination of Osborne (wait until you see the next version!) and General Magic (where Rubin worked 1992 - 1995)
"He says it’s best to view Essential’s first phone as a starting point—it runs the same Android OS as Google’s Pixel—not a radical departure. That will come later, he says, and will involve using artificial intelligence to change the way people interact with their devices, in part by outsourcing some of the more tedious tasks to an algorithm.Android Co-Founder Has a Plan to Cure Our Smartphone Addiction - Bloomberg
“If I can get to the point where your phone is a virtual version of you, you can be off enjoying your life, having that dinner, without touching your phone, and you can trust your phone to do things on your behalf,” he says. “I think I can solve part of the addictive behavior.”"
Also better together...
"How do we settle the argument? We agree with both sides.iPad vs Mac: Episode 7 – Jean-Louis Gassée – Medium
As it becomes a more general-purpose machine, the iPad will continue to steal uses and users from the Mac. As often stated by its execs, Apple isn’t worried about cannibalization. More important, the iPad’s ever-improving UI and functionality will wrest users from its competitors.
This leaves the Mac line doing nicely for two disconnected reasons: High-end “truck-like” applications, and the estimable population of users who, as a matter of personal preference, opt for the traditional “horizontal-hands” UI."
Friday, August 18, 2017
Check this page for an index of the videos
"Apple's iPad sales were surprisingly good last quarter, but a lot of critics (including us) thought there was still no way the iPad Pro could replace a proper PC. The release of iOS 11 next month will change some minds, however. A new series of Apple videos shows how to use the new features, including the Dock, Files app, multitasking, Apple Pencil and more. Suffice to say, it drastically improves productivity on the tablets, making it much easier to do multiple jobs concurrently. [...]
With 4GB of RAM and a peppy A10X chip, the latest 10.5-inch iPad Pro (and earlier models) can easily handle the new features, and Apple's Smart Keyboard and Pencil stylus make it more like a laptop than ever before. The new videos clearly show, though, that iOS 10 was severely holding the devices back. With iOS 11 coming sometime this September, it'll almost be like Apple is launching the iPad Pro all over again."Apple demonstrates how the iPad Pro was made for iOS 11
On a related note, see The Misguided Attacks on ACLU for Defending Neo-Nazis’ Free Speech Rights in Charlottesville (The Intercept) and U.S. rights group rethinks defending hate groups protesting with guns (Reuters)
"In the wake of Charlottesville, both GoDaddy and Google have refused to manage the domain registration for the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website that, in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is “dedicated to spreading anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and white nationalism.” Subsequently Cloudflare, whose service was used to protect the site from denial-of-service attacks, has also dropped them as a customer, with a telling quote from Cloudflare’s CEO: “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.”Fighting Neo-Nazis and the Future of Free Expression | Electronic Frontier Foundation
We agree. Even for free speech advocates, this situation is deeply fraught with emotional, logistical, and legal twists and turns. All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with. Those on the left face calls to characterize the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group. In the Civil Rights Era cases that formed the basis of today’s protections of freedom of speech, the NAACP’s voice was the one attacked.
Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected. We do it because we believe that no one—not the government and not private commercial enterprises—should decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t."
Online activist group Anonymous posts what it says are private contact details for 22 GOP members of Congress - The Washington Post
Writers for Mr. Robot are going to have a surplus of material to work with for their third season
"The goal of publishing the information, said Pfeiffer, is for people to call on these members of Congress to more forcefully condemn the president and ask for Trump's impeachment.Online activist group Anonymous posts what it says are private contact details for 22 GOP members of Congress - The Washington Post
The release by Anonymous marks an end of nearly two years of near-total silence for the decentralized group. Anonymous was mostly absent during last year's presidential campaign as leaks from online groups WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 featuring Democratic officials' emails dominated headlines and, in the eyes of many, altered the course of the election.
That changed only in recent days.
"Trump did something in the past few days along with the Charlottesville terror attack that clicked," Pfeiffer wrote to The Post."
$2B for Twitter, ~-$infinity for the rest of the world
"That’s the conclusion of Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. analyst James Cakmak, who said that the social media company would see as much as $2 billion in market value wiped out if @realDonaldTrump quit tweeting.What Is Trump Worth to Twitter? One Analyst Estimates $2 Billion - Bloomberg
It’s not that the president’s defection would touch off a mass exodus, lowering the number of “monetizable” daily active users, Cakmak said in an interview. Instead, losing its most prominent user would hit Twitter’s intangible value and lead to what’s known as multiple compression.
“There is no better free advertising in the world than the president of the United States,” said Cakmak, who has a neutral rating on Twitter shares."
Tangentially, see Bill Joy Finds the Jesus Battery (Wired)
"Unlike most eclipse-watchers in the United States, Eric Schmitt wouldn’t mind seeing a few clouds in the sky when the moon starts blotting out the sun on Monday.What Happens to Solar Power in an Eclipse? We’ll Find Out Monday - The New York Times
“A cloudy morning might even be helpful for us,” he said.
That’s because, as the vice president for operations at the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s electric grid, Mr. Schmitt will be dealing with an unusual challenge. As the eclipse carves a long shadow over California on Monday morning, it is expected to knock offline more than 5,600 megawatts’ worth of solar panels at its peak — a big chunk of the 19,000 megawatts of solar power that currently provide one-tenth of the state’s electricity. The California I.S.O. plans to fill the void by ramping up natural gas and hydroelectric power plants."
Thursday, August 17, 2017
Tbd how many of the remaining home phone lines are used primarily for AOL dial-up access...
"The calls, which are free, are not tied to your smartphone, meaning you could actually call a different contact on each device at the same time. The Google Home can also distinguish between voices, meaning that it should be able to call the right “Mom” based on whether you or your kids are making that request.How Google Home and the Amazon Echo give a new twist to the home phone - The Washington Post
Google now joins Amazon, Microsoft and Samsung in powering smart home hubs with calling capabilities. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) And fans are hoping that Apple will include an audio version of FaceTime, its WiFi-enabled voice chat program, in its upcoming HomePod speaker.
What these companies are doing is putting a new twist on the old home phone, which has steeply declined as cellphones have soared in popularity. A majority of American homes, 50.8 percent, rely solely on cellphones for their phone service, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. (The center has been tracking this trend for years as part of an in-person survey that looks at health-care access.)"
Silicon Valley escalates its war on white supremacy despite free speech concerns - The Washington Post
Also see Facebook, Airbnb Go on Offense Against Neo-Nazis After Violence (Bloomberg), Spotify removes ‘hate bands’ from its streaming library (Engadget), and The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech (NYT; check the comments as well)
"Silicon Valley significantly escalated its war on white supremacy this week, choking off the ability of hate groups to raise money online, removing them from Internet search engines, and preventing some sites from registering at all.A counterpoint at the end of the article:
The new moves go beyond censoring individual stories or posts. Tech companies such as Google, GoDaddy and PayPal are now reversing their hands-off approach about content supported by their services and making it much more difficult for alt-right organizations to reach mass audiences.
But the actions are also heightening concerns over how tech companies are becoming the arbiters of free speech in America. And in response, right-wing technologists are building parallel digital services that cater to their own movement."
"Lee Rowland, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, cautioned consumers against being so quick to condemn companies that host even the “most vile white supremacist speech we have seen on display this week.
“We rely on the Internet to hear each other,” Rowland said. “We should all be very thoughtful before we demand that platforms for hateful speech disappear because it does impoverish our conversation and harm our ability to point to evidence for white supremacy and to counter it.”"Silicon Valley escalates its war on white supremacy despite free speech concerns - The Washington Post
A timely Trump reality check; also see Does Amazon Pay Taxes? Contrary to Trump Tweet, Yes (NYT)
"On Wednesday morning, a dozen of the country’s most influential C.E.O.s joined a conference call, and, after some debate, a consensus emerged: The policy forum would be disbanded, delivering a blow to a president who came into office boasting of his close ties with business leaders.After Trump Hedges His Condemnation of Hate, C.E.O.s Organize a Mass Defection - The New York Times
With the collapse of the councils, the president has all but lost his most natural constituency — the corporate leaders who stood to benefit from his agenda of lower taxes and lighter regulation.
Before they could make a statement announcing their decision, however, Mr. Trump spoke. He had caught wind of their planned defection and wanted to have the last word. Taking to Twitter, he wrote: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”"
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Also see The e-mail Larry Page should have written to James Damore (The Economist)
"The core arguments run to this tune: Men and women have psychological differences that are a result of their underlying biology. Those differences make them differently suited to and interested in the work that is core to Google. Yet Google as a company is trying to create a technical, engineering, and leadership workforce with greater numbers of women than these differences can sustain, and it’s hurting the company.James Damore’s Google Memo Gets Science All Wrong | WIRED
Damore further says that anyone who tries to talk about that paradox gets silenced—which runs counter to Google’s stated goal of valuing and being friendly to difference. And, maybe helping make his point a little, last Monday Google fired him. Damore is now on a media tour, saying he was fired illegally for speaking truth to power. Hashtag Fired4Truth!
The problem is, the science in Damore’s memo is still very much in play, and his analysis of its implications is at best politically naive and at worst dangerous. The memo is a species of discourse peculiar to politically polarized times: cherry-picking scientific evidence to support a preexisting point of view. It’s an exercise not in rational argument but in rhetorical point scoring. And a careful walk through the science proves it."
Looks like Trump will need to recruit more Russian bot followers
"Unlike some former presidents, Barack Obama is showing no signs of completely abandoning public life.Obama's tweet about Charlottesville is now the most liked tweet ever - The Washington Post
Since leaving office, Obama has commented on major events or controversies, including the terrorist attack in Manchester, England, and Sen. John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis. He did so again on Saturday, after the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love … For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” Obama said, quoting former South African president Nelson Mandela in tweets."
Microsoft didn't pay ~$26B for LinkedIn to give its data away
"Where LinkedIn and hiQ clashed was over hiQ's product, which almost exclusively depends on LinkedIn's data, according to U.S. District Judge Edward Chen. HiQ essentially helps employers predict, using the data, which of their employees are likely to leave for other jobs. While this HR tool might sound relatively boring to you and me, it's key to industries whose success depends on recruiting and retaining the best talent. A Gallup survey last year found that 93 percent of job-switchers left their old company for a new one; just 7 percent took a new job within the same organization.Is LinkedIn trying to protect your data — or hoard it? - The Washington Post
HiQ has raised more than $12 million since its founding in 2012. LinkedIn itself is making moves to develop a similar capability, Chen said, meaning that LinkedIn's attempt to block hiQ from accessing its data could be interpreted as a self-interested move to kneecap a competitor. If hiQ can't get the professional data it needs to fuel its analytic engine, its business could "go under," Chen said."
In other health care news, see Trump Threat to Obamacare Would Send Premiums and Deficits Higher (NYT)
"The American health care system is a fragmented archipelago, with patients moving through doctors’ offices and hospitals that are often disconnected from one another. As a result, many primary care physicians — who often see themselves as a kind of quarterback who calls the shots on a patient’s care — have no easy way to monitor a patient’s meandering path through the health care system.
Aledade’s software addresses that by collecting patient data from a variety of sources, creating a helicopter view. Doctors can see which specialists a patient has visited, which tests have been ordered, and, crucially, how much the overall care might be costing the health care system.
More important, the software uses the data to assemble a battery of daily checklists for physicians’ practices. These are a set of easy steps for the practice to take — call this patient, order this vaccine — to keep on top of patients’ care, and, in time, to reduce its cost."A Start-Up Suggests a Fix to the Health Care Morass - The New York Times
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Related recommended reading: Tim Wu's The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
"The result would illustrate the real-world stakes of the Trump administration’s pursuit of dismantling regulations across government. The rollback at the F.C.C., a microcosm of the broader effort, pleases business interests and many Republicans who complain that regulators are heavy-handed and hostile in their approach. It raises alarms among free-speech advocates and many Democrats who say consumers suffer without aggressive oversight.How a Conservative TV Giant Is Ridding Itself of Regulation - The New York Times
“I worry that our democracy is at stake because democracy depends on a diversity of voices and competition of news outlets,” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
If Sinclair’s past is any guide, the changes for viewers could be profound."
A difficult digital dilemma
"“It’s well past time for platforms that already exercise some discretion to stop pretending they are just dumb pipes that allow all types of garbage to flow through them,” said Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University. “It seems to me a significant move in a direction that is long overdue.”Why GoDaddy’s decision to delist a neo-Nazi site is such a big deal - The Washington Post
But the American Civil Liberties Union said that consumers should not be so quick to condemn the display of even “the most vile white supremacist speech.”
People are relieved when speech they disagree with is removed, but the censorship can come back to bite them when they find themselves on the receiving end, said Lee Rowland, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. The First Amendment has enabled Americans throughout the country’s history to challenge the status quo, because “we are able to reveal what people really think and counter it,” she added."
Monday, August 14, 2017
In other irrational exuberance news, see Consumer debt is at a record high. Haven’t we learned? (The Washington Post)
"It's been a swift rise for bitcoin, which only passed the $3,000 marker for the first time at the start of the month. The rise also comes fresh off the heels of the so-called "hard fork" in bitcoin which saw a new virtual currency called Bitcoin Cash split off from bitcoin proper on August 1.Bitcoin passes $4,000 mark to reach all-time high - CNET
The split was designed to deal with the growing popularity of bitcoin, which was struggling to support an increasing number of transactions using existing blockchain technology, though the move left many wondering whether market values would fall."
From a TV reality check; also see Freedom from cable isn’t free: Flood of streaming services will make cutting the cord more complicated (The Washington Post)
"What happened to the glorious, consumer-friendly future of TV? We were told that the internet would usher in a golden era of streaming video, and that incredible shows and movies would be a click away through low-cost, easy-to-use services. The $100-a-month Time Warner cable packages that required navigating a byzantine menu of third-rate channels would be a distant nightmare.The Messy, Confusing Future of TV? It’s Here - The New York Times
Instead, we’ve rushed headlong into a hyper-fragmented mess, with a jumble of on-demand services that, added up, cost more and often offer less than the old cable bundle. There are lots of great shows and movies being made, but finding them has become harder than ever."
Friday, August 11, 2017
Also see After electric cars, what more will it take for batteries to change the face of energy? (The Economist)
"The internal combustion engine has had a good run—and could still dominate shipping and aviation for decades to come. But on land electric motors will soon offer freedom and convenience more cheaply and cleanly. As the switch to electric cars reverses the trend in the rich world towards falling electricity consumption, policymakers will need to help, by ensuring that there is enough generating capacity—in spite of many countries’ broken system of regulation. They may need to be the midwives to new rules and standards for public recharging stations, and the recycling of batteries, rare-earth motors and other components in “urban mines”. And they will have to cope with the turmoil as old factory jobs disappear.The death of the internal combustion engine
Driverless electric cars in the 21st century are likely to improve the world in profound and unexpected ways, just as vehicles powered by internal combustion engines did in the 20th. But it will be a bumpy road. Buckle up."
Nothing below the Surface (in terms of estimated breakage rate by the end of the 2nd year of ownership), according to Consumer Reports
Microsoft dismisses Consumer Reports’ Surface complaints - The Verge
"Microsoft says it respectfully disagrees with Consumer Reports’ findings on its Surface range of laptops and tablets. Consumer Reports has removed its “recommended” badge from Microsoft’s entire lineup of Surface PCs because the hardware was found to be less reliable than other PC brands. In a surprise report, Consumer Reports surveyed 90,000 tablet and laptop owners and found roughly 25 percent of Surface users have encountered issues by the end of the second year of ownership.From Consumer Reports stops recommending Microsoft Surface PCs over reliability concerns (The Verge):
Microsoft disagrees with Consumer Reports’ findings, and Surface chief Panos Panay says the company stands “firmly behind the quality and reliability of the Surface family of devices.” In a blog post, Panay says the Consumer Reports survey is disappointing. “While we respect Consumer Reports, we disagree with their findings,” says Panay. “In the Surface team we track quality constantly, using metrics that include failure and return rates — both our predicted 1-2-year failure and actual return rates for Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are significantly lower than 25 percent.”"
Microsoft dismisses Consumer Reports’ Surface complaints - The Verge
Perhaps in part a response to Travis Kalanick is telling people he will pull a Steve Jobs and return as Uber's CEO (Business Insider); also see Benchmark’s lawsuit has one major goal: Get Travis Kalanick off Uber’s board (Recode)
"Benchmark’s lawsuit “is a big deal,” said David Larcker, director of Stanford University’s Corporate Governance Research Initiative. “When your largest and most substantial VC sues the founder for governance concerns, it’s a big problem.”Uber Backer Benchmark Sues to Kick Kalanick Off Board - Bloomberg
Benchmark contends that Kalanick “fraudulently gained control” of three board seats by hiding his “gross mismanagement” of the company. In May, Kalanick approached certain investors, including Benchmark’s Gurley, seeking approval to add three new seats to the eight-member board. He repeatedly touted his abilities to manage the company and failed to disclose issues that would have caused Benchmark to question the appropriateness of the additional board seats, according to the complaint."
Probably not a fun day ahead for Snap shareholders
"Snap will soon face a make-or-break year, said Norm Johnston, the chief strategy officer at Mindshare, a global media agency. “Either it will realize its full potential by delivering growth in daily users, or it will end up as the next Twitter,” the social media service that has been grappling with stalled growth, he said.Snap Stumbles Through Another Disappointing Quarter - The New York Times
On Thursday, Snap did little to change its trajectory when it reported quarterly earnings that missed Wall Street projections. The company reported a loss of 36 cents a share, versus estimates of a 33-cent loss. Revenue rose to $181.7 million, versus expectations for $185.8 million. The company recorded a wider quarterly loss than a year ago of $443.1 million, up from $115.9 million."
Thursday, August 10, 2017
From a stark IBM Watson reality check
"IBM seems to believe the Watson brand can breathe new life into their company. And it sure could use some resuscitation right about now. IBM’s revenue has fallen for 22 consecutive quarters. In May, Warren Buffett dumped about a third of his IBM stock, citing “some pretty tough competitors.” Two weeks later, the Wall Street Journal reported IBM gave its remote employees the option to either move to a regional office or quit. (Since the decision affects more than 40 percent of its 380,000 employees, the article suggests it’s a way of cutting employees without official layoffs.) Then in July, investment bank Jefferies published a report cautioning IBM investors, suggesting the company won’t return value to shareholders because it can’t compete with other tech giants investing in AI.Why Everyone Is Hating on IBM Watson—Including the People Who Helped Make It
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all retooling their businesses around the belief that AI and machine learning are the future of the tech industry. IBM is in a more vulnerable position than all those companies. Even though IBM was an AI pioneer it has let its lead slip and damaged its reputation with overhyped marketing. There’s a rising sentiment in from tech and finance experts that, for all the idealism, Watson just can’t deliver on its promises."
Likely to be at least as popular as the Amazon Fire Phone
"The $699 phone, with a titanium and ceramic case, will compete directly against new devices from Samsung Electronics and Apple Inc this holiday season. Retailers include Best Buy, Amazon.com and carriers Sprint Corp in the United States and Telus Corp in Canada, Essential said in a statement.Android Creator's Startup Raises $300 Million, First Smartphone Due Soon - The New York Times
The company, founded by Chief Executive Andy Rubin in late 2015, said Access Technology Ventures led the funding round, which brought its total investment raised to $330 million.
Strategic investors also included Tencent Holdings Ltd, electronics contract manufacturer Foxconn and Amazon.com, which participated via its Alexa Fund. Previous investors Redpoint Ventures and Playground Global also participated."
See Introducing Watch, a new platform for shows on Facebook (Facebook Newsroom) for more details
"Watch is a redesign of the site’s current video tab, altered in a way intended to entice people to watch for longer stretches and return regularly to view shows, including the first programs funded by the company. The idea is that when users open Watch, the latest episodes of their favorite shows will be there waiting for them.Facebook Introduces a Dedicated Home for Videos - The New York Times
The redesign is part of a push for Facebook to be more than a repository of one-off viral videos by offering higher-quality shows that appeal to deep-pocketed TV advertisers and give viewers a reason to keep coming back. The company said it was rolling out Watch to a limited group of users in the United States before a wider release in the future."
A different kind of mixed reality
"For the last several months, far-right activists have mounted an aggressive political campaign against some of Silicon Valley’s biggest players. Extending their attacks beyond social networks like Facebook and Twitter, tech’s typical free-speech battlegrounds, they have accused a long list of companies, including Airbnb, PayPal and Patreon, of censoring right-wing views, and have pledged to expose Silicon Valley for what they say is a pervasive, industrywide liberal bias.The Alt-Right Finds a New Enemy in Silicon Valley - The New York Times
Complaints like these might once have been easily dismissed. But in the Trump era, as the right wing’s internet warriors have refined their tactics and gained legitimate political influence, they are putting Silicon Valley in an uncomfortable position."
Wednesday, August 09, 2017
Never a dull moment for competitors of The Boring Company
"Musk previously stated he wouldn’t seek to commercialize the technology in the original whitepaper unless other companies weren’t moving quickly enough. In Musk’s world, four years must seem like an eternity.Elon Musk confirms 'Boring Company' to build underground Hyperloop from DC to NYC
Some in the industry, like Dirk Ahlborn, aren’t taking the news all that well. “You would at least have wanted Musk to say, ‘OK guys, how can we do this together?’ or ‘How can I help?,’ rather than saying ‘Hey, I’m just gonna do it, thank you for making this known worldwide even more than it was before and showing the progress and making sure that people believe in it.”"
Final paragraphs from a stark journalism reality check (adapted from the forthcoming book, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech)
"Makers of magazines and newspapers used to think of their product as a coherent package—an issue, an edition, an institution. They did not see themselves as the publishers of dozens of discrete pieces to be trafficked each day on Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Thinking about bundling articles into something larger was intellectually liberating. Editors justified high-minded and quixotic articles as essential for “the mix.” If readers didn’t want a report on child poverty or a dispatch from South Sudan, they wouldn’t judge you for providing one. In fact, they might be flattered that you thought they would like to read such articles.When Silicon Valley Took Over the 'New Republic' - The Atlantic
Journalism has performed so admirably in the aftermath of Trump’s victory that it has grown harder to see the profession’s underlying rot. Now each assignment is subjected to a cost-benefit analysis—will the article earn enough traffic to justify the investment? Sometimes the analysis is explicit and conscious, though in most cases it’s subconscious and embedded in euphemism. Either way, it’s this train of thought that leads editors to declare an idea “not worth the effort” or to worry about whether an article will “sink.” The audience for journalism may be larger than it was before, but the mind-set is smaller."
Netflix disintermediation; also see Disney wants to make a huge shift in its business model — but it’s not ready to do it yet (Recode)
"Media and entertainment giant Walt Disney Company on Tuesday announced a move to bolster its subscription and streaming empire as it plans to end its relationship with Netflix and ramp up its online ESPN offerings.Disney bids Netflix goodbye as it ramps up its own streaming empire - The Washington Post
Disney said no new releases will be available on Netflix after 2019. Instead, Disney will launch its own video streaming service that year for consumers to directly access the company's movies and shows. To help its cause, Disney announced it was buying a majority ownership in BAMTech, a streaming video company, for more than $1.5 billion."
Also see Contentious Memo Strikes Nerve Inside Google and Out (NYT)
"The culture wars that have consumed politics in the United States have now landed on Silicon Valley’s doorstep.The Culture Wars Have Come to Silicon Valley - The New York Times
That became clear this week after Google on Monday fired a software engineer, James Damore, who had written an internal memo challenging the company’s diversity efforts. The firing set off a furious debate over Google’s handling of the situation, with some accusing the company of silencing the engineer for speaking his mind. Supporters of women in tech praised Google. But for the right, it became a potent symbol of the tech industry’s intolerance of ideological diversity.
Silicon Valley’s politics have long skewed left, with a free-markets philosophy and a dash of libertarianism. But that goes only so far, with recent episodes putting the tech industry under the microscope for how it penalizes people for expressing dissenting opinions. Mr. Damore’s firing has now plunged the nation’s technology capital into some of the same debates that have engulfed the rest of the country."
Tuesday, August 08, 2017
Also see Tesla to Raise $1.5 Billion Through Debt Offering (NYT)
"Forced to choose between issuing a bit more of Tesla’s turbocharged stock or tapping the overheated junk-bond market to finance the Model 3 ramp-up, Mr. Musk, the company’s founder, opted for the latter. It raises execution risk for the $60 billion electric-car maker, but not by enough to persuade the chief executive to loosen his grip on the wheel.Why Tesla Motors Is Fueling Up on Debt - The New York Times
Tesla has just over $3 billion in cash, but it is burning through roughly $1 billion a quarter as it embarks on one of the most daunting gambits in automotive history: taking production of its mass-market vehicle from zero to 400,000 or more a year in just 18 months."
Check the source for more details and the full memo
"The employee memo — which was up for days without action by Google — went viral within the search giant’s internal discussion boards this weekend, with some decrying it and others defending it. Sources said the company’s top execs have been struggling with how to deal with it and the fallout, trying to decide if its troubling content crossed a line.Google has fired the employee who penned a controversial memo on women and tech - Recode
Apparently it did. In a memo to employees titled “Our words matter,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that the employee — who has been named on Twitter, although his identity could not be verified — had violated its code of conduct. (I am not publishing his name, because he — and others who disagree with him — have been threatened with violence online.)
Had the employee not belittled women’s skills, I assume, he would not be let go, but he made claims that many consider problematic, although others maintain that his myriad of claims are worthy."
Fake fans, fittingly... Tangentially, in the real world, Peter Thiel Has Been Hedging His Bet On Donald Trump (BuzzFeed)
"Curious citizens embarked on an investigation and found that Nicole Mincey is, in reality, a young college student in New Jersey whose name, address, and image have been used to create a pro-Trump bot account on Twitter. Heavy.com got in touch with the real “Nicole Mincey,” who says her identity was stolen in order to sell Trump products (and to flatter the president on social media). Not only was Mincey’s name used to create a fake Twitter account, but it was also stolen to start a Trump merchandise store (where she’s listed as the main point of contact), and a GoFundMe account for “Young Black Republicans,” which no longer exists.Trump’s Twitter Following: Bot and Paid For? - Vogue
After Trump’s high-profile retweet of Mincey’s post led to the unmasking of @protrump45, the name and profile image on the fake account were briefly updated to something else entirely, until Twitter suspended the account altogether—standard procedure for outed bot accounts. As of this morning, Trump has yet to take down his retweet."
Friday, August 04, 2017
From a stark technology + society reality check
"Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? - The Atlantic
Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy."
Also see Brands Use Instagram Stories More Than Twice as Often as Snapchat (AdWeek)
"The company has credited Snapchat with pioneering the visual communication format, but believes the pivot into Stories goes beyond simply copying a competitor’s popular app. Like Facebook’s News Feed – a format that went on to become the standard across social apps – Stories are a new way to share. That’s led to the format being broadly adopted across the industry.Facebook begins testing Stories on the desktop | TechCrunch
Facebook itself has added Stories to Instagram, Messenger, and its flagship app. It even tried a Stories-like feature in WhatsApp. Elsewhere, Stories is inspiring redesigns of other top apps, including most recently, Tinder, Match, and Skype."
The White House asked Apple, Google and other tech giants to help upgrade the federal government - Recode
Rebranding a program implemented by the Obama administration, except for the "reducing regulation" part
"On a private call with those and other major tech companies Thursday, top advisers to the president, including Jared Kushner, announced the White House would be forming small “centers of excellence,” teams focused on reducing regulation while trying to get federal agencies to embrace cloud computing and make more of their data available for private-sector use, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.The White House asked Apple, Google and other tech giants to help upgrade the federal government - Recode
As part of those centers, Kushner and his aides with the Office of American Innovation asked the tech industry for its help — potentially through a system where leading tech engineers can do brief “tours of duty” advising the U.S. government on some of its digital challenges."
Thursday, August 03, 2017
What could possibly go wrong?...
"The device, called a “digital-to-biological converter” was unveiled in May. Though still a prototype, instruments like it could one day broadcast biological information from sites of a disease outbreak to vaccine manufacturers, or print out on-demand personalized medicines at patients’ bedsides.Biological Teleporter Could Seed Life Through Galaxy - MIT Technology Review
“We have been dreaming, for about a decade, of the ability to fax life forms,” says Juan Enriquez, an executive with Excel Ventures, a venture capital firm that has invested in SGI, who imagines a new Industrial Revolution with the “digital-biological converter” as the cotton gin.
Craig Venter, the renegade biologist who founded Synthetic Genomics in 2005, but no longer takes a day-to-day role in its activities, has said he even thinks it will be possible to transmit life forms between planets."
"Zuckerberg and Chan have vowed to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares, worth an estimated $45 billion, to charity. Bringing on Benenson is the latest sign that they’re pushing their philanthropic work more heavily into the political and policy world.Zuckerberg hires former Clinton pollster Joel Benenson - POLITICO
In January, the couple hired David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama’s 2008 presidential run, as president of policy and advocacy. Plouffe had previously worked at Uber. Ken Mehlman, who ran President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, also sits on the board.
And earlier this year, the couple also brought on Amy Dudley, a former communications adviser to Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine."
Also see Apple lifts the Dow above 22,000, but other stocks struggle (AP)
"On Wednesday, Apple’s stock surged 5 percent to a record high of $157.14 after it reported surprisingly strong financial results. It is now worth $822 billion, more than any other company in the stock market. And that is before it releases a hotly anticipated new lineup of iPhones this fall, on the 10th anniversary of the original model. Analysts say the new phones could drive sales up by more than 10 percent next year.Why Apple Is Experiencing Another Growth Spurt - The New York Times
Apple is not alone. Other aging tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet, the parent of Google, and younger players like Facebook have also managed to post strong growth despite their tremendous size. The secret to their vigor, according to analysts and investors, is the vast amount of data they have about customers and their ability to sell all sorts of products to those customers."
Firing on no cylinders; also see Tesla Burns Through Record Cash to Bring the Model 3 to Market (Bloomberg)
"Mr. Musk’s comments came on a conference call after Tesla announced its second-quarter earnings. Despite the company experiencing a widening loss as it continued to invest in factories to accommodate the Model 3, investors found plenty to like in its prospects. Tesla shares were up more than 7 percent in extended trading.Elon Musk Reassures Investors as Tesla Ramps Up Model 3 Output - The New York Times
Tesla said it lost $401.4 million in the quarter that ended June 30, compared with a loss of $293.2 million in the same period in 2016.
At the same time, the company reported overall growth in its operations, which include its automotive business and its solar-panel division."
Wednesday, August 02, 2017
A fascinating leading indicator
"“While our devices have been built to support hearing aids for years, we found that the experience of people trying to make a phone call was not always a good one,” says Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s director of global accessibility policy. “So we brought together a lot of people in different areas around the company to start investigating ways to make the process easier.” As she indicates, Apple’s accessibility team has been working for several years to support conventional hearing aids—an initiative whose results are made apparent by not only the dozens of hearing-related products in the App Store, but also a Hearing Aid Mode built into the iOS settings. It connects with hearing aids whose manufacturers have adopted the free Apple protocols, earning them a “Made for iPhone” approval. Apple also has developed a feature called Live Listen that lets hearing aid users employ the iPhone as a microphone—which comes in handy at meetings and restaurants.How Apple Is Putting Voices in Users’ Heads—Literally | WIRED
Taking on the task of making iPhones with cochlear implants was harder. “Our goal was to get rid of all those extra things that need batteries and can get in the way, so when a phone call comes in you just hit the button to answer it and that sound is streaming into your hearing aids,” says Herrlinger. It wasn’t an easy process, because this solution required pushing the Bluetooth wireless technology farther than usual. To do this, Apple’s accessibility team—which spans the company’s entire product line—had to tap the talents of its engineering staff in wireless, battery consumption, and UI design. “It’s a different type of device, so we had to do more iteration,” says Eric Seymour, Apple director of accessibility engineering."
"His group powers Smart Reply, the feature on the Gmail mobile app that offers three suggested email replies for you to select with a tap. In May it rolled out to all of the service’s English-speaking users, and last week was presented to Spanish speakers too. The responses may be short—“Let’s do Monday” “Yay! Awesome!” “La semana que viene”—but they sure can be useful. (A tip: You can edit them before sending.) “It’s a good example of artificial intelligence working hand in glove with human intelligence,” Kurzweil says.What Is Ray Kurzweil Up to at Google? Writing Your Emails | WIRED
And Kurzweil claims he’s just getting started. His team is experimenting with empowering Smart Reply to elaborate on its initial terse suggestions. Tapping a Continue button might cause “Sure I’d love to come to your party!” to expand to include, for example, “Can I bring something?” He likes the idea of having AI pitch in anytime you’re typing, a bit like an omnipresent, smarter version of Google’s search autocomplete. “You could have similar technology to help you compose documents or emails by giving you suggestions of how to complete your sentence,” Kurzweil says."