Advertising, News, Technology

Roombas have been busy mapping our homes, and now that data could be up for sale

roombaOver the past couple of years, Roombas haven’t just been picking up dust and chauffeuring cats around, they’ve also been mapping the layout of your home. Now, Colin Angle, the chief executive of Roomba maker iRobot, has said he wants to sell the data from these maps in order to improve the future of smart home technology.

In 2015, iRobot introduced the Roomba 980, its first Wi-Fi-connected model. This meant that while a Roomba was quietly whirring around your floors, it was also collecting spatial data using visual localization, sensors, and more. This data helps the Roomba figure out how your home is laid out and adjust cleaning patterns on-the-fly to deal with things like moved furniture. But Angle thinks it could be put to use by more devices.

“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” Angle told Reuters. Angle says that this data won’t be sold without permission, but Reuters says he thinks “most would give their consent in order to access the smart home functions.”

Read more at The Verge.

Image courtesy of The Verge.

News, Places, Technology

Tracey the robot helps passengers through Sea-Tac Airport security

A robot named Tracey is greeting passengers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, providing tips to get them smoothly through security checkpoints.

The red-and-white human-sized robot carries a large electronic sign and can speak to passengers in six different languages.

Airport officials say the robot isn’t designed to replace human workers, but to allow them to spend more time on critical security work.

Tracey was created by Advanced Robot Solutions. CEO Paul McManus says it is a demonstration model, but future versions could recognize when a traveler is wearing sunglasses or a hat and ask them to take it off before the security checkpoint.

The robot is temporarily on duty at the Seattle airport as it hosts a meeting of airport executives from around the country.

Article courtesy of KOMO News.

Image courtesy of KOMO News.

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News, People, Technology

Wisconsin company to implant microchips in employees

A Wisconsin company is about to become the first in the U.S. to offer microchip implants to its employees.

Yes, you read that right. Microchip implants.

“It’s the next thing that’s inevitably going to happen, and we want to be a part of it,” Three Square Market Chief Executive Officer Todd Westby said.

The company designs software for break room markets that are commonly found in office complexes.

Just as people are able to purchase items at the market using phones, Westby wants to do the same thing using a microchip implanted inside a person’s hand.

Read more at KSTP News.

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Education, News, Technology

JAXA lets us get a glimpse of the Space Station through its Internal Ball Camera

If you’ve ever wondered about what it’s like to be inside the International Space Station through the lens of, say, a drone, look no further.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has released images and video from its JEM Internal Ball Camera, known as “Int-Ball,” — a camera drone that can record images and video while moving in space — and the new footage gives us earth-dwellers a sneak peek of the happenings on the space laboratory.

The device itself is a tiny little ball (that looks like a Star Wars character, tbh) that can move autonomously in space, and take photos and video under remote control by the JAXA Tsukaba Space Center.

Read more at Mashable.

Image courtesy of Mashable.

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It’s so cute!
Fake News, News, Social Media, Technology

To test your fake news judgment, play this game

Fake news has been on Maggie Farley’s mind further back than 2016 when President Trump brought the term into the vernacular.

Farley, a veteran journalist, says we’ve had fake news forever and that “people have always been trying to manipulate information for their own ends,” but she calls what we’re seeing now “Fake news with a capital F.” In other words, extreme in its ambition for financial gain or political power.

“Before, the biggest concern was, ‘Are people being confused by opinion; are people being tricked by spin?’ ” Now, Farley says, the stakes are much higher.

So one day she says an idea came to her: build a game to test users’ ability to detect fake news from real.

Voilà, Factitious. Give it a shot. (And take it from us, it’s not as easy as you might think!)

Read more at NPR.

Image courtesy of NPR.

News, People, Technology

Nest founder: “I wake up in cold sweats thinking, what did we bring to the world?”

fadellTony Fadell’s wife likes to remind him when their three children’s eyes are glued to their screens that it’s at least partly his fault.

Hard to argue. Fadell, who founded the smart thermostat company Nest in 2010 and who was instrumental in the creation of both the iPod and later the iPhone as a senior vice president at Apple, has done more to shape digital technology than many of his peers. But in a recent conversation at the Design Museum in London, Fadell spoke with a mix of pride and regret about his role in mobile technology’s rise to omnipresence.

“I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?” he says. “Did we really bring a nuclear bomb with information that can–like we see with fake news–blow up people’s brains and reprogram them? Or did we bring light to people who never had information, who can now be empowered?”

Read more at Fast Co. Design.

Image courtesy of Fast Co. Design.

News, Technology

Why you will one day have a chip in your brain

Bryan JohnsonImplanting a microchip inside the brain to augment its mental powers has long been a science fiction trope. Now, the brain computer interface is suddenly the hot new thing in tech. This spring, Elon Musk started a new company, Neuralink, to do it. Facebook, at its F8 developer’s conference, showed a video of an ALS patient typing with her brain. But earlier to the game was Bryan Johnson, an entrepreneur who in 2013 made a bundle by selling his company, Braintree, to Paypal for $800 million. Last year, he used $100 million of that to start Kernel, a company that is exploring how to build and implant chips into the skulls of those with some form of neurological disease and dysfunction, to reprogram their neural networks to restore some of their lost abilities.

But helping to restore a damaged brain is only an entry point for Kernel. Johnson, a 39-year-old from Utah, is looking forward—with almost unseemly enthusiasm—to the day that healthy people can get neural augmentation. He has emerged as one of the most eloquent evangelists of reinventing the human brain. Needless to say, this effort raises lots of questions—the very questions I raised to him in a conversation recently. (It’s been edited for clarity and brevity.) Will his answers make you sign up for a brain computer interface? (Warning: it’s kind of invasive, but Johnson hopes that we might figure out how to do it without major noggin demolition.) Read it and make your own decision—albeit with your obsolete, unmodified brain.

Read more in Wired.

Image courtesy of Wired.

Fake News, News, Social Media, Technology

Twitter may introduce feature to let users flag ‘fake news’

Twitter is considering a feature that would let users flag tweets that are false or inaccurate, in an attempt to combat the spread of disinformation on the platform.

The new feature, reported by the Washington Post, would allow Twitter users to report a post as misleading, in the same way they can currently report individual tweets as spam, or abusive or harmful.

The move would follow Facebook, which introduced a way for users to report “fake news” in December last year. That tool allows US users of the site to report “purposefully fake or deceitful news” to the site’s moderators. In the UK, however, the same option only allows users to block or message the poster, offering no way to bring the posts to the attention of the administrators.

Read more at The Guardian.

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Entertainment, News, Technology

China’s Tencent to limit play time of top-grossing game for children

Tencent Holdings, China’s biggest gaming and social media firm by revenue, said it will limit play time for some young users of “Honour of Kings”, responding to complaints that children were getting addicted to the popular mobile game.

Parents and teachers have complained that children were becoming addicted to the multiplayer online battle game, which, according to the company, has more than 200 million users, mostly in China, and is the top-grossing mobile game in the world.

From Tuesday, users below 12 years of age will be limited to one hour of play time each day, while those aged between 12 years and 18 years will be limited to two hours a day, Tencent said. Tencent did not say whether the limits will be imposed only in China or elsewhere too.

The firm also plans to ban users under 12 years from logging in after 9 p.m. (1300 GMT) and will impose further restrictions on how much money younger users spend on the game, it added.

Read more at Reuters.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

Entertainment, News, Technology

Sony will start making vinyl records again in Japan, after a nearly 30-year hiatus

Sony Music is preparing to make its own vinyl records again in Japan, in another sign that albums are back from the brink of being obsolete. The company says it’s installing record-cutting equipment and enlisting the help of older engineers who know how to reproduce the best sound.

Vinyl sales have seen a resurgence since around 2008. And while records are still a small part of the market, the fact that in 2016, “a format nearly a century old generated 3.6 percent of total global revenues is remarkable,” as NPR’s Andrew Flanagan has reported.

Years of double-digit growth in record sales have left vinyl press plants in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere struggling to meet demand. Sony’s plan reportedly includes the possibility that it will press records on contract.

Read more at NPR.

Image courtesy of NPR.

News, Technology

They built the first phone you loved. Where in the world is Nokia now?

Nokia has arguably been in the communications technology business for a century and a half. “Arguably” because, for that to be true, one needs to consider the company’s original product, paper pulp, a communications technology. Also, one has to know that Nokia Corp. is still in business.

To those who think nostalgically of mobile phones when they hear Nokia, that may not be obvious. For 14 years the tech giant reigned as the world’s biggest handset maker and, while it was at it, a primary engine of Finland’s economy. The company’s fall, however, was swift. In 2012 it lost $4 billion. In 2013 it agreed to sell off its phone business, which employed 32,000, to Microsoft Corp. “It’s evident Nokia doesn’t have the resources to fund the required acceleration across mobile phones and smart devices,” said the company’s chairman, Risto Siilasmaa, in announcing the sale.

But while Nokia has gotten smaller, it remains a big company, with net sales of $26.1 billion last year. It’s a very different company, though, than it was in the heyday of its simple, durable, adorably chunky phones. By and large, it no longer makes things consumers can buy. Today, its familiar all-caps logo is mostly found on network processors, routers, base station radio access units, and other components of the largely invisible infrastructure that undergirds the mobile internet.

Read more at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Image courtesy of Bloomberg Businessweek.

Education, Health, News, Technology

Brain drain: The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity

A new study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, by the University of Chicago, shares how simply using a smartphone impacts and greatly diminishes our abilities to process, analyze and evaluate information.

Our smartphones enable—and encourage—constant connection to information, entertainment, and each other. They put the world at our fingertips, and rarely leave our sides. Although these devices have immense potential to improve welfare, their persistent presence may come at a cognitive cost.

In this research, we test the “brain drain” hypothesis that the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources, thereby leaving fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance. Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. Moreover, these cognitive costs are highest for those highest in smartphone dependence. We conclude by discussing the practical implications of this smartphone-induced brain drain for consumer decision-making and consumer welfare.

Read more at the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

News, Technology

Watch how Apple’s iPhone changed the world, in 10 charts

It’s been 10 years since the iPhone launched on June 29, 2007. It wasn’t the first smartphone, but it did raise the bar for smartphones considerably, putting the internet in everyone’s pockets and launching the mobile revolution. In its wake, few things remain unchanged.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary, here are 10 charts that show how the iPhone has changed the world.

Read more at Recode.

Image courtesy of Recode.

News, Places, Technology

An agoraphobic photographer’s virtual travels, on Google Street View

Last year, amid the stress of shutting down a company she’d co-founded nearly ten years before, Jacqui Kenny, a New Zealander living in London, began exploring the world on Google Street View. At first, she would pick locales more or less at random, poking around the streets of faraway towns and taking screenshots whenever she stumbled upon a striking image. After a while, she began seeking out certain kinds of views: arid regions with clear horizons; latitudes where she found that the sunlight fell at a dramatic slant. She was soon spending many hours on the project, which became a kind of retreat.

“I really didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” she told me. “I wasn’t in the mood to face the world yet, and this absorbed a lot of my focus.” When she looked back after a year of taking screenshots, she had accumulated an archive of around twenty-six thousand photos.

Kenny now posts photos from the collection on an Instagram account called Agoraphobic Traveller, a reference to another impetus behind the project: Kenny, who is friendly and witty in conversation, suffers from anxiety that, on a bad day, can make it difficult to leave the house. Contrary to a common misconception, agoraphobia is often less a fear of open spaces than it is a fear of losing control.

Read more from The New Yorker.

Image courtesy of The New Yorker.

News, Technology

Looking for a coal job? Better work on those PlayStation skills

While on the campaign trail in West Virginia last year, Donald Trump donned a hardhat and pantomimed digging coal with a shovel. The coal miners in the audience would soon be back to work, he promised: “Get ready, because you are going to be working your asses off.”

The only problem: Coal miners no longer swing a pickax or wield a shovel. While coal companies are hiring again, executives are starting to search for workers who can crunch gigabytes of data or use a joystick to maneuver mining vehicles hundreds of miles away.

“If you do PlayStation, you can run a 300-ton truck,” said Douglas Blackburn, a fourth-generation miner himself who runs the industry consultancy Blackacre LLC. For an industry once notorious for its risks, “the worst that can happen is you sprain a thumb.”

Read more at Bloomberg.

Image courtesy of Bloomberg.

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Education, News, Technology

A leading Silicon Valley engineer explains why every tech worker needs a humanities education

In 2005, the late writer David Foster Wallace delivered a now-famous commencement address. It starts with the story of the fish in water, who spend their lives not even knowing what water is. They are naively unaware of the ocean that permits their existence, and the currents that carry them.

The most important education we can receive, Wallace goes on to explain, “isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.” He talks about finding appreciation for the richness of humanity and society. But it is the core concept of meta-cognition, of examining and editing what it is that we choose to contemplate, that has fixated me as someone who works in the tech industry.

Read more at Quartz.

Image courtesy of Quartz.

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Education, Fake News, News, Technology

Humans can’t expect AI to just fight fake news for them

Here’s some news that’s not fake: Not everything you can read on the internet is true. Trouble is, it can be hard to know truths from untruths, and there’s evidence untruths travel faster. Many hands have been wrung in recent months over what to do about made-up news stories created to convert social media shares into page views, ad dollars, and perhaps even political traction. The modest first results from an effort to crowdsource machine learning technology to help stem the flood of falsity are a reminder that machines may help us grapple with fake news—but only if humans take the lead.

Late last year, Facebook’s director of AI research Yann LeCun told journalists that machine learning technology that could squash fake news “either exists or can be developed.” The company has since said it tweaked the News Feed to suppress fake news, although it’s unclear to what effect. Not long after LeCun’s comment, a group of academics, tech industry insiders, and journalists launched their own project called the Fake News Challenge to try and get fake news-detecting algorithms built out in the open.

The first results from that effort were released this morning. The algorithms the winning teams created might help rein in online misinformation, but as tools to speed up humans working on the problem, not autonomous fake news killbots.

Read more at Wired.

Image courtesy of Wired.

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Advertising, News, Technology

How battling brands online has gained urgency, and impact

Until last week, Travis Kalanick, a founder of Uber and its chief executive, ruled his company absolutely. That was the Silicon Valley way; ever since Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in the 1980s, tech founders have demanded, and been awarded, enormous deference by investors and corporate boards. So even as successive waves of scandal have hit Uber, Mr. Kalanick’s position looked safe.

Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. Amid many reforms, Mr. Kalanick announced a leave of absence last week and late Tuesday said he was resigning as Uber C.E.O.

It is the swiftness of the fall that’s interesting here. In another time, Mr. Kalanick might have been able to hang on. But we live in an era dominated by the unyielding influence of social feeds. Every new Uber revelation ignited a massive campaign against the company on Twitter and Facebook. A swirl of negative branding took on a life of its own — and ultimately could not be ignored.

The story is bigger than Uber.

Read more at The New York Times.

Image courtesy of The New York Times.

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News, Technology

Amazon granted a patent that prevents in-store shoppers from online price checking

Amazon’s long been a go-to for people to online price compare while shopping at brick-and-mortars. Now, a new patent granted to the company could prevent people from doing just that inside Amazon’s own stores.

The patent, titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” details a mechanism where a retailer can intercept network requests like URLs and search terms that happen on its in-store Wi-Fi, then act upon them in various ways.

The document details in great length how a retailer like Amazon would use this information to its benefit. If, for example, the retailer sees you’re trying to access a competitor’s website to price check an item, it could compare the requested content to what’s offered in-store and then send price comparison information or a coupon to your browser instead. Or it could suggest a complementary item, or even block content outright.

Read more at The Verge.

Image courtesy of The Verge.

Events, News, Technology

Why Amazon bought Whole Foods

amazon whole foodAmazon announced Friday, June 16 that it’s buying Whole Foods for just under $14 billion, the retailer’s largest acquisition ever. The purchase holds implications for the future of groceries, the entire food industry, and—as hyperbolic as this might sound—the future of shopping for just about anything.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. At the simplest level, the deal represents a straightforward confluence of interests. Amazon needs food and urban real estate, and Whole Foods needs help.

The e-commerce giant has been expanding into groceries and physical locations, including bookstores, ironically working itself back into the brick-and-mortar business that it’s also disrupting. Whole Foods, meanwhile, offers the biggest name in yuppie groceries and a fleet of urban locations, which can double as Amazon warehouses. Meanwhile, the grocer is in a tailspin, its stock price cascading as revenue growth has fallen every year since 2012. Investors had for weeks been pushing the company to sell itself to a larger grocer, like Kroger. That Whole Foods ended up with Amazon is poetic justice, considering that, in 2015, CEO John Mackey said Amazon’s move into grocery delivery would be “Amazon’s Waterloo.” Doubters of Amazon’s strategy can point to the fact that groceries are a terrible, low-margin business. That’s true—almost as terrible and low-margin as e-commerce, where Amazon has already demonstrated that it can hypnotize Wall Street’s myopic financiers, while it spends tens of billions of dollars building a global warehousing and delivery infrastructure for a shopping future that is moving online. In short, Whole Foods was in a free fall, and Amazon is the perfect net to catch it.

Read more at The Atlantic.

Image courtesy of The Atlantic.

News, Technology

And just like that, Google becomes the world’s largest job board

Monster. CareerBuilder. GlassDoor. LinkedIn. When you’re looking for a new job, you’re required to dig through countless job boards, managing logins and apps. Or it did. Now you can just google it.

Starting today, when you search something like “jobs near me” or “restaurant jobs in Chicago,” you’ll be ushered to a new part of Google Search that falls under the umbrella Google for Jobs. Here, you can further specify the opportunity you’re looking for, and Google will list opportunities from some of the largest employer databases on the web (including every site mentioned at the top of this article).

Read more at Fast Co Design.

Video courtesy of Fast Co Design.

Education, News, Privacy, Technology

New Girl Scout badges focus on cyber crime, not cookie sales

Cookie sales may take a back seat to fighting identity theft and other computer crime now that Girl Scouts as young as 5 are to be offered the chance to earn their first-ever cyber security badges.

Armed with a needle and thread, U.S. Girl Scouts who master the required skills can attach to their uniform’s sash the first of 18 cyber security badges that will be rolled out in September 2018, Girls Scouts of the USA said in a press release.

The education program, which aims to reach as many as 1.8 million Girl Scouts in kindergarten through sixth grade, is being developed in a partnership between the Girl Scouts and Palo Alto Networks (PANW.N), a security company.

The goal is to prevent cyber attacks and restore trust in digital operations by training “tomorrow’s diverse and innovative team of problem solvers equipped to counter emerging cyber threats,” Mark McLaughlin, chief executive officer of Palo Alto Networks, said in the release.

The move to instill “a valuable 21st century skill set” in girls best known for cookie sales is also aimed at eliminating barriers to cyber security employment, such as gender and geography, said Sylvia Acevedo, the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Read more at Reuters.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

A Girl Scout works on a laptop, as the Girl Scouts of the USA introduce 18 new Cybersecurity badges

News, People, Social Media, Technology

Wary ‘silver surfers’ embrace social media

Record numbers of older people are embracing social media and smart technology, according to a report from watchdog Ofcom.

But many of them remain wary of about using the internet, with a fifth of over-65s saying they are not confident online.

Despite that, four in 10 baby-boomers – aged 65 to 74 – use a smartphone.

And nearly half of net users in the same age group now have a social media profile.

About nine in 10 of those opt for a Facebook account, with only 6% choosing WhatsApp and 1% signing up for Instagram.

Meanwhile, most of the older age group – over-75s – say they have no plans to go online.

Read more at BBC News.

Image courtesy of BBC News.

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News, Politics, Technology

Mobile app gives felons a fresh start

Junior Castañeda spent most of the past decade addicted to methamphetamines and suffering through stints of homelessness. After racking up five misdemeanors, including three DUIs, he cleaned up a couple of years ago and entered community college with dreams of attaining an advanced degree in business.

To finance his education, Castañeda sought part-time employment this spring as a ticket-taker for the Oakland A’s. He thought the job interview went well, but a few weeks later Castañeda received a rejection letter denying him employment based on his prior criminal convictions.

Then, in March, Castañeda found out about a mobile app called Clear My Record. The platform helps people reduce or dismiss nonviolent convictions by submitting crime information to public defenders, streamlining a process that can take months and multiple visits to a county courthouse.

“All these companies have you run a background check,” said Castañeda. “Well, I’ve changed. I’ve reformed from my old life and I can be a productive member of society. I can be an asset to any company.”

Read more at KQED.

Privacy, Technology

Research: Your aggregated consumer data may not be secure

Even anonymized and aggregated consumer data may not be as anonymous as people have been led to believe, according to new academic research.

Researchers concluded that aggregated data — big batches of information on things like mobile devices’ movements, compiled for use in summarized form — can be unraveled to reveal the actual movements of specific individuals with about 73% to 91% accuracy, even from pools combining hundreds of thousands of users.

Read more at Ad Age.

Image courtesy of Ad Age.