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Preview: Peter O'Kelly's Reality Check

Peter O'Kelly's Reality Check



Better living through collaboration and conceptual modeling



Updated: 2018-04-24T07:34:42.220-04:00

 



In This Space Race, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk Are Competing to Take You There - The New York Times

2018-04-24T07:34:42.145-04:00

Tbd if Trump's Bezos tantrum will expand to include Blue Origin
"Musk won the bidding for Launch Pad 39A, but a few months later Bezos bought the nearby Launch Complex 36, from which missions to fly by Mars and Venus had been launched. The transfer of these hallowed pads represented, both symbolically and in practice, John F. Kennedy’s torch of space exploration being passed from government to the private sector — from a once-glorious but now sclerotic federal agency to a new breed of boyish billionaires who embodied the daring passion and imagination of history’s great pioneers, adventurers and innovators. 
Two new books chronicle this fascinating transition. “The Space Barons,” by Christian Davenport, a Washington Post reporter, is an exciting narrative filled with colorful reporting and sharp insights. The book sparkles because of Davenport’s access to the main players and his talent for crisp storytelling. “Rocket Billionaires,” by Tim Fernholz, a reporter for Quartz, is not quite as vibrant a narrative and lacks some of Davenport’s memorable scenes, but it provides smart analysis of the New Space sector as well as historical context about NASA’s triumphs and failures."
In This Space Race, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk Are Competing to Take You There - The New York Times



Hard Questions: What Information Do Facebook Advertisers Know About Me? | Facebook Newsroom

2018-04-24T06:57:03.274-04:00

Check the full post for an overview from Rob Goldman, Facebook's Ads VP

"To build a product that connects people across continents and cultures, we need to make sure everyone can afford it. Advertising lets us keep Facebook free. But we aren’t blind to the challenges this model poses. It requires a steadfast commitment to privacy.

So our promise is this: we do not tell advertisers who you are or sell your information to anyone. That has always been true. We think relevant advertising and privacy aren’t in conflict, and we’re committed to doing both well.

We know that many of you have questions about how we use your information in advertising – and what control you have over it. I’ll address some of the most frequent questions we get, but first I’ll lay out the basic mechanics of Facebook advertising."
Hard Questions: What Information Do Facebook Advertisers Know About Me? | Facebook Newsroom



Facebook finally explains why it bans some content, in 27 pages - The Washington Post

2018-04-24T06:35:45.116-04:00

See Facebook Community Standards for details

"The company’s content policies, which began in earnest in 2005, addressed nudity and Holocaust denial in the early years. They have ballooned from a single page in 2008 to 27 pages today.

As Facebook has come to reach nearly a third of the world’s population, Bickert’s team has expanded significantly, and is expected to grow even more in the coming year. A far-flung team of 7,500 reviewers, in places like Austin, Dublin, and the Philippines, assesses posts 24-hours a day, seven days a week, in more than 40 languages. Moderators are sometimes temporary contract workers without much cultural familiarity with the content they are judging, and they make complex decisions in applying Facebook’s rules."
Facebook finally explains why it bans some content, in 27 pages - The Washington Post



How Looming Privacy Regulations May Strengthen Facebook and Google - The New York Times

2018-04-24T06:31:08.068-04:00

Also see How Europe’s New Privacy Rules Favor Google and Facebook (WSJ), which concludes "“It is paradoxical,” said Bill Simmons, co-founder and chief technology officer of Dataxu , Boston-based company that helps buy targeted ads. “The GDPR is actually consolidating the control of consumer data onto these tech giants.”"

"That could begin playing out next month, when Europe enacts sweeping new regulations that prioritize people’s data privacy. The new laws, which require tech companies to ask for users’ consent for their data, are likely to hand Google and Facebook an advantage. That’s because wary consumers are more prone to trust recognized names with their information than unfamiliar newcomers. And the laws may deter start-ups that do not have the resources to comply with the rules from competing with the big companies.

In recent years, other regulatory attempts at strengthening online privacy rules have also had little effect at chipping away at the power of the largest tech companies, ultimately aiding internet giants rather than hurting them."
How Looming Privacy Regulations May Strengthen Facebook and Google - The New York Times



YouTube Says Computers Are Catching Problem Videos - The New York Times

2018-04-24T06:10:37.897-04:00

Spring cleaning

"YouTube said it took down 8.28 million videos during the fourth quarter of 2017, and about 80 percent of those videos had initially been flagged by artificially intelligent computer systems.

The new data highlighted the significant role machines — not just users, government agencies and other organizations — are taking in policing the service as it faces increased scrutiny over the spread of conspiracy videos, fake news and violent content from extremist organizations."
YouTube Says Computers Are Catching Problem Videos - The New York Times



Google’s Parent Company Spends Like It’s Thinking of a Future Beyond Ads - The New York Times

2018-04-24T06:18:34.499-04:00

Later in the article: "Also among the company’s expenditures in the quarter: $2.4 billion to buy the Chelsea Market building in Manhattan, where the company had set up some of its New York offices." Also see Google's New Spending Surge Shows a Company Playing Catch-Up (Bloomberg)
"Alphabet has made investments in areas like self-driving cars and online computer services for businesses for years, but spending in those areas was up dramatically in the first quarter. The company’s capital expenditures, which included installing undersea cables and the construction of new data centers, were $7.7 billion — more than triple the same period last year.

Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s chief financial officer, said that increase reflected a “commitment to growth” because the company had spent heavily on computing infrastructure, for both its own internal use and customer needs like Google Cloud — the unit that provides technology services to other companies."
Google’s Parent Company Spends Like It’s Thinking of a Future Beyond Ads - The New York Times



General Magic is a film about the ‘90s startup that imagined the smartphone - The Verge

2018-04-23T09:37:49.812-04:00

Hopefully available for streaming soon. In other 1990s tech history, April 22, 1993: Mosaic Browser Lights Up Web With Color, Creativity (Wired)

"Silicon Valley is stereotypically full of arrogant geniuses single-handedly forging the future, including Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and many more. But the ‘90s startup General Magic, as portrayed in a new eponymous documentary, was a team of gentle visionaries in the right place at the wrong time.

General Magic is sometimes credited with trying to invent the iPhone in the 1990s. The startup spun off from Apple with the intent of designing a smartphone-like device known as the Pocket Crystal, but it collapsed as its incredibly ambitious project ran up against technical limitations and poor planning. General Magic, directed by Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude, offers a detailed, affectionate look at the company’s brief rise and sudden fall."
General Magic is a film about the ‘90s startup that imagined the smartphone - The Verge



Pedro Domingos on the Arms Race in Artificial Intelligence - SPIEGEL ONLINE

2018-04-23T07:09:10.351-04:00

Check the full article for a wide-ranging AI reality check

"Domingos' book "The Master Algorithm," about the technology of artificial intelligence (AI), made him famous and is also considered a standard reference work. The best-selling book, published in 2015, describes how machines that can learn are changing our everyday lives -- from the social networks and science to business and politics and right up to the way modern wars are waged. The book drew praise from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Recently, a third prominent figure noted that he'd read the book: Chinese President Xi Jinping. When state television broadcast his new year's speech this year, viewers discovered that next to Marx's "Capital" and "Selected Works" by Mao Zedong, he also has a copy of "The Master Algorithm" on his bookshelf."
Pedro Domingos on the Arms Race in Artificial Intelligence - SPIEGEL ONLINE



Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google - WSJ

2018-04-23T06:50:58.750-04:00

In other Google news, Google CEO Pichai Set to Cash In $380 Million Award This Week (Bloomberg)

"As justifiable as the focus on Facebook has been, though, it isn’t the full picture. If the concern is that companies might be collecting some personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, Alphabet’s Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps.

New regulations, particularly in Europe, are driving Google and others to disclose more and seek more permissions from users. And given the choice, many people might even be fine with the trade-off of personal data for services. Still, to date few of us realize the extent to which our data is being collected and used."
Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google - WSJ



Amazon’s Critics Get New Life With Trump’s Attacks on the Company - The New York Times

2018-04-23T06:54:31.326-04:00

On a brighter note for Amazon, People think Amazon has the most positive impact on society out of any major tech company (Recode)
"Some are concerned about the president’s motivations for his attacks, which people close to Mr. Trump have said are often triggered by negative coverage of his administration in The Washington Post, a newspaper owned personally by Mr. Bezos. Mr. Trump has mingled his attacks on Amazon and the newspaper in some tweets, including one in early April slamming “the Fake News Washington Post, Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist.’”

Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, a think tank that has become a vocal critic of the power of tech companies, said he believed Amazon was worthy of action by regulators in part because of its power in the book market. But he also said he found Mr. Trump’s efforts to “personalize law enforcement” troubling.

“What he’s doing is a threat to democracy, but so is Amazon,” Mr. Stoller said. “That’s the dilemma.”"
Amazon’s Critics Get New Life With Trump’s Attacks on the Company - The New York Times



In one month, Facebook doubled the countries using its fact-checking tool — all outside the West | Poynter

2018-04-20T07:53:50.495-04:00

From a global reality check on Facebook's fact-checking strategy; on a related note, Most Americans want tech companies to fight fake news, not the government (Poynter)
"“We understand the false news challenge is very different in developing countries where people are coming online for the first time. The same solutions can’t be applied globally,” said Lauren Svensson, technology communications manager at Facebook, in an email to Poynter. “That’s why, in addition to scaling the third-party fact-checking program where we can, our focus to date has been on digital literacy.”

The additions come in regions that comprise the majority of Facebook’s active users. They also come amid a time of heightened scrutiny of Facebook’s fact-checking project, which decreases the reach of debunked stories in News Feed by a reported 80 percent, appends related fact checks, limits the visibility of misinforming pages and notifies users who share fake news."
In one month, Facebook doubled the countries using its fact-checking tool — all outside the West | Poynter



Uber, Paypal Face Reckoning Over Opaque ‘Terms and Conditions’ - Bloomberg

2018-04-20T07:56:20.765-04:00

EULA obfuscation as a legal specialty is perhaps no longer a solid career choice...
"Companies are scrambling to ensure their user agreements comply with the law, says Julian Saunders, founder of Port.im, a British software maker that helps businesses adapt to GDPR. But he says many website owners aren’t yet explicit enough in stating why they’re collecting a consumer’s information, which other companies might gain access to it, and how people can ensure their data are deleted if they request it. Saunders says he’s signed up 100 businesses for the service and urges them to bend over backward in helping users understand the details. “Areas that used to get hidden in the small print of terms and conditions should now be exposed,” he says.

Martin Garner, an analyst at technology consultancy CCS Insight, suggests companies walk readers through their policies step by step. That way they could opt out of selected provisions—limiting, for instance, third parties that can gain access to the data or restricting the kinds of information companies may stockpile. Much of what’s in the terms and conditions might be affected by the settings a user chooses, and including that information in the initial agreement unnecessarily complicates the document. “Users typically only have the choice of accepting the terms and conditions in their entirety or not using the service at all,” Garner says. Companies must “pay much closer attention to explaining to users how their data will be stored and used and getting them to consent to that explicitly.”"
Uber, Paypal Face Reckoning Over Opaque ‘Terms and Conditions’ - Bloomberg



Exclusive: Chat is Google’s next big fix for Android’s messaging mess - The Verge

2018-04-20T07:27:28.334-04:00

Check the full article for more details and an index of several of Google's earlier Android messaging apps; also see Meet Chat, another new Google messaging service that’s still not as good as Apple’s iMessage (BGR)

"Now, the company is doing something different. Instead of bringing a better app to the table, it’s trying to change the rules of the texting game, on a global scale. Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS. It’s going to be called “Chat,” and it’s based on a standard called the “Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services.” SMS is the default that everybody has to fall back to, and so Google’s goal is to make that default texting experience on an Android phone as good as other modern messaging apps.

As part of that effort, Google says it’s “pausing” work on its most recent entry into the messaging space, Allo. It’s the sort of “pause” that involves transferring almost the entire team off the project and putting all its resources into another app, Android Messages."
Exclusive: Chat is Google’s next big fix for Android’s messaging mess - The Verge



Apple’s cloud database FoundationDB now open source | 9to5Mac

2018-04-20T07:19:20.495-04:00

Also see FoundationDB is Open Source (FoundationDB blog) and How FoundationDB Powers Snowflake Metadata Forward (Snowflake)

"FoundationDB was originally founded in 2009 by Dave Rosenthal, Dave Scherer and Nick Lavezzo with the goal of making a NoSQL database that was ACID compliant, a set of properties for databases that are designed to guarantee the integrity of data even when errors occur.

Apple acquired the company in early 2015 and has probably been using it for their iCloud services for the past couple of years. In a recent paper describing how CloudKit works, engineers mentioned the usage of a NoSQL database to allow app developers to sync user data between devices in a generic and easy-to-use way. CloudKit is Apple’s cloud database behind many of iCloud’s features including iOS backups, Photos, iWork sharing and iCloud Drive."
Apple’s cloud database FoundationDB now open source | 9to5Mac



G.E. Makes a Sharp ‘Pivot’ on Digital - The New York Times

2018-04-20T06:54:40.887-04:00

In other "pivot" news, see Intel is giving up on its smart glasses (The Verge)

"G.E.’s technical prowess, they said, lies in designing and manufacturing big machines like power-plant turbines, jet engines and medical-imaging equipment. Its traditional software skills have been in the specialized programs that control the machines and factory operations. GE Digital was a striking departure into cloud-based internet software, data analytics and artificial intelligence tools like machine learning.

“G.E. reached too far outside its expertise and too fast,” said Steven Winoker, an analyst at UBS. “And it became a financial black hole.”

Just how much G.E. has invested in its digital initiatives is uncertain, but it has been several billion dollars. In an article last year in the Harvard Business Review, Mr. Immelt wrote that in 2016 “we put about $4 billion into developing analytics software and machine learning capabilities.”"
G.E. Makes a Sharp ‘Pivot’ on Digital - The New York Times



Audit Approved of Facebook Policies, Even After Cambridge Analytica Leak - The New York Times

2018-04-20T06:48:14.735-04:00

Perhaps time to audit the FTC...

"F.T.C. officials hailed the consent decree as a new and powerful model for regulating tech giants like Facebook and Google, which in recent years have built immensely lucrative advertising businesses rooted in the vast quantities of data they collect from people who use their free services.

But critics of the agreement said it reflected the essential weakness of relying on an outside firm to evaluate Facebook’s compliance with the order. The F.T.C. is a relatively small agency, where even major investigations are handled by teams of just a few people. Instead of retaining a large staff of technology and data experts to monitor businesses, the agency makes companies hire outside accounting and consulting firms. These are paid by companies like Facebook and periodically report back to the F.T.C.

According to the assessment documents, Facebook chooses which policies and procedures PwC reviews."
Audit Approved of Facebook Policies, Even After Cambridge Analytica Leak - The New York Times



A.I. Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit - The New York Times

2018-04-20T06:29:24.995-04:00

AI talent supply and demand

"The figures listed on the tax forms, which OpenAI is required to release publicly because it is a nonprofit, provide new insight into what organizations around the world are paying for A.I. talent. But there is a caveat: The compensation at OpenAI may be underselling what these researchers can make, since as a nonprofit it can’t offer stock options.

Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology and thousands of companies want to work with it. Element AI, an independent lab in Canada, estimates that 22,000 people worldwide have the skills needed to do serious A.I. research — about double from a year ago."
A.I. Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit - The New York Times



Palantir Knows Everything About You (Bloomberg)

2018-04-19T08:35:51.536-04:00

From an extensive Palantir profile; on a related note, see this Robert Wright interview with Ryan Holiday, author of Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue
"Founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company’s engineers and products don’t do any spying themselves; they’re more like a spy’s brain, collecting and analyzing information that’s fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources—financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings—and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs. U.S. spies and special forces loved it immediately; they deployed Palantir to synthesize and sort the blizzard of battlefield intelligence. It helped planners avoid roadside bombs, track insurgents for assassination, even hunt down Osama bin Laden. The military success led to federal contracts on the civilian side. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses Palantir to detect Medicare fraud. The FBI uses it in criminal probes. The Department of Homeland Security deploys it to screen air travelers and keep tabs on immigrants." 
Palantir Knows Everything About You



Tesla vs Waymo: who’s winning the race for self-driving cars - The Verge

2018-04-19T08:19:00.661-04:00

From a timely self-driving car reality check

"There’s a race happening right now that stretches from Silicon Valley to Detroit and back: who can make a self-driving car that behaves better than a human driver? It’s a far harder task than it sounded even a few years ago because human drivers know a lot — not just about their cars but about how people behave on the road when they’re behind the wheel. To reach that same kind of understanding, computerized cars need lots of data. And the two companies with the most data right now are Tesla and Waymo.

Both Tesla and Waymo are attempting to collect and process enough data to create a car that can drive itself. And they’re approaching those problems in very different ways. Tesla is taking advantage of the hundreds of thousands of cars it has on the road by collecting real-world data about how those vehicles perform (and how they might perform) with Autopilot, its current semi-autonomous system. Waymo, which started as Google’s self-driving car project, uses powerful computer simulations and feeds what it learns from those into a smaller real-world fleet."
Tesla vs Waymo: who’s winning the race for self-driving cars - The Verge



Google Launches Grasshopper Smartphone Game to Teach Coding | Time

2018-04-19T06:57:37.528-04:00

See the Grasshopper site for more details (and search "Grasshopper by Area 120" to download; Area 120 is described as "a workshop for Google's experimental products")

"The Grasshopper app itself looks simple and self-explanatory. When setting up the app, users will be able to choose how often they want to practice coding; Grasshopper suggests playing daily, but offers other options like every other day, twice per week, or no reminders at all. Like many games designed to teach coding, the puzzles themselves involve inputting lines of code to reach a goal. In the demonstration I saw, the player was asked to enter the correct code in order to complete an image of the French flag, with each string of code contributing more color to the picture. Grasshopper also quizzes students occasionally to make sure they’re comprehending the principles being taught in lessons. A friendly grasshopper named Grace — named after computer industry pioneer Grace Hopper — encourages players along the way."
Google Launches Grasshopper Smartphone Game to Teach Coding | Time



IRS blames Tax Day woes on glitch in file that houses personal records - The Washington Post

2018-04-19T06:30:50.844-04:00

Perhaps ran out of spare vacuum tubes...

"The Internal Revenue Service’s online tax filing systems failed widely on Tax Day because of a hardware “glitch” in the part of the agency’s operating system that houses taxpayers’ personal tax records, according to the tax collection agency.

The malfunctioning of IRS’s “master file” was discovered around 4 a.m. Tuesday, the biggest tax-filing day of the year. The impact of the problem spread because several other IRS systems rely on data from the agency’s “master file” to function, the IRS said in a statement to The Washington Post.

The IRS emphasized there was no reason to believe taxpayers’ private data had been breached. “There’s no data loss,” the agency said. “Taxpayers have nothing to be concerned about.”"
IRS blames Tax Day woes on glitch in file that houses personal records - The Washington Post



Robot Conquers One of the Hardest Human Tasks: Assembling Ikea Furniture - The New York Times

2018-04-19T06:19:12.505-04:00

I'm sure TaskRabbit’s app is offline while it investigates a “cybersecurity incident” (TechCrunch) is just a coincidence...

"Robots have taken our jobs, learned our chores and beaten us at our own games.

Now researchers in Singapore say they have trained one to perform another task known to confound humans: figuring out how to assemble furniture from Ikea.

A team from Nanyang Technological University programmed a robot to create and execute a plan to piece together most of Ikea’s $25 solid-pine Stefan chair on its own, calling on a medley of human skills to do so. The researchers explained their work in a study published on Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics."
Robot Conquers One of the Hardest Human Tasks: Assembling Ikea Furniture - The New York Times



American elections are too easy to hack. We must take action now | Bruce Schneier | Opinion | The Guardian

2018-04-19T06:12:21.210-04:00

Tangentially, see The Russians Are Coming (Lawfare)

"Last year, the Defcon hackers’ conference sponsored a Voting Village. Organizers collected 25 pieces of voting equipment, including voting machines and electronic poll books. By the end of the weekend, conference attendees had found ways to compromise every piece of test equipment: to load malicious software, compromise vote tallies and audit logs, or cause equipment to fail.

It’s important to understand that these were not well-funded nation-state attackers. These were not even academics who had been studying the problem for weeks. These were bored hackers, with no experience with voting machines, playing around between parties one weekend."
American elections are too easy to hack. We must take action now | Bruce Schneier | Opinion | The Guardian



Microsoft Office 2019 kills off OneNote desktop app in favor of Windows 10 version - The Verge

2018-04-18T14:10:33.101-04:00

I suppose this was inevitable, but if Microsoft doesn't add features such as unread indicators and activity notifications that work with notebooks shared on OneDrive for Business or SharePoint to the cross-platform version of OneNote, it'll be time for me to consider making Evernote my primary note-centric content/collaboration app again. See this Microsoft post for more details on the end of OneNote 2016 and what's coming in the cross-platform OneNote app.

"Microsoft is planning to launch Office 2019 later this year, and the company is changing the way OneNote is bundled. The note taking app currently has a desktop version included in Office 2016, and a separate Universal Windows App for Windows 10. Microsoft is replacing the desktop version of OneNote with the Windows 10 version in Office 2019, along with making the entire Office suite only work on Windows 10. Microsoft is also creating a Mac version of Office 2019.

The existing desktop app, OneNote 2016, will no longer get new features but Microsoft will keep updating it to fix any security issues or bugs until its end of life in October 2020. Microsoft has been gradually improving its OneNote Windows 10 app in recent months, and the company is planning new features in the future. OneNote for Windows 10 will receive updates that include the ability to insert and search for tags, see live previews of Office files within OneNote, and Class Notebook features this summer."
Microsoft Office 2019 kills off OneNote desktop app in favor of Windows 10 version - The Verge



Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Virtual Currency Plans - The New York Times

2018-04-18T07:10:02.350-04:00

Alexander Nix gets my vote for entrepreneur-of-the-year...

"Much like its acquisition of Facebook data to build psychological profiles of voters, the new business line pushed the firm into murky ethical and legal situations. Documents and emails obtained by The New York Times show that Cambridge Analytica’s efforts to help promote another group’s digital token, the Dragon Coin, associated the firm with a famous gangster in Macau who has gone by the nickname Broken Tooth.

The goal of Cambridge Analytica’s own coin offering? Raise money that would pay for the creation of a system to help people store and sell their online personal data to advertisers, Brittany Kaiser, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, said in an interview. The idea was to protect information from more or less what the firm did when it obtained the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users."
Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Virtual Currency Plans - The New York Times