Tick Tock, Tick Tock…
Daniel Payne writes: In just over a week, the Ahmed Mohamed clock controversy has become a global phenomenon: the young man brought a homemade clock to school and was subsequently arrested because school officials thought it looked like a bomb, leading to a worldwide outcry and hundreds of thousands of tweets, articles, and words of praise for the boy from Irving, Texas.
Ahmed has received commendation from the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even the president of the United States. Just recently, his family announced they will meet dignitaries at the United Nations; later, after a jaunt to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, they hope to meet with President Obama.
Mohamed has become an international superstar. But there are nonetheless several puzzling and troubling questions regarding his rise to fame. A great many people who have been mildly skeptical of this story have been denounced as “Ahmed truthers” and as people who are out to conduct a “smear campaign” against an innocent boy. But it’s actually reasonable and even necessary to be a bit skeptical of extraordinary stories such as this. You don’t have to have a vendetta against Ahmed to want the full story on the table, and asking honest questions about such a remarkable news event doesn’t mean you’re out to “smear” this young man.
With that in mind, here are six questions the media should be asking the Mohamed family to clarify some points that badly need it.
1. Why did Ahmed claim to build the clock if he didn’t actually build it?
From the beginning we’ve been told that Ahmed—a supposedly creative, clever, inventive young man—threw the clock together from parts in his bedroom in order to “impress” his teachers at school. Ahmed told Chris Hayes he put it together himself. He told the Dallas Morning News that he “made a clock,” elsewhere claimed “I’m the person who built a clock and got in trouble with it,” and claimed that the clock was “[his] invention.”
As it turns out, it’s almost certain he did no such thing. All the evidence points toward the conclusion that Ahmed didn’t build his clock at all, and instead just took apart an old digital clock and put the guts inside a pencil case. If this is true—and it almost certainly is—why did he claim he “built” such a device?
Photographs and videos of his workshop have shown a bench scattered with circuit boards, wires, and other electronic devices. If Ahmed is used to working in such conditions and with the guts and pieces of such technology, he should know the difference between “building” a clock and not building one. So what led him to claim he built something that, for all appearances, he didn’t?
WASHINGTON – Brent Kendall reports: A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled Apple Inc. was entitled to an injunction barring rival Samsung Electronics Co. from incorporating features into its devices that infringe the iPhone maker’s patents.
A trial judge who previously denied Apple’s request “abused its discretion when it did not enjoin Samsung’s infringement,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said.
The decision is a notable win for Apple, which has argued that Samsung should have to do more than pay monetary damages for infringing upon Apple’s patented technology. Read the rest of this entry »
“I think bitcoin is more robust because we cannot depend on Satoshi [Nakamoto, creator of bitcoin] to say, ‘Hey, Satoshi, what do we do with the block size?'” says Wences Casares, founder of the bitcoin wallet Xapo. “I think that would be a weaker bitcoin.”
Casares is an entrepreneur who brought the first internet service provider to his home country of Argentina and then launched the mega successful online brokerage firm Patagon. So people listen when he says that bitcoin “may change the world more than the Internet did.”
Reason TV‘s Zach Weissmueller sat down with Casares in Xapo’s San Francisco headquarters and discussed the state of bitcoin, why he believes that bitcoin’s core technology needs modification to increase block size, and why such a modification doesn’t threaten the future of the crypotcurrency as some critics fear. Read the rest of this entry »
Adam Rogers writes: Imagine an election—A close one. You’re undecided. So you type the name of one of the candidates into your search engine of choice. (Actually, let’s not be coy here. In most of the world, one search engine dominates; in Europe and North America, it’s Google.) And Google coughs up, in fractions of a second, articles and facts about that candidate. Great! Now you are an informed voter, right? But a study published this week says that the order of those results, the ranking of positive or negative stories on the screen, can have an enormous influence on the way you vote. And if the election is close enough, the effect could be profound enough to change the outcome.
In other words: Google’s ranking algorithm for search results could accidentally steal the presidency. “We estimate, based on win margins in national elections around the world,” says Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and one of the study’s authors, “that Google could determine the outcome of upwards of 25 percent of all national elections.”
Epstein’s paper combines a few years’ worth of experiments in which Epstein and his colleague Ronald Robertson gave people access to information about the race for prime minister in Australia in 2010, two years prior, and then let the mock-voters learn about the candidates via a simulated search engine that displayed real articles.
One group saw positive articles about one candidate first; the other saw positive articles about the other candidate. (A control group saw a random assortment.) The result: Whichever side people saw the positive results for, they were more likely to vote for—by more than 48 percent. The team calls that number the “vote manipulation power,” or VMP. The effect held—strengthened, even—when the researchers swapped in a single negative story into the number-four and number-three spots. Apparently it made the results seem even more neutral and therefore more trustworthy.
But of course that was all artificial—in the lab. So the researchers packed up and went to India in advance of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, a national campaign with 800 million eligible voters. (Eventually 430 million people voted over the weeks of the actual election.) “I thought this time we’d be lucky if we got 2 or 3 percent, and my gut said we’re gonna get nothing,” Epstein says, “because this is an intense, intense election environment.” Voters get exposed, heavily, to lots of other information besides a mock search engine result. Read the rest of this entry »
‘ It might sound like something you’d see in a science fiction movie, but my prediction is that in the next three to five years, implantable devices will become about as normal as wearing the latest watch.’
Bijan Khosravi writes: That is right, the implantable. In the past decade of tech innovation, connectivity has been the name of the game. Call your friend in the middle of the night in Antarctica. Facetime with your sister on vacation in India. Talk about the movie you saw with friends in London. Anything is possible with the push of a button and now with the Apple Watch, you can do it all with the twist of a dial. But this is just the beginning of what Silicon Valley has in store for us in the name of connectivity. We’re about to enter the next level of high tech innovation – connecting with yourself.
And the most efficient and accurate way to do that is with the next wave of sensor based smart devices – those you can implant into your body. It might sound like something you’d see in a science fiction movie, but my prediction is that in the next three to five years, implantable devices will become about as normal as wearing the latest watch.
The movement into an era of implantables is already in full swing with wearables and attachables like FitBit. These are just the first generation of gadgets that go beyond monitoring and measuring your body movements. Startups like Thync are pushing the envelope with their neurosignaling patch that uses low voltage electrical currents to alter a person’s mood and energy. Read the rest of this entry »
Trolls operate on the principle that negative attention is better than none. In fact, the troll may feed off the negative attention, claiming it makes him a victim and proves that everyone is out to get him.
Nate Silver writes:
…There’s a notion that Donald Trump’s recent rise in Republican polls is a media-driven creation. That explanation isn’t entirely wrong, but it’s incomplete. It skims over the complex interactions between the media, the public and the candidates, which can produce booms and busts of attention. And it ignores how skilled trolls like Trump can exploit the process to their benefit.
Let’s look at some data. In the chart below, I’ve tracked how media coverage has been divided among the Republican candidates over roughly the past month (the data covers June 14 through July 12), according to article counts on Google News. In turn, I’ve shown the share of Google searches for each candidate over the same period. The data was provided to FiveThirtyEight by Google but should closely match what you’ll get by searching on Google Trends or Google News yourself.
“Trump has taken trolling to the next level by being willing to offend members of his own party. Ordinarily, this would be a counterproductive strategy. In a 16-candidate field, however, you can be in first place with 15 or 20 percent of the vote — even if the other 80 or 85 percent of voters hate your guts.”
Even before his imbecilic comments about Sen. John McCain this weekend, which came too recently to be included in this data, Trump was receiving far more media attention than any other Republican. Based on Google News, 46 percent of the media coverage of the GOP campaign over the past month was directed toward Trump, more than for Jeb Bush (13 percent), Chris Christie (9 percent), Scott Walker (8 percent), Bobby Jindal (6 percent), Ted Cruz (4 percent) and Marco Rubio (4 percent) combined.
“Trolls are skilled at taking advantage of this landscape and making the news cycle feed on its own tail, accelerating the feedback loop and producing particularly large bounces and busts in the polls.”
And yet, the public is perhaps even more obsessed with Trump. Among the GOP candidates, he represented 62 percent of the Google search traffic over the past month, having been searched for more than six times as often as second-place Bush.
So if the press were going purely by public demand, there might be even more Trump coverage. Instead, the amount of press coverage that each candidate has received has been modulated by the media’s perception of how likely each is to win the nomination….(read more)
“The public is perhaps even more obsessed with Trump. Among the GOP candidates, he represented 62 percent of the Google search traffic over the past month, having been searched for more than six times as often as second-place Bush.”
But a regression analysis — you can read the gory details in the footnotes3— suggests that press attention both leads and lags public attention to the candidates. This makes a lot of sense. The public can take cues from the media about which candidates to pay attention to. But the media also gets a lot of feedback from the public. Or to put it more cynically: If Trump-related stories are piling up lots of pageviews and Trump-related TV segments get good ratings, then guess what? You’re probably going to see more of them.4
This creates the possibility of a feedback loop….(read more)
…So if these spikes are media-driven, they seem to be driven by some particularly modern features of the media landscape. Social media allows candidates to make news without the filter of the press. It may also encourage groupthink among and between reporters and readers, however. And access to real-time traffic statistics can mean that everyone is writing the same “takes” and chasing the same eyeballs at once. Is the tyranny of the Twitter mob better or worse than the “Boys on the Bus” model of a group of (mostly white, male, upper-middle-class, left-of-center) reporters deigning to determine what’s news and what isn’t? I don’t know, but it’s certainly different. And it seems to be producing a higher velocity of movement in the polls and in the tenor of media coverage. Read the rest of this entry »
Bryan Lufkin writes: Robots are entering the workforce. Some will work alongside you. Others, sadly, will put you out of work. The question is, which jobs are actually on the chopping block?
The answer to that has been bathed in media hype, but we talked to experts who gave us some realistic answers about which human careers might be endangered — and why.
Warehouse and factory workers
Robots are already working in distribution centres. This kind of setting is fertile ground for robot takeover, because bots are good at repetitive tasks that don’t require them to adapt to new situations on the fly. Adjusting to dynamic environments, improvising reactions, and nuancing your behaviour based on the changing situation are still very human things to do. Robot developers have a hard time perfecting those behaviours in robots, which is why we don’t see a Rosie the tidying, talking, wisecracking housemaid bot yet.
But in factories, robots can be programmed to do one thing, in one place, over and over again. It’s called “narrow AI.” A robot can be stationed in one spot on the distribution warehouse floor, lifting palettes that are all the same shape and size, and placing them on a conveyor belt whose location never changes. In fact, this is already happening in shipping centres like United Parcel Service in the US, where 7,000 packages are sorted every minute.
Chauffeurs, cab drivers, etc.
Add professional car drivers to the vulnerable list. We’re already in the midst of this transition. “I think cars, especially cars for hire, will probably be autonomous,” says Richard Alan Peters, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University and CTO at Universal Robotics.
Obviously, companies like Google have some crash-related kinks to iron out of their self-driving experiments. Plus a nightmarish morass of legislation awaits this industry of automatic magic cars that cruise busy streets without a human at the helm. But it’s happening: Look at Carnegie Mellon University, where Uber has a whole lab set up solely for self-driving cars.
“Especially [security guards] that are out observing the perimeter after hours. Checking doors and halls will be automated,” Peters says. Basically, any job that’s super repetitive could be a target for robot replacement. To compound that, any repetitive job that the robot can do better than a human is especiallyvulnerable.
Robo security guards already kind of exist. Microsoft announced last year that they have toyed with Dalek-shaped sentries roaming their Silicon Valley campus. These five-foot tall, lidar-equipped bots scan intruders, recognise licence plates, and comb social media activity for any hints of danger in the area. The makers of these robots say the intention is not to replace human security guards. We’ll see about that, though, as the tech continues to advance.
Here, we’re talking about facility cleaning that doesn’t require fine motor skills. So folks who might come to your office and power blast your cafeteria floor, for example, could be replaced by robots. Polishing, vacuuming, scrubbing… that’s what robots will be doing (and already are doing in many homes with Roombas). However, not all custodians need worry (yet).
“The history of robotics shows that most tasks — e.g., tidying a room — are much harder for robots than one might think,” says Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT. Tasks like cleaning an apparatus that’s a bit more complex — say a toilet or sink — will still require humans who have articulated manipulators and nimble fingers covered with sensor-packed skin.
Lloyd is “pretty sceptical” about robots taking over jobs. He quips that based on how some people talk so grandly about robots in the workforce, that although “robots still won’t be able to tidy a room,” we will have “robotic teenagers able to mess up rooms in new and creative ways.”
“A lot of research is going into cooperative assembly by robots,” Peters explains. He says that assembly of huge objects like ships and planes will be largely automated soon. Again, the main reason is a lot of manual labour is involved: pick up that piece of drywall, hold something in place, screw something in. Read the rest of this entry »
Brian Barrett writes: It’s easy to take Wi-Fi for granted (as long as you have the password). But what if it did more than facilitate your Pinterest habit? What if instead of just connecting your devices to the Internet, it charged them as well, no wires required?
That’s the promise of new research from a team at the University of Washington, which has developed what it’s calling a “power over Wi-Fi” system that can recharge batteries through the air, from up to 28 feet away.
“If we wanted to just blast as much power as we possibly can, that would kill your Wi-Fi, because you’d have power on the channel all the time. We optimized the router so that we can deliver what seems like, to the sensor, constant power without impacting your Wi-Fi too much.”
— Bryce Kellogg, a researcher on the project.
The system comprises just two components; an access point (a router), and custom-built sensors. “The goal of the sensors is to harvest RF (radio frequency) power and convert it into DC power,” explains Vamsi Talla, a researcher on the project. “The second piece, the access point, there we actually developed a custom solution on it, just a software modification that would enable the access point to act both as a good power delivery source and, simultaneously, also as a good Wi-Fi router.” In other words, it achieves power over Wi-Fi in a way that both works with pre-existing hardware, and doesn’t interfere with your Internet connection one bit.
“Instead of having continuous power on one of your Wi-Fi channels, we split it among your three non-overlapping Wi-Fi channels. That allows us to deliver about the same amount of power without impacting any one channel very much.”
Those are two important distinctions. As Popular Science notes, Energous already sells a device that transmits power through the air through RF signals. It requires entirely new, dedicated hardware, though, and loses the Wi-Fi aspect. The UW research, meanwhile, can coexist with traditional Wi-Fi routers, pushing both data and energy simultaneously. Or, more accurately, efficiently harnessing the energy that your router already puts out. Read the rest of this entry »
“We’re going to gradually merge and enhance ourselves. In my view, that’s the nature of being human — we transcend our limitations.”
Kurzweil predicts that humans will become hybrids in the 2030s. That means our brains will be able to connect directly to the cloud, where there will be thousands of computers, and those computers will augment our existing intelligence. He said the brain will connect via nanobots — tiny robots made from DNA strands.
“As I wrote starting 20 years ago, technology is a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm and cooked our food but also burnt down our houses. Every technology has had its promise and peril.”
“Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking,” he said.
The bigger and more complex the cloud, the more advanced our thinking. By the time we get to the late 2030s or the early 2040s, Kurzweil believes our thinking will be predominately non-biological.
We’ll also be able to fully back up our brains. Read the rest of this entry »
The family of the prostitute sentenced to six years in prison for her role in the death of a Google executive have continued to show their support both in person and on social media during her trial.
“Alix Tichelman, 27, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to involuntary manslaughter and administering drugs to married father-of-five Forrest Timothy Hayes who died of a heroin overdose aboard his yacht in November 2013.”
Tichelman’s parents Bart and Leslieann were present in a Santa Cruz County Superior Court offering support for their daughter’s Tuesday sentencing.
“Since leaving her parents’ home, her life appears to have been a complete rejection of her privileged upbringing.”
The couple – and their other daughter Monica who is three years Alix’s junior – haven’t spoken publicly since their daughter’s arrest. But, as well as supporting her in court, they’ve also used Facebook to show that in spite of her crimes and troubled, past they still stand by her.
“Alix has been a heroin addict and turned to high-class prostitution to support herself.”
Sister Monica, 24, posted a photo on Facebook on May 10 of the family to which her mom wrote, ‘missing my girls today’ and ‘love you more’.
[Read more here: How Alix Tichelman injected Google’s Forrest Timothy Hayes with heroin – Daily Mail]
Alix Tichelman grew up in a wealthy, upper-class family, first in Atlanta, Georgia, and then California.
Since leaving her parents’ home, her life appears to have been a complete rejection of her privileged upbringing. Alix has been a heroin addict and turned to high-class prostitution to support herself.
Yet despite her failings, the family has maintained a united front.
In court on Tuesday, Jerry Christensen, one of Tichelman’s public defenders, said that Alix didn’t want to stand trial because she did not want to put her family through it…(read more)
(CNN) Dana Ford reports: An alleged prostitute accused in the death of a Google executive pleaded guilty on Tuesday, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Alix Tichelman faced a series of charges in the death of Forrest Timothy Hayes, 51. The married father of five was found dead in November 2013 aboard his 50-foot yacht in California’s Santa Cruz harbor.
Authorities say Tichelman gave Hayes an injection of heroin and then, as he began to die, she sipped her wine, gathered her belongings, and calmly walked away.
She pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, administering a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, destroying or concealing evidence, and engaging and agreeing to engage in prostitution, according to the Santa Cruz Superior Court. Read the rest of this entry »
A panel of experts discusses the prospect of machines capable of autonomous reasoning
Ted Greenwald writes: After decades as a sci-fi staple, artificial intelligence has leapt into the mainstream. Between Apple ’s Siri and Amazon ’s Alexa, IBM ’s Watson and Google Brain, machines that understand the world and respond productively suddenly seem imminent.
The combination of immense Internet-connected networks and machine-learning algorithms has yielded dramatic advances in machines’ ability to understand spoken and visual communications, capabilities that fall under the heading “narrow” artificial intelligence. Can machines capable of autonomous reasoning—so-called general AI—be far behind? And at that point, what’s to keep them from improving themselves until they have no need for humanity?
The prospect has unleashed a wave of anxiety. “I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” astrophysicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC. Tesla founder Elon Musk called AI “our biggest existential threat.” Former Microsoft Chief Executive Bill Gates has voiced his agreement.
How realistic are such concerns? And how urgent? We assembled a panel of experts from industry, research and policy-making to consider the dangers—if any—that lie ahead. Read the rest of this entry »
A patent that has just been awarded to Google suggests that either could be possible and that we could potentially download different personality types from the cloud.
In fact, if you can’t choose what kind of personality you want for your future robo-pal, it’s highly possible that it might be able to choose for you. It would do this by accessing your devices and learning about you, before configuring a tailored personality based on that information. In addition it could use speech and facial recognition to personalise its interactions with you.
“It’s possible that if you uploaded its personality to the cloud you might be able to transfer it to another robot.”
The original question posed still stands though — you could potentially always choose a specific personality type for your Google robot that represents the kind of person you enjoy interacting with. This personality could even be triggered by specific cues or circumstances that the robot could detect, says the patent, which was spotted by Quartz.
“Unlike Newton and Stephanie from Short Circuit who were devastated when they believed their beloved Johnny Five had been destroyed, you never need get emotional over or be concerned about the physical destruction of your robot.”
“The robot personality may also be modifiable within a base personality construct (i.e., a default-persona) to provide states or moods representing transitory conditions of happiness, fear, surprise, perplexion (e.g., the Woody Allen robot), thoughtfulness, derision (e.g., the Rodney Dangerfield robot), and so forth,” states the patent.
“A more concerning concept perhaps though is that a robot could be programmed to take on the personality of a real-world person — the patent suggests a deceased loved one or a celebrity — so that effectively you could get someone to live on after their death in robot form.”
It also suggests that should a cruel fate befall your robot, that might not spell the end of its days. It’s possible that if you uploaded its personality to the cloud you might be able to transfer it to another robot.
Unlike Newton and Stephanie from Short Circuit who were devastated when they believed their beloved Johnny Five had been destroyed, you never need get emotional over or be concerned about the physical destruction of your robot. Read the rest of this entry »
Kurt Wagner writes: Twitter is officially pulling back the curtain on Periscope, a livestreaming video app that’s been in beta since the company acquired it back in January, reportedly for $100 million.
Periscope streams live audio and video from a user’s smartphone that other people can watch and comment on within the app — the link to the livestream can be shared on Twitter as a way to spread the word and boost the audience.
The free app, which is only available on iOS for now, provides immediate competition to Meerkat, a similar livestreaming app that took off at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, earlier his month.
Meerkat, which launched just two weeks before the conference, relies heavily on Twitter’s platform. It uses Twitter login and had used its social graph to help users find people to follow before Twitter cut it off.
Given the relationship between the two products, speculation that Twitter might buy Meerkat made sense, but it bought competitor Periscope instead. Things haven’t been all bad for Meerkat, though. The app has more than 400,000 users, according to CEO Ben Rubin, and it just raised $12 million in a deal that values it at $52 million.
The two apps work in a similar way, but Twitter-owned Periscope is actually more independent from Twitter than Meerkat. Unlike Meerkat, where any Likes and comments are reflected on your Twitter profile, all the engagement on Periscope is kept within the app. Read the rest of this entry »
“I say robot, you say no-bot!”
Jon Swartz reports: The chant reverberated through the air near the entrance to the SXSW tech and entertainment festival here.
About two dozen protesters, led by a computer engineer, echoed that sentiment in their movement against artificial intelligence.
“Machines have already taken over. If you drive a car, much of what it does is technology-driven.”
— Ben Medlock, co-founder of mobile-communications company SwiftKey
“This is is about morality in computing,” said Adam Mason, 23, who organized the protest.
Signs at the scene reflected the mood. “Stop the Robots.” “Humans are the future.”
The mini-rally drew a crowd of gawkers, drawn by the sight of a rare protest here.
The dangers of more developed artificial intelligence, which is still in its early stages, has created some debate in the scientific community. Tesla founder Elon Musk donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute because of his fears.
Stephen Hawking and others have added to the proverbial wave of AI paranoia with dire predictions of its risk to humanity.
“I am amazed at the movement. I has changed life in ways as dramatic as the Industrial Revolution.”
— Stephen Wolfram, a British computer scientist, entrepreneur and former physicist known for his contributions to theoretical physics
The topic is an undercurrent in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a documentary about the fabled Apple co-founder. The paradoxical dynamic between people and tech products is a “double-edged sword,” said its Academy Award-winning director, Alex Gibney. “There are so many benefits — and yet we can descend into our smartphone.”
As non-plussed witnesses wandered by, another chant went up. “A-I, say goodbye.”
Several of the students were from the University of Texas, which is known for a strong engineering program. But they are deeply concerned about the implications of a society where technology runs too deep. Read the rest of this entry »