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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Facebook Lite is coming to Canada, Australia, the UK and US – CNET

Tired of Facebook sucking up your data plan? The social network’s stripped-down app is being released more broadly on Friday.
Source: CNET

Silicon Valley companies are undermining the impact of artificial intelligence

Leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to glean information from large data sets is the greatest technology opportunity of a generation. After a decade of acquiring talent from startups and research universities, tech companies like Facebook, Google and Uber have amassed some of the best AI teams in the world.

However, we are not seeing the impact we deserve beyond the tech sector. Unfortunately, progress in other industries has become collateral damage to the tech sector’s race for AI talent, and this issue has received little attention.

Over the last five years, 90 percent of AI startups in Silicon Valley have been acquired by leading tech companies. These acquisitions have been largely unrelated to a successful product: Often, companies are in nascent stages and their products are either shelved by the acquiring company altogether, or the technology is embedded as a feature in another core offering. Outside of a few highly targeted cases, it’s a strategy aimed first at getting the talent in-house, then figuring out what to do with them.

Source: CB Insights

On a micro-level, this is a highly rational strategy across the tech innovation ecosystem. Leading technology companies have the capabilities, cash and scale to leverage this talent and technical expertise into profitable products down the road. For their part, venture capitalists feel safer investing at higher prices in early-stage AI companies because a lucrative technology or team acquisition provides downside protection if they are unable to build a big business. Lastly, management teams may be tempted by early acquisition offers that are priced much higher than non AI-centric companies with equivalent product maturity or market traction.

In the AI arms race, though, the name of the game is not just getting ahead, but depriving competitors of the AI talent that could make them competitive. While tech companies compete for the promise of future AI-based offerings, they are not just depriving their competition of talent, but the rest of the economy, as well.

On a macro-level, this hoarding strategy is undercutting 95 percent of the impact AI could have on the global economy and society at large. Aggregate revenue of the five leading U.S. tech companies (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook) represent less than 5 percent of total U.S. GDP. Yet tech giants are buying up companies and directing them to focus on R&D, rather than building AI applications for specific, non-tech industry problems that can have an impact today.

Some argue that tech incumbents are best suited to bring industry-specific solutions to bear. Just look at cloud computing and how many industries have used it to increase their productivity — maybe the same will be done for AI and data services. I don’t believe this is likely to happen quickly, for two reasons: (1) tech companies have plenty of their own purposes in mind, and (2) the best AI solutions are designed around a specific problem and workflow.

You can see this already playing out in a few ways:

Today, your Facebook photos are automatically tagged. This is a core feature enhancement designed to increase customer engagement. Recommendations on everything from Google to Netflix to Amazon are increasingly likely to result in increased customer purchases as a result of leveraging machine learning to scan a broader array of profile information. Both of these represent core needs for major tech companies and are not likely to translate into relevant offerings for other industries. Personally, I think it’s a shame that so many great AI minds are working on comparatively incremental feature enhancements.

There is a huge opportunity for AI-based products and companies targeting applications in industries outside the tech sector.

Second, tech companies are building up AI workforces as part of their moonshots and experimental labs that are focused on reimagining incumbent industries on tech terms and building the core IP and research that could make this possible. History indicates that when tech companies set out to reinvent entire categories, many commonly fail at first (recall Webvan, or Marc Andreesen’s LoudCloud). Incumbents don’t react quickly enough (consider Safeway’s response to Webvan, and IBM or HP’s reaction to LoudCloud).

Finally a new disruptive effort eventually succeeds a decade or two later (to complete this example, consider Amazon regarding groceries, and AWS or Opsware regarding cloud computing). In this arena, consumers and tech companies ultimately win, while major incumbents that should have had the inside track are leapfrogged because of the talent and technology gap accumulated during the initial efforts.

Even when specific projects fail, tech incumbents’ research labs reap a side benefit in recruiting power: they get AI talent in through the door and allow them to continue their research, publicizing it and adding to the narrative that tech companies are the best place to conduct research (you get free lunch and dinner!).

The net result of this situation is that, today, AI talent and technology are largely denied from companies outside of tech. Incumbent industries, like insurance, won’t see improvements to their bottom line because a computer can win at Go. This is unfortunate, because although industry applications may seem less “disruptive,” they could have a far more significant impact on a shorter timescale.

So what can other industry leaders do? Incumbent industries must respond aggressively or risk being cut out of the next decade of innovation, which will be largely driven by AI and data analytics. This means (1) acknowledging what is at stake, (2) creating an environment to attract, retain and focus the type of talent required and (3) aggressively seeking said talent.

We’ve begun to see action in a few areas:

With the prospect of self-driving cars, the automotive industry faces an existential risk.  Jon Lauckner at GM has been at the center of some bold moves forward, including the $1 billion acquisition of Cruise and a $500 million investment in Lyft. Ford and Delphi have also been active with acquisitions like Argo AI and NuTomony.

Source: CB Insights

Agriculture also presents a good example of action in recognition of what’s at stake: Two major AI acquisitions have happened in the last five years. Monsanto acquired Climate Corporation to advance their effort into a data-driven future wherein they can provide customized insights and advice to farmers for planting crops. This past year, John Deere acquired Blue River Technology, which takes this a step further, leveraging computer vision to deliver customized insight and action on every individual plant in real time as a tractor moves through the field.

To be sure, acquiring talent is far from the only means to advance as an incumbent, but building the core talent, technology and business model for future success has proven challenging for entrenched incumbents. Netflix is one of the few examples of success, innovating their way from a DVD-based business to a streaming one. Still, it was a painful transition, taking tremendous vision, cannibalization of their own sales and a 75 percent drop in share price before their fortunes turned skyward.

Right now, there is a huge opportunity for AI-based products and companies targeting applications in industries outside the tech sector, and there is relatively little competition in the short and intermediate term — moonshots at major tech companies have a spotty record and largely target a distant future. In the meantime, incumbents have historically failed to capitalize on major technology transformations, and outside of the few examples mentioned, history appears poised to repeat itself unless companies take proactive measures.

Source: TechCrunch

Lightning Labs just raised millions from Jack Dorsey and others to supercharge blockchain transactions

Lightning Labs, a young, Bay Area-based startup, is trying to make it easier for users to send bitcoin and litecoin to each other without the costly and time consuming process of settling their transactions on the blockchain.

It has investors excited about its work, too. The company is announcing today that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding to date from a kind of list of big names in payments and beyond, including Square and Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey, Square exec Jacqueline Reses, serial-founder-turned investor David Sacks, Litecoin creator Charlie Lee, Eventbrite cofounder Kevin Hartz, BitGo CTO Ben Davenport, and Robinhood cofounder Vlad Tenev, along with The Hive, Digital Currency Group, and others.

In an enthusiastic tweet earlier today, Sacks characterized the company as “one of the most important projects in crypto overall.”

Why is it notable, exactly? For starters, Lightning Labs works off Lightning Network, a protocol that’s sometimes called the second layer of bitcoin. (Think of it a little like HTTP.) Boosters of this newer layer, including Lightning Labs, see it as a way to exponentially boost the number and speed of transactions of the bitcoin blockchain without increasing the size of blocks — batches of transactions that are confirmed and subsequently shared on bitcoin’s public ledger.

It’s all a little confusing to people still trying to get a handle on how the blockchain works, but Lightning Labs essentially aims to let two or more people — and eventually machines — create instant, high-volume transactions that still use the underlying blockchain for security.

Here’s how it work: Let’s take two people. They assign funds on the blockchain into an entry that requires both to sign off on what they plan to spend. Say this is $20. After that transaction is recorded, they can transact that amount of money between each other as many times as they want. If they want to change the amount of that spend, they just update the entry on the blockchain. If they want to involve more people in this transaction, they can do this, too.

If you’re wondering whether there’s room for grift if these transactions move further from the blockchain, so were we. But one of the core tenants of Lightning Labs, it says, is that it allows you to do away with counter-party risk. You don’t have to trust someone you are transacting with because — ostensibly, anyway — no one can steal your cryptocurrency.

First, a so-called cryptographic “proof” is created when users initially broadcast that first transaction (and updated versions of it) to the blockchain. And that proof ensures that if one party tries to steal from another, not only will be incapable of doing so but as a penalty for trying, the thief’s currency will be awarded to the person they were trying to swindle.

As for people who try hopping offline in the middle of a transaction with the aim of stealing someone else’s cryptocurrency, there are separate safety measures in place in the form of time-out periods that, when they expire, ensure that the currency sender gets back his or her money. The blockchain acts as a kind of unbiased arbiter.

As for sending money to multiple parties, that’s called multi-hop routing and payments are conditional upon knowledge of a random number. Either the entire payment goes through across all participants or it’s canceled, so no one party can compromise the transactions.

Lightning Labs isn’t the only outfit that has sprung up around creating what are essentially smart contracts, but it’s the furthest along, suggests cofounder and CEO Elizabeth Stark, who says more than 1,800 developers are part of her company’s Slack channel and that thousands of volunteers helped Lightning’s seven-person team find glitches in the alpha version of its open-source software.

That outside help enabled Lightning to, starting today — roll out a beta version that’s open to anyone.

It’s only truly developer friendly at this point. (You have to write command code to use it. Stark says a much friendlier user interface will be available down the road.) Stark also suggests that because the beta version is just being released that people only transact with the amount of money they might carry in their wallet. In fact, there are limits on how much you can transact using its software, which Stark says is less to protect users from theft than from them “putting their life savings in bitcoin.” (The presumption: that people will actually start using bitcoin as a currency instead of a commodity to hang onto, thanks to the Lightning protocol.)

Finally, Lightning Labs — which is enabling people to transact with bitcoin and litecoin for now — is available on desktops only, though a mobile version is coming.

We asked Stark yesterday about the origin of the company. A former lecturer at Stanford and Yale who taught about digital copyrights, she said she realized in 2016 that if bitcoin was going to be “used by the entire world, it couldn’t happen on blockchain.” Like a lot of people, too, Stark says she got excited by the prospect of micropayments, including for artists and musicians.

When she separately edited a paper about the Lightning protocol and realized it might be possible to send high volumes of small payments — for there to be a genuine currency of the web — she suggests she jumped in with both feet with cofounder and CTO Olaoluwa Osuntokun.

“He’s the genius behind our software,” she says of Osuntokun, who has two computer science degrees from UC Santa Barbara and who graduated in 2016.

To learn more, you might check out this talk that Stark gave on the seeming importance of the layers that Lightning Labs and others are building atop the blockchain.

Source: TechCrunch

2018 Easter Jeep Safari concepts teased – Roadshow

It looks like we might see a Wrangler-based Jeepster concept.
Source: CNET

Apple's new Families page details ways to monitor kids' iPhone use – CNET

The company, facing backlash over children’s phone addiction, is trying to make it easier for parents to know what control features are already available.
Source: CNET

Volley’s voice games for smart speakers have amassed over half a million monthly users

The rapid consumer adoption of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home has opened opportunities for developers creating voice apps, too. At least that’s true in the case of Volley, a young company building voice-controlled entertainment experiences for Amazon Alexa and Google Home. In less than a year, Volley has amassed an audience north of 500,000 monthly active users across its suite voice apps, and has been growing that active base of users at 50 to 70 percent month-over-month.

The company was co-founded by former Harvard roommates and longtime friends, Max Child and James Wilsterman, and had originally operated as an iOS consultancy. But around a year and a half ago, Volley shifted its focus to voice instead.

“When we were running the iOS business, we were always sort of hacking around on games and some stuff on the side for fun,” explains Child. “We made a trivia game for iOS. And we made a Facebook Messenger chatbot virtual pet,” he says. The trivia game they built let users play just by swiping on push notifications – a very lightweight form of gameplay they thought was intriguing. “Voice was sort of the obvious next step,” says Child.

Not all their voice games have been successful, however. The first to launch was a game called Spelling Bee that users struggled with because of Alexa’s difficulties in identifying single letters – it would confuse a “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E,” for example. But later titles have taken off.


Volley’s name-that-tune trivia game “Song Quiz” was its first breakout hit, and has grown to become the number one game by reviews. The game today has a five-star rating across 8,842 reviews.

Another big hit is Volley’s “Yes Sire,” a choose-your-own-adventure style storytelling game, that’s also at the top of Alexa’s charts. It also has a five-star rating, across 1,031 reviews.

The company says it has over a dozen live titles, with the majority on the Alexa Skill Store and few for Google Assistant/Google Home. But it only has seven or eight in what you would consider “active development.”

Unlike some indie developers who are struggling to generate revenue from their voice applications, Volley has been moderately successful thanks to Amazon’s developer rewards program – the program that doles out cash payments to top performing skills. While the startup didn’t want to disclose exact numbers, it says it’s earning in the five figure range monthly from Amazon’s program.

In addition, Volley is preparing to roll out its own monetization features, including subscriptions and in-app purchases of add-on packs that will extend gameplay.

The company’s games have been well-received for a variety of reasons, but one is that they allow people to play together at the same time – like a modern-day replacement for family game night, perhaps.

“I think a live multiplayer experience with your family or people you’re good friends with, where you can have a fun time together in a room is fairly unusual. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t crowd around my iPhone and play games with my friends. And even with consoles there are significant barriers in understanding how to play” says Child.

“I think that voice enables the live social experience in a way that anyone from five years old to 85 years old can pick up immediately. I think that’s really special. And I think we’re just at the beginning. I’m not going to say we’ve got it all figured out – but I think that’s powerful and unique to these platforms,” he adds.

Volley raised over a million in seed funding ahead of joining Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 class, in a round led by Advancit Capital. Other investors include Amplify.LA, Rainfall, Y Combinator, MTGx, NFX, and angels Hany Nada, Mika Salmi, and Richard Wolpert.

The startup is currently a team of six in San Francisco.


Source: TechCrunch

Teacher in Ghana who used blackboard to explain computers gets some Microsoft love

Teaching kids how to use a computer is hard enough already, since they’re kids, but just try doing it without any computers. That was the task undertaken by Richard Appiah Akoto in Ghana, and his innovative (and labor-intensive) solution was to draw the computer or application on the blackboard in great detail. His hard work went viral and now Microsoft has stepped in to help out.

Akoto teaches at Betenase Municipal Assembly Junior High in the small town of Sekyedomase. He had posted pictures of his magnum opus, a stunning rendition of a complete Microsoft Word window, to Facebook. “I love ma students so have to do what will make them understand wat am teaching,” he wrote. He looks harried in the last image of the sequence.

The post blew up (9.3K reactions at this point), and Microsoft, which has for years been rather quietly promoting early access to computing and engineering education, took notice. It happened to be just before the company’s Education Exchange in Singapore, and they flew him out.

Akoto in Singapore.

It was Akoto’s first time outside of Ghana, and at the conference, a gathering of education leaders from around the world, he described his all-too-common dilemma: The only computers available — one belonging to the school and Akoto’s personal laptop — were broken.

“I wanted to teach them how to launch Microsoft Word. But I had no computer to show them,” he said in an interview with Microsoft at the event. “I had to do my best. So, I decided to draw what the screen looks like on the blackboard with chalk.”

“I have been doing this every time the lesson I’m teaching demands it,” he continued. “I’ve drawn monitors, system units, keyboards, a mouse, a formatting toolbar, a drawing toolbar, and so on. The students were okay with that. They are used to me doing everything on the board for them.”

Pursuing such a difficult method instead of giving up under such circumstances is more than a little admirable, and the kids are certainly better off for having a teacher dedicated to his class and subject. A little computer literacy can make a big difference.

“They have some knowledge about computers, but they don’t know how to actually operate one,” Akoto said. So Microsoft has offered to provide “device and software support” for the school (I’ve asked for specifics, though they may depend on the school’s needs), and Akoto will get a chance to go through Microsoft’s educator certification program (which has other benefits).

Obviously if this school is having this issue, countless more are as well, and could use similar support. And as Akoto himself eloquently pointed out to NPR when his post first went viral, “They are lacking more than just equipment.”

But at least in this case there are a couple of hundred students who will be getting an opportunity they didn’t have before. That’s a start.

Source: TechCrunch

Google spent about $270K to close pay gaps across race and gender

Google says there are currently no “statistically significant” pay gaps at the company across race and gender. This is based on the company’s most recent pay analysis, where it looked at unexplained pay discrepancies based on gender and race and then made adjustments where necessary, Google wrote in a blog post today.

In total, Google found statistically significant pay differences for 228 employees across six job groups. So, Google increased the compensation for each of those employees, which came out to about $270,000 in total before finalizing compensation planning. That group of 228 employees included women and men from several countries, including the U.S., as well as black and Latinx employees in the U.S.

In its analysis, Google says it looked at every job group with at least 30 employees and at least five people for every demographic group for which Google has data, like race and gender. You can read more about Google’s methodology on its blog.

Earlier this year, Google was hit with a revised gender-pay class-action lawsuit that alleges Google underpaid women in comparison with their male counterparts and asked new hires about their prior salaries.

The revised lawsuit added a fourth complainant, Heidi Lamar, who was a teacher at Google’s Children Center in Palo Alto for four years. The original suit was dismissed in December due to the fact the plaintiffs defined the class of affected workers too broadly. Now, the revised lawsuit focuses on those who hold engineer, manager, sales or early childhood education positions.

Prior to the class-action lawsuit, the Department of Labor looked into Google’s pay practices. Last January, the DoL filed a lawsuit against Google in an attempt to gain compensation data, as part of a routine compliance evaluation. In April, the DoL testified in court that pay inequities at Google are “systemic.”

Google, however, denied the DoL’s claims that the pay inequities at the company were systemic. In June, an administrative law judge sided with Google, ruling that it did not need to hand over all of the data the DoL requested.

Source: TechCrunch

New Sanctions Against Russia Finally Take the Country's Online Chaos Seriously

From election meddling to NotPetya to grid hacking, Russia’s digital provocations are no longer being ignored.
Source: Wired

Gas vs. Electric: How Far Can a Car Go With Different Fuel Sources?

A typical car can travel 30 miles on just one gallon of gasoline. How do electric vehicles stack up?
Source: Wired