The Military

Leaked Emails Show Google Expected Military Drone AI Work To Grow Exponentially (theintercept.com) 84

In March, Google secretly signed an agreement with the Pentagon to provide cutting edge AI technology for drone warfare, causing about a dozen Google employees to resign in protest and thousands to sign a petition calling for an end to the contract. Google has since tried to quash the dissent, claiming that the contract was "only" for $9 million, according to the New York Times. Internal company emails obtained by The Intercept tell a different story: The September emails show that Google's business development arm expected the military drone artificial intelligence revenue to ramp up from an initial $15 million to an eventual $250 million per year. In fact, one month after news of the contract broke, the Pentagon allocated an additional $100 million to Project Maven [the endeavor designed to help drone operators recognize images captured on the battlefield]. The internal Google email chain also notes that several big tech players competed to win the Project Maven contract. Other tech firms such as Amazon were in the running, one Google executive involved in negotiations wrote. (Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.) Rather than serving solely as a minor experiment for the military, Google executives on the thread stated that Project Maven was "directly related" to a major cloud computing contract worth billions of dollars that other Silicon Valley firms are competing to win. The emails further note that Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing arm of Amazon, "has some work loads" related to Project Maven.

Google Listed 'Nazism' as the Ideology of the California Republican Party (gizmodo.com) 490

Less than a week ago, if you searched for the California Republican Party on Google, you might have read that the political party's ideologies included conservatism, market liberalism, and nazism. The latter listing has since been removed, and Google is blaming the results on Wikipedia "vandalism." From a report: Vice first reported the inclusion of "Nazism" under ideologies in Google's knowledge panel -- the box that shows up to the right of search results. It's unclear how long the term had been there, but the tech giant removed it after being notified by the publication. "We regret that vandalism on Wikipedia briefly appeared on our search results," Google tweeted on Thursday in response to California congressman and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. "This was not the the result of a manual change by Google. We have systems in place that catch vandalism before it impacts search results, but occasionally errors get through, and that happened here."

Google's In-House Incubator Made a Waze-Like App For the New York City Subway (theverge.com) 28

Google's in-house startup incubator Area 120 has developed a new app to help New York City subway commuters avoid delays. An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The app, called Pigeon, is live on Apple's App Store, but access is still limited to those with an invitation code. Its developers say the app can help commuters choose routes that avoid delays and crowds other users report. Google Maps and the MTA's own website already provide information on what trains aren't working. But Pigeon will also allow users to post specific comments and note annoying incidents, such as loud street performers. It sounds more like a social media app for New Yorkers to commiserate on their miserable commutes.

After you download Pigeon, it'll prompt you to allow location services multiple times. Once inside the app, there are cute pigeons all over the subway map, but tapping on them right away doesn't seem to do anything. The app's functionality is extremely reliant on what people report (hence the large purple Report button at the bottom of the screen). Pigeon's traffic reports sound just like Google's Waze app but exclusively for the New York subway system.


Samsung Won't Be Forced To Update Old Smartphones (bbc.com) 145

Samsung will not be forced to update the software on its mobile phones for years after their release, after it won a court case in the Netherlands. From a report: A consumer association had argued that Samsung should update its phones for at least four years after they go on sale. Regular software updates can address security problems but older models do not typically receive all the latest updates. However, the court rejected the association's claims.

Samsung produces some of the world's best-selling mobile phones running Google's Android operating system. Google regularly produces software updates that address newly discovered security flaws, and offers these to phone manufacturers such as Samsung. It is often up to the phone manufacturer to distribute the update to its customers. Consumer group Consumentenbond said Samsung was not distributing updates in a "timely" manner. Samsung said it guaranteed consumers in the Netherlands would get software updates for two years after a handset first went on sale in the country. The court ruled in Samsung's favour and said the claims made by Consumentenbond were "inadmissible" because they related to "future acts."


Google Promises Ethical Principles To Guide Development of Military AI (theverge.com) 154

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google is drawing up a set of guidelines that will steer its involvement in developing AI tools for the military, according to a report from The New York Times. What exactly these guidelines will stipulate isn't clear, but Google says they will include a ban on the use of artificial intelligence in weaponry. The principles are expected to be announced in full in the coming weeks. They are a response to the controversy over the company's decision to develop AI tools for the Pentagon that analyze drone surveillance footage.

Internal emails obtained by the Times show that Google was aware of the upset this news might cause. Chief scientist at Google Cloud, Fei-Fei Li, told colleagues that they should "avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI" when announcing the Pentagon contract. "Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI -- if not THE most. This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google," said Li. But Google never ended up making the announcement, and it has since been on the back foot defending its decision. The company says the technology it's helping to build for the Pentagon simply "flags images for human review" and is for "non-offensive uses only." The contract is also small by industry standards -- worth just $9 million to Google, according to the Times.


Microsoft Is Now More Valuable Than Alphabet (cnbc.com) 126

Microsoft has surged 40 percent over the past 12 months to become more valuable than Alphabet. "As of Tuesday's close, Microsoft was worth $749 billion and Alphabet's market capitalization stood at $739 billion," reports CNBC. From the report: Microsoft's latest rally has been sparked by growth in its cloud computing business, which is bigger than Google's though it still trails Amazon Web Services. In March, Microsoft reorganized its Windows and Devices Group and moved its engineering resources into other units, including one focusing on cloud and artificial intelligence. Both Microsoft and Alphabet beat analysts' expectations in the first quarter. Microsoft still trails behind Apple's market valuation of $923 billion and Amazon's $782 billion market cap.

Reddit Surpasses Facebook To Become the Third Most Visited Site in the US: Alexa (thenextweb.com) 108

According to Alexa, the Amazon-owned web traffic analyzing platform, more people now visit Reddit than Facebook in the US. From a report: Spotted, of course, on Reddit by user IamATechieNerd, the stats will be a big boost for the social sharing platform, especially with many users still irked about the recent re-design. It's important to note that analyzing web traffic using a tool like Alexa is not an exact science, but it's interesting that it has now put Reddit ahead of Facebook. If the stats are to be believed, Google is still the most visited site, followed by YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook, with Amazon rounding out the top five.

Google Chrome 67 Released for Windows, Mac, and Linux (bleepingcomputer.com) 85

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google released earlier today Chrome 67, the latest stable release of its web browser. According to changelogs released with Chrome 67, this version adds support for a Generic Sensors API, improves AR and VR experiences, and deprecates the HTTP-Based Public Key Pinning (HPKP) security feature. Probably the biggest change in Chrome 67 is the addition of the Generic Sensors API. As the name implies, this is an API that exposes data from device sensors to public websites. The new API is based on the Generic Sensor W3C standard. This API is meant primarily for mobile use, and in its current version, websites can use Chrome's Generic Sensors API to access data from a device's accelerometer, gyroscope, orientation and motion sensors. Another API that shipped with Chrome is the WebXR Device API. Developers can use this API to build virtual and augmented reality experiences on Chrome for mobile-based VR headsets like Google Daydream View and Samsung Gear VR, as well as desktop-hosted headsets like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality Headsets.

AirPlay 2 Brings HomePod Stereo Pairs and Multi-Room Audio To iOS 11.4 (betanews.com) 109

Today sees the release of iOS 11.4 and with it Apple is adding AirPlay 2. From a report: This brings some important changes to HomePod, including the stereo pairing option that was missing at launch. AirPlay 2 also adds multi-room audio to HomePod, bringing Apple's smartspeaker in line with Amazon Echo and Google Home. Other new features of iOS 11.4 include the ability to access iMessages via iCloud on any Apple device. The lack of stereo pairing and multi-room audio was seen by many as a failing of HomePod, but Apple has now addressed this. The company says that when two speakers are paired, they are capable of "delivering room-filling sound that is more spacious than a traditional stereo pair."

Airbus Steps Up Push for Flying Taxis, On-Demand Helicopters (bloomberg.com) 132

The future of transportation may not be on the roads but the skies. That might not be a reality quite yet but Airbus is taking it seriously. The company is settng up a division for flying cars and on-demand taxis. From a report: Airbus SE is creating a division to oversee futuristic transport options such as flying taxis and on-demand helicopters in a sign the European planemaker is going on the offensive against tech providers and startups encroaching in the market. The manufacturer named company veteran Eduardo Dominguez Puerta, 40, on Monday to head its newly formed Urban Air Mobility unit. Puerta helped start the firm's innovation center in Silicon Valley, where he served as chief operating officer. Projects that will be overseen by the division include an autonomous flying cab prototype called CityAirbus, an electric flying taxi named Vahana and Voom, billed by Airbus as a premier on-demand helicopter booking platform. Ride-hailing app creator Uber Technologies and startup Kitty Hawk, backed by Google's co-founder Larry Page, are also working to develop airborne taxis.

In China's Booming Tech Scene, Women Battle Sexism and Conservative Values (reuters.com) 225

In recent years, even as China's tech industry has boomed, many women say they make far less than their male counterpart for the same job. An anonymous reader shares a report: Reuters spoke to more than a dozen women -- and some men -- in the sector, from entry-level employees to executives, who described an industry where female engineers and coders battle against ingrained biases favoring men. "The traditional view is simply to think that women aren't suitable to be programmers," said Chen Bin, a former Microsoft engineer and the Beijing-based founder of Teach Girls Coding, a campaign to get more women into the sector. "Things are better now than ten years ago, but overall the number of women getting into tech is really small," he said.

China is not the only country where the tech industry has faced heat over a lack of diversity in the workplace. But unlike U.S. peers that have faced legal action over discrimination, including Uber, Alphabet's Google and Microsoft, Chinese technology companies are relatively opaque about gender issues. Most give little data on hiring and none of the industry leaders share the diversity reports that are now customary in the United States, shedding doubt on whether women in Chinese firms hold a comparable number of technical or leadership roles.


Google's Chrome Web Store Spammed With Dodgy 'Pirate' Movie Links (torrentfreak.com) 32

Unknown third parties appear to be exploiting the Chrome Store's 'theme' section to offer visitors access to a wide range of pirate movies including "Black Panther", "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Rampage." From a report: When clicking through to the page offering Ready Player One, for example, users are presented with a theme that apparently allows them to watch the movie online in "Full HD Online 4k." Of course, the whole scheme is a dubious scam which eventually leads users to Vioos dot co, a platform that tries very hard to give the impression of being a pirate streaming portal but actually provides nothing of use. In fact, as soon as one clicks the play button on movies appearing on Vioos dot co, visitors are re-directed to another site called Zumastar which asks people to "create a free account" to "access unlimited downloads and streaming." Google services have a history of being exploited.

Code.org Is Crowdsourcing Database of US K-12 Schools That Teach, Or Don't Teach CS 87

Longtime reader theodp writes: Nonprofit Code.org, which is bankrolled by the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Infosys, has teamed up with the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and is "calling on all educators and parents" to "help us build a database of all schools that teach (or don't teach) computer science" (via direct responses and email advocacy tools). Called the K-12 Computer Science Access Report, Code.org says "the database will be a resource that everyone in the CS community can use." For what purposes, however, is not entirely clear, although the Code.org Medium post indicates the database will be used by the nonprofit and the CS community to "make our shared vision [for every school to teach computer science] a reality." The post cites a 2016 study conducted by Google and Gallup -- which took principals to task for being clueless about what constituted "computer science" and misgauging parental and student demand for CS -- and goes on to add that the new database will allow the organization to "be able to report more precisely which schools do or don't offer this opportunity to their students." As far as a timeframe for the naughty-or-nice K-12 CS school database goes, Code.org reports, "our goal is to gather data for 100% of US schools by the end of 2018." In earlier posts, Code.org has thanked its partners for their help in "changing [K-12 CS] education policies in forty states" (make that 43 states!) and claimed credit for "pressing lawmakers" into unlocking Federal funding for K-12 CS with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

India's Hotstar Sets New Benchmark With Streaming Record, Draws Over 10M Concurrent Viewers To a Cricket Match (medium.com) 59

An anonymous reader shares a report: An Indian on-demand streaming service, with fewer than 400 employees, has pulled off a milestone that Silicon Valley companies Facebook, Amazon and Google-owned YouTube can only dream about at the moment. On several occasions Sunday evening, more than 10 million viewers simultaneously tuned in to Hotstar, the largest on-demand streaming service in India, to watch the deciding match of the 11th edition of Indian Premier League cricket tournament. The real-time concurrent views, displayed publicly on Hotstar's website, peaked at 10.7 million, the highest any online streaming service has reported to date. It's a big milestone for Star India-owned Hotstar, which first broke the previous top record -- about 8 million concurrent views -- in the first qualifier match in the same cricket tournament last week. In 2012, YouTube reported that its platform saw about 8 million concurrent views on the live-stream of skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumping from near-space to the Earth's surface.

How the Math Men Overthrew the Mad Men (newyorker.com) 94

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt of a New Yorker piece: Once, Mad Men ruled advertising. They've now been eclipsed by Math Men -- the engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. Yet Math Men are beleaguered, as Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated when he humbled himself before Congress, in April. Math Men's adoration of data -- coupled with their truculence and an arrogant conviction that their 'science' is nearly flawless -- has aroused government anger, much as Microsoft did two decades ago.

The power of Math Men is awesome. Google and Facebook each has a market value exceeding the combined value of the six largest advertising and marketing holding companies. Together, they claim six out of every ten dollars spent on digital advertising, and nine out of ten new digital ad dollars. They have become more dominant in what is estimated to be an up to two-trillion-dollar annual global advertising and marketing business. Facebook alone generates more ad dollars than all of America's newspapers, and Google has twice the ad revenues of Facebook.


Google's Toronto City Built 'From the Internet Up' (bbc.com) 45

On Toronto's Eastern waterfront, a new digital city is being built by Sidewalk Labs -- a firm owned by Google's parent Alphabet. It hopes the project will become a model for 21st-Century urbanism. From a report: But the deal has been controversial, representing one of biggest ever tie-ups between a city and a large corporation. And that, coupled with the fact that the corporation in question is one of the largest tech firms in the world, is causing some unease. Sidewalk Labs promises to transform the disused waterfront area into a bustling mini metropolis, one built "from the internet up," although there is no timetable for when the city will actually be built. Dan Doctoroff, the company's head and former deputy mayor of New York, told the BBC the project was "about creating healthier, safer, more convenient and more fun lives. We want this to be a model for what urban life can be in the 21st Century," he said. The area will have plenty of sensors collecting data -- from traffic, noise and air quality -- and monitoring the performance of the electric grid and waste collection.

Are Google's Cat-Loving Employees Killing Burrowing Owls? (seattletimes.com) 181

An anonymous reader writes: Google's employees started a group called GCat Rescue that traps feral cats and puts them up for adoption. (Though "less-friendly adult cats are neutered and released... The cats that are released are implanted with tracking chips, and an ear is notched so they can be identified.") A public records request discovered that city employees kept catching the Google-chipped cats in a nearby wildlife and recreation area that was home to the very last 50 burrowing owls in Silicon Valley — which California has officially designated a species of "special concern". Someone had apparently even installed a cat-feeding station next to a designated owl-nesting area.

The local Audubon Society has been asking Google to review their cat-feeding stations since 2012, but environmental groups told the Times Google was "consistenty unhelpful" on the cat issue. "They told us it was something their employees were doing and they couldn't interfere," said a board member with a group trying to protect the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. "One of the cats was trapped, turned over to the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, released to Google, trapped again in the park and released again to Google," the Times reports, adding that "In August, it was found dead in the park."

"Like so many stories these days about Big Tech, this is a tale about how attempts to do good often produce unexpected consequences, and how even smart people (especially, perhaps, smart people) can be reluctant to rethink their convictions."

The Times reports that a "final victory is at hand" for the cats, since last year was the first time in 20 years that no owl fledglings were observed in the park -- though "as recently as 2011, there were 10." But the number of cat sightings was 318.

Amazon Explains Why Alexa Recorded And Emailed A Private Conversation (mercurynews.com) 163

Amazon has issued the following statement about why their Alexa device recorded a woman's private conversation and then emailed it to one of her friends: Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like "Alexa." Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a "send message" request. At which point, Alexa said out loud "To whom?" At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, "[contact name], right?" Alexa then interpreted background conversation as "right." As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.
This apparently didn't satisfy the woman whose conversation was recorded, according to the Mercury News:
Now her family has unplugged all the devices, and although Amazon offered to "de-provision" the devices of their communications features so they could keep using them to control their home, Danielle and her family reportedly want a refund instead.

When reached Friday, an Amazon spokeswoman would not comment about whether the company will issue a refund.

Other smart home speakers carry similar privacy risks. Last year, for example, Google had to release a patch for its Home Mini speakers after some of them were found to be recording everything.


Eric Schmidt Says Elon Musk Is 'Exactly Wrong' About AI (techcrunch.com) 143

At the VivaTech conference in Paris, Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt was asked about Elon Musk's warnings about AI. He responded by saying: "I think Elon is exactly wrong. He doesn't understand the benefits that this technology will provide to making every human being smarter. The fact of the matter is that AI and machine learning are so fundamentally good for humanity." TechCrunch reports: He acknowledged that there are risks around how the technology might be misused, but he said they're outweighed by the benefits: "The example I would offer is, would you not invent the telephone because of the possible misuse of the telephone by evil people? No, you would build the telephone and you would try to find a way to police the misuse of the telephone."

After wryly observing that Schmidt had just given the journalists in the audience their headlines, interviewer (and former Publicis CEO) Maurice Levy asked how AI and public policy can be developed so that some groups aren't "left behind." Schmidt replied that government should fund research and education around these technologies. "As [these new solutions] emerge, they will benefit all of us, and I mean the people who think they're in trouble, too," he said. He added that data shows "workers who work in jobs where the job gets more complicated get higher wages -- if they can be helped to do it." Schmidt also argued that contrary to concerns that automation and technology will eliminate jobs, "The embracement of AI is net positive for jobs." In fact, he said there will be "too many jobs" -- because as society ages, there won't be enough people working and paying taxes to fund crucial services. So AI is "the best way to make them more productive, to make them smarter, more scalable, quicker and so forth."


Google Zooms By Amazon In Smart Speaker Shipments, Report Says (arstechnica.com) 29

A new report released this week says that Google has surpassed Amazon in global smart speaker shipments in the first quarter of 2018. "[Research firm Canalys] says Google shipped 3.2 million Google Home and Home Mini speakers over the course of the quarter," reports Ars Technica. "Amazon, meanwhile, is said to have shipped 2.5 million Echo speakers." From the report: According to the report, Google jumped from taking 19.3 percent of smart speaker shipments in Q1 2017 to 36.2 percent this past quarter. Amazon accounted for a whopping 79.6 percent of shipments in the year-ago quarter but fell to 27.7 percent in Q1 2018, the report says. Now, it appears the Home has reached a point of parity with the Echo; this report would mark the first time Google has overtaken Amazon in total shipments. Canalys credits Google's rise in part to retailers and channel operators "prioritizing" the Home over the Echo, given that Amazon is one of its biggest competitors in retail at large. A couple of caveats: neither Amazon nor Google breaks out quarterly sales figures for each device family, so Canalys' figures likely aren't 100-percent exact. It's also worth noting that "shipments" are not the same as "sales," so it's possible that deals and discounts on the devices have affected the figures to an extent.

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