Category Archives: Technology

Amazon bots are helping bring the USPS back from oblivion

The United States Postal Service is not exactly bouncing back from oblivion these days, but it’s worth noting that there’s been a slight bump in one area.

For the low-margin Shipping and Packages division, there was an 11 percent increase in revenue over last quarter. In general, these items — small packages that come to your mailbox but not snail mail letters — have kept the USPS from sinking like a ship.

For the savvy readers out there, you might already know there is one company that is helping them rebound. Hint: It’s named after an area in South America.

As Tim O’Reilly wisely notes in a recent post, Amazon is really pumping life into the shipping and receiving industry. Bots suggest products when we shop, they improve fulfillment, and they could one day guide drones to your doorstep. These are technically “automations” and not AI, but to a consumer, that doesn’t matter as long as that beef jerky and USB-C cable arrives faster, at a decent price, and in one piece.

O’Reilly also notes that this is saving jobs, not replacing them. I remember talking to an Amazon Now delivery person once a few months ago. In my area, I was able to order a printer cable and have it arrive in about an hour. He told me he was out of work for a few years. He was happy to be working, and he whistled as he walked out the door. Does he care that bots are making his job easier? Sure. Does he think bots will replace his job? Probably not. If anything, he’s happy they exist.

Next time you hear someone says bots are causing problems, tell them about that USPS increase since last quarter. You can blame automation for a lot of things, but at least in this case, it might be the bots that are saving the postal service.

Source:

https://venturebeat.com/2017/08/17/ai-weekly-amazon-bots-are-helping-bring-the-usps-back-from-oblivion/

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3 Methods for Defending Against Cyber Attacks on 3D Printers

With cyber attacks on 3D printers likely to threaten health and safety, a team of researchers has developed three novel methods to combat them.

“They will be attractive targets because 3D-printed objects and parts are used in critical infrastructures around the world, and cyber attacks may cause failures in health care, transportation, robotics, aviation and space,” said Saman Aliari Zonouz, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

He co-authored a peer-reviewed study entitled “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Feel No Evil, Print No Evil? Malicious Fill Pattern Detection in Additive Manufacturing” that was published at the 26th USENIX Security Symposium in Vancouver, Canada. It’s the security community’s flagship event, highlighting the latest advances in protecting computer systems and networks. Among several unique techniques, the research team from Rutgers and the Georgia Institute of Technology is using cancer imaging techniques to detect intrusions and hacking of 3D printer controllers.

“Imagine outsourcing the manufacturing of an object to a 3D printing facility and you have no access to their printers and no way of verifying whether small defects, invisible to the naked eye, have been inserted into your object,” said Mehdi Javanmard, study co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers. “The results could be devastating and you would have no way of tracing where the problem came from.”

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, plays an increasingly important role in industrial manufacturing. But health- and safety-related products such as medical prostheses and aerospace parts are being printed with no standard way to verify them for accuracy, the study says.

Even houses and buildings are being manufactured by 3D printers, noted Javanmard.

Instead of spending up to $100,000 USD or more to buy a 3D printer, many companies and organizations send software-designed products to outside facilities for printing, Zonouz said. But the firmware in printers may be hacked.

For their study, the researchers bought several 3D printers and showed that it’s possible to hack into a computer’s firmware and print defective objects. The defects were undetectable on the outside but the objects had holes or fractures inside them.

Other researchers have shown in a YouTube video how hacking can lead to a defective propeller in a drone, causing it to crash, Zonouz noted.

Source:

http://www.engineering.com/DesignerEdge/DesignerEdgeArticles/ArticleID/15480/3-Methods-for-Defending-Against-Cyber-Attacks-on-3D-Printers.aspx

Facebook will soon purge video clickbait from the News Feed

Facebook has announced two new updates that will limit video clickbait posts from appearing in the News Feed. The posts being targeted are those that have fake video play buttons embedded into an image, and videos of a static image.

Facebook’s algorithm actively promotes videos, especially longer ones. Spammers have exploited this to trick users into clicking links to low-quality websites and those with malicious ads. Users started noticing static images disguised as videos a little while ago where some pages were gaming Facebook’s algorithm by just uploading static memes as 10-second videos.

“Publishers that rely on these intentionally deceptive practices should expect the distribution of those clickbait stories to markedly decrease,” Facebook engineers Baraa Hamodi, Zahir Bokhari, and Yun Zhang, wrote in a blog post. “Most Pages won’t see significant changes to their distribution in News Feed.”

The demotion of video clickbait posts will roll out over the next few weeks. In May, the company rolled out more tweaks to the News Feed to limit clickbait posts.

Facebook has been taking a more aggressive approach to moderating content on its platform since the US election, after the social networking site was criticized for not doing enough to combat fake news proliferating on its platform.

Source:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/17/16160638/facebook-targeting-video-clickbait-spam

Read Apple CEO’s email denouncing white supremacism in Charlottesville

Apple will make $2 million of donations to civil rights groups working to fight white supremacism such as that on display in Charlottesville, and it will furthermore match employee donations to similar causes on a two-for-one basis. There will soon also be an option added to iTunes for Apple users to contribute to supporting one of Apple’s chosen organizations, the Southern Poverty Law Center. In an apparently related move, Apple Pay has ceased accepting payments on websites selling white supremacist and Nazi gear.

The email in full:

Team,

Like so many of you, equality is at the core of my beliefs and values. The events of the past several days have been deeply troubling for me, and I’ve heard from many people at Apple who are saddened, outraged or confused.

What occurred in Charlottesville has no place in our country. Hate is a cancer, and left unchecked it destroys everything in its path. Its scars last generations. History has taught us this time and time again, both in the United States and countries around the world.

We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it. This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human decency and morality. I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.

Regardless of your political views, we must all stand together on this one point — that we are all equal. As a company, through our actions, our products and our voice, we will always work to ensure that everyone is treated equally and with respect.

I believe Apple has led by example, and we’re going to keep doing that. We have always welcomed people from every walk of life to our stores around the world and showed them that Apple is inclusive of everyone. We empower people to share their views and express themselves through our products.

In the wake of the tragic and repulsive events in Charlottesville, we are stepping up to help organizations who work to rid our country of hate. Apple will be making contributions of $1 million each to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. We will also match two-for-one our employees’ donations to these and several other human rights groups, between now and September 30.

In the coming days, iTunes will offer users an easy way to join us in directly supporting the work of the SPLC.

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” So, we will continue to speak up. These have been dark days, but I remain as optimistic as ever that the future is bright. Apple can and will play an important role in bringing about positive change.

Best,

Tim

Source:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/16/16160292/tim-cook-apple-ceo-email-charlottesvile-nazis

How to make phone calls with Google Home

Google’s smart speaker can now pull double duty as a phone for voice calls. The company just confirmed that it’s rolling out Google Home’s calling feature in the US and Canada beginning today. Users can dial anyone in their contacts and local businesses for free — so long as the call recipient is in one of those two countries. The calling feature was first announced back in May.

In turning its speaker into a phone, Google is taking another step to challenge Amazon and its Echo devices, which introduced calling and messaging features earlier this year. But the two companies take a significantly different approach in how the feature actually works and who you’re able to communicate with.

HOW TO CALL SOMEONE WITH YOUR GOOGLE HOME SPEAKER

To place calls with Home, you just say “OK Google, call (recipient).” You can also do “Hey Google” if that’s your preferred phrase for activating the speaker. The person you’re calling needs to be stored in Google Contacts for things to work right, so if you’re using another app or service for contact management, you’ll want to make sure those numbers are also in Google’s cloud. Though it might seem like Home is basically just acting as a speakerphone, that’s not the case. Calls are made over Wi-Fi, so they don’t use your phone plan’s minutes. In fact, Google Home calling is entirely separate from your smartphone. That’s both good and bad at the moment, which I’ll get into next.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GOOGLE HOME AND AMAZON ALEXA CALLING?

  • Google Home lets you call anyone in your contacts; it doesn’t matter if they also own a Google Home speaker or not. You’re calling their actual phone. With Alexa calling, you’re always calling someone else’s Echo device or their Alexa smartphone app. That’s the major difference between the two, and definitely swings in Google’s favor.

 

  • There’s no way to call someone else’s Google Home like you can make Echo to Echo calls with Alexa. Google only supports outgoing calls. If you’re a fan of video chat, Amazon wins this one since you can make face-to-face calls with two Echo Shows or an Echo Show and the Alexa app.

 

  • If you’re not a Google Voice or Project Fi user, the person you’re calling from Google Home won’t see a recognizable phone number. Instead, they’ll see “unknown” or “no caller ID,” which might make someone hesitant to pick up. Just think of all the mobile spam calls we’re dealing with these days. You might find yourself leaving a lot of voicemails! Users of Google’s phone-related services Voice and Fi can link their number to Home right away to avoid this inconvenience and have that number displayed to recipients. Google has promised to have it working for everyone else by the end of the year. Please hurry, Google.

google-home

  • The only way to use Google Home voice calling is with your Google Home device. Amazon’s Alexa calling and messaging can be done using the Alexa app when away from your speaker, but again, since that’s uniquely between Echo devices, it doesn’t really make sense for Google’s approach.

 

  • Unless you’re linking a Google Voice or Project Fi number, you don’t need to configure any settings before placing your first call; Home has access to your Google Contacts and is also smart enough to call the right businesses you request.

 

  • Google Home can identify different users in your house by voice, so if you say “OK Google, call dad” it will call your dad without needing to ask which user is making the request. Pretty neat. Though even a single slip-up there could get awkward…

WAIT, WHAT? I DON’T WANT PEOPLE TO THINK I’M A SPAMMER. HOW DO I LINK MY GOOGLE VOICE OR PROJECT FI NUMBER TO GOOGLE HOME?

You can tell Google Home to display the phone number you’ve got tied to either Google Voice or Project Fi by going to the Assistant settings in your Google Home smartphone app for Android or iOS. Once that’s done, recipients will see your number show up instead of the terrible “no caller ID” thing.

911 CALLS ARE NOT SUPPORTED YET

It’s super important to know that you cannot initiate emergency calls to 911 using Google Home at this time. This is probably because calls are actually made over Wi-Fi and not with your mobile device, so 911 might have trouble pinpointing an accurate location for whoever’s calling. Still, this seems like something Google should work to resolve. Being able to yell out for 911’s help if you can’t make it to a phone seems like a pretty critical use case for a device inside your house that can now do voice calling.

Source:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/16/16155846/google-home-phone-call-feature-how-to-use

Increasing Minimum Wage Puts More Jobs at Risk of Automation

When the minimum wage goes up, the robots come for people’s jobs. That’s the upshot of a paper published today on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s website (abstract, full PDF paywalled), which analyzed how changes to the minimum wage from 1980 to 2015 affected low-skill jobs in various sectors of the U.S. economy. 

Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, the same level it’s been at since 2009. But 30 states have laws on the books that mandate a higher wage—it’s $11 in Washington State, for example, and Seattle recently voted to phase in a pay hike that would bring it to $15 by 2022. Such measures are designed to ensure that “minimum wage” is the same thing as a “living wage.”

Interestingly, a study of Seattle’s new law, released in June, suggested that cuts to working hours meant people were actually losing as much as $125 a month.

The new analysis, by Grace Lorden of the London School of Economics and David Neumark at the University of California, Irvine, suggests that there’s a similar negative effect among people who work minimum-wage jobs that machines can do. The researchers found that across all industries they measured, raising minimum wage by $1 equates to a decline in “automatable” jobs—things like packing boxes or operating a sewing machine—of 0.43 percent.

That may not sound like much, but we’re talking about millions of jobs across the entire U.S. economy. And certain industries were affected far more than others—in manufacturing, an uptick of $1 in minimum wage drove employment in automatable jobs down a full percentage point.

Of course, we know that automation is already gobbling up jobs in the U.S. (see “Who Will Own the Robots?”). This latest study suggests that even wage policies designed to help America’s workforce may instead be speeding up that process.

Source:

https://www.technologyreview.com/the-download/608636/increasing-minimum-wage-puts-more-jobs-at-risk-of-automation/

UPS is developing virtual reality tech to train its drivers

UPS drivers preparing to get behind the wheel will soon be using virtual reality to do so.

The company’s new VR training program will be rolling out next month at nine of the company’s training facilities, simulating some of the uncertainties and challenges of delivering packages on city streets. Trainees will interact with the content using voice commands to identify obstacles while wearing headsets.

“Virtual Reality offers a big technological leap in the realm of driver safety training,” said UPS exec Juan Perez in a statement. “VR creates a hyper-realistic streetscape that will dazzle even the youngest of our drivers whose previous exposure to the technology was through video games.”

While companies like Walmart have signed onto programs with enterprise-focused startups like Strivr Labs, UPS will be building its training materials in-house.

 

Virtual reality may be a more immersive technology but, when done poorly, training videos can be just as unbearable as more traditional instructional materials. The big issue right now is that making custom, realistic VR content able to take advantage of everything the medium has to offer really isn’t worth the effort.

Enterprise software companies could build (and some have) game engine-rendered content that allows you to move around and interact with the environment, but they often end up with dumpy PlayStation 1 graphics that wander too far from the real-world. Largely for this reason, most companies are opting for more realistic — but less interactive — 360 video.

While VR may not be as revolutionary as, say, drones to a company that ships packages across the globe, it can still be an effective tool for getting prospective employees ready before they get out on the job. It’s also important because UPS drivers are a clear candidate for utilizing AR headsets in the future to more easily keep track of shipments hands-free while preparing for drop-offs and pick-ups.

Source:

UPS is developing virtual reality tech to train its drivers

There’s a place at Google for you,’ Google CEO tells girls at coding competition

After canceling a town hall meeting intended to address the fallout from an anti-diversity memo, Google (GOOGL, +1.24%) CEO Sundar Pichai emphasized the importance of women in tech jobs while speaking at a coding event for girls at the company’s campus.

“I want you to know there’s a place for you in this industry,” Pichai told a crowd of young women on Thursday, according to the Verge. “There’s a place for you at Google. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You belong here and we need you.”

 

Pichai was speaking at the Technovation awards that honored teams of young women coders from all over the world. The months-long competition involved teams of girls developing apps to solve issues in their communities.

download

“At Google, we are very committed to building products for everyone in the world, and I think to do that well we really need to have people internally who represent the world in totality,” he said. “So it’s really important that more women and girls have the opportunity to participate in technology, to learn how to code, create, and innovate.”

His comments follow an explosive week at Google after an employee circulated a memo slamming the company’s diversity efforts and saying that women may not be as good at tech jobs as men due to biological differences. The software engineer, James Damore, was fired by Pichai on Monday. The document sparked a heated debate inside and outside of the company on sexism and diversity in Silicon Valley.

Google canceled the scheduled town hall Thursday after concerns that employees were being harassed after their questions were leaked online, according to Recode. Pichai told employees he still plans to address their concerns about the company.

Source:

http://fortune.com/2017/08/11/google-sundar-pichai-coding-women/

Tesla’s ‘tiny house’ hits the road in Australia

Tesla has a new way to demonstrate the possibilities of its home solar products to potential customers – using a ‘tiny house’ on wheels, which it can tow on a rolling tour with a Tesla Model X. The Tesla Tiny House made its official debut in Australia (via Electrek), where it will welcome visitors at Melbourne’s Federation Square, before taking off for a cross-country Australian tour.

tesla_tiny_house-melbourne-7420

The towable Tiny House is reminiscent of the mobile design studio it introduced last September, which was a reconfigured Airstream that let people build their own Tesla vehicle as a kind of mobile virtual studio. These solar-focused demonstration trailers also feature mobile design studios and configurators within, but for Tesla’s solar products, including solar panels and its Powerwall energy storage battery for the home.

The Tiny House has actual siding this time around, which is made up of sustainable timber with not artificial chemical treatments. It weighs 2 tonnes (around 4,400 pounds) and has 2kW solar generation capacity using 6 panels, which can feed the single Powerwall battery mounted on the side.

Source:

Tesla’s ‘tiny house’ hits the road in Australia to show off solar power potential

China Yikatong launched an app for ‘most’ Android devices but not Apple

Apple continues to be locked out of China’s massive mobile payments space. The latest reminder came this week when Beijing’s transportation system opened up to smartphone payments… via an Android app.

Already Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s Alipay services dominate China’s mobile payment space, which is estimated to have processed $3 trillion last year, but now Apple has missed out being part of what is sure to be a very convenient usage case.

The Financial Times reports that Beijing’s public transport payments company Yikatong launched an app for ‘most’ Android devices that allows commutes to ditch their physical card and pay fares via their phone.

Apple isn’t included most likely because its operating system doesn’t support third party payments like Yikatong, instead favoring its own Apple Pay. But it is also worth noting that iOS accounts for just 16 percent of all smartphones in China, according to data from Kantar as of March. Though the figure in urban areas is likely to skew in Apple’s favor, it doesn’t dominate which may be another factor.

 

It’s unclear whether potential iPhone owners would go to the lengths of buying an Android device just to use the transportation app, but it’s another piece of anecdotal evidence that shows the difficulty Apple is up against in China, where revenue was down 10 percent year-on-year in its most recent quarter of business.

Apple recently removed the popular tip feature from chat app WeChat, a move that some believe might tempt its users to move over to Android where it continues to exist. While WeChat itself, far and away the most popular Chinese app, has ‘leveled the playing field’ in some ways by standardizing parts of the mobile experience for users whether they are on iOS or Android, the latter of which is often (far) cheaper.

That said, analysts are optimistic that the forthcoming next iPhone — which has been heavily linked with a range of new features — can sell well in China if Apple is able to differentiate it from previous models. Time will tell, but missing out on wide deployments like Chinese public transport remains a blow.

Source:

Beijing’s public transport system gets an app for paying fares — but Apple isn’t invited