humanoid

Humanoid Androids Have Entered The Workplace

The Technocrat and Transhuman holy grail is not to augment the human experience, but to replace it all together, with AI hosting the souls of would-be immortals. The Android race now has a myriad of startups working feverishly to be first. ⁃ TN Editor
 

  • Russian start-up Promobot recently unveiled what it calls the world’s first android that looks just like a real person and can serve in a business capacity.
  • Robo-C can be made to look like anyone, so it’s like an android clone.
  • It comes with an artificial intelligence system that has more than 100,000 speech modules.
  • It can perform workplace tasks, such as answering customer questions at offices, airports, banks and museums, while accepting payments.

November 2019 is a landmark month in the history of the future. That’s when humanoid robots that are indistinguishable from people start running amok in Los Angeles. Well, at least they do in the seminal sci-fi film “Blade Runner.” Thirty-seven years after its release, we don’t have murderous androids running around. But we do have androids like Hanson Robotics’ Sophia, and they could soon start working in jobs traditionally performed by people.

Russian start-up Promobot recently unveiled what it calls the world’s first autonomous android. It closely resembles a real person and can serve in a business capacity. Robo-C can be made to look like anyone, so it’s like an android clone. It comes with an artificial intelligence system that has more than 100,000 speech modules, according to the company.

It can operate at home, acting as a companion robot and reading out the news or managing smart appliances — basically, an anthropomorphic smart speaker. It can also perform workplace tasks such as answering customer questions in places like offices, airports, banks and museums, while accepting payments and performing other functions.

Digital immortality?

“We analyzed the needs of our customers, and there was a demand,” says Promobot co-founder and development director Oleg Kivokurtsev. “But, of course, we started the development of an anthropomorphic robot a long time ago, since in robotics there is the concept of the ‘Uncanny Valley,’ and the most positive perception of the robot arises when it looks like a person. Now we have more than 10 orders from companies and private clients from around the world.

Postulated by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, the Uncanny Valley is a hypothesis related to the design of robots. It holds that the more humanlike a robot appears, the more people will notice its flaws. This can create a feeling akin to looking at zombies, and can creep people out. A properly designed android that’s as faithful as possible to the human original, however, can overcome this “valley” (a dip when the effect is imagined as a graph) and the zombie factor.

While it can’t walk around, Robo-C has 18 moving parts in its face, giving it 36 degrees of freedom. The company says it has over 600 micro facial expressions, the most on the market. It also has three degrees of freedom in its neck and torso, offering limited movement. Still, Promobot says it can be useful in homes and workplaces. The price of the robot is $20,000 to $50,000 depending on options and customized appearance.

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join CNBC at the @ Work: People + Machines Summit in San Francisco on Nov. 4. Leaders from Dropbox, SAS, McKinsey and more will teach us how to balance the needs of today with the possibilities of tomorrow, and the winning strategies to compete.

The company says it’s building four Robo-Cs: one for a government service center, where the machine will scan passports and perform other functions, one that will look like Einstein and be part of a robot exhibition, and two for a family in the Middle East that wants to have android versions of its father and his wife to greet guests.

“The key moment in development [of Robo-C] is the digitization of personality and the creation of an individual appearance,” says Kivokurtsev. “As a result, digital immortality, which we can offer our customers.”

Read full story here…




Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos: ‘We Have To Go To Space To Save Earth’

This is the best article that I have yet seen that intentionally gets inside the head of Technocrat Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon and the richest man on planet earth. Bezos is building an empire that resembles Star Trek’s villainous Borg: swallowing entire societies by informing “You will be assimilated” and “Resistance is futile.” ⁃ TN Editor

Bezos’s ventures are by now so large and varied that it is difficult to truly comprehend the nature of his empire, much less the end point of his ambitions. What exactly does Jeff Bezos want? Or, to put it slightly differently, what does he believe? Given his power over the world, these are not small questions. Yet he largely keeps his intentions to himself; many longtime colleagues can’t recall him ever expressing a political opinion. To replay a loop of his interviews from Amazon’s quarter century of existence is to listen to him retell the same unrevealing anecdotes over and over.

To better understand him, I spent five months speaking with current and former Amazon executives, as well as people at the company’s rivals and scholarly observers. Bezos himself declined to participate in this story, and current employees would speak to me only off the record. Even former staffers largely preferred to remain anonymous, assuming that they might eventually wish to work for a business somehow entwined with Bezos’s sprawling concerns.

In the course of these conversations, my view of Bezos began to shift. Many of my assumptions about the man melted away; admiration jostled with continued unease. And I was left with a new sense of his endgame.

Bezos loves the word relentless—it appears again and again in his closely read annual letters to shareholders—and I had always assumed that his aim was domination for its own sake. In an era that celebrates corporate gigantism, he seemed determined to be the biggest of them all. But to say that Bezos’s ultimate goal is dominion over the planet is to misunderstand him. His ambitions are not bound by the gravitational pull of the Earth.

efore bezos settled on Amazon.com, he toyed with naming his unlaunched store MakeItSo.com. He entertained using the phrase because he couldn’t contain a long-standing enthusiasm. The rejected moniker was a favored utterance of a man Bezos idolizes: the captain of the starship USS Enterprise-D, Jean-Luc Picard.

Bezos is unabashed in his fanaticism for Star Trek and its many spin-offs. He has a holding company called Zefram, which honors the character who invented warp drive. He persuaded the makers of the film Star Trek Beyond to give him a cameo as a Starfleet official. He named his dog Kamala, after a woman who appears in an episode as Picard’s “perfect” but unattainable mate. As time has passed, Bezos and Picard have physically converged. Like the interstellar explorer, portrayed by Patrick Stewart, Bezos shaved the remnant strands on his high-gloss pate and acquired a cast-iron physique. A friend once said that Bezos adopted his strenuous fitness regime in anticipation of the day that he, too, would journey to the heavens.

When reporters tracked down Bezos’s high-school girlfriend, she said, “The reason he’s earning so much money is to get to outer space.” This assessment hardly required a leap of imagination. As the valedictorian of Miami Palmetto Senior High School’s class of 1982, Bezos used his graduation speech to unfurl his vision for humanity. He dreamed aloud of the day when millions of his fellow earthlings would relocate to colonies in space. A local newspaper reported that his intention was “to get all people off the Earth and see it turned into a huge national park.”

Most mortals eventually jettison teenage dreams, but Bezos remains passionately committed to his, even as he has come to control more and more of the here and now. Critics have chided him for philanthropic stinginess, at least relative to his wealth, but the thing Bezos considers his primary humanitarian contribution isn’t properly charitable. It’s a profit-seeking company called Blue Origin, dedicated to fulfilling the prophecy of his high-school graduation speech. He funds that venture—which builds rockets, rovers, and the infrastructure that permits voyage beyond the Earth’s atmosphere—by selling about $1 billion of Amazon stock each year. More than his ownership of his behemoth company or of The Washington Post—and more than the $2 billion he’s pledged to nonprofits working on homelessness and education for low-income Americans—Bezos calls Blue Origin his “most important work.”

He considers the work so important because the threat it aims to counter is so grave. What worries Bezos is that in the coming generations the planet’s growing energy demands will outstrip its limited supply. The danger, he says, “is not necessarily extinction,” but stasis: “We will have to stop growing, which I think is a very bad future.” While others might fret that climate change will soon make the planet uninhabitable, the billionaire wrings his hands over the prospects of diminished growth. But the scenario he describes is indeed grim. Without enough energy to go around, rationing and starvation will ensue. Over the years, Bezos has made himself inaccessible to journalists asking questions about Amazon. But he shares his faith in space colonization with a preacher’s zeal: “We have to go to space to save Earth.”

Read full story here…




Quantum

Shock: Google Claims It Has Achieved ‘Quantum Supremacy’

By solving a complex problem in 200 seconds that would take 10,000 years on the largest super-computer, Google holds in its hand the ability to crack all private and military encrypted keys in the universe. This is not just disruptive to the Internet as we know it today, but rather it is totally destructive. ⁃ TN Editor

In what may be a huge milestone in computing, Google says it has achieved “quantum supremacy,” an experimental demonstration of the superiority of a quantum computer over a traditional one.

The claim, made in a new scientific paper, is the most serious indication yet that the promise of quantum computers—an emerging but unproven type of machine—is becoming reality, including their potential to solve formerly ungraspable mathematical problems.

Essentially, Google purports to have pulled off a stunt on a quantum computer that no classical machine—not even the world’s most powerful supercomputer—can replicate.

Fortune obtained a copy of Google’s paper, which was posted to NASA.gov earlier this week before being taken down. The Financial Times first reported the news.

A Google spokesperson declined to confirm the authenticity of the paper and its results. NASA did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

A source at Google familiar with the situation suggested, however, that NASA accidentally published the paper early, before its team’s claims could be thoroughly vetted through scientific peer review, a process that could take anywhere from weeks to months.

If the paper holds up under the scrutiny of the scientific community, it will herald a watershed moment in quantum science. Its central claim counters doubt that some unforeseen law of nature may prevent quantum computers from operating as hoped.

“Quantum speedup is achievable in a real-world system and is not precluded by any hidden physical laws,” the Google researchers write.

Further, they predict that quantum computing power will “grow at a double exponential rate,” besting even the exponential rate that defined Moore’s Law, a trend that observed traditional computing power to double roughly every two years.

The Experiment

The experiment described in the paper sampled randomly generated numbers produced through a specialized scenario involving quantum phenomena. The researchers said they determined that their quantum computer beat regular computers at the task, which involved calculating the output of certain specialized circuits.

“While our processor takes about 200 seconds to sample one instance of the quantum circuit 1 million times, a state-of-the-art supercomputer would require approximately 10,000 years to perform the equivalent task,” the researchers said.

Google’s quantum computer, dubbed “Sycamore,” contained 53-qubits, or “quantum bits,” a measure of the machine’s potential power. The team scaled back from a 72-qubit device, dubbed “Bristlecone,” it had previously designed.

The researchers estimate that performing the same experiment on a Google Cloud server would take 50 trillion hours—too long to be feasible. On the quantum processor, it took only 30 seconds, they said.

“Quantum processors based on superconducting qubits can now perform computations…beyond the reach of the fastest classical supercomputers available today,” the researchers write. “To our knowledge, this experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.”

Read full story here…




china

China Extends Social Credit Scoring To Corporations

As a Technocracy, China must apply social engineering to everything, everyone, everywhere, and that includes corporations as well. Corporate punishment for perceived bad behavior could be devastating to western firms.

When Technocrats in the U.S. pick up on this idea, firms who don’t measure up on Sustainable Development, for instance, could be forced to comply by threats of being shunned out of business: permits could be denied or revoked, access to critical services could be shut off, etc. ⁃ TN Editor

Foreign businesses in China are ill-prepared for the tough sanctions and constant surveillance demanded by a social credit system to be rolled out this year, a European business group warned Wednesday.

Under this new system for ranking businesses, both foreign and domestic companies will be required to install surveillance cameras in their premises and share the data with the government.

They will also be rated on their tax record and compliance with a range of existing laws, including customs or environmental regulations.

Those who violate rules will be placed in “blacklists” and subjected to “immediate and severe punishments”, the EU Chamber of Commerce in China said in a report published Wednesday.

The sanctions are not limited to penalties but also include more frequent inspections, customs delays, not getting subsidies or tax rebates and public shaming, the report added.

“The corporate social credit system could mean life or death for individual companies,” said Jorg Wuttke, president of the EU chamber.

“The overwhelming absence of preparation by the European business community is deeply concerning.”

Each company operating in China is already being assessed against at least 300 different “specific rules” ranging from emissions levels to workplace safety and complaints against their products on e-commerce platforms, government documents showed.

“Beijing plans to combine all these different ratings into a single database by the end of the year,” said Bjorn Conrad, head of the Berlin-based consultancy Sinolytics that co-authored the report.

A single score could mean that a company is penalised across China for a slip by one of its regional branches.

Companies will also be rapped for working with suppliers or partners with bad social credit.

The system will also involve the unprecedented demand that all businesses have to install surveillance cameras in their premises and transfer huge amounts of data and footage to government officials.

“Dozens of companies have raised concerns about the sheer volume and depth of data that needs to be shared with the government,” said Conrad.

Read full story here…




Apps To Solve Homelessness Is ‘Seriously Disturbing’

Smart City Technocrats don’t have problems that can’t be fixed by throwing more technology fixes at them. In this particular ludicrous extreme that seeks to fix broken lives, critics can only respond, “people are not potholes.’ ⁃ TN Editor

San Francisco and Seattle residents are becoming increasingly familiar with an easy-to-remember phone number: 311.

As income inequality widens and tech companies continue to stake their claim in West Coast cities, a growing number of people are left without affordable housing. As a result, there’s been a surge in homeless encampments or “tent cities” that are often reported by local residents via 311.

Individuals without housing in San Francisco surged 17% from 2017 to 2019. The Seattle Times reports that King County, WA, home of Seattle, saw an 8% decrease in the county’s homelessness in 2019, but that estimate is doubted by a city council member and service providers. And despite the reported decrease, there was a 309-person uptick of people living in tents or unsanctioned encampments.

The encampments have stirred a back-and-forth debate among business owners, residents and local politicians about how to “deal with” the homelessness problem. True to form, many cities have proposed tech-oriented solutions using apps to locate homeless people and get individuals off the street. But many questions remain about whether or not the apps are a “smart” solution to homelessness, or a waste of government money.

To app or not to app

Apps allow community members to report encampments quickly and remotely, providing the ability to send a report directly to the corresponding city department. If someone experiencing homelessness is loitering at a local business or if they appear to need medical attention, all it takes is a few clicks to make the city aware.

San Francisco has touted their technology as a “lifeline,” a smart solution to a widespread problem, and a way to get help quickly for people living on the streets. Others have called it a “snitch” app.

Seattle’s “Find It, Fix It” app is a mobile version of the city’s 311 number. Residents can alert the city to public problems with a message including a location and description. Users submit issues by category, such as illegal dumping, potholes, dead animals, and “other inquiries,” allowing residents to report encampments, city spokeswoman Cyndi Wilder told Smart Cities Dive in an email interview.

“With ‘Find It, Fix It,’ reporting an issue is as easy as snapping a photo with your smartphone,” according to the City of Seattle Website.

However the app has faced particularly strong backlash. Homeless advocates and contracted service providers call Seattle’s effort “seriously disturbing,” and “at best, pointless.”

“Smart policy makers and elected officials should know better than to use technology for what might offer the illusion of a quick fix,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, in an email to Smart Cities Dive. The “Find It, Fix It” app has received similar public backlash as well as hundreds of false reports, which took city employees a full day to manually sort.

“Smart policy makers and elected officials should know better than to use technology for what might offer the illusion of a quick fix.”

There’s also not much evidence that the apps are successful beyond serving as a way to temporarily quell residents’ frustrations. And they aren’t always efficient for the city. It often takes the city weeks to respond to requests, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Homelessness Emergency Response team.

‘People are not potholes

Is there a way to create and roll out apps that help, not harm, people experiencing homelessness? Experts say it depends on the effectiveness of the homeless services system, city resources, the way the apps are explained to communities and the working relationship of various stakeholders.

Conflict between between the people experiencing homelessness, the homeless service providers and the city’s human services department is one reason why the app can’t work, according to Eisinger.

“Meaningful engagement takes time,” she said. “People are not potholes.”

Read full story here…




Ride Sharing Increases Traffic Crush At Airports

Ride sharing was promised to be the “sustainable” way to get people out of their cars and decrease traffic congestion and hence, pollution.  It has failed on all counts and now aggravates travelers even more. ⁃ TN Editor

Been at an airport lately? Then you’ve surely been in a backup on the roadways or had to jockey for a place in front of the terminal to pick up or drop off a traveler.

It is not your imagination: Traffic at the airports — even before you get inside — has gotten worse. The cause is not just the record number of travelers. It’s also the shift to ride sharing.

One frequent business traveler says her own experience bears this out.

“Airports were planned for taxi lines, not this other large vehicle transportation mode,” said Tanvi Gandham, a management consultant.

To address the crowding, airports are starting to make changes, adding express lanes for travelers without checked bags, separate areas for ride-share companies and larger off-site lots for waiting. At the same time, ride-share companies like Lyft and Uber are adding new capabilities to their apps, matching, for example, drivers who have just dropped off passengers with people waiting to be picked up, cutting down the time vehicles are circulating and waiting.

The explosion in ride-share demand has caught airports off-guard, “and operations staff are scrambling to address it,” said Kama Simonds, spokeswoman for the Portland International Airport in Oregon. Ride-share pickups there, she said, have climbed to 106,000 from 48,000 in the last two years.

The congestion problem starts with this: More people are flying than ever. According to the International Air Transport Association, the airline industry’s trade group, the total number of airline passengers in North America will top one billion this year, an increase of about 19 percent from 2014. To accommodate the additional travelers, airports have been building new gates and terminals, and that construction is causing even more traffic problems.

In 2014, San Francisco International Airport became one of the first airports to license ride-sharing companies, and within a few years the traffic volumes “were untenable,” Doug Yakel, the airport’s spokesman, said. “Our goal is for the average speed through the area to be 15 miles per hour,” he said. “We regularly had stop-and-go traffic, and gridlock.”

The airport, which served almost 58 million travelers in 2018, compared with 47 million five years ago, is in a developed area without room to expand. With a freeway on one side and a bay on the other, the airport can’t increase its footprint, Mr. Yakel said.

Airport models showed that to achieve that goal of 15 m.p.h., the airport needed to remove 45 percent of ride-sharing cars from its roadways, Mr. Yakel said. A variety of ideas, including financial incentives for passengers to be dropped off in the main parking garage, didn’t yield the hoped-for traffic reductions. So the airport recently moved almost all ride-share passenger pickups to the top floor of that garage. The black car services and specially equipped vehicles for disabled people can still go to the terminal curbs.

Ms. Gandham, a frequent ride-share user, travels from the San Francisco airport almost every week and has been to 11 cities in the United States this year. She said the change at San Francisco’s airport has made catching a ride more efficient, though it does involve a longer walk from the gate. That ride-share area is better, she said, than many other airports’, which seem to repurpose “makeshift spaces that weren’t designed for pick up and drop off.” Sometimes, she said, “they’re just a couple of cordoned-off rows in a parking lot.”

Marcus Womack, head of global airport products at Uber, said the company had been working more closely with airports over the past two years to improve the experience for riders and drivers. “Neither one wants to spend time waiting,” he said.

Read full story here…




Autonomous Delivery Robots Coming To U.S College Campuses

Students rejoice! Pizza delivered to your door by robot that you don’t need to tip. Starship assumes that this will really work, but they face a mountain of problems, including vandalism. ⁃ TN Editor

The quintessential college experience of getting pizza delivered to your dorm room is about to get a high-tech upgrade. On Tuesday, Starship Technologies announced its plan to deploy thousands of its autonomous six-wheeled delivery robots on college campuses around the country over the next two years, after raising $40 million in Series A funding.

It’s a big step for the San Francisco (née Estonia)-based startup and its robots, which have been tested in over 100 cities in 20 different countries, traveled 350,000 miles, crossed 4 million streets, and just marked the milestone of completing its 100,000th delivery. College campuses, with their abundance of walking paths, well-defined boundaries, and smartphone-using, delivery-minded student bodies, are an obvious place for Starship to stake out the next phase of its business.

The company is working closely with the administrations of each college where it intends to launch. It started at George Mason University and Northern Arizona University, and it will be followed in September by the University of Pittsburgh and the Purdue University in Indiana. Starship plans to deploy 25–50 robots at each campus over the next 24 months, which means there could be upwards of 5,000 robots puttering around these schools by 2021.

Each robot is electric, has a trunk that can fit about 20 pounds of cargo, and has a suite of cameras around the outside that can be used to identify obstacles and help guide the robot to its destination. They have a delivery radius of three to four miles and can travel a maximum speed of 4 mph, which is obviously slower than a delivery by a human on a bike or in a car. Starship CEO Lex Bayer says the robot’s ability to work for many hours without a break is what gives it an advantage.

“There’s also no guilt or shame,” Bayer says. “You can order whatever you want, whenever you want. And you don’t have to worry about another student who you’re sending around to do this pick up for you. It’s just a robot who’s going to deliver it to you.”

The robots can climb curbs but not stairs, which may limit their appeal to customers who live in multistory buildings. Bayer says this is why Starship is targeting markets that are less dense with lower heights. But he also speculates that if robot delivery takes off, building owners may eventually decide to include a separate door just for the robots, much like cat owner would include a door flap for their pet. “Definitely possible in the future,” he opines.

With the closing of this Series A funding round, Starship has now raised a total of $85 million. The round was led by Morpheus Ventures along with prior investors, including Shasta Ventures, Matrix Partners, and MetaPlanet Holdings, as well as new investors, including TDK Ventures, Qu Ventures, and others.

Starship makes money by charging customers $1.99 per order. It also has contracts with the universities and restaurants it delivers for, but Bayer says Starship can be more profitable than rival, human-powered (and heavily subsidized) delivery services like DoorDash and Postmates.

“It’s a really tough business from these other companies to run,” he said. “I think what they’ve really proven is that consumers want deliveries, they love the convenience, but actually getting the business model to work is really complicated and questionable. On the other hand, we’re using autonomous technology to do this. It’s a completely different approach.”

Read full story here…




700 Robots: 2019 World Robot Conference Convenes In Beijing

The largest robot convention in the world is held annually in Beijing. Every conceivable kind of robot from brain surgeons to warehouse pickers and personal service attendants will be showcased. ⁃ TN Editor

Cutting-edge robots are on display at the 2019 World Robot Conference in Beijing, running from August 20 to 25, are expected to attract nearly 200 guests from 22 countries.

The conference features a series of exhibition areas for new robotic technologies and products – including medical, multi-legged, and smart logistics – as well as four contests with an anticipated 4,500 professional participants.

Over 700 robots specialising with more than 21 industrial applications will be exhibited between now and the close of the conference.

Among those exhibiting will be HRG Robotics, whose, president Wang Meng, said: ‘We will be showcasing a string of successful companies which have got off the ground through the help of HRG, alongside our representative products at WRC 2019, as we aim to form new partnerships with companies around the world.’

Also on display will be SmartBird, created by German firm Festo, whose design was inspired by the herring gull and whose flight mimics that of the bird.

The ultralight flying drone was created with the best aerodynamics and maximum agility in mind and it is able to take off, fly and land under its own power.

Forward propulsion and lift are generated entirely by the beating of the SmartBird’s wings, which consumes just 23 watts of power – up to half of the power used by some laptops – even though the SmartBird weighs around 450 grams and has a wingspan of two metres.

Measurements have revealed electromechanical efficiency of up to 45 per cent and aerodynamic efficiency of 80 per cent.

SmartBird can fly for approximately 20 minutes on a standard rechargeable lithium battery, thanks to its low energy consumption.

The sequence of wingbeats and rotation is executed with a cycle time of just a few milliseconds and creates optimum conditions for the flow of air over the wing.

Thanks to its flow-optimised shape and lightweight construction using carbon fibre technology, the SmartBird is also an excellent example of the efficient use of energy.

Another robot on display will be Laikago, China’s answer to US robotic firm Boston Dynamic’s ‘robo-dog’ Spot.

Read full story here…




Facebook Busted: Audio Chats Transcribed By Paid Contractors

It is inconceivable that Mark Zuckerberg can lie with impunity to Congress about not snooping on users audio interactions, while the company is doing exactly that. No accountability, no investigation and no indictments.  ⁃ TN Editor

Facebook Inc. has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, according to people with knowledge of the work.

The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained — only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They’re hearing Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.

On Wednesday, the Irish Data Protection Commission, which takes the lead in overseeing Facebook in Europe, said it was examining the activity for possible violations of the EU’s strict privacy rules.

Shares of the social-media giant were down 1.3% at 7:49 a.m. in New York during pre-market trading.

Facebook confirmed that it had been transcribing users’ audio and said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said Tuesday. The company said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. The contractors were checking whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were anonymized.

Big tech companies including Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. have come under fire for collecting audio snippets from consumer computing devices and subjecting those clips to human review, a practice that critics say invades privacy. Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon had a team of thousands of workers around the world listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software, and that similar human review was used for Apple’s Siri and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant. Apple and Google have since said they no longer engage in the practice and Amazon said it will let users opt out of human review.

The social networking giant, which just completed a $5 billion settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after a probe of its privacy practices, has long denied that it collects audio from users to inform ads or help determine what people see in their news feeds. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg denied the idea directly in Congressional testimony.

“You’re talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what’s going on on your microphone and use that for ads,” Zuckerberg told U.S. Senator Gary Peters in April 2018. “We don’t do that.”

In follow-up answers for Congress, the company said it “only accesses users’ microphone if the user has given our app permission and if they are actively using a specific feature that requires audio (like voice messaging features.)” The Menlo Park, California-based company doesn’t address what happens to the audio afterward.

Facebook hasn’t disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio. That’s led some contractors to feel their work is unethical, according to the people with knowledge of the matter.

Read full story here…




Self driving car

Hacking Cars Could Freeze Traffic In Major Cities

If self-driving vehicles are exposed to the Internet, which they are, does anyone really think that they cannot be hacked en mass and turned into objects of total chaos in cities? ⁃ TN Editor

A hack that affects a small number of internet-connected cars could completely gridlock Manhattan, according to a study from researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Multiscale Systems, Inc. The research was published in the journal Physical Review E.

The paper found that randomly stalling 20% of cars during rush hour would stop traffic in Manhattan. Even a hack that affects 10% of cars at rush hour would create enough blockages to stop emergency vehicles from getting through traffic.

The research suggests cities “split up the digital network influencing the cars to make it impossible to access too many cars through one network.”

Cybersecurity experts have warned that connected cars can be targets for hackers, who could stall or take control of a vehicle, or could compromise connected stoplights.

This study, said lead author Peter Yunker, was designed to take a broader look at what would happen if a larger number of cars were struck by the same hack and were stopped either by being shut down or by getting into an accident.

“When a large-scale hack occurs on an actual grid of roads, there might be consequences that you wouldn’t predict from an isolated car that’s been stopped or is out of control,” Yunker, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Physics, told Smart Cities Dive.

The researchers found that it takes a relatively small number of stopped cars to cause havoc if they are stalled with less than a vehicle’s width between them. At a critical value, the probability of blockages jumped up tremendously, meaning that any additional hacked cars wouldn’t make a difference.

The paper looked at Manhattan, where there is data about road size and traffic patterns, but Yunker said the effects of a hack could be worse in other cities.

Read full story here…