Category Archives: News

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Leak: Amazon’s Echo Sub will turn Alexa into a 2.1 stereo system

The sound output on Amazon’s Echo is fine for casual background music, but it’s not worth much for any critical listening. But now that both Google and Apple have speakers that can pump out some serious tunes, it seems Amazon is starting to take sound seriously. Pocket-Lint caught an Amazon UK listing showing off an unannounced Echo Sub – it seems someone posted it too early – listed at £75 (~ 99 USD, but gadget prices don’t usually follow exchange rates tightly). The cloth-covered speaker features a 6-inch woofer being fed 100W of power, which should translate to signficantly deeper…

This story continues at The Next Web

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Microsoft researcher cautions media not to fall prey to fringe groups flying ‘false flag of conservatism’

Fringe groups are seeking to manipulate the media and tech companies with accusations of anti-conservative bias, aiming to invoke anger among conservatives and provoke reactions from journalists and the tech industry, according to danah boyd*, a Microsoft Research principal researcher and founder of the Data & Society research group.

The situation is making journalists and others in the media business desperate to prove that they aren’t biased, boyd said during her address at the Online News Association conference in Austin, Texas. For example, she said, social media companies hesitate to ban people who violate terms of service because they fear that banning users will feed into accusations of bias. 

She said these groups “can pervert the logics of media to spread conspiratorial and hateful messages under their false flag of conservatism.”

This was the topic of boyd’s Sept. 13 keynote address. She  explained that these media manipulators want to be seen as “digital martyrs.” For them, the key to success is to become newsworthy. Once these manipulators become newsworthy, she said, their strategy is to frame the situation through phrases that drive people to find them through search engines.

Because journalists are able to amplify messages, boyd said, people want to manipulate them. When journalists use these specific phrases and terms in their reporting, they unintentionally feed into the manipulators’ games.

At the ONA Conference, boyd told a room full of journalists: “You could’ve conveyed the same information without giving people a search term that served as a recruiting vehicle for those propagating toxic masculinity. Choosing not to amplify hateful recruiting terms is not censorship. You wouldn’t give your readers a phone number to join the KKK, so why give them a digital calling card?”

boyd pointed to tactics by Alex Jones of Infowars as an example but did not cite him by name, to avoid giving him the resulting publicity.

Afterward, Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed News referenced this comment by boyd as particularly relevant: “They’ve learned that the key to their success is to become newsworthy in your minds.”

Warzel wrote, “I’ve spent enough time reporting on Jones to know that attention is precisely what fuels and animates his and Infowars’ every decision. Similarly, I marveled early on in my coverage of the pro-Trump media at how adept they were at crafting captivating narratives. It seemed no coincidence that numerous personalities in that sphere had dabbled in some version of online marketing or salesmanship, and then translated their ability to draw attention and honed it onto an online political culture war.”

Speaking with GeekWire, boyd said the tech industry is constantly dealing with people who try to manipulate algorithms, too.

“People need to understand there is no ‘solution’ for this, but there is a constantly evolving process for dealing with manipulation,” boyd said.

See the full video of boyd’s talk from the Online News Association below, and read a transcript here.

* No, that is not a typo! danah boyd changed her legal name, including all lower-case letters.

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New physics AI could be the key to a quantum computing revolution

Quantum computing is one of the most exciting technologies there is, but its basis in quantum physics makes it a pain in the ass to understand and even harder to do anything with. A recent breakthrough in physics research, however, might change all of that and start a computing revolution. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. IBM’s Thomas J Watson (the person the Watson AI was named after) famously said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,” in 1943. That’s probably because, at the time, a computer filled up an entire room. But,…

This story continues at The Next Web

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PlayStation One Classic won’t fix the biggest problem with retro consoles

Sony today announced it was releasing the PlayStation One Classic later this year — the sixty millionth retro console so far (I’m guesstimating). You’d think, now that we’re so deep into this trend, we’d see a little innovation, or at least something other than a tiny hunk of plastic with a couple of emulated games on it. But no, we’re not going to get much beside yet another NES Classic. The PS One Classic was first hinted at earlier this year when Sony Interactive President Takeshi Kodera let slip the company was having “discussions” about it. I didn’t expect to see…

This story continues at The Next Web

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Teaching robots to predict the future

Future-predicting robots are all the rage this year in machine learning circles, but today’s deep learning techniques can only take the research so far. That’s why some ambitious AI developers are turning to an already established prediction engine for inspiration: The human brain. Researchers around the world are closing in on the development of a truly autonomous robot. Sure, there’s plenty of robotics that can do amazing things without human intervention. But none of them are ready to be released, unsupervised, into the wild where they’re free to move about and occupy the same spaces as human members of the…

This story continues at The Next Web

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Elephant tusk DNA may hold the key to stiffer penalties for poachers

A study published Wednesday in Science Advances detailed a creative approach to stopping the illegal ivory trade. While our awareness of the problem has grown in recent years, it hasn’t slowed demand. In Africa alone, some 100 elephants are killed each day due to the insatiable lust brought on by the illicit ivory trade. Journalist Jeffrey Gettlemen described the carnage in harrowing detail in a 2012 report, saying 2011 broke the record for illegal ivory seized at 38.8 tons, or more than 4,000 dead elephants. 2011 also marked the first year that the world lost more elephants than reproduce, threatening the…

This story continues at The Next Web

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‘Alexa, turn on the microwave!’ Plus, the latest from Nintendo as its Switch Online service launches

Nintendo’s cardboard Labo series works in conjunction with its Switch console. (Nintendo Photo)

Amazon is reportedly working on several new Alexa devices to be announced in the coming weeks. They include a subwoofer, an in-car gadget and — the device getting the most buzz so far — a microwave.

Is this a new era for the Alexa ecosystem? We debate on this episode of Geared Up.

Plus, we take a look at the latest Nintendo Labo release, the third installment in the gaming giant’s DIY cardboard peripherals. We also talk about the new Switch Online service, which launched this week.

And finally, after a week to mull it over, we have some new thoughts and ideas about the new iPhone XS, XS Max and XR, including why the XR might not actually be the budget phone that everyone sees it as.

Listen to this episode in the player below or subscribe to Geared Up in your favorite podcast app to listen on the go.

This week’s stories:

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Jeff Bezos sells the Air Force on Blue Origin rockets and Amazon Web Services

Bezos and Spencer
Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, chats with retired Air Force Gen. Larry Spencer at the Air Force Association’s annual conference at National Harbor, Md.

Billionaire Jeff Bezos made a subtle sales pitch for Amazon Web Services as well as the New Glenn rockets being built by his Blue Origin space venture today during a wide-ranging fireside chat at the Air Force Association’s annual conference.

But he stayed mum when it came to the first question asked by his partner on stage, retired Air Force Gen. Larry Spencer: Where will Amazon put its second headquarters, better known as HQ2?

“We’ll make a decision before the end of the year,” Bezos said good-naturedly at the Air, Space and Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Md. “That’s all I can say on that topic. We’re excited to make that decision.”

The world’s richest person was far more voluble about his philosophy on management, and how that applies to the things that the Air Force cares about. Speaking to an audience flush with military uniforms, Bezos said it’s critical for the United States to maintain its dominance in the space domain.

“You never want a fair fight. … Outside of a boxing ring, a fair fight is just bad strategy,” he said.

Bezos said that Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which is expected to compete with SpaceX and United Launch Alliance for national security launches in the 2020s, could help the United States keep its advantage.

“You have to be able to go to space more frequently, with less lead time,” Bezos said.

He compared the current state of affairs to a ground campaign in which troops could get to the battlefield only once a month, based on a schedule drawn up two years or more in advance. That would be “an impossible mission,” Bezos said.

“One of Blue Origin’s missions is to make access to space more frequent, ready to go on a moment’s notice, lower cost — which requires reusability. All those things are going to be required, in my view, to move into a new era of U.S. space dominance,” Bezos said. “And believe me, I don’t have to tell you guys, you do not want to see that era end. That’s a big deal.”

Bezos said he planned to spend “just over a billion dollars” on the New Glenn program next year, and that about $1 billion has already been invested in Blue Origin’s New Glenn factory and launch facility on Florida’s Space Coast.

On the subject of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine, which is a crucial element for the New Glenn program, Bezos said only that “the test program is going very well, the team is doing a great job.”

There was nary a word said about SpaceX or its billionaire founder, Elon Musk. Instead, Bezos talked up Blue Origin’s approach.

Like the first stage on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, New Glenn’s first-stage booster is designed to land itself on an oceangoing platform. But Bezos said Blue Origin’s landing ship would be in motion during touchdown, “so we can stabilize it really well.”

Bezos pointed to Blue Origin’s suborbital-class New Shepard rocket as the model for reusable launch vehicles.

“We don’t take the thing apart and inspect it between flights,” he said. “We fly it over and over. If you build a space vehicle that you have to inspect in an intense way and disassemble and refurbish between flights, that’s going to be more expensive than an expendable vehicle. It has to be real operational reusability.”

New Shepard is still in its uncrewed testing phase, but Bezos said the craft “will be putting people in space this coming year.” Earlier this year, Blue Origin had projected that flights with passengers might begin by the end of the year, but that now appears unlikely.

In response to a question from Spencer, Bezos said it’s key for the U.S. military to turn to commercial solutions whenever possible. That provided the perfect segue for Bezos to boost Amazon Web Services, which is seen as one of the leading choices for a $10 billion cloud computing contract the Pentagon is due to award.

“We’re now seeing fantastic growth from both companies and government institutions, the CIA, the DOD, using our compute cloud instead of building their own systems,” Bezos said. “And the reason these companies are doing that … is because the capabilities they get keep improving, kind of automagically, without any effort.”

Bezos said that’s because “co-customers” are constantly pressing for enhanced capabilities. “If you’re the only customer for a software system, you’re the only one driving it forward,” he said. “If thousands of customers share that system, then the other 999 that are not you are also driving it forward, and you get that as a tailwind.”

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TLDR: Nest secretly buys digital health startup

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Amazon ‘Echo Sub’ and Smart Plug images surface in latest Alexa leak

Pocket-Lint says it discovered this image of the new Amazon “Echo Sub” on the e-commerce giant’s UK site.

Images and descriptions of two unannounced Amazon Alexa devices publicly surfaced Wednesday afternoon, providing an inadvertent sneak preview of what was previously reported to be a new wave of smart home devices from the Seattle-based tech giant.

The devices, discovered by the tech site Pocket-lint on Amazon’s UK site, include a new Alexa-powered “Echo Sub” subwoofer that can be used with an Echo or Echo Plus to play room-filling music, or paired with other Echo devices for “rich left/right stereo sound,” according to the description.

In addition, there is a new Amazon Smart Plug that adds voice controls and scheduled on/off functionality to electrical sockets. Although many third-party device makers offer Alexa-enabled smart plugs, the description for this device says it works without a smart home hub, via the Alexa app. Existing plugs are commonly used in conjunction with an Echo speaker or other Alexa device.

CNBC reported earlier this week that Amazon is preparing to release eight new Alexa-powered devices, including a microwave, amplifier and an in-car Alexa device.

We discussed the CNBC report on this week’s episode of our Geared Up podcast, below.

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