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Friday, May 25, 2018

Google will always do evil

Google will always do evil

"One day in late April or early May, Google removed the phrase "don't be evil" from its code of conduct. After 18 years as the company's motto, those three words and chunks of their accompanying corporate clauses were unceremoniously deleted from the record, save for a solitary, uncontextualized mention in the document's final sentence.

Google didn't advertise this change. In fact, the code of conduct states it was last updated April 5th. The "don't be evil" exorcism clearly took place well after that date.

Google has chosen to actively distance itself from the uncontroversial, totally accepted tenet of not being evil, and it's doing so in a shady (and therefore completely fitting) way. After nearly two decades of trying to live up to its motto, it looks like Google is ready to face reality.

In order for Google to be Google, it has to do evil."

'Google will always do evil

Amazon's Alexa recorded private conversation and sent it to random contact | Technology | The Guardian

An Amazon ‘Alexa’ Echo Dot device

I have caught this inadvertent turning on of Alexa many times when I am on the phone, however, I always say Alexa cancel.  I have never heard it sending a message or attempting to send one to one of my contacts.  It is obviously very possible if you do not hear Alexa interjecting into your conversation.

John H Armwood

"No matter how suspicious it has seemed that Amazon is encouraging us to put listening devices in every room of our homes, the company has always said that its Echo assistants are not listening in on or recording conversations. Over and over again, company spokespeople have promised that they only start recording if someone says the wake word: “Alexa”.

It’s a spiel Danielle, an Alexa user from Portland, Oregon, had believed. She’d installed Echo devices and smart bulbs in every room in her house, accepting Amazon’s claims that they were not invading her privacy. But today she asked the company to investigate after an Alexa device recorded a private conversation between her and her husband and sent it to a random number in their address book without their permission.

Danielle found out her Alexa was recording when she received an alarming call from one of her husband’s colleagues saying: “Unplug your Alexa devices right now, you’re being hacked.”

She told KIRO-TV in Seattle that at first she didn’t believe the co-worker, but then she said: “You sat there talking about hardwood floors.” Danielle realised the colleague must have heard everything.

“I felt invaded,” she told KIRO-TV. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately, I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again because I can’t trust it.’”

An Amazon customer service representative confirmed that Danielle’s audio had been sent to the number and apologised but didn’t provide any information about why the device had been activated. A spokesperson for the company said it had “determined this was an extremely rare occurrence”.

At 6pm ET on Thursday, an Amazon spokesperson provided an updated statement with an explanation for why they believe Alexa forwarded the conversation. They said:

“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 customer’s contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right’.”

Recognising the improbability of this series of mishaps occuring, they added: “As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

Although Amazon maintains this was a malfunction rather than proof Alexa is always listening, the company has filed patent applications in the past for functionalities that involve always listening, such as an algorithm that would analyse when people say they “love” or “bought” something. The patent included a diagram where two people have a phone conversation and were served afterwards with separate targeted advertisements."

Amazon's Alexa recorded private conversation and sent it to random contact | Technology | The Guardian

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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Mark Zuckerberg's worldwide apology tour for Facebook hits a snag in the EU - CNET

"How many times can you say you're sorry before we stop caring?

If Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's globe-trotting apology tour over privacy violations, election meddling and allowing hate speech to flourish on Facebook is any sign, the answer is not that many.

After telling the US Senate, the US House of Representatives, Facebook's 2.2 billion users, the company's investors, 5,000 developers and loads of advertisers that he screwed up, Zuckerberg said he was sorry yet again on Tuesday when he admitted to the European Parliament that fake news and misuse of Facebook users' private information has become a serious problem for the world's largest social network.

But when it came to anything substantive about European privacy laws, concerns Facebook may be turning into a monopoly and how people can avoid their data being tracked by Facebook even if they're not a user, Zuck didn't have a lot to say.

European regulators ran out of patience.

"I asked you six 'yes' and 'no' questions, and I got not a single answer," said Guy Verhofstadt, a Parliament member representing Belgium. "Yes," someone in the room echoed in support. Others chimed in. One lawmaker interrupted Zuckerberg's closing statements to ask if Facebook is a monopoly. Another complained about the Facebook CEO's lackluster responses. 

"I'll make sure we follow up and get you answers to those," Zuckerberg said, deferring to his team to provide more complete responses, just as he did with Congress in April.

That's what we heard, but what we're seeing with EU regulators' reaction is an uncomfortable reality for Zuck and Co.

Over the past two months, Facebook has scrambled to contain the fallout from the spiraling scandal that began with Russian meddling in the US election and then hit a fever pitch when the company admitted in March that as many as 87 million user profiles may have been sold to a UK-based political consultancy called Cambridge Analytica."

Mark Zuckerberg's worldwide apology tour for Facebook hits a snag in the EU - CNET

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Christopher Nolan is using the “unrestored” re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey as his ultimate demo reel for an analog future - The Verge

"Christopher Nolan has seen the future, and it looks a lot like the past. Nolan is one of a handful of directors who’s made no secret of his commitment to shooting movies on film for as long as possible, even as digital filmmaking becomes the default and maybe an inevitability. In the 2012 documentary Side By Side, an enlightening examination of the digital-versus-film divide produced and hosted by Keanu Reeves, even Nolan’s longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister seemed to think the end of film was near. “I will be one of the last guys shooting film,” he tells Reeves, “and Chris Nolan will be one of the last directors using film. But I’m certain that we’ll be using digital technology within the next 10 years.”

Six years later, Nolan seems to be doubling down, not only refusing to shoot digitally but turning the chance to see 2017’s Dunkirk in 70mm into a significant selling point. He’s also one of the driving forces behind what’s being billed as an “unrestored” 70mm edition of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey that’s currently playing in theaters. And perhaps not by accident, it’s providing a stunning reminder of how much life remains in the old ways of moviemaking."

Christopher Nolan is using the “unrestored” re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey as his ultimate demo reel for an analog future - The Verge

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Hands-on with the RED Hydrogen One, a wildly ambitious smartphone - The Verge

"We just got a look at the upcoming RED Hydrogen One smartphone at an event meant for “RED Pioneers” (read: superfans). It is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious smartphones in years from a company not named Apple, Google, or Samsung. It’s an Android phone with a 5.7-inch display and top-tier phone specs, but that description doesn’t do justice to what RED is trying to accomplish here.

The company better known for high-end 4K cameras with names like “Weapon” and “Epic-w” isn’t entering the smartphone game simply to sell you a better Android phone (though it does have both Verizon and AT&T signed on to support it). No, this phone is meant to be one piece of a modular system of cameras and other media creation equipment — the company claims it will be “the foundation of a future multi-dimensional media system.”

To that end, it has a big set of pogo pins on the back to connect it to RED’s other cameras and also to allow users to attach (forthcoming) modules to it, including lens mounts. If it were just a modular smartphone, we’d be talking about whether we really expected the company to produce enough modules to support it. Other phones have had mixed results in that department: Moto has released a bunch, Essential has not.

RED is planning on starting with a module that is essentially a huge camera sensor — the company is not ready to give exact details, but the plan is definitely more towards DSLR size than smartphone size. Then, according to CEO Jim Jannard, the company wants any traditional big camera lens to be attached to it. Answering a fan question, he joked that support for lenses will be “pretty limited,” working “just” with Fuji, Canon, Nikon, Leica, and more.

The Hydrogen One is very big. The prototype used we looked at was larger than an iPhone 8 Plus, complete with a USB-C plug, stereo speakers, and a headphone jack. It is also very much a RED product, which is to say it’s incredibly industrial-looking. It comes in either aluminum (pre-order price: $1,195) or titanium (pre-order price: $1,595) and it is not shy about the metal on either model.

It’s covered in metal fins and ridges — the sides have “scallops” to make it easier to hold in one hand, and the power button on the right is where you’ll find the fingerprint sensor. The company’s camera may be called “weapon,” but it definitely feels like you could do some damage with this thing.

What I saw was a big step over 3D on other phones

I wasn’t really able to do the standard stuff that you normally do with a smartphone hands-on. I couldn’t test out the cameras or spend a bunch of time testing out the speed and responsiveness. These are also definitely prototypes — there were the sort of fit and finish issues you’d expect with such early devices.

The processor inside will be a slightly-out-of-date Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, but it seemed fast enough in the few demos I was able to try. Honestly, though, if you’re looking to get this thing just as a phone, you’re probably making your decision based on the wrong metrics. It’s probably going to be a perfectly capable phone, but at this price what you’re buying into is the module ecosystem.

The other innovation on the Hydrogen One is a fancy new screen technology the company is calling “4-view.” It will allow users to switch the 2560 x 1440 screen from a standard 2D to 3D to a “holographic” view. Unfortunately, it’s not the sort of thing that photographs well — so much so that the company issued a blanket ban on taking any photos or video of the front of the phone.

I tried two different 4 view demos. In the first, I watched a loop of a bunch of different videos and what I saw was a big step over 3D on other phones. Essentially, I was able to move and tilt the phone around without the 3D effect becoming broken. It worked in both landscape and portrait and the depth of the 3D was also better than I’ve seen on a phone before — but of course that’s not very strong praise.

The last phone to really make a go at having a 3D display was the Amazon Fire Phone, which was of course a flop. With that phone, the combination of bad 3D and little reason for it to exist turned the entire enterprise into an industry punchline. For the Hydrogen One, RED is planning on creating a streaming service to provide holographic content.

The second demo was also impressive. With a Hydrogen One, I was doing a simple video chat with somebody across the room. But this was a “Holo chat,” so both my face and theirs was displayed as a hologram in real time. There are two front-facing cameras, as you need two to make a 3D effect.

As for how RED is making this effect happen, it’s complicated to the point of sounding like handy-wavy science fiction filler. Jannard told me that there is a special layer underneath the LCD display which, when enabled, is able to direct light in multiple directions instead of the standard two that happen with lenticular displays. RED is also doing more than just combining two images to make standard 3D — I’m told it’s trying to use an algorithm to blend multiple angles from those two lenses to create the effect.

It’s a hologram, basically, but it doesn’t really pop out of the screen so much as give you depth within it. I wouldn’t describe this screen as the reason to go out an buy this phone, but it was neat.

RED has also talked big game about the audio on this phone, beyond the built-in stereo speakers (and, again, headphone jack). The company’s claim is that it can do for audio what it’s doing for images: create a virtual surround sound effect through its algorithms. In the demo, the “A3D” sound did have rich stereo separation just from the phone’s stereo speakers, but mostly they were just super loud.

However, with headphones the effect is much more impressive, I’m told. I haven’t yet had a chance to try to it myself (stay tuned for updates), but fans at the event described it as being just as good as Dolby 5.1 surround. They said it effectively made you believe you were hearing noises directly behind and even above you.

Its unapologetically industrial and beefy design is likely to be polarizing

RED is absolutely running the RED playbook: lots of hype, lots of big promises about amazing technology, and honestly lots of questions about whether all of this adds up to a real product that lots of people will want to buy. But the thing is: it doesn’t have to be that last thing — RED cameras are only for a small niche of people, after all.

I came away from my time playing around the Hydrogen One thinking that as a phone, its unapologetically industrial and beefy design is likely to be polarizing. I also think most people will be better served by getting something cheaper. As a hologram making and viewing machine, it’s a solid technical improvement over what I’ve seen before, but whether anybody really needs or wants that on a phone remains to be seen. As the basis for a system of phone modules, there’s still a lot to prove and a long history of competitors who tried and whiffed.

The most compelling part of the Hydrogen One isn’t the phone itself, honestly, it’s the RED ecosystem of cameras. If the company can find a way to make it an essential part of a filmmaker’s kit alongside its other cameras, it could have a successful niche product on its hands. Beyond that, though, we’ll have to wait for more final devices to really say for sure."

Hands-on with the RED Hydrogen One, a wildly ambitious smartphone - The Verge