Businesses

eBay Launches Authentication Service To Combat Counterfeit High-End Goods (venturebeat.com) 63

Ecommerce giant eBay has launched a previously announced service designed to combat the scourge of fake goods on the platform. From a report: eBay has proven popular with fake goods' sellers for some time, with fashion accessories and jewelry featuring highly on counterfeiters' agenda. The company announced eBay Authenticate way back in January with a broad focus on giving "high-end" goods an official stamp of approval prior to sale. Ultimately designed to encourage buyers to part with cash on expensive items, it uses a network of professional authenticators who take physical receipt of a seller's products, validates them, and then photographs, lists, and ships the goods to the successful buyer. For today's launch of eBay Authenticate, the service is only available for luxury handbags from 12 brands, including Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Valentino, though the program will be expanded to cover other luxury goods and brands from next year. "With tens-of-thousands of high-end handbags currently available, eBay is primed to boost customer confidence in selling and shopping for an amazing selection of designer merchandise," noted Laura Chambers, vice president of consumer selling at eBay. "We also believe our sellers will love this service, as it provides them with a white-glove service when selling luxury handbags."
AI

Voice Assistants Will Be Difficult To Fire (wired.com) 175

mirandakatz writes: As voice assistants crop up left and right, consumers are facing a decision: Are you an Alexa? A Google Assistant? A Siri? Choose wisely -- because once you pick one voice assistant, it'll be difficult to switch. As Scott Rosenberg writes at Backchannel, "If I want to switch assistants down the line, sure, I can just go out and buy another device. But that investment of time and personal data isn't so easy to replace... Right now, all these assistants behave like selfish employees who think they can protect their jobs by holding vital expertise or passwords close to their chests. Eventually , the data that runs the voice assistant business is going to have to be standardized."
AI

Does the Rise of AI Precede the End of Code? (itproportal.com) 195

An anonymous reader shares an article: It's difficult to know what's in store for the future of AI but let's tackle the most looming question first: are engineering jobs threatened? As anticlimactic as it may be, the answer is entirely dependent on what timeframe you are talking about. In the next decade? No, entirely unlikely. Eventually? Most definitely. The kicker is that engineers never truly know how the computer is able to accomplish these tasks. In many ways, the neural operations of the AI system are a black box. Programmers, therefore, become the AI coaches. They coach cars to self-drive, coach computers to recognise faces in photos, coach your smartphone to detect handwriting on a check in order to deposit electronically, and so on. In fact, the possibilities of AI and machine learning are limitless. The capabilities of AI through machine learning are wondrous, magnificent... and not going away. Attempts to apply artificial intelligence to programming tasks have resulted in further developments in knowledge and automated reasoning. Therefore, programmers must redefine their roles. Essentially, software development jobs will not become obsolete anytime soon but instead require more collaboration between humans and computers. For one, there will be an increased need for engineers to create, test and research AI systems. AI and machine learning will not be advanced enough to automate and dominate everything for a long time, so engineers will remain the technological handmaidens.
AI

We're Too Wise For Robots To Take Our Jobs, Alibaba's Jack Ma Says (scmp.com) 221

Have confidence in yourself -- technology will never replace human beings, insisted self-made billionaire Jack Ma in a keynote speech at Alibaba Cloud's Computing Conference in Hangzhou. From a report: There's one simple reason for that, the Alibaba founder said - we possess wisdom. "People are getting more worried about the future, about technology replacing humans, eliminating jobs and widening the gap between the rich and the poor," said Ma. "But I think these are empty worries. Technology exists for people. We worry about technology because we lack confidence in ourselves, and imagination for the future." Ma explained that humans are the only things on Earth that are wise. "People will always surpass machines because people possess wisdom," he said. Referencing AlphaGo, the Google artificial intelligence program that beat the world's top Go player at his own game, Ma said that there was no reason humanity should be saddened by the defeat. "AlphaGo? So what? AlphaGo should compete against AlphaGo 2.0, not us. There's no need to be upset that we lost. It shows that we're smart, because we created it."
Transportation

Nvidia Introduces a Computer For Level 5 Autonomous Cars (engadget.com) 175

From a report: At the center of many of the semi-autonomous cars currently on the road is NVIDIA hardware. Once automakers realized that GPUs could power their latest features, the chipmaker, best known for the graphics cards that make your games look outstanding, became the darling of the car world. But while automakers are still dropping level 2 and sometimes level 3 vehicles into the market, NVIDIA's first AI computer, the NVIDIA Drive PX Pegasus, is apparently capable of level 5 autonomy. That means no pedals, no steering wheel, no need for anyone to ever take control. The new computer delivers 320 trillion operations per second, 10 times more than its predecessor. Before you start squirreling away cash for your own self-driving car, though, NVIDIA's senior director of automotive, Danny Shapiro, notes that it's likely going to be robotaxis that drive us around. In fact, the company said that over 25 of its partners are already working on fully autonomous taxis. The goal with this smaller, more powerful computer is to remove the huge computer arrays that sit in the prototype vehicles of OEMs, startups and any other company that's trying to crack the autonomous car nut.
Microsoft

Microsoft 'Was Sick', CEO Satya Nadella Says In New Book (intoday.in) 240

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has just published a new book called Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone. An anonymous reader quotes India Today: Nadella's push for cultural shift -- and hiring "learn-it-alls" instead of "know-it-alls" -- is largely meant to jolt enthusiasm for a new era of innovation at the company. Microsoft had long depended on the success of its flagship Windows operating system and the royalties it gets for each PC sold with it. But the global PC market is declining, and Microsoft fell behind as Apple and Google led the shift to smartphones. Nadella doesn't take any shots at Microsoft's co-founder and first CEO Bill Gates -- who wrote the book's foreword -- or Ballmer. But he's frank about their disagreements, especially over Ballmer's disastrous $7.3 billion acquisition of Nokia's phone business in 2014.

Nadella also refers to the company's previous organizational structure as a "confederation of fiefdoms" and recounts negative feedback received from employee surveys and emails. "The company was sick," Nadella writes. "Employees were tired. They were frustrated. They were fed up with losing and falling behind despite their grand plans and great ideas. They came to Microsoft with big dreams, but it felt like all they really did was deal with upper management, execute taxing processes and bicker in meetings..." He promises not to squander the new energy felt by employees after years of frustration. So far, it seems to be paying off; Microsoft shares have doubled since he took the top job in early 2014, and the company is attracting buzz for its work in AI, augmented reality and a new effort in futuristic computing.

A former Microsoft board member says Nadella "has made people believe in the future of Microsoft in a way that neither Bill nor Steve really did."
AI

Tim O'Reilly: Don't Fear AI, Fear Ourselves (wired.com) 72

Tim O'Reilly, publisher of geeky books, "seizes on this singular moment in history" for a futuristic new book of his own, according to this interview with Steven Levy. An anonymous reader writes: When it comes to artificial intelligence, O'Reilly sees a reason for optimism in the fact that we're already discussing biased algorithms. ("We had plenty of bias before but we couldn't see it.") O'Reilly ultimately believes AI won't take away our jobs, and even argues that we're defining it all wrong. "What we now call AI is just the next stage of us weaving our intelligence together into a greater whole. If you think about the internet as weaving all of us together, transmitting ideas, in some sense an AI might be the equivalent of a multi-cellular being and we're its microbiome, as opposed to the idea that an AI will be like the golem or the Frankenstein. If that's the case, the systems we are building today, like Google and Facebook and financial markets, are really more important than the fake ethics of worrying about some far future AI.

"We tend to be afraid of new technology and we tend to demonize it, but to me, you have to use it as an opportunity for introspection. Our fears ultimately should be of ourselves and other people."

O'Reilly calls financial markets "the first rogue AI," while also priasing innovators like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos for moving humankind in new and positive directions. And he also calls Uber "a good metaphor for what's right and wrong in tech" because of its clashes with both its drivers and city governments.

"It's interesting that Lyft, which has been both more cooperative in general and better to drivers, is gaining share. That indicates there's a competitive advantage in doing it right, and you can only go so far being an ass."
Transportation

GM Exec Says Elon Musk's Self-Driving Car Claims Are 'Full of Crap' (smh.com.au) 382

An anonymous reader quotes the Sydney Morning Herald: Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's claims about the self-driving capabilities of his upcoming Tesla vehicles are "full of crap", General Motors' self-driving Tsar says... "To think you can see everything you need for a level five autonomous car [full self-driving] with cameras and radar, I don't know how you do that"... GM's own solution involves several radar and Lidar sensors, as well as cameras and multiple redundancy systems. Each system costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and GM are some way away from getting the cost low enough to be commercially viable. "The level of technology and knowing what it takes to do the mission, to say you can be a full level five with just cameras and radars is not physically possible," Mr Miller said.
AI

Toymaker Mattel Cancels AI Babysitter After Privacy Complaints (theverge.com) 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: Toymaker Mattel has shelved plans to build an "all-in-one voice-controlled smart baby monitor," after complaints about the device were raised by privacy advocates and child psychologists. According to a report from The Washington Post, the company said in a statement that the device, named Aristotle, did not "fully align with Mattel's new technology strategy" and would not be "[brought] to the marketplace." Aristotle was unveiled back in January this year by Mattel's Nabi brand. It combined the smart speaker and digital assistant functionality of Amazon's Echo with a connected camera that acted as a baby monitor. But the Aristotle was intended to be a much more active presence in children's lives than an Echo speaker, with Mattel claiming it would read them bedtime stories, soothe them if they cried in the night, and even teach them their ABCs. A petition asking Mattel not to release the Aristotle gained more than 15,000 signatories.
AI

Mattel's New Baby Monitor Uses AI To Soothe Babies and Lawmakers Aren't Happy About It (washingtonpost.com) 131

Mattel has a new kid-focused smart hub called Aristotle, which can switch on a night light if it hears a baby crying to soothe the child (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The device is also designed to keep changing its activities, even to the point where it can help a preteen with homework, learning about the child along the way. Given the privacy concerns, lawmakers are worried that the always-on device could build an "in-depth profile of children and their family." Jezebel reports: The $299 Aristotle is similar in spirit to the Amazon Echo, only the scope of its features is much broader -- and scarier. Last week, Senator Ed Markey and Representative Joe Barton sent a letter to Mattel CEO Margaret Giorgiadis about their issues with the tablet, which tracks things like kids' eating and sleeping habits when they're young, and adapts to answering their questions about long division and sex or whatever as they grow up. According to nabi, the Mattel brand that developed the device, the Aristotle is meant to "provide parents with a platform that simplifies parenting, while helping them nurture, teach, and protect their young ones." Not everyone is on board. But Markey and Barton aren't the only ones squicked by Aristotle's capabilities. Buzzfeed reports that privacy experts, parents and child psychologists are also concerned that the device "encourages babies to form bonds with inanimate objects and use information it collects for targeted advertising," so much so that a petition has been launched to prevent it from going to market.
AI

The Google Clips Camera Puts AI Behind the Lens (theverge.com) 150

The Verge's Dieter Bohn reviews Google's AI camera, dubbed "Clips," which was announced alongside the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Here's an excerpt: You know what a digital camera is. It's a lens and a sensor, with a display to see what you're looking at, and a button to take the picture. Google Clips is a camera, but it only has some of those parts. There's no display. There's a shutter button, but it's completely optional to use. Instead, it takes pictures for you, using machine learning to recognize and learn faces and look for interesting moments to record. I don't know if parents -- Google's target market -- will want it. I don't know if Google can find a way to explain everything it is (and isn't) to a broad enough audience to sell the thing in big numbers, especially at $249. I also don't know what the release date will be, beyond that it will be "coming soon." But I do know that it's the most fascinating camera I've used in a very long time.
AI

Artificial Intelligence Has 'Great Potential, But We Need To Steer Carefully,' LinkedIn Co-founder Says (cnbc.com) 73

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman joined other tech moguls in voicing concern about artificial intelligence on Wednesday. From a report: "It has great potential, but we need to steer carefully," Hoffman said on Halftime Report. Hoffman stressed corporate transparency when asked what happens if companies use AI to attack nation-states. The possibility of manipulating how people consume information remains an unanswered question. During last year's U.S. presidential election, Facebook advertisements linked to Russia mainly focused on the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, and Hoffman says information battles are "in the very early days." AI must be improved, Hoffman says, to "[hold] corporations accountable" when nation-states are using the technology to attack. "Corporations normally deal with other corporations, not with governments," Hoffman said. The "ultimate" solution, he says, is "having more kinds of functions and features within AI that show abhorrent patterns." That way patterns raise a red flag for humans to investigate, Hoffman noted.
Mozilla

Donate Your Noise To Xiph/Mozilla's Deep-Learning Noise Suppression Project (xiph.org) 119

Mozilla-backed researchers are working on a real-time noise suppression algorithm using a neural network -- and they want your noise! Long-time Slashdot reader jmv writes: The Mozilla Research RRNoise project combines classic signal processing with deep learning, but it's small and fast. No expensive GPUs required -- it runs easily on a Raspberry Pi. The result is easier to tune and sounds better than traditional noise suppression systems (been there!). And you can help!
From the site: Click on this link to let us record one minute of noise from where you are... We're interested in noise from any environment where you might communicate using voice. That can be your office, your car, on the street, or anywhere you might use your phone or computer.
They claim it already sounds better than traditional noise suppression systems, and even though the code isn't optmized yet, "it already runs about 60x faster than real-time on an x86 CPU."
Businesses

5,000 People Are Working On Amazon's Digital Assistant Alexa (geekwire.com) 72

Amazon said this week at an event unveiling the next generation Echo device that it has the equivalent of a small town of people -- more than 5,000 -- working on the company's digital assistant, Alexa. From a report: And Amazon's not even at full capacity when it comes to Alexa. The company's job site shows close to 1,100 open positions on a variety of Alexa-focused teams. Voice-activated assistants appear to be the Next Big Thing in the tech world, and Amazon is competing with a who's who of tech giants, including Apple, Microsoft, Google and more. Interestingly, Amazon and Microsoft recently formed a pact that will see the two company's digital assistants gain the ability to talk to one another.
Businesses

If Data Is the New Oil, Are Tech Companies Robbing Us Blind? (digitaltrends.com) 154

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: Data is the new oil, or so the saying goes. So why are we giving it away for nothing more than ostensibly free email, better movie recommendations, and more accurate search results? It's an important question to ask in a world where the accumulation and scraping of data is worth billions of dollars -- and even a money-losing company with enough data about its users can be worth well into the eight-figure region. The essential bargain that's driven by today's tech giants is the purest form of cognitive capitalism: users feed in their brains -- whether this means solving a CAPTCHA to train AI systems or clicking links on Google to help it learn which websites are more important than others. In exchange for this, we get access to ostensibly "free" services, while simultaneously helping to train new technologies which may one day put large numbers of us out of business.

In an age in which concepts like universal basic income are increasingly widely discussed, one of the most intriguing solutions is one first put forward by virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier. In his book Who Owns the Future?, Lanier suggests that users should receive a micropayment every time their data is used to earn a company money. For example, consider the user who signs up to an online dating service. Here, the user provides data that the dating company uses to match them with a potential data. This matching process is, itself, based on algorithms honed by the data coming from previous users. The data resulting from the new user will further perfect the algorithms for later users of the service. In the case that your data somehow matches someone else successfully in a relationship, Lanier says you would be entitled to a micropayment.

AI

Are Companies Overhyping AI? (hackaday.com) 179

When it comes to artificial intelligence, "companies have been overselling the concept and otherwise normal people are taking the bait," writes Hackaday: Not to pick on Amazon, but all of the home assistants like Alexa and Google Now tout themselves as AI. By the most classic definition, that's true. AI techniques include matching natural language to predefined templates. That's really all these devices are doing today. Granted the neural nets that allow for great speech recognition and reproduction are impressive. But they aren't true intelligence nor are they even necessarily direct analogs of a human brain... The danger is that people are now getting spun up that the robot revolution is right around the corner...

[N]othing in the state of the art of AI today is going to wake up and decide to kill the human masters. Despite appearances, the computers are not thinking. You might argue that neural networks could become big enough to emulate a brain. Maybe, but keep in mind that the brain has about 100 billion neurons and almost 10 to the 15th power interconnections. Worse still, there isn't a clear consensus that the neural net made up of the cells in your brain is actually what is responsible for conscious thought. There's some thought that the neurons are just control systems and the real thinking happens in a biological quantum computer... Besides, it seems to me if you build an electronic brain that works like a human brain, it is going to have all the problems a human brain has (years of teaching, distraction, mental illness, and a propensity for error).

Citing the dire predictions of Elon Musk and Bill Gates, the article argues that "We are a relatively small group of people who have a disproportionate influence on what our friends, families, and co-workers think... We need to spread some sense into the conversation."
AI

A New Zealand Company Built An AI Baby That Plays the Piano (bloomberg.com) 87

pacopico writes: A New Zealand company called Soul Machines has built a disturbingly lifelike virtual baby powered by artificial intelligence software. According to a Bloomberg story, the baby has learned to read books, play the piano and draw pictures. The work is built off the research of Mark Sagar, the company's CEO, who is on a quest to mimic human consciousness in a machine. Sagar used to work at Weta creating lifelike faces for films like King Kong and Avatar and is now building these very realistic looking virtual avatars and pumping them full of code that not only handles things like speech but that also replicates the nervous system and brain function. The baby, for example, has virtual dopamine receptors that fire when it feels joy from playing the piano. What could go wrong?
AI

Tesla Is Working With AMD To Develop Its Own AI Chip For Self-Driving Cars (cnbc.com) 50

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Tesla is getting closer to having its own chip for handling autonomous driving tasks in its cars. The carmaker has received back samples of the first implementation of its processor and is now running tests on it, said a source familiar with the matter. The effort to build its own chip is in line with Tesla's push to be vertically integrated and decrease reliance on other companies. But Tesla isn't completely going it alone in chip development, according to the source, and will build on top of AMD intellectual property. On Wednesday Sanjay Jha, CEO of AMD spin-off GlobalFoundries, said at the company's technology conference in Santa Clara, California, that the company is working directly with Tesla. GlobalFoundries, which fabricates chips, has a wafer supply agreement in place with AMD through 2020. Tesla's silicon project is bounding ahead under the leadership of longtime chip architect Jim Keller, the head of Autopilot hardware and software since the departure of Apple veteran Chris Lattner in June. Keller, 57, joined Tesla in early 2016 following two stints at AMD and one at Apple. Keller arrived at Apple in 2008 through its acquisition of Palo Alto Semiconductor and was the designer of Apple's A4 and A5 iPhone chips, among other things. More than 50 people are working on the initiative under Keller, the source said. Tesla has brought on several AMD veterans after hiring Keller, including director Ganesh Venkataramanan, principal hardware engineer Bill McGee and system circuit design lead Dan Bailey.
AI

Amazon Is Reportedly Working On Alexa-Enabled Smart Glasses (techcrunch.com) 32

According to the Financial Times (Warning: source paywalled), Amazon is working on building a pair of smart glasses to house its Alexa voice assistant. The report also mentions a home security camera that is in the works, capable of linking up to Amazon's existing Echo connected devices. TechCrunch reports: According to the FT, the smart glasses are intended to be purely an earbuds-free housing for Amazon's Alexa AI -- with a bone-conduction audio system that would enable the wearer to hear Alexa without the need to be wired in. The FT reports the glasses would wirelessly tether to a user's smartphone for connectivity. They are also apparently being designed to look like a regular pair of spectacles, so they could be worn comfortably and unobtrusively. The paper notes that Amazon hired Babak Parviz, founder of Google Glass, in 2014, and says he's been closely involved in the project. It also points to several other Glass researchers, engineers and designers having moved to Amazon's labs -- per analysis of their LinkedIn profiles.
Transportation

Is the World Ready For Flying Cars? (engadget.com) 251

An anonymous reader shares a report from TechCrunch, adding: "Is the world ready for flying cars? Sebastian Thrun, the supposed godfather of autonomous driving, and several other tech investors seem to think so." From the report: At TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017, Thrun talked a lot about flying cars and how that was the future of transportation. So did GGV's Jenny Lee, a prolific investor in China. And so did Steve Jurvetson, one of the original investors in SpaceX. The technical backbone for flying cars seems to be there already -- with drones becoming ever-present and advancements in AI and self-driving cars -- but the time is coming soon that flying cars will be the primary mode of transportation. "I can't envision a future of highways [and being] stuck in cars," Thrun said. "I envision a [future] where you hop in a thing, go in the air, and fly in a straight line. I envision a future where Amazon delivers my food in the air in five minutes. The air is so free of stuff and is so unused compared to the ground, it has to happen in my opinion."

Cars today are forced to move on a two-dimensional plane (ramps, clover intersections and tunnels set aside), and while self-driving cars would make it easier for cars to talk to each other and move more efficiently, adding a third dimension to travel would make a lot of sense coming next. Thrun pointed to airplane transit, which is already a "fundamentally great mass transit system." Jurvetson said he was actually about to ride in a flying car before he "watched it flip over" before arriving to talk about some of the next steps in technology onstage. So, there's work to be done there, but it does certainly seem that all eyes are on flying cars. And that'll be enabled by autonomous driving, which will probably allow flying cars to figure out the most efficient paths from one point to the next without crashing into each other.
Lee said that China is closely analyzing changes in transportation, which might end up leading to flying cars. "I do want to highlight that there's going to be huge disruption within the transportation ecosystem in China," Lee said. "Cars going from diesel to electric. China has about 200 million install base of car ownership. In 2016, only 1 million cars are electric. The Chinese government hopes to install 5 million parking lots that are electric... Even the Chinese OEMs are buying into flying taxis."

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