Transportation

Sony May Launch an AI-powered Taxi Hailing System (engadget.com) 32

Sony definitely isn't the first name you think of when you're looking for a ride, but that might change soon in its native Japan. From a report: Nikkei has learned that the tech heavyweight is leading an alliance of taxi companies (Checker Cab, Daiwa Motor Transportation, Green Cab, Hinomaru Kotsu and Kokusai Motorcars) in the creation of an AI-powered hailing platform. The algorithmic system would dispatch taxis more effectively by studying a host of conditions like traffic, weather and events. It might send a horde of drivers near the end of a concert, for instance.
Television

Samsung and Roku Smart TVs Vulnerable To Hacking, Consumer Reports Finds (consumerreports.org) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Consumer Reports: Consumer Reports has found that millions of smart TVs can be controlled by hackers exploiting easy-to-find security flaws. The problems affect Samsung televisions, along with models made by TCL and other brands that use the Roku TV smart-TV platform, as well as streaming devices such as the Roku Ultra. We found that a relatively unsophisticated hacker could change channels, play offensive content, or crank up the volume, which might be deeply unsettling to someone who didn't understand what was happening. This could be done over the web, from thousands of miles away. (These vulnerabilities would not allow a hacker to spy on the user or steal information.) The findings were part of a broad privacy and security evaluation, led by Consumer Reports, of smart TVs from top brands that also included LG, Sony, and Vizio. The testing also found that all these TVs raised privacy concerns by collecting very detailed information on their users. Consumers can limit the data collection. But they have to give up a lot of the TVs' functionality -- and know the right buttons to click and settings to look for.
Google

Now Google Might Make a Game Console and Game-Streaming Service (fastcompany.com) 90

Google could try to get serious about gaming with a rumored console and game-streaming service, according to the Information. From a report: The service, codenamed "Yeti," would stream modern games over the internet instead of processing them on locally, allowing them to run weaker hardware such as Google's Chromecast dongles. Several other companies, including Nvidia and Sony, already offer their own game-streaming services, but the problems are always the same: Publishers tend to support these services halfheartedly or not at all, and even with an excellent internet connection, the experience isn't as responsive or dependable as a powerful home console. It's unclear how Google might solve those problems, but the company is reportedly considering a holiday 2017 launch.
Encryption

Camera Makers Resist Encryption, Despite Warnings From Photographers (zdnet.com) 291

An anonymous reader shares an article from the security editor of ZDNet: A year after photojournalists and filmmakers sent a critical letter to camera makers for failing to add a basic security feature to protect their work from searches and hacking, little progress has been made. The letter, sent in late 2016, called on camera makers to build encryption into their cameras after photojournalists said they face "a variety of threats..." Even when they're out in the field, collecting footage and documenting evidence, reporters have long argued that without encryption, police, the military, and border agents in countries where they work can examine and search their devices. "The consequences can be dire," the letter added.

Although iPhones and Android phones, computers, and instant messengers all come with encryption, camera makers have fallen behind. Not only does encryption protect reported work from prying eyes, it also protects sources -- many of whom put their lives at risk to expose corruption or wrongdoing... The lack of encryption means high-end camera makers are forcing their customers to choose between putting their sources at risk, or relying on encrypted, but less-capable devices, like iPhones. We asked the same camera manufacturers if they plan to add encryption to their cameras -- and if not, why. The short answer: don't expect much any time soon.

Sony

As Sony CEO Kaz Hirai Steps Down, the Future of Some Products Is In Question (arstechnica.com) 33

After six years with the company, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai will step down from his post on April 1, 2018. He will remain with the company as chairman, and the CEO seat will be filled by current CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Samuel Axon reports via Ars Technica of the reputation his successor has built for making touch cuts to get back in the black: Hirai is perhaps best known to the general public for his role in the PlayStation business, which is where the majority of his background with the company lies. He was involved in developing the PlayStation's software lineup in the late '90s, and Hirai famously unveiled the PlayStation 3 before he became CEO. That unveiling might better be described as infamous: he announced the console's launch models at the extremely steep prices of $499 and $599, leading to shock and ire in the gaming community. The cheaper of those two was almost a non-starter, lacking Wi-Fi and adequate hard drive storage. That memorable blunder aside, investors in Sony have enjoyed significant gains in the six years since Hirai became CEO -- though the company has only been regaining partial ground since it fell a long way from its peak back in 2000. He has kept Sony's efforts diversified across several markets and products, from computers to Hollywood movies.

But much of the company's success under Hirai can be attributed to two things: the PlayStation division (whose profits rose by 70 percent over the holidays) and image sensors that Sony produces and sells to other companies for inclusion in various devices. Other divisions, like mobile, were de-emphasized as Hirai and Yoshida worked together to get Sony's house in order. [...] In other words, Yoshida made his mark on Sony by helping Hirai make tough calls to make major cuts to get the company on the right track. That effort is ongoing, so expect continuing changes with regards to both Sony's tech and entertainment products.

PlayStation (Games)

Sony's PlayStation 4 Has Nearly Outsold the PlayStation 3 (cnet.com) 50

Sony's PlayStation 3 sales stand at around 80 million -- which means its successor, the current gen PlayStation 4, will soon surpass it. From a report: The Japanese electronics giant sold 9 million PlayStation 4 consoles from October through December, it said on Friday in its latest quarterly earnings report. Sales for the console were at 67.5 million as of Sept. 30 2017, according to Sony's previous quarterly earnings report, bringing the total to 76.5 million. The PlayStation 2 remains Sony's best-selling console, with over 150 million units sold. These figures come days after Nintendo on Wednesday revealed the Switch, released last March, is up to 14.8 million in sales. Sales of Microsoft's Xbox One are estimated by VGChartz to be around 36 million.
Nintendo

Nintendo's Newest Switch Accessories Are DIY Cardboard Toys (theverge.com) 75

sqorbit writes: Nintendo has announced a new experience for its popular Switch game console, called Nintendo Labo. Nintendo Labo lets you interact with the Switch and its Joy-Con controllers by building things with cardboard. Launching on April 20th, Labo will allow you to build things such as a piano and a fishing pole out of cardboard pieces that, once attached to the Switch, provide the user new ways to interact with the device. Nintendo of America's President, Reggie Fils-Aime, states that "Labo is unlike anything we've done before." Nintendo has a history of non-traditional ideas in gaming, sometimes working and sometimes not. Cardboard cuts may attract non-traditional gamers back to the Nintendo platform. While Microsoft and Sony appear to be focused on 4K, graphics and computing power, Nintendo appears focused on producing "fun" gaming experiences, regardless of how cheesy or technologically outdated they me be. Would you buy a Nintendo Labo kit for $69.99 or $79.99? "The 'Variety Kit' features five different games and Toy-Con -- including the RC car, fishing, and piano -- for $69.99," The Verge notes. "The 'Robot Kit,' meanwhile, will be sold separately for $79.99."
Businesses

Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess (theverge.com) 276

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there's now a divergence of digital alternatives -- Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone -- and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony's working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It's all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we're going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you'll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.
Portables (Apple)

10 Years of the MacBook Air (theverge.com) 152

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. "Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft," The Verge recalls. "Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was..." From the report: At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn't even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series -- one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops. Apple ditched the CD drive and a range of ports on the thin MacBook Air, and the company introduced a multi-touch trackpad and SSD storage. There was a single USB 2.0 port, alongside a micro-DVI port and a headphone jack. It was minimal, but the price was not. Apple's base MacBook Air cost $1,799 at the time, an expensive laptop even by today's standards.
AI

French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI (bbc.com) 51

dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself: First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"
Power

Power Outage Brings CES To a Standstill For Nearly 2 Hours (cnet.com) 58

A major power outage brought a major portion of the Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas Center to a standstill for nearly 2 hours today. The lights went out at around 11:13 a.m. PT, just as the second day of CES 2018 was ramping up, and didn't turn back on until around 12:34 p.m. PT. CNET reports: It came a day after more than an inch of rain fell in Las Vegas, which caused flash flooding in the desert city. (Wednesday's weather is clear and warm, and it's unclear if the power outage was at all related.) The first reports of the blackout came from the convention center's Central Hall, which houses the giant booths for show mainstays including Sony, Samsung, LG and Intel -- though Samsung's booth still had limited electricity thanks to its own private backup power. By noon, security guards were refusing entry to parts of the Convention Center. The website of Nevada Energy, the power provider, listed the cause of the problem as "customer-owned electrical equipment."
Television

The World's First 88-inch 8K OLED Display (engadget.com) 136

From a report: Come CES, LG will be letting attendees get up close with its new 88-inch 8K OLED display, which is both the largest and the highest-resolution OLED panel to date. But as far as specs go, that's all we have for now. Previously, the largest OLED screen size was 77 inches, and it "only" came in 4K. While this combination is currently offered to consumers by the likes of LG Electronics, Sony and Panasonic, they all source their large OLED panels from LG Display.
Cellphones

HTC, Motorola Say They Don't Slow Old Phones Like Apple Does (theverge.com) 133

After Apple confirmed last week that it reduces the performance of older iPhones to improve battery life, it has left many wondering whether or not other smartphone manufacturers do the same. HTC and Motorola are the two most recent OEMs to say they don't throttle their phones' processor speeds as their batteries age. The Verge reports: In emails to The Verge, both companies said they do not employ similar practices with their smartphones. An HTC spokesperson said that designing phones to slow down their processor as their battery ages "is not something we do." A Motorola spokesperson said, "We do not throttle CPU performance based on older batteries." The Verge also reached out to Google, Samsung, LG, and Sony for comment on whether their phone processors are throttled in response to aging batteries. A Sony spokesperson said a response would be delayed by the holidays, and a Samsung spokesperson said the company was looking into it. The responses begin to clarify whether or not throttling processor speeds is typical behavior in smartphones -- as of last week, we knew that Apple was doing it, but not whether it was common practice among competitors. HTC and Motorola's responses start to suggest that it's not.
Power

FCC Approves First Wireless 'Power-At-A-Distance' Charging System (engadget.com) 138

The FCC has approved the first wireless charger that works from up to three feet away. Engadget reports: San Jose-based startup, Energous, announced on Tuesday that it has received the first such FCC certification for power-at-a-distance wireless charging with its WattUp Mid Field transmitter. The transmitter converts electricity into radio frequencies, then beams the energy to nearby devices outfitted with a corresponding receiver. This differs from the resonant induction method that the Pi wireless charging system relies upon and offers a greater range than the Belkin and Mophie chargers that require physical contact with the device. The WattUp can charge multiple devices simultaneously and should work on any number of devices, from phones and tablets to keyboards and earbuds, so long as they're outfitted with the right receiver. What's more, the WattUp ecosystem is manufacturer-agnostic -- like WiFi -- meaning that you'll still be able to, for example, charge your Samsung phone even if the transmitter is made by Sony or Apple.
Movies

What Disney's Acquisition of Fox Means For the Future of Film and TV (qz.com) 139

Disney announced on Thursday it had reached a $52 billion deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. It is "the biggest and most consequential media merger in an era of big and consequential media consolidation deals," reports Quartz. "The deal will have a lasting effect on film, television, and the internet." From the report: If the merger is approved, Disney will own: All of Fox's film studios (20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000); Fox's television studio; FX Networks; National Geographic; Fox's stake in European broadcaster Sky; Fox's stake in North American streamer Hulu. Staying with the hollowed out 21st Century Fox is the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, Fox Sports, and Fox Business. With Fox's film and TV studios and its cable networks, Disney will acquire the rights to literally hundreds of popular television series and movies. (Some of which include Avatar, X-Men, Deadpool, Modern Family and The Simpsons.)

Imagine all of the properties mentioned above, plus all of Disney's existing franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc.) combined into one internet streaming service. You won't have to imagine for long, because that's pretty much exactly why Disney CEO Bob Iger was so keen on buying all of Fox's biggest assets. Disney plans to release a streaming entertainment service in 2019. It would have been quite formidable on its own, even without Fox's help, but now it will likely be the first true rival to Netflix in the streaming space. Before today, Disney, Fox, and Comcast (NBCUniversal) all shared equal 30% stakes in Hulu (Time Warner owns 10%). But when Disney takes over Fox's share of the streaming service, it will own 60%, becoming a controlling majority owner, relegating Comcast to minority owner in the process.

20th Century Fox, we hardly knew ye. Okay, that may be a bit premature, but it's clear that Fox's film business won't be the same if the merger is approved. The deal marks the first time in modern history that one major film studio has purchased another, eliminating one of the "big six," and essentially giving Disney control of two-thirds of Hollywood. (The other four major movie studios are Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony.)

Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Sales Hit 10 Million Units, Could Outdo the Wii (fastcompany.com) 80

Nintendo's big bet on a hybrid portable and home game system is paying off, with 10 million Nintendo Switch units sold in nine months. From a report: Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Variety that the Switch could even top first-year sales of the Wii, the company's best-selling console yet -- if momentum holds up through the holidays. Strong sales will be important for Nintendo as it tries to convince game publishers to invest in the platform, whose less powerful hardware can't always handle the same games as Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation consoles.
Music

YouTube to Launch New Music Subscription Service in March (bloomberg.com) 59

An anonymous reader shares a report: YouTube plans to introduce a paid music service in March, according to people familiar with the matter, a third attempt by parent company Alphabet Inc. to catch up with rivals Spotify and Apple. The new service could help appease record-industry executives who have pushed for more revenue from YouTube. Warner Music Group, one of the world's three major record labels, has already signed on, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. YouTube is also in talks with the two others, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, and Merlin, a consortium of independent labels, the people said.
Hardware

The Secret to Tech's Next Big Breakthroughs? Stacking Chips (wsj.com) 116

Christopher Mims, writing for the Wall Street Journal: A funny thing is happening to the most basic building blocks of nearly all our devices. Microchips, which are usually thin and flat, are being stacked like pancakes (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). Chip designers -- now playing with depth, not just length and width -- are discovering a variety of unexpected dividends in performance, power consumption and capabilities. Without this technology, the Apple Watch wouldn't be possible. Nor would the most advanced solid-state memory from Samsung, artificial-intelligence systems from Nvidia and Google, or Sony's crazy-fast next-gen camera. Think of this 3-D stacking as urban planning. Without it, you have sprawl -- microchips spread across circuit boards, getting farther and farther apart as more components are needed. But once you start stacking chips, you get a silicon cityscape, with everything in closer proximity.

The advantage is simple physics: When electrons have to travel long distances through copper wires, it takes more power, produces heat and reduces bandwidth. Stacked chips are more efficient, run cooler and communicate across much shorter interconnections at lightning speed, says Greg Yeric, director of future silicon technology for ARM Research, part of microchip design firm ARM.

News

Not Every Article Needs a Picture (theoutline.com) 134

An anonymous reader shares an article: Pictures and text often pair nicely together. You have an article about a thing, and the picture illustrates that thing, which in many cases helps you understand the thing better. But on the web, this logic no longer holds, because at some point it was decided that all texts demand a picture. It may be of a tangentially related celeb. It may be a stock photo of a person making a face. It may be a Sony logo, which is just the word SONY. I have been thinking about this for a long time and I think it is stupid. I understand that images -- clicks is industry gospel, but it seems like many publishers have forgotten their sense of pride. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it's hard for me to imagine there'll be much value in the text of an article illustrated by a generic stock image. As with so many problems, social media seems to deserve much of the blame for this. Until the mid-to-late '00s, a publication's homepage played a dominant role in driving people to individual articles. Homepages mostly mimicked the front pages of newspapers, where major stories -- things that warranted investment in original art -- had images. Other stories just got a headline. Over time, the endless space of the internet lowered the standard for which articles needed art, but still, not everything got an image. [...] Even the unflinching belief that people won't read articles if there aren't pictures doesn't hold up to logic. Sure, interesting pictures can attract readers, but most of these images are not interesting. And even if it were slightly better for business, is that really a compromise worth making?
Security

The Computer Scientist Who Prefers Voting With Paper (theatlantic.com) 219

Geoffrey.landis writes: The Atlantic profiles a computer scientist: Barbara Simons, who has been on the forefront of the pushback against electronic voting as a technology susceptible to fraud and hacking. When she first started writing articles about the dangers of electronic voting with no paper trail, the idea that software could be manipulated to rig elections was considered a fringe preoccupation; but Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election have reversed Simons's fortunes. According to the Department of Homeland Security, those efforts included attempts to meddle with the electoral process in 21 states; while a series of highly publicized hacks -- at Sony, Equifax, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management -- has driven home the reality that very few computerized systems are truly secure. Simons is a former President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM); and the group she helps run, Verified Voting, has been active in educating the public about the dangers of unverified voting since 2003.

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