27 February 2018

The Verge: “Elon Musk leaves board of AI safety group to avoid conflict of interest with Tesla”

Tech billionaire Elon Musk is leaving the board of OpenAI, the nonprofit research group he co-founded with Y Combinator president Sam Altman to study the ethics and safety of artificial intelligence.

The move was announced in a short blog post, explaining that Musk is leaving in order to avoid a conflict of interest between OpenAI’s work and the machine learning research done by Tesla to develop autonomous driving. As Tesla continues to become more focused on AI, this will eliminate a potential future conflict for Elon, says the post. Musk will stay on as a donator to OpenAI and will continue to advise the group.

James Vincent

First (obvious) reaction to this: ‘so Tesla is planning on developing AI that is either unethical, or not safe’?! That would be rather bad for their customers…

24 February 2018

Live Science: “This Giant Clock will tick for 10,000 Years”

On Tuesday (Feb. 20), Bezos tweeted the first video footage of an unusual project he’s funding, called the 10,000-Year Clock. True to its name, the clock is designed to accurately keep time for 10,000 years. It’s powered by a combination of solar energy and occasional windings by any intrepid visitors who stray into the limestone cliffs of Texas’ Sierra Diablo mountain range sometime over the next 10 millennia.

To Bezos, who reportedly invested $42 million in the clock’s construction, the timepiece is the ultimate symbol of long-term thinking. To Danny Hillis, an inventor and computer scientist who first described the idea for the clock in Wired magazine in 1995, it’s a vision come to life.

Brandon Specktor

Amazing project! Reminds me of the giant horologe at the center of the concent of Saunt Edhar in the sci-fi novel Anathem.

19 February 2018

Pixel Envy: “Reports of Google’s Newfound Design Prowess have been Greatly Exaggerated”

It isn’t unheard-of for an Apple TV app from a major third party to fail to adhere to platform conventions. The Amazon Prime app doesn’t look or behave anything like a native app because it’s basically a web app. Hulu and Netflix also have some pretty crappy apps that don’t really function like a tvOS app ought to.

But this also isn’t unlike Google, which has completely disregarded platform standards with their major iOS apps for years. There’s nothing wrong with making apps of a particular style — my favourite developers all have their unique quirks and styles that help identify their apps as theirs — but Google’s apps frequently feel less like they’re trying to create branded iOS apps and more like they want their Android apps to run on iOS.

Nick Heer

If one tvOS app would be bad, I would blame the developer – in this case Google. If multiple apps are bad, maybe the problem lies with the platform itself. Most likely, Apple TV has relatively few users for big companies to bother investing in an app that follows “platform conventions” to the letter. A problem only made worse by Apple’s choice of fragmenting its platform with a different OS for each device. If developers could easily upscale their apps to work on bigger screens like the iPad and the Apple TV, there would be many more quality apps to choose from – see also, how Instagram still doesn’t have an official iPad app.

18 February 2018

Peter F. Hamilton – Disfuncția realității

in Bucharest, Romania
Peter F. Hamilton - Disfunctia Realitatii

La câteva secole în viitor, omenirea s‑a extins pe sute de planete terracompatibile din galaxie, formând o Confederație nu foarte strânsă împreună cu alte două rase extraterestre, kiinti și tyrathca. Oamenii înșiși au evoluat în direcții distincte în tot acest timp, care s‑au coagulat în două facțiuni majore. Pe de o parte edeniștii au îmbrățișat biotehnologia și gena afinității în special, o formă de telepatie care le‑a permis să construiască o societate aproape utopică, lipsită de boli și conflicte interne, un standard de bunăstare și progres pentru întreaga Confederație. De cealaltă parte, adamiștii mai conservatori au privit de la început cu suspiciune afinitatea; ei rămân adepți ai vechilor religii monoteiste ale Pământului, ai căror ierarhi au excomunicat afinitatea, ca și abilitatea edeniștilor de a supraviețui morții transferându‑și personalitatea în memoria extinsă a habitatelor organice. În ciuda acestor fricțiuni, cele două ramuri trăiesc în simbioză, colonizând împreună sistemele planetare: adamiștii revendică planetele similare Terrei, în amintirea biosferei distruse a Pământului, în timp ce edeniștii germinează habitate bitek pe orbita gigantelor gazoase, de unde exploatează He3, principala sursă de energie a Confederației.

Lăudată ca o renaștere a genului space opera, trilogia Zorii Nopții excelează în mod incontestabil în descrierea unui univers vast și complex. Peter Hamilton ne conduce printr‑o serie aproape nesfârșită de scene și locuri, de la abundența și serenitatea comunităților edeniste la înfloritorul Regat Kulu, la habitate renegate și planete sălbatice în curs de colonizare. Liantul care asigură comerțul și comunicarea în Confederație este saltul prin găuri de vierme, care permite transportul instantaneu pe distanțe de zeci de ani‑lumină. Și aici edeniștii au un avantaj cu navele lor bitek care pot simți și manipula câmpurile gravitaționale pentru a efectua salturi cu acuratețe sporită. Dotați cu conştiinţă de sine, șoimii‑de‑vid sunt germinați pe orbitele gigantelor gazoase, la fel ca habitatele edeniste, și de la naștere sunt legați prin afinitate de un căpitan care‑i va însoți toată viața. Conceptul aduce aminte de Moya din serialul Farscape, deși e mai probabil că acea navă a fost inspirată de Hamilton. Zborul de împerechere al șoimilor‑de‑vid e printre cele mai impresionante scene din roman, imaginând un mod complet diferit de a trăi în spațiul cosmic.

16 February 2018

The Verge: “Google removes ‘view image’ button from search results to make pics harder to steal”

Google is making a change to image search today that sounds small but will have a big impact: it’s removing the “view image” button that appeared when you clicked on a picture, which allowed you to open the image alone. The button was extremely useful for users, since when you’re searching for a picture, there’s a very good chance that you want to take it and use it for something. Now, you’ll have to take additional steps to save an image.

The change is essentially meant to frustrate users. Google has long been under fire from photographers and publishers who felt that image search allowed people to steal their pictures, and the removal of the view image button is one of many changes being made in response. A deal to show copyright information and improve attribution of Getty photos was announced last week and included these changes.

Jacob Kastrenakes

A terrible decision for users. When searching for images, I'm almost never interested in the webpage where it’s published, I want instead to access the image directly. With this change, users are pushed to visit sites that will most likely load ads and trackers into your browser; you’re wasting time for the site to load, then to look for the image on the page… a poor user experience overall. The superior experience of Google Search was based on speed and convenience – I guess Google is no longer interested in providing that.

08 February 2018

Quartz: “Apple Q1 2018 record-breaking earnings”

This quarter was expected, by Apple’s own estimation, to be its best ever in terms of revenue. The company said it expected to generate between $84 billion to $87 billion for the quarter, far outstripping its previous revenue record of $78.4 billion that it set in the same quarter last year. In the end it pulled in $88.2 billion, a jump of 12.5% over last year. That resulted in profit of more than $20 billion for the quarter, up over 12% from last year.

But it was not all good news for the Cupertino, California, company. Apple did not break its record for the number of iPhones sold in a quarter (it sold 77.3 million this quarter, about 1 million fewer than it sold in the same quarter last year), and its guidance for the current quarter was below what analysts had been expecting, initially sending its stock price down about 1.5% in after-hours trading.

Mike Murphy

Speaking of Apple, they recently announced their first quarter earnings, with record-breaking revenues, but a slight drop in iPhone sales. This year, I didn’t have time to write my usual sales forecast, even though I made some estimations (which were surprisingly accurate in regards to iPhone sales). Despite the good aspects fans like to parade around, I would like to underline two weak spots in Apple’s results:

07 February 2018

The Verge: “Apple HomePod review: locked in”

When you set down a HomePod and play music, it goes through a number of steps to tune itself. First, it tries to create a model of the room it’s in by detecting the sounds reflecting off walls. It does this in two passes: the first pass builds a model to a high degree of initial confidence, and the second pass refines the model. This happens faster if you’re playing music with a lot of bass.

Then, it creates a virtual array of soundbeams using that seven-tweeter array. Placed near a wall, the HomePod creates three beams: one pointed out the front for “direct” sounds like vocals and guitars, and two pointed at the wall to reflect “ambient” sounds like applause and room noises. This is called “beamforming,” and it’s a nifty, complicated idea; Apple told me it has something like 200 patents for the HomePod.

So the HomePod is using all seven physical speakers to create an array of virtual speakers and assigning those virtual speakers different parts of the music for increased clarity and bass. It’s not trying to create wide stereo separation — later this year, you’ll be able to pair two HomePods for that — it’s just trying to get as much from the audio you’re playing as possible, while eliminating the effects of the room you’re in.

Nilay Patel

The first part of this review, which details the engineering behind the HomePod hardware and its sound features, almost made me want to buy Apple’s newest speakers. But then the software half of the review started, and, oh, boy, is it bad! Basically a never-ending list of things Siri can’t do

05 February 2018

Axios: “Scoop: Apple delays iOS features to focus on reliability, performance”

Software head Craig Federighi announced the revised plan to employees at a meeting earlier this month, shortly before he and some top lieutenants headed to a company offsite.

On the cutting board: Pushed into 2019 are a number of features including a refresh of the home screen and in-car user interfaces, improvements to core apps like mail and updates to the picture-taking, photo editing and sharing experiences.

Ina Fried

In other words, a company with record revenues and cash reserves doesn’t have the resources to work on new features and reliability improvements simultaneously; and for their main product no less. Apple has grown complacent, to say the least.

04 February 2018

WSJ: “The Internet is filling up because Indians are sending Millions of ‘Good Morning!’ Texts”

Millions of Indians are getting online for the first time—and they are filling up the internet. Many like nothing better than to begin the day by sending greetings from their phones. Starting before sunrise and reaching a crescendo before 8 a.m., internet newbies post millions of good-morning images to friends, family and strangers.

All that good cheer is driving a 10-fold increase in the number of Google searches for “Good Morning images” over the past five years. Pinterest, the San Francisco visual-search platform, added a new section to display images with quotes. It saw a ninefold increase over the past year in the number of people in India downloading such pictures.

Newley Purnell

I’ve noticed this Indian habit first-hand last year, when I was included in a WhatApp group for a work trip. Back then, I assumed it was a way of showing they are online and available for our daily conference call, but it turns out it’s actually a widespread local trend. For the record, I never greeted them back.