Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for May 2019

Broad Spectrum

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Happy Friday.

It appears that Amazon is interested in buying prepaid mobile wireless service Boost Mobile from US carriers T-Mobile and Sprint.

According to a report in Reuters, Amazon is considering buying Boost because the deal would allow it to use the “New T-Mobile” wireless network for at least six years.

New T-Mobile is the name that T-Mobile and Sprint use to refer to the new entity that would result from their merger, one that still requires regulatory approval.

Reuters also reported that Amazon would be interested as well in any wireless spectrum that could be divested as part of the deal.

Analysts estimate that Boost has seven to eight million customers and a transaction could be valued at $4.5 billion if the deal included wireless spectrum and facilities.

Meanwhile, we’re getting some of our first public looks at Uber earnings…the company reported $3.1B in revenue in Q1, which was up 20% year-over-year, and gross bookings of $14.65B dollars, up 34% year-over-year but with a net loss of $1.01B.

From CNBC:

On a call with analysts, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he likes “what we see on the competitor front in the U.S.,” referencing Lyft’s earnings call where executives said they are beginning to compete more on brand.
“I think that competing on brand and product is, call it, a healthier mode of competition than just throwing money at a challenge,” Khosrowshahi said.

If you’re a Chrome user and interested in security, see this piece from WIRED, one entitled “Google is finally making Chrome extensions more secure.”

The improvements come as part of a wider company push to evaluate how much user data third-party applications can access. Google launched the audit, known as Project Strobe, in October alongside an announcement that Google+ had suffered data exposuresand would be shuttered.
Later this year, Google will begin requiring that extensions only request access to the minimum amount of user data necessary to function. The company is also expanding its requirements around privacy policies: Previously, only extensions that dealt with personal and sensitive user data had to post the policies, but now extensions that handle personal communications and other user-generated content will need to articulate policies, as well. Google says it is announcing these changes now so developers have time to adapt before the new rules take effect this fall.

Some funding news: BabbleLabs, which is focused on improving speech quality, accuracy, and personalization in voice apps, has raised a $14M Series A. The round was co-led by Dell Technologies Capital and Intel Capital.

Written by turbotodd

May 31, 2019 at 11:23 am

The Ghost Chatters

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The British sigint intelligence GCHQ is listening, and apparently they want to listen some more.

Potentially, to your encrypted chats.

So a group of 47 companies and institutions have come out firmly against a proposal by the G-men to eavesdrop on encrypted messages.

In an open letter that was published on Lawfare, The Verge writes, “the companies say that the plans would undermine security, threaten trust in encrypted messaging services, and ultimately endanger citizens’ right to privacy and free expression.”

The proposal from GCHQ was first published last November as part of a series of essays, and does not necessarily reflect a legislative agenda from the intelligence agency at this point. In the essay, two senior British intelligence officials argue that law enforcement should be added as a “ghost” participant in every encrypted messaging conversation.

So basically, intelligence firms would be CCed on your encrypted messages without any of the chatters knowing there was a “ghost” in the chat.

I foresee a full-on battle royale over privacy and encryption vs. national security and eavesdropping headed our way, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Be really interesting to see how this plays out for Facebook, which owns leading encrypted messaging firm WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (both of which would be likely targets for the ghost chatters), just as Mark Zuckerberg attempts to pivot Facebook towards a more private messaging-oriented firm (I remain skeptical there’s a viable business model there, and certainly not one nearly as robust as the one that maximizes the exploitation of user data for advertisers).

Written by turbotodd

May 30, 2019 at 11:06 am

Flipping the Flipboard

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And there it is…another cybersecurity breach.

This time with news aggregator service and mobile news app, Flipboard.

ZDNet reports the security incident allowed hackers to have access to internal systems there for nine months.

Nine months!

“Flipboard said hackers gained access to databases the company was using to sore customer information.”

And Flipboard said those databases stored information that included Flipboard user names, passwords, and “in some cases, emails or digital tokens that linked Flipboard profiles to accounts on third-party services.”

But good news, “not all [customer] accounts were compromised.”

FYI, the breach period was roughly June 2, 2018 to March 23, 2019, and April 21-22, 2019.

The company discovered the second intrusion on April 23.

Could be time to flip off the Flipboard.

Written by turbotodd

May 29, 2019 at 9:29 am

Posted in 2019, cybersecurity

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Crazy Dogs and Tank Men

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This one reminded me of Socks the Puppet.

You remember Socks, the Pets.Com mascot back during the dot com heyday? Go watch one of their TV spots on YT. Good stuff.

Well, China’s “Crazy Dog” is not to be outdone, and recently raised $43.4M in Series B funding. The company was founded in 2014 and is one of China’s leading Internet-based pet supplies brands.

Crazy Dog actually sells stuff, though, including more than 5 million bags of dog food last year. China’s annual pet care market reached some $24.7 billion last year (only 33% of which was dog food).

Also on the Chinese front, a startup called Neolix Technologies is mass producing self-drive delivery vans in Changzhou. Specifically, what are referred to as Level 4 autonomous vehicles, those that a driver does not need to interfere with any driving operations and where autonomous travel is available under specific conditions, like self-driving zones.

And on to more sensitive subjects, we’re less than a week away from the 30th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown (June 4th). We’ll see just how good those Chinese AI algorithms are, as posts that allude to dates, images and names associated with the protests will be automatically rejected and/or deleted.

Penalties for Internet users and activists who step beyond the bounds of Chinese censorship propriety include fines to jail time.

That means any allusions to “Tank Man” will likely end up in the AI scrapheap of history.

But you can still buy good dog food online in China.

Written by turbotodd

May 28, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Posted in 2019, china

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Missing the Wave

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Aloha.

If you’re here in the U.S., I hope you enjoyed the not-nearly-long-enough long holiday weekend.

I was just surfing through the headlines playing tech news catchup, and a story from Martin Bryant with TNW (The Next Web) caught my attention.

He reminded us that today was the 10th anniversary of Google Wave’s unveiling. The what, ye ask? Exactly.

At the time, it was a big deal, a first and real-time collaboration tool. Bryant suggests that Wave’s legacy lives on in Google Docs, but that the “blind, dumb enthusiasm we had back then” for technology does not.

Bryant continues, “It’s healthy to have a critical attitude to the technology that plays a much bigger part in our daily lives than it did 10 years ago, but I can’t help but feel we’ve lost a healthy level of enthusiasm for embracing new things, too. All too often, new technology is greeted with questions about how it might make the world worse, rather than better.”

I’m not sure what rock Bryant’s been holed up under, but I think I lost my somewhat naive optimism for tech long ago, reverting instead to a more grounded realization that any human-built technology has the potential for both good and bad (see nuclear power and weapons).

I think this past decade we’ve seen far more stories of the bad outweighing the good because of the outliers (Facebook and privacy, Stuxnet and other CIA/NSA tools released into the wild, mass surveillance vis a via Snowden revelations, the endless hacking incidents and data breaches).

But sometimes you have to step back and remind yourself of the good parts. Of the fact that you can work with people all over the planet without always having to get on a plane. That you can keep up, and in touch, with a lot more of your friends (even if it’s virtual…better than not keeping in touch, right [well, in most cases].

We were bound to get down on IP technology at some point because it was inevitable. The network effect kicked into gear, as did the bad behaviors. Are we really so shocked that people took a new technology and did bad shit with it?!

So you want to feel good about what’s coming down the pike in terms of new tech? Don’t believe the hyperbole without first giving it a test drive, and then decide for yourself.

Because there’s plenty to be both amped and excited about: AI, AR, VR, quantum, the list goes on.

But not unlike the first 25 years of commercial IP, a lot of stuff could also go very, very wrong.

Be prepared for both endpoints.

But also don’t ever give up the sense of wonderment, the sense that you’re living through a mesmerizing shift in human history. Because you are.

Louis CK reminded us of this sense of wonderment a few years ago when he would talk about people complaining about the tribulations of air travel.

“ ‘It was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn’t board for twenty minutes, and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway.’ Oh really, what happened next? Did you fly through air incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight you non-contributing zero?! You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going: ‘Oh my God! Wow!’ You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!’ “

Exactly.

Written by turbotodd

May 28, 2019 at 10:08 am

Posted in 2019

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AI Distortion

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Happy Friday. 

For those of you in the U.S., are you ready for a longgg holiday weekend?

You’re already on the road, you say?  Well, more power to ya!

I think we had another AI moment yesterday.

WAPO is reporting that there were distorted videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had been altered to make her sound as if she’s drunkely slurring her words.

The videos spread rapidly across social media, including Twitter, FB, and YT.

One version, posted by the conservative Facebook page Politics WatchDog, had been viewed more than 2 million times by Thursday night, been shared more than 45,000 times, and garnered 23,000 comments with users calling her “drunk” and “a babbling mess.”

WAPO goes on to write that the origins of the altered video remained unclear.

Another video that made the rounds this week: One of now and former world leaders like Trump, Putin, May, Obama, others, singing along to John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Their moving lips were totally in synch with Lennon’s lyrics.  Their policies, that’s another story.

This is our future.

If we can’t tell the difference between a Tweet originating at the White House or the Kremlin, what chance do we have with video??

Maybe we could just make up a presidential candidate from AI scratch, give he/she a good neural network, and send them off and running.  They could make decisions 24 hours a day, wouldn’t require food or sleep, and wouldn’t necessarily even need their own Twitter account. 

Because they’re AI, they know and see all, and are omnipotent. 

Happy start to your Memorial Day weekend.  ; )

Written by turbotodd

May 24, 2019 at 11:06 am

Reservation for 5,000

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I read a piece in The New York Times yesterday that provided a recent test of Google’s Duplex technology.

Google Duplex was the technology revealed in May 2018 at the Google I/O developer conference that uses a Google AI engine via Google Assistant to call and make appointments. The original I/O demo, and The New York Times test, partly centered on making restaurant reservations.

In the Times piece, you can listen to a couple of the reservation calls. You should give them a listen. No, really.

Do they pass the Turing Test? Maybe not, but the AI does a really good job of playing the human. And in many cases, Duplex is still using humans, not bots, for making the reservations.

That, presumably, is to better train the bots so that we can get rid of the humans altogether and move the humans up the value chain to a far more interesting job like, say, delivering for Uber eats!

I wonder what happens if one of the algos messes up and tries to make a reservation for 5,000 using someone’s Amex black card for a deposit.

Does the Duplex AI start screaming for help from Dave because the algo doesn’t know what to do with that information? Does Amex reverse the charge when the human calls blaming the mistake on the Duplex AI? Do they try to sue Larry and Sergey!??"

*That* one you can try at home, kids!

Written by turbotodd

May 23, 2019 at 10:02 am

Posted in 2019, artificial intelligence, google

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