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Apple launches a machine learning blog to placate its researchers

Apple hasn’t always been very open about its technology or its research, but the company surprised everyone last year when AI director Russ Salakhutdinov announced that Apple would begin publishing its machine learning research. Shortly thereafter, it published its first AI paper in an academic journal and today Apple takes its transparency another step with the debut of its Machine Learning Journal.

In a short welcome post on the new blog, the company said, “Here, you can read posts written by Apple engineers about their work using machine learning technologies to help build innovative products for millions of people around the world.” And the post encourages researchers, students, engineers and developers to contact the journal with any questions or feedback.

The first and only research post so far describes the findings and methods from the academic paper Apple published last year. It’s all about how to use synthetic images, which are easier and cheaper to use than real photos, to train AI, and how to make sure those synthetic images look as real as possible. The post is fairly long with quite a few descriptive figures, graphs and GIFs mixed in.

Apple’s penchant for secrecy has likely kept some researchers from working for the company. In such competitive fields like AI and machine learning, researchers would rather their work be recognized and not kept secret by companies like Apple. Steps towards engagement, like academic publications and an online journal, could do a lot to attract more talent to the company.

It’s unclear how often Apple’s team will post to the journal, but it will reportedly do so throughout the year.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Apple Machine Learning Journal


UK health body: Don’t treat vaping like smoking

Public Health England has recommended a lighter approach to e-cigarette rules and regulations in order to support vaping as a means of quitting regular cancer sticks. The body has published its new Tobacco Control Plan, which sets out the various ways it will help people kick the habit, with one of the primary goals to reduce the number of adults in England who smoke from 15.5 percent to 12 percent or less by 2022. Data would suggest e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than normal smokes in the long-term, leading Public Health England to recommend we don’t create barriers that stop people making the switch.

New regulations related to the sale of vaping products came into force in the UK this May, many of which are good for the consumer. All e-cigarettes and e-liquid refills need to include safety warnings, for example, and be tamperproof. But the laws also take into account the addictive nature of nicotine, and thus impose strict restrictions on the volume of e-liquid refills and maximum nicotine concentration, among other things. Depending on what happens with Brexit, though, one day we might not be beholden to the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive. Public Health England believes this hypothetical scenario could present an opportunity to draft rules that acknowledge vaping, to some extent, as a healthier alternative to smoke.

The body also recommends that companies should not “routinely” include e-cigarettes as part of their no smoking policies. In other words, they should decide whether spaces actually need to be vape-free zones as well as smoke-free zones, rather than counting all methods of nicotine delivery as equal. As part of the Tobacco Control Plan, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will also make sure its review process “is fit for purpose” so that more e-cigarettes might be approved and made available through the NHS as smoking cessation aids.

Via: The Register

Source: Department of Health


NBC’s twice-daily Snapchat news show is live

If you’re reading this, there’s a real chance that you don’t turn on the TV (if you even have one) when you’re looking for news — you’re more likely to check the web or a favorite mobile app. And NBC News knows it. The network is launching a twice-daily Snapchat news show, Stay Tuned, to keep the smartphone crowd up to speed. Each 3-minute clip is effectively a condensed, slightly more “youthful” take on a conventional broadcast. The show isn’t talking down to viewers, NBC says, but you will see Snapchat-like captions for recorded quotes and other attempts to match the style you expect on the service.

NBC veterans Gadi Schwartz and Savannah Sellers are hosting. You’ll normally see new videos at 7AM and 4PM Eastern, but Stay Tuned will be flexible. You may see breaking news or special reports.

This is Snapchat’s first daily news show, and reflects just how important Snapchat has become as a platform (even with Facebook’s attempts to steal its thunder). It’s at least as important for NBC and other broadcasters, though. This is an acknowledgment that there may be an entire generation that won’t regularly watch NBC video so long as it’s confined to TV or news-specific online sources. Daily Snapchat news shows could keep news giants like NBC in your mind when they’d otherwise be kicked to the curb.

Source: TechCrunch


The best computers for students

What would a back-to-school guide be without a healthy dose of computer recs? Other than a small dorm TV, perhaps, it’s the single most expensive investment you’re likely to make as you begin college — and if you’re graduating or pursuing an advanced degree, it’s possible you’ve been waiting patiently for a reason to upgrade.

As you can imagine, our guide includes a slew of laptops and convertibles (eight, to be exact), along with a detachable (that would be the new Surface Pro) and a pair of desktops, in case you’re content to work just in the dorm. And that’s not counting the three gaming notebooks we recommend in our shopping guide for PC gamers! With starting prices ranging from $469 to $1,550, and screen sizes running the gamut from 12 inches to 27, we found something for just about every use case.

Source: Engadget’s 2017 Back to School Guide


‘Enhanced’ security screenings begin for travelers flying into the US

If you breathed a sigh of relief when the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would not be extending its laptop ban to US inbound flights from Europe, we’ve got some not-great news for you. Starting today, people flying into the US from another country should expect a much longer wait at security due to increased scrutiny.

The so-called “laptop ban” — which actually extends to anything larger than a smartphone — was put into place because of worry of terrorists’ increased interest in airlines combined with the concern that a bomb could be placed within a laptop or tablet. Last month, the DHS decided it would not extend the laptop ban, but it would increase security measures for flights originating outside the US. Those enhancements are going into effect starting today.

If you’re flying into the US, you can expect a greater scrutiny of your electronics. You may be asked to unpack your carry on bags so security officials can examine these devices. You can also expect more swabbing and bomb-sniffing dogs. And it’s going to take longer: CNN reports that Mexican airports are advising that travelers arrive three hours prior to scheduled flights in order to ensure passengers have time to get through the screenings. Yeesh.

Via: The Verge


Focusing on business might resurrect Google Glass

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than five years since Google first announced Project Glass, its wearable-glasses-mounted computer. What I remember most about Google Glass was hype: The company’s demonstration at I/O 2012 was perhaps the most dramatic thing I’ve ever seen at a tech conference. It featured skydiving and BMX bikers wearing Glass, broadcasting their first-person experience straight to the people in the room.

It was wild and impressive, but Google misjudged how that hype would translate into actual consumer usage. The look of someone wearing a camera on her face was too alienating, and Google never presented a complete vision of what Glass could do. That was part of the plan: The Explorer Edition that Google sold to early adopters was mostly meant for developers to use and figure out what apps made sense for it. But Glass never progressed beyond that experimental phase, and it was taken off the market in Jan. 2015, before a consumer edition even shipped.

Google never said Glass was dead, but it was clear the company’s vision of a mass-market consumer product wasn’t happening. So the company spent two years retooling and refocusing, and now Glass is back — as an enterprise product meant to help workers get tricky jobs done. It’s a rare example of parent company Alphabet significantly pulling back the ambition and scope of a product to serve a small market. In doing so, Google may give Microsoft’s Hololens some unexpected competition in the augmented reality space.

The company is also finally doing what it should have done with Glass in the first place: giving a concrete reason for it to exist. As much of a flop as Glass was with consumers, it appears to have been a modest, underground success with businesses. Glass project lead Jay Kothari (from Alphabet’s X team) wrote that more than 50 companies have been using it in the two years since it was pulled off the market, including big names like Boeing, DHL and Volkswagen. All the feedback that Alphabet received from those partners in the past few years is what’s led to today’s release. But rather than sell Glass directly to businesses, Alphabet has enlisted partners that work with companies to customize the product for their needs.

With this narrow, enterprise focus, Alphabet may have figured out how to make Glass into a viable business. It doesn’t have to sell consumers on the wild fantasies it dreamed up with the first Glass, and it doesn’t have to worry about retail sales — something that’s long been an Achilles’ heel for the company. Instead, it can keep making inroads with companies, slowly recouping what was surely a massive investment made in Glass many years ago.

It’s a strangely Microsoft-like strategy. Google’s competitor in Redmond has had no problem focusing on enterprise and making products to fit various niche markets, often with little to no consumer crossover. On the other hand, Google wants everyone using its services. Its most popular products — Android, Chrome, Search, Gmail, Maps, YouTube and Play — all have more than a billion users, while Drive and Photos have more than half a billion. Not coincidentally, they’re also Google’s best products. But that’s probably why Glass has moved out of Google proper into one of Alphabet’s more mysterious and experimental groups, the X team.

Google may have given up on making Glass a mainstream product, but what it does next may go a long way toward defining the augmented reality scene. Companies big and small are trying to figure out AR’s place in the world, but none have been terribly successful thus far (with the notable exception of Niantic’s Pokemon Go).


By focusing on businesses, Alphabet could get ahead of the many other companies selling augmented reality hardware, simply due to its unmatched scale. There’s also Google’s existing relationships with many massive companies through its G Suite set of products. Of course, Microsoft has a similar set of advantages, but Glass is a more unobtrusive and lightweight product when compared to Hololens, which makes it more suitable in a lot of situations.

As for the consumer future of Glass, it still feels like a long shot. Snap’s photo-taking Spectacles didn’t incite the same outrage that Glass did, though interest in them seems to have dropped since their splashy launch last fall. But lest we forget, smartphones first found success by catering to a business market, with BlackBerry first succeeding with enterprise before tapping into the consumer market. Apple then flipped the script entirely with the iPhone, but it wouldn’t have been as successful if ordinary users weren’t coming face-to-face with devices like the BlackBerry and Palm Treo.

But even if consumers never adopt Glass, the product seems to have finally found a home. Gone is the pie-in-the-sky, do-anything future that accompanied its introduction, replaced instead by a more humble role in the sprawling world of Alphabet. But if Glass can find success inside big companies, it might just shed its label as one of the biggest tech flops of the past decade.


Julia Roberts strikes two-season Amazon TV deal with ‘Homecoming’

Streaming services have been able to shell out the money to attract pretty high profile actors for their original TV shows, and Amazon Prime Video just may have nabbed the biggest one yet. Amazon has greenlighted two seasons of a series called Homecoming starring Julia Roberts.

The show is based on a podcast of the same name, which featured stars such as Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac and David Schwimmer. The podcast’s second season premieres today. It’s a thriller set at a secret government facility. Roberts will play a caseworker at the organization; her interest in the role was first reported back in early June.

The half-hour drama will be written by the creator of Mr. Robot, Sam Esmail, who will also serve as executive producer. Bidding for the show was incredibly competitive, according to Deadline. Roberts will also serve as an executive producer on the series.

Via: Variety

Source: Deadline


Google Play wants to help users find apps with curated lists

With so many new apps constantly hitting the market, it can be really difficult for users to find what they want and for developers to get their product noticed. To help solve that problem, Google Play has added a new feature to its Editors’ Choice section — editorial pages that compile selections of apps, hand-picked by Google Play editors. These pages will highlight apps that offer the best experiences on Android, which will be grouped by themes like fitness, video calling and puzzle games. And the selections will come with descriptions as to why the editors liked them.

The move towards curation is something Apple has adopted as well. Its App Store redesign includes curated and personalized selections of apps, blog posts and lists, all of which are meant to help users find apps they actually want. And to help developers, description pages were tweaked to allow for longer, more blog-like notes.

Google Play’s new editorial pages are up today in the US as well as Australia, Canada, the UK, Japan and South Korea and will be made available in other countries soon.


Your Amazon account is all you need to pay at retail shops

If you’ve ever wished you could use your Amazon account at physical stores (outside of Amazon’s), we’ve got good news. The internet giant is trotting out a Pay Places feature that expands Amazon Pay to make purchases at brick-and-mortar shops. So long as you have Amazon’s mobile app, you can order ahead using an online account you’ve likely had for years.

The feature is only available at TGI Friday’s restaurants in the US right now, and then only in a handful of cities (Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, Washington DC and Wilkes-Barre). It’ll take a long while before you can regularly lean on your Amazon account for your weekly shopping routine.

When it does expand, though, it could represent a big step toward Amazon’s dreams of being as influential in retail as it is online. It’s technically competition for PayPal’s in-store solution, but Amazon’s sheer size and rapidly growing retail presence could make it relatively commonplace. The tricky part for Amazon is simply convincing partners to sign up. After all, many retailers see Amazon as a threat — why would they support it? Jeff Bezos and crew may have to bend over backward to persuade shops that this could lead to more purchases in the long run.

Source: TechCrunch


Trump endorses FCC’s plan to roll back net neutrality

After last week’s heavily participated in Day of Action, where thousands of companies and groups spoke out against the FCC’s plan to roll back regulations put in place in 2015, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked during a press briefing what the president thought of net neutrality. Spicer said he didn’t know, which is a rather ridiculous response given all of the current attention the topic is getting.

Spicer did say he would get more information in regards to Trump’s position and yesterday, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders provided the administration’s stance. Sanders said that it believed that the “rules of the road” were important for everyone to abide by, but added, “With that said, the previous administration went about this the wrong way by imposing rules on ISPs through the FCC’s Title II rulemaking power. We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules, and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty.”

In light of the FCC’s plan, in May, the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) filed a FOIA request for the 47,000 net neutrality complaints the agency has received since June of 2015 and requested that the FCC extend the comment deadline for its proposal to 60 sixty days after it complies with the FOIA request. As Ars Technica reports, The NHMC says that those complaints are necessary for properly analyzing the rollback proposal.

The FCC denied the extension to the initial comment period, which closed earlier this week, and said that the FOIA request is too burdensome, therefore it won’t be releasing all of the complaints. The Department of Justice FOIA guide says, “[The] fact that a FOIA request is very broad or “burdensome” in its magnitude does not, in and of itself, entitle an agency to deny that request on the basis that it does not “reasonably describe” the records sought. The key factor is the ability of an agency’s staff to reasonably ascertain exactly which records are being requested and then locate them.” But it also cites a federal appeals decision that says broad requests, regardless of how easy it is to find the information, can “impose an unreasonable burden upon the agency.” So, it’s unclear whether the FCC is in the wrong by not releasing all of the complaints.

Instead, the FCC released just 1,000 of the complaints which the NMHC said, “It’s important to remember that the 1,000 complaints received were incomplete and included nothing about the carrier response or how the complaints were resolved.”

As we move through the consideration stages of the FCC’s proposal, this lack of transparency in regards to potentially persistent net neutrality issues doesn’t bode well for the decision-making process. The FCC will be accepting reply comments on the proposal until August 16th.

Source: White House, Ars Technica

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