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Intel studies how to make people accept self-driving cars

It’s natural to fear what you don’t understand. For example, according to a AAA study, 78 percent of drivers are afraid to ride in a self-driving car. That’s completely understandable. It’s tough to give up control of a few tons of metal flying down the road at 70 miles per hour and feel safe. Intel decided to investigate this fear, and ultimately see if it can solve our autonomous-anxiety problem.

The company recently conducted a study to see if people who have never ridden in an autonomous car change their mind after experiencing it first-hand. The test was simple: Anxious passengers went for a quick spin in the backseat of the automobile around a closed track with nothing but a robot car for company. Pretty much what you would expect.

There is one fairly big issue with the study: It involved only 10 people. Jack Weast, the chief systems architect of Intel’s Autonomous Driving Group, said this was just a very small start. “We are incredibly excited to expand it,” he said.

To make the study more authentic to our self-driving future, the Intel Autonomous Driving Group created a ride-hailing app similar to Uber; the first autonomous cars on the road will most likely be part of a taxi service, after all. The participants were interviewed before, during and after the trip about how they felt about self-driving vehicles. After a ride in the backseat, the participants all said they were happy to allow robots to roll them around town.

Some of the other feedback Intel got from the test is pretty eye-opening, though. For example, the passengers felt like they didn’t need to be shown everything the car was doing, as it was too distracting. Also, having the steering wheel, moving by itself, in the car actually added to the anxiety, and the riders said it would be better if it were removed altogether.

The company also learned that voice communication was extremely important, both as a way to control the car and to get feedback from the vehicle. Weast said this highlights the importance of natural language technology in future automobiles.

The researchers also learned that there’s a huge flaw in the autonomous ride-hailing future. What happens when the car needs to pick up a child, senior citizen or someone with a disability who needs help getting in and out the vehicle? That’s something that needs to be dealt with now before it becomes an issue.

While the study was incredibly small, it can help Intel and its partners figure out how to properly introduce autonomous cars. It’ll be interesting to see the data from a larger sample size of people who haven’t been in a self-driving car. With Uber, Ford, Lyft and others eventually jumping into the autonomous-ride-hailing space, expect to see more of these experiments. It doesn’t matter if the tech is sound if the average person is afraid to get into the vehicle.

Everyone needs to understand the benefits, and that means reducing anxiety. Education is important, especially because part of the plan to reduce congestion in urban areas includes autonomous vehicles. The public and the people it elects will determine what happens on our roads in the future. While the tech world is happy to embrace autonomous vehicles, it’s up to the general public to actually ride in the things.

Source: Intel


‘Destiny 2’: A more open and impactful shared-world experience

My first experience with Bungie’s shared-world online shooter was the result of a challenge. It was 2014, and I still hadn’t upgraded to the new console generation. It was early in the cycle, and I had yet to stumble across a game that justified the upgrade. Then, Engadget’s gaming staff insisted I try Destiny. I did. And I hated it.

My friends had primed me for an epic space opera with tight gunplay and exciting challenges — but to me, the game felt like an intentionally tedious shooting gallery filled with generic enemies that soaked up bullets like a dry sponge. I found Destiny and its expansions so boring that I was hesitant when Bungie invited me to try the game’s sequel ahead of launch. Today, I’m eating my words. Destiny 2 is shaping up to be everything its predecessor wasn’t.

Destiny 2 feels cohesive in a way that the first game never managed. The original title defied genre expectations by living in a space somewhere between a massively multiplayer online RPG, a twitch-based FPS game like Call of Duty and cooperative loot shooters like Borderlands — an odd combination that Bungie tried to define with the aforementioned phrase: “shared-world shooter.” Those three words have since become synonymous with Destiny, but the game itself never quite lived up to them. The sequel does.

It’s all about structure and execution. The world of Destiny 2 breathes with persistence from the first moment you step into the European Dead Zone. Much like the Old Russia area from the first game, the European Dead Zone is the first part of the ruined earth the player can access — unlike Old Russia, however, it’s a vast open map that they can explore at their own pace.

Instead of picking a mission on a sterile map in the game’s menu, Destiny 2 asks players to explore the world around them. Think of it like an online take on open world games like Skyrim and Fallout 4: The story exists on a large backdrop that continues whether or not you take on any particular mission. If you choose to play a story mission or go on a 15- to 20-minute adventure side-quest, you’ll have to physically walk across the map to start it — and you just might stumble upon something else interesting to do on the way there.

It seems like a small change, but it lends Destiny 2 a sense of living authenticity. The player exists in this shared world, but it’s active and persistent without them. The area’s main NPC, Devrim Kay, sits in his church tower and fires at enemies. He’s in his war even when you aren’t. It’s a world that seems to plod on with its own agenda — at one point during my time with the game, I was halfway through an adventure mission that asked me to clear a specific facility of Cabal soldiers, but halfway through the task a public event introduced another faction of enemies into the fray.

Soon, other players started showing up to participate in the impromptu multiplayer mission, and I noticed that they weren’t just fighting the enemies from the public event but the foes in my solo mission as well. Then I noticed that the two enemy factions weren’t just fighting the other players, but each other. I may have logged in to play a few adventure missions by myself, but I inevitably got caught up in a multiplayer brawl.

This chaotic experience defined Destiny 2’s shared world for me. It feels like a clean fusion of the large-scale multiplayer worlds of MMOs like World of Warcraft and the more focused experience offered by the original Destiny.

Better still is how this open world experience is controlled by an improved map. The game’s director menu now includes a robust overhead for whatever area the player is currently exploring and allows them to select waypoints to mission or adventure starting locations, easily find public events for quick group play or select new “landing zones” to fast travel to other parts of the map. Not only is it a handy tool, but it also encourages exploration — giving players a way to help them navigate the open world areas while they search for treasure chests and the hidden micro-dungeons the game calls “Lost Sectors.”

The game’s areas are also flush with variety. The European Dead Zone contains a ruined city, lush forests, overgrown freeways and fields, as well as caves, lakes and various abandoned facilities to explore and fight in.

Destiny 2’s core fundamentals seem better, too. Players still have to contend with waves of enemies, but battles feel more balanced. For me, the original game leaned a little too hard on bullet sponge battles where enemies could soak up clip after clip of weapons fire without consequence. Now, they seem to fall with just the right amount of punishment. Taking down a swarm of Thrall just feels less tedious. Every action, every bullet fired and every melee attack just feels like it lands with more impact. I no longer feel like battles are wasting my time with the artificial difficulty of giving enemies too much health.

The game also breaks up the standard first-person shooter gameplay in multiple ways. While wandering the European Dead Zone, I stumbled across adventure missions that primarily had my character taking out enemies using vehicular combat — and if I ever grew tired of taking out a mob with my rifle, I could always wait until my super move charged. In fact, the super moves are one of my favorite things about the new game, as they temporarily morph the game from an FPS to a high-damage third-person melee brawler. Taking out a group of enemies with a flaming sword, electrified staff or ephemeral shield is a ton of fun, and adds a variety that helps keep things feeling fresh.

In a lot of ways, Destiny 2 feels more streamlined than the original. The open-world mechanic makes it easier to decide what you’re going to do next, and the way players intermingle in that online environment makes shared-world interactions feel more natural. It culminates in an experience that’s one step closer to a traditional MMO game without losing what makes Destiny feel unique.

For the past three years, I dismissed Destiny without hesitation. I still see the original game as a muddled mess of bad narrative, dull gameplay and unnecessarily obtuse structure — which makes my fondness for its sequel all the more impressive. In Destiny 2, Bungie has created a game that builds upon the strengths that attracted the original game’s dedicated fan base, while somehow excising the tedious elements that drove players like me away. If, like me, you just couldn’t get into the company’s first shared-shooter, consider giving its second one a look. As near as I can tell, Destiny wasn’t the amazing shared-world space opera I’ve been hearing about since 2014 — but its sequel might be.


Razer’s latest controller brings Chroma to Xbox gamers

If comfort reigns supreme on your gaming agenda, get ready to wrap your thumbs around Razer’s latest controller for Xbox and PC, the Wolverine Ultimate. The officially-licensed controller has been designed for maximum customization and features interchangeable D-Pads, a range of interchangeable thumbsticks with varying heights and shapes, and six remappable triggers and buttons.

And it looks pretty, too. An integrated RGB lighting strip introduces Razer Chroma to Xbox gamers for the first time, allowing them to choose from an arguably excessive 16.8 million colours in various throbbing or swirling pattern. Or if you’re too busy actually gaming to appreciate the lightshow, you can just set it to static.

“We’ve taken our time with the development of the Razer Wolverine Ultimate to really get it right,” says Min-Liang Tan, Razer co-founder and CEO. “Thanks to endless design iterations and pro-gamer feedback, we’re proud to be finally releasing a new contender for the crown.” It’ll be available from September, priced $160/€180.

Source: Razer


UK government’s fitness app champions daily ten-minute walks

The NHS knows that when it comes to health, investment in preventative programmes can sometimes be more cost-effective than actual treatment. That’s why the organisation has begun exploring a scheme that will reward members of the public with discounts on shopping, fitness gear and gym memberships if they demonstrate a more active lifestyle via an app.

Members of the public don’t have many official apps from which to choose from, but today Public Health England (PHS) announced the launch of “Active 10,” an app that seeks to get the “6.3 million adults who do not currently manage a brisk 10 minute walk per month” up and out of the house.

The idea is to get app users to incorporate 10 minute brisk walks into their day. PHE says that it’s the first app to measure how many chunks of ten minutes — known as Active 10s — are achieved each day. Should the user manage at least one active walk, the app can help them set additional goals that will build towards the 150 minutes a week of exercise recommended by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO).

One in every six UK deaths can be attributed to inactivity, which ultimately costs the NHS over £900 million each year. With evidence suggesting that at least one brisk 10 minute walk a day reduces the risk of early death by 15%, the organisation is keen to reduce the costs associated with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and strokes. Plus, there’s the added bonus that exercise can help improve mental health.

Sure, there are plenty of apps that promote an active lifestyle, but Active 10 has been endorsed by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). Already, GPs across the country are recommending it to their own patients as a tool to help them manage their existing ailments. With additional pressure from the government to better manage its finances, the NHS is embracing a digital strategy to keep people out of its practices and hospitals.

Source: Active 10 (iOS), (Android)


Amazon’s AI could create the next must-have fashion brand

Artificial intelligence is already assisting reporters, athletes, and doctors. Soon, it could also become a regular on the catwalk. At least if Amazon has its way. The online retail giant is busy developing a number of machine learning programs that could help both the public and fashion designers seek out the next big clothing trend. Of course, it would prefer it if you purchased your next dress or jacket from its own site using an Echo — but that’s par for the course.

Among its new tech is an algorithm that learns about style from images, which it then uses to create fashion items from scratch. A basic AI fashion designer, if you will. It’s far from ready to create the next Chanel line, but it gives an indication of what Amazon is prepping. It’s not hard to envision the real world application of the program helping to boost Amazon’s in-house brands.

The team working on the software presented their findings at a recent workshop co-chaired by Amazon, reports MIT Technology Review. The event also included a slew of additional papers by academic researchers specializing in how machine learning can be applied to fashion. Others demonstrated an algorithm that can identify fashion-related social media profiles (which could prove a boon in the age of the influencer). And, a duo of Indian researchers showed off software that guesses a shopper’s correct size based on past purchases.

Notably, a group from the University of Maryland presented a “style transfer” system for clothing. Popularized by apps like Prisma — and appropriated by Facebook — the process lets you apply a painting’s style to your pics. In terms of fashion, it could allow you to create clothes in the style of other clothes. Tim Oates, the paper’s lead author, writes: “The results indicate that style transfer happens successfully and is personalized for the closet of a user.”

Some of Amazon’s experiments have already come to fruition. In April, it unveiled the Echo Look camera, which sees Alexa act as a tailored AI stylist by scanning your selfies. Ultimately, they paint a picture of a company using its machine learning prowess to conquer the world of fashion.

We reached out to Amazon for a comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

Via: MIT Technology Review

Source: KDD 2017


India’s privacy ruling could disrupt its biometric society

A landmark judgement has ruled that Indian citizens have a fundamental right to privacy, despite the country’s vast biometric identification scheme. In a case bought forward by opponents of the government’s Aadhaar biometric program, Chief Justice J.S Khehar said privacy was “protected as an intrinsic part of Article 21 that protects life and liberty”. The unanimous verdict from the nine-judge bench overturns two previous rulings by the Supreme Court which said privacy was not a fundamental right.

Aadhaar was set up in 2009 as a voluntary scheme designed to streamline benefit payments and reduce fraud. But in recent times it’s become mandatory for opening bank accounts, securing loans, filing tax returns, buying and selling property, and making purchases over 50,000 rupees ($780/£610), with the program so far recording the fingerprints and iris scans of more than one billion Indians. Critics of the scheme — which has been hit by several data breaches — say it gives the state unacceptable powers of surveillance, with the nature of the data recorded making it easy to create a comprehensive profile of a person’s spending habits.

The Indian government has taken contradictory stands on the issue of privacy in the past. In previous cases it argued that privacy was protected in the constitution, and in May stated that “the concept of absolute right over one’s body was a myth”. Yet a year ago Delhi’s High Court took a zero-tolerance approach to WhatsApp sharing user data with Facebook.

Despite the landmark ruling — described by legal experts as “one of the world’s most important legal decisions this year — the judges acknowledged there must be restrictions within reason on individual privacy. Speaking outside the court, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said it wasn’t yet clear how the judgement would affect the Aadhaar programme: “Any fundamental right is subject to reasonable restrictions by law. Whether the Aadhar Act imposes unreasonable restrictions will have to be examined.”



Netflix’s latest documentary chronicles Lady Gaga

Apple Music isn’t the only service with rock star documentaries. On September 22nd, Netflix will debut Gaga: Five Foot Two, a look at Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta’s life over the eight-month period leading up to the release of her fifth album, Joanne. Based on the teaser clips on her Twitter feed, the documentary won’t be all sunshine and roses. One finds her tearful in a doctor’s office ahead of a treatment to relive pain in her face, and in another she breaks down how lonely being in the public eye makes her feel.

Lady Gaga’s music hasn’t shied away from vulnerability, and the Chris Moukarbel-directed doc could bring that honesty to a different medium. The title is a bit of a misnomer though. According to a quick Google search, Gaga is 5′ 1″.


— xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) August 24, 2017

Source: Netflix


Ex-Uber employee fights for workers’ right to pursue class-action

Susan Fowler, the ex-Uber engineer who called out the company’s sexual harassment problem in a blog post earlier this year, has now focused her attention towards the Supreme Court. With her attorney, she has filed an amicus brief in support of workers involved in three consolidated cases that will be heard by the high court. The cases all center on whether companies like Uber should be able to stipulate that employees are barred from joining class-action lawsuits against the company and instead must pursue resolutions through private arbitration.

The brief notes that Fowler had to sign a class action waiver when she was hired by Uber and that these sorts of documents are common in the industry. “These waivers are now ubiquitous in the high tech industry and ‘gig economy,’ where the likelihood of unionization is remote,” it said. It also notes that these are particularly harmful to workers saying, ” Class action waivers take from these workers the concerted activity in which they are most likely to engage, and from which they are most likely to benefit: The right to engage in collective litigation.”

The arguments Fowler and her attorney lay out highlight three major problems with these types of waivers. First, that they only exist to “eliminate the legal risk associated with systemic – and potentially or certainly illegal – employment practices.” Secondly, taking away the right to pursue class action in the 21st century is detrimental to workers that often can’t effectively fight for improved working conditions any other way. And finally, the brief points out that collective litigation when warranted is often successful in improving working conditions. “Without the right to collective litigation, there will be more systemic employment law violations, less effective ways to remedy them, and the balance between companies (i.e., capital) and talent (i.e., labor) will shift firmly in favor of capital,” said the brief.

The three cases are scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on October 2nd.

Via: Bloomberg

Source: Amicus Brief


Food dominates Facebook video views, study shows

There’s a lot of hand-wringing about ad revenue among news and entertainment websites, so many are switching from articles to video on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as a cure-all. However, a sobering study from Buzzsumo shows that “pivoting to video” may not attract more eyeballs — unless you’re doing food or fashion videos. After examining 100 million Facebook videos, the analytics firm determined that food is far and away the most popular type, with over double the interactions of the next-most-viewed category, fashion and beauty.

After that, topics with the most interaction are animals (pets), do-it-yourself, humor, gaming and tech. Significantly down on the list, in 12th place, is politics. To give you an idea of how well food videos do, Buzzfeed’s Tasty, the king of overhead cooking and recipe videos, routinely racks up hundreds of millions of views on single videos: A video on cheeseburgers called “Sliders 4 Ways” scored 194 million views, for instance.

Tasty’s high production values have a lot to do with the appeal, but it turns out that friends would rather share something fun than a depressing news story. “It gives you a reason to reach out to your friend. It allows you to connect with another person,” Tasty’s Ashley McCollum told Fast Company earlier this year. The length of the videos also matters: Subjects like food, fashion and DIY can be done in short and sweet time-frames, and around 60 to 90 seconds is ideal for interaction.

Nevertheless, sites like Mic and Vocative recently laid off print journalists in favor of video production personnel. Mic’s publisher, Cory Haik, said it made the move because of a “pretty critical shift in journalism itself,” and that mixed media, especially short-form video, “offer[s] a rich opportunity to deliver complicated news in compelling ways.”

However, Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall, believes that traffic isn’t necessarily driving the move to video. Instead, it’s more about ads: “No site is “pivoting to video” because of audience demand. Not even close,” he said in a tweet. “They are pivoting to video because the industry is in the midst of a monetization crises. There appears to be one pot of money available: ads on [social media] video.” Based on the survey from Buzzsumo, that may only apply to certain types of content.

Via: Fast Co.

Source: Buzzsumo


Internet wisdom clashes with political activism in downtown Phoenix

Don’t feed the trolls.

This advice is drilled into our heads: The most effective way to smother harassment on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, email or any other online outlet is to ignore it. Don’t give it attention. Don’t legitimize the taunts, the name-calling, the threats. Don’t give them more reason to come after you. Don’t feed the trolls.

But that’s online. In the real world, we’re advised to do the opposite. We are compelled to stand up, speak out, and chant in the faces of people and ideas that would do us harm. When something unjust, tragic or deeply foreboding happens in America, the first instinct is to protest, make signs, march. Scream.

“No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!”

Tuesday night, thousands of protesters yelled at Donald Trump’s supporters as they trickled into the convention center across the street. It seemed like every other protester held a sign, flag or banner decrying bigotry, celebrating love, condemning Nazi scumbags or comparing Trump to Klansmen and dictators and pigs.

“No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!”

They chanted past two rows of metal barriers and a line of armed police officers dressed head-to-toe in heavy, black riot gear. They must have been sweltering. The sky had been clear for days, letting the summer sun scorch the streets of downtown Phoenix until the asphalt shimmered with imprisoned heat. By the time protesters had gathered on Monroe Street, pressing themselves against those metal barriers and filling every open space of the adjacent three-story parking lot, the sun was setting. But it still hit 108°F that day and Phoenix hadn’t seen a monsoon in over a week. The air was thick.

On the protesters’ side, the vibe was focused, tense and sweaty. People smiled, laughed, offered each other water, posed for selfies and — most importantly — heckled every new Trump supporter that emerged across the street.

“Racist! Racist! Racist!” they screamed. Across the barriers and police officers and summer-hot asphalt, people going to the Trump rally grinned and waved, or flipped off the crowd, or yelled back, or filmed all of it on their smartphones without saying a word.

“Racist! Racist! Racist!”

A handful of people looked around at this chant, not joining in. From somewhere in the crowd, a woman started a new rallying cry: “They go low, we go high! They go low, we go high!” It picked up steam. The anxious energy in the mob abated, redirected once more to its true target across the street, just beyond the cops’ riot gear.

Don’t feed the trolls. Instead, accuse them of hate crimes through a megaphone with an army of thousands at your back, amplifying your attack. It feels contradictory to preach one method of resistance online and its opposite in the physical world; a sort of cyber-reality cognitive dissonance. But, these two pieces of advice — stand down and stand up — aren’t inherently opposed. They simply address different problems.

Online, it’s wise to not feed the trolls when you’re the one being sought out, harassed, targeted. Don’t play their games, don’t give them the satisfaction, don’t engage lest you accidentally breathe new life into their threats. “Don’t feed the trolls” is a defensive measure.

Protesting is offline offense. Protesting is a strategic response to a cataclysmic event, something so shocking or vile that it infuses people with a burning desire to do something more than sending a tweet. It’s a method of effecting policy change, starting a conversation, or just screaming out your frustrations with the world. Sometimes, it’s all of these things.

Pressing send on a string of tweets about how awful Nazis are can add volume to the online conversation, but more often than not, sharing common outrage on social media feels like shouting into the ether. Attention shifts in an instant online, and by the time you’ve crafted the perfect response to a national crisis, it seems like 50,000 people have beaten you to it. Or worse, they’ve said it better.

Protesters, on the other hand, shout at the monsters that caused their disgust, rather than screaming at their friends and loved ones. Plus, every body on the ground makes the movement bigger, the message stronger. Each person matters, even those with just five Instagram followers. Protests are a chance to truly feel like something bigger.

Rallies serve the same purpose.

But protests are inherently against something — usually an idea, sometimes a person — which places attendees in a delicate situation. It’s too easy to immediately assume everyone around you is good and right, and everyone on the outside is bad and wrong. It’s too easy to blindly scream, “Fascist!” at the strangers across the street before realizing, Wait, is that Aunt Jodie?

Essentially, it’s too easy to become something that looks a lot like a troll. To the police officers, that’s exactly how it looks.

The question that keeps protests from devolving into unproductive, irate mobs is usually, “What do we stand for?” This is the question one woman answered in Phoenix on Tuesday night when she changed the chant from, “Racist! Racist!” to, “They go low, we go high!” It’s the question answered by every chant and sign that night about justice, equality or Black Lives Matter — a movement that found its momentum online (largely on Twitter) but that does work in the real world.

There’s no chapter called “Don’t feed the trolls” in the police officer’s handbook.

In Phoenix, the police didn’t use tear gas on the crowd until Trump’s speech wrapped up. Minutes after his rally ended, the police force in front of the convention center swelled. The crowd behind the barriers grew as rally-goers began to leave the building and protesters prepared to chant again. From the back of the group, someone threw a water bottle at the line of officers.

Protesters watched it fly with a sense of dread, immediately searching for the culprit, hoping to shut them down. Another water bottle soared over the heads of protesters, nearly hitting an officer across the street. Behind the giant black Antifa banners staring down the cops — “Death to Fascists” — the crowd parted and collapsed on itself. A fight.

BANG. Tear gas filled the air, stinging lips and tongues and eyes.

BANG. The protesters fled. BANG. The people throwing water bottles and rocks, causing problems and inciting violence — the trolls — fled.

Their eyes red and welling in the yellow mist, everyone looked the same. Except the police officers, wearing helmets, carrying shields, and feeding pepper spray to the crowd.

Images: Jessica Conditt / Engadget

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