It took us a while, but now that we’ve reviewed the Moto Z, we think we’re done testing flagship phones until the iPhone 7 or next Galaxy Note come out (whichever arrives first). With that in mind, we can now confidently say that the following phones belong in our buyer’s guide: the Samsung Galaxy S7, the HTC 10 and the iPhone SE. (Sorry, LG, maybe next year.) While we were at it, we also inducted the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets, since we likely them more or less equally. And, in the less-expensive realm, we added the Roku Streaming Stick in the A/V category. Head over to our buyer’s guide hub for all the details on these and many more. That’s it for now, but stay tuned — who knows what we’ll add after the next gadget-reviewing frenzy.
Source: Engadget Buyer’s Guide
Facebook’s solar-powered, internet-beaming plane Aquila is finally ready for takeoff after two years of engineering and scale model flights. As the company reports today, a full-scale version of Aquila made its first official flight on June 28th, staying aloft for 96 minutes while the ground crew tested everything from the autopilot system to the aerodynamics and radios.
The full-size Aquila has the wingspan “comparable to a commercial airliner’s, but weighs only one-third as much as a car” and can fly at 60,000 feet on about 5,000 watts of power, or “about as much as three hair dryers.” While the test flight was obviously much shorter than the two months that Facebook plans to fly the drones in their final version, it pretty much verified the Facebook aeronautics team’s computer models across the board. As the team wrote in a blog post today, the only hiccup appeared to be a structural failure just before landing. The landing itself, however, was also a success. Naturally, the plane was strapped with cameras so it could also help produce its own promotional video:
Although the flight was a success, the team notes a few more challenges for the next test run: namely, will the plane be able to get enough sun to charge the batteries and keep the engines running at night. The team also notes that “for Aquila to succeed, it needs to be an economically viable alternative to current network infrastructure.” Or, in other words, is building and maintaining a fleet of drones going to be more of less expensive than laying fiber optic cable to the remote, internet-less regions of the world? For now though, the team will focus on gathering even more data with more test flights and new aircraft designs.
If Twitter, 4Chan and Reddit are any indication, people will exploit even the barest of anonymization to be complete and utter asshats online. Just look at the recent attacks against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, or Reddit’s self-induced purge of racist, xenophobic and bigoted chat groups. Fully anonymized social services like Whisper or Yik Yak, where unidentifiable mobs can unceasingly bully other users, are no better. An app called Candid, which launches today, is designed to fight this unacceptable online behavior with artificial intelligence.
Developed by a pair of former Google project leads, Candid (the company) has developed a natural language processing system that analyzes every piece of posted content and flags inflammatory items for removal — things like hate speech, threats and slander. Off-topic posts are moved to more appropriate sections, so you won’t have to dig through political discussions to read about NASA’s mission to Mars.
Candid (the app) is available free on both iOS and Android. Similar to Yik Yak’s location-based function, each Candid user will see a personalized feed of posts and content based on their “education, employment, interests and neighborhood,” according to the company’s press release.
Interestingly, you can even sign up using your Facebook account to seed the app’s Group suggestions. That seems counterintuitive, though Candid’s stringent privacy rules account for this. All personally identifiable data — including IP address, precise location data and Facebook contacts — are encrypted with a one-way hash before they reach the company’s servers. That hash cannot be decrypted by Candid — or anyone else, for that matter. What’s more, closing or abandoning an account permanently deletes all that encrypted data from Candid’s servers.
Oddly, though, the app also requires users to provide their phone number during the initial account setup. The app even sends a two-step authentication code to confirm that the number is real. That data are encrypted like everything else Candid collects but it feels strange and out-of-place to request that right off the bat, especially from an app that sells itself on anonymity.
Once you get through the initial setup, Candid offers a number of mechanisms to maintain the user’s privacy. For example, the app applies a new, continually randomized username like “Curious Rabbit” or “Creative Lemur” to every new post. The app also gently coerces users to be polite by awarding various badges like “Explorer,” “Giver” or “Gossip” for positive posts, but will slap a “Hater” tag on people who are consistently negative.
This process, according to Candid’s PR team, is entirely automated. A “lot of factors contribute to getting the hater badge,” a rep told me, “including the number of negative comments and posts based on sentiment analysis, number of down votes a user gets and the number of posts from the user that were taken down. Posts that are taken down by the system are reviewed by a human.”
Additionally, Candid has a system in place to first identify potentially unsubstantiated rumors through its algorithmic AI, which are then verified by a person using web and Twitter results. Any rumors deemed to be false are quickly removed, while true statements — such as news leaks — remain. Similarly, if the system sees that a poster is threatening self-harm, it will issue a push notification to him or her with the number for a local crisis helpline.
So what do you get when an AI automatically scrubs your internet forum of all offensive content? Turns out, it’s banality. The test feeds that I created during my time using the service felt like a disembodied comments section, regardless of the groups that I subscribed to. While you can add external links to posts, very few of the 600-plus beta testers appear to do so. This leaves you reading strings of random, disconnected thoughts with very little context. You won’t find inflammatory content (kudos for that) but the discussions filling that void are far from riveting. Most posts echo the same shallow hot takes you’d find on YouTube or Reddit, just without the overt xenophobia and misogyny.
What’s more, there isn’t much actual discussion going on within these posts. Granted, that may be because there are only a few hundred beta testers, but most replies to posts resemble those in a YT comment section — people talk at each other, often in non sequiturs, rather than with each other. Or perhaps it’s like The New York Times comment section: There’s plenty of civility, sure, but it’s generally devoid of real interaction. Groupthink is also an issue once you delve beyond the broadest of groups. The overarching Politics Group offers a variety of thoughts and opinions but once you get into the Republican and Democrat groups or the Sanders, Clinton and Trump groups, views expressed within them become increasingly myopic.
At a more basic level, I can’t figure out the intrinsic value or benefit this app is really supposed to provide its users. Outside divulging state secrets or posting the details of a damning business deaI — which I am willing to bet nobody reading this post has ever been in the position to do — I fail to see why one would need to go to these anonymizing lengths. If anything, this app encourages disingenuous behavior. I could go on there and make threats against the president’s life if I felt like it, with virtually no reprisal outside having the system eventually flag and delete the post. I mean, if you feel you have to shield yourself behind multiple digital walls just to toss that gem of an opinion out onto the internet, write it down in a journal instead, scream it into a pillow — or maybe just keep it to yourself.
Yesterday on Facebook, the company’s dedicated messaging app, Facebook Messenger, posted news regarding its recent milestone of surpassing 1 billion monthly active users. As The Next Web pointed out, that’s a growth of 200 million users since January, and roughly suggests that 1 out of every 7 members of the population are logging onto Facebook Messenger each month to text with friends and family.
In the message thanking users, the Facebook Messenger team mentioned that the company will be celebrating by debuting the launch of new animated balloons into the chat app. Anyone can try it out by sending someone a traditional balloon emoji within Facebook Messenger to activate the new animation.
On behalf of the entire Messenger team, we’d like to thank the more than 1 billion people who are now using Messenger every month. People use Messenger to connect with the people and businesses they care most about. They make plans, share dreams, send payments, tell jokes, play games, let their loved ones know they’re thinking of them and much, much more. We know that every message is important to you – no matter what you want to say – and we’re grateful that you choose to communicate using Messenger.
To put its growing popularity into perspective, Facebook also released some stats related to its messaging service. According to the company, 22 million GIFs are sent every day (approximately 254 per second), and popular holidays saw a noticable uptick in user messaging, with 300 million flowers sent on Mother’s Day and 360 valentine-related chats sent on February 14. Among a growing, robust list of sticker packs, the app’s most popular remains related to the Angry Birds franchise.
A few of Facebook Messenger’s well-received features — like sticker packs, money payments, and easily-shareable GIFs — will be making their debut in the new iOS 10 Messages app this fall. With the new SDK debuting in the software update, developers will be allowed to create app extensions that allow users to interact with third-party apps directly within Messages. Apple itself has also announced a few new features coming to its chat app, like new bubble effects, handwritten messages, and fullscreen animated backgrounds, similar to Facebook’s balloon easter egg commemorating 1 billion users.
Tags: Facebook, Facebook Messenger
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The government and the technology industry agree: They need to do a better job educating the public. During a policy forum hosted by The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) at the Republican National Convention this week, members of Congress and several industry veterans admitted that they have not done enough to dispel myths around technology, nor have they found the proper way to push Americans towards degrees in STEM fields. Congressman Blake Farenthold from Texas said that, “everyone still wants an MBA,” even though you’d probably make more money with a degree in engineering.
It’s unclear exactly how many STEM jobs there are out there waiting to be filled. Estimates vary from 400,000, according to Erin Egan at Facebook, all the way up to 1.4 million by 2020, according to Code.org. Regardless, it’s clear there aren’t enough graduates with the appropriate degrees to fill those roles. Especially since, as Robert D. Atkinson (president of the ITIF) points out, “everything is becoming a tech industry.” Unsurprisingly, Michael Gallagher, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), believes part of the solution is gamification. He argues that when you use a video game style interface, kids stay engaged and learn quicker. But, it will take more than earning badges to hook kids early and keep them interested in science and technology. Representative Michael Turner of Ohio says we know how to teach STEM; our challenge is motivation.
The messaging problem goes beyond promoting STEM degrees, though. The industry is losing the PR war over controversial technologies like GMOs and artificial intelligence. Egan, Facebook’s Vice President of US Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer, is quick to admit that “we as a technology industry need to be doing a better job” of communicating with the public. She says that people are concerned that robots are going to take all their jobs and artificial intelligence is going to enslave the human race, but those are myths. These narratives make for great television and movies, but they’re simply not realistic, according to Egan.
James C. Greenwood, President and CEO of the trade group Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), latched on to the fear of GMOs in particular. He argued that even many in congress don’t quite understand what a genetically modified organism is. This has led to fear that modified corn is poisoning us or that modified fish will demolish populations of native species, which he claims is simply untrue.
Farenthold argues part of the problem is that both the industry and law makers “have a bad habit of getting into the weeds too fast.” He says that most Americans only need a 30,000-foot view of the issues. So perhaps part of the solution is to keep it simple. As he explained, “you don’t need to understand the blockchain to understand encryption.”
If you’ve been waiting for Facebook Live to offer bigger, longer broadcasts, this is your week. The social network just announced updates for its broadccasting platform that will allow longer, full screen videos with less distractions. Soon, the company says that all users will be able to broadcast for as long as four hours per session, more than doubling the length they could stream without sacrificing VOD archives.
Facebook is also enabling a “video-only” mode that hides viewer comments and reactions. Swiping right will clear the screen for a distraction-free broadcast, temporarily removing viewer interaction from the equation. Finally, the update will enable broadcasters to go live in full screen — but this feature varies by OS: iOS will be able to broadcast in ful lscreen from both portrait and landscape mode, but Android users will have to wait for an update for the latter orientation.
These features will be rolling out to select users soon, and general users over the coming weeks.
Facebook has just announced yet another milestone: more than 1 billion people now use its Messenger service every month. Combine that with WhatsApp, which reached the billion-user point back in February, and it appears that the company now owns two of the most popular messaging apps in the world. The firm says that this also posits Messenger as the second most popular iOS app of all time behind Facebook itself. Over on Android, the company says the Messenger app has been downloaded over a billion times.
“As part of this journey to 1 billion, we focused on creating the best possible experiences in modern day communications. We remain focused on helping connect people to the people and businesses who matter most,” said David Marcus, VP of Messenger, in a statement. Facebook released a few more stats too: it now has over 18,000 bots on its Messenger platform, 10 percent of all VoIP calls are apparently made through Messenger and more than 22 million GIFs are sent via Messenger everyday. To celebrate this momentous occasion, Facebook has unveiled a special celebratory balloon emoji on Messenger that you can send to your friends and family starting today.
Have you wondered how Facebook might offer high-speed internet access using lasers? The company’s Connectivity Lab is happy to show you. It just published a research paper explaining laser beam technology can deliver up to 2Gbps to remote places. The trick, it says, is to use fluorescent optical fibers to collect the light instead of relying on traditional optics. Since the fibers don’t emit the same color that they’re absorbing, you can shine a brighter light at them (similar to a solar concentrator) and manage an extremely quick turnaround time of under 2 nanoseconds. Combine that with multi-stream data encoding and you get the ample bandwidth that’s normally reserved for WiFi and wired networks.
Facebook says it’s “investigating the feasibility” of shipping laser internet hardware based on this technology, but that may be more realistic than you think. The social network managed this feat using readily available materials that weren’t even meant for the purpose. It’s hoping that other organizations will craft optimized materials that are better-suited, and notes that an infrared-based system might hit speeds of up to 10Gbps. As important as Facebook’s findings might be, they’re only just the beginning.
Source: OSA (1), (2)
The influx of engineers, employees and entrepreneurs into Silicon Valley has caused area housing prices to skyrocket, pushing out locals and earning the industry some deserved ill-will. Now the nascent Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has turned its attention to the problem, spending the last few weeks meeting with experts. But the endeavor is still heavily in the research phase, so don’t expect it to find a solution to the complex housing crisis soon.
Representatives from the philanthropic group met with housing experts affiliated with local governments, real estate groups and academia, according to The Information. For now, that’s all we know about the initiative’s plans, but at least meeting with multiple groups suggests that this process could serve up a more comprehensive solution than throwing money at the problem. Case in point: as part of its proposal submitted last Friday to buy land for office space adjacent to its Menlo Park complex, Facebook offered to spend $7.8 million on affordable housing in the area. Of course, if the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative wanted to just buy housing, it could buy quite a lot with the approximately $50 million in Facebook shares that make up its funding.
Source: The Information
Your options for livestreaming the Democratic and Republican national conventions just got even wider. ABC and Facebook are partnering on 24-hour live online coverage of both the DNC and RNC, whether it’s speeches on the floor or protests outside. And importantly, this isn’t just reusing TV programming onilne — there will be in-depth coverage that wouldn’t be practical in conventional broadcasting. Your comments and questions on Facebook will also influence the coverage.
ABC isn’t the only one getting cozy with Facebook. C-SPAN, PBS and Fusion have all unveiled plans to use Facebook Live for some of their coverage. However, the ABC deal is one of the most ambitious yet, and suggests that you’ll want to turn to the internet first if you want the most thorough examination of the electoral process. TV news channels can only devote so much airtime to a given subject, while Facebook Live and other livestreaming services make it relatively easy to focus on a single topic.