Are algorithms hacking our thoughts?

As Facebook shapes our access to information, Twitter dictates public opinion, and Tinder influences our dating decisions, the algorithms we’ve developed to help us navigate choice are now actively driving every aspect of our lives.

But as we increasingly rely on them for everything from how we seek out news to how we relate to the people around us, have we automated the way we

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Nvidia’s researchers teach a robot to perform simple tasks by observing a human

Industrial robots are typically all about repeating a well-defined task over and over again. Usually, that means performing those tasks a safe distance away from the fragile humans that programmed them. More and more, however, researchers are now thinking about how robots and humans can work in close proximity to humans and even learn from them. In part, that’s what Nvidia’s new robotics lab in Seattle focuses on and the company’s research team today presented some of its most recent work around teaching robots by observing humans at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in Brisbane, Australia.

Nvidia’s director of robotics research Dieter Fox.

As Dieter Fox, the senior director of robotics research at Nvidia (and a professor at the University of Washington), told me, the team wants to enable this next generation of robots that can safely work in close proximity to humans. But to do that, those
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Orbital ATK is launching a cargo rocket for the ISS early tomorrow morning

Wake up in the wee hours of the morning on the East Coast, and you might get a chance to watch a rocket launch more than three tons of cargo for the International Space Station. Set for a 4:39 ET liftoff from NASA’s facility on Wallops Island, West Virginia, if the weather holds, this will be Orbital ATK’s ninth cargo delivery to the ISS.

The Antares launch, which is the company’s first since November, was initially scheduled for today, but was ultimately pushed back in favor of inspections and better weather. The ship will carry supplies, parts, gear and a trio of CubeSats (mini-satellites), designed for ISS science studies. CBS notes one particular quantum physics study that “will attempt to cool atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.”

If you’re already up that early on the East Coast and have a decent vantage point, look up.

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After tens of thousands of pre-orders, 3D audio headphones startup Ossic disappears

After taking tens of thousands of crowd-funding pre-orders for a high-end pair of “3D sound” headphones, audio startup Ossic announced this weekend that it is shutting down the company and backers will not be receiving refunds. The company raised $2.7 million on Kickstarter and $3.2 million on Indiegogo for their Ossic X headphones which they pitched as a pair of high-end head-tracking headphones that would be perfect for listening to 3D audio, especially in a VR environment. While the company also raised a “substantial seed investment,” in a letter on the Ossic website, the company blamed the slow adoption of virtual reality alongside their crowdfunding campaign stretch goals which bogged down their R&D team. “This was obviously not our desired outcome. The team worked exceptionally hard and created a production-ready product that is a technological and performance breakthrough. To fail at the 5 yard-line is a tragedy.
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AT&T launches its LTE-powered Amazon Dash-style button

When we first told you about AT&T’s LTE-M Button, the information was socked away in a deluge of AWS Re:Invent announcements. The telecom giant was a bit more upfront when announcing its availability earlier this week — but just a bit.

After all, it’s not a direct-to-consumer device. Unlike the product-branded hunk of plastic you can presently pick up from Amazon to refresh your supply of Goldfish crackers and Tide Pods, this one’s currently open to developers at companies looking to build their own. What it does have going for it, however, is LTE-M, a cheaper, lower cost version of 4G that’s set to power a future generation of IoT devices.

That means it can be used for your standard Dash-like activities — letting customers replenish items with a press — and it can also be implemented in some more interesting scenarios, out of the bounds of regular WiFi. AT&T

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With at least $1.3 billion invested globally in 2018, VC funding for blockchain blows past 2017 totals

Although bitcoin and blockchain technology may not take up quite as much mental bandwidth for the general public as it did just a few months ago, companies in the space continue to rake in capital from investors. One of the latest to do so is Circle, which recently announced a $110 million Series E round led by bitcoin mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain. Other participating investors include Tusk VenturesPantera CapitalIDG Capital PartnersGeneral CatalystAccel PartnersDigital Currency GroupBlockchain Capital and Breyer Capital. This round vaults Circle into an exclusive club of crypto companies that are valued, in U.S. dollars, at $1 billion or more in their most recent venture capital round. According to Crunchbase data, Circle was valued at $2.9 billion pre-money, up from a $420 million pre-money valuation in its Series D round, which closed in
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Bail reform has a complex relationship with tech

On any given day in the United States, more than 450,000 people are behind bars awaiting their constitutionally mandated fair trial. None of them have been convicted of a crime — they’ve been accused of committing a crime, but no formal ruling of guilt or innocence has been made. That means these hundreds of thousands of people are incarcerated simply because they don’t have the financial means to post bail.  Bail was originally designed to incentivize people to show up for their court dates, but it has since evolved into a system that separates the financially well-off from the poor. It requires arrested individuals to pay money in order to get out of jail while they await trial. For those who can’t afford bail, they wind up having to sit in jail, which means they may be at risk of missing rent payments, losing their jobs and failing to
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A simple solution to end the encryption debate

Criminals and terrorists, like millions of others, rely on smartphone encryption to protect the information on their mobile devices. But unlike most of us, the data on their phones could endanger lives and pose a great threat to national security.

The challenge for law enforcement, and for us as a society, is how to reconcile the advantages of gaining access to the plans of dangerous individuals with the cost of opening a door to the lives of everyone else. It is the modern manifestation of the age-old conflict between privacy versus security, playing out in our pockets and palms.

One-size-fits all technological solutions, like a manufacturer-built universal backdoor tool for smartphones, likely create

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Longtime LG Group chairman Koo Bon-Moo dies at 73

South Korean electronics conglomerate LG Group announced this morning that the company’s longtime chairman Koo Bon-Moo has passed away at 73. Koo’s death follows a year-long battle with brain disease, for which he had undergone surgery, according to Reuters.

The executive stepped into the role in 1995 and served as a driving force in establishing LG as an electronics powerhouse. His tenure focused on electronics, chemicals and telecom, and Koo also oversaw the company’s transition from Lucky Goldstar to the more streamlined LG, a name change that occurred the year he took power.

Bloomberg notes that the company more than quintupled sales under Koo’s near quarter-century tenure atop LG.

Koo Kwang-mo, the late-executive’s adopted son, is expect to take over the reins of the company, marking the fourth generation of family control for the electronics company. The younger Koo has been with the company since 2006, starting in its finance

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The Finance To Value Framework

There are two major failure modes in startups. The first common failure mode is the thing you make doesn’t get adopted. That’s called not finding product market fit in startup lingo. The second common failure mode is “getting too far out over your skis” and it happens to companies that do find product market fit but mess things up by building an inappropriate cost structure (and capital base) and it all comes crashing down on them when they either can’t continue to raise money at ever increasing valuations and/or when they can’t grow into their cost structure quickly enough. The first failure mode comes with the territory. The world of startups is all about experimentation. Most experiments fail. If this happens to you, it sucks, but that is what you signed up for. The second failure mode is entirely avoidable and way more common than you might think. The capital
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Shared housing startups are taking off

When young adults leave the parental nest, they often follow a predictable pattern. First, move in with roommates. Then graduate to a single or couple’s pad. After that comes the big purchase of a single-family home. A lawnmower might be next. Looking at the new home construction industry, one would have good reason to presume those norms were holding steady. About two-thirds of new homes being built in the U.S. this year are single-family dwellings, complete with tidy yards and plentiful parking. In startup-land, however, the presumptions about where housing demand is going looks a bit different. Home sharing is on the rise, along with more temporary lease options, high-touch service and smaller spaces in sought-after urban locations.

Seeking roommates and venture capital

Crunchbase News analysis of residential-focused real estate startups uncovered a raft of companies with a shared and temporary housing focus that have raised funding in
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‘My Data Request’ lists guides to get data about you

GDPR is right around the corner, so it’s time to prepare your personal data requests. If you live in the European Union, tech companies have to comply with personal data requests after May 25th. And there’s a handy website that helps you do just that. My Data Request lists dozens of tech companies and tells you how you can contact them. The website also links to the privacy policy of each service and tells you what to do even if you don’t live in the EU. Some companies, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Tinder and Snapchat have made that easy as they have created a page on their website to download a zip archive with all your personal data. But it’s worth nothing that your archive doesn’t necessarily include all data about you. For instance, Facebook tracks your web and location history as much as possible. But you won’t
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Siempo’s new app will break your smartphone addiction

A new app called Siempo wants to un-addict you from your smartphone and its numerous attention-stealing apps. To do so, Siempo replaces an Android device’s homescreen, while also taking advantage of a number of design principles to push distractions further away, and give you more control over your notifications. The startup, which launched a few weeks ago on Google Play, actually began as a hardware company. 

A hardware startup shifts to software

In 2015, the original co-founders Andreas Gala and Jorge Selva began developing a minimalist feature phone device called Minium, in response to their concerns with today’s always-on culture. But designing hardware from scratch is hard, so they pivoted to making a mindful smartphone called Siempo using an existing handset from China. The following year, Siempo brought on Mayank Saxena (CTO), who previously ran data storage engineering teams at NetApp, and Andrew Dunn (now CEO), who was previously
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La Belle Vie wants to compete with Amazon Prime Now in Paris

French startup La Belle Vie announced a new funding round of $6.5 million earlier this week (€5.5 million). Julien Mangeard, Thibaut Faurès Fustel de Coulanges, Louis Duclert, Kima Ventures and Shake-Up Factory participated in the founding round. Online grocery shopping is becoming quite competitive in Paris. You can order groceries from Amazon using Amazon Prime Now. And all the traditional supermarkets are launching or relaunching services to order and receive groceries within a couple of hours — Carrefour Livraison Express, Franprix’s mobile app, etc. But all those services aren’t necessarily designed for this kind of offering. With Franprix’s app for instance, a rider is going to pick up your groceries in the nearest store and bring them to you. With Amazon Prime Now, Amazon has a big warehouse in the North of Paris filled with Kindles, books and tomatoes. La Belle Vie wants to focus exclusively on
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Apple started paying $15 billion European tax fine

It took a couple of years, but Apple has started to pay back illegal tax benefits to the Irish government. The company has paid $1.77 billion (€1.5 billion) into an escrow account designed to hold the fine. Apple has to pay $15 billion in total (€13 billion). In August 2016, the European Commission said that Apple benefited from illegal tax benefits in Ireland from 2003 to 2014. According to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Apple managed to lower its effective corporate tax rate thanks to a Double Irish structure. By creating two different Irish subsidiaries and allocating profit to the right subsidiary, you can end up paying corporate tax on a fraction of your actual profit. Of course, Apple wasn’t the only tech company that optimized its tax structure. And the company also claimed that everything was legal. The Irish government tried to appeal the decision but the decision
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Original Content podcast: ‘Dear White People’ returns to ask more uncomfortable questions

Dear White People has a pretty provocative title — and the show, for the most part, lives up to that promise, with a sharply drawn portrait of racial tension at Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school. It was originally a film written and directed by Justin Simien, who then reinvented the story as a Netflix series with each episode focusing on a different character; the spotlight shifts from Samantha White (played by Logan Browning), the host of the titular radio show, to many of the other students — white and black — around her. The show just returned for season two, and on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by our colleague Megan Rose Dickey (who also co-hosts Ctrl-T) to talk about our impressions of the new episodes, the show’s politics and how it resonates with our own lives and experiences. We also
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Video Of The Week: How Play Made the Modern World

I got to spend a fair bit of time with my friend Steven Johnson this past week, in preparation for our crypto talk on Thursday night and before and after that talk. Steven has this wonderful quality of being able to observe both history and the present and make connections between the two and also to weave those observations into narratives that make for great stories. A persistent theme in his work is the role of play in the advancement of society. He argued in Everything Bad Is Good For You that playing video games and watching TV are actually educational and productive uses of our time. And in Wonderland, he argued that play led to many important societal advances. This talk at RSA, delivered in the wake of Wonderland, is a great articulation of the value of having fun to moving society forward. I enjoyed it very much
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Meet the judges for the TC Startup Battlefield Europe at VivaTech

VivaTech is right around the corner, and I’m excited to introduce you to the third batch of judges that will come to Paris for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Europe. If you haven’t been to TechCrunch Disrupt, the Startup Battlefield is arguably the most interesting part of the show. Before everybody started doing a startup competition, there was the Startup Battlefield. Companies like Dropbox, Fitbit, N26 and Yammer all launched on the TechCrunch stage. And we’re bringing talented investors and founders to judge the startups. Here’s the third round of judges (see part 1 and part 2).

Rob Moffat, Partner, Balderton Capital

Rob joined Balderton Capital in 2009 and was promoted to partner in 2015. He is currently a board director or observer with five portfolio companies: Carwow, Wooga, Nutmeg, Prodigy Finance, and Patients Know Best.
Other investments he has worked with at Balderton include Qubit, Citymapper, Housetrip, Scoot and Archify.
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NASA’s newest planet-hunting satellite takes a stellar first test image

TESS, the satellite launched by NASA last month that will search thousands of stars for Earth-like exoplanets, has just sent back its first test image. It’s just a quick one, not “science-quality,” but it does give you an idea of the scale of the mission: the area TESS will eventually document is 400 times the area covered by this shot. What you see above is the star field around the constellation Centaurus; this 2-second exposure captured more than 200,000 stars. That’s just in one image from one of the four cameras on board; the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will employ all four during its mission, watching individual regions of space for 27 days straight over the course of two orbits. Here’s a crop from the center: Repeated high-resolution imagery of these star fields will let the team on the ground watch for any that dim briefly, indicating that a
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Does Google’s Duplex violate two-party consent laws?

Google’s Duplex, which calls businesses on your behalf and imitates a real human, ums and ahs included, has sparked a bit of controversy among privacy advocates. Doesn’t Google recording a person’s voice and sending it to a data center for analysis violate two-party consent law, which requires everyone in a conversation to agree to being recorded? The answer isn’t immediately clear, and Google’s silence isn’t helping. Let’s take California’s law as the example, since that’s the state where Google is based and where it used the system. Penal Code section 632 forbids recording any “confidential communication” (defined more or less as any non-public conversation) without the consent of all parties. (The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has a good state-by-state guide to these laws.) Google has provided very little in the way of details about how Duplex actually works, so attempting to answer this question
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