TECH’S LACK OF TRANSPARENCY AROUND HARASSMENT IS DANGEROUS – RIN GRIFFITH 09.12.17 08:15 PM


Mike Cagney, co-founder and chief executive of Social Finance Inc. (SoFi)
PATRICK T. FALLON/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

IN AUGUST, WHEN a former employee sued online-lending platform SoFi for firing him after he reported incidents of harassment, the company quickly rejected his claims. The matter had already been investigated internally and no wrongdoing was found, SoFi said. Unlike the many other accusations of harassment and bad behavior brought to light in Silicon Valley this year, nobody resigned. SoFi had made it clear: The $4.3 billion-valuation company planned to defend itself. It would stand by its chief executive, whose name was added to the suit.

Late on Monday, that CEO, Mike Cagney, said he would resign at the end of the year. “The combination of HR-related litigation and negative press have become a distraction from the company’s core mission,” he wrote in an email to employees.

By resigning through a press release, Cagney did not address whether any of the allegations are true. Did he “empower other managers to engage in sexual conduct in the workplace,” as the lawsuit alleges? Did the company deny its employees things like breaks, minimum wage, and overtime, as alleged by a second lawsuit from five former employees? And what of Cagney’s reported romantic relationships with two employees described in the New York Times?

SoFi continues to deny the claims in the first lawsuit, with plans to “vigorously defend ourselves,” a spokesperson said in a statement. And the company plans to respond to the second lawsuit in court. SoFi will not discuss whether it will reveal the results of any internal investigations. So for now, Cagney’s resignation is akin to resigning to spend more time with one’s family.

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Tech faces public anger over internet privacy repeal – BY ALI BRELAND – 04/02/17 08:30 AM EDTw


© Getty Images

The Republican push to eliminate Obama-era consumer data protections is sparking a new national debate over online privacy, and putting internet companies on the defensive.

The measure blocking the online privacy rules is on the desk of President Trump, who is expected to sign it.

But the firestorm of controversy shows no signs of easing. Broadband titans such as AT&T and Comcast and web giants like Google and Facebook now find themselves under growing pressure over their privacy policies.

“We’ll definitely make it pretty clear what right was given away and the extent that it was given way,” vowed Ernesto Falcon, legislative analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission would have restricted internet service providers from selling consumer data deemed “sensitive,” including app usage information and web browsing history, without consent. That data is used for targeted ads directed at consumers.

The rules passed in 2015 with little fanfare, the result of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which brought internet providers under the agency’s authority.

Critics, though, said the FCC rules treated broadband providers such as cable and phone companies tougher than internet companies such as Yahoo or Facebook, which are able to sell their consumer data under the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy framework.

Republicans moved quickly to kill off the FCC privacy rules that were slated to take effect later this year.

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Why 2016 Was a Watershed Year for Tech – By  Christopher Mims Dec. 18, 2016 12:15 p.m. ET


Companies sparred with governments globally as they faced criticism, unprecedented scrutiny

Amazon.com has introduced Amazon Go stores without cashiers.ENLARGE

Amazon.com has introduced Amazon Go stores without cashiers. Photo: jason redmond/Reuters

As 2016 nears an end, five of the seven most valuable companies in the world—including the three most valuable—are technology companies. Beyond their worth in the eyes of investors, Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc., and Facebook Inc. also are powerful forces in everyday lives. Tech can seem inescapable.

That helps explain why 2016 also was a difficult year for many of these companies. Collectively, they faced sharp criticism and unprecedented levels of scrutiny while clashing with governments around the world—including the future U.S. president.

It’s no coincidence, for example, that digital-ad spending in the U.S. has been projected to eclipse spending on TV ads in 2016, while Facebook battled concerns about its influence over politics and its role in spreading fake and distorted news. Those developments are two sides of the same coin—Facebook’s power.

Or take Amazon’s new cashier-free stores, which instantly became symbols for how automation “kills” jobs. Amazon has only a handful of physical stores, and doesn’t plan to open its first Amazon Go store to the public until next year, yet its dominance in online retail made this a source of much public concern.

Google had a banner year for both revenue and profit. One price of that real-world influence is three sets of antitrust charges by European regulators who view the company as a sort of American colonial power. The latest, issued in July alongside additional charges piled onto a previous case, accused Google of “strong-arming” Android handset makers into shipping their devices with Google’s search as the default.

In 2016, tech executives overwhelmingly backed the woman who lost the race for president, while the man who won attacked them publicly and sometimes personally. Many of the parties involved met last week in Trump Tower, apparently reaching an uneasy truce. But many in tech still view the next four years warily, concerned by Donald Trump’s views on issues such as free trade and immigration.

That this exchange happened at all speaks to the cultural as well as the economic dominance of tech companies. At stake wasn’t just where iPhones would be manufactured, but whether globalization is a net economic benefit or a scourge to America’s middle class. The tech industry has come to espouse a common culture of disruption, or progress at all costs, and Trump’s election was in some respects a rebuke to that ideology. The outcome of this struggle will have implications for everything from how friendly regulators are to disruptive technologies like self-driving vehicles to how willing they are to support the transition to clean energy.

The year brought little relief from an ongoing drought in tech companies going public. This was notable because in an age when just about every startup describes itself as a tech company, a drought of tech IPOs means a drought of IPOs.

A handful of enterprise tech companies did go public, but the really big fish, including Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc., remained on the sidelines. Like others, I initially viewed their reluctance to IPO as admissions that their business models weren’t fit for the critical gaze of public investors. But the more I learned about these companies, the more I realized they weren’t going public because, quite simply, they didn’t have to.

These companies have access to virtually unlimited amounts of capital, in part as a result of capital flooding the globe following the 2008 financial crisis. Seeking better returns, institutional investors have piled into these companies’ later-stage private rounds, lifting their valuations. One bright spot for 2017 looks to be a planned IPOfrom Snap Inc., which is a notable exception among holdouts in the billion-dollar startup club.

What of Apple, the most valuable of them all? Following a record holiday quarter in 2015, Apple saw its first decline in annual revenue since 2001. Some analysts declared that this time, the company was truly, finally out of ideas. This despite the apparent success of the Apple Watch and the potential for Apple’s AirPods to become a new class of wearable computer.

This matters because Apple has become synonymous with America’s power to innovate, as China moves from making things for others to creating brands of its own.

As the world’s most valuable company Apple has become a standard-bearer for America’s innovation exceptionalism. For Apple to falter is for America to falter.

And that was the real theme of tech in 2016: A raft of companies that were underdogs and scrappy upstarts just 20 years ago are now the incumbents, the budding monopolists, the ones in charge. We learned to fear and rely on them in equal measure, let them pervade our lives even as we struggled with their omnipresence. And in their denials, spin and public pronouncements, for the most part they just didn’t seem quite ready to acknowledge their importance.

Write to Christopher Mims at christopher.mims@wsj.com

Tech Giants Team Up to Keep AI From Getting Out of Hand – KLINT FINLEY 28.16. 090 PM


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Let’s face it: artificial intelligence is scary. After decades of dystopian science fiction novels and movies where sentient machines end up turning on humanity, we can’t help but worry as real world AI continues to improve at such a rapid rate. Sure, that danger is probably decades away if it’s even a real danger at all. But there are many more immediate concerns. Will automated robots cost us jobs? Will online face recognition destroy our privacy? Will self-driving cars mess with moral decision making?

The good news is that many of the tech giants behind the new wave of AI are well aware that it scares people—and that these fears must be addressed. That’s why Amazon, Facebook, Google’s DeepMind division, IBM, and Microsoft have founded a new organization called the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.

“Every new technology brings transformation, and transformation sometimes also causes fear in people who don’t understand the transformation,” Facebook’s director of AI Yann LeCun said this morning during a press briefing dedicated to the new project. “One of the purposes of this group is really to explain and communicate the capabilities of AI, specifically the dangers and the basic ethical questions.”

If all that sounds familiar, that’s because Tesla and Space X CEO Elon Musk had been harping on this issue for years, and last December, he and others founded a an organization, OpenAI, that aims to address many of the same fears. But OpenAI is fundamentally a R&D outfit. The Partnership for AI is something different. It’s a consortium—open to anyone—that seeks facilitate a much wider dialogue about the nature, purpose, and consequences of artificial intelligence.

According to LeCun, the group will operate in three fundamental ways. It will foster communication among those who build AI. It will rope in additional opinions from academia and civil society—people will a wider perspective on how AI will effect society as a whole. And it will inform the public om the progress of AI. That may include educating lawmakers, but the organization says it will not lobby the government.

Creating a dialogue beyond the rather small world of AI researchers, LeCun says, will be crucial. We’ve already seen a chat bot spout racist phrases it learned on Twitter, an AI beauty contest decide that black people are less attractive than white peopleand a system that rates the risk of someone committing a crime that appears to be biased against black people. If a more diverse set of eyes are looking at AI before it reaches the public, the thinking goes, these kinds of thing can be avoided.

The rub is that, even if this group can agree on a set of ethical principles–something that will be hard to do in a large group with many stakeholders—it won’t really have a way to ensure those ideals are put into practice. Although one of the organization’s tenets is “Opposing development and use of AI technologies that would violate international conventions or human rights,” Mustafa Suleyman, the head of applied AI at DeepMind, says that enforcement is not the objective of the organization.

In other words, if one of the member organizations decides to do something blatantly unethical, there’s not really anything the group can do to stop them. Rather, the group will focus on gathering input from the public, sharing its work, and establishing best practices.

Just bringing people together isn’t really enough to solve the problems that AI raises, says Damien Williams, a philosophy instructor at Kennesaw State University who specializes in the ethics of non-human consciousness. Academic fields like philosophy have diversity problems of their own. So many different opinions abound. One enormous challenge, he says, is that the group will need to continually reassess its thinking, rather than settling on a static list of ethics and standards that doesn’t change or evolve.

Williams is encouraged that tech giants like Facebook and Google are even asking questions about ethics and bias in AI. Ideally, the group will help establish new standards for thinking about artificial intelligence, big data, and algorithms that can weed out harmful assumptions and biases. But that’s a mammoth task. As co-chair Eric Horvitz from Microsoft Research put it, the hard work begins now.

What Brexit Means For Tech – by David Meyer JUNE 24, 2016, 5:55 AM EDT


Brexit will have a big impact on startups, privacy, telecoms and more.

Brexit will have a big impact on startups, privacy, telecoms and more.

Now that the citizens of the U.K. have voted to leave the European Union, it’s time to take a good look at the implications for the technology sector.

So-called Brexit will take a while to arrive. Prime minister David Cameron indicated Friday morning that he will stay on for three months before handing over to a successor, and he wants the next prime minister to begin the negotiations with the EU over the terms of the exit. That could take two years, so Britain will probably only leave in 2018.

That means years of uncertainty, with tech firms and investors unable to know for sure how regulations will evolve (or devolve) in the U.K. and, indeed, the EU.

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As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson has correctly noted, the U.K. is one of the voices in Europe that has called for relatively light-touch tech regulation in the EU. Without it, Germany and France will have even stronger positions in the bloc than they currently do.

Germany and France are the countries that have taken the lead on cracking down on American tech firms, such as Google, over their perceived transgressions. Without British pushback, that stance is likely to gain more heft.

Then there is the issue of data and its ability to flow across borders.

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Welcome to the Future of Gun Control – —By Josh Harkinson | March/April 2016 issue


Are Americans ready to give high-tech firearms a shot?

Giacomo Marchesi

Jonathan Mossberg wanted to be the Steve Jobs of firearms.

In 1999, a few years before the invention of the iPod, Mossberg began to build the iGun, a computer-chip-equipped “smart gun” that could only be fired by its owner. (The “i” stands for intelligence.) He saw the technology as a commonsense way to prevent gun violence—a no-brainer safety device like seatbelts or air bags. The iGun is a shotgun equipped with a radio frequency identification (RFID) sensor that only allows it to be fired by someone wearing a special ring. By 2000, a fully functional version had endured a grueling round of military-grade testing and was ready to hit the market. “When I filed my patents, my patent attorney said, ‘You’ve got the next dot-com,'” Mossberg recalls. “He was blown away.”

Mossberg wasn’t the first person to envision a smart gun, but he was well positioned to make it a reality. He was a scion of O.F. Mossberg & Sons, the nation’s oldest family-owned gun company, which makes one of the world’s best-selling lines of pump-action shotguns. He’d overseen manufacturing for the company and had also served as president of Uzi America, an importer of Israeli weapons.

But the iGun hit a wall. Consumers were skeptical, in part because gun rights groups had been painting smart guns as a Trojan horse for gun grabbers. A few years earlier, gun manufacturer Colt had unveiled a smart-watch-activated pistol, and Smith & Wesson had pledged to explore “authorized user technology” for its weapons. Both projects were abandoned in the face of withering criticism from the National Rifle Association, which led a boycott of Smith & Wesson. In 2005, under pressure from the NRA, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, making gun manufacturers immune from lawsuits related to gun accidents or misuse—and removing another incentive to develop smart guns. (Today, the NRA says it doesn’t oppose smart guns but claims they are an attempt to make firearms more expensive and “would allow guns to be disabled remotely.”)

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With Quartz’s App, You Don’t Read the News. You Chat With It | MARGARET RHODES. 02.11.16 7:01 AM


Quartz5

Yesterday morning I woke up, put on a pot of coffee, and checked the news. I wanted to revisit the New Hampshire primary results that had rolled in the night before. I opened Quartz’s new app and was greeted with a text message: “Yep, it’s really happening: Trump and Sanders won big in New Hampshire.” Below it appeared side-by-side portraits of Trump’s scowl and Bernie’s grin. To read more, I tapped a ready-made text reply containing a donkey, an elephant, and an American flag emoji. More texts, and more news, arrived.

This is the future of mobile news, as Quartz envisions it. In the app, which launches today and is Quartz’s first, you don’t read the news; you chat with it. Instead of headlines, you get messages that read like texts from a friend—if your friend were a news-obsessed but reliable source with an irreverent tone of voice. Odd as that might sound, it’s pretty engaging. Story blurbs are occasionally packaged with gifs. When the app runs out of stories to feed you, it serves up a quiz question (e.g. “What’s the busiest airport in the world, by number of passengers, Atlanta or Beijing?✈️”). It’s still the news, just in a new package. (There are, however, still ads—some things don’t change.)

Chat-based user interfaces are growing in popularityespecially in China, but mostly for services. For news outlets, “it’s a very underutilized interface,” says Daniel Lee, who led the design on the app. Open it at any given time, and a synopsis of a news item, written by a team of about six editors in Washington, D.C. and London, pops up. It’s not an excerpt from the article—it’s a conversational blurb written specifically for the chat interface. A hyperlink arrow next to a text bubble signals that you can click through to a full article (which could be from an organization like The New York Times or Reuters, in addition to Quartz), but you don’t have to. You can query the app for more highlights from the current article, or ping it for other news recaps. Everything is displayed in text bubbles that deliberately mimic iOS’s iMessage interface. “It’s intuitive because it’s a format that we use everyday, as far as iMessage goes, Facebook Messenger, and Slack,” Lee says. “It’s intimate because it’s a one-on-one conversation with somebody.”

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http://www.wired.com/2016/02/with-quartzs-app-you-dont-read-the-news-you-chat-with-it/#slide-1

Can a computer write poetry? – Oscar Schwartz TEDTalks Published on Feb 10, 2016


If you read a poem and feel moved by it, but then find out it was actually written by a computer, would you feel differently about the experience? Would you think that the computer had expressed itself and been creative, or would you feel like you had fallen for a cheap trick? In this talk, writer Oscar Schwartz examines why we react so strongly to the idea of a computer writing poetry — and how this reaction helps us understand what it means to be human.

The Amazon Echo’s All Grown Up – BRIAN BARRETT. 02.06.16. 7:00 AM


When Amazon Echo first launched in late 2014, its purpose wasn’t entirely clear. It was a Bluetooth speaker you could talk to, but… why? And what then? At the time, we called it “weird.” (We weren’t wrong!) Then last spring, Amazon opened up the SDK for Alexa, the personal assistant that powers Echo, letting any developer integrate its product with the platform. It attracted a few nibbles—quirky trivia apps and smart home capabilities that amounted to logical but limited extensions of Echo’s prowess. This week, it finally landed some whales.

Now, after a flurry of big-name integrations, it’s all starting to make sense. Amazon Echo (and more specifically Alexa) is a full-fledged platform—one that Apple and Google should be taking very seriously.

Like celebrity deaths and well-structured jokes, Echo’s big announcements came in threes. As it happens, they were of increasing importance.

First, Domino’s. The pizza chain announced Wednesday that it would bring not just ordering capabilities to Echo, but its pizza-tracker as well. Hungry customers can ask Echo either to repeat their most recent order, or a pre-loaded “Easy Order,” with all their favorite toppings. Enter the phone number associated with the order, and Echo will alert the customer as their doughy disc makes its way from toppings to oven to the front door.

If this smells like a double-cheese gimmick, it should. Domino’s is, after all, the same foodmonger that lets you place an order by tweeting an emoji. Being everywhere is its shtick; it literally owns and operates a Domino’s AnyWare (sic, so very sic) domain. That fact that ordering a pizza from Echo also happens to be the most convenient of the company’s multi-pronged approaches could be written off as incidental next to Dominos’ larger vision of reinforcing the ubiquity of its brand.

The next announcement? Spotify. And that’s when things got serious.

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http://www.wired.com/2016/02/watch-out-apple-amazons-echo-is-all-growed-up/