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Tech News

Google at 20: how two 'obnoxious' students changed the internet
Posted on Monday September 24, 2018

It is two decades since Larry Page and Sergey Brin moved their fledgling startup out of their dorms. With threats to its power growing, how long can the company dominate?

In the summer of 1995, a second-year grad student called Sergey Brin was giving a tour of Stanford University to prospective students. Larry Page, an engineering graduate from the University of Michigan, was one of those being shown around the Palo Alto, California campus.

“I thought he was pretty obnoxious,” Larry Page said of the encounter. “He had really strong opinions about things, and I guess I did, too.”

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Speech recognition is tech's next giant leap, says Google
Posted on Monday September 24, 2018

Company says spoken word already essential in developing countries with low literacy rates

AI robots and self-driving cars might steal the headlines, but the next big leap in technology will be advances in voice services, according to Google’s head of search, Ben Gomes, who says that a better understanding of common language is crucial to the future of the internet.

“Speech recognition and the understanding of language is core to the future of search and information,” said Gomes . “But there are lots of hard problems such as understanding how a reference works, understanding what ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’ refers to in a sentence. It’s not at all a trivial problem to solve in language and that’s just one of the millions of problems to solve in language.”

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How Charlottesville forced Reddit to clean up its act
Posted on Sunday September 23, 2018

The use by white supremacists of Reddit to organise last year’s violent rally in Virginia was a catalyst for change at the digital giant. In an extract from her new book We Are the Nerds, Christine Lagorio-Chafkin looks at how the site has tried to detoxify itself

As the clock ticked up to 9pm on Friday 11 August 2017, more than 200 men snaked down a dark, long expanse of grass in Charlottesville, Virginia, called Nameless Field. The assembled group was abundantly white, and almost uniformly dressed in pressed khakis and polo shirts. Each man grasped a wooden torch filled with kerosene.

They formed a column, lined up two by two. They lit their torches. Organisers, wearing earpieces, paced up and down the line issuing directions, amplified by electric bullhorn. “Now! Now! Go!” the bullhorns ordered. The men marched, and began to chant. “Blood and soil!” they yelled, echoing Nazi ideology. “Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!”

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Weight Watchers plans tech rebrand to take on wellness industry
Posted on Monday September 24, 2018

Under the name WW the US-listed firm hopes to broaden its appeal as diets begin to wane

Weight Watchers will from next month ditch its name and rebrand as “WW” as it takes on competition from fitness trackers and phone apps and attempts to remould itself as a lifestyle tech brand.

Behind the relaunch is concern that the long-term effectiveness of diet plans is on the wane, while health and wellness are now in vogue. The US-listed firm wants to broaden its appeal and keep subscribers signed up by moving beyond a short-term diet fix to become a credo to live by, with an app that it hopes users will check as frequently as Facebook or Instagram.

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However extreme your views, you’re never hardcore enough for YouTube | John Naughton
Posted on Sunday September 23, 2018

Users of the video service looking for information on the Chemnitz riots were all too easily led to far-right sites

Early one Sunday morning a month ago, a German carpenter was fatally stabbed in a street fight in Chemnitz in eastern Germany. Little is known about how the brawl started, but rumours rapidly circulated online that the man was defending a woman from sexual assault. Within hours of his death, rumours that his killers were two refugees triggered a violent reaction. For two nights running, thousands of rightwing extremists and sympathisers took to the streets of the city. Shocking videos of demonstrators openly using the Nazi salute (a criminal offence in Germany) and chasing and attacking people of foreign appearance rapidly appeared online.

The reverberations of the riots continue to roil German politics and society. They appear to have given a massive boost to the right-wing AfD party, for example, which according to some opinion polls is now in second place in Germany. And last week, Angela Merkel removed the head of the domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maaßen, from his post after he faced criticism for his reaction to anti-immigrant protests in the city of Chemnitz. He had cast doubt on the authenticity of the videos showing dark-skinned people being chased and attacked.

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Germany launches world's first autonomous tram in Potsdam
Posted on Sunday September 23, 2018

The Guardian goes for a ride on the new AI-driven Combino vehicle developed by Siemens

Norbert Gresing shook his head as two teenage boys, deep in conversation and wearing earplugs, stepped out in front of his tram.

“This is the type of situation I face every day,” said the tram driver, who has 25 years of experience under his belt, as he rang his bell. The boys, apparently oblivious to the green and white 10-tonne, 19-metre-long vehicle, appeared as bright green figures surrounded by fuzzy yellow dots on the screen in front of Gresing.

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Instagram co-founders resign to explore 'creativity again'
Posted on Tuesday September 25, 2018

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger leave the social media company amid reports of tensions with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Instagram co-founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, have announced their resignation from the company, which is owned by Facebook Inc, saying that they are leaving to “explore our curiosity and creativity again”.

Systrom and Krieger did not say why they were leaving their positions as chief executive officer and chief technical officer, but there were reports that their departure might be due to tensions between the men and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

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Facebook failing to protect moderators from mental trauma, lawsuit claims
Posted on Tuesday September 25, 2018

Contractors ‘irreparably traumatized’ by having to witness child abuse, rape, torture, suicide and murder, says former employee

A former Facebook contract employee has lodged a suit against the company, alleging that content moderators who face mental trauma after reviewing distressing images on the platform are not being properly protected by the social networking giant.

Facebook moderators under contract are “bombarded” with “thousands of videos, images and livestreamed broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide and murder”, the lawsuit said.

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Amazon's Alexa knows what you forgot and can guess what you're thinking
Posted on Thursday September 20, 2018

AI voice assistant will soon give users with connected smart home devices reminders to lock doors and turn off lights

Amazon says its AI voice assistant Alexa can now guess what you might be thinking of – or what you’ve forgotten.

At an event in Seattle on Thursday, the technology company unveiled a new feature called Alexa Hunches that aims to replicate human curiosity and insight using artificial intelligence.

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Uber Eats couriers' pay protest brings traffic to a halt in central London
Posted on Thursday September 20, 2018

Motorcyclists block roads outside HQ for second day asking for £5 per delivery minimum

Uber Eats couriers brought traffic to a halt outside the company’s UK headquarters for the second day in a row in a protest about pay.

Motorcyclists, estimated to number more than 100, blocked the road outside Aldgate East station in central London on Thursday afternoon after they said the company cut the minimum delivery rate for riders on Wednesday.

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Is a tablet or 2-in-1 laptop with a stylus useful for a student?
Posted on Thursday September 20, 2018

Matt’s daughter already has a laptop for university, but will a lighter device with a smartpen be better for taking notes?

My daughter will be starting university and already has a more-than-adequate laptop for essay writing and Netflix. But rather than carry it to and from lectures all the time, we wondered if it would be worth investing in a tablet or smaller 2-in-1 laptop with a stylus for note taking. Or do you think it would be better to stick with a small screen laptop? Matt

There are two issues here that go well beyond product choice, and can only be decided by you and your daughter. The first is whether a change in circumstances – going to university – requires the adoption of a new technology, whether it be a tablet or stylus or both. I’m assuming that your daughter doesn’t use either of these, or you would already know the answer.

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Is there a cheap Windows alternative for a MacBook user?
Posted on Thursday September 13, 2018

Bernadette is a writer, photographer who can’t afford a new Apple laptop. Is there a lightweight and affordable replacement out there?

I need a new lightweight laptop, as I travel a bit, but cannot afford a Mac at this time. I already own an iPad (and an iPhone) but the screen is too small for hosting group meetings. Also, I am a writer and photographer. What would be your suggestion for a lightweight, value-for-money laptop that won’t take me too far from the facilities of an Apple product that I’ve been accustomed to using for many years. Bernadette

If you’re a happy long-term Mac user then I recommend you stick with Apple. There’s not a huge amount of difference between MacOS and Windows 10, but you will have built up years of experience and “motor memory” reactions that you will lose if you change operating systems. Also, while Windows 10 does a reasonable job of working with smartphones, you will lose the integration that Apple provides between iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and iCloud.

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How can I fix my Windows 10 laptop's browser?
Posted on Thursday September 06, 2018

Firefox no longer works on Angela’s machine and she has been forced to use Microsoft Edge. How can she fix it?

I cannot access various websites in Firefox. Some, like BBC News, will open but don’t display correctly. More worryingly, I cannot sign in to my bank account or my credit card account on Firefox. I am forced to use Edge! I have run various scans with Kaspersky and Malwarebytes and don’t know where to look next.

I have a Dell Inspiron 15 5000 laptop running Windows 10 Home, Firefox 61.0.2 and Kaspersky Internet Security. Angela

All software is corruptible and browsers, being complex, tend to suffer more than most applications. Problems may be due to corrupted user profiles, caches, or badly behaved extensions rather than the browser code, but for the user, the result is the same.

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What's the best laptop for university under £600?
Posted on Thursday August 30, 2018

Linda’s history-studying son needs a portable computer. Which model would deliver value for money on a budget?

My son is off to university and needs a laptop for his history course. His needs are coursework, watching movies, listening to music and gaming. Our needs are best value for money on a budget of £600 or less. What do you think of reconditioned laptops? We are not a poor household, but we are going to have to make a few sacrifices to get him through university. Linda

It’s always a good idea to see if the university and/or department have any recommendations, discount deals or special requirements. This can be important for courses that use professional software, though I don’t expect history needs anything that won’t run on most laptops.

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Big tech's double trouble: political heat from Trump and the left may signal reckoning ahead
Posted on Sunday September 02, 2018

Trump’s timing of attacks on Google, Facebook and Twitter could not have been better, as the three come under scrutiny in hearings

Trump and Russia may have dominated the political discourse all summer, but last week the attention turned again to America’s internet technology giants. They had enjoyed a few months out of the spotlight following grueling congressional hearings in Washington late last year, after evidence emerged of Russia’s use of social media fake accounts to try to influence voters in the 2016 US presidential election.

But that respite ended last week after a tweet from Donald Trump that electrified the news agenda from Silicon Valley to the capital when, seemingly out of the blue – he posted a bizarre tweet. “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD,” he tweeted. Trump went on to allege that Google was censoring right-wing voices and privileging voices from the left.

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Does the banning of Alex Jones signal a new era of big tech responsibility?
Posted on Friday August 10, 2018

With the removal of the conspiracy theorist’s material from key platforms, firms have changed their tune on ‘free speech’ – but some see the move as more about money than morality

At this very moment, the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is almost certainly sitting in front of a camera, shouting that he has been silenced. If you are so inclined, you can easily watch and listen along, either by going to his website, downloading his iPhone and Android apps, or following him on Twitter.

Related: Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify ban Infowars' Alex Jones

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From Virgin to Tesla: why companies go cool on public ownership
Posted on Thursday August 09, 2018

There are many reasons why entrepreneurs get frustrated by the demands of the markets

Elon Musk’s announcement that he was considering taking Tesla off the stock market should not have been a total surprise.

Related: Tesla shares soar after Elon Musk floats plan to take company private

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A withering verdict: MPs report on Zuckerberg, Russia and Cambridge Analytica
Posted on Saturday July 28, 2018

Select committee criticises Facebook response and urges tighter internet regulation

The DCMS select committee’s far-reaching interim report on its 18-month investigation into fake news and the use of data and “dark ads” in elections offers a wide-ranging, informed and sustained critique that carries with it the full weight of parliament. The verdict is withering: Facebook failed. It “obfuscated”, refused to investigate how its platform was abused by the Russian government until forced by pressure from Senate committees and, in the most damning section, it aided and abetted the incitement of racial hatred in Burma, noting that even the company’s chief technical officer, Mike Schroepfer, called this “awful”.

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Let’s hear it for wasps
Posted on Sunday September 23, 2018

We see the upside of bees, while batting away their buzzing cousins, but there are important reasons to treasure them

Wasps may buzz, sting us and annoy us, but they’re far more useful than we realise. A new study in Ecological Entomology reveals both the overwhelmingly negative public perception of wasps and also their importance. Among the benefits is wasps’ pollination of flowers, helping Britain’s wildlife to blossom and supporting biodiversity.

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‘Alexa – can you teach my kids some manners, please?’
Posted on Wednesday September 19, 2018

As voice-controlled AI creeps into millions of homes, a modern dilemma presents itself: how does one properly address a virtual being?

The work of an etiquette expert is never-ending. No sooner have you adjusted to a world in which the households you advise may have few or – whisper it – no staff, than the technology giants develop personal assistants using artificial intelligence.

It is a whole new minefield and, as the Times reports, one already developing new expertise. One BBC tech executive told a conference audience on Tuesday that her solution to children developing poor manners due to Alexa, Siri and their rivals (the AI will respond whether you say “please” or not) was for adults in the house to say “please” and “thank you” to the AIs at all times. With that first step in mind, here is our extensive and scientific list of etiquette do’s and don’ts when dealing with your AI assistant:

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Instagram co-founders Systrom and Krieger leaving firm
Posted on Tuesday September 25, 2018

Kevin Systrom said he and Mike Krieger wanted to "explore our curiosity and creativity".

3D-printed gun pioneer bailed after sex assault charge
Posted on Monday September 24, 2018

Cody Wilson has been released from prison in Houston after being charged with the sexual assault of an under-age girl.

Gamer with terminal cancer achieves 'Ultimate' goal
Posted on Monday September 24, 2018

Chris Taylor who has bone cancer got to play Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Ultimate game early following a social media campaign.

China shuts down 4,000 websites in purge on 'improper values'
Posted on Monday September 24, 2018

It says it targeted "harmful" online content, spreading "improper values, vulgarity or obscenity".

Code-cracking WW2 Bombe operation recreated at Bletchley
Posted on Friday September 21, 2018

Modern day codebreakers have used wartime methods to read messages scrambled by an Enigma machine.

Women harassed after seeking sperm donors online
Posted on Monday September 24, 2018

One woman says a potential donor turned out to be married and had undergone a vasectomy.

Facebook stops sending staff to help political campaigns
Posted on Friday September 21, 2018

The social network will no longer send employees to work at the offices of political campaigns.

Tech Tent: Do the police have your biometric digits?
Posted on Friday September 21, 2018

Zoe Kleinman explores concerns that law enforcement agencies are collecting too much biometric data.

Amazon makes Alexa-controlled microwave
Posted on Friday September 21, 2018

Amazon has unveiled a microwave that can be controlled using its Alexa voice assistant.

China blocks Twitch game-streaming service
Posted on Friday September 21, 2018

The service's website and app is no longer reachable from mainland China, gamers report

 


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