Businesses

Google's Toronto City Built 'From the Internet Up' (bbc.com) 36

On Toronto's Eastern waterfront, a new digital city is being built by Sidewalk Labs -- a firm owned by Google's parent Alphabet. It hopes the project will become a model for 21st-Century urbanism. From a report: But the deal has been controversial, representing one of biggest ever tie-ups between a city and a large corporation. And that, coupled with the fact that the corporation in question is one of the largest tech firms in the world, is causing some unease. Sidewalk Labs promises to transform the disused waterfront area into a bustling mini metropolis, one built "from the internet up," although there is no timetable for when the city will actually be built. Dan Doctoroff, the company's head and former deputy mayor of New York, told the BBC the project was "about creating healthier, safer, more convenient and more fun lives. We want this to be a model for what urban life can be in the 21st Century," he said. The area will have plenty of sensors collecting data -- from traffic, noise and air quality -- and monitoring the performance of the electric grid and waste collection.
Google

Are Google's Cat-Loving Employees Killing Burrowing Owls? (seattletimes.com) 151

An anonymous reader writes: Google's employees started a group called GCat Rescue that traps feral cats and puts them up for adoption. (Though "less-friendly adult cats are neutered and released... The cats that are released are implanted with tracking chips, and an ear is notched so they can be identified.") A public records request discovered that city employees kept catching the Google-chipped cats in a nearby wildlife and recreation area that was home to the very last 50 burrowing owls in Silicon Valley — which California has officially designated a species of "special concern". Someone had apparently even installed a cat-feeding station next to a designated owl-nesting area.

The local Audubon Society has been asking Google to review their cat-feeding stations since 2012, but environmental groups told the Times Google was "consistenty unhelpful" on the cat issue. "They told us it was something their employees were doing and they couldn't interfere," said a board member with a group trying to protect the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. "One of the cats was trapped, turned over to the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, released to Google, trapped again in the park and released again to Google," the Times reports, adding that "In August, it was found dead in the park."

"Like so many stories these days about Big Tech, this is a tale about how attempts to do good often produce unexpected consequences, and how even smart people (especially, perhaps, smart people) can be reluctant to rethink their convictions."

The Times reports that a "final victory is at hand" for the cats, since last year was the first time in 20 years that no owl fledglings were observed in the park -- though "as recently as 2011, there were 10." But the number of cat sightings was 318.
Classic Games (Games)

Atari Co-Founder Ted Dabney Dies at Age 81 (eurogamer.net) 42

An anonymous reader quotes Eurogamer: Atari co-founder Ted Dabney has died, according to a close friend. Historian Leonard Herman, who told Dabney's story in an article for Edge magazine published in 2009, announced Dabney's death in a post on Facebook... Dabney, who was born in San Francisco in 1937, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late 2017, and, according to friends, decided against treatment after being told he had eight months to live.

In 1971 Dabney co-founded Atari predecessor Syzygy with Nolan Bushnell and developed Computer Space, the world's first commercially available arcade video game. In 1972 the pair co-founded Atari, and Computer Space was used for the basis of Pong, the video game that made the company its early-days millions. Dabney later left the company after a falling out with Bushnell.

"Nolan was not being the kind of person that I enjoyed being around any more..." Dabney remembered in a 2012 interview with the Computer History Museum. He added with a laugh that "Nolan had told me that if I didn't sell out he would transfer all the assets to another corporation and leave me with nothing anyway. So, you know, might as well sell out."

After the falling out Dabney still helped Bushnell launch Pizza Time Theater (the predecessor of Chuck E. Cheese's), later working at major tech companies like Raytheon, Fujitsu, and Teledyne, before finally buying a grocery store in California's Sierra mountains (where "my wife did all the work"). He eventually retired to northern Washington at the age of 69.

"Ted Dabney was an integral part of the early video game industry, and he literally assembled some of the hardware from which this industry was built with his own two hands," remembers Kotaku, adding "Not many people can lay claim to that kind of legacy."

Share your own favorite memories of Atari and Ted Dabney in the comments.
Businesses

Silicon Valley's Tech Bubble Is Now Larger Than In 2000. Will It Come To An End? (cnbc.com) 133

"We are now officially in a tech bubble larger than March of 2000," argues Keith Wright, instructor of accounting and information services at the Villanova School of Business. An anonymous reader quotes his commentary on CNBC: In case you missed it, the peak in the tech unicorn bubble already has been reached. And it's going to be all downhill from here. Massive losses are coming in venture capital-funded start-ups that are, in some cases, as much as 50 percent overvalued... 76% of the companies that went public last year were unprofitable on a per-share basis in the year leading up to their initial offerings, according to data compiled by Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business, and recently featured in the New York Times. This is the largest number since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, when 81 percent of newly public companies were unprofitable...

Several financial models project that up to 80 percent of unicorn companies are set to fail within two years. Uber, the highest-valued private technology company, has rapidly growing revenue but remains highly unprofitable. With revenue of $6.5 billion in 2016, it still registered a net loss of $2.8 billion. The truth is, when a unicorn is overvalued, it doesn't take long for the market to discover this fact.

Robotics

AI-Enhanced Weed-Killing Robots Frighten Pesticide Industry (reuters.com) 166

Rick Schumann writes: A Swiss company called ecoRobotix is betting the agricultural industry will be willing to welcome their solar-powered weed-killing autonomous robot, in an effort to reduce the use of herbicides by up to a factor of 20 and perhaps even eliminate the need for herbicide-resistant GMO crops entirely.

The 'see-and-spray' robot goes from plant to plant, visually differentiating the actual crops and weeds, and squirting the weeds selectively and precisely with weed killer, as opposed to the current technique of using large quantities of weed killer like Monsantos' Roundup to spray entire crops.

Weeds are already becoming resistant to such glyphosate-based herbicides after "more than 20 years of near-ubiquitous use," reports Reuters. (The head of one pesticide company's science division concedes that "That was probably a once-in-a-lifetime product.") But AI-based precision spraying "could mean established herbicides whose effect has worn off on some weeds could be used successfully in more potent, targeted doses."

Meanwhile, another Silicon Valley startup has built a machine using on-board cameras to distinguish weeds from crops -- and was recently acquired by the John Deere tractor company. Reuters calls these companies the "new breed of AI weeders that investors say could disrupt the $100 billion pesticides and seeds industry."

The original submission asks: Should we welcome our weed-killing robotic overlords?
The Courts

Samsung Must Pay Apple $539 Million For Infringing iPhone Design Patents, Jury Finds (cnet.com) 143

Samsung must pay Apple $539 million for infringing five patents with Android phones it sold in 2010 and 2011, a jury has found in a legal fight that dates back seven years. "The unanimous decision, in the U.S. District Court in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley, is just about halfway between what the two largest mobile phone makers had sought in a high-profile case that reaches back to 2011," reports CNET. From the report: The bulk of the damages payment, $533,316,606, was for infringing three Apple design patents. The remaining $5,325,050 was for infringing two utility patents. Samsung already had been found to infringe the patents, but this trial determined some of the damages. The jury's rationale isn't clear, but the figure is high enough to help cement the importance of design patents in the tech industry. Even though they only describe cosmetic elements of a product, they clearly can have a lot of value.

Samsung showed its displeasure and indicated the fight isn't over. "Today's decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages. We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers," Samsung said.

Transportation

Uber's Self-Driving Car Saw Pedestrian 6 Seconds Before Fatal Strike, Says Report (tucson.com) 252

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Arizona Daily Star: The autonomous Uber SUV that struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March spotted the woman about six seconds before hitting her, but did not stop because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled, according to federal investigators. In a preliminary report on the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that emergency braking is not enabled while Uber's cars are under computer control, "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior." Instead, Uber relies on a human backup driver to intervene. The system, however, is not designed to alert the driver. The report comes a day after Uber announced it will be ending it's self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona. The full NTSB report is available here.
Businesses

Apple Signs Deal With Volkswagen For Driverless Cars (nytimes.com) 69

Apple has reportedly signed a deal with Volkswagen (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) to turn some of the carmaker's new T6 Transporter vans into Apple's self-driving shuttles for employees. The deal comes after the tech giant failed to partner with luxury carmakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz to develop an all-electric self-driving car. "[T]talks with those companies have ended after each rebuffed Apple's requirements to hand over control of the data and design," reports The New York Times. From the report: Apple's deal with Volkswagen, which hasn't been previously reported, and the failure of its talks with other automakers reflect the continuing travails and diminished scope of the company's four-year-old car program. The project has suffered from repeated changes in direction that have hurt morale and led to hundreds of departures from its peak of more than 1,000 members two years ago, five former Apple employees said. They added that the team was now mostly consumed with developing the self-driving shuttle but the project lacks a clear plan beyond the vans.
Businesses

Comcast Confirms Plan To Buy 21st Century Fox and Control of Hulu (arstechnica.com) 65

Comcast is reportedly preparing an offer to buy major portions of 21st Century Fox, which would give it majority control of Hulu and other media properties. Ars Technica reports: Walt Disney Company already has a $52.4 billion all-stock deal to buy the 21st Century Fox properties. But Comcast was rumored to be lining up $60 billion in financing in order to make a hostile bid for the Fox assets, and Comcast's announcement today confirms it. Comcast "is considering, and is in advanced stages of preparing, an offer for the businesses that Fox has agreed to sell to Disney," Comcast's announcement said. Comcast is working on the offer in preparation for shareholder meetings in which the Disney/Fox deal will be considered.

The Fox properties for sale do not include assets such as the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, and Fox Broadcasting Company. Those properties would be spun off into a company being referred to as "New Fox," and Comcast would acquire 21st Century Fox after the spinoff. The Fox sale to either Disney or Comcast would include 21st Century Fox's film and television studios; cable entertainment networks; the Fox Sports Regional Networks; and international properties including Star in India and Fox's 39-percent ownership of Sky across Europe. The sale would also include Fox's 30-percent stake in Hulu, the popular online video streaming service. Comcast already owns 30 percent of Hulu, so a deal with Fox would give the nation's largest cable company majority control over the online video provider.

Facebook

Facebook Asks British Users To Submit Their Nudes as Protection Against Revenge Porn (betanews.com) 301

Mark Wilson writes: Following on from a trial in Australia, Facebook is rolling out anti-revenge porn measures to the UK. In order that it can protect British users from failing victim to revenge porn, the social network is asking them to send in naked photos of themselves. The basic premise of the idea is: send us nudes, and we'll stop others from seeing them .
Transportation

Uber Shutting Down Self-Driving Operations In Arizona After Fatal Crash (azcentral.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Arizona Republic: Uber is shutting down its self-driving car tests in Arizona, where one of the cars was involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian in March, the company said Wednesday. The company notified about 300 Arizona workers in the self-driving program that they were being terminated just before 9 a.m. Wednesday. The shutdown should take several weeks. Test drivers for the autonomous cars have not worked since the accident in Tempe, but Uber said they continued to be paid. The company's self-driving trucks have also been shelved since the accident. Uber plans to restart testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh once federal investigators conclude their inquiry into the Tempe crash. The company also said it is having discussions with California leaders to restart testing.
United States

NYC Transit Boss Unveils Sweeping 10-Year Subway Modernization Plan (nbcnewyork.com) 63

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping plan to modernize the city's subway system over the next 10 years. From a report: The proposal, which new New York City Transit President Andy Byford called "Fast Forward," centers on overhauling the mass transit network's signaling system -- some of which dates back to the early 20th century -- 30 years sooner than current Subway Action Plan.

But it won't come without a good bit of pain: sources told News 4 that Byford's plan would require entire lines to be taken out of service during overnight and weekend hours for extended periods. Byford -- who took over the task of running the city's subways and buses earlier this year -- said in an MTA meeting Wednesday that the work would be split into two five-year chunks. Over the first five years parts or all of the 4,5, 6, E, F, M, R, A, C, E and G lines would receive modern signaling systems. That would include the entirety of the Lexington Avenue line, which carries the 4, 5 and 6 trains and is the most-used mass transit line in the United States.

AI

Microsoft Also Has An AI Bot That Makes Phone Calls To Humans (theverge.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: At an AI event in London today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed off the company's Xiaoice (pronounced "SHAO-ICE") social chat bot. Microsoft has been testing Xiaoice in China, and Nadella revealed the bot has 500 million "friends" and more than 16 channels for Chinese users to interact with it through WeChat and other popular messaging services. Microsoft has turned Xiaoice, which is Chinese for "little Bing," into a friendly bot that has convinced some of its users that the bot is a friend or a human being. "Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things," reveals Nadella. "It's a bit of a celebrity."

While most of Xiaoice's interactions have been in text conversations, Microsoft has started allowing the chat bot to call people on their phones. It's not exactly the same as Google Duplex, which uses the Assistant to make calls on your behalf, but instead it holds a phone conversation with you. "One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations," explains Nadella. "So now Xiaoice can be conversing with you in WeChat and stop and call you. Then you can just talk to it using voice." (The term "full duplex" here refers to a conversation where both participants can speak at the same time; it's not a reference to Google's product, which was named after the same jargon.)

Transportation

People Are Losing Faith In Self-Driving Cars Following Recent Fatal Crashes (mashable.com) 445

oldgraybeard shares a report from Mashable: A new survey (PDF) released Tuesday by the American Automobile Association found that 73 percent of American drivers are scared to ride in an autonomous vehicle. That figure is up 10 percent from the end of last year. The millennial demographic has been the most affected, according to the survey of more than 1,000 drivers. From that age group, 64 percent said they're too afraid to ride in an autonomous vehicle, up from 49 percent -- making it the biggest increase of any age group surveyed. "There are news articles about the trust levels in self-driving cars going down," writes oldgraybeard. "As a technical person, I have always thought the road to driverless cars would be longer than most were talking about. What are your thoughts? As an individual with eye problems, I do like the idea. But technology is not as good as some think."

The Mashable article also references a separate study from market research company Morning Consult "showing increased fear about self-driving vehicles following the deadly March crashes in the Bay Area and Arizona." Another survey from car shopping site CarGurus set to be released Wednesday found that car owners aren't quite ready to trade their conventional vehicles for self-driving ones. "Some 84 percent of the 1,873 U.S. car owners surveyed in April said they were unlikely to own a self-driving car in the next five years," reports Mashable. "79 percent of respondents said they were not excited about the new technology."
Transportation

Tesla's Promised $35,000 Model 3 Is Still a Long Way Off (engadget.com) 276

When the Model 3 was first unveiled, it was pitched as an EV for the masses that would have a reasonable $35,000 price. Two years later and we still don't have a clear timeline as to when the $35,000 Model 3 will ship. In fact, Elon Musk last weekend unveiled the pricing and specs of a newer, more expensive Model 3 with AWD. It will cost $78,000. Engadget reports: CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that the $35,000 Model 3 now won't ship until three to six months after Tesla achieves its 5,000 vehicle-per-week production goal. The reason for the new delay in the base model is simple: If the company was to ship it now, it would lose money on every vehicle and "die," as Musk put it. If Tesla had hit its initial forecasts and was producing 5,000 vehicles a week by January, the base, $35,000 Model 3 probably wouldn't have been delayed by so much. One potential problem for Tesla, as the WSJ points out, is that many of the 500,000 buyers who laid down a $1,000 deposit did so expecting to buy a $35,000 car, not a $49,000 one. When they get a letter saying the time has come to configure their EVs, quite a few might decide to back out, which could impact Tesla's already precarious cash flow situation.

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