News Roundup: Should robots come with 'Black boxes' to record their decision making?

Amazon continues to expand

Another week, and three more business areas threatened by the arrival of Amazon. The first is social media: Amazon has launched an Instagram-like service called Spark; essentially a photo feed of products. The company has also expanded its food footprint with Amazon Meal Kits; essentially boxes of ingredients to prepare a full meal. Blue Apron, which offers a similar service, saw its shares take a nosedive on the revelation.

And finally, the rumour mill is suggesting Amazon is about to move into the world of messaging apps with a new service called Anytime. AFT news found evidence of a survey – admittedly there’s no guarantee its real – quizzing people on their appetite for a new app which promises all the usual features you expect from a WhatsApp/WeChat-like service. Amazon themselves are yet to comment.


Privacy blues

Adobe, Credo, Dropbox, Lyft, Pinterest, Sonic, Uber, Wickr, and WordPress are the companies that best protect your privacy, according to the EFF. The seventh annual Who Has Your Back privacy report, which rates companies on whether they follow privacy best practice, inform users about government data requests, and selling user information, gave a full five stars to those nine companies, while AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon were the worst performers. Amazon and WhatsApp also performed poorly.

China has moved to censor WhatsApp, preventing any videos or pictures being sent via the app in the country. Indonesia, meanwhile, is cracking down on Telegram due to concerns about terrorism. There’s also spyware been found that uses Telegram’s Bot API to steal personal data.



Amazon has reportedly acquired Graphiq, Uber has acqui-hired Swipe Labs, John Sculley’s Zeta has bought Boomtrain, Avast has snapped up Piriform, private equity firm BC Partners has taken over Go Daddy’s PlusServer business.

Kickstarter success story Jide has announced it is killing off its Remix OS, offering refunds to backers and pivoting away from the commercial market into the enterprise instead. Intel is leaving the wearables space and will no longer work on smartwatches or fitness trackers. GoDaddy is closing down its Cloud offering.


Hear me now (aka voice news)

In voice-related news. Samsung’s Bixby is finally available to customers in the US, but the Korean giant has reportedly cooled any interest in developing a smart speaker to compete with the likes of Alexa and Google Home. 

“Samsung currently does not view Al speakers as marketable, as the global market is already dominated by unbeatable Amazon and the Korean market is too small to make profits,” an anonymous source told The Korea Herald.

Meanwhile Microsoft has partnered with Johnson Controls to build a Cortana-powered thermostat called the GLAS. Given their lead in the market, it will be interesting to see if it can upend the likes of Nest or EcoBee.

Mozilla wants to make it easier for anyone to make voice apps. To this end, the foundation has launched the Common Voice project, which aims to collect 10,000 hours of audio for speech recognition training. You can go and add your own sentences or validate previously submitted ones, all of which will be released later in the year.


John McAfee vs. Google (and his own penis)

Apart from saying he was developing an eponymous smartphone and suing over the use of his name, John McAfee had been somewhat quiet of late. He was back on form this week however after announcing that he would ‘eat his own dick on national television’ if the value of Bitcoin didn’t hit over $500,000 within three years, he also took pot shots at Google.

“I love Google from one standpoint, that it has opened up the world to information beyond comprehension,” he said in an interview on RT. “But if you believe that Google is not harmful, then you must believe that the total loss of our privacy and human dignity is not harmful.”

While plugging his own Sentinel product which could stop Google’s snooping, he added the company has “taken the mantle of corporate conscience, and sacrificed it on the altar of mammon”.

“We are not numbers. I'm not a statistic, I'm not a collection of attitudes and desires, I'm a human being with my own dreams and hopes and problems, and by making me a number, you've removed my dignity.”


Cars and horses and buses and Segways

Having a steering wheel on your car will become a thing of antiquity in 20 years, according to technology prophet Elon Musk. “People have horses, which is cool. There will be people who have non-autonomous cars, like people have horses,” he said this week. “It would just be unusual to use that as a mode of transport.”

However, at the same event, he also warned against his cars being compromised en masse. “I think one of the biggest risks for autonomous vehicles is somebody achieving a fleet-wide hack. In principle, if somebody was able to hack, say, all of the autonomous Teslas, they could, say—I mean just as a prank—they could say like ‘send them all to Rhode Island’ from across the United States. That would be the end of Tesla. And there would be a lot of angry people in Rhode Island, that’s for sure.”

While it’s not a fleet-wide hack, thieves in Europe have found a way to hack into Tesla, and have stolen as many as nine in a week. And researchers as IOActive have found a way to hack into Segways and disable them while in motion.

In other transportation news, CityMapper’s free bus experiment has graduated to a full commercial offering. The M2 - Night Rider will launch in August and ride weekend nights (9pm to 5am) from Highbury in North London, through the heart of trendy Shoreditch, and down to Aldgate.


Cloud, mainframes, and AI

No it’s not the 90s, but yes, IBM did announce a new mainframe this week. The IBM Z is able to encrypt all traffic, and is capable of 12 billion encrypted transactions per day.

While IBM is keeping it old school, everyone else is pushing forward. As well as a new appliance to help transfer data from on-Prem to its Cloud, Google is working on what it’s calling an “Embryonic quantum data center” and something called ProjectQ, which Bloomberg claims is an open-source effort to get developers to write code for quantum computers.

Oracle has followed Microsoft in allowing customers to run its Public Cloud software in their own data centers. Amazon is rumoured to be working on something similar.

Meanwhile there’s been a whole host of AI-based announcements. Intel, fresh from abandoning the wearables space, launched the Movidius Neural Compute Stick, which offers the neural network processing capabilities in a USB. Fujitsu announced its new DLU chips, while Huawei says its own AI chips are currently in the works.


Open Source

The Apache Foundation has announced that it will refuse any contributions which includes Facebook BSD+Patents code.

“No new project, sub-project or codebase, which has not used Facebook BSD+Patents licensed jars (or similar), are allowed to use them,” Apache VP of Legal Affairs Chris Mattmann wrote in a statement. “In other words, if you haven't been using them, you aren't allowed to start. It is Cat‑X.”

Yandex this week open sources CatBoost, a machine learning library for gradient boosting (often useful if you don’t have much data from which to learn from). Also available this week is Exonum, a new enterprise blockchain initiative from Bitfury.


Robot Black Boxes

The inner workings of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence decision-making can be hard to fathom sometimes. Last year, Google engineer Paul Haahr admitted the company doesn’t fully understand its own RankBrain AI sometimes. To counter this, some researchers are now calling for an “ethical black box” which records decision making to be fitted on to robots.

“Serious accidents will need investigating, but what do you do if an accident investigator turns up and discovers there is no internal datalog, no record of what the robot was doing at the time of the accident? It’ll be more or less impossible to tell what happened,” Alan Winfield, professor of robot ethics at the University of the West of England in Bristol, told the Guardian.

Such a black box might unravel why that security robot decided to drown itself. The manufacturers claiming it just wanted to cool down on a hot day is clearly a conspiracy theory, and the robots are overworked and depressed.


Bitcoin’s up and downs (again)

Who said Bitcoin was volatile? The world’s most famous cryptocurrency dropped in value by as much as $1,000 in the last month, with the wider crypto market dropping by almost 50% from its recent all-time high. But in the last couple of days BTC’s value has recovered by more than $700 on the back of news that there will likely be a major technology upgrade for the Bitcoin’s blockchain transaction capacity in the near future.



Drones in spaaaaace

Drones have conquered land, sea, and air. So the next logical step was obvious: space. The Japanese Space Agency this week showed off a new drone aboard the International Space Station (ISS).  The Internal Ball Camera (or Int-Ball) is a spherical drone designed to record videos of life aboard the station. The accompanying video has the most amazing soundtrack.


Penis biometrics

As well as your own fingers, you can use a hedgehog’s paw to unlock smarpthones. Did you know you can also use a penis? Well now there’s a whole penis biometrics service. Live-cam site CamSoda this week launched “Dick-ometrics”, which uses images of your penis to log-in. Apparently, it uses “proprietary Penis Recognition Tech” to match your member to the original photo you registered with.


Darren Press, CamSoda’s VP, explained it in a statement: “Like a fingerprint and an eyeball, which are two of most commonly used body parts in biometric technologies, the penis has many, many differentiating factors like size, color, and vein protrusion. However, unlike fingerprints and eyeballs, penises are not exposed to the public a lot of the time and mostly kept under clothing and shared with loved ones – presumably who are trusted.”


« Three core business questions before you bring in the robots


Have you hacked the enterprise? Then tell us how »
Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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