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The best home Wi-Fi and networking gear

Makula Dunbar Contributor Makula Dunbar is a writer with Wirecutter . More posts by this contributor Worthwhile gadget upgrades for the tech-obsessed Durable speakers you can buy without overspending Editor’s note:   This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter . When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch earn affiliate commissions. It’s safe to say that for many, a world without internet is hard to imagine. When you need a solid internet connection for work, studying or for catching up on your favorite shows, having a poor connection is almost as bad. While fast and reliable internet starts with having a good provider, owning the right gear helps to support it. From network storage to the best router, we’ve compiled picks for helping you set up and secure a dependable home Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi router: Netgear R7000P Nighthawk More than anything, when it comes to setting up a home Wi-Fi network, it’s important to have a good Wif-Fi router . If you don’t rent one from your internet service provider, you’ll want one that’s easy to use, has a decent connection range, and that’s able to handle a crowded network. Our top pick, the Netgear R7000P Nighthawk , is a dual-band, three stream 802.11ac router and it offers solid speed and throughput performance across long and moderate ranges.

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Why startups can’t afford to ignore customer retention

Venture-backed companies must walk the line between fast growth and efficient growth. Even as VCs value high-quality revenue , companies are still held to a minimum growth rate. We think of this threshold as the “ Mendoza Line ,” a baseball term we’ve adapted to track the minimum growth needed to get access to venture funding. Above this line, startups are generally attractive to investors and even have a good chance for a strong exit. To achieve sustainable growth, maximizing customer lifetime value is an important component and one that is often underestimated, particularly for SaaS and other subscription-based businesses that generate recurring revenue. It is estimated to cost somewhere between five to 25 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one you already have. Additionally, Bain research has shown that a five percent increase in retention rates can increase profits by 25 to 95 percent. Even by conservative estimates, retention is a powerful mechanism for growth. As companies face greater pressure to grow both quickly and responsibly, we are placing more value on customer retention as a barometer for long-term success. And we are seeing smart startups invest in measuring customer happiness in more sophisticated and consistent ways. In looking at SaaS deals over the past 10 years, we’ve found that a few key metrics and best practices are predictive of healthy business fundamentals. Here’s the advice I give startups looking to achieve smart growth through customer retention. Create a system for measuring customer happiness First, measurement must be an executive priority. Ensure you have a system in place to measure retention on a quarterly basis (at least) and meet as an executive team to diagnose potential problems. While benchmarking against similar businesses can be helpful, trending your own metrics is the best way to see how your performance is improving or deteriorating.

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Blockchain technology could be the great equalizer for American cities

Brooks Rainwater Contributor Brooks Rainwater is the director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities . More posts by this contributor Do cities still want a sharing economy? As tech startups surge in cities, inclusive economic growth must be a priority The city of  Austin  is currently piloting a program in which its 2,000 homeless residents will be given a unique identifier that’s safely and securely recorded on the blockchain. This identifier will help individuals consolidate their records and seek out crucial services. Service providers will also be able to access the information. If successful, we’ll have a new, more efficient way to communicate and ensure that the right people are at the table to help the homeless. in Austin and around the country, it seems that blockchain technology is opening a range of opportunities for city service delivery and operations. At its core, blockchain is a secure, inalterable electronic register. Serving as a shared  database  or distributed ledger, it is located permanently online for anything represented digitally, such as rights, goods and property. Through enhanced trust, consensus and autonomy, blockchain brings widespread decentralization to transactions. At the municipal level, blockchain has the potential to create countless smart networks and grids, altering how we do everything from vote and build credit to receive energy. In many ways, it could be a crucial component of what is needed to circumvent outdated systems and build long-lasting solutions for cities. AUSTIN, TX – APRIL 14: A homeless man stands outside in front of a colorful wall mural at the Flat Track Coffee Shop on Cesar Chavez Blvd on April 14, 2017, in Austin, Texas

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The problem with ‘explainable AI’

The first consideration when discussing transparency in AI should be data, the fuel that powers the algorithms. Companies should disclose where and how they got the data they used to fuel their AI systems’ decisions. Consumers should own their data and should be privy to the myriad ways that businesses use and sell such information, which is often done without clear and conscious consumer consent. Because data is the foundation for all AI, it is valid to want to know where the data comes from and how it might explain biases and counterintuitive decisions that AI systems make. On the algorithmic side, grandstanding by IBM and other tech giants around the idea of “explainable AI” is nothing but virtue signaling that has no basis in reality. I am not aware, for instance, of any place where IBM has laid bare the inner workings of Watson — how do those algorithms work? Why do they make the recommendations/predictions they do? There are two issues with the idea of explainable AI. One is a definition: What do we mean by explainability? What do we want to know? The algorithms or statistical models used? How learning has changed parameters throughout time? What a model looked like for a certain prediction? A cause-consequence relationship with human-intelligible concepts

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Africa Roundup: African startup investments turn to fintech this winter season

Jake Bright Contributor Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa . More posts by this contributor Nigeria’s Piggybank.ng raises $1.1M, announces group investment product Africa Roundup: Safaricom unveils Bonga, Africa’s Talking gets $8.6M, TechCrunch visits Nigeria, Ghana Forty-seven and a half million dollars is a big commitment to African technology companies — even with the recent uptick in VC investment on the continent. But for the Kenyan-based fintech firm  Cellulant , whose digital payments platform processed 7 million transactions worth $350 million across 33 African countries in the last month alone, raising that amount in a series C round led by  TPG Growth’s Rise Fund  just makes sense. In 2017, the company processed $2.7 billion in payments, said chief executive, Ken Njoroge. Clients include the continent’s largest banks: Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered, Standard Bank, and Ecobank. Cellulant also has multiple revenue streams and is EBITDA positive, according to its CEO. So what does an African technology company do with $47.5 million? “The round is to accelerate our growth of around 20 percent…north of 50 percent,” said Njoroge. “Most of the investment is to scale out our existing platform in Africa and build usage on our existing network.” Founded in 2004, Cellulant offers Person-to-Business,  B2B , and P2B services on its Mula and Tingg products. It’s also developing a blockchain based  Agrikore  product for agriculture related market activity. On Africa’s digital payments potential, “We’ve built internal value models that estimate the size of the market at somewhere between $25BN and $40BN,” said Njoroge. He differentiates Cellulant’s focus from  Safaricom’s M-Pesa –one of Africa most recognized payment products — by transaction type and scope

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US startups off to a strong M&A run in 2018

Joanna Glasner Contributor More posts by this contributor Scaling startups are setting up secondary hubs in these cities Here is where CEOs of heavily funded startups went to school W ith Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub this week, we can now decisively declare a trend: 2018 is shaping up as a darn good year for U.S. venture-backed M&A. So far this year, acquirers have spent just over $20 billion in disclosed-price purchases of U.S. VC-funded companies, according to Crunchbase data. That’s about 80 percent of the 2017 full-year total, which is pretty impressive, considering we’re barely five months into 2018. If one included unreported purchase prices, the totals would be quite a bit higher. Fewer than 20 percent of acquisitions in our data set came with reported prices. 1  Undisclosed prices are mostly for smaller deals, but not always. We put together a  list of a dozen  undisclosed price M&A transactions this year involving companies snapped up by large-cap acquirers after raising more than $20 million in venture funding. The big deals The deals that everyone talks about, however, are the ones with the big and disclosed price tags. And we’ve seen quite a few of those lately.

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GDPR panic may spur data and AI innovation

If AI innovation runs on data, the new European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations ( GDPR ) seem poised to freeze AI advancement. The regulations prescribe a utopian data future where consumers can refuse companies access to their personally identifiable information (PII). Although the enforcement deadline has passed, the technical infrastructure and manpower needed to meet these requirements still do not exist in most companies today. Coincidentally, the barriers to GDPR compliance are also bottlenecks of widespread AI adoption. Despite the hype, enterprise AI is still nascent: Companies may own petabytes of data that can be used for AI, but fully digitizing that data, knowing what the data tables actually contain and understanding who, where and how to access that data remains a herculean coordination effort for even the most empowered internal champion. It’s no wonder that many scrappy AI startups find themselves bogged down by customer data cleanup and custom integrations. As multinationals and Big Tech overhaul their data management processes and tech stack to comply with GDPR, here’s how AI and data innovation counterintuitively also stand to benefit. How GDPR impacts AI GDPR covers the collection, processing and movement of data that can be used to identify a person, such as a name, email address, bank account information, social media posts, health information and more, all of which are currently used to power the AI algorithms ranging from targeting ads to identifying terrorist cells. The penalty for noncompliance is 4 percent of global revenue, or €20 million, whichever is higher. To put that in perspective: 4 percent of Amazon’s 2017 revenue is $7.2 billion, Google’s is $4.4 billion and Facebook’s is $1.6 billion. These regulations apply to any citizen of the EU, no matter their current residence, as well as vendors upstream and downstream of the companies that collect PII. Article 22 of the GDPR, titled “Automated Individual Decision-making, including Profiling,” prescribes that AI cannot be used as the sole decision-maker in choices that have legal or similarly significant effects on users

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Worthwhile gadget upgrades for the tech-obsessed

Makula Dunbar Contributor Makula Dunbar is a writer with Wirecutter . More posts by this contributor Durable speakers you can buy without overspending Gaming monitors, headsets and peripherals for a winning desktop setup Editor’s note:  This post was done in partnership with  Wirecutter . When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch earn affiliate commissions. More than likely, there’s someone in your circle who takes great pride in knowing about and staying on top of the latest tech. While you or your gadget-obsessed acquaintance may have a broad selection of new gear, the celebrated laptop, camera, or phone might not be the one that comes with all of the bells and whistles. We’ve compiled some of our favorite upgrade picks that come with extra or special features that add to functionality, quality and overall performance. Photo: Kyle FItzgerald Bluetooth wireless headphones: The Sennheiser HD1 Wireless Listening to music is a routine activity for many and a good pair of headphones makes a world of difference. Our upgrade pick for Bluetooth wireless headphones , the Sennheiser HD1 Wireless , are far from bargain-priced, but the sound this set offers is the best our panel of testers has ever heard from a Bluetooth model. This Sennheiser HD1 Wireless have a solid, vintage build and for better clarity over calls, the pair has two microphones. Its cups aren’t as big as its competitors, but that doesn’t take away from comfort. Of all the Bluetooth wireless headphones we tested, this pick gets closest to being an all-around perfect set. For those who get lost in their favorite songs and often forget to recharge their headphones, the Sennheiser HD1 Wireless offer 22 hours of battery life for more continuous playtime.

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AirPods to get Live Listen feature in iOS 12

Steven Aquino Contributor Share on Twitter Steven Aquino is a freelance tech writer and iOS accessibility expert. More posts by this contributor For Apple, this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day is all about education What Apple’s education announcements mean for accessibility Apple has one hardware-specific feature planned that wasn’t announced at Monday’s WWDC keynote. In iOS 12, users will be able to use Live Listen , a special feature previously reserved for hearing aids certified through Apple’s Made for iPhone hearing aid program , with their AirPods. After enabling the feature in the iPhone’s settings, users will be able to use their phones effectively as a directional mic. This means you can have AirPods in at a noisy restaurant with your iPhone on the table, for example, and the voice of whomever is speaking will be routed to your AirPods. Live Listen is a feature Apple developed and eventually launched in 2014 that allows iPhone users with hearing aids to hear people in noisy environments or from across a room, such as a crowded restaurant or lecture hall. If a compatible hearing aid is paired to a user’s phone, there are options to turn Live Listen on and off, adjust volume and even set it as their preferred Accessibility Shortcut. Live Listen support in AirPods is key. The inclusion of this feature makes AirPods more capable and more alluring; it’s significant given they are almost universally hailed as one of Apple’s best products in years. Soon, anyone — particularly someone with limited hearing — will have access to this feature without needing to buy dedicated hardware to get it. Still, it’s critical to note AirPods with Live Listen is not a full replacement for a hearing aid. It’s obviously best to speak with your audiologist to determine the best solution for your ears.

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Will smart home tech make us care more about privacy?

Fen Zhao Contributor Share on Twitter Fen Zhao is an early stage investor at Alpha Edison who previously developed public private partnerships at the National Science Foundation in the areas of data science and cybersecurity. For most people, the thought of a smart device sharing their intimate conversations and sending those recordings along to their acquaintances is the stuff of dystopian nightmares. And for one family in Portland, it’s a nightmare that became all too real when their Amazon Echo sent a recording of a private conversation to a random contact in their phone book. Mercifully, the recorded conversation was fairly banal — a chat about home renovations. But as smart home technology is swiftly being integrated into our daily lives and private spaces, it’s not difficult to imagine far worse scenarios. Smart speakers record residents’ conversations. Thermostats equipped with motion sensors track the whereabouts of each household member, and when they leave the house. Refrigerators remember grocery lists and spending habits. One thing is clear: when residents invite smart technology into their homes, they are gambling with their privacy. Ironically, the smart home may turn out to  be the salvation of online privacy itself. Internet companies have gotten away with hoarding people’s personal data for so long in part because of what experts call “ the privacy paradox ”: while most people claim to care deeply about online privacy, very few of them take action to protect it

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The well-funded startups driven to own the autonomous vehicle stack

A t some point in the future, while riding along in a car, a kid may ask their parent about a distant time in the past when people used steering wheels and pedals to control an automobile. Of course, the full realization of the “auto” part of the word — in the form of fully autonomous automobiles — is a long way off, but there are nonetheless companies trying to build that future today. However, changing the face of transportation is a costly business, one that typically requires corporate backing or a lot of venture funding to realize such an ambitious goal. A recent funding round, some  $128 million raised in a Series A round  by Shenzhen-based  Roadstar.ai , got us at Crunchbase News  asking  a question: Just how many independent, well-funded autonomous vehicles startups are out there? In short, not as many as you’d think. To investigate further, we took a look at  the set of independent companies  in Crunchbase’s “autonomous vehicle” category that have raised $50 million or more in venture funding. After a little bit of hand filtering, we found that the companies mostly shook out into two broad categories: those working on sensor technologies, which are integral to any self-driving system, and more “full-stack” hardware and software companies, which incorporate sensors, machine-learned software models and control mechanics into more integrated autonomous systems. Full-stack self-driving vehicle companies Let’s start with full-stack companies first. The table below shows the set of independent full-stack autonomous vehicle companies operating in the market today, as well as their focus areas, headquarter’s location and the total amount of venture funding raised: Note the breakdown in focus area between the companies listed above. In general, these companies are focused on building more generalized technology platforms — perhaps to sell or license to major automakers in the future — whereas others intend to own not just the autonomous car technology, but deploy it in a fleet of on-demand taxi and other transportation services. Making the eyes and ears of autonomous vehicles On the sensor side, there is also a trend, one that’s decidedly more concentrated on one area of focus, as you’ll be able to discern from the table below: Some of the most well-funded startups in the sensing field are developing light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technologies, which basically serve as the depth-perceiving “eyes” of autonomous vehicle systems.  CYNGN  integrates a number of different sensors, LiDAR included, into its hardware arrays and software tools, which is  one heck of a pivot  for the mobile phone OS-maker formerly known as Cyanogen.

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Ask Engadget: Is Instagram creeping on my kid?

The support shared among readers in the comments section is one of the things we love most about the Engadget community. Over the years, we've known you to offer sage advice on everything from Chromecasts and cameras to drones and smartphones. In fac...

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How and why I invest in startups

Ashton Kutcher Contributor Share on Twitter Ashton Kutcher is an actor and investor. He is the co-founder of Sound Ventures . A lot of people ask me how I choose to invest in startups.  Stage?  Revenue metrics?  Sector? I’m not proactively funding at different stages. I’m proactively funding brilliant people trying to solve hard problems. Focusing on this simple goal of identifying and enabling amazing entrepreneurs to create a better tomorrow is the crux of my investment strategy. My startup investment “formula” A lot of venture funds try to optimize for returns.  They run complex ratio economic models to determine what their diluted value will be at the end of the life cycle of the optimal and non-optimal case of every given company. I don’t do that. I just try to fund the best and brightest. I love working with the smartest and brightest people in the world on some of the hardest challenges. And oftentimes I make a return as a result of that. I weigh investments based on two vectors: Return Happiness The primary litmus I put on any investment is on behalf of my LPs. Will the capital have a potential of 6-10x returns in five, eight, 10 years

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