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Microsoft acquires Lobe, a drag-and-drop AI tool

Microsoft today announced that is has acquired Lobe , a startup that lets you build machine learning models with the help of a simple drag-and-drop interface. Microsoft plans to use Lobe, which only launched into beta earlier this year, to build upon its own efforts to make building AI models easier, though, for the time being, Lobe will operate as before. “As part of Microsoft, Lobe will be able to leverage world-class AI research, global infrastructure, and decades of experience building developer tools,” the team writes . “We plan to continue developing Lobe as a standalone service, supporting open source standards and multiple platforms.” Lobe was co-founded by Mike Matas , who previously worked on the iPhone and iPad, as well as Facebook’s Paper and Instant Articles products. The other co-founders are Adam Menges and Markus Beissinger. In addition to Lobe, Microsoft also recently bought Bonsai.ai , a deep reinforcement learning platform, and Semantic Machines , a conversational AI platform. Last year, it acquired Disrupt Battlefield participant Maluuba . It’s no secret that machine learning talent is hard to come by, so it’s no surprise that all of the major tech firms are acquiring as much talent and technology as they can. “In many ways though, we’re only just beginning to tap into the full potential AI can provide,” Microsoft’s EVP and CTO Kevin Scott writes in today’s announcement. “This in large part is because AI development and building deep learning models are slow and complex processes even for experienced data scientists and developers. To date, many people have been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing AI, and we’re committed to changing that.” It’s worth noting that Lobe’s approach complements Microsoft’s existing Azure ML Studio platform , which also offers a drag-and-drop interface for building machine learning models, though with a more utilitarian design than the slick interface that the Lobe team built. Both Lobe and Azure ML Studio aim to make machine learning easy to use for anybody, without having to know the ins and outs of TensorFlow, Keras or PyTorch. Those approaches always come with some limitations, but just like low-code tools, they do serve a purpose and work well enough for many use cases.

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It’s Friday so relax and watch a hard drive defrag forever on Twitch

It’s been a while since I defragged — years, probably, because these days for a number of reasons computers don’t really need to. But perhaps it is we who need to defrag. And what better way to defrag your brain after a long week than by watching the strangely satisfying defragmentation process taking place on a simulated DOS machine, complete with fan and HDD noise? That’s what you can do with this Twitch stream , which has defrag.exe running 24/7 for your enjoyment. I didn’t realize how much I missed the sights and sounds of this particular process. I’ve always found ASCII visuals soothing, and there was something satisfying about watching all those little blocks get moved around to form a uniform whole. What were they doing down there on the lower right hand side of the hard drive anyway? That’s what I’d like to know. Afterwards I’d launch a state of the art game like Quake 2 just to convince myself it was loading faster. There’s also that nice purring noise that a hard drive would make (and which is recreated here). At least, I thought of it as purring. For the drive, it’s probably like being waterboarded. But I did always enjoy having the program running while keeping everything else quiet, perhaps as I was going to bed, so I could listen to its little clicks and whirrs. Sometimes it would hit a particularly snarled sector and really go to town, grinding like crazy.

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Pokémon GO is getting a big new ‘Special Research’ quest next week

Just a few months back, Niantic added its first “Special Research” to Pokémon GO. Sort of like an in-game quest, the research had players complete a series of tasks (often over a number of days) to unlock an otherwise unobtainable Pokémon. Now they’re back with another one. The company will be adding a second Special Research quest to the game on August 20th. Whereas the last set unlocked Mew from the first generation of Pokémon games, this one brings out Gen II’s Celebi. This technically isn’t the first time Celebi has appeared in GO — attendees of GO Fest back in July got an early crack at a Special Research quest specifically tailored to the event, with the final reward being the opportunity to catch Celebi a solid month before anyone else. Though a bummer to anyone who couldn’t make it to Chicago, it was a fitting way to debut Celebi. Celebi has almost always been an “event” Pokemon in the original series, meaning you had to do something special to encounter one. Depending on the game, sometimes that meant going to a physical, real-world event; sometimes it just meant having the right pre-order disc. Those who already did the GO Fest research will also be able to do this public run of the Special Research, earning a bit more candy for the Celebi they’ve already caught. And if you haven’t finished the first (Mew) Special Research yet? That’s okay — they can run in parallel

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Facebook now deletes posts that financially endanger/trick people

It’s not just inciting violence, threats and hate speech that will get Facebook to remove posts by you or your least favorite troll. Endangering someone financially, not just physically, or tricking them to earn a profit are now also strictly prohibited. Facebook today spelled out its policy with more clarity in hopes of establishing a transparent set of rules it can point to when it enforces its policy in the future. That comes after cloudy rules led to waffling decisions and backlash as it dealt with and finally removed four Pages associated with Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The company started by repeatedly stressing that it is not a government — likely to indicate it does not have to abide by the same First Amendment rules. “We do not, for example, allow content that could physically or financially endanger people, that intimidates people through hateful language, or that aims to profit by tricking people using Facebook,” its VP of policy Richard Allen published today. Web searches show this is the first time Facebook has used that language regarding financial attacks. We’ve reached out for comment about exactly how new Facebook considers this policy. This is important because it means Facebook’s policy encompasses threats of ruining someone’s credit, calling for people to burglarize their homes or blocking them from employment. While not physical threats, these can do real-world damage to victims. Similarly, the position against trickery for profit gives Facebook a wide berth to fight against spammers, scammers and shady businesses making false claims about products. The question will be how Facebook enforces this rule. Some would say most advertisements are designed to trick people in order for a business to earn a profit. Facebook is more likely to shut down obvious grifts where businesses make impossible assertions about how their products can help people, rather than just exaggerations about their quality or value

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Lime is expanding its low-income program

Lime, the electric scooter and bike-share startup, is expanding its program for people with low incomes. Called Lime Access, the program enables people who qualify for state or federal assistance programs to access Lime’s fleet of vehicles at a discount. Lime first launched the program in May. At the time and up until now, it enabled people to purchase 100 rides on pedal bikes for $5. But starting today, anyone who is eligible for state or federal assistance programs can access traditional pedal bikes at a 95 percent discount and electric bikes and scooters at a 50 percent discount per ride. Those who are eligible can purchase credits via PayNearMe, a cash payment network that lets you pay for items and services from companies in person. Electric scooter competitor  Bird introduced a similar program called One Bird that eliminates the $1 fee to unlock a Bird scooter . Bird has raised $415 million in funding, while Lime has raised $467 million and, as of last month, partnered with ride-hailing giant Uber .

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Fitbit stock jumps as smartwatches fuel growth

Fitbit’s stock price jumped in after-hours trading and is currently trading around $6.00 a share, off its 52-week intraday high of $7.79. The company today announced its latest quarterly numbers , which saw the average selling price of its wearables increase 6 percent year-over-year to $106 a device. New devices introduced within the last year represented 59 percent of the company’s revenue. Smartwatches were a high-point for Fitbit this quarter. The company stated that its higher-priced smartwatch wearables outsold Samsung, Garmin and Fossil smartwatches combined in North America. Smartwatch revenue grew to 55 percent of revenue, up from 30 percent on a sequential basis. “Our performance in Q2 represents the sixth consecutive quarter that we have delivered on our financial commitments, made important progress in transforming our business, and continued to adapt to the changing wearables market. Demand for Versa, our first ‘mass-appeal’ smartwatch, is very strong. Within the second quarter, Versa outsold Samsung, Garmin and Fossil smartwatches combined in North America, improving our position with retailers, solidifying shelf space for the Fitbit brand and providing a halo effect to our other product offerings,” said James Park, co-founder and CEO. Fitbit’s stock price rallied earlier this summer, hitting 7.79 — its highest selling price since early 2017.

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Sorry guys, even Elon Musk can’t fix MoviePass…

Well, Elon Musk sure had a good run at fixing the world’s pressing problems. Stuff like climate change — with those fancy electric sports cars, built in a fancy tent . Or those fancy  solar roof tiles . ( Fancy rockets aren’t really a ‘fix’ at this point but he’s thinking about the extraterrestrial future of humanity, okay.) There was also that kid-sized sub he hastily put together this summer to try and save boys trapped in a cave in Thailand (that endeavor didn’t end so great for Musk though). He’s even offered to fix Flint’s polluted water. But it appears that even a (very) well-greased God Complex knows its limits. Because the problem that Musk himself has said is too big for Musk himself to fix is, well, cash-strapped MoviePass . At least that’s what Musk said to BuzzFeed reporter Samir Mezrahi via twitter…. Finally, a task too big for @elonmusk pic.twitter.com/zrl0aZmiXL — Alex Kantrowitz (@Kantrowitz) July 31, 2018 So, sorry movie lovers. Musk and his billions might have been your only hope — i.e. against price rises and being forced to see shit films because there are fewer tickets on movies you actually want to see.

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I, for one, welcome our robotic ukulele overlords

It is unclear where the UkuRobot came from and where it will go once it is done with humanity but I fear that it is up to no good. Look at this robot: small, compact, infinitely complex. Its fretting system stares at us, gimlet -eyed, while the plucking system continues its dark work on the strings. The system uses Lego, motors, and what looks like an Arduino to bring evil songs out of that mini-guitar of death, the ukulele. The world will never be the same and, honestly, do we deserve it to be? The UkuRobot can play almost any song. In these videos it plays two songs, The Godfather theme and Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day. In the end the tune this monstrous creation plays does not matter. It will pluck out the end of days, winking stars from the sky as each note cascades out of its sound hole. In the end we will not fear the UkuRobot but we will obey it.

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Samsung reports Q2 profit slowdown, says Galaxy S9 sales were lower than expected

Struggling against competition from Chinese smartphones, Samsung Electronics posted a lackluster second-quarter earnings report with its slowest profit growth in more than a year. On the bright side, the Korean tech giant said its semiconductor business is doing well. Operating profit rose 5.7% year-over-year to 14.9 trillion won (about $13.3 billion), representing Samsung Electronic’s slowest quarterly profit growth since the first quarter of 2017. Net income was 11 trillion won (about $9.8 billion), almost the same result Samsung posted in the same period a year ago. Sales revenue dropped 4% to 58.5 trillion won (about $52.3 billion). Samsung blamed lower-than-expected sales of the Galaxy S9, its flagship smartphone, seasonality and competition from lower-priced handsets. Two Chinese companies in particular, Xiaomi and Huawei, have emerged as formidable rivals, putting pressure on Samsung in China and India. As in previous quarters, Samsung’s semiconductor business posted strong performance even as its smartphones suffered. Samsung reported that second-quarter operating profit for its chips rose 45% year-over-year to 11.6 trillion won. The company said it anticipated strong demand for chips during the second half of the year thanks to demand from high density data centers. It expects smartphone and tablet demand to continue lagging, however, thanks to competition from lower-priced devices with strong specifications.

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How (and how not) to fix AI

Joshua New Contributor Joshua New is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation , a think tank studying the intersection of data, technology and public policy. While artificial intelligence was once heralded as the key to unlocking a new era of economic prosperity, policymakers today face a wave of calls to ensure AI is fair, ethical and safe. New York City Mayor de Blasio recently announced the formation of the  nation’s first task force  to monitor and assess the use of algorithms. Days later, the European Union enacted sweeping new data protection rules that require companies be able to explain to consumers any  automated decisions . And high-profile critics, like  Elon Musk , have called on policymakers to do more to regulate AI. Unfortunately, the two most popular ideas — requiring companies to disclose the source code to their algorithms and explain how they make decisions — would cause more harm than good by regulating the business models and the inner workings of the algorithms of companies using AI, rather than holding these companies accountable for outcomes. The first idea — “algorithmic transparency” — would require companies to disclose the source code and data used in their AI systems. Beyond its simplicity, this idea lacks any real merits as a wide-scale solution. Many AI systems are too complex to fully understand by looking at source code alone. Some AI systems rely on millions of data points and thousands of lines of code, and decision models can change over time as they encounter new data. It is unrealistic to expect even the most motivated, resource-flush regulators or concerned citizens to be able to spot all potential malfeasance when that system’s developers  may be unable to do so  either. Additionally, not all companies have an open-source business model. Requiring them to disclose their source code reduces their incentive to invest in developing new algorithms, because it invites competitors to copy them. Bad actors in China , which is fiercely competing with the United States for AI dominance but routinely flouts intellectual property rights, would likely use transparency requirements to steal source code. The other idea — “algorithmic explainability” — would require companies to explain to consumers how their algorithms make decisions.

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Facebook officially loses $123 billion in value

In what could be the biggest one-day drop of all time, Facebook shares opened at $174.89, down 19.6 percent compared to yesterday’s closing price of $217.50 ( NASDAQ:FB ). When it comes to market capitalization, Facebook was worth $629.6 billion yesterday. The company is now worth $506.2. In other words, Facebook has lost $123.4 billion in value overnight. Today’s performance isn’t due to yet another data misuse or election interfering scandal. The company has reported disappointing earnings . For the first time, Facebook’s growth is stalling. There are barely more people checking Facebook every day compared to previous quarter. Even worse, Facebook’s user base shrank in Europe. Facebook is still growing, but it’s clear that GDPR combined with a saturated market aren’t helping the company. That’s why Facebook is trying to change the narrative.

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Google wants Go to become the go-to language for writing cloud apps

The Google -incubated Go language is one of the fastest growing programming languages today, with about one million active developers using it worldwide. But the company believes it can still accelerate its growth, especially when it comes to its role in writing cloud applications. And to do this, the company today announced Go Cloud , a new open-source library and set of tools that makes it easier to build cloud apps with Go . While Go is highly popular among developers, Google argues that the language was missing a standard library for interfacing with cloud services. Today, developers often have to essentially write their own libraries to use the features of each cloud, but organizations today want to be able to easily move their workloads between clouds. What Go Cloud then gives these developers is a set of open generic cloud APIs for accessing blog storage, MySQL databases and runtime configuration, as well as an HTTP server with built-in logging, tracing and health checking. Right now, the focus is on AWS and Google Cloud Platform. Over time, Google plans to add more features to Go Cloud and support for more cloud providers (and those cloud providers can, of course, build their own support, too). This, Google argues, allows developer teams to build applications that can easily run on any supported cloud without having to re-architect large parts of their applications. As Google VP of developer relations Adam Seligman told me, the company hopes this move will kick off an explosion of libraries around Go — and, of course, that it will accelerate Go’s growth as a language for the cloud.

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Uber hits 10 billion trips

Last month, Uber hit 10 billion completed trips across rides and deliveries, the company announced today . This comes about one year after Uber hit five billion trips . Lyft, Uber’s main competitor in the U.S., hit half a billion rides last October . Uber officially hit the milestone on June 10, 2018 when 173 trips and deliveries simultaneously started at 10:12pm GMT. The trips were in 21 countries across five continents. This milestone is despite Uber’s many struggles since it first launched in 2010. As many of you are probably aware, Uber has faced a bevy of criticism in recent history pertaining to its workplace culture , the behavior of its former CEO Travis Kalanick and more. If you want to hear more about Uber from the boss himself, be sure to hit up TC Disrupt, where I’ll be chatting with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi .

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Google announces a suite of updates to its contact center tools

As Google pushes further and further into enterprise services, it’s looking to leverage what it’s known for — a strong expertise in machine learning — to power some of the most common enterprise functions, including contact centers . Now Google is applying a lot of those learnings in a bunch of new updates for its contact center tools. That’s basically leaning on a key focus Google has, which is using machine learning for natural language recognition and image recognition. Those tools have natural applications in enterprises, especially those looking to spin up the kinds of tools that larger companies have with complex customer service requests and niche tools. Today’s updates, announced at the Google Cloud Next conference, include a suite of AI tools for its Google Cloud Contact Center. Today the company said it is releasing a couple of updates to its Dialogflow tools, including a new one called phone gateway, which helps companies automatically assign a working phone number to a virtual agent. The company says you can begin taking those calls in “less than a minute” without infrastructure, with the rest of the machine learning-powered functions like speech recognition and natural language understanding managed by Google. Google is adding AI-powered tools to the contact center with agent assistant tools, which can quickly pull in with relevant information, like suggested articles. It also has an update to its analytics tools, which lets companies sift through historical audio data to pull in trends — like common calls and complaints. One application here would be to be able to spot some confusing update or a broken tool based on a high volume of complaints, and that helps companies get a handle on what’s happening without a ton of overhead. Other new tools include sentiment analysis, correcting spelling mistakes, tools to understand unstructured documents within a company like knowledge base articles — streaming that into Dialogflow. Dialogflow is also getting native audio response.

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