Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Amazon Opens Store With No Cashiers, Lines or Registers

No cashiers, no lines, no registers — this is how Amazon sees the future of in-store shopping.

The online retailer opened its Amazon Go concept store to the public Monday, selling milk, potato chips and other items typically found at a convenience shop. Amazon employees have been testing the store, which is at the bottom floor of the company’s Seattle headquarters, for about a year.

The public opening is another sign that Amazon is serious about expanding its physical presence. It has opened more than a dozen bookstores, taken over space in some Kohl’s department stores and bought Whole Foods last year, giving it 470 grocery stores.

But Amazon Go is unlike its other stores. Shoppers enter by scanning the Amazon Go smartphone app at a turnstile. When they pull an item of the shelf, it’s added to their virtual cart. If the item is placed back on the shelf, it is removed from the virtual cart. Shoppers are charged when they leave the store.

The company says it uses computer vision, machine learning algorithms and sensors to figure out what people are grabbing off its store shelves.

Amazon says families can shop together with just one phone scanning everyone in. Anything they grab from the shelf will also be added to the tab of the person who signed them in. But don’t help out strangers: Amazon warns that grabbing an item from the shelf for someone else means you’ll be charged for it.

At about 1,800 square feet, the store will also sell ready-to-eat breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Items from the Whole Foods 365 brand are also stocked, such as cookies, popcorn and dried fruit.

The company had announced the Amazon Go store in December 2016 and said it would open by early 2017, but it delayed the debut while it worked on the technology and company employees tested it out.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

US Tests Nuclear Power System to Sustain Astronauts on Mars

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA’s Kilopower project.

Months-long testing began in November at the energy department’s Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations.

A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA’s six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space.

“Mars is a very difficult environment for power systems, with less sunlight than Earth or the moon, very cold nighttime temperatures, very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“So Kilopower’s compact size and robustness allows us to deliver multiple units on a single lander to the surface that provides tens of kilowatts of power,” Jurczyk added.

Testing on components of the system, dubbed KRUSTY, has been “greatly successful — the models have predicted very well what has happened, and operations have gone smoothly,” said Dave Poston, chief reactor designer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Officials said a full-power test will be conducted near the middle or end of March, a bit later than originally planned.

NASA’s prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll.

President Donald Trump in December signed a directive intended to pave the way for a return to the moon, with an eye toward an eventual Mars mission.

Lee Mason, NASA’s principal technologist for power and energy storage, said Mars has been the project’s main focus, noting that a human mission likely would require 40 to 50 kilowatts of power.

The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Move Over Traditional Billboards. Make Way for 3-D Holographic Ads

Move over traditional billboards. Three-dimensional, slightly hypnotic holograms may soon replace two-dimensional signs and ads. Several companies with this technology said 3-D holograms will revolutionize the way businesses and brands talk to potential customers.

“It’s already replacing billboards, LED screens, LCD screens, because there hasn’t been any revolution in the display industry for decades,” said Art Stavenka, founder of Kino-mo, a company with offices in London and Belarus. 

The main hardware of the technology is a blade that emits a strip of light creating holograms of images and words. Multiple blades can be synchronized for larger holograms.

“As soon as this piece of hardware spins, you stop seeing hardware and you start seeing (a) hologram, and the piece of hardware spins fast enough so a human eye does not see any rotation, and it sees the amazing holographic image,” said Stavenka.

Another company developing this type of device is Hologruf, with a presence in both the U.S. and China. 

“In the not so distant future on every street corner, there will be these types of ad displays just like in a science fiction movie,” said Hologruf’s Quan Zhou. 

The applications for 3-D holographic displays include shopping centers, train stations and restaurants. 

For franchises such as fast food restaurants that want these displays in more than one location, “they have the capability to manage multiple devices around the world from a central location,” said Hologruf’s co-founder, Ted Meng. 

The cost of a blade ranges anywhere from around $1,300 to just over $3,000, depending on the manufacturer. 

The competition has begun for this technology. Kino-mo has customers in 50 countries on almost every continent. It will be releasing an outdoor version sometime in 2018. Hologruf said it already has a product to replace outdoor billboards.

“We can make it to be water proof, wind proof and work under all kinds of extreme environmental conditions,” said Zhou.

So what would Tokyo or Times Square in New York look like in a few years? Stay tuned.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Traditional Billboards Make Way for 3-D Holographic Ads

Those two-dimensional billboards that dot the landscape of many cities around the world may soon be replaced — with 3-D holograms. Companies working on this technology say it will revolutionize the way businesses and brands talk to potential customers. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee got a glimpse of advertising’s future at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Facebook to Prioritize ‘Trustworthy’ News

Social media giant Facebook said Friday that it would begin to prioritize “trustworthy” news outlets on its site in order to counteract “misinformation.”

The company said it would ask its more than 2 billion users to rank the news organizations they trusted in order to prioritize “high-quality news” over less trusted sources. It said the new ranking system would seek to separate news organizations trusted only by their own subscribers from ones that are broadly trusted across society.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post that the company was not “comfortable” deciding which news sources are the most trustworthy in a “world with so much division.”

“There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today,” he wrote.

“Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them,” Zuckerberg added.

​Outside experts rejected

He said Facebook considered asking outside experts to choose the most reputable news sources, but that doing so would most likely have led to an “objectivity problem.” He said the company decided to rely on member surveys as the most “objective” way to rank trust in news sources.

Zuckerberg said it’s important that Facebook’s News Feed “promotes high-quality news that helps build a sense of common ground.”

He also announced that Facebook would shrink the content on its News Feed from 5 percent to 4 percent. This means users will see fewer posts from news organizations while scrolling through their feeds in favor of more posts from friends.

Facebook has been struggling with how to handle its distribution of news in an era of fake news and claims of media bias.

The social media company has faced accusations that it helped spread misinformation as well as Russian-linked content meant to influence the 2016 U.S. elections.

Also last year, U.S. Republican lawmakers expressed concern that Facebook was suppressing stories from conservative news sources.

The Pew Research Center has found that more than two-thirds of Americans are getting at least some of their news from social media, making such outlets prime sources of information.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Social Media Companies Accelerate Removals of Online Hate Speech

Social media companies Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube have greatly accelerated their removals of online hate speech, reviewing over two thirds of complaints within 24 hours, new EU figures show.

The European Union has piled pressure on social media firms to increase their efforts to fight the proliferation of extremist content and hate speech on their platforms, even threatening them with legislation.

Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube signed a code of conduct with the EU in May 2016 to review most complaints within a 24-hour timeframe.

The companies managed to meet that target in 81 percent of cases, EU figures seen by Reuters show, compared with 51 percent in May 2017 when the European Commission last monitored their compliance with the code of conduct.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova has said previously she does not want to see a removal rate of 100 percent as that could impinge on free speech. She has also said she is not in favor of legislating as Germany has done.

 A law providing for hefty fines for social media companies if they do not remove hate speech quickly enough went into force in Germany this year.

“I do not hide that I am not in favor of hard regulation because the freedom of speech for me is almost absolute,” Jourova told reporters in December.

“In case of doubt it should remain online because freedom of expression is [in a] privileged position.”

Of the hate speech flagged to the companies, almost half of it was found on Facebook, the figures show, while 24 percent was on YouTube and 26 percent on Twitter.

The most common ground for hatred identified by the Commission was ethnic origins, followed by anti-Muslim hatred and xenophobia, including expressions of hatred against migrants and refugees.

Following pressure from several European governments, social media companies stepped up their efforts to tackle extremist content online, including through the use of artificial intelligence.

The Commission will likely issue a recommendation, a soft law instrument, on how companies should take down extremist content related to militant groups at the end of February, an official said, as it is less nuanced than hate speech and needs to be taken offline more quickly.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Researchers: Hacking Campaign Linked to Lebanese Spy Agency

A major hacking operation tied to Lebanon’s main intelligence agency has been exposed after careless spies left hundreds of gigabytes of intercepted data exposed to the open internet, according to a report published Thursday.

Mobile security firm Lookout, Inc. and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said the haul, which includes nearly half a million intercepted text messages, had simply been left online by hackers linked to Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security.

“It’s almost like thieves robbed the bank and forgot to lock the door where they stashed the money,” said Mike Murray, Lookout’s head of intelligence. Lookout security researcher Michael Flossman said the trove ran the gamut, from Syrian battlefield photos to private phone conversations, passwords and pictures of children’s birthday parties.

“It was everything. Literally everything,” Flossman said.

Discoveries of state-sponsored cyberespionage campaigns have become commonplace as countries in the Middle East and Asia scramble to match the digital prowess of the United States, China, Russia and other major powers. But Lookout and EFF’s report is unusual for the amount of data uncovered about the spying campaign’s victims and its operators.

Notably, their report drew on data generated by suspected test devices — a set of similarly configured phones that appear to have been used to try out the spy software — to potentially pinpoint the hackers’ exact address.

The report said the suspected test devices all seemed to have connected to a WiFi network active at the intersection of Beirut’s Pierre Gemayel and Damascus Streets, the location of the bulky, sandstone-colored high-rise that houses Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security. The Associated Press was able to at least partially verify that finding, sending a reporter to the area around the heavily guarded, antennae-crowned building Wednesday to confirm that the same WiFi network was still broadcasting there. Other data also points to the spy agency: the report said the internet protocol addresses of the spyware’s control panels mapped to an area just south of the GDGS building.

Electronic Frontier Foundation Director of Cybersecurity Eva Galperin said the find was remarkable, explaining that she could think of only one other example where researchers were able to pin state-backed hackers to a specific building.

`We were able to take advantage of extraordinarily poor operational security,” she said.

The GDGS declined to comment ahead of the report’s publication.

The 49-page document lays out how spies used a network of bogus websites and malicious smartphone apps — such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Threema and Signal — to steal passwords or pry into communications, eavesdropping on conversations and capturing at least 486,000 text messages. Some victims were tricked into visiting the websites or downloading the rogue apps by booby trapped messages sent over WhatsApp, the report said. Others may have had malicious programs installed physically when they were away from their phones. Still more may have been lured into compromising their devices by a set of apparently fake Facebook profiles set up to look like attractive young Lebanese women.

EFF and Lookout said the spying stretched over 21 different countries, including the United States and several European nations, but they declined to identify any of the victims except in general terms, saying that there were thousands of them and that in many cases it wasn’t always obvious who they were.

Murray said relevant authorities had been notified of the spying but declined to go into further detail.

Lebanon has historically been a hub for espionage and Lebanese spies have a documented interest in surveillance software. In 2015, for example, the internet watchdog group Citizen Lab published evidence that GDGS had tapped FinFisher, a spyware merchant whose tools have been used to hack into the computers of several African and Middle Eastern dissidents.

The hacking campaign exposed Thursday by EFF and Lookout — which they dub “Dark Caracal” — was discovered in the wake of an entirely different cyberespionage campaign targeting Kazakh journalists and lawyers.

An EFF report on the Kazakh campaign published in 2016 caught the attention of researchers at Lookout, who swept through the company’s vast store of smartphone data to find a sample of the smartphone surveillance software mentioned in the write-up. It was while pulling on that string that investigators stumbled across the open server full of photos, conversations and intercepted text messages — as well as the link to Lebanon.

Galperin and Murray both said researchers were marshalling more evidence and that more revelations were coming.

“Stay tuned,” Murray said.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Tap and Donate: Paris Church to Take Contactless Cards

The Catholic church is going digital in Paris.

 

The city’s diocese will introduce a system allowing contactless card payments during Sunday’s mass at Saint Francois de Molitor, a church located in an upscale and conservative Paris neighborhood.

 

The diocese explained Thursday that five connected collection baskets with a traditional design will be handed out to mass attenders during the service. They will choose on a screen the amount they want to donate – from 2 to 10 euros ($2.4 to $12.2) – and their payment will be processed in “one second.”

 

The diocese insisted “this new gesture remains extremely close to the usual” one, yet parishioners will still be able to use cash for their donations.

 

According to the diocese, donations amount to 79 percent of its resources.

 

“Mass collection represents 14 percent of that contribution,” it said in a statement. “That’s about 98 euros on average, per year and per faithful.” It explained that the move is meant “to anticipate the gradual disappearance of cash money.”

 

This is not the French Catholic church’s first attempt to keep up with new technologies.

 

Since 2016, a smartphone app for making donations called “La Quete,” which translates as “The Collection,” has been introduced across 28 French dioceses and more than 2,000 parishes.

 

About 4,000 donations have been made over 14 months in the eight Paris parishes that have been testing the app, with the average amount spent coming in at 4.71 euros.

 

“The Church is committed to supporting everyone in the new ways of life and consumption,” the Paris diocese said. “The dematerialization of the means of payment is also part of the challenges the Church has to take up. Whether through a connected basket, with contactless payment, or through a smartphone app.”

 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!