Worse yet for Facebook, lawmakers that they’d already pissed off were happy to circle back for a second round after the company weaseled out of the first one. By Monday, a few angry, constituent-rousing tweets had snowballed into the kind of itemized list of questions that comes with a due date.
Congress is mad. And it might be as mad about this poorly handled Cambridge Analytica debacle as it is about getting stood up the last time around. Without any kind of public statement from one of the faces of the company, Facebook users are starting to feel stood up too.
Where in the world is… anyone?
Where does that leave Facebook leadership? So far, it’s nowhere to be found. No semi-intelligible non-apology calling to bring the world closer, if only we could, from Zuck. No lukewarm screed from Sandberg addressing a tertiary and much safer company concern. No nothing.
Ever since Facebook scooped The New York Times’ story on its company blog — “after a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action…” — the most vocal company statements have come from Facebook Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal and the potentially outgoing head of information security Alex Stamos. It goes without saying that having a lawyer and the noble hacker guy who tried to quit out in front is not the most flattering look for a company so synonymous with its leadership team, namely Zuckerberg and Sandberg.
Sandberg specifically was named in a damning bit of The New York Times story on Stamos’s near rage-quit. That portion described how, according to sources, Stamos advocated for an aggressive investigation into Facebook’s Russia headache to the “consternation” of Facebook executives. Sandberg was the only named executive. That language has since been softened, describing how Stamos and Sandberg “disagreed early on over how proactive the social network should be in policing its own platform” but calling their relationship “productive.”
That's not what happened. Sheryl, Mark, and the other execs supported the investigation and disclosure of our work, and I'm glad we put out what we found. https://t.co/cPuaf084pK
Zuckerberg and Sandberg did not attend a Tuesday town hall on the issue (nor were they scheduled to, as The Verge reported), and that’s apparently left employees wondering where their fearless leadership has gone.
Facebook’s feet to the fire: Round one recap
Late last year, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch joined lawyers from Twitter and Google to testify on the role the platform may have played in spreading viral disinformation during the 2016 election.
In a trio of public hearings, members of the Senate Judiciary and Senate and House Intel committees raked Facebook’s legal stunt double over the coals, occasionally tossing a question to Twitter or Google. It was a lot of careful lawyerspeak and a handful of cooperative gestures with no actual legislative buy-in. No one much was surprised.
The spiciest moments came when Senator Amy Klobuchar got Facebook counsel to admit that, if left unregulated, there would be no one to make them accountable for their actions. Stretch could only agree.
Facebook alone in the hot seat
This time around, Facebook might not clamber out of the hot water so easily. While the company had ample cover last time thanks to Google and Twitter’s twin implications in the controversy over Russian-bought political ads targeting U.S. voters, this time Facebook stands alone. The revelation that Facebook data on as many as 50 million users appears to have made its way into a political data operation with no consent from users is Facebook’s burden to bear alone.
Congress has legitimate interest in protecting users subject to the ad revenue-driven whims of a supposedly self-regulating tech platform, and, unfortunately for Facebook, big tech regulation is starting to look like something most people can get behind. The calls to get Zuckerberg under oath before Congress are picking up steam across at least three major congressional committees, not to mention the FTC and Parliament in the U.K.
Senate Judiciary Committee
Senator Amy Klobuchar kicked off the Zuckerhunt over the weekend. Now, she’s flanked by colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Facebook breach: This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves. I've called for more transparency & accountability for online political ads. They say “trust us.” Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.
“The last time we had a hearing, Google and Twitter and Facebook sent their lawyers, which undoubtedly were expensive because they did a damn fine job of dodging and bobbing and weaving and they didn’t say a damn thing – which is what they were paid to do, or not to do, as the case may be,” Republican Senator John Kennedy told Politico. “This time, I hope the principals come and we can have a frank discussion.”
On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein joined lawmakers calling for Zuckerberg himself to testify.
JUST IN: Top Senate judiciary Democrat Dianne Feinstein says she wants Facebook CEO Zuckerberg to testify in Congress about use of its users' data $FBpic.twitter.com/4grxeJnYm2
On Monday, Republican Commerce Chairman John Thune joined Senators Roger Wicker and Jerry Moran to assert its jurisdiction over data privacy and consumer protection issues at the fore of the Cambridge Analytica conversation. The committee will weigh Zuckerberg’s response to a letter it sent in deciding to summon him to testify.
“Mark Zuckerberg ought to be subpoenaed if he doesn’t appear voluntarily, to appear under oath, in public, along with other CEOs in the same space,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters on Monday night.
Senate Intelligence Committee
On Tuesday morning, the ranking Democrat on the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee also called for Zuckerberg to take the stand. Mark Warner, a vocal critic of Facebook’s initial response to the Russian ads revelations, isn’t one to let the company off the hook.
It's time for Mr. Zuckerberg and the other CEOs to testify before Congress. The American people deserve answers about social media manipulation in the 2016 election.
Before Warner’s call, Senate Intel member Ron Wyden — one of the biggest privacy advocates in Congress — issued a letter to Zuckerberg seeking answers on a number of detailed points on Monday, including how many privacy audits the company has conducted for apps on its platform and if Facebook has ever notified individual users of privacy violations of this nature. It’s likely that Wyden, who issued Facebook an April 13 deadline for his questions, supports Warner’s zeal for getting Zuck under oath.
Senate Intel chairman Richard Burr has yet to demand Zuckerberg’s appearance.
The bipartisan calls for accountability have been fast and firm. Unfortunately for Facebook, being mad at Facebook is something that brings people together — perhaps another unforeseen risk of building the world’s biggest social network.
Another day, another breach. Today, online travel agency Orbitzdisclosed that hackers managed to get both credit card data and personal information (though no Social Security numbers and passwords) from users who made their travel purchases on the site between January 1, 2016 and December 22, 2017. In total, the company says, that’s about 880,000 payment cards that were accessed from what the company calls a “legacy Orbitz platform.”
The hackers also likely accessed other data, like names, physical or mailing addresses, birth dates, email addresses, phone numbers and the customer’s gender while they were in the systems between October and December 2017. It’s unclear whether the hackers also downloaded this data. In a statement, though, Orbitz told us that it has found no “direct evidence that this personal information was actually taken from the platform.”
Orbitz, which has been part of the Expedia empire of travel sites since it was acquired in 2015, says that it has updated its security posture since discovering the breach on March 1. The company also notes that its current site is not affected by this breach and that it brought in third-party experts and a forensic investigation firm, as well as law enforcement, to “eliminate and prevent unauthorized access to the platform.”
While this breach isn’t at the level of the giant Equifax and Yahoo hacks, here is yet another company that couldn’t keep your data safe. Indeed, at this point, you can pretty much assume that all of your personal data and likely your passwords and credit cards, too, are up for sale in one of the darker parts of the internet.
Orbitz is notifying customers whose data has been affected and will offer them the standard complimentary year of credit monitoring and identity protection services that pretty much every company now offers customers who were affected by a breach (to the point where many a U.S. consumer probably has access to multiple of these services at the same time).
Salesforce announced today that it intends to buy MuleSoft in a deal valued at a whopping $6.5 billion. That’s not necessarily the selling price, but the amount the company has been valued at based on stocks, bonds and cash on hand. The exact price was not available yet, but the company did indicate it was paying $44.89 per share for MuleSoft, a price that represents a 36 percent premium over yesterday’s closing price, according to Salesforce .
What’s more, the deal values each MuleSoft share at $36 in cash and 0.0711 shares of Salesforce common stock.
Rumors began swirling this morning after a story broke by Reuters that the CRM giant was interested in MuleSoft, which launched in 2006 and went public almost exactly a year ago. With 1,200 customers, it gives Salesforce a mature company to add to its arsenal. It also gives them an API integration engine that should help the company access data across organizations, regardless of where it lives.
This is particularly important for Salesforce, which tends to come in and work with a company across enterprise systems. As it builds out its artificial intelligence and machine learning layer, which it has branded as Einstein, it needs access to data across the company. A company like MuleSoft gives them that.
But of course Salesforce gets more than tech with this purchase, which it can integrate into its growing family of products. It also gets major customers like Coca-Cola, VMware, GE, Accenture, Airbus, AT&T and Cisco. While Salesforce may have a presence in some of these companies already, MuleSoft gives them entr?e into areas they might not have had, and gives them the ability to expand that presence.
What’s more, the company has big revenue goals. Having reached $10 billion in revenue faster than any software company ever has, a point that chairman and co-founder Marc Benioff has been happy to make, they have actually set their sights on $60 billion by 2034. That’s a long way away, of course, but having a company like MuleSoft in the fold, which made almost $300 million in revenue in fiscal 2017, will certainly help.
Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says this about building a microservices future, “This is the heart of Salesforce’s M&A strategy. They have to integrate, orchestrate, and manage microservices in their future roadmap,” he said. “The AI-driven world ahead needs contextual microservices.”
Microservices are a way of building applications made up of small, distinct pieces, rather than the single, monolithic application we tended to build in the past. This makes changing and updating easier and more efficient.
Brent Leary, owner and principal at CRM Essentials, a CRM consulting firm, sees the deal through a customer prism. “Well, it shows just how crucial [Internet of Things] and [Artificial Intelligence] is to the future of Salesforce‘s ability to create the customer success platform of the future,” he said.
“It also reinforces that they feel investing deeper into customer success is a better ROI and growth play then extending to other enterprise app areas outside of their core focus,” Leary added.
As with all deals of this ilk, it needs to pass regulatory muster first, but if it does, it is expected to close at the end July.
Cancer remains the one counterpoint to the march of medical progress that has scored human history over the last 200 years.
Last year 600,920 people in the U.S. died from cancer, and another 1.7 million received an initial diagnosis of the disease. Globally, one in six people die from cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
In the past decade, research in the field has expanded the possible treatments of the disease from surgery (which was the only option until the 20th century), radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.
Among the most promising of these new treatments are those which attack the functions of the tumor itself. New epigenetic therapies, therapeutic viruses, novel nanoparticles, and immune therapies look at external responses to cancerous growths — sequencing out mutations that can lead to cancerous growths; creating new pathogens that only attack cancer cells; building new particles that attack cancer cells; or boosting the ability of the body’s natural immune system to attack cancer cells. By contrast these treatments look to stop the growth of tumors by focusing on inhibiting the biological processes that encourage that growth.
Tradewind Bioscience, which is launching today at Y Combinator’s winter demo day, is taking this approach.
While research on these new potential therapies is only now making its way into scientific journals (with most studies published within the past three months), Tradewind co-founders Dr. Thaddeus Allen and Dr. Ron Buckanovich have mostly kept their work under wraps after having studied different cancers for more than a decade.
Allen began his studies roughly 14 years ago at the University of California, San Francisco under the tutelage of the Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher Dr. J. Michael Bishop, where he was investigating the way a certain protein, EGFL6, affected the growth of lung cancer cells.
Bishop’s lab was one home for novel cancer research, but UCSF wasn’t alone in breaking new ground. Half a continent away, Buckanovich was doing his own studies on the role that the same protein played in the growth of ovarian cancer cells in his lab at the University of Michigan .
“He had filed a patent through the University of Michigan,” Allen says of how he first came across Buckanovich’s research. “I found him on Google patents and I found the patent first. I contacted the tech transfer office and they put me in touch with [him]. Probably the best thing I’ve done in the course of this adventure was to form that relationship with Ron and the University of Michigan.”
Buckanovich published his research on the link between ovarian cancer and the EGFL6 protein in 2016, and it was the jolt that Allen needed to reach out and begin work on Tradewind in earnest.
“I thought long and hard about how we proceed,” Allen says. “This protein is incredibly important in how cancers survive and spread around the body. I had that idea four years ago… and it took me that time to get the courage to say okay let’s get this together.”
In the interim, Allen had been quietly amassing a body of research of his own on how the protein may affect lung cancer cells. “I wanted to keep things secret until things had progressed to a certain point. A point of inevitability,” he says. “I really want to be the one to make this work.”
Serous carcinoma. Photo courtesy of Flickr/ Ed Uthman
That Tradewind’s therapy is potentially able to treat two very different kinds of cancer is remarkable because cancer is considered to be a very unique disease. It’s a parasite that’s specific to the genetic makeup of its host. In fact, the specificity of cancer to an individual is what makes the disease so difficult for the body to fight.
“We’re taking on the possibility that they’ve really hit on something that — as opposed to going after some downstream things — are in the physiology of these cancers,” says Diego Rey, Y Combinator’s visiting partner focused on healthcare and biotech startups. “When you go downstream in these [treatment] processes it’s a little bit like whack a mole,” says Rey.
Rather than attack the cancer, Tradewind’s therapy tries to attack the root of the disease. How it grows and spreads through the body.
“We’ve been able to tease out [some] main things that [the protein] does,” says Allen. “It regulates cancer stem cells… the ones that allows the cancer to grow… And it plays a really prominent role in the survival of cells.”
In primary tumors — the initial cancerous mutations — Allen and Buckanovich discovered that the protein they identified plays a major role in controlling stem cells which allow the tumor to grow. That same protein is important in keeping cancers alive as they spread through the body.
“The secreted protein feeds back on the cells and allows them to live as they exit the tumor and find new homes in different tissues,” says Allen. “What the antibody can do… it can bind to the secreted protein and now the protein can not feed back on the cancer cell and bind to the receptors that it’s supposed to bind to. So now it can’t provide that survival signal to the cancer cell.”
The expression of this protein in a patient can also be a useful indicator of the potential to develop cancer. “If you have lots of this protein it’s very likely that you will succumb to a cancer,” says Allen. “[And] it’s really the highly metastatic cancers. These are the deadliest. These are the ones that will spread around the body to different tissues.”
For Allen and Buckanovich, the development of their therapy means that patients could one day get an intravenous infusion of antibodies that would inhibit the production of the protein they identified, rather than getting a bolus of incredibly toxic chemotherapy or undergoing radiotherapies.
“That is actually what Y Combinator has urged us to refocus on,” Allen said. “We’ve been so busy trying to convince people that the target is fantastic.”
Once out of Y Combinator Allen predicts that his new company will need between $7 million and $10 million to get to a first stage of clinical trials within the next three years.
Both he and Buckanovich think that the treatment could be effective beyond their fields of expertise in lung cancer and ovarian cancer.
“Tumors use EGFL6 to tell the cancer cells to migrate and then divide. You’re telling the cancer cells to metastasize,” says Buckanovich. “[But] we have also shown that it helps cancer cells to initiate.”
Buckanovich says that’s the key to what he and Allen are trying to do. “The protein is made not only by the tumor cells but it is made by the host,” he says. “Think of it like soil. If cancer is the seed… if we can prevent there from being a fertile soil for any of these seeds to grow. It may be more applicable than just the subset of cancers that make this protein… In an ideal world this drug would be preventative. We might be able to treat [cancer] with a benign course of antibodies.”
YouTube’s video ad creation service aimed at helping small business reach YouTube viewers is now available more broadly across the U.S. The company announced this morning that YouTube Director onsite, as the service is called, is now live in over 170 U.S. cities, up from only 9 previously – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York, Tampa and Seattle.
This is significant expansion, in terms of reaching potential YouTube advertisers who would have otherwise not had the resources to write, film and edit a professional ad for YouTube.
The service is kind of a bargain for the small businesses, too. Hiring a pro to create a professionally produced video could cost $1,000 or more. But YouTube is basically doing it for free – well, free with a catch.
It’s available at no charge for any business that commits to spending at least $350 to advertise the video on YouTube. However, that’s in line with the low-end of buying airtime for a 30-second local TV ad, which ranges from $200 to $1,500+, depending on time slot.
YouTube Director onsite works by connecting area businesses with YouTube-approved filmmakers, who will schedule call with the advertiser to learn about the business and help them to write a script. The filmmaker then comes to the business to film the video, and returns an edited version the next week. YouTube’s ad experts help get the video upload to the site, and aid the business in crafting their YouTube ad campaign.
The company hasn’t shared any comprehensive metrics on how well these ads perform, but did note in a blog post a single case study where a custom guitar shop saw a 13x return on ad spend, and a 130 percent increase in revenue from the ad. The YouTube Director onsite website also features a number of other ads created via the service, to showcase the professional quality of what can be produced.
The company has claimed for years that YouTube ads are more effective than TV because they allow targeting – but that’s an argument that can be made for may sorts of online ads. In addition, YouTube reaches a younger demographic, so small businesses should keep in mind that they may need other ways to reach to those over the age of 35, for example.
The timing of this U.S. expansion is relevant because YouTube just last week announced new AdWords experiences that tie together Google searches with YouTube advertising and calls-to-action.
“Soon you’ll be able to reach people on YouTube who recently searched for your products or services on Google. For example, an airline could reach people on YouTube who recently searched Google.com for ‘flights to Hawaii.’ We call this custom intent audiences,” explained the recent Google’s announcement.
The company had previously allowed Google account user data to influence YouTube ads, starting in 2017. With custom intent audiences, advertisers can now create a keyword list for their video in AdWords. They can then combine this targeting feature with YouTube’s new direct response video ad format, TrueView, which offers a customizable call-to-action in a video ad.
The ads created by YouTube Director onsite will support this feature as well, allowing the businesses to capture leads or referrals, or something else that’s important to their specific businesses.
In other words, if you thought having the shoes you abandoned in a retailer’s shopping cart following you around the web was weird, wait until YouTube starts showing you ads for local businesses that match up with what you’ve just been googling. (By the way, Google does let you opt out of personalized ads if that’s how you roll.)
Andrew Nix, the CEO of the London-based voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica — which harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users without their permission to analyze their voter behavior — has been suspended from his job. In an announcement posted to the company’s site, the board said the suspension was effective immediately.
Nix’s suspension ties directly to footage that was filmed over the last year by Britain’s Channel 4 News and which surfaced yesterday. The video comes on the heels of investigative reporting by The Guardian, The Observer and The New York Times that has shown how the company used data to target groups and design messages that appealed to their interests.
In one minute-long clip, Nix boasts of entrapping politicians to meet its clients’ needs. Nix can be overheard saying in one recording, “It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed.”
When the reporter asked if Cambridge Analytica could offer investigations into the damaging secrets of rivals, Nix said it worked with former spies from Britain and Israel to look for political dirt. He also volunteered that his team were ready to go further than an investigation.
“Oh, we do a lot more than that,” he said over dinner at an exclusive hotel in London. “Deep digging is interesting, but you know equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true and make sure that that’s video recorded.
“You know these sort of tactics are very effective, instantly having video evidence of corruption.”
Nix suggested one possible scenario, in which the managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, Mark Turnbull, would pose as a wealthy developer looking to exchange campaign finance for land. “I’m a master of disguise,” Turnbull said.
Another option, Nix suggested, would be to create a sex scandal. “Send some girls around to the candidate’s house, we have lots of history of things,” he told the reporter. “We could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us, you know what I’m saying.”
Today, the company’s board cited those comments, saying that they “do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view the violation.”
Cambridge Analytica did not respond directly to our requests for more information.
Talking to the trade magazine Ad Age at the time, a consultant who had worked with Cambridge Analytica noted that no one in Washington took the firm terribly seriously, either. “Everyone universally agrees that [Cambridge’s] sales operation is better than their fulfillment product . . . The product comes late or it’s not quite what you envisioned.”
“What’s the old saying?” asked another source in the same article. “All hat, no cattle?”
According to The Guardian, Nix, 42, studied the history of art at Manchester University and worked as a financial analyst in Mexico and the U.K. before joining SCL, a strategic communications firm that is parent to Cambridge Analytica.
Nix later set up Cambridge Analytica with the help of Robert Mercer, a billionaire patron of right-wing outlets like Breitbart News. Steve Bannon, the former executive director of Breitbart who served as Trump’s chief strategist until last August, was formerly a vice president with the outfit. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, sits on its board.
Amazon is currently the second biggest company in the world when it comes to market capitalization. The company is currently worth $763.27 billion ( NASDAQ:AMZN) while Alphabet ( NASDAQ:GOOG) is “only” worth $762.98 billion.
Amazon has had an incredible quarter. Stock is up nearly 29 percent since early January. As for Alphabet, its shares have gone up and down.
And if you look at today alone, Amazon is up 2 percent, while Alphabet is flat. Alphabet can still pass Amazon again before the stock market closes. But it sounds like the writing is on the wall.
The only company that is currently more valuable than Amazon is Apple. There’s still quite a long way to reach Apple as Apple’s market capitalization is… $892 billion.
Researchers at Naver Labs, KAIST, and Seoul National University created this robot to show kids the consequences of their actions when it comes to robots. Called Shelly, the robot reacts to touches and smacks. When it gets scared it changes color and retracts into its shell. Children learn that if they hit Shelly she will be upset and the only thing missing is a set of bitey jaws.
“When Shelly stops its interaction due to a child’s abusive behavior, the others in the group who wanted to keep playing with Shelly often complained about it, eventually restraining each other’s abusive behavior,” Naver Labs’ Jason J. Choi told IEEE. The study found that Shelly’s reactions reduced the amount of abuse the robot took from angry toddlers.
The researchers showed off Shelly at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction last week.
When you consider that enterprise business is shifting rapidly to the cloud, and that the cloud business in general is growing quickly, Oracle’s cloud numbers could be reason for concern. While it’s hard to nail down what “cloud” means when it comes to technology companies’ earnings because it varies so much in how each one counts infrastructure, software, or platform; the general trend from Oracle seems contrary to the eye-popping growth numbers we have seen from other companies.
Oracle against the world
Oracle’s cloud revenue broke down as follows: SaaS, up 33 percent to $1.2 billion, and platform and infrastructure revenue combined up 28 percent to $415 million. To put those figures into context, consider that last quarter Alibaba reported overall cloud revenue of $533 million,which was up a whopping 104 percent year over year.
Looking purely at Infrastructure services, Canalys reported that in the third quarter of 2017, Microsoft grew at around 90 percent year over year, while Google grew around 75 percent YoY. Even market leader Amazon, which controls over 30 percent of the market, had around a 40 percent growth rate, fairly remarkable given its size.
All of that suggests that Oracle, which came to the cloud late, should be on a higher growth trajectory than it’s currently showing.That’s because it’s generally easier to grow from a small number than it is from a big number to bigger number (as Amazon has had to do).
The company’s on-prem software revenue continues to grow (which includes lucrative license and maintenance revenue from existing customers), and still accounts for the vast majority of its top line. However, at this point, you would think Oracle would want to see that revenue growth shifting away from on-prem and towards its cloud business.
What’s worse is that co-CEO Safra Catz predicted in the earnings call with analysts that the cloud growth could dive even further next quarter. “Cloud revenues including SaaS, PaaS and IaaS [all cloud business combined] are expected to grow 19% to 23% in USD, 17% to 21% in constant currency,” she told analysts this week.
Chairman Larry Ellison tried to point to the fully automated cloud database product announced at Oracle OpenWorld last fall as a proof point of a brighter cloud future, but so far the numbers are not bearing that out. It’s worth noting that he did also indicate that more automated cloud products are on the way.
Oracle has spent the last several years putting a lot of cloud pieces together, and as Catz pointed out, they don’t have to invest further to handle additional capacity in their SaaS business, but with the numbers heading in the wrong direction that may not be the problem.
Oracle certainly has enterprise credibility, and that should bode well for its cloud business, but as a late comer to the market we should be seeing much brisker overall growth than this. Over time that may happen, but for now Wall Street was not happy with Oracle’s results and the firm probably has to show more from its cloud products before they can change investors’ minds.
Automaker Toyota has temporarily ceases its public road testing of its fully autonomous ‘Chauffeur’ system in the U.S. after an accident earlier this week saw an Uber self-driving test vehicle strike a pedestrian, which ultimately resulted in her death.
Police have stated that initial findings suggest the accident would’ve been extremely difficult to avoid regardless of whether a human or an AV system was in control at the time, because of how quickly the victim crossed in front of the moving vehicle (outside of a crosswalk), but Toyota has indicated to Bloomberg that it’s stopping testing for now due to the potential “emotional effect on [its] test drivers.”
Toyota spokesperson Brian Lyons noted that the automaker couldn’t speculate on the cause of the crash or its implications for the future of the self-driving industry, which is a fairly standard line I’ve heard across automakers and others involved in the industry thus far, and which suggests a fair reluctance to make any lasting material decisions before all information is available regarding the Uber incident.
Toyota has been working on both its ‘Chauffeur’ fully automated driving system, as well as ‘Guardian,’ an advanced-driver assist system that is designed to institute fail-safes for intervening to prevent accidents when a human driver’s behavior puts themselves or others in danger.
Bandai Namco Entertainment announced the latest entrant in its series of Dragon Ball games this week. Dragon Ball Legends is a player versus player (PvP) mobile game that has players from all over the world battle with each other in real time by using their move cards. From all I’ve seen, it looks like a pretty fun game, though I know nothing about Dragon Ball and I have an unreasonable disinterest in card-based games. What made me perk up, though, was when I heard that Bandai Namco opted to use Google’s Cloud Network to host all the infrastructure for the game and that one of the main components of this system is Cloud Spanner, Google’s globally distributed database.
To make a real-time game work at all is hard enough, but Bandai Namco wanted players from all over the world to be able to play against each other. There’s a reason most games distribute players into regions based on their geography, though. In a real-time game, latency matters, as every hardened PUBG player will tell you, and the farther you get away from the game server, the higher your latency will likely be.
As Bandai Namco’s Keigo Ikeda and Toshitaka Tachibana told me ahead of the launch, the team opted to divide every game second into 250ms intervals, so while the game looks like it’s real-time to users, it’s actually a really fast turn-based game at its core. “Technically speaking, to the user’s eye, it’s real-time, but on the server, players have their own turn,” said Tachibana. By opting for the Google Cloud Platform and Cloud Spanner as the database to keep track of all moves, the average latency the team has seen during its tests is 138ms, which allows for plenty of wiggle room.
To make all of this work, the team spent almost two and a half years building out the necessary infrastructure, and Tachibana admitted that the team learned quite a bit more than it expected about network latency. During early tests, the team wanted to create a peer-to-peer connection to have players battle each other, for example, but depending on the carriers, the difference in user experience varied too much. The team also had to learn how to best route traffic between players, something that most gaming developers don’t really have to think about most days. “We were pretty frustrated with everyone who wasn’t Google,” said Tachibana.
Indeed, Cloud Spanner is the core service here, and the team says it opted for it because it gives it a globally distributed strongly consistent database to work with. Because any change propagates across the global network within milliseconds, Cloud Spanner is actually a really interesting option for game developers who need low latencies and a ground truth that can be distributed between a global player base. Cloud Spanner is not a cheap service, and the team acknowledged as much, though, as Google Cloud Director of Solutions Miles Ward noted, providing the service isn’t cheap either. “Spanner does things from a consistency standpoint that you can’t get from anybody else, so it’s a place where we have to spend more, too,” he said (and before my friends at Microsoft email me: yes, Cosmos DB also offers features that are comparable to Cloud Spanner, as well as a wider range of consistency options).
The Bandai Namco team also noted that Google’s vast private network was another major factor behind its decision. Because Google owns its own network, the data can jump between fewer networks to reach both the central database and the opposing player.
To make Dragon Ball Legends run smoothly, the team is also using BigQuery to manage and analyze its data, as well as some of the company’s Firebase services.
Tachibana noted that Bandai Namco is placing a big bet on this new game, but that the team also wanted to create a benchmark for what a globally distributed PvP game can look like. “We hope that when other developers look to a similar gameplay, they’ll say that it’s hard to top,” he said. “And also, from a technical side, we know that the people who are part of the industry will understand how amazing it is to realize this entire process.”
If you are not a developer and just want to play a new PvP Dragon Ball game, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little bit longer, though. The game will arrive in Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store later this year.
More importantly, if you look at Monday and Tuesday combined, Facebook shares are down 11.4 percent compared to Friday’s closing price of $185.09. In other words, Facebook was worth $537.69 billion on Friday evening when it comes to market capitalization. And Facebook is now worth $476.83 billion.
In a press conference today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence presented its urgent recommendations for protecting election systems as the U.S. moves toward midterm elections later this year.
“Currently we have an election upon us, and the past tells us that the future will probably hold another set of threats if we are not prepared,” Senator Kamala Harris said.
The bipartisan committee offered a set of measures to defend domestic election infrastructure against hostile foreign nations.
Before launching into the findings from its committee-wide examination of current practices, written up in an accompanying report, the group emphasized that states are “firmly in the lead” in conducting elections, although the federal government should work closely to provide funds and information.
Although there are many factors that can mitigate the risk to U.S. elections, election equipment itself, particularly internet-connected systems, remains a core concern in the report:
States should rapidly replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems. At a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail and no WiFi capability. If use of paper ballots becomes more widespread, election officials should re-examine current practices for securing the chain of custody of all paper ballots and verify no opportunities exist for the introduction of fraudulent votes.
Because financial need varies from state to state, the committee recommended legislation that would create a grant program through which states could apply for election security funds, including the funding needed to conduct system audits.
“States should use grant funds to improve cybersecurity by hiring additional Information Technology staff, updating software, and contracting vendors to provide cybersecurity services, among other steps,” the report states.
The rest of the report focused on how to bolster U.S. election infrastructure and practice against foreign attacks. Now that the potential vulnerability of U.S. election systems is widely known, Russia may not be the only adversary looking to poke holes in U.S. systems.
“It may not be the Russians next time,” Senator James Lankford said. “They have set a pattern that others could follow.” That means that Iran, North Korea or even domestic hacktivist groups could be following along.
The committee recommends that the U.S. work with allied countries to create international cyber standards to deter hostile nations from taking advantage of current gray areas in cyber policy, making it clear that attacks on election systems are “hostile acts.”
“We need a more transparent cyber doctrine so that other nation-states are on notice,” New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich said.
The committee made multiple mentions of the Department of Homeland Security’s failure to coordinate with states — and state-level distrust of that department — during the 2016 election. In the past, information sharing between federal and state officials has been hampered by slow processes for obtaining the proper security clearances for state and local election workers.
“The Intelligence Community should work to declassify information quickly, whenever possible, to provide warning to appropriate state and local officials,” the report states.
States also lag behind when it comes to knowledge and implementation of basic cybersecurity best practices like two-factor authentication. The committee urges DHS to work to educate the states to establish a set of best practices to mitigate risk.
Tomorrow, the committee will have a chance to hand their wish list over in person. Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will appear in the first of a three-panel hearing, alongside Obama-era secretary Jeh Johnson, who oversaw the department during the 2016 election.
YouTube today is rolling out a new feature that will allow video creators to start a live stream from their web cam without downloading encoding software, which can be complicated to set up. Now, streamers will be able to click the “Go Live” button in the YouTube header to start the stream, or visit the URL youtube.com/webcam. No additional configuration will be required, the company says.
The feature currently works only on the Google Chrome browser, but will expand to other browsers in time.
Before today, YouTube users would have to use encoding software to capture content – including their desktop, camera, and microphone – and send it to YouTube to be live streamed.
The new feature is meant to make the process of live streaming from the desktop easier and quicker, which could potentially enable more YouTube users to take advantage of the functionality.
YouTube has already been testing an early version of the software with a handful of creators, including RawBeautyKristi, who used it for a beauty tutorial, saying, “normally, you have to do this encoder bulls*t…this is so much easier this way. I feel like I’ll live stream way more with this.”
The addition comes at a time when the live streaming market is heating up, with competitors like Twitch for game streams, Twitter’s Periscope, and Facebook Live, all vying for a piece of the action. Facebook, in particular, has been targeting the creator community, including with this week’s launch of a Patreon clone for subscription patronage, and other ways to allow creators to make money.
YouTube says that the new web cam feature is only one of several ways it’s planning to make it easier for creators to go live in the future.
The company has also scored deals with several device manufacturers including Asus, LG, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung who will add a live stream feature directly in their camera apps on select upcoming devices in the months ahead. The feature, which takes advantage of the new YouTube Mobile Live deep link, is expected to come to other devices throughout the year, says YouTube.
Microsoft today announced the next version of Windows Server, which launches later this year under the not completely unexpected moniker of “Windows Server 2019.” Developers and operations teams that want to get access to the bits can now get the first preview build through Microsoft’s Insider Program.
This next version comes with plenty of new features, but it’s also worth noting that this is the next release in the Long-Term Servicing Channel for Windows Server, which means that customers will get five years of mainstream support and can get an extra five years of extended support. Users also can opt for a semi-annual channel that features — surprise — two releases per year for those teams that want to get faster access to new features. Microsoft recommends the long-term option for infrastructure scenarios like running SQL Server or SharePoint.
So what’s new in Windows Server 2019? Given Microsoft’s focus on hybrid cloud deployments, it’s no surprise that Windows Server also embraces these scenarios. Specifically, this means that Windows Server 2019 will be able to easily connect to Microsoft Azure and that users will be able to integrate Azure Backup, File Sync, disaster recover and other services into they Windows Server deployments.
Microsoft also added a number of new security features, which are mostly based on what the company has learned from running Azure and previous version of Windows. These include new shielded VMs for protecting Linux applications and support for Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, one of Microsoft’s flagship security products that helps guard machines against attacks and zero-day exploits.
With this release, Microsoft is also bringing its container technologies from the semi-annual release channel to the long-term release channel. These include the ability to run Linux containers on Windows and the Windows Subsystem for Linux that enables this, as well as the ability to run Bash scripts on Windows. And for those of you who are really into containers, Microsoft also today noted that it will offer more container orchestration choices, including Kubernetes support, soon. These will first come to the semi-annual channel, though.
You can find a more detailed breakdown of what’s new in this release here.
Apple seems to be ramping up its autonomous vehicle efforts, nearing doubling the number of vehicles in its fleet since January.
The company now has 45 autonomous vehicles in California registered with the DMV, according to the Financial Times. This makes Apple’s AV fleet the second largest in the state of California, outsized only by General Motors.
In April 2017, Apple received its first permit to test three autonomous vehicles. By January of this year, the company was testing 27 autonomous vehicles, and in just two months the company has nearly doubled its efforts, with plans to start testing vehicles in Arizona.
That said, regulatory hurdles may be rising. On Sunday night, one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles was involved in an accident, fatally colliding with a pedestrian in Tempe Arizona.
This is the first time an AV accident has resulted in a human death, and Uber has suspended testing of its fleet in all the cities where it operates.
In the wake of this incident, regulators may take a more measured approach to deployment.
Building technology is all about learning as you go. Amazon knows this, and has today added fingerprint ID to the new Amazon Key app, which enables in-home delivery of goods.
The Key app was announced in October, alongside the Cloud Cam, which lets users watch goings on in their homes as delivery professionals come in and out of their space.
Given that the app essentially controls who gets in and out of your home, it would be problematic if your phone got into the hands of someone malicious. So Amazon has added an additional layer of security, your fingerprint, to the Android version of the app.
An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that fingerprint authentication is coming soon to iOS.
But Amazon isn’t the only one dabbling in in-home deliveries. WalMart partnered with August Lock last year to allow delivery people to bring groceries and other goods all the way into the home and put them away.
Amazon CloudCam is available starting at $199, but the door lock used with the Key app is sold separately.
Today, a bunch of app developers showed off their latest AR apps for Google’s augmented reality platform, but Google didn’t stay too still either.
The team at Google released what could be one of its simplest apps ever. It’s called an “experiment,” and with good reason — it’s literally just an app for drawing white lines. “Just a line,” takes the baton from the company’s Tilt Brush virtual reality painting app and strips away every custom tool and setting, leaving you with the ability to annotate the world with digital white lines suspended in space and anchored to reality.
The big difference is a lot more people have ARCore-compatible phones than have VR headsets, so this is going to be a cool first experience with “3D painting” for a lot of people.
Users hold up their phones and use their fingers to draw lines; the interface relies on a ton of physical movement, using the phone itself as the main controller. Users can record videos of their creations and download them after if they want to look at all the pretty lines they made.
You’ll need an ARCore-compatible phone to try out the app; you’ll also probably need to manage your expectations for what you’re getting. You can just make lines! That is it.
You saw this one coming, right? This week at its Think 2018 Conference in Las Vegas, IBM showed off its own take on the growing smart assistant category, aimed firmly at enterprise applications. Naturally, the company’s using the Watson name for the offering, and tacking on “Assistant” for good measure.
Unlike Alexa, Siri and Google’s own offering of the same name, however, Watson Assistant won’t be a chipper, consumer-facing offering loaded up on IBM-branded smart speakers. Rather, the company’s plan here is to operate mostly behind the scenes, white labeling the technology for use by companies.
In fact, the offering is so behind-the-scenes that IBM’s already rolled it out in a bunch of spots, including the Munich Airport and the Royal Bank of Scotland. The big Think unveiling also finds the company adding IFTTT as a partner along with Harman — a bit of an odd choice, given that its parent company has its own smart assistant. But then, Bixby is, well, Bixby.
The plan is to make Watson Assistant the foundation of voice-based offerings in places like hotel rooms, stores and cars, so company can leverage IBM’s technology to build their own custom solutions. It’s precisely what IBM’s been gunning for with Watson — a way to make its sophisticated underlying technology more readily available to the consumer.
“The contextual element is important,” the company said in a release announcing the offering. “Watson Assistant isn’t just designed for a single location such as your home. And, it doesn’t just respond to a person’s commands and provide generic information that’s publicly available. It can be accessed via voice or text interaction and gets to know a person more through each and every interaction, gaining greater insight into who they are, what makes them happy and more.”
We’re gearing up to bring you the second TC Sessions: Robotics on May 11 at the UC Berkeley campus. We’ve got a great show on-tap, with some of the premier names in the robotics/AI/automation world, from research to startups to big companies. As we noted last week, we’ll be joined by Berkley professor Pieter Abbeel and big names from the VC world, including Meyer, Renata Quintini and Rob Coneybeer.
Today, we’ve got a pair of new names we’re excited to share with you.
Funding Robotics Startups
Andy Rubin’s love of robotics earned him the nickname “Android” while working for Apple in the late-80s. Rubin leant the name to the software startup he founded in 2003, which was later acquired by Google and formed the basis for the world’s largest mobile operating system. While at Google, Rubin also headed the company’s robotics division. These days, he supports robotics startups as the head of Playground Global.
The Bay Area-based venture fund and product studio maintains Rubin’s passion for the category by funding a number of key robotics companies that run the gamut, from artificial intelligence to agriculture, delivery and warehouse fulfillment. Playground’s key robotics investments including Canvas Technology, Commonsense Robotics, Farmwise, Righthand Robotics, Skydio and Zippy.
We’ll speak to Rubin about Playground’s numerous investments in the space and the ways in which automation will transform the future.
A biologist by training, UC Berkeley professor Robert Full’s scientific background gives him a unique approach to the world of robotics. His research has inspired a wide range of different robots taking their cues from nature, specifically animal locomotion. Cockroaches have served as an unlikely source of inspiration for robots with jointed exoskeletons that can fit into tight spaces. The sticky substances found on gecko feet, meanwhile, have given rise to synthetic dry adhesives.
Professor Full’s work has led to the creation of two UC Berkeley Labs, CiBER, the Center for interdisciplinary Bio-inspiration in Education and Research, and the Poly-PEDAL Laboratory, which studies the motion of many-footed animals. Full’s work has also made its way into surprising spaces, including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, which used his expansive knowledge of animal movement as a foundation for its computer animation.
Professor Full will be joining us to discuss how nature can help build a better robot.
We Want to Hear From Your Robotics Company
It wouldn’t be a real TechCrunch event without a good, old fashioned startup pitch. As we mentioned last time, we’re searching for four early-stage robotics startups to show off their goods for our panel of VCs and a crowd of students and roboticists. If your company has what it takes, you can apply here.
We’re also looking for companies to participate in demos and serve as the subject for some upcoming TechCrunch videos. If that sounds like a good fit, fill out this form here.