A Startup is Pitching a Mind-Uploading Service That is '100 Percent Fatal' ( 246

The startup accelerator Y Combinator is known for supporting audacious companies in its popular three-month boot camp. There's never been anything quite like Nectome, though. From a report: Next week, at YC's "demo days," Nectome's cofounder, Robert McIntyre, is going to describe his technology for exquisitely preserving brains in microscopic detail using a high-tech embalming process. Then the MIT graduate will make his business pitch. As it says on his website: "What if we told you we could back up your mind?" So yeah. Nectome is a preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it company. Its chemical solution can keep a body intact for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, as a statue of frozen glass. The idea is that someday in the future scientists will scan your bricked brain and turn it into a computer simulation. That way, someone a lot like you, though not exactly you, will smell the flowers again in a data server somewhere.

This story has a grisly twist, though. For Nectome's procedure to work, it's essential that the brain be fresh. The company says its plan is to connect people with terminal illnesses to a heart-lung machine in order to pump its mix of scientific embalming chemicals into the big carotid arteries in their necks while they are still alive (though anesthetized). The company has consulted with lawyers familiar with California's two-year-old End of Life Option Act, which permits doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients, and believes its service will be legal. The product is "100 percent fatal," says McIntyre. "That is why we are uniquely situated among the Y Combinator companies."


Larry Page's Flying Taxis, Now Exiting Stealth Mode ( 100

Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page's autonomous flying taxi company Kitty Hawk on Tuesday unveiled its "fully electric, self-piloting flying taxi" called Cora. Since October, Cora has been seen moving through the skies over the South Island of New Zealand. It looks like a cross between a small plane and a drone, with a series of small rotor blades along each wing that allow it to take off like a helicopter and then fly like a plane. The New York Times reports: Now that project is about to go public: On Tuesday, Mr. Page's company and the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, will announce they have reached an agreement to test Kitty Hawk's autonomous planes as part of an official certification process. The hope is that it will lead to a commercial network of flying taxis in New Zealand in as soon as three years. The move is a big step forward in the commercialization of this technology, which even the most optimistic prognosticators had recently bet would take another decade to achieve. The decision to embrace the commercial use of flying taxis offers New Zealand an opportunity to leapfrog many developed countries in this area, and perhaps give it a head start over Silicon Valley, where much of the most innovative work has been taking place.

Lyft Says Its Revenue Is Growing Nearly 3x Faster Than Uber's ( 53

U.S. ride-sharing company Lyft says it passed $1 billion in revenue last year and that its revenue grew 168 percent year over year in the fourth quarter of 2017, almost three times faster than Uber's reported 61 percent growth. "Uber, of course, is still much larger than Lyft -- it generated a reported $7.5 billion in revenue last year and operates in many more cities and countries," notes Recode. "While its fourth-quarter growth may have been smaller than Lyft's percentage-wise, it was still almost certainly many times larger dollar-wise. Both companies are still unprofitable." From the report: But the big-picture reality is that despite Uber's head start, its early dominance, ability to raise massive amounts of financing, aggressive (often allegedly illegal) growth tactics, faster move into self-driving cars and everything else in its favor, it has not been able to destroy Lyft. Instead, Lyft capitalized somewhat on Uber's missteps and unsavory reputation, raised another $2 billion last year, gained market share, launched its first international market last year (Toronto) and seems poised to exist for the foreseeable future.

Trump Issues Order To Block Broadcom's Takeover of Qualcomm ( 227

Bloomberg reports that President Donald Trump issued an executive order today blocking Broadcom from acquiring Qualcomm, "scuttling a $117 billion deal that had been subject to U.S. government scrutiny on national security grounds." From the report: The president acted on a recommendation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews acquisitions of American firms by foreign investors. The decision to block the deal was unveiled just hours after Broadcom Chief Executive Officer Hock Tan met with security officials at the Pentagon in a last-ditch effort to salvage the transaction. "There is credible evidence that leads me to believe that Broadcom Ltd." by acquiring Qualcomm "might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States," Trump said in the order released Monday evening in Washington.

Apple Seems OK With Currency Miners In the Mac App Store 38

Apple has yet to block a popular title in the Mac App Store that has openly embraced coin mining, prompting one to ask the question: does Apple allow apps in the Mac App Store if they clearly disclose that they will be mining cryptocurrency? Ars Technica reports: The app is Calendar 2, a scheduling app that aims to include more features than the Calendar app that Apple bundles with macOS. In recent days, Calendar 2 developer Qbix endowed it with code that mines the digital coin known as Monero. The xmr-stack miner isn't supposed to run unless users specifically approve it in a dialog that says the mining will be in exchange for turning on a set of premium features. If users approve the arrangement, the miner will then run. Users can bypass this default action by selecting an option to keep the premium features turned off or to pay a fee to turn on the premium features. If Calendar 2 isn't the first known app offered in Apple's official and highly exclusive App Store to do currency mining, it's one of the very few.

Comcast 'Blocks' an Encrypted Email Service: Yet Another Reminder Why Net Neutrality Matters ( 105

Zack Whittaker, writing for ZDNet: For about twelve hours earlier this month, encrypted email service Tutanota seemed to fall off the face of the internet for Comcast customers. Starting in the afternoon on March 1, people weren't sure if the site was offline or if it had been attacked. Reddit threads speculated about the outage. Some said that Comcast was actively blocking the site, while others dismissed the claims altogether. Several tweets alerted the Hanover, Germany-based encrypted messaging provider to the alleged blockade, which showed a "connection timed out" message to Comcast users. It was as if to hundreds of Comcast customers, Tutanota didn't exist. But as soon as users switched to another non-Comcast internet connection, the site appeared as normal. "To us, this came as a total surprise," said Matthias Pfau, co-founder of Tutanota, in an email. "It was quite a shock as such an outage shows the immense power [internet providers] are having over our Internet when they can block sites...without having to justify their action in any way," he said.

By March 2, the site was back, but the encrypted email provider was none the wiser to the apparent blockade. The company contacted Comcast for answers, but did not receive a reply. When contacted, a Comcast spokesperson couldn't say why the site was blocked -- or even if the internet and cable giant was behind it. According to a spokesperson, engineers investigated the apparent outage but found there was no evidence of a connection breakage between Comcast and Tutanota. The company keeps records of issues that trigger incidents -- but found nothing to suggest an issue. It's not the first time Comcast customers have been blocked from accessing popular sites. Last year, the company purposefully blocked access to internet behemoth for more than 13 hours.


Apple Must Explain Why It Doesn't Want You To Fix Your Own iPhone, California Lawmaker Says ( 195

A California state lawmaker says she hopes to make Apple explain specifically why it has opposed and lobbied against legislation that would make it easier for you to repair your iPhone and other electronics. Motherboard reports: Last week, California assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman announced that she plans to introduce right to repair legislation in the state, which would require companies like Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and Samsung to sell replacement parts and repair tools, make repair guides available to the public, and would require companies to make diagnostic software available to independent shops. Public records show that Apple has lobbied against right to repair legislation in New York, and my previous reporting has shown that Apple has privately asked lawmakers to kill legislation in places like Nebraska. To this point, the company has largely used its membership in trade organizations such as CompTIA and the Consumer Technology Association to publicly oppose the bill. But with the right to repair debate coming to Apple's home state, Talamantes-Eggman says she expects the company to show up to hearings about the bill.

"Apple is a very important company in the state of California, and one I have a huge amount of respect for. But the onus is on them to explain why we can't repair our own things and what damage or danger it causes them," Talamantes-Eggman told me in a phone interview. Talamantes-Eggman told me that the bill she plans to introduce will apply to both consumer electronics as well as agricultural equipment such as tractors. Broadly speaking, the electronics industry has decided to go with an "authorized repair" model in which companies pay the original device manufacturer to become authorized to fix devices.


Data Breach Victims Can Sue Yahoo in the United States, Federal Judge Rules ( 13

Yahoo has been ordered by a federal judge to face much of a lawsuit in the United States claiming that the personal information of all 3 billion users was compromised in a series of data breaches. From a report: In a decision on Friday night, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California rejected a bid by Verizon Communications, which bought Yahoo's Internet business last June, to dismiss many claims, including for negligence and breach of contract. Koh dismissed some other claims. She had previously denied Yahoo's bid to dismiss some unfair competition claims.

[...] The plaintiffs amended their complaint after Yahoo last October revealed that the 2013 breach affected all 3 billion users, tripling its earlier estimate. Koh said the amended complaint highlighted the importance of security in the plaintiffs' decision to use Yahoo. 'Plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to show that they would have behaved differently had defendants disclosed the security weaknesses of the Yahoo Mail System," Koh wrote. She also said the plaintiffs could try to show that liability limits in Yahoo's terms of service were "unconscionable," given the allegations that Yahoo knew its security was deficient but did little.


Coming Soon to a Front Porch Near You: Package Delivery Via Drone ( 110

After lagging behind other countries for years, commercial drones in the U.S. are expected to begin limited package deliveries within months, according to federal regulators and industry officials. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; an alternative source was not immediately available] From a report: The momentum partly stems from stepped-up White House pressure, prompting closer cooperation between the government and companies such as seeking authorizations for such fledgling businesses. The upshot, according to these officials, is newfound confidence by both sides that domestic package-delivery services finally appear on the verge of taking off. Earlier promises of progress turned out to be premature. The green light could be delayed again if proponents can't overcome nagging security concerns on the part of local or national law-enforcement agencies. Proposed projects also may end up stymied if Federal Aviation Administration managers don't find creative ways around legislative and regulatory restrictions such as those mandating pilot training for manned aircraft. But some proponents of delivery and other drone applications "think they might be ready to operate this summer," Jay Merkle, a senior FAA air-traffic control official, said during a break at an unmanned-aircraft conference in Baltimore last week that highlighted the agency's pro-business approach.

Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back ( 110

As mobile phone use exploded and the pay phone was increasingly linked to crime, the booth began to disappear. But things are appear to be changing. From a report: Now, the phone booth -- or at least a variation of it -- is making a modest comeback. When the women-only club and work space The Wing opened its first location in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan in October of 2016, the interior featured marble tables, pink velvet couches, and one small, windowless, reflective glass-doored room dubbed the Phone Booth. One year later, when another location of The Wing opened in Soho, eight built-in, glass-doored call rooms were included in the design. [...]

Other companies that have recently purchased Zenbooths include Volkswagen, Lyft, Meetup and Capital One. The Berkeley, Calif., company was launched in 2016, and its products range from $3,995 (for a standard one-person booth) to $15,995 (for a two-person "executive" booth). The one-person booth is a soundproof, eco-friendly, American-made box that's about 36 inches wide and 34 inches deep, with an insulated glass door, a ventilation fan, power outlets and a skylight -- and it can be assembled in roughly an hour. (It does not, however, contain an actual phone.) Sam Johnson, a co-founder of the company, said it produced "hundreds" of Zenbooths a month in 2017. This year, it's on track to quadruple that production. But he doesn't call them phone booths. "We're manufacturing quiet spaces and privacy," he said.

Zenbooth is not the only free-standing office phone booth in the game. Companies like Cubicall, Nomad, and TalkBox, among others, are offering up solutions to the modern office's privacy problem.


Amazon's Alexa Is Coming To an Office Near You ( 74

Amazon announced today that it's bringing its voice assistant into a range of business settings, big and small, like hotels and co-working spaces. From a report: While people always think of Amazon as a consumer company, it has shown itself time and again to have larger ambitions. This move could help it expand tis business services beyond its already popular Amazon Web services. In an interview, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said that exposure to the workplace will improve Alexa by exposing it to new types of conversations. "The kind of language we use in our offices is sometimes radically different from the more conversational things we do in our(homes)," he told Axios. Alexa "will greatly improve by being exposed to different kinds of statements or conversations."

Intel Fights For Its Future ( 175

An anonymous reader shares a post: The Smartphone 2.0 era has destroyed many companies: Nokia, Blackberry, Palm... Will Intel be another victim, either as a result of the proposed Broadcom-Qualcomm combination, or as a consequence of a suicidal defense move? Intel sees the Qualcomm+Broadcom combination as an existential threat, an urgent one. But rather than going to the Feds to try and scuttle the deal through a long and uncertain process, Intel is rumored to be "working with advisors" (in plainer English, the company's Investment Bankers) on a countermove: acquire Broadcom. Why the sudden sense of urgency? What is the existential threat? And wouldn't the always risky move of combining two cultures, employees, and physical plants introduce an even greater peril?

To begin with, the threat to Intel's business isn't new; the company has been at risk for more than a decade. By declining Steve Jobs' proposal to make the original iPhone CPU in 2005, Intel missed a huge opportunity. The company's disbelief in Apple's ambitious forecast is belied by the numbers: More than 1.8 billion iOS devices have been sold thus far. Intel passed on the biggest product wave the industry has seen, bigger than the PC. Samsung and now TSMC manufacture iPhone CPUs. Just as important, there are billions of Android-powered machines, as well. One doesn't have to assume 100% share in the smartphone CPU market to see Intel's gigantic loss.


Inside the Booming Black Market For Spotify Playlists ( 44

The black market for Spotify playlists is booming. It's cheaper than you might expect to hack the system -- and if it's done right, it more than pays for itself, the Daily Dot reports. From the article: It's impossible to overstate the value of Spotify playlists. The company dominates the streaming music market, with 159 million active users and 71 million paid subscribers -- nearly double Apple Music's subscription base, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. More importantly, Spotify has made playlists its defining feature. [...] The rising value of Spotify playlists has spurred a new form of payola -- the decades-old illegal practice of paying for a song to be broadcast on the radio -- with massive amounts of money changing hands behind the scenes. An August 2015 expose by Billboard quoted an unnamed major-label executive who claimed playlist adds were being sold for "$2,000 for a playlist with tens of thousands of fans to $10,000 for the more well-followed playlists." Spotify responded by updating its terms of service to explicitly prohibit "selling a user account or playlist, or otherwise accepting any compensation, financial or otherwise, to influence the name of an account or playlist or the content included on an account or playlist." But the practice of paying for placement, as with other forms of payola before it, hasn't died out. It's just been remixed.

In a matter of minutes and for a mere $2, you can pay to have your song considered by one of the 1,500 curators working on SpotLister, one of several new services that sells access to prominent Spotify users. The site was founded by two 21-year-old college students -- Danny Garcia, a guitar player at New York University, and a close friend who requested anonymity due to unrelated privacy concerns. They started a "private-for-hire" PR company in 2016 that offered "pitching services" to generate buzz on SoundCloud and, later, Spotify. The two would take on anywhere from 15 to 20 clients a month, each paying anywhere from $1,000-$5,000 to secure prominent placement on playlists.


YouTube, the Great Radicalizer ( 211

Zeynep Tufekci, writing for the New York Times: Before long, I was being directed to videos of a leftish conspiratorial cast, including arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11. As with the Trump videos, YouTube was recommending content that was more and more extreme than the mainstream political fare I had started with. Intrigued, I experimented with nonpolitical topics. The same basic pattern emerged. Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons. It seems as if you are never "hard core" enough for YouTube's recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.

This is not because a cabal of YouTube engineers is plotting to drive the world off a cliff. A more likely explanation has to do with the nexus of artificial intelligence and Google's business model. (YouTube is owned by Google.) For all its lofty rhetoric, Google is an advertising broker, selling our attention to companies that will pay for it. The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes. What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with -- or to incendiary content in general. Is this suspicion correct? Good data is hard to come by; Google is loath to share information with independent researchers. But we now have the first inklings of confirmation, thanks in part to a former Google engineer named Guillaume Chaslot. Mr. Chaslot worked on the recommender algorithm while at YouTube. He grew alarmed at the tactics used to increase the time people spent on the site. Google fired him in 2013, citing his job performance. He maintains the real reason was that he pushed too hard for changes in how the company handles such issues.


SXSW: No 'Hot Apps' Anymore But Still a Launchpad For Some Startups ( 28

South by Southwest is no longer the preferred launchpad for social apps, but it may be for others like Blue Duck, a San Antonio-based transportation company debuting its scooter service this weekend. From a report: Between Twitter's big breakout moment in 2007 and Meerkat's in 2015, SXSW has served as a great marketing opportunity for social apps. But that's ended as consumer trends have shifted and Hollywood and other consumer companies have taken over the festival. Standing outside the Austin Convention Center, co-founder Eric Bell tells me that he came up with the idea out of frustration with his local public transit, and he designed the scooters. For now, the company is self-funded, but he expects to soon raise outside funding.

Are The Alternatives Even Worse Than Daylight Saving Time? ( 322

The New York Times notes an important caveat to Florida's recently-approved law observing daylight savings time year-round: it specifies that their change will only go into effect if "the United States Congress amends 15 U.S.C. s. 260a to authorize states to observe daylight saving time year-round."

"In other words: Even if the governor signs the bill, nothing will happen now... States can choose to exempt themselves from daylight saving time -- Arizona and Hawaii do -- but nothing in federal law allows them to exempt themselves from standard time." Meanwhile one California legislator exploring the idea of year-round standard time discovered that "youth sports leagues and families worried that a year-round early sunset would shut down their kids' after-school games." But the Times also acknowledges problems in the current system. "In parts of Maine, for example, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the sun sets before 4 p.m. -- more than an hour earlier than it does in Detroit, at the other end of the Eastern time zone." So is there a better alternative?

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: has a unique suggestion. Their proposal has only two time zones in the continental U.S. that are two hours apart, which The Atlantic calls "a simple plan to fix [DST]"... Johns Hopkins University professors Richard Henry and Steven Hanke have come up with yet another possible fix: worldwide adoption of a single time zone. They argue that the internet has eliminated the need for discrete time zones across the globe, so we might as well just do away with them...

No plan will satisfy everyone. But that doesn't mean daylight-saving time is good. The absence of major energy-saving benefits from DST -- along with its death toll, health impacts, and economic ramifications -- are reason enough to get rid of the ritual altogether.

The article associates Daylight Saving Time with "a spike in heart attacks, increased numbers of work injuries, automobile accidents, suicides, and more." And in addition, it also blames DST for an increased use of gasoline and air conditioners -- adding that it will also "rob humanity of billions of hours of sleep like an evil spacetime vampire."
Hardware Hacking

ESR's Newest Project: An Open Hardware/Open Source UPS ( 232

An anonymous reader writes: Last month Eric S. Raymond complained about his choices for a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), adding that "This whole category begs to be disrupted by an open-hardware [and open-source] design that could be assembled cheaply in a makerspace from off-the-shelf components, an Arduino-class microcontroller, and a PROM...because it's possible, and otherwise the incentives on the vendors won't change." It could be designed to work with longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly batteries, using "EV-style intelligent battery-current sensors to enable accurate projection of battery performance" (along with a text-based alert system and a USB monitoring port).

Calling the response "astonishing," Raymond noted the emergence within a week of "the outlines of a coherent design," and in an update on GitLab reported that "The response on my blog and G+ was intense, almost overwhelming. It seems many UPS users are unhappy with what the vendors are pushing" -- and thus, the UPSide project was launched. "We welcome contributors: people with interest in UPSes who have expertise in battery technology, power-switching electronics, writing device-control firmware, relevant standards such as USB and the DMTF battery-management profile. We also welcome participation from established UPS and electronics vendors. We know that consumer electronics is a cutthroat low-margin business in which it's tough to support a real R&D team or make possibly-risky product bets. Help us, and then let us help you!"

There's already a Wiki with design documents -- plus a process document -- and Raymond says the project now even has a hardware lead with 30 years experience as a power and signals engineer, plus "a really sharp dev group. Half a dozen experts have shown up to help spec this thing, critique the design docs, and explain EE things to ignorant me." And he's already touting "industry participation! We have a friendly observer who's the lead software architect for one of the major UPS vendors." Earlier Raymond identified his role as "basically, product manager -- keeper of the requirements list and recruiter of talent" -- though he admits on his blog that he's already used a "cute hack" to create a state/action diagram for the system, "by writing a DSL to generate code in another DSL and provably correct equivalent C application logic."

He adds to readers of the blog that if that seems weird to you, "you must be new here."


Elon Musk Changes 'Boring Company' Vision To Reward Cyclists and Pedestrians ( 152

"Remember Elon Musk's plan to dig a massive web of traffic-beating tunnels underneath Los Angeles...?" asks CNN. "Now, that plan appears to be getting a huge makeover." An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: While it will still focus on digging tunnels to provide a network of underground tubes suitable for use by high-speed Hyperloop pods, the plan now is to use that Hyperloop to transport pedestrians and cyclists first, and then only later to work on moving cars around underground to bypass traffic. Musk shared the update via Twitter, noting that the idea would be to load customers onto cars roughly the size that a single parking space takes up currently, [thousands of which] would be dotted around an urban environment close to any destinations where someone might travel. The single-car station model would be designed to replace the current subway-style model, Musk said, where only a few small stations are very spread out... This is a big departure from the original vision, and it seems like one that might have evolved after Musk and his collaborators on the project spoke to urban planners and transit authorities.
"If someone can't afford a car, they should go first," Musk posted on Twitter, sharing a new conceptual video where an elevator lowers one of these pedestrian- and cyclist-focussed shuttle pods underground.

TechCrunch says this new vision "would be appealing both to urban officials looking to decrease congestion on downtown roads and discourage personal vehicle use, and to anyone hoping to increase access to affordable transit options."

FCC Accuses Stealthy Startup of Launching Rogue Satellites 128

Back in January, the FCC pulled permission from Silicon Valley startup Swarm Technologies to launch four satellites into space after what it says was an "apparent unauthorized launch." IEEE Spectrum reports that the unauthorized launch consisted of four experimental satellites that the FCC had decided were too small to be noticed in space -- and hence pose an unacceptable risk of collision -- but which the company may have launched anyway, using a rocket based in India. The federal regulator has since issued a letter to Swarm revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission to launch four new, larger versions of its "SpaceBee" satellites. From the report: Swarm was founded in 2016 by one engineer who developed a spacecraft concept for Google and another who sold his previous company to Apple. The SpaceBees were built as technology demonstrators for a new space-based Internet of Things communications network. Swarm believes its network could enable satellite communications for orders of magnitude less cost than existing options. It envisages the worldwide tracking of ships and cars, new agricultural technologies, and low cost connectivity for humanitarian efforts anywhere in the world. The four SpaceBees would be the first practical demonstration of Swarm's prototype hardware and cutting-edge algorithms, swapping data with ground stations for up to eight years.
The FCC told the startup that the agency would assess "the impact of the applicant's apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites... on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee." If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists. An unauthorized launch would also call into question the ability of secondary satellite "ride-share" companies and foreign launch providers to comply with U.S. space regulations.

Lenovo Lays Off a Chunk of Its Motorola Smartphone Team 48

On Friday, Lenovo confirmed layoffs for the Motorola group in Chicago, where the company designs its modular Moto Z smartphones. "In a statement to 9to5Google, Lenovo denied that it was axing 50% of the workforce, as the site had suggested, but didn't provide any further specifics," reports Fast Company. Android Police now reports that 190 people were laid off. A separate report of theirs claims that the company has "completely abandoned plans to launch the successor to last year's Moto X4, the as-yet unannounced Moto X5." Furthermore, "Motorola will be narrowing its focus back to E, G, and Z phones for the time being," reports Android Police. "It's possible the Moto X name could return at some point, but that's looking unlikely in light of this news." The source also says Motorola will be largely discontinuing its efforts to develop all-new, eccentric MotoMods for its Z phone. The likelihood that MotoMods will continue to be sold after 2019 is looking very slim.

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