Can We Make Non-Racist Face Recognition?
As companies race to employ facial recognition everywhere from major league ballparks to your local school and summer camp, we face tough questions about the technology’s potential to intensify racial bias; Commercial face recognition software has repeatedly been shown to be less accurate on people with darker skin, and civil rights advocates worry about the disturbingly targeted ways face-scanning can be used by police.
Nevertheless, these systems continue to roll out across the country amid assurances that more accurate algorithms are on the way. But is the implementation of truly non-racist (as opposed to just “colorblind”) face recognition really possible? To help answer this question, we talked to experts on face recognition, race, and surveillance, and asked them to consider if we could ever remedy the technical, cultural, and carceral biases of face recognition.
Technical biases and technical solutions
Earlier this year, MIT researchers Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru highlighted one of the ways face recognition is biased against black people: darker skinned faces are underrepresented in the datasets used to train them, leaving facial recognition more inaccurate when looking at dark faces. The researchers found that when various face recognition algorithms were tasked with identifying gender, they miscategorized dark-skinned women as men up to a 34.7 percent of the time. The maximum error rate for light-skinned males, on the other hand, was less than 1 percent.
“To fail on one in three, in a commercial system, on something that’s been reduced to a binary classification task, you have to ask, would that have been permitted if those failure rates were in a different subgroup?” Buolamwini asked in an accompanying news release from MIT.
In the paper, Microsoft’s gender classifier had a 20.8 percent error rate for dark-skinned women. In response, Microsoft announced in June it was recalibrating the training data through diversifying skin tones in facial training images, applauding itself for balancing the racial discrepancies in gender classification rates. This, however, only speaks to one kind of bias in face recognition.
“We’re talking about two separate and unique issues in our industry,” Brian Brackeen, CEO of AI startup Kairos, told Gizmodo. Technical biases, he explained, have technical solutions. But even fully functioning face recognition can abet biased systems, a problem requiring more culturally complex solutions. “Both are problems and both deserve attention, but they are two separate things.”
Kairos makes biometric login systems that can let bank customers use their face to check their accounts, employees clock into work, and people at amusement parks access fast-pass lanes. In these contexts, Brackeen says, the stakes of a false positive or a false negative are much lower. Being misidentified by your bank is the not the same as being misidentified by police.
“I’m much more comfortable selling face recognition to theme parks, cruise lines, or banks,” said Brackeen, “ if you have to log into your [bank] account twice because you’re African American, that’s unfair. But, you’re not gonna get shot.”
Brackeen, who jokingly identifies as “probably the only” black CEO of a face recognition company, entered the media spotlight last month when he revealed Kairos turned down a contract with body camera manufacturer Axon. According to Brackeen, face recognition exponentially enhances the capabilities of police, which, in turn, exponentially exacerbates the biases of policing.
“When you’re talking about an AI tool on a body camera, then these are extra-human abilities. Let’s say an officer can identify 30 images an hour,” said Brackeen. “If you were to ask a police department if they were willing to limit [recognition] to 30 recognitions an hour they would say no. Because it’s not really about the time of the officer. It’s really about a superhuman ability to identify people, which changes the social contract.”
Ultimately, Brackeen sees a vendor-end solution: In an editorial last month, he called for every single face recognition company to stop selling its tech to law enforcement agencies.
Fruit from a poisonous tree
Face recognition works by matching the person being scanned against a database of facial images. In policing contexts, these databases can include passport and driver’s license photos or mugshots. In Orlando, police partnered with Amazon to test face recognition connected to surveillance cameras in public places. In New York, school districts have begun exploring similar systems to scan visitors’ faces after the Parkland shooting. In both cases, the goal is to instantaneously identify persons of interest, such as those with outstanding warrants.
This, however, assumes warrants are themselves distributed “fairly” or should always trigger police intervention. Consider Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting death of Mike Brown sparked days of protests. A Justice Department investigation after Brown’s death found that Ferguson police were “shaped by the city’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs.” As the report explained, police routinely targeted black drivers for stops and searches as part of a racist, lucrative revenue model, issuing arrest warrants for missed and partial payments.
The numbers were staggering: Representing 67 percent of the population in Ferguson, black citizens were the target of 85 percent of traffic stops, and 91 percent of all stops resulted in some form of citation. In a future where all drivers are instantly identifiable via face recognition, consider what life would be like for anyone instantaneously matched and identified with an outstanding arrest warrant as a result of a biased system. As face recognition becomes standardized and enters schools, stadiums, airports, and transit hubs, the surveillance powers of the police grow. Even with recalibrated training models, “bias” is present. One scholar we talked to argued bias-free face recognition could never exist in the policing system.
“[Face recognition] imagines policing as neutral. We know that’s not the case,” Simone Browne, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness, told Gizmodo. Dark Matters argues that biometric surveillance turns the body itself into a form of evidence, a form of hyper-objectification with historical connections to slavery. Browne writes:
Browne argues that face recognition creates a digital copy of our physical selves that functions as an ID, which is then analyzed, shared, scrutinized, matched against us—essentially trafficked—all as a means of verifying our identity and tracking our behavior. Face recognition categorizes humans, thus becoming a vehicle for the sometimes prejudicial results of putting people into biometric categories. We can see the consequences of such categorization in gang databases, terror watch lists, and even preferred shopper lists.
“We can’t yet imagine that that’s going to improve things for black people, because the policing system is still intact,” Browne warned.
Who benefits from advances?
“We’re living in a moment of accelerated technology, accelerated technological development [and] scientific development,” Alondra Nelson, the director of Data & Society, which studies the social impacts of technology, told Gizmodo. “Moments of pause and reflection are necessary and, I think, important reminders that we don’t just have to be cogs in a quick moving system.”
Responding to Microsoft’s initial post on gender classification, Nelson was skeptical, tweeting at the time: “We must stop confusing ‘inclusion’ in more ‘diverse’ surveillance systems with justice and equality.”
“[Much] of my work has talked about the way that communities of color in the African-American community understood how they could be both underserved by the sort of positive role of a particular new technology but often overexposed to its worst possible dynamic,” said Nelson.
This dual bind—where black people are subjected to science rather than supported by it—is encapsulated in the concept of “medical apartheid,” a term coined by author Harriet Washington. Born from Washington’s robust historical analysis of medical experimentations on slaves, “medical apartheid” refers to how black people have been experimented on for the sake of scientific advances from which they don’t benefit. One of the most infamous examples comes from the work of James Marion Sims, who is noted by some as the “father of gynecology” for reducing maternal death rates in the 19th century, but conducted research by performing gruesome experiments on enslaved black women.
“All of the early important reproductive health advances were devised by perfecting experiments on black women,” Washington said in a 2007 interview. “Why? Because white women could say no.” Centuries later, the maternal death rate for black women is three times higher than it is for white women.
Face recognition isn’t as dire, but “medical apartheid” is a useful framework for considering how different populations have different roles in the development, advancement, impact, and, ultimately, the benefit of scientific and technological breakthroughs. This disparity is illustrated with a simple question: Which populations can say no?
“This is not something only for [companies to ask,] it’s more about democratic governance,” said Nelson. “We need to be open to the democratic possibility that having better surveillance technology is not necessarily better.”
Outside of contexts like policing, biases (both technical and cultural) seem a lot less menacing. But the question remains: Can black people say no to being face scanned, even if it is statistically balanced, commercially applied, or fairly regulated? Like anyone, black people should be able to enjoy conveniences like shorter airport lines and easier log-ins. But when evaluating an emergent technology’s positive or negative effect on a society, we need to ask whether it has disparate impacts on members of that society, not just if it’s fun or inclusive.
Watching the watchmen
Earlier this month, Microsoft President Brad Smith issued a public (and widely reported) call for the U.S. government to regulate facial recognition after public backlash to his company’s ongoing contract with ICE. “As a general principle,” Smith wrote, “it seems more sensible to ask an elected government to regulate companies than to ask unelected companies to regulate such a government.”
Smith called for the creation of a “bipartisan expert commission” to guide the regulation of face recognition tech. It seemed like a PR ploy at first, not unlike the diversity panels of the Obama years or the newly fashionable AI ethics boards assembled with big names, high praise, and no enforcement powers. Smith’s proposal, however, featured one major difference: Federal commissions have the direct ear of members of Congress, who are bolder than ever in their desire to regulate the “liberal bastion” of Silicon Valley, and can issue subpoenas for documents and information usually obscured by proprietary protection laws. It’s an encouraging suggestion, but tackling the biases in face recognition requires a lot more.
To create “non-racist” face recognition, the companies selling it must, yes, address the technical flaws of their systems, but they will also have to exercise a moral imperative not to give the technology to groups operating with racial bias. Additionally, legislators would need to impose hard limits on how and when face-scanning can be used. Even then, unbiased face recognition will be impossible without addressing racism in the criminal justice system it will inevitably be used in.
Achieving these goals may seem unrealistic, but this only demonstrates how pressing the problem is. Sadly, these aren’t hypothetical concerns about a distant dystopian future. Just this month, the Orlando police department renewed its much decried face recognition pilot with Amazon, while New York’s governor announced the face-scanning was soon coming to bridges and tunnels throughout New York City.
Face recognition is being marketed to consumers as a cutting edge convenience, but it has clear ties to surveillance, and ultimately, control. Imagine if every ad or article promoting a “pay with your face” system also showed criminal databases or terror watch lists. If they did, we’d get a more honest look at face recognition’s impact.
via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com
July 25, 2018 at 04:06PM
This DIY wearable lets you see the world like a dolphin does
As one of its most notable applications, Lidar technology is most commonly associated with self-driving cars. Engineer Andrew Thaler had a different use in mind: Creating a Lidar-powered wearable device that lets you experience life the way a dolphin would.
Called DolphinView, the head-mounted display fuses Lidar technology with the technology developed for bone-conducting headphones to transform the world into a series of vibrations that can be heard through the wearer’s jaw. That, incidentally, is the same part of the body that real dolphins hear through. It’s also a similar technological approach to the “echolocation” process dolphins use to hear, which involves emitting high-pitched clicks which are then bounced off surrounding objects to provide a sense of spatial awareness.
“This is a teaching tool that mimics how dolphins might perceive biosonar by using a Lidar to take a distance measurement, and converting that measurement into pulse and vibrations in their jaws,” Thaler told Digital Trends. “This is a very rough approximation of how dolphins use echolocation to detect objects.”
According to Thaler, the technology works well enough that, as people walk around wearing the headset, they do start to gain an understanding of what the various dolphin-like clicking sounds mean. With a bit of practice, people can become proficient enough with DolphinView that they can pick out open doorways with their eyes closed.
“I’m aware that people have started speculating on applications for people with vision impairment, but similar experimental systems already exist and have had very limited uptake,” he continued, regarding whether or not there are practical applications for the technology.
If you really are keen to live the dolphin way, however, Thaler is here to help — and has made all the instructions and source code available in a GitHub repository to ensure it’s as straightforward as possible. “With a little bit of expertise it’s not a particularly difficult build,” he said. A complete build should cost you less than $100 to complete and is achievable in a weekend. Interested parties may also want to check out his other open-source ocean-related projects.
What better way to teach your kids about the world of dolphins — or, heck, just engage in a spot of post-Comic-Con Flipper cosplay?
via Digital Trends https://ift.tt/2p4eJdC
July 25, 2018 at 04:05PM
For $2,500, you can have a hydroponic weed garden in your living room
You can’t grow money on trees (or so they keep telling us), but if you could, it would probably be with the help of something like the Cloudponics GroBox, a $2,500 fully contained grow system that allows its users control a variety of growing conditions for the perfect plant yield. Sure, it’s probably best for crops like marijuana, but if you want to create a very expensive home for your tomatoes, basil, and other fruits and vegetables, the GroBox would likely help them reach their full potential in the great indoors, too.
The San Francisco-based Cloudponics leverages automation and plant science in order to ensure the delicate conditions needed to maximize a plant’s yield, and in fact, promises to even adjust its parameters down to the individual plant and strain. By controlling soil nutrients, oxygen, humidity, light, and temperature, this indoor garden is able to customize growing conditions in order to maximize your cannabis yields.
Rather than leaving your cannabis plants outside, the GroBox allows you to keep a watchful eye over your plants, maintaining the correct conditions 24 hours a day. And thanks to its companion mobile app, available on both Android and iPhone, you can monitor your plants’ progress from the palm of your hand.
Part of the price of the product is attributed to the rather impressive size of the GroBox. Certainly larger than other hydroponic gardens we’ve seen, the GroBox stands at just under 6 feet tall, but still can fit into your living room (if you’re really bold) or garage. To be fair, it’s not a particularly ostentatious garden — really, it looks like a wooden wardrobe more than anything else, though you’ll be in for a surprise once you open its refrigerator-esque door. But the size of the GroBox allows customers who require substantial amounts of cannabis to treat pain and other medical afflictions to better manage their conditions. In fact, Cloudponics claims, most customers recoup the cost of the garden after a single solid grow.
Thanks to the advanced carbon filter of the GroBox, you should be shielded from any skunky odors coming from within. The box can also be opened and locked from your smartphone, so you can protect your plants no matter where you are. The GroBox is available on both Amazon and the Cloudponics website, and if you’ve $2,500 lying around, it could be yours.
via Digital Trends https://ift.tt/2p4eJdC
July 25, 2018 at 04:05PM
Google offers its own ‘Titan’ USB security key for password-free logins
Google introduced the Titan Security Key during its Google Cloud Next ’18 convention, a physical USB-based device that eliminates the need to enter usernames and passwords. The FIDO-based device includes firmware developed by Google’s engineers that verifies its integrity, so you can log onto your favorite sites worry-free. It’s available now for Google Cloud customers followed by a full mainstream availability “soon.”
“We’ve long advocated the use of security keys as the strongest, most phishing-resistant authentication factor for high-value users, especially cloud admins, to protect against the potentially damaging consequences of credential theft,” the company states.
Google’s key is based on the FIDO U2F protocol, short for “universal 2nd factor.” Borrowing from the smart card concept, you merely insert the key into a USB port or tap it against an NFC-compatible smartphone. When you create an online account (or update your existing security preferences), your PC will create two encrypted tokens: one public and one private.
Later when you log into the account, the service containing the public token will send a “challenge” requiring you to touch a button on the key, thus unlocking the private token for verification. There’s no personal information sent across the internet, and the private token used to unlock the service remains solely on the physical key.
Google and Yubico originally developed this protocol along with support by NXP but now its maintained by the FIDO Alliance. Yubico already offers its YubiKey series for desktop and mobile, such as the YubiKey 4 supporting multiple protocols, the Android-friendly YubiKey NEO, and the Security Key with out-of-the-box support for Gmail, Facebook, and more.
That said, Google’s new Titan Security Key will be in direct competition with Yubico’s products. The difference is that one of Google’s models will rely on a Bluetooth Low Energy component, a standard Yubico helped build but decided not to use because “it does not meet our standards for security, usability, and durability.” Bluetooth, according to Yubico, doesn’t offer the same security level as NFC and USB.
There’s no information about the Titan Security Key’s manufacturer, but Google plans to sell both USB- and Bluetooth-based models in a bundle for $50 or separately for around $25 each — possibly in the sub-$10 range in the future. Moreover, the Titan Security Key won’t have anything to do with Google’s Titan-branded chip used to protect cloud-based servers.
“Titan Security Key gives you even more peace of mind that your accounts are protected, with assurance from Google of the integrity of the physical key,” Google says.
Although smartphones are good for two-factor authentication, SMS-based messages can be intercepted. Even more, if your smartphone is lost or damaged, it takes your private keys with it. A USB-based key can get damaged as well, but it can hang on a keychain and doesn’t require a network connection. According to Google, the Bluetooth model can supposedly remain active for six months on a single charge.
Google will initially target customers who need the Titan Security Key the most: Journalists, business executives, politicians, and the like.
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July 25, 2018 at 04:05PM
Lenovo ThinkPad T480s vs. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Lenovo’s ThinkPad is one of the most iconic lines in notebook history, going back decades and representing one of the most recognizable business brands around. They’re conservatively designed and well-built, and they offer a few specific design cues that appeal to a specific niche of users.
That’s not to say that the brand is boring or static, though. It has a few members ranging from standard clamshell notebooks to convertible 2-in-1s to detachable tablets, giving ThinkPad fans some choices to make. One such decision is between the ThinkPad T480s and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and we decided to compare these two similar but different notebooks to see which is better for you.
If you place the ThinkPad T480s and X1 Carbon far enough apart, you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between them. They both adopt the usual jet-black color scheme with a soft-touch surface, and they both sport the usual ThinkPad logo with glowing red “i.” Hold them in your hand with your eyes closed, and they’d both dish up the same robust build quality that’s been engineered to meet MIL-STD-810G specifications.
You would eventually notice, though, that the X1 Carbon is considerably thinner and lighter (0.62 inches and 2.49 pounds) than the T480s (0.72 inches and 2.9 pounds). The latter’s additional heft didn’t add much in terms of advantages, either, as connectivity was almost identical between the two with the T480s alone having an integrated Ethernet port. They both support Lenovo’s innovative ThinkPad Pro Dock.
Both notebooks also build in the usual ThinkPad keyboard design, similar touchpads, and the obligatory red TrackPoint nubbin in the center of the keyboard that’s de rigueur for ThinkPad fans. We did find the X1 Carbon’s keyboard to be snappier and more precise and the T480s version to be somewhat stiff.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is thinner, lighter, and has a snappier keyboard, beating out its chunkier sibling in this category.
Lenovo configured our review units differently, so it’s difficult to compare their performance too precisely. The T480s had an 8th-generation Core i7-8550U CPU while the X1 Carbon had a core i5-8250U, while both made due with 8GB of RAM and a fast 256GB PCIe SSD.
Unsurprisingly, both notebooks performed similarly, and in line with other notebooks in the same class. The T480s did hold a slight advantage in our Handbrake benchmark that encodes a 420MB video as H.265. Here, the thicker T480s seemed to benefit from some extra cooling, as it churned through the encode process in a shorter time than could be explained by the CPU difference alone.
In terms of storage speeds, the X1 Carbon’s PCIe SSD performed almost twice as fast as the one inside the T480s. That’s not to say that the latter is slow by any means, as both notebooks can access data as quickly as the typical productivity task is going to ask for it.
The performance deal-breaker difference between the two notebooks is regarding their very dissimilar Full HD displays. Both are 14-inch panels with anti-glare coatings, but the similarity ends there. The X1 Carbon’s display had better contrast, vastly wider color gamut, more accurate colors, and higher brightness.
Ultimately, you won’t notice much difference between these two notebooks in day-to-day use, but you’ll certainly enjoy the X1 Carbon’s display a lot more. And you can even upgrade to a WQHD (2,560 x 1,440) display with high dynamic range (HDR) support on the X1 Carbon, meaning that your experience can be even better if you’re willing to spend the money.
As we’ve already discussed, the X1 Carbon is significantly lighter and thinner than the T480s, and it’s going to slip more easily into a backpack for carrying from place to place. That’s not to say that the T480s is thick and heavy — it’s technically a thin and light notebook as well, just not quite so much as the X1 Carbon.
In terms of battery life, though, the T480s wins out. And it’s odd, because they both pack in 57 watt-hours of battery capacity in spite of their differing girths. The X1 Carbon lasted longer in our most demanding web benchmark test, but it fell short against the T480s when browsing the web and playing video.
While the T480s isn’t a class leader in its longevity away from a charger, it does manage to best the X1 Carbon, which may or may not last you a full day’s work on a single charge. That makes your decision a little easier — if you want the thinning and lightest, then the X1 Carbon is the victor. But if battery life matters, then the T480s wins this category.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s svelte frame wins out
Although the X1 Carbon seems to be positioned as the more premium of the two devices, the T480s is just as premium a notebook. A relatively mundane configuration of a Core i7-855U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a Full HD display comes in at a hefty $1,700 retail (on sale for $1,360). At the high end, the T480s runs $2,665, which adds the benefit of a WQHD display and a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU.
The X1 Carbon is just slightly more expensive, at $1,754 for the same low-end configuration (on sale for $1,579). And you can spend $2,620 at the high end, or slightly less than the T480s only with an HDR-ready WQHD display.
The ThinkPad T480s provides better battery life than the X1 Carbon, but that’s about all it has going for it. Given that there’s not a lot of money separating the two, and the X1 Carbon’s high-end configuration is even slightly less than the T480s’s, we recommend going with the thinner and lighter of the two.
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July 25, 2018 at 04:05PM
Bose SoundSport Free true wireless headphones review
As the industry leader in active noise-cancelation and a longtime pioneer in the world of digital signal processing, Bose has a history of incorporating the latest and greatest audio technology while still offering products with a high ease of use that appeals to even the most tech-petrified shoppers. You typically pay a premium for products with the Bose logo on them, but anyone who has spent time with the company’s offerings knows that, while better values exist, Bose simply doesn’t sell anything bad. Whatever you get will set up quickly, sound good, and function exactly as advertised — and that equates to peace of mind.
The company’s first ever fully wireless headphones, the SoundSport Free, follow this template. With five hours of battery life, IPX4-rated waterproofing, and impressive bass, they are a solid first foray into this exploding segment. In typical Bose form, there are better options on the market for less money — the SoundSport Free debuted at $250, and have since been dropped to $200, but that’s still $40 over Apple’s AirPods and $15 over Jabra’s more compact, better waterproofed, and superior sounding Elite Active 65t.
That said, though they offer a bit less performance for a bit more money, the SoundSport Free easily rise above most fully wireless options, and we absolutely wouldn’t balk at a friend or family member if they told us they’d copped a pair.
Out of the box
The SoundSport Free come in a small white box that houses the headphones inside a big, black pillbox of a charging case. Opening the case reveals oval-shaped fully wireless earbuds, which look a bit like plastic mushrooms that sprout from your ears when you put them on. Along with the charging case (a staple for nearly all fully wireless earbuds), accessories include a charging cable, a user guide, and three sizes of eartips.
Features and design
The SoundSport Free come in either all black or a gradient blue with neon yellow accents. A large disc along each earpiece houses the battery, antenna, and various other mission-critical functionality, suspended fairly far out of your ears when you have them in. Like the Sony WF-SP700N, the rather bulky outer section is well supported when you actually put them in your ears, thanks to a clever use of silicone.
The combined sport fin/eartip section on the end of each earphone easily keeps them in your ears, where they balance nicely, despite their large form factor. We had no problem wearing them for hours on end, which isn’t something we can say about many fully wireless in-ears.
As with most true wireless in-ears, there’s a basic array of controls on the top of each earpiece to keep you from reaching for your cell phone. The right earpiece has a set of three buttons — volume up and down with a multifunction play/pause button in the middle – while the left simply sports a Bluetooth pairing button.
It takes about two hours to charge the headphones in the case, granting around five hours of playback before needing to be returned to their plastic home. The case will get you two more full charges on the go, for a total of 15 hours of juice. For comparison, Apple’s industry-leading AirPods offer the same five hours of playback time and 24 hours of charging time from the case.
One of the SoundSport Free’s cooler features is their voice-prompted battery check which tells you how much battery level you have left each time you pull the earphones from the case and put them in. The charging case itself is an unassuming clamshell with a micro-USB port and the Bose logo on top. It’s a bit larger than cases from the likes of Apple and Jabra, likely owing to the sheer size of the headphones that need to fit inside.
Workout enthusiasts and fellow Pacific Northwest natives will love that the SoundSport offer an IPX4 rating, meaning they’re certified against water splashes for five minutes — and sweatproof enough for even the stickiest summer workouts.
Pairing the headphone is simple and easy. Thanks to included voice prompts and the Bose Connect App, your phone or other Bluetooth-enabled device will quickly latch onto the earbuds, and the earphones always quickly re-paired when we popped them out of the charging case.
Bose SoundSport Free Compared To
Bose has never been known as a company that offers truly flat or transparent sound signatures, instead tending towards the kind of boosted low end and sparkling treble that tend to make songs seem more vibrant and energetic — if occasionally a bit muddy. While we typically prefer the more clinical performance of competitors’ over-ear headphones when compared to Bose over-ears like the QC25, we actually quite enjoyed the SoundSport Free earbuds, which easily keep up with their competitors in the fully wireless space.
When put up against tamer sound signatures like that of the Jabra Elite Active 65t, the SoundSport Free bring a more robust punch in the bass that really makes classic hip-hop and soul music pop. On the other end, the sound profile doesn’t seem quite as sharply sculpted as we typically hear from the company’s products.
We great enjoyed that punchier low-end during workouts, when we often listen to more beat-driven music. Jamming out to AC/DC, Chance The Rapper, and other workout favorites was always enjoyable.
That said, we did wish for more midrange clarity when listening to favorites like Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, a stalwart favorite in our testing library. We just didn’t get the same depth in the acoustic guitars offered by Jabra’s Elite 65t (our favorite fully wireless earbuds).
Still, the SoundSport Free hold their own; as with other leading examples, they sound comparable to banded Bluetooth headphones that run about half the price, and at this point, that makes their sonic talents pretty competitive.
Bose offers a one-year warranty for U.S. buyers (two years in the EU) that covers manufacturer defects.Our Take
With five hours of battery life, limited waterproofing, and good sound, the Bose SoundSport Free are a well-made entry into the fully wireless headphone market – especially if you’re a bass lover. Still, you can get better fully wireless headphones for cheaper.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes. For our money, the Jabra Elite Active 65t — which offer identical battery life, more robust waterproofing, and a cleaner form factor, all for less money than the Bose SoundSport Free — are a better value.
For those who don’t mind slightly worse audio performance, Apple’s industry leading AirPods are also worth considering, offering solid connectivity, ease of use, and better battery life from their charging case.
How long will it last?
Bose is a well-known brand with a reputation for quality products, and the SoundSport Free fully adhere to that legacy. We expect you’ll get years of use out of them before any issues arise.
Should you buy it?
For most listeners, probably not. While we like the Bose SoundSport Free enough not to knock anyone who we see wearing them, we simply prefer the more affordable and better-looking Jabra Elite Active 65t. Unless you’re a huge bass-head, we suspect you will, too.
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July 25, 2018 at 04:05PM
Qualcomm says it will terminate its massive $44B offer to acquire NXP
Qualcomm today said it wouldn’t extend its offer to buy NXP for $44 billion today as part of its release for its quarterly earnings, and instead be returning $30 billion to investors in the form of a share buy-back.
So, barring any last-second changes in the approval process in China or “other material developments”, the deal is basically dead after failing to clear China’s SAMR. As the tariff battle between the U.S. and China has heated up, it appears the Qualcomm/NXP deal — one of the largest in the semiconductor industry ever — may be one of its casualties. The White House announced it would impose tariffs on Chinese tech products in May earlier this year, kicking off an extended delay in the deal between Qualcomm and NXP even after Qualcomm tried to close the deal in an expedient fashion. Qualcomm issued the announcement this afternoon, and the company’s shares rose more than 5% when its earnings report came out.
“We reported results significantly above our prior expectations for our fiscal third quarter, driven by solid execution across the company, including very strong results in our licensing business,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said in a statement with the report. “We intend to terminate our purchase agreement to acquire NXP when the agreement expires at the end of the day today, pending any new material developments. In addition, as previously indicated, upon termination of the agreement, we intend to pursue a stock repurchase program of up to $30 billion to deliver significant value to our stockholders.”
Today’s termination also marks the end of another chapter for a tumultuous couple of months for Qualcomm. The White House blocked Broadcom’s massive takeover attempt of Qualcomm in March earlier this year, and there’s the still-looming specter of its patent spat with Apple. Now Qualcomm will instead be returning an enormous amount of capital to investors instead of tacking on NXP in one of the larger consolidation deals in the semiconductor industry.
via TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com
July 25, 2018 at 03:54PM
Zbiotics says it’s bioengineered a hangover cure
Y Combinator backed Zbiotics has spend two years developing what they’re billing as the world’s first genetically engineered probiotic. The startup’s initial product isn’t exactly world-changing but it might just save your day — given they’ve invented an elixir of ‘next day’ life: Aka a hangover cure.
Although you actually have to take it before — or, well, during — drinking rather than waiting until the moment of regretful misery when you wake up.
How have they done this? For their first product they’ve bioengineered probiotic bacteria to produce more of the enzyme that the body naturally uses to break down a toxic chemical byproduct of alcohol which is in turn responsible for people feeling awful after too many alcoholic drinks. So you could say they’re hoping to put probiotics on steroids. (NB: No actual steroids are involved, obviously.)
While probiotics themselves aren’t at all new, having been in the human diet for thousands of years — with wide acceptance that certain strains of these live ‘friendly’ bacteria/microorganisms can be beneficial for things like human gut health — the team’s approach of using gene editing techniques (specifically fiddling with the bacteria’s DNA) to enhance what a probiotic can deliver to the person who’s ingested it is the novel thing here.
So new they haven’t yet conducted the placebo controlled, peer-reviewed clinical trials that will ultimately be necessary to back up the efficacy claims they’re making for their biotech enhanced hangover cure.
Nor are they therefore in a position to defend their forthcoming hangover elixir from accusations of supplementary ‘snake oil’ — and, well, the supplement industry as a whole often has that charge leveled at it. And yet people keep buying and popping its pills. (Therein lies the temple rub, vitamin potion and wellness capsule. And, well, also the investor appetite for carving a fresh chunk out of a very large pie.)
Zbiotics co-founders Zack Abbott and Stephen Lamb freely admit it’s going to be a challenge to stand out — and be considered credible amid all this, er, goop noise.
“This consumer space is rife with pseudo science,” agrees Abbott, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of Michigan. “Everybody is banging the drum of real science. And so we have a huge challenge to differentiate ourselves. And really convince the consumer that we’ve built something specific.
“And it really is a first effort to invent a product to specifically address their problem, as opposed to grabbing vitamins off a shelf, putting them in a bottle and labelling it.”
“There are some companies… [that] address dehydration [for hangovers]; that’s not enough. There are other companies they just put [vitamins] into a bottle, that’s not enough. There’s so much noise out there. How do we break through that? It could take some time,” admits Lamb. “And it could take a lot of work.”
Tested in vitro — and on birthday beers
At this pre-launch stage, the founders say they’ve tested their beefed up probiotic on themselves — and will go so far as to say they’ve seen “promising results”.
“I had the fortune of having the final prototype built just a week or two before my birthday and so I ended up trying it out for my birthday and it was great,” adds Abbott.
They are also keen to say they don’t want to encourage irresponsible drinking. So don’t expect their future marketing to talk about ‘a biotech license for your next bender’. Product pricing is tbc but they say they’re aiming for widely affordable, rather than lux or overly premium.
With hangover results that could speak for themselves, their hope is that people will feel confident enough to have a pop and see whether the idea of a biotech enhanced probiotic that’s pumping out extra alcohol-metabolizing enzymes stands up to several pints of lager and a few chasers (or not).
Though — when asked — they do say they also want to carry out clinical trials to glean data on the efficacy of their hangover cure.
“We are a very science-first company and so we don’t want to be making any claims about anything that we don’t have data to back up,” says Abbott.
“At this point… we’ve done significant testing in a test tube, in vitro, and shown that the bacteria we’ve built do perform the function that they’re supposed to perform. Which is to break down acetaldehyde. But we can’t make further health claims until we do clinical trials. And we in the process of drafting up a protocol for a human clinical study with one of our scientific advisors — Dr Joris Verster — a world expert in academic hangover research. But in the meantime we can’t make those claims until we have that.”
They are also planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign later this year — in order to start making some of their own noise and trying to drum up interest and, well, willing guinea pigs.
Though they are also adamant the product is entirely safe. It’s just the efficacy vs hangover misery that’s yet to be stood up in human clinical trials.
While a hangover cure might seem a trivial problem to focus high tech bioengineering effort on, they say the unmissable fact of a hangover — or indeed the lack of one — was one of the reasons why they selected such an “everyday problem” for the first application of their technique vs going for a more fuzzy (and, well forgiving on the efficacy front) generic goal like ‘wellness’. Or indeed targeting an issue where a ‘cure’ is pretty subjective and hard to quantify (like anti-aging).
Absolutely no one is going to mistake a hangover for feeling great. Though of course the power of the placebo effect working its psychological magic cannot be ruled out — not until they’ve clinically tested their stuff against it in robust trials.
On the other hand, even if it ends up that a placebo effect is what’s making people feel better, given that the target problem is (just) a hangover there aren’t likely to be too many consumer complaints and cries for money back.
“One of the reasons why we chose this use-case was that it would allow people to try it and feel the advocacy for themselves. That was very important,” says Abbott. “It’s something you can feel the results of. So that was really important. Having a visceral read-out of efficacy. People can experience the product working for themselves.”
The other reason for choosing a hangover cure was more practical: They needed a problem that could be solved with an enzyme and therefore which could be helped by genetically engineering bacteria to produce more of the sought for substance.
“The whole point here is that we’ve engineered a bacteria to express an enzyme specifically that can solve a problem,” he explains. “Enzymes are these really powerful complex molecules that are not easy to deliver to people. So it has to be a problem that you can solve with an enzyme.
“There has to be a nice fit with the technology. So we look for things where parts of the body where bacteria has access to you; you have a lot of bacteria in your gut, in your skin, in your mouth, in your nose… places were we can deliver bacteria and they can express these enzymes to solve problems of everyday health.”
“We start with probiotics that have an extremely good safety profile, have been used in regular food by humans for centuries. And we identify those because we know that they’re going to be safe, and we know that they’re going to be able to interact with your body in the way that we want them to. And then we engineer those bacteria as oppose to choosing something that your body may never have seen before,” adds Lamb, who brings prior experience helping food companies enter new markets to the startup.
He says they’ve been safety testing their prototype probiotic for the past year and change at this point — “making sure that this is ready for market before we actually launch anything”.
“We are not going to launch any kind of product until it’s completely safety tested according to every regulatory framework here in the U.S. — and we’re totally comfortable with that,” he adds emphatically.
They do also intend to move beyond hangover cures, with the plan being to develop additional probiotics that target other use-cases. And say they’ve been building a gene editing platform that’s flexible for that purpose. Though they’re not disclosing exactly what else they’re working on or eyeing up — wanting to keep that powder dry for now.
“I spent over a year building the first product, and the lion’s share of that time was spent making sort of a genetic platform… that was adaptable to multiple use-cases,” says Abbott. “At first I just engineered the bacteria to be able to make a lot of enzyme generally. Whatever enzyme I put into the platform. And so the first enzyme I put in was to break down acetaldehydes. That being said it could be easily switched out for an enzyme to break down… a different toxin that your body has to deal with. So the platform is very adaptable and it was designed to be that way.”
“That being said there are certain use-cases we’re really excited about that may require additional optimization techniques in order to make them work specifically for that use-case. So, generally speaking, some may require more work than others but the platform we started with gives us a good launch pad,” he adds.
As well as YC’s standard startup deal, the team has raised an additional $2.8M in seed funding this year for R&D and the initial product roadmap. They’re hoping the forthcoming crowdfunding campaign will give them the additional lift to ship the consumer product into the US market.
Investors in the seed round aren’t being disclosed at this stage. Abbott also notes that he previously got a small amount of pre-seed funding, early on, to fund building the prototype.
It’s fair to say that biotech as an investment space isn’t a bet for every investor — given product development risks, timeframes and perhaps also some of the deflated hype of past years. Which perhaps explains why Zbiotics investors aren’t ready to shout all about it just yet. Even if they’re feeling great about not having a hangover.
“We’ve found different levels of success with different investors,” agrees Lamb. “Where we’ve found the most success is in investors who see the vision for the technology and understand it as something that is and can be truly innovative relative to what’s on the market today. So probiotics themselves — traditional probiotics — are a $40BN industry, and the fact is that most of those probiotics don’t do anything or are inconsistent at best. So we found investors who have a mindset where they can see how a novel probiotic, something that actually is engineered to work and is based in a high level of biotech is something that can really disrupt that area. And that may or may not be traditional biotech investors. Oftentimes it’s investors who are really looking to push the envelope.
“We definitely had to find the right investor and the traditional biotech investor often is looking for different things than we had to offer,” adds Abbott. “And different pathways — more traditional pathways. We’re going not conventionally I think with bringing this hard biotech to market quickly. So it definitely is threading the needle and finding the right investors.”
via TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com
July 25, 2018 at 03:37PM
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies Is Basically a PG, Animated Deadpool
As someone who’d never watched any of the various Teen Titans animated series, I had no idea what to expect sitting down for Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. Was this going to be a film made only for kids? Would it warrant its cinematic release? How funny or clever could it really be? The answers were both quick and gratifying.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is not just for kids. It warrants its cinematic release a dozen times over, and it’s both very funny and very clever. Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail, the film feels like an animated, PG-rated Deadpool. It’s very aware of what it is, it works on multiple levels, and it’s filled with all manner of audacious moments, references and jokes. Things you never thought possible because of rights issues (or maybe even due to good taste), it’s all in here. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies simply goes for it again and again, with excellent results.
In the film, the Titans (Robin, Raven, Beast Boy, Cyborg, and Starfire) are upset they don’t get a lot of respect. They’re in the same world at the Justice League and others but even though they’re also a kick-ass team of superheroes, their age and inexperience have seemingly held them back. Robin believes one way to change that would be to get his own movie. In his world (and ours, frankly) every superhero is getting a movie. Why not Batman’s most famous sidekick? So the team goes to Hollywood to try to become stars, but come face-to-face with their long-teased archenemy, Slade, making his TTG debut as a major villain (he’s had a few brief cameos on the show, but this is the first time he’s directly fighting the heroes).
Along the way, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies never stops surprising. There’s a lot of juvenile humor about farts and poop, but that’s largely overshadowed by even more inside baseball superhero and movie talk. It would be a sin to spoil too much of it but let’s just say fans of comic books, comic book movies, and all cinematic superhero universes are sure to find things in here they aren’t expecting to see or hear. The movie pushes boundaries further and further until this tiny, humorous, TV adaptation becomes a huge, theater-worthy superhero experience with some truly excellent third act reveals and action sequences.
That’s not to say this isn’t still a movie for kids, though. The tone is always one of irreverence, and the filmmaking has a flashy, manic style to it, with a near excess of visual stimulation. At times, some of that can be a little hard to get your head around. But, once you do, there’s a lot to enjoy.
One place that dichotomy is well-illustrated is in the music. Yes, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is also kind of a musical. Several scenes in the movie center on songs that are seemingly meant to both delight and slightly annoy. They’re successful on both counts. You will have them stuck in your head on your way home from the theater.
In fact, that’s kind of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies in a nutshell. Yes, there are plenty of things about it that feel a little too cute, a little too aimed at a younger audience. But, of course, the movie is primarily aimed at that younger audience. It’s just a bonus that it works for adults, too. Plus, most of the younger content is evenly spread around a story that’s surprisingly smart, jokes that are as shocking as they are funny, and a liveliness that’s infectious. You may not love everything about Teen Titans Go! To the Movies but, by the end, it will likely win you over.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies opens Friday, July 27.
via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com
July 25, 2018 at 03:36PM
Google Wants You to Use Physical Security Keys So Bad It's Willing to Sell You One
Google really, really wants you to use physical security keys to protect yourself from hackers. After announcing that its 85,000 employees have managed to go more than a year without getting phished because of mandated security devices, Google now has its own physical security key to sell you.
On Wednesday, the company announced its new Titan security key, a device that protects your accounts by restricting two-factor authentication to the physical world. It’s available as a USB stick and in a Bluetooth variation, and like similar products by Yubico and Feitian, it utilizes the protocol approved by the FIDO alliance. That means it’ll be compatible with pretty much any service that enables users to turn on Universal 2nd Factor Authentication (U2F).
At this point, everyone should be familiar with the basic two-factor authentication that adds an extra layer of security on top of the standard password. You can request a text message or use an authenticator app to generate a code that also has to be entered to access your account. This helps mitigate the risk involved with being tricked into handing over your password. But the technique can still be circumvented by a hacker.
U2F goes further by requiring a USB device that’s inserted into your computer or an NFC device to be in close proximity to your device. Google is also spearheading the move to using Bluetooth (BLE) for its U2F. Bluetooth aside, however, it’s unclear what exactly sets Google’s product apart from its competitors.
In an email to Gizmodo, the company said, “Titan Security Key gives you even more peace of mind that your accounts are protected, with assurance from Google of the integrity of the physical key.” So it appears that above all, Google is simply betting on brand recognition—and it’s true that you don’t want to buy this kind of gear from an unknown source.
Yubico pioneered this technology and is the dominant force in manufacturing U2F devices as well as further refining its protocols. It counts major companies like Facebook among its business clients. Google has also been a Yubico client and the two companies have worked together on the development of the FIDO standards over the years.
Following today’s announcement of the Titan key, Yubico CEO Stina Ehrensvard wrote a blog post that was slightly critical of Google’s new product. Ehrensvard insisted that everyone at Yubico “are true supporters of open standards” and all new competitors in the field are welcome. But she singled out a couple of points for users to keep in mind if they’re trying to decide if they want to go with Titan. From her post:
When we asked Google if it would like to respond to the concerns Ehrensvard raised, a spokesperson declined. Her point about the country in which Titan is being manufactured is a bit confusing. It appears she’s trying to say that Google’s device is being manufactured in a country that could leave it open to being compromised. When we asked Yubico what this meant and where Titan is being produced, a spokesperson referred us back to Google.
Yubico’s spokesperson did point us to a recent warning from the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team that Bluetooth devices potentially contain a vulnerability that would allow an attacker to access your data. Yubico says it’s focused on near-field communication (NFC) instead of Bluetooth and it plans to “announce another secure and user-friendly solution for iOS” soon.
Speaking of user-friendly solutions, U2F, in general, is a bit of a pain in the ass. CNET got a hands-on preview of the Titan key and found themselves locked out of their accounts when they forgot the device at the office. They recommend setting up a backup verification with Google that sends a notification to get you back into your accounts to a trusted device. But I’m sure most people are pretty good about remembering the keys to their house or car, and carrying this could become second-nature after a while.
As far as why Google is doing this at the moment, it seems reasonable that it’s genuinely trying to ingrain that kind of second-nature into the public. Yubico makes plenty of money, but not the kind of fuck-you money that fuels Google. Titan appears to be mostly about spreading public awareness and doing some brand building around security. Earlier this year, Google lamented that only 10 percent of Gmail users have enabled two-factor authentication. Encouraging users to get into security keys widens the Overton window on what people are willing to tolerate as a necessary annoyance.
Google Cloud customers can already order Titan keys through their Google rep and the company says they’ll be available to everyone soon for $20 to $25, which is a fairly standard price. If you don’t want to wait, Yubico and Feitian have respected keys that are ready to ship out now.
via Gizmodo https://gizmodo.com
July 25, 2018 at 03:30PM