Author: Devin Coldewey

Verbal common sense will prevent AIs from harvesting kings and unlocking oranges

TECHCRUNCH If I hand you an apple, you know from experience that it isn’t something you can drive. And the tree it came from can’t be woven, or its seeds bandied. You know that’s nonsense, but AIs don’t have the benefit of years spent navigating the world, and as such have no real idea as to what you can do with what — but a little common sense could be coming their way. Researchers at Brigham Young want to make sure that future androids and AI entities that interact with the real world have at least a basic understanding of what certain things are and do. “When machine learning researchers turn robots or artificially intelligent agents loose in unstructured environments, they try all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Ben Murdoch, co-author of the BYU study, in a news release. “The common-sense understanding of what you can do with objects is utterly missing, and we end up with robots who will spend thousands of hours trying to eat the table.” That specific situation probably doesn’t come up particularly often, but you get the idea. What’s needed is a sort of database of objects and common actions or attributes associated with them. That way, a robot knows that a dumbbell is meant to be picked up, not pushed, and that it’s heavy, not light — all of which affects how it...

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Does Siri sound different today? Here’s why

TECHCRUNCH Did you notice that Siri sounds a little more sprightly today? Apple’s ubiquitous virtual assistant has had a little virtual work done on her virtual vocal cords, and her newly dulcet-ized tones went live today as part of iOS 11. (Check out a few more lesser-known iOS 11 features here.) It turns out a lot of work went into this little upgrade. The old methods of creating speech from text produced the familiar but stilted voices we’re all familiar with from the last decade or two. Basically you took a big library of voice sounds — “ah,” “ess,”...

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O-Robotix spruces up its SeaDrone underwater robo-craft

TECHCRUNCH At last year’s Disrupt SF, SeaDrone made it to the Battlefield finals with its simple, robust, and affordable underwater drone. With a few customers and a year of feedback under their belts, the engineers behind the robo-sub are putting out a version 2.0 with a few improvements. The company’s pitch is basically an alternative to using expensive, professionally-piloted remotely operated vehicles for things like ship inspections and other underwater tasks. The SeaDrone is portable, easily piloted from an iPad, and its path and camera can be automated for frequently repeated jobs. One of the things I was most...

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WT2 real-time translation earpieces look to crowdfund first run

TECHCRUNCH This summer the TC team took a brief trip to Shenzhen, where I met Wells Tu, whose company TimeKettle has made an earpiece that translates spoken Chinese to English and vice versa in near real time. Having created a functioning prototype (it isn’t vaporware; we tried it, as you can see above) he and the team are now heading to Kickstarter to raise the money for their first run of the gadget. The device, or rather devices, are pretty foolproof: you open the case, put one earpiece in your ear, and give the other to the person you...

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Red Sox may have used a Fitbit, not an Apple Watch, to snag Yankees signs

TECHCRUNCH In a major upset for Apple’s smartwatch brand, it appears that it was a Fitbit, not an Apple Watch, that the Red Sox used as a medium for their sign-stealing in a recent ball game. The news comes from “a major league source” speaking to Boston Globe sports reporter Nick Cafardo. It’s unclear at this time whether the source himself or herself is major league or if they are MLB related. While this may seem unimportant… well, let’s be honest. It is. But it’s the kind of unimportant that’s still worth noting. This is the kind of petty...

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Global Learning XPRIZE awards $1 million each to final five teams

TECHCRUNCH The Global Learning XPRIZE, an international competition to create educational software, has reached its penultimate stage: 5 teams out of an initial pool of nearly 200 have been selected to receive $1 million and compete for the $10 million grand prize. The problem, of course, isn’t that kids around the world don’t have a good enough app — access to basic resources, teachers, and other considerations are the real limitations. But that’s why the competition aims to create software that kids can use to teach themselves, off the grid and with no top-down help. A panel of independent...

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Facebook halts ad targeting of profile details abused by users

TECHCRUNCH In a swift response to the news that advertisers were able to target anti-Semitic phrases on Facebook, the social network has shut down “self-reported targeting fields” in the ad system until further notice. It was shown earlier today in a ProPublica report that Facebook’s advertising system gladly surfaced categories like “How to burn jews” and “Hitler did nothing wrong.” Obviously Facebook itself didn’t invent these itself, but scraped them from profiles that had listed the phrases under such headings as “field of study.” This led to the offensive phrases being listed alongside ordinary hobbies and interests that advertisers...

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Facebook’s generation of ‘Jew Hater’ and other advertising categories prompts system inspection

TECHCRUNCH Facebook automatically generates categories advertisers can target, such as “jogger” and “activist,” based on what it observes in users’ profiles. Usually that’s not a problem, but ProPublica found that Facebook had generated anti-Semitic categories such as “Jew Hater” and “Hitler did nothing wrong,” which could be targeted for advertising purposes. The categories were small — a few thousand people total — but the fact that they existed for official targeting (and in turn, revenue for Facebook) raises questions about the effectiveness — or even existence — of hate speech controls on the platform. Although surely countless posts are...

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