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January 17, 2019
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Wrest control from a snooping smart speaker with this teachable “parasite”

in Advertising Tech/Alexa/Artificial Intelligence/connected devices/Delhi/Europe/Gadgets/GitHub/Google/google home/Hardware/Home Automation/India/Internet of Things/IoT/neural network/Politics/privacy/Security/smart assistant/smart speaker/Speaker by

What do you get when you put one Internet connected device on top of another? A little more control than you otherwise would in the case of Alias the “teachable ‘parasite’” — an IoT project smart speaker topper made by two designers, Bjørn Karmann and Tore Knudsen.

The Raspberry Pi-powered, fungus-inspired blob’s mission is to whisper sweet nonsense into Alexa’s (or Google Home’s) always-on ear so it can’t accidentally snoop on your home.

Project Alias from Bjørn Karmann on Vimeo.

Alias will only stop feeding noise into its host’s speakers when it hears its own wake command — which can be whatever you like.

The middleman IoT device has its own local neural network, allowing its owner to christen it with a name (or sound) of their choosing via a training interface in a companion app.

The open source TensorFlow library was used for building the name training component.

So instead of having to say “Alexa” or “Ok Google” to talk to a commercial smart speaker — and thus being stuck parroting a big tech brand name in your own home, not to mention being saddled with a device that’s always vulnerable to vocal pranks (and worse: accidental wiretapping) — you get to control what the wake word is, thereby taking back a modicum of control over a natively privacy-hostile technology.

This means you could rename Alexa “Bezosallseeingeye”, or refer to your Google Home as “Carelesswhispers”. Whatever floats your boat.

Once Alias hears its custom wake command it will stop feeding noise into the host speaker — enabling the underlying smart assistant to hear and respond to commands as normal.

“We looked at how cordyceps fungus and viruses can appropriate and control insects to fulfill their own agendas and were inspired to create our own parasite for smart home systems,” explain Karmann and Knudsen in a write up of the project. “Therefore we started Project Alias to demonstrate how maker-culture can be used to redefine our relationship with smart home technologies, by delegating more power from the designers to the end users of the products.”

Alias offers a glimpse of a richly creative custom future for IoT, as the means of producing custom but still powerful connected technology products becomes more affordable and accessible.

And so also perhaps a partial answer to IoT’s privacy problem, for those who don’t want to abstain entirely. (Albeit, on the security front, more custom and controllable IoT does increase the hackable surface area — so that’s another element to bear in mind; more custom controls for greater privacy does not necessarily mesh with robust device security.)

If you’re hankering after your own Alexa disrupting blob-topper, the pair have uploaded a build guide to Instructables and put the source code on GitHub. So fill yer boots.

Project Alias is of course not a solution to the underlying tracking problem of smart assistants — which harvest insights gleaned from voice commands to further flesh out interest profiles of users, including for ad targeting purposes.

That would require either proper privacy regulation or, er, a new kind of software virus that infiltrates the host system and prevents it from accessing user data. And unlike this creative physical IoT add-on that kind of tech would not be at all legal.

News Source = techcrunch.com

CERN’s plan for 100-km collider makes the LHC look like a hula hoop

in CERN/colliders/Delhi/Europe/Gadgets/Government/India/large hadron collider/LHC/particle colliders/particle physics/Physics/Politics/Science by

The Large Hadron Collider has produced a great deal of incredible science, most famously the Higgs Boson — but physicists at CERN, the international organization behind the LHC, are already looking forward to the next model. And the proposed Future Circular Collider, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles around, would be quite an upgrade.

The idea isn’t new; CERN has had people looking into it for years. But the conceptual design report issued today shows that all that consulting hasn’t been idle: there’s a relatively cohesive and practical plan — as practical as a particle collider can be — and a decent case for spending the $21 billion or so that would be needed.

“These kind of largest scale efforts and projects are huge starters for networking, connecting institutes across borders, countries,” CERN’s Michael Benedikt, who led the report, told Nature. “All these things together make up a very good argument for pushing such unique science projects.”

On the other hand, while the LHC has been a great success, it hasn’t exactly given physicists an unambiguous signpost as to what they should pursue next. The lack of new cosmic mysteries — for example, a truly anomalous result or mysterious gap where a particle is expected — has convinced some that they must simply turn up the heat, but others that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

The design document provides several possible colliders, of which the 100-km ring is the largest and would produce the highest-energy collisions. Sure, you could smash protons together at 100,000 gigaelectron-volts rather than 16,000 — but what exactly will that help explain? We have left my areas of expertise, such as they are, well behind at this point so I will not speculate, but the question at least is one being raised by those in the know.

It’s worth noting that Chinese physicists are planning something similar, so there’s the aspect of international competition as well. How should that affect plans? Should we just ask China if we can use theirs? The academic world is much less affected by global strife and politics than, say, the tech world, but it’s still not ideal.

There are plenty of options to consider and time is not of the essence; it would take a decade or more to get even the simplest and cheapest of these proposals up and running.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Open Bionics closes $5.9M Series A for its affordable and cool bionic limbs

in Delhi/downing ventures/Europe/India/open bionics/Politics/TC by

The world wowed a few years ago when a very clever startup from Bristol, UK, came up with 3D printed bionic limbs for amputees. Uniquely, the limbs were lightweight, cheap to make and could even be made into Iron Man-style arms to enthuse amputee children.

They went on to sign a deal with the huge UK National Health Service to bring new technologies to amputees, announced at a Techcrunch Crunch Disrupt.

Today Open Bionics has successfully raised $5.9 million from investors including F1’s Williams Advanced Engineering Group.

Their Series A round was led by Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund joined by Ananda Impact Ventures, and Downing Ventures, who continued to support the company with follow-on funding from their seed round.

The funding marks another success for the Bristol Robotics Lab, arguably the largest in the world, which plays host to other robotics startups such as Reach Robotics which closed $7.5M Series A for its augmented reality bots last year.

Open Bionics says it has achieved a price point that means their multi-grip bionic hand is the only advanced device that’s affordable enough to be covered by national healthcare systems in major western markets such as the UK, France, Germany and the USA.

The company launched private sales in May 2018 with its ‘Hero Arm’ which is now the best-selling multi-grip bionic hand in the UK and is also now selling in France and Spain with goals to serve more European countries this year. The bionic hands are small enough to fit children as young as 9 years old.

The Hero Arm allows amputees to choose between different finger speeds and movements enabling the wearer to pick up small objects like marbles with a fine pinch to carrying shopping baskets with a full hand grasp.

Samantha Payne and Joel Gibbard, named by The Europas startup awards as the ‘hottest founders’ in Europe, founded the ‘tech for good’ company in 2014.
Payne, co founder and COO said: “This funding enables us to serve multiple international markets and we’re thrilled to finally be able to deliver bionic hands to amputees and people with limb differences in the USA later this year. We’re exceptionally excited to receive this support from such high calibre investors who not only offer financial backing but incredible experience in commercialisation, measuring impact, and engineering high-performance hardware.”

Gibbard, co-founder and CEO said: “This investment provides crucial capital to help Open Bionics deliver on its vision of making advanced prostheses available to a much wider audience of limb-different users. We look forward to offering the Hero Arm in multiple international markets and continuing the development of great products that solve challenges within mobility and independence.”

Last year Open Bionics received support from Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, and the Dalai Lama.

Matthew Burke, Head of Technology Ventures, Williams Advanced Engineering, said: “Williams Advanced Engineering is excited to work with the team at Open Bionics and share our expertise in product development systems. Alongside the Fund’s investment, Open Bionics will benefit from the engineering and technology experience at Williams and the investment management and growth experience of Foresight’s team of investment professionals. Together this aims to be an ideal combination to deliver for the sector, its customers and the wider UK economy.”

Johannes Weber, founder of Ananda Impact Ventures said: “I have been in Kosovo as a NATO soldier in 1999 and during my deployment had to deal with many cases of limb differences. Since then I have always wanted to become more active in the field. At Ananda we are really excited to be supporting Open Bionics and seeing its products changing society’s perceptions around limb difference and drastically changing user’s self image.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Hands-on with Ledger’s Bluetooth crypto hardware wallet

in CES/CES 2019/Delhi/Europe/Gadgets/India/Ledger/Ledger Nano X/Ledger Wallet/Politics/Startups by

French startup Ledger unveiled a new hardware wallet at CES this week. While the device isn’t going to ship until March, the company let me play with a prototype version of the device. The Ledger Nano X feels just like using the Nano S, but on mobile.

When the company’s previous hardware wallet first came out, that was before the cryptocurrency boom, before Ledger raised $75 million. And the user experience wasn’t great.

You had to install multiple Chrome apps to manage multiple cryptocurrencies, switch between each app when you wanted to access your balance and manage your crypto assets. But things got much better when the company released Ledger Live on macOS, Windows and Linux.

With this new app, you could finally view your portfolio balance and manage multiple crypto assets from the same desktop app. The logical next step was mobile. And you have to get a new hardware wallet for that.

The Ledger Nano X looks more or less like the Ledger Nano S, but slightly bigger. It’s shaped like a USB key and it has a tiny screen to confirm transactions on the device. There’s a tiny 100 mAh battery in it and a slightly bigger screen. The battery should last a couple of months when you’re not using the wallet, and around 8 hours of active use. The microUSB port has been replaced by a USB-C port. The buttons are now on each side of the screen instead of on the side of the device.

After you pair the device with your phone, you can control everything from your iOS or Android phone. You can install apps on the Ledger Nano X, access your wallets and send cryptocurrencies. On iOS, you can lock the app using a password and optionally Face ID or Touch ID.

When you need to validate a transaction on your Ledger Nano X, your phone will pair with your Ledger device over Bluetooth. You can then view transaction information on your Ledger device and approve the transaction on the device itself.

What makes Ledger so secure is that your private keys never leave your Ledger device. Transactions are signed directly on the device. Your private keys are never sent over Bluetooth and your cryptocurrencies remain safe even if your smartphone is compromised.

Ledger now uses an ST33 secure element, which is slightly more secure than the previous version ST31. Now, there’s only a single chip, connected directly to the screen and buttons, which reduces the risk of having someone compromise the information on your screen.

The screen is now twice as tall, which lets you view full public addresses without a scrolling view. You can now install up to 100 different cryptocurrency apps. You can still plug the device into a computer and use the desktop app, as well. The device costs €120 ($138).

Disclosure: I own small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook and PayPal pull pages of far right British activist filmed intimidating public figures

in computing/deal/Delhi/digital media/Europe/European Union/Facebook/hate speech/head/India/PayPal/Politics/smartphones/Social/social media/Speaker/spokesperson/TC/The Guardian/United Kingdom/world wide web by

Facebook has confirmed it has removed the pages and profiles of a far right political activist in the UK after concerns were raised in parliament about aggressive intimidation of politicians and journalists trying to go about their business in and around Westminster.

PayPal has also closed an account that was being used to solicit donations for “political activism”.

The intimidation is being conducted by a small group of extreme Brexit supporters who have — ironically enough — lifted the ‘yellow vest’ dress code from French anti-government protestors, and are also making use of mainstream social media and crowdfunding platforms to fund and amplify attacks on public figures in an attempt to squash debate and drive an extreme ‘no deal’ Brexit. (Context: The clock is ticking down to March 29; the date when the UK is due to leave the European Union, with or without a withdrawal deal.)

In incidents widely shared on social media this week, individuals from the group were filmed live streaming harassment of Remain supporting Conservative MP Anna Soubry who was mobbed and shouted at as she walked down the street to return to parliament after being interviewed live on TV in front of the Palace of Westminster where the group heckled her with repeat chants of “nazi”.

Members of the same group were also filmed with fisted smartphones, chasing and hurling abuse at left-wing commentator Owen Jones as he walked down a London street.

In another video one of the individuals leading the verbal attacks, who has been identified in the press and online as a man called James Goddard, can be seen swearing viciously at Met Police officers and threatening to bring “war”.

The speaker of the House of Commons said today that he had written to the head of the Met Police to urge action against the “aggressive, threatening and intimidating behaviour towards MPs and journalists” around Westminster.

The Guardian reports that at least 115 MPs have written to police requesting extra protection.

Contacted today about Goddard’s presence on its platform, Facebook later confirmed to us that it had pulled the plug. “We have removed James Goddard’s Facebook Pages and Groups for violating our policies on hate speech,” a spokesperson told us. “We will not tolerate hate speech on Facebook which creates an environment of intimidation and which may provoke real-world violence.”

Earlier today one of his pages was still live on Facebook, and in a post from December 14 Goddard can be seen soliciting donations via PayPal so he can continue “confronting” people.

We also asked PayPal about Goddard’s use of its tools, pointing to the company’s terms of use which prohibit the use of the platform for promoting “hate, violence, racial and other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory”.

PayPal declined to comment on “any specific customer’s account”, citing its privacy policy but a spokesperson told us: “We do review accounts that have been flagged to us for possible breaches of our policies, and we will take action if appropriate.”

A few hours later PayPal also appeared to have pulled the plug on Goddard’s account.

A Patreon page he had seemingly been using to solicit donations for “political content, activism” is also now listed as ‘under review’ at the time of writing.

But Goddard remains on Twitter, where he is (currently) complaining about being de-platformed by Facebook and PayPal to his ~4k followers, and calling other people “fascists”.

How should mainstream tech platforms respond to people who use their tools for targeted harassment? If you read companies’ terms and conditions most prohibit abusive and intimidating conduct. Though in practice plenty flows until flagged and reviewed. (And even then takedowns frequently fail to follow.)

For all the claims from platforms that they’re getting better about enforcing their claimed community standards there are countless of examples of continued and very abject failure.

Facebook’s 2.2BN+ users especially make for an awful lot of content to wrangle. But none of these platforms is renowned for being proactive about weeding out violent types of speech they claim to forbid. And when intimidation is dressed up as political speech, and public figures are involved, they appear especially paralyzed.

Social media-savvy Far Right groups grokked this loophole long ago (see: Gamergate for a rough start date); and are continuing to exploit default inaction to get on with the violent business of megaphoning hate in the meanwhile.

You could say platforms are being gamed but the money they make off of accelerated outrage makes them rather more complicit in the problem.

The irony is it’s free speech that suffers in such a thuggish and febrile atmosphere. Yet platforms remain complicit in its undoing; doing nothing to stop hate mongers turning hugely powerful high tech soapboxes into abuse funnels.

They do this by choosing to allow groups with fascist ideologies to operate freely until enough reports are filed and/or high level political attention frowns down on particular individuals that they’ll step in and act.

Facebook’s community standards claim it aims to prevent “real-world harm”. But with such a narrow prescription it’s failing spectacularly to prevent deliberate, malicious and co-ordinated harassment campaigns that are designed to sew social division and upend constructive conversation, replacing the hard won social convention of robust political debate with mindless jeering and threats. This is not progress.

There’s nothing healthy for society or speech if mainstream platforms sit on their hands while abusive users bludgeon, bully and bend public debate into a peculiarly intolerant shape.

But we’re still waiting for the tech giants to have that revelation. And in the meanwhile they’re happy to let you watch a live streamed glimpse of mob rule.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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