Tag Archives: technology

Robots Can Mix You a Drink. But Will They Listen to Your Problems?

Robots Can Mix You a Drink. But Will They Listen to Your Problems?

By TIMOTHY AEPPEL

The Makr Shakr, a bartending robot, is the creation of an Italian company and consists of robotic arms that mix cocktails, then place them on a conveyor belt to be carried across the bar to the waiting customer or a server.

Robots aren’t about to elbow bartenders out of a job.

But versions of them could start showing up at your favorite watering holes. Indeed,some are already out there.

The Makr Shakr is the creation of an Italian company and consists of robotic arms that mix cocktails, and then place them on a conveyor belt to be carried across the bar to the waiting customer or a server. The first two installations are on Royal Caribbean cruise ships, where they’re the centerpieces of “Bionic Bars.”

The goal isn’t to do away with bartenders, who are still needed to tend the machines and, when necessary, deliver the drinks. Carlo Ratti, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and cofounder of Makr Shakr, says the project began when he was asked to design a machine that would allow people to interact with robots in an unexpected setting. “It started as something to shock people in a tangible way,” he says, to show them “what the third industrial revolution is all about.”

Another example is the “Bartendro,” a box with hoses and flashing lights that can mix an array of drinks—but it too needs to be tended by a human, who among other things puts the glass into position under the pour spout and then delivers the drink to the customer.

Machines like these are designed to work alongside humans, not replace them.

But just because something can be automated doesn’t mean it should be. At Tryst, a Denver bar that bought one of the $2,500 Bartendros through a Kickstarter campaign last year, the verdict is clear: It’s an oddity people quickly lost interest in after a few months. “Visually, it’s eye-catching,” said human bartender Richie Hadley. “But on a busy night, will we use it? Not at all, unless someone asks about it.”

Another machine is aimed at the self-service and home market. The Monsieur was created by a team of engineers from Georgia Tech after a frustrating night watching basketball finals in a crowded restaurant. “It wasn’t until halftime that we got our first drink,” says Donald Beamer, the company president. “As engineers, we saw there was a problem.” Automation speeds up assembly lines, so why not use it to accelerate cocktail making?

Mr. Beamer’s device comes in two versions—a table-top model that sells for just under $4,000 and a $10,000 kiosk that looks like a Coke machine. The kiosk has a cup dispenser and ice reservoir. The idea is to “offer self-service” in places that might not otherwise have a bar, he says.

Still, MIT professor Scott Stern, who studies the diffusion of new technology, is among those who doubt bartending machines have a big future. “When I’m in a different city, having a drink of wine at a bar, I don’t want to talk to a robot,” he says.

But while bartending jobs may be safe, many others are at risk.  Even some technology entrepreneurs like Bill Gates are worried about what a surge of automation could mean for the future of work. Those worries have been magnified by the slow recovery of the job market after the last recession.

Facebook accused of tracking all users even if they delete accounts or ask never to be followed

Facebook accused of tracking all users even if they delete accounts or ask never to be followed

Network tracks its users so that it can give them more tailored advertising

ANDREW GRIFFIN

A new report claims that Facebook secretly installs tracking cookies on users’ computers, allowing them to follow users around the internet even after they’ve left the website, deleted their account and requested to be no longer followed.

Academic researchers said that the report showed that the company was breaking European law with its tracking policies. The law requires that users are told if their computers are receiving cookies except for specific circumstances.

Facebook’s tracking — which it does so that it can tailor advertising — involves putting cookies or small pieces of software on users’ computers, so that they can then be followed around the internet. Such technology is used by almost every website, but European law requires that users are told if they are being given cookies or being tracked. Companies don’t have to tell users if the cookies are required to connect to a service or if they are needed to give the user information that they have specifically requested.

But Facebook’s tracking policy allows it to track users if they have simply been to a page on the company’s domain, even if they weren’t logged in. That includes pages for brands or events, which users can see whether or not they have an account.

Facebook disputes the accusations of the report, it told The Independent.

“This report contains factual inaccuracies,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “The authors have never contacted us, nor sought to clarify any assumptions upon which their report is based. Neither did they invite our comment on the report before making it public.

“We have explained in detail the inaccuracies in the earlier draft report (after it was published) directly to the Belgian DPA, who we understand commissioned it, and have offered to meet with them to explain why it is incorrect, but they have declined to meet or engage with us. However, we remain willing to engage with them and hope they will be prepared to update their work in due course”.

The report does not have any legal standing, and was written by independent academics.

With respect to its European data, Facebook is regulated by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who checks that Facebook is acting within the EU’s Data Protection Directive. As part of that regulation, Facebook is regularly audited.

Facebook has a page on its site that gives users’ information about cookies and how they are used on the network. The company makes clear that cookies are used for the purposes of advertising and other functions, and that users can opt out of such tracking if they wish to.

Senate may probe FTC decision to give Google a ‘pass’

Senate may probe FTC decision to give Google a ‘pass’

Senate may probe FTC decision to give Google a ‘pass’

A top lawmaker wants to probe how Google dodged a potentially damaging US antitrust lawsuit, The Post has learned.

The Senate antitrust subcommittee, under Republican Chairman Michael S. Lee of Utah, is planning to launch an investigation into the Federal Trade Commission’s decision to close its probe of the search giant in 2013, according to three sources.

Lee wants to know why FTC commissioners voted to end the probe despite a recommendation from competition committee staffers that the agency sue Google over practices that harmed business rivals.

The Senate panel would likely subpoena documents, if it receives Justice Department approval, to see if White House officials had any influence on the five commissioners.

“[Lee] is going to drag the commissioners in,” said one source.

Lee — a critic of Google who held hearings in 2011 over whether the company used anti-competitive tactics to boost its search engine — is seizing on a Wall Street Journal report last week that suggested Google’s close ties to the White House helped it escape regulators.

At the time of the FTC probe, the search giant had visited the White House often, and had visited 230 times, or once a week, since President Obama had been in charge, according to the Journal.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt also helped Obama’s re-election campaign and has a friendly relationship with the administration.

Google responded to the Journal, saying Microsoft made more visits to the White House and any suggestion of improper influence is off-base.

The Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee will start the ball rolling by holding a hearing to grill FTC officials, sources said.

Three of the FTC’s current commissioners were also sitting at the time of the Google probe vote. The FTC chairman at the time, Jon Leibowitz, is now a partner at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell.

Google executives might also be called to testify before the Senate subcommittee.

The FTC’s competition staff in 2012 recommended suing Google over three practices deemed harmful to consumers and rivals, including “scraping” content illegally from other sites and restricting advertisers from placing ads with rivals.

Instead of suing, however, the FTC reached an agreement with Google in January 2013, in which the search giant voluntarily agreed to change its practices to appease regulators.

It is not unusual for FTC commissioners to vote against taking legal action when different divisions of the agency’s staff fail to reach a consensus, a DC source said.

In the case of Google, the Competition Bureau recommended action, while the Economics Bureau disagreed.

“If the hearing is on the merits of the FTC decision, then it will be nothing but a snoozer,” the source said.

However, “if the senator finds evidence of an impropriety that looks like an agreement or some effort by the White House to intervene this could get a little more serious.”

The FTC declined to comment. Lee and Google didn’t respond to a request for comment by presstime.

Night vision eyedrops allow vision of up to 150 feet in darkness

Night vision eyedrops allow vision of up to 150 feet in darkness

The eyedrops were created by a team of independent Californian biohackers

It might sound like something straight out of Q’s laboratory or the latest Marvel film but a group of scientists in California have successfully created eye drops that temporarily enable night vision.

Science for the Masses, an independent “citizen science” organisation that operates from the city of Tehacapi, theorised that Chlorin e6 (Ce6), a natural molecule that can be created from algae and other green plants, could enhance eyesight in dark environments.

The molecule is found in some deep sea fish, forms the basis of some cancer therapies and has been previously prescribed intravenously for night blindness.

The average flashlight will allow you to see around 30 feet ahead of you

Jeff Tibbets, the lab’s medical officer, said: “There are a fair amount of papers talking about having injected it in models like rats and it’s been used intravenously since the 60s as treatments for different cancers. After doing the research, you have to take the next step.”

The next step was to moisten the eyes of biochemical researcher and willing guinea pig Gabriel Licina’s eyes with 50 microlitres of Ce6.

The effect was apparently almost instantaneous and, after an hour, he was able to distinguish shapes from 10 metres away in the dark and soon at even greater distances.

“We had people go stand in the woods,” Licina said, “At 50 metres, I could figure who they were, even if they were standing up against a tree.”

The control group without Ce6 were only able to pick out the objects a third of the time, while Licina’s success was 100 per cent.

CONTACT LENSES WITH NIGHT VISION COULD BE ON THE WAY
IMAGES REVEAL THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CAT AND HUMAN EYESIGHT

The effect of the chemical only lasted for a few hours and the test subject’s eyesight returned to normal the next day.

The organisation has released a paper that detailed the experiment in their website. It says that more research will need to be conducted to measure the actual amount of electrical stimulation increase in the eye whilst the long term effects of the procedure will require further investigation.

Tibbets says that this success is perfect demonstration of the work that his organisation conducts: “For us, it comes down to pursuing things that are doable but won’t be pursued by major corporations. There are rules to be followed and don’t go crazy, but science isn’t a mystical language that only a few elite people can speak.”

Foreign workers fill hundreds of Sacramento-area high paid IT jobs

Foreign workers fill hundreds of Sacramento-area high paid IT jobs

A U.S. visa allows people to come to the country for high-tech jobs. (Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015) News10/KXTV

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It’s nearly 8 p.m., and inside a state office building two dozen computer experts design and troubleshoot a system that will take and process millions of unemployment claims each year.

It’s a $200 million Employment Development Department project, but with the exception of two managers, everyone inside the office is from outside of the U.S. They are employed by Deloitte, a major U.S. IT company hired by the state to create and manage its Unemployment Insurance Modernization project. The mostly Indian nationals are allowed to work here under a visa program called H-1B.

Tech companies like Microsoft, Intel, Google and Facebook say they need hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to fill jobs here because American colleges can’t crank out computer science grads fast enough. In 2013, the industry lobbied Congress on the issue to the tune of almost $14 million.

Those companies, who need workers with highly specialized knowledge like computer expertise, are awarded the visas through a lottery process. It’s allowed under the Immigration and Nationality Act and administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. The visas can be valid as long as six years.

News10 reached out to several H-1B workers over the past three months, and they all declined to comment for this story.

“The program is going unfettered, unchecked, without bounds, and it’s all in the interest of profit,” Computer Database Administrator Chris Brown said. He said was displaced by one of the special visa workers in 1996, and he has been following the issue for the past 18 years.

First full body transplant is two years away, surgeon claims

First full body transplant is two years away, surgeon claims

Doctor plans to graft a living person’s head on to a donor body using procedures he believes will soon be ready

human body medical doctors transplant
Doctor plans to attach a living person’s head to a donor body in operation he says is not far off. Photograph: Alamy Ian Sample, science editor

A surgeon says full-body transplants could become a reality in just two years.

Sergio Canavero, a doctor in Turin, Italy, has drawn up plans to graft a living person’s head on to a donor body and claims the procedures needed to carry out the operation are not far off.

Canavero hopes to assemble a team to explore the radical surgery in a project he is due to launch at a meeting for neurological surgeons in Maryland this June.

He has claimed for years that medical science has advanced to the point that a full body transplant is plausible, but the proposal has caused raised eyebrows, horror and profound disbelief in other surgeons.

The Italian doctor, who recently published a broad outline of how the surgery could be performed, told New Scientist magazine that he wanted to use body transplants to prolong the lives of people affected by terminal diseases.

“If society doesn’t want it, I won’t do it. But if people don’t want it, in the US or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else,” he said. “I’m trying to go about this the right way, but before going to the moon, you want to make sure people will follow you.”

Putting aside the considerable technical issues involved in removing a living person’s head, grafting it to a dead body, reviving the reconstructed person and retraining their brain to use thousands of unfamiliar spinal cord nerves, the ethics are problematic.

The history of transplantation is full of cases where people hated their new appendages and had them removed. The psychological burden of emerging from anaesthetic with an entirely new body is firmly in uncharted territory. Another hitch is that medical ethics boards would almost certainly not approve experiments in primates to test whether the procedure works.

But Canavero wants to provoke a debate around these issues. “The real stumbling block is the ethics,” he told New Scientist. “Should this surgery be done at all? There are obviously going to be many people who disagree with it.”

The idea of body transplants – or head transplants, depending on the perspective – has been tried before. In 1970, Robert White led a team at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, US, that tried to transplant the head of one monkey on to the body of another. The surgeons stopped short of a full spinal cord transfer, so the monkey could not move its body.

A lull in attempted body transplants followed White’s experiments, but last year researchers at Harbin Medical University in China made some headway with mice. They hope to perfect a procedure they claim “will become a milestone of medical history and potentially could save millions of people”.

Despite Canavero’s enthusiasm, many surgeons and neuroscientists believe massive technical hurdles push full body transplants into the distant future. The starkest problem is that no one knows how to reconnect spinal nerves and make them work again. Were that possible, people paralysed by spinal injuries could have surgery to make them walk again.

“There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation,” Richard Borgens, director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University in Indiana, US, told New Scientist.

According to the procedure Canavero outlined this month, doctors would first cool the patient’s head and the donor’s body so their cells do not die during the operation. The neck is then cut through, the blood vessels linked up with thin tubes, and the spinal cord cut with an exceptionally sharp knife to minimise nerve damage. The recipient’s head is then moved on to the donor’s body.

The next stage is trickier. Canavero believes that the spinal cord nerves that would allow the recipient’s brain to talk to the donor’s body can be fused together using a substance called polyethylene glycol. To stop the patient moving, they must be kept in a coma for weeks. When they come round, Canavero believes they would be able to speak and feel their face, though he predicts they would need a year of physiotherapy before they could move the body.

“This is such an overwhelming project, the possibility of it happening is very unlikely,” Harry Goldsmith, professor of neurological surgery at the University of California, Davis, told the magazine.

Republicans Fear Net Neutrality Plan Could Lead to UN Internet Powers

Republicans Fear Net Neutrality Plan Could Lead to UN Internet Powers

An Obama administration official dismisses any link between the FCC’s rules and international authority over the Internet.

BY

February 25, 2015 The U.S. government’s plan to enact strong net neutrality regulations could embolden authoritarian regimes like China and Russia to seize more power over the Internet through the United Nations, a key Senate Republican warned Wednesday.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota argued that by claiming more authority over Internet access for net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission will undermine the ability of the U.S. to push back against international plots to control the Internet and censor content.

Countries like Russia already have made it clear that they want the International Telecommunications Union or another United Nations body to have more power over the Internet, Thune said.

“It seems like reclassifying broadband, as the administration is doing, is losing a valuable argument,” Thune said at his panel’s hearing on Internet governance. “How do you prevent ITU involvement when you’re pushing to reclassify the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act, and is everyone aware of that inherent contradiction?”

On Thursday, the FCC is set to vote on net neutrality regulations that would declare Internet access a “telecommunications service” under Title II. Advocates, including President Obama, argue that the move is the only way the FCC can enact rules that will hold up to legal challenges in court. The rules aim to prevent Internet providers from acting as “gatekeepers” and controlling what content users can access online.

David Gross, a partner at the law firm Riley Wein who advises tech and telecom companies, agreed with Thune’s warning.

The U.S. has consistently argued that the Internet is not a “telecommunication service” and therefore outside of the authority of the International Telecommunications Union, he explained. “If they were to find that Internet service is a telecommunications service, that would undoubtedly make the job of my successors much more complicated,” Gross, a former ambassador to the ITU during the George W. Bush administration, said.

A top Obama administration official dismissed the comparison between net neutrality and UN control of the Internet.

“I don’t think it’s quite as stark as your description suggests, senator,” Larry Strickling, the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for communications and information, replied to Thune.

He acknowledged that countries like China and Russia are actively looking for ways to claim more power over the Internet through the UN. But there’s nothing inconsistent about the U.S. opposing those efforts and supporting tough net neutrality rules, he argued.

Europe and Canada already consider the Internet a telecommunications service and have joined the U.S. in opposing pushes for more UN influence, Strickling said. No one has claimed that their position is hypocritical, he said.

“I fundamentally don’t think this will change matters going forward,” Stickling said. “The United States is opposed to intergovernmental resolution to these Internet issues. We will remain opposed to that.”

Later in the hearing, Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat and net neutrality supporter, argued that the FCC’s rules will strengthen the ability of the U.S. to push for a free and open Internet on the international stage.

“I hope that our strong net neutrality rules can be the basis for an open Internet,” Cantwell said.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY

What exactly is “net neutrality” and why does the FCC want to regulate the Internet?

FCC Chair Refuses to Testify before Congress ahead of Net Neutrality Vote

FCC Chair Refuses to Testify before Congress ahead of Net Neutrality Vote

by ANDREW JOHNSON

internet control obama FCC net neutrality web

Two prominent House committee chairs are “deeply disappointed” in Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler for refusing to testify before Congress as “the future of the Internet is at stake.”

Wheeler’s refusal to go before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday comes on the eve of the FCC’s vote on new Internet regulations pertaining to net neutrality. The committee’s chairman, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), and Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) criticized Wheeler and the administration for lacking transparency on the issue.

“So long as the chairman continues to insist on secrecy, we will continue calling for more transparency and accountability at the commission,” Chaffetz and Upton said in a statement.

“Chairman Wheeler and the FCC are not above Congress.”

The vote on the new Internet regulations is scheduled for Thursday. The FCC’s two Republican commissioners have asked Wheeler to delay the vote to allow more time for review. The changes would allow the commission to regulate the Internet like a public utility, setting new standards that require the provision of equal access to all online content.

Facebook Reveals New Feature That Could Help Prevent Suicides

Facebook Reveals New Feature That Could Help Prevent Suicides

facebook

The signs that someone might be contemplating suicide are often missed until it’s too late. Among younger crowds, evidence that a person might need help are often written right on their social media profiles, which is why Facebook and suicide-prevention groups teamed up to release a new feature that could recognize these signs and offer help.

The feature developed by Facebook with Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, an organization at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, and other partners was announced at Wednesday’s Compassion Research Day at Facebook’s headquarters.

What Facebook's new features that could help prevent cases of suicide will look like. (Image source: Facebook)

Here’s how it works, according to a news release from the university:

When someone sees a post that suggests its author might be considering suicide, they can click on a dropdown menu and report the post to Facebook.

That reporting activates a series of responses. The person who flags the post will see a screen with links that allow them to message the potentially suicidal person, contact another Facebook friend for support or connect with a trained professional at a suicide helpline for guidance.

Facebook will then review the reported post. If the poster is thought to be in distress, a series of screens will be launched automatically when that person next logs onto Facebook, with suggestions for getting help. The responses link to a number of positive options, including videos from Now Matters Now, an online program started by Forefront research scientist Ursula Whiteside that uses real-life accounts of people who have struggled with suicidal thoughts to provide research-based coping strategies.

Facebook also has a formal form people can use to report threats of suicide.

“For those who may need help we have significantly expanded the support and resources that are available to them the next time they log on to Facebook after we review a report of something they’ve posted,” Facebook Product Manage Rob Boyle and Community Operations Safety Specialist Nicole Staubliwrote in a post. “Besides encouraging them to connect with a mental health expert at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, we now also give them the option of reaching out to a friend, and provide tips and advice on how they can work through these feelings. All of these resources were created in conjunction with our clinical and academic partners.”

The new features, Facebook said, will roll out within the next few months.

Even with these tools though, Facebook’s website encourages users who see a “direct threat of suicide on Facebook” to contact law enforcement or a suicide hotline as well.

“In the world of suicide prevention, we know that being connected is a protective factor,” Jennifer Stuber, an associate professor of social work, said in the university’s news release. “People are on Facebook 24/7, so there’s an opportunity to actually connect a suicidal person with someone they have a relationship with. Facebook is extremely proactive in what they’re trying to do. ”

(H/T: Huffington Post)