Does Silicon Valley have a moral responsibility to stop developing robots?

The debate about the impact of new technology, particularly AI, on society continues to rage.

Last month, for example, the current front runner to replace Jerry Brown as Californian Governor in 2018,Gavin Newsom traditionally one of Silicon Valleys most vocal supporters warnedgraduating computer science students at UC Berkeley about the duty to exercise their moral authority to improve society.

This is code red, a firehose, a tsunami, thats coming our way, he said about the impact of new technology on jobs and inequality. So is Newsom right? Is the job of entrepreneurs and technologists, in his words, to exercise their moral authority?

To answer this question, and to talk more generally about the impact of AI on employment, I sat down with the co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy,Andrew McAfee.

One of the worlds leading authorities on the economic consequences of new technology, McAfee is also the co-author of the 2014 bestsellerThe Second Machine Ageand the just publishedMachine, Platform, Crowd.

Three years ago, IinterviewedMcAfee and his co-author, the MIT professorErik Brynjolfsson, about the connection between digital technology and jobs. So whats changed since 2014, I asked McAfee about his findings in his new book. What has surprised him most about developments over the last three years?

On the one hand, McAfee admits, We all underestimate the pace of progress in the sense that things have changed much faster and more dramatically than he ever imagined. But on the other hand, he confesses, he admits to being surprised by the surprising number of jobs that have been created by all this new technology.

These jobs may not always be great, he admits. But they exist. Thus far, at least, then, we have been spared Gavin Newsoms tsunami of technological unemployment. McAfees biggest regret lies in what he see as the failure over the last three years of public policy to get ready for the oncoming storm.

None of the suggestions laid out in The Second Machine Age liberalizing immigration policy or investment in infrastructure, education and research have been pursued. And so, McAfee warns, we may today be even more vulnerable to the darker economic consequences of the digital revolution.

Should Silicon Valley exercise its moral authority to stop developing this job-killing technology? Here McAfee is unequivocal. Absolutely not, he says. Over the next fifty years, he acknowledges, the economy will become massively automated, but at the same time society will have had half a century to adapt itself to the march of the robots.

McAfee ultimately remains an optimist. Things are going to work out okay in the long-run, he promises. In the end, we will be able to control the tsunami that is coming our way.

Many thanks to the folks at theGreater Providence Chamber of Commercefor their help in producing this interview.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/16/does-silicon-valley-have-a-moral-responsibility-to-stop-developing-robots/

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AOL is inviting celebrities and you to its new BUILD Series studio

Image: gino depinto

When a celebrity arrives in New York City with a new project to push, their schedule might look something like: Good Morning America, Facebook Live, the Tonight Show.

AOL is hoping to add another destination to that itinerary: BUILD, its brand new 13,412-square-foot, three-story livestreaming studio set to open in downtown Manhattan on Thursday. It’s a big, shiny and clearly expensive (state-of-the-art everything) bet on being able to attract celebrities and an online audience with live video.

Of course, this isn’t your parents’ celebrity interview series. AOL wants to bring people downtown to relax. Maybe even have some fun.

“We want to have the most intimate fan experience that melds together digital and fans,” Suzanne Lindbergh, senior vice president of original programming at AOL, told Mashable. “We want everybody to feel like they’re at home. The talent experience here is completely different. You feel love and welcomed, and it’s equally fun.”

AOL is inviting storytellers and their fans to meet-up close. About 35 people can fit around the stage that can host any group from an 11-piece band to a single guest. An interviewer will start the conversation and then attendees are encouraged to ask their own questions.

For those who cannot make it to the studio, they’re taking questions from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat and a new BUILD Series app. People also can tune in live on AOL.com, Apple TV, Facebook, Sony Playstation, Google Play and FiOS.

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BUILD embodies exactly what AOL wants to be: A company that merges the best content with the best technical backend and distribution power. It’s no surprise that the content is filmed live but made available across several live media platforms Facebook, Apple, Google and then distributed as video on demand.

“BUILD is where we really lean into live-streaming broadcast. You never know where the consumer’s going to find you,” Lindbergh said. “There are some people who love Facebook Live and others who love Twitter. YouTube certainly has its fanatics.”

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BUILD does not currently have a deal to stream on Twitter Live but didn’t discount it in the future. “Celebrities love Twitter,” she said.

AOL started the BUILD Series back in 2014. Until this week, it was tucked in a corner of the fourth floor of 770 Broadway. There, employees of AOL, The Huffington Post and the companies under the umbrella could attend alongside anyone else in the community who could request tickets.

This is not AOL’s first big, expensive bet on live video. The Huffington Post, owned by AOL, previously ran an all-day live news network, but that operation has since been shut down and converted solely to a semi-regular Facebook Live show. Instead, with BUILD, AOL is cashing in on celebrity.

“We work with our partners, Lindbergh said. “When we do entertainment segments, we’ll ask HuffPost entertainment reporters to moderate, and we’ll ask them to carry the stream. We work with TechCrunch and Makers too.”

Verizon sponsored the series a year before the telecommunication giant decided to buy AOL for $4.4 billion. Clearly, Verizon still believes in BUILD. The space and equipment is expansive, going from a makeshift set inside AOL’s offices to a three-story, expansive set.

BUILD is not the company’s only original programming series, but it represents the storytelling theme of AOL. Instead of limiting its scope to millennials or targeting stay-at-home moms, Lindbergh said they’re looking to reach everyone.

Lindbergh would know a good story. Before joining AOL in 2014 to lead marketing, she worked on the buzz marketing team at Apple for 15 years.

“We always book people and have people at BUILD that we think have a really compelling story to share,” Lindbergh said. “It could be a 15-year-old social media influencer and hours later we could have Robert Redford. People gravitate to great stories.”

Unlike the traditional morning show, BUILD doesn’t have a set start time or time when the cameras turn off. There’s no need to have a certain number guests every day.

Susan Lindbergh, senior vice president of original programming at AOL

Image: gino depinto

The building has a history. It was the original home of Tower Records, which one reason why Lindbergh designed the place with photos of records and other touches. Most recently, it was the home of the Major League Baseball Fan Cave.

Starting Thursday, a different type of fan is entering the studio.

“We want to establish this as an amazing venue for New York City and for New Yorkers,” Lindbergh said. “It’s a nice space to meet. That’s what this place is intended to do.”

The city certainly approves. Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed Jan. 12 as “AOL BUILD Studio Day” in honor of the grand opening.

The general theme of the studio is quintessential New York. The walls are a subdued grey, and there’s a section of the original subway tiles. The green rooms for upcoming guests feature high-ceilings and have vibrant furniture.

Image: Gino DePinto

For those who don’t want to crowd the stage, an upstairs area seats about 20 in what Lindbergh called “VIP Viewing.” That’s also where about 15 BUILD employees, including talent relations and post-production members, work out of each day.

One of the parts celebrities enjoy the most about coming to BUILD, Lindbergh said, is having their own headshot. Several of these are framed and hung throughout the studio.

Image: gino depinto

For Lindbergh, her favorite part of BUILD happens outside the studio.

“We’re so excited to be a part of the community at the street level. We see even more people’s reactions and interaction,” Lindbergh said. “There’s nothing that gratifies me more than watching someone walks out of BUILD, just able to see a life dream fulfilled.”

BONUS: Virtual reality studio could totally change how we record music

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/01/12/aol-build-studio/

Wearables Could Soon Know Youre Sick Before You Do

Mike Snyder was clearing brush behind his brothers western Massachusetts house, erecting a fence to keep deer from the blueberries, when the tick bit him. A few days later, on a flight to Norway with his family, his palms itched and his head grew woozy. So the Stanford geneticist dumped a bunch of wearable sensors on his tray table and began doing what he does best: measuring himself.

Low blood oxygen, said the Masimo pulse oximeter housing his finger, and the globe-shaped Scanadu he held against his forehead every few minutes. Weird heart-rate, said the two Basis smart watches strapped to his wrists. Immediately he feared the worst: Lyme disease. Caught too late, Lyme hijacks the bodys immune system to seek and destroy joints, nerves, brain tissue, and—this really made him anxious—the heart. Once his temperature rose in Oslo, he sped to the doctor.

Snyders approach to his personal health may seem overzealous, but hes doing it in the service of science. All of his collected metrics are just one part of a larger digital health study from his team at Stanford, published today in Plos Biology. Consumer wearablesa market expected to reach $34 billion by 2020have the potential to move from tracking simple metrics like steps and heart rates to providing actionable health information. But before that can happen, researchers need to carefully study how biometrics change in individuals over time, and determine which wearable sensors provide data reliable and useful enough to be used in diagnosis.

Steve Fisch/Stanford School of Medicine

The Stanford study includes data from 60 volunteers, including Patient #1, Snyder, whos done the most time: two years, with the most sensors, seven. (As part of another Snyder study, Ive worn three.) Combining sensor measurements with genomics and lab results, the study has generated 1.7 billion measurements: skin temperatures, sleep patterns, activity, even radiation exposure. Since Snyder is always with his gear, he knows his normalthe personal baselines unique to him. In the context of years of measurement, he knew his physiological oxygen and his heart rate on that plane to Norway were abnormal.

But this study isnt just about helping individuals predict their own health: Its part of a long play toward more robust mobile diagnostic tools for much larger populations. This work with device-driven measurements is really going to help inform major cohort-based projects, like those proposed in the Precision Medicine Initiative, writes Atul Butte, Director of the Institute for Computational Health Sciences at UCSF, in an email. Eventually these tools have to play a role in medical care, he says.

Different participants in the study pointed toward different biometric monitoring possibilities. Collectively, data from the studys insulin-resistant participants suggests that a simple set of measurements, like sleep patterns and steps, could be used to predict others who are insulin-resistantand provide warning before they develop Type 2 diabetes. The most striking data may be what Snyders post doc and study co-author Xiao Li accidentally discovered last August 21, just weeks after he returned from Norway: that wearables could be used to infer nascent inflammation, before users even begin to notice themselves.

That day, I saw he had an abnormal resting heart-rate,” says Li, so I checked his blood tests and I saw his high CRP level. C-reactive protein, a common blood biomarker, is linked to inflammation from infections, and even immune dysfunction, like in autoimmune disorders or cancer. Xiao checked the records, and found a similar pattern from the time Snyder was first bitten by that tick. Both times, he didnt yet know he was sick, that his immune system was a hot mess—but his sensors indicated that something was up. Once an individual establishes their baseline biometrics, says Li, resting heart rate, with or without skin temperature, can infer CRP levels indicative of inflammation.

Even Snyder was surprised by the discovery. Not only can these inexpensive devices capture this information at a personal level, and so quickly, he said, but they can do so with an almost negligible error rate. In Snyder and several others, data suggested inflammation on multiple occasions, which was validated with blood draws suggesting abnormal CRP. If you see it early you can take your zinc or decongestants right away, he says. Snyders group is filing for a patent on its inflammation algorithm.

Of course, inferring the presence of a blood-based molecule without drawing a drop could prove to be another Theranos-like fantasy. Wearable sensors are still imperfect in many ways: The light-based sensors used in smart watches to detect blood flow change, for example, still have very low resolution. Some people dont think low-res is accurate, says data science post doc Jessilyn Dunn, who co-authored the paper. But you dont need such a high resolution, 100 percent accurate signal in order to extract the broader health information.

The bigger concern for doctors could be perfectly healthy patients raising false alarms. People tell me that everyone will be going to go to the doctor all the time, says Snyder. He believes the fix lies in the algorithm itself, which can be tweaked towards greater robustness. Nonetheless, Robert Green, a medical geneticist at Harvard, sees some of the same problems that have come up in genomic medicine. Its very interesting to watch people create narratives around the information they receive: Ive got a gene for this skin disease, and Ive always had itchy skin. Information could be gathered by consumers that they will take to their doctors, and demand unnecessary testing.

And if we extend this to wearables, says Green, medical resources could end up unevenly distributed. Theres no question that all of these advanced technologies that are not covered by reimbursement like genetic testing are going to be tried first by people of means—they justify it by saying it will filter down to the rest of society. But Li adds that health tracking shouldnt be cumbersome, or as expensive as Snyders own collection. Their group is on a special hunt, for useful sensors to lump into one device. At the end of the day, we just need one watch with all the sensors we want, and an iPhone to dump the data, says Li. The Fitbit measures almost everything we want. And a device in China called the MiBand costs just $10 to $20. It depends on whether there is a sale or not, Li says.

In the long term, importantly, consistent monitoring could improve care, especially in less developed areas. In some areas in the world, theres a lack of medical resources, and they may not be able to see the doctor immediatelyeither there is no facility, or they dont have money, says Li. When you are sick enough, you go to the hospital. How do you decide?

Wearables could help close that gap, when were ready. In Snyders case, although he marshalled the evidence in Norway–his personal data–the doctor, skeptical of Snyders tick theory and probably, his Scanadu, had him take blood tests anyways. They would reveal an infection from bacteria such as Borelia, which causes Lyme.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2017/01/wearables-know-youre-sick/

Microsoft launches StaffHub, a new Office 365 app aimed at shift workers

Microsoft today unveiledthe newest addition to its Office 365 suite with the debut of an application for shift workers and management, called StaffHub. The program is aimed at those who dont tend to work from desktop computers and have different schedules from week to week, such as in retail, hospitality, restaurants and other industries.

The program was originally introduced in preview last fall, with the goal of collecting user feedback ahead of its public launch. Since then, more than 1,000 businesses have signed up for the service, including a large winery in California and a hospitality company that uses it to staff their hotels.

Explains Office 365 General Manager Bryan Goode, Microsoft believes that addressing the needs of shift workers with a software platform like StaffHubis an untapped market.

Theres half a billion frontline staff workers in the world, he says.Most companies, though, havent actually provided digital tools for these folksbut companies are starting to recognize the benefits of moving some of these offline processes and taking them online.

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However, what StaffHub is really up against is the old way of doing things: paper schedules, bulletin boards, phone calls and other manual processes, Goodenotes.

To address the needs of this different kind of work environment, StaffHub takes schedules and puts themonline. But its more than just another calendaring application.

Managers, who may have access to desktop or laptop computers, mayuse the web version of StaffHub to create the staff schedules in the program, but employees will likely only use StaffHub from their mobile phones.

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When adding shifts, managers can take advantage ofa variety of features to differentiate the types of shifts, ranging from custom labels (like day, opening, night, etc.) to color coding, and they can also enter in notes about the work that needs to be done during the shift in question.

The program also makes it simple to update shifts from week to week, by offering a Copy last schedule feature that lets managers use the prior weeks shift as a starting point before making changes.

Schedules can be viewed by day, week or month, as needed, and the program has tools for handling common requests, like time off, vacations, sick leave and more.

staffhub-timeoffWhere StaffHub becomes more interesting is on mobile devices.

Here, there are comparisons that can be made with Slack, though Microsoft, when asked, dismissed the idea that Slack was a competitor.

However, there are many overlapping features between the two programs staff can privately chat, one on one, with one another in the app, and the app can host multiple group chats, too.

For example, managers could use their team chat to make informal announcements or share files. The chats support photo sharing, as well, which could be useful for showing the manager something out on the floor that needs their input.

Plus, the app can be used for sharing internal resources like an employee handbook hosted on SharePoint, a file uploaded from a computer, a video or a file stored on another cloud service like Dropbox. Files will display inline when clicked, making it easy for staff to view them on their phone.

Plus, Microsoft envisions StaffHub as an app platform of sorts, anothersimilarity with Slack. However, Microsoftsfocus is on connecting with line-of-business apps, like a time-clock application, for example. (So its like Slack, but without the GIFs something that may appeal to the target market.)

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Staff can swap shifts with other workers in the mobile app and request time off requests that get routed to a manager for approval. Push notifications are used to alert users of these requests and approvals along with other updates, private notes, chats and more.

The software is available starting now as a part of Office 365 commercial plans. (K1-E5, for those who know the lingo or entry-level through enterprise, for those who dont.)

StaffHub is available for web, iOS and Android in Chinese (Simplified), English, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, French, Brazilian-Portuguese, German, Korean, Italian, Chinese (Traditional), Dutch, Turkish, Swedish and Danish.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/12/microsoft-launches-staffhub-a-new-office-365-app-aimed-at-shift-workers/

The mobile app gold rush may be over

Ten years ago, Apple announced the iPhone, which soon gave birth to the App Store and the resulting broader app ecosystem. That industry has now matured, having reached critical mass, according to a new report from Flurry out this morning. While theres still some growth to be seen app usage is up 11 percent over last year, for example that growth is slowing. And many app categories are now growing at the expense of others, when before, all were growing in tandem.

This indicates that apps have maxed out on the finite resource that is users time. That is, drawing attention to a new app will mean having to shift users away from others. Thiscould be a problem for new app businesses especially those that mean to take on the incumbents like 2016s most used apps:Facebook, Messenger, Google, Gmail, Instagram, Amazon, Apple Music and others.

To generate its analysis, Flurry looks at the apps on its analytics platform. Flurrys footprint now includes the ability to track more than 940,000 apps across 2.1 billion devices in 3.2 billion sessions, offering deep insight to the state of the app ecosystem today.

The firm found that overall app usage is only up a moderate amount 11 percent year-over-year, compared with 58 percent in the 2015annual report. However, time spent in apps is soaring, up 69 percent over last year.

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Some apps are doing better than others, the report indicates.

Social networking and messaging applications, not surprisingly, had a great year, with session growth climbing 44 percent over 2015, and time spent in apps up a staggering 394 percent year-over-year.

The increases in these categories aredue to a number of factors: the ubiquity of smart devices, faster mobile broadband, newer features that allow for voice and video calling,the combination of communication and entertainment that the apps allow for, the addition of live content, the aging of the I Generation (who were kids when smartphones arrived and are now teens with their own devices) and more.

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One factor Flurry didnt mention, but seems notable, is users newer desire for more private socializing and sharing. This feels like a cultural response to an overall decline in user privacy, or at least an awareness of how un-private the web really is. Over the past few years, people have grown to understand how much what takes place on public social networks is watched, analyzed and used to generate big piles of personaldata thats traded and sold to marketers and advertisers. (Not to mention thatwhole government spying on their citizens thing.)

Messaging apps arent necessarily any more private and secure than a more public social network that depends on their use of encryption techniques and security practices but they feel that way, which has also factored into their growing adoption.

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But their growth has come at others expense.

For example, the personalization category lost the most traction, with a 46 percent decline in usage. Flurry attributed this drop to the diminishing value for users of these apps.

Games also declined in terms of time spent by 4 percent a smallish drop, but one that speaks to the ephemeral nature of these applications.Gaming revenue is doing okay, though. Thanks to massive hits like Pokmon GO, the App Store has been breaking recordson that front. (Also, note that Super Mario Run arrived too late in the year to impact Flurrys numbers in the Games category.)

Other app categories on the rise in 2016 included Business and Finance, up 43 percent in terms of time spent; Shopping, up 32 percent; and Sports, up 25 percent.

Shopping, in particular, benefited from the maturation of the e-commerce industry, which has made strides in terms of enabling easier mobile checkout flows, and has benefited from native mobile payment mechanisms, like Apple Pay, wed argue.

And Flurry notes, too, that Amazons prowess cant be overlooked, as it took38 percent of holiday sales transactions.

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Beyond apps, the report also delved into form factor preferences, finding that phablets now account for 41 percent market share by Q4 2016. This correlates with the growth in media consumption and social engagement app categories, Flurry says.

Overall, the slowing of growth in app usage points to the end of the app gold rush era and market maturity. It will be harder for new apps to find install bases, which means youll see more startups pulling stunts like spamming your contact list to hack their growth, perhaps, more M&A activity in this space and more VC-backed apps closing up shop when the funds run out.

The big tech companies behind the app platforms Apple, Google, Microsoft and the like willbe looking to find the next developer platform, as the mobile app ecosystem matures. In the running are apps for wearables, connected TVs and media players and bots. But the most promising next frontier appears to be voice computing which means 2017 may be Amazons turn to play in the app ecosystem, thanks to its Alexa assistant and its many add-ons.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/12/the-mobile-app-gold-rush-may-be-over/

SoundCloud co-founder takes product role, Yahoo alum steps in as CTO

On the heels of losses that appear to be growing faster than revenues, and reported acquisition interest from Google, the music streaming service SoundCloud today announced some executive movements.

Eric Wahlforss, who co-founded the audio streaming startupwith Alexander Ljung, is stepping away from the role of CTO and takinga new position as chief product officer. Meanwhile, SoundCloud has hired a new CTO, Artem Fishman, who most recently had been a vice president of engineering at Yahoo, overseeing mobile engineering. Both will be based out of SoundClouds offices in Berlin.

The moves highlight how SoundCloud is bringing inmore technical leadership into its organization, while at the same time working to diversifyits product to bringin more routes tomonetization.

SoundCloud is a truly unique platform in the music streaming space, said Alex Ljung, co-founder and chief executive officer of SoundCloud, in a statement. We have ambitious goals to further innovate the user experience for our connected community of creators, curators and listeners, and as we enter into this next stage of growth, Eric and I felt it was important to bring in a senior leader to oversee Engineering, to allow Eric to have laser focus on leading and aligning the exciting product initiatives we have slated to launch later this year.

The need to make more money and at a (positive) marginis strong: inits most recent financial filings in the U.K. (via Music Business Worldwide), the companyposted a loss of $52 million on revenues of $22 million in 2015.

SoundCloud, which was founded in 2007, has become a go-to place for creators to upload and share their music and other audio tracks.

But partly because it needed to work out licensing deals with rights holders whose music was both uploaded directly as well as sampled in other tracks, it was only in 2016that SoundCloud started to finally get revenue generation in gear. The first big product was the launch of Go, a premium subscription service (SoundCloud had paid products before, but not aimed at itswider public of 175 million users).

The company has been an acquisition target for years now, although approaches both by Twitter and Spotify have fallen short, with Twitter ultimately becoming only an investor, and Spotify apparently choosing instead to focus its resources on its IPO and what might be needed for that.

More recently, there have been reports (also via MBW) alleging that Google is now interested, which is perhaps fitting, considering thatSoundCloud is often described as the YouTube for audio. Twitter and Spotify had been looking at a SoundCloud valuation of $1 billion, while Google allegedly is looking at a price tag of only half that, $500 million.

We asked both SoundCloud and Google to comment on the report and will update as we learn more.

Wahlforss will lead both SoundClouds engineering and design teams, as well as have oversight of its data and insights analytics business.

Artem is a seasoned engineering executive who brings with him a wealth of experience and a positive, collaborative mindset, he said in a statement. Were delighted he will be joining SoundCloud as our new Chief Technology Officer, which is a key role as we continue to innovate and grow. Fishman has a keen interest in deep technical details and data-driven approaches which, alongside his leadership skills and passion for our product, will be of real benefit to the engineering organization.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/12/soundcloud-co-founder-takes-product-role-yahoo-alum-steps-in-as-cto/