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“Why ‘Amazon Alexa everywhere’ is a big problem” plus 13 more VentureBeat


“Why ‘Amazon Alexa everywhere’ is a big problem” plus 13 more VentureBeat

Why ‘Amazon Alexa everywhere’ is a big problem

Posted: 07 Jan 2017 12:40 PM PST

A lamp coming soon from General Electric incorporates Amazon's Alexa

Amazon Alexa everywhere, and that might be a problem.

At CES 2017, the voice assistant kept popping up in unusual places. At a booth for smart home integrator Legrand, there were outlets used for plugging in lamps and appliances that will work with Alexa (in addition to the lights and appliances themselves). At the Dish Network booth, a demo for Alexa let me quickly change channels by voice and find Tom Hanks movies. A watch called the Martian Mvoice lets you push a button to activate Alexa. The Genesis G90 sedan, you can ask Alexa to set the temperature and lock the car. There’s even this weird lamp. All good so far, right?

And yet, is this the future we really wanted?

The problem is that Alexa is not aware of any of the other gadgets. My assistant doesn't really know about the watch or the car or the television. It's not context aware at all, so Alexa doesn't know to activate only the car functions in the car or deal with TV options on the couch.

The issue is most obvious if you have Alexa near your television at home. In a few cases, the speaker will activate when a commercial comes on and and talks about Alexa. (The same thing happens with the Google Home speaker and the Assistant.)

It gets worse. Let's say I have 35 gadgets in my home that all support Alexa. It is entirely possible in 2017. OK, so how is it an advantage to keep saying Alexa, Alexa, Alexa all day? I talk to the fridge, then my car, then my television. I'm talking to bots all day.

Here's the solution. AI needs to improve to the point where we don't have to do all of this talking. It's more than just knowing I'm in the living room and don't want to talk to the stove. It's knowing I like the Golden State Warriors and turning on that channel or reminding me to watch it live. It's dimming the lights when I get home because that's my preference. It's locking the car in my driveway because an AI knows I'm home at 9PM and that's when my day ends.

We've moved from clicking tiny icons in apps to talking to bots. Seeing the Amazon logo everywhere at CES made me question the logic of this mass voicebot roll-out. Far worse than this is a future scenario where we talk to Google, Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and a dozen other bots that are competing for our vocal cords. It's crazy! Now is the time to move quickly to make a more advanced AI that can help us, not make us figure out which bots does what.

Another option? Improve Alexa to a much greater degree. For the watch I mentioned, I don't want a button. I want Alexa to know I have the watch and to focus on those functions if that's what is important to me — say, if I'm out for a run. If I ask a question about the weather, for example, Alexa should know it's because I'm running — make it local. If I'm in the car, I want to know about traffic problems due to weather. In the end, Alexa needs a higher IQ.

Blockchain could completely transform the music industry

Posted: 07 Jan 2017 10:40 AM PST


Digital music really could use some help. Industry revenues are dipping due to piracy and illegal use of content. Singers and composers are being short-changed by music companies and streaming services. And business models built upon patterns and practices dating back to early 20th century, decades before the invention of digital and online services, are fueling a lot of bad will.

But a number of blockchain innovators are forging new solutions that could knock down inefficient intermediaries standing in the way and enable musicians to transact easily and directly with audiences.

We’re currently seeing solutions emerge to handle three key concerns:

1. Licensing and rights management

Digital rights expression is one of the biggest problems the music industry is tackling presently. It's extremely difficult to clearly define which performers, songwriters, producers, publishers, and labels own the rights to songs and recordings and how royalties should be split between them.

This is the first place we can expect blockchain to bring change. The ledger stores a cryptographic hash representing the digital content of every new song registered on the blockchain, along with lyrics, musical composition, liner notes, cover art, licensing, and other relevant information.

Since they are immutable distributed ledgers owned by no single entity, blockchains will enable content creators to register ownership of their creations without the need for big record labels.
This concept is being tested and explored by several startups and nonprofit organizations. One key player is UjoMusic, based on the Ethereum blockchain, that enables artists to manage their identities, music, and licensing on their own terms. Combining the transparency of the blockchain with the innovation of smart contracts, the system also enables consumers to license the music for various purposes.

Ujo beta-tested the platform last year with "Tiny Human," a song by award winning British singer and songwriter Imogen Heap, and it plans to go mainstream in early 2017.

Heap, herself a technologist, is pioneering her own blockchain-based offering, Mycelia, a fair-trade music business that gives artists more control over how their songs and associated data circulate among fans and other musicians.

2. Removing intermediaries

Another problem that blockchain-based services such as Ujo and Mycelia can solve is how content creators get compensated for their work.

Currently, a string of publishers, record labels, talent agencies, streaming services, etc., each take a cut of revenue before passing any remaining crumbs along to artists — after a 6- to 18-month delay.

"Shouldn’t it be possible in a digital world for the royalties to come directly to you, instead of through a slow, inefficient, and opaque chain of collection societies and publishing administrators?" reads "The Problem," a statement published by the founders of Ujo Music.

As reliable peer-to-peer platforms, blockchains establish a direct relationship between artists and consumers, making sure they are instantly paid for their content and receive near-full payment instead of a tiny fraction.

Users place requests on the blockchain, and smart contracts give instant access to the requested song while directing funds to the crypto-wallets of the song's rightsholders. That's why Heap describes her platform as "trying to take away the power from top down and give power, or at least a steering, to the artist to help shape their own future."

In addition to removing intermediaries, the transparency of blockchain and smart contracts enables artists to make suretheir music is properly licensed and enables consumers to prove ownership of their license on the ledger.

What happens to the record labels after this? Heap believes they can still benefit from this model, if they adopt and embrace change. "As with all new technology, blockchain creates a shift in skill sets and opens up new opportunities," she said in an op-ed published in Fortune. "There is an ever-greater need for curation and marketing. Record companies could better help music lovers to sift through the hundreds of millions of hours of music and, along with the publishers and existing collection societies, verify that the data are indeed correct. At some stage, artists will invariably need to work with these and other parties."

3. Piracy problems

A final problem blockchain will need to solve for musicians is piracy. As Matthew Hawn, Head of Product at Audio Network, says, "Consumers assume that music is free. Most of Spotify's users, for example, are on the 'free' tier of the service. Aside from a small but growing group who pay monthly for access, the only people left paying for music are brands and businesses using music to sell other things."

This is partly due to the fact that users have plenty of ways to copy, record, and distribute content without the consent and compensation of its owners.

PledgeMusic cofounder Benji Rogers presented a comprehensive design for a blockchain-based music database and a codec that could possibly solve the problem.

Rogers introduced the idea of .bc or "dotblockchain," a codec and player that is tied to a blockchain in order to play content. Every instance of a song played is a unique record on the blockchain, and any content removed or "ripped" from the codec would be unreadable to the player.

BitTunes, a blockchain-based peer-to-peer file sharing platform, has another interesting approach. It uses incentives and rewards to encourage users to publish and distribute music via a blockchain platform, where both content creators and distributors are compensated.

And PeerTracks, another leader of blockchain implementation in the music industry, is offering a business model that could change how artists develop their fanbase and build relationships with their fans. PeerTracks is a download and streaming platform where artists get 95 percent of the revenues.

PeerTracks also introduces the concept of "Notes," a sort of ICO token tied to artists' profiles. While Notes do not give fans a stake in songs, albums or copyright, they can be bought, sold, and traded, and their value rises as an artist's content is downloaded or streamed off the blockchain. Artists can also use them to identify their biggest fans and offer them rewards such as free concert tickets.

Notes give artists a tool to gain exposure and convince their fans to stick with the platform. It also creates a reasoned prediction market, where rising stars can be discovered by their Notes value.

Implementation challenges

It's still too early to say how blockchain-based music platforms will perform since most of the bigger players still haven't launched in earnest.

However, blockchain music solutions will have to overcome a lot of challenges, including the transfer of old license and ownership information to these new platforms.

"Record labels, big and small, have typically failed to keep proper records for the artists they sign," notes Hawn from Audio Network. "Contracts have always been excessively complicated. There were very few standards, and these were often flouted by labels, leaving data entry to interns and IT departments. This doesn't go away when you move the infrastructure to the blockchain; if anything, it gets worse and will cost millions to fix."

For this reason, Hawn emphasizes that it’s important key players unite behind blockchain solutions in general rather than look to back a single company.

"A shift like this isn't going to be achieved by a Steve Jobs-like figure who will magically solve this problem and build a new system overnight," he says. "This is about laying the bricks, mortar, and plumbing of a new music industry."

Hawn suggests more support for MusicBrainz, a non-profit open encyclopedia that collects music metadata, and Open Music Initiative, an open platform for licensing data, can help bridge the data gaps that are currently present in the music industry.

Blockchain is probably not a panacea to all the problems plaguing the industry, but it promises a way out of the current deadlock and offers a foundation that can bring together the entire community and give everyone, from amateur singers to platinum record selling superstars, the chance to offer their talent to the world and be compensated for it.

The point, as Imogen Heap says, "is that artists, as the source, will be sustained at the center of their own ecosystem, not starving at the edges of many others’."

Ben Dickson is a software engineer and the founder of TechTalks, a blog that explores the ways technology is solving and creating problems. He writes about technology, business and politics. Follow him on Twitter: @BenDee983.

Tech group leader wants Trump to follow through on infrastructure bill

Posted: 07 Jan 2017 09:12 AM PST

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association at CES 2017.

Gary Shapiro is the voice of the tech industry. The president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association is the leader of the trade group that puts on CES, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week. I spoke with him about his agenda for the incoming Donald Trump presidency, and Shapiro explained that he’s approaching the policy discussion as an opportunity for innovative thinking.

CES has an estimated 165,000 attendees this week, looking at 3,800 exhibitors spread across 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space. It’s a diverse group, with 25 categories of companies from virtual reality vendors to car makers. But Shapiro said he hopes that Trump will follow through on his campaign promise of investing in infrastructure to make America great again. He also hopes for lower corporate taxes, but worries about Trump’s previous statements on trade.

I met Shapiro at the CES Unveiled event this week. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

CES 2017 ice sculpture

Above: CES 2017 ice sculpture

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

VentureBeat: What's your take after absorbing all the numbers from CES?

Gary Shapiro: What's changed since we last spoke, we now exceed 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space. Almost 4,000 companies exhibiting. We'll have more than 165,000 people, or so, although we don't know exactly how many until the show is over. The innovation here is amazing. Just walking around this hallway here at CSML, I'm seeing products I've never seen before. I just saw a company with a portable smell detector, which will have so many benefits in so many different ways.

The French presence alone is extraordinarily large. They have more than 200 exhibitors. Pretty likely the next French president will be here.

VB: It sounds like they read your book.

Shapiro: I was pretty critical of France in the book, because they're so restrictive. Even this week, they have a new policy in place. If you have more than 50 employees, you can't send your employees emails after hours. That's very anti-innovation. On the other hand, they're encouraging innovation in different ways. We'll see.

VB: What are your thoughts on the incoming presidential administration so far? Are there any policy themes you see being important?

Shapiro: The message those of us that play in Washington got is that people want change. We're the innovation and technology industry. We have to be ready for change. He's been duly elected.

What we're hopeful about is some of the things we'd like to see changed. We'd like to see the two parties agree on an infrastructure bill. We'd like to see reasonable corporate tax rates. Regulation is important to encourage social goods, but the costs have to be weighed against the benefits. We're looking at those positives.

We have some concern in the trade area, because we're a global industry. No one country makes everything. We rely on free trade. We also rely on skilled immigration. We're hoping that with all the talk about immigration in a negative way, the positives are heard as well. We're an immigrant country. Our diversity makes us successful. We hope that message will get out there.

It's not only President-elect Trump, but Congress, as well. I think Congress is sympathetic to an innovation-based approach. Ultimately, I think Mr. Trump will be, as well.

Gary Shapiro opens CES 2017.

Above: Gary Shapiro opens CES 2017.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

VB: Net neutrality may be a big issue, as well. The signs are we'll be in for a bit of a fight.

Shapiro: Net neutrality is an important issue to both sides of the equation. I think the answer is an intense focus on competition between different broadband providers. That's a goal we've had for 20 years. We've advocated for it, and we'll continue to advocate for it. We need competition. The challenge we face in the U.S. is we just say that net neutrality is a good thing, but we're ignoring the fact that we pay a lot more for slower broadband than other countries. If we can get greater competition between AT&T, Verizon, wireless companies, cable companies, FIOS, everyone will win.

The challenge with net neutrality — it's a Washington-oriented debate that's spun out of control between players on all sides. We've lost sight of what we really need to do, which is to have a choice between high-quality, high-speed affordable broadband.

VB: Getting back to the show, AI looks like a very interesting technology this year. It's starting to work. It's retrofitting into all kinds of ideas people have already had and making them better.

Shapiro: Obviously AI is big. We're seeing a lot in robotics, deep learning, deep everything. It's a natural progression from increased processing speeds and correlating different things together. It's the future. We'll have predictive intelligence affecting health care, agriculture, food production. It'll solve a lot of the world's problems. Processing speeds, analysis, and extraordinarily low-cost sensors — smart entrepreneurs will put it all together and provide vital service.

VB: I saw the forecast just now. There's a bit of growth coming in the U.S., but in the worldwide market, revenues might be down two percent for 2017.

Shapiro: We're forecasting growth in the U.S. We see a lot of categories growing. Some categories, like tablets and smartphones, are maturing, but we're seeing a lot of new growth in drones, wearables, smart home products, cameras, and many other areas.

Gary Shapiro of CTA on stage with Jen-Hsun Huang of Nvidia at CES 2017.

Above: Gary Shapiro of CTA on stage with Jen-Hsun Huang of Nvidia at CES 2017.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

The problem, when we talk about dollar value — take 4K Ultra HD. The unit sales growth is off the charts, but the price per unit has gone down. So you can say there's not growth there. There's growth in the consumer's view, though, because they can afford a phenomenal product that they couldn't afford before.

VB: It's a bunch of competing trends, then. You have some positive trends and some maturing trends.

Shapiro: You always have cycles. It used to be, when we had maturing categories, the entire show would slow down. Now we have more than 25 product categories. We have things we know will be around for a long time in the future. We have a push toward robotics that'll last us the next 20, 30, 40 years. I might even say 80 years is a safe bet, with AI as a part of that. The self-driving car is something we'll be talking about for at least the next 20 years, because it's so important.

We know where the trends are. We know where they're going. It's our job as an industry and as a trade association to make sure the right policies are in place, here and in the rest of the world, so that innovation can find its natural way as quickly as possible and solve some of the big problems people have.

VB: What's some of the strangest stuff you've seen so far?

Shapiro: Like I say, I just saw a company from France with a portable product that allows you to identify smells. I think that reflects a lot. France is a five-senses country – taste, smell, touch, visuals. That's who they are. But it's also just an important product. It can do so much. I was just in Beijing recently, dealing with the air pollution there. I want to know how bad it really is, and with that kind of product I could. I could use it in my own kitchen. If I could be alerted to what the smells are like, maybe I'll come home for dinner, maybe I won't.

Bot evangelist Chris Messina leaves Uber

Posted: 07 Jan 2017 08:10 AM PST

Chris Messina at MobileBeat 2016.

Uber Developer Experience Lead Chris Messina announced Friday that he has left the ride-sharing company.

Messina is known as the creator of the hashtag, and for accurately declaring 2016 the year of conversational commerce.

While at Uber, Messina was a champion of chatbots and the Uber developer platform to promote Uber API integrations.

He also spoke at tech gatherings like MobileBeat, IBM Watson developer conference, or recently at the Slush conference for startups in northern Europe.

Today you can get an Uber ride with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Facebook Messenger.

"Entering 2017, I’m hopeful — even with all the sh*t going on in the world and with the American political climate," Messina said in a Medium post Friday. "There’s no shortage of good work to be done, and so what’s next for me is to take a beat and reflect on the next, best, most satisfying and most impactful thing I can do with my life."

In addition to work on bots at Uber, Messina is a big supporter of the burgeoning bot ecosystem.

He is one of 10 moderators chosen by members of the Bots Facebook group, a community of more than 20,000 developers, investors, and startups interested in bots. Other moderators include leaders from Slack, Chatfuel, and various bot startup founders.

His activity on Product Hunt is also prolific. Being recommended or hunted by Messina on Product Hunt is a badge of honor among bot startups trying to break through the noise and get discovered.

Want to stay up to date with the latest from Messina? Chat with MessinaBot, his Facebook Messenger bot that made its debut last summer. MessinaBot was made by Esther Crawford and her company OlaBot.

Harman and Samsung want to transform your car into a VR station on wheels

Posted: 07 Jan 2017 07:04 AM PST

Harmon's demo car, with WayRay technology

I don't know about you, but if I'm driving through downtown Detroit in the dead of winter, I might want to feel like I'm driving through the Florida Keys instead.

Soon, that may just be possible.

Swiss-headquartered WayRay, which makes holographic augmented reality displays for cars, announced a strategic collaboration with Harman, the car audio giant that is about to be acquired by Samsung. The technology, which I demoed at WayRay's space in Harman's massive booth at CES, is the first to provide full-color heads-up displays in your car windshield, and it offers much wider viewing angles than existing technologies do.


In standard driving applications, it provides the driver with features like speed, route information, safety data, and key waypoints. Passengers can use it to see more info about points of interest on their route — sort of a Google Field Trip in the car.

Eventually, however, the almost-invisible film on which the holograms are projected can be applied to every glass surface in the car. And in self-driving use cases, it could provide augmented or mixed-reality experiences — and even fully immersive VR.


Or just watch a movie, while your car takes you from A to B.

At its current level of sophistication, there's "literally no competing product like it" on the market today, WayRay CEO Vitaly Ponomarev told me. In addition, the hardware components are tiny — easy to fit into a dashboard — compared to existing products that require 18 cubic inches of space, he said.

The Harman collaboration is critical, since Harman brands like JBL, Harman Kardon, and Infinity are well-established in the automotive market, and the company is already moving into autonomous driving tech. Of course, this is precisely why Korean tech titan Samsung is acquiring the company — it sees Harman as its entry point into the increasingly hot car automation and telematics space.

That bodes well for WayRay, whose independence is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

As an independent, it can sell both aftermarket technology (its current sweet spot) and OEM-installed equipment for all brands. At the same time, it needs to overcome any not-invented-here sentiment on the part of car manufacturers.


"Harman's collaboration with WayRay further solidifies our commitment to deliver seamless, integrated, connected, and safer driving experiences," Phil Eyler, president of Harman Connected Car, said in a statement. "As the leader in the connected car space, Harman is committed to driving innovation across the industry to deliver on the needs of both drivers and passengers."

WayRay's system incorporates the heads-up display hardware, a car tracker, and driving assistant component, as well as an app to control and manage the system.


Microsoft’s IFTTT competitor now lets you integrate with Chatter, HipChat, Medium, and WordPress

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 09:51 PM PST

Some templates available from Microsoft Flow.

Microsoft today said that its has added support for 13 more services in its Microsoft Flow service, which lets people use templates that automate processes across multiple apps, as well as building custom “flows.”

Flow now offers support for integrations with Salesforce’s Chatter service, the Disqus commenting system, the FreshDesk customer support tool, the Google Contacts contact management app, Citrix’s GoToMeeting video conferencing service, Atlassian’s HipChat team communication app, the Medium blogging platform, and the WordPress content management system, according to a blog post today from Microsoft technical evangelist Lee Stott. One template, for example, automatically creates a new WordPress post when you upload a YouTube video.

In keeping with Microsoft’s strategy of ensuring that many of its own services are also supported on Flow, the tool also now supports three services from the Microsoft Azure public cloud — Azure Resource Manager, Azure Queues, and the DocumentDB NoSQL database — as well as the Cognitive Services Face application programming interface (API) and good old MSN Weather.

This follows a pattern of Microsoft extending the capability and appeal of Flow by enlarging the pool of compatible apps. Last month, Microsoft added support for Bitly, DocuSign, OneNote (for business accounts), and SurveyMonkey in Flow. And in November, Flow got support for Asana, Basecamp, EasyRedmine, JIRA, Redmine, and Vimeo.

Flow, which is available on Android, iOS, and the web for customers of Dynamics 365 and Office 365 Enterprise, Business Premium, and Essentials users, competes with privately held IFTTT and Zapier, among others.

Microsoft launched Flow out of preview in October after introducing it in April.

14 highlights of the U.S. report on Russian election hacking

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 09:18 PM PST

Vladimir Putin

(Reuters) – A declassified report by U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to help Donald Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The following quotes are some highlights of the report, which was drafted by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency, and released on Friday:

– “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”

– “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”

– “We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.”

– “Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.”

– “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

– “Further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals.”

– “Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls’.”

– “Russia's intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with both major U.S. political parties.”

– “We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and to release U.S. victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

– “We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.”

– “Russia collected on some Republican-affiliated targets but did not conduct a comparable disclosure campaign.”

– “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards. DHS (Department of Homeland Security) assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”

– “We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.”

– “Immediately after Election Day, we assess Russian intelligence began a spearphishing campaign targeting U.S. Government employees and individuals associated with U.S. think tanks and NGOs in national security, defense, and foreign policy fields. This campaign could provide material for future influence efforts as well as foreign intelligence collection on the incoming administration’s goals and plans.”

(Compiled by Warren Strobel and Yara Bayoumy; editing by Grant McCool)

A vicious new malware is targeting Mac computers

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 06:38 PM PST

Apple Store

Apple computer users should be extra diligent when surfing the web.

For the past few weeks, people have been tricked into visiting a phony website embedded with malware that can freeze Apple computers, according to a report this week by the cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes.

When Apple users visit the website via their Safari browser, often by clicking on a link in a bogus email, they inadvertently load malicious code onto their computers. The malware then triggers either two sets of actions depending on the version of the computers' operating systems, the report said.

In one case, the malware causes the computer's Apple email client to create a deluge of draft emails that contain the words "Warning! Virus Detected!" in the email subject line. Although the emails don't get actually get delivered to anyone, the sudden flood of draft emails hogs the computer's resources, thus causing the computer to freeze.

In the second case, the malware causes the infected computer's iTunes program to open multiple times without closing to the point where it crashes.

In both of these instances, the malware essentially causes computers to use up all of their memory, similar to how hackers launch so-called denial-of-service attacks on web sites. In a denial-of-service attack, hackers essentially overload an online service with Internet traffic, thus causing the service to become inaccessible because it can't keep up.

Complicating matters, the malware targeting Apple computers leaves a dummy message in either the email draft or in the iTunes player that tells people to call a fake Apple support phone number to fix the problem. The report does not describe what happens when a person calls, but it’s likely that criminals will charge a fee to unlock the computer under the false pretense that they are Apple employees.

Apple’s iPhones and iPads are not impacted by the malware since they run on a different operating system than Apple computers.

The new Apple malware seems similar to a Microsoft Windows-tailored version that hit PCs in November, Malwarebytes said.

The Windows version of the Malware exploited a bug in the software language HTML5, increasingly used to create websites, that caused web browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox to display a fake help-support webpage that can't be closed. The malware also causes the computer to overload so that no other program can be opened and instead display a fake telephone number to call.

As for the Apple malware, the security firm did not say how many people appear to have been impacted, but it said that those who upgraded their operating systems to the latest versions seemed to be safe from the variant of the attack that creates draft emails. The iTunes variant, however, appears to be triggered regardless of whether a person's operating system is up to date.

This story originally appeared on Copyright 2017

The singularity is here: Watch 2 Google Homes argue on Twitch

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 05:23 PM PST


Earlier today, two Google Home devices fell in love, argued, made up, and bickered just like an old married couple. It was captured live on Twitch, amassing a whopping 1.1 million visitors as we went to press.

The idea to create an endless, ongoing conversation between the two devices came from AceHax, who works in the home automation business. He grabbed BC_White, FreshGrill, Titokane, and Ace0diamond to make the magic happen.

The twittersphere caught wind of this, creating a custom hashtag #seebotschat. Everyone is having a good laugh:


The power of AI is on display here. Watching these bots chat and build on each other’s sentences calls to mind HBO’s hit show Westworld, in which robots gradually start going “off script” as they reach complete self-awareness.

Google Home launched last November. Interestingly, Twitch was acquired by Amazon, maker of Alexa and Echo. Perhaps we’ll see a cross-device love affair next?

Awesome Games Done Quick is back to raise money to fight cancer — 5 speedruns to watch

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 05:00 PM PST

Demons galore in Doom.

One of my favorite times of the year is coming up: Awesome Games Done Quick.

AGDQ is a week-long marathon of speedruns, which has gamers beating their favorite games as quickly as possible. The event broadcasts live on Twitch starting Sunday, all while taking donations for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Last year’s AGDQ raised $1,216,309.

You can check out the event schedule here. But while most speedruns are fun, I’m really looking forward to five that you shouldn’t miss at this year’s event.

Super Monkey Ball 2

Story mode, all levels by Peanut
Monday, January 9 at 2:25 p.m. 

Super Monkey Ball 2.

Above: Super Monkey Ball 2.

Image Credit: YouTube

Super Monkey Ball is a series that requires precise controls in order to tilt sphere-enclosed apes across dangerous levels. They’re difficult games, but they become much harder when you’re trying to beat them as fast as possible. You’ll see some intense maneuvering and tricks in this run.

Super Smash Bros. Melee

All events by Fuzziness
Tuesday, January 10 at 7:50 a.m.

Super Smash Bros. Melee's large cast.

Above: Super Smash Bros. Melee’s large cast.

Image Credit: Nintendo

You might be wondering how someone can speedrun a fighting game. Well, Super Smash Bros. Melee has a series of “events,” which are challenges that have players using specific characters in order to win matches with special rules. It’ll be fun to watch someone use the best strategies to rush through these difficult fights.

Doom (2016)

Any percent by Blood_Thunder
Tuesday, January 10 at 4:17 p.m.

Doom sure was fun.

Above: Doom sure was fun.

Image Credit: Bethesda

Compared to most games played to these marathons, Doom is new. It’s also one of the best games of last year. It’s fast action makes it ideal for speedrunning, so it could be a staple of Awesome Games Done Quick for years. This is an “any percent” run, meaning that the player just needs to beat the game any way he can (glitches allowed). It’ll be neat to see someone already destroy such a recent game.

Super Mario Sunshine

Any percent race by Bounceyboy, Vallu, PangaeaPanga, and AverageTrey
Tuesday, January 10 at 6:44 p.m.

Super Mario Sunshine was the only game in the main series for an extended stretch early last decade.

Above: Super Mario Sunshine.

Image Credit: Nintendo

The 3D Mario games always make for fantastic speedruns. All of the plumbler’s platforming tricks and jumps enable players to zip through levels and take advantage of crazy, acrobatic tactics. Plus, this is a four-way race, so you’ll be able to watch multiple runners compete against each other.

Super Metroid

100 percent race by zoast, Ivan, Behemoth87, WildAnaconda69
Saturday, January 14 at 6:45 p.m.

Super Metroid.

Above: Super Metroid.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Super Metroid is an Awesome Games Done Quick classic. It’s also one of the best games of all time. It’s one of the last runs of every marathon, sometimes with wacky rules like “reverse boss order.” This time, it’s more traditional. Four players are racing against each other in a 100 percent completion race, meaning they have to beat the game after collecting all items. Super Metroid is one of the most popular games for speedrunning, which means that it’s also had the most time devoted to it when it comes to finding ideal paths and tricks.

VR meets marketing: Get ready for this new reality (VB Live)

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 04:22 PM PST

Volvo VR test drive for mobile phone

A drop in the price of VR headsets and wildly successful campaigns from giants like Volvo prove that VR is set to reshape the marketing landscape. Join VR innovators in this VB Live event to learn how to tap into the revolution and take emotion-driven marketing to the next level.

Register here for free.

We were promised that virtual reality was the next big thing — the game changer that would change not just games, but the world. And like most Next Big Things (*cough* AI *cough*), it took several more decades to come to fruition than we actually expected. And then when it did, it wasn’t the big, household splash we were promised, with a virtual world in every pot. That $600 headset was a pretty tall barrier to entry for everyone but the most tech-frantic and deep-pocketed.

The first big entry into a space is never the last word, of course. We’ve been watching closely — ever since Facebook acquired VR headset developer Oculus Rift in 2014. And preparing ourselves from the moment Sony announced it would be launching its VR device Project Morpheus in 2016. But it’s Google’s move to hand over virtual reality awesomeness to anyone with a smartphone (or in other words, just about everyone in the world) with Google Cardboard, their $15 headset, that’s broken the last barrier.

Here in 2017, we’ve finally banged past the threshold of a brave new world and we’re standing smack in the middle of it — virtual reality is officially a big advertising deal. The audience is already in the millions, and 67 percent of smartphone users have tried, or want to try, VR experiences.

It’s an audience already primed and ready.

VR solves the biggest challenges marketers have: customer engagement and brand awareness, with the ability to deliver completely immersive content, which means no distractions for the viewer — how many tabs does anyone have open at one time? How often are we messaging and shuffling between apps on our phones? — and one-on-one attention.

It’s the intensity of the experience that keeps users engaged, which also means that we’re able to generate strong reactions and trigger real emotions, which creates the strongest and most powerful connections. That’s not something traditional media can do, even with an entire herd of Clydesdales, golden retrievers, and sad violins.

Companies like Volvo, McDonalds, and Dior are already creating powerfully memorable campaigns using VR technology, garnering tremendous media attention and public interest.

With the “Volvo Reality” app, viewable with Google Cardboard, consumers got to get behind the wheel of Volvo’s newest model, not expected in showrooms for months. In Sweden, Happy Meal munchers turn their boxes into headsets to play a virtual reality skiing game. Dior lets customers get backstage at Fashion Week with their own Dior Eyes product.

And this is just the beginning — the potential of VR really lies in the tremendous creative possibility waiting to be tapped by innovative marketers ready to tap into people’s emotions like never before. Join our latest interactive VB Live event to find out what it takes to launch a whole new world for your customers.

Don’t miss out!

Register here for free.

In this VB Live event, you’ll:

  • Discover why VR marketing will be important in 2017
  • Find out what will work in VR marketing, and what won’t
  • Understand the VR marketing landscape
  • Learn how to get started, and how you can leverage the opportunity


  • Stewart Rogers, Director of Marketing Technology, VentureBeat
  • Wendy Schuchart, Moderator, VentureBeat

More speakers to be announced shortly!


Clash of Clans gets big backer as gamers try to reverse Iran ban

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 03:32 PM PST

Mobile hit Clash of Clans.

Last week, a flurry of reports came in about the decision made by the Attorney General in Iran, Dr. Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, to ban Supercell's Clash of Clans, after his office received the recommendation by the Committee for Determining Instances of Criminal Content. The content was determined by psychologists in the country to be a highly negative influence on the people of the Islamic Republic, particularly its youth.

The precedent is alarming to the gamer community in Iran who fear it's just the beginning of a larger clampdown that will extend to include similar games, as well as other categories aside from mobile strategy. There have already been reports of players experiencing connection problems when playing Clash Royale, another enormously popular mobile title by Supercell in Iran.

Outraged by this verdict toward arguably one of the most popular mobile games in the country, the gamer community in Iran responded by rallying together with a concerted plea directed to the Instagram page of Mahmoud Vaezi, the minister of communications. If you're wondering “why Instagram?” it so happens to be the most popular – and unblocked – social media site in the country.

Iran has an estimated 5.5 million Clash of Clans players in Iran, and they represent a significant portion of the 80 million living there — and they know it. Many of the complaints posed to Vaezi often struck a political chord as a means to appeal to the current administration and have them reject the plan to block the game.

"If Rouhani's government can't lift the ban for Clash of Clans, next year we won't participate in the election!" is an example of the kind of comments that were made on major news websites like Khabar Online.

The campaign appears to have worked as Vaezi announced in an Instagram post that he would work to remedy the situation. This followed with a photo posted by Vaezi alongside President Rouhani affirming that he would follow through with his promise. Other authorities like the head of ESRA, the rating agency for software in Iran, followed suit in kind.

"It’s true that the Committee decided to filter Clash of Clans, but as I promised all of you, I had a talk today with President Rouhani and I hope soon that we can solve the problem." Vaezi posted on his Instagram page.

It's key to point out that while committees like this one make decisions like banning a game or website, the actual execution of the ban is made by the government.

An example was a decision made by the same committee to block Telegram four months ago, to which the government has yet to take action since the messenger app is enormously popular in Iran. To block it would entail disrupting not only the social sphere in the country but also businesses and the government, all of which have come to depend on it as a core mode of communication.

And in this case, Vaezi has taken the side of the gamer community by recognizing that the government will need to tread more carefully in order to keep that segment of the population engaged in a positive direction.

Iranian gamers have a reputation for getting feisty when their favorite titles are being meddled with or threatened. In the case of Travian, one of the first browser based games to be localized to the Iranian market, the German title was declared to be Zionist propaganda three years ago and swiftly banned.

Gamers quickly rallied to the offices of Travian's local partner, as well as to authorities like ESRA, protesting the verdict but, unfortunately, the game's fate was sealed.

Let's hope that with President Rouhani's support for Clash of Clans has a happier ending.

Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh is the cofounder at Virtuleap, a sandbox for creative developers to showcase their VR concepts to the world, which is currently running the world's biggest WebVR Hackathon. He is also the European partner at Edoramedia, a games publisher and digital agency with its headquarters in Dubai.

Facebook says people sent 63 billion WhatsApp messages on New Year’s Eve

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 02:22 PM PST


Facebook-owned WhatsApp today announced that people sent 63 billion messages on New Year’s Eve, setting a new record for the app that lets people have chats and make voice and video calls.

Within those 63 billion messages, there were 7.9 billion images and 2.4 billion videos, a WhatsApp spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

For the sake of comparison, Messenger and WhatsApp combined were sending 60 billion messages per day, Facebook cofounder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said at the company’s F8 developer conference in April, as the Verge reported.

In January 2015, WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum said that people were sending 30 billion messages per day on WhatsApp. By February 2016, that number was 42 billion.

People were sending 15 billion messages per day on Telegram as of February 2016. And in 2014, people were sending 40 billion iMessages per day, according to Bloomberg.

Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, and WhatsApp now has more than 1 billion monthly active users. In April, WhatsApp enabled WhatsApp end-to-end encryption by default.

The SMS message protocol was at one point handling 20 billion messages per day, Andreessen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans wrote in a 2015 blog post.

Hydrao Loop is a smart showerhead that saves you water

Posted: 06 Jan 2017 02:01 PM PST

Hydrao Loop shower head shows you how much water you use by changing its colors.

French startup Smart & Blue believes that we don’t realize how much water we use in the shower. And so it has made a product that tells us just how much water is running down the drain while we’re singing a little too long.

The Hydrao Loop measures water usage in the shower and lets you know how much you’ve used by changing color. If the indicator stays blue, you’ve only used a few gallons of water, which is considered acceptable. But if it turns green, yellow, and finally red, then you’re wasting water. (You can customize the colors as you wish).

The Hydrao comes with an app that tells you how much water your family is using and how that changes over time.

The Grenoble, France-based company also designed the Hydrao Drop for overhead showers. Both versions can help reduce the amount of water you use, and the diffused light can also create a happier ambience for you while you’re scrubbing. The Hydrao products are designed to work with existing showers.

The whole point is to save water. Most of us use around seven to 10 gallons of water per shower. Of course, if Hydrao makes your shower environment too nice, you might want to stay in there even longer.

Here’s a video of how it looks in action. You can preorder it for $100, and it will be available in about six months.


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