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Apple is taking the tortoise approach to autonomous cars

(TECH NEWS) In a recent interview, Apple CEO gave vague messages about the company’s approach to autonomous vehicles.

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Apple is working on autonomous systems

Apple CEO Tim Cook has clarified the company’s plans to crack into the autonomous automotive industry — kind of.

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His comments in a cryptic interview with Bloomberg last week were still remarkably vague: Apple is not building autonomous cars, but rather, autonomous systems.

The long, winding road to autonomous cars

In recent years, almost all the big names in tech have been hard at work trying to create the first successful self-driving cars–Google, Uber and Tesla, to name a few. Apple, too, originally had a plan to build its own car. The endeavor was known as Project Titan, and it was comprised of a thousand employees and a goal to revolutionize the automotive market the same way the iPhone revolutionized cell phones a decade ago.

Needless to say, the project was not completed.

Disagreements around the project’s direction led most of the team to abandon Project Titan, slowing its progress. Bob Mansfield, the original iPad developer, was responsible for taking the wheel and shifting the gears, so to speak, of Project Titan, pivoting the project from strictly automobile-focused to instead developing core technology for an autonomous platform.

However, the pivot does not rule out the construction of cars later on.

Purposefully vague

In Cook’s interview he described the company’s work in artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomy without specifying any actual product, but what will this technology be used for? One could assume Apple aims to perfect self-driving systems before going forth with a vehicle.

Cook’s intentionally elusive statements just heighten anticipation and intrigue around the project.

Leading many to piece together scraps of evidence in hopes of revealing some truth before it’s announced. For example, last year Apple hired Blackberry’s former head of automotive software, invested $1 billion in a Chinese ride-hailing company called Didi Chuxing, which recently opened an autonomous AI lab in Mountain View.

Coincidence?

Then last December, Apple sent a letter to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mentioning how excited they are about automation in various fields, “including transportation.” It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to connect the dots here.

Taking the turtle approach

Without revealing specifics, Cook described autonomous systems as “probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.” Perhaps such dedication to the systems themselves is the key to a successful self-driving car.

Competitors aren’t taking the time to focus on core technology, instead forging ahead in attempts to crank out cars before anyone else. Maybe in this case, slow and steady will win the race.

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Helen Irias is a Staff Writer at The American Genius with a degree in English Literature from University of California, Santa Barbara. She works in marketing in Silicon Valley and hopes to one day publish a comically self-deprecating memoir that people bring up at dinner parties to make themselves sound interesting.

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Make it harder for Facebook to track you around the web

(TECH NEWS) Facebook remains in hot water, but you can make a simple choice that puts you in control of your data. Check it out.

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Firefox has long been an industry leader in security, which is why it’s no surprise that they’re the first large browser to roll out an anti-tracking add-on geared toward making life difficult for everyone’s favorite social media platform: Facebook.

Facebook Container is a deceptively powerful add-on, allowing you to prevent Facebook from tracking and analyzing your browsing behavior while you navigate around the Internet. After installing it in Firefox like any other add-on, you log into your Facebook account inside of the container; from that point on, any Facebook tracking will be confined to the Container tab in which you’re using FB.

The primary purpose of the add-on is, of course, to limit the amount of information that Facebook can extrapolate from your browsing history. There’s still plenty of information that you can give to Facebook simply by scrolling through your News Feed page, but at least they won’t know what size of underwear you’re buying.

Another obvious ramification of using Facebook Container is its ad-blocking capabilities. Unlike a traditional ad-blocker, it won’t force-hide ads; instead, it will hide your activity, meaning you’ll see fewer targeted ads based on your browsing activity and habits. This is likely to cut down on frustration from users who feel inappropriately targeted or singled out by the social media giant’s often-invasive ads.

In addition to its numerous qualities, it also comes with a few downsides—though for the privacy-minded, they’ll probably not feel like game-changers. The main issue is that sharing buttons and those cute little “Like” buttons you see all over the Internet won’t work when you use the add-on since you’ll be logged out of FB everywhere else in Firefox.

Naturally, using the social media buttons outside of the Firefox add-on kind of defeats the purpose of using the add-on to begin with, so this shouldn’t be a huge problem.

You also won’t be able to log into websites that use your FB login information as a credential automatically, which—as Mozilla puts it on the product page—is “to be expected.”

If you’re the kind of person who says “I’d delete my social media accounts, but I need it to stay in contact with so-and-so,” at least once a week, this add-on for Firefox may be for you—and, even if you aren’t a Firefox user, their browser updates over the past six months make switching worth a try.

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Experts warn of actual AI risks – we’re about to live in a sci fi movie

(TECH NEWS) A new report on AI indicates that the sci fi dystopias we’ve been dreaming up are actually possible. Within a few short years. Welp.

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Long before artificial intelligence (AI) was even a real thing, science fiction novels and films have warned us about the potentially catastrophic dangers of giving machines too much power.

Now that AI actually exists, and in fact, is fairly widespread, it may be time to consider some of the potential drawbacks and dangers of the technology, before we find ourselves in a nightmarish dystopia the likes of which we’ve only begun to imagine.

Experts from the industry as well as academia have done exactly that, in a recently released 100-page report, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, Mitigation.”

The report was written by 26 experts over the course of a two-day workshop held in the UK last month. The authors broke down the potential negative uses of artificial intelligence into three categories – physical, digital, or political.

In the digital category are listed all of the ways that hackers and other criminals can use these advancements to hack, phish, and steal information more quickly and easily. AI can be used to create fake emails and websites for stealing information, or to scan software for potential vulnerabilities much more quickly and efficiently than a human can. AI systems can even be developed specifically to fool other AI systems.

Physical uses included AI-enhanced weapons to automate military and/or terrorist attacks. Commercial drones can be fitted with artificial intelligence programs, and automated vehicles can be hacked for use as weapons. The report also warns of remote attacks, since AI weapons can be controlled from afar, and, most alarmingly, “robot swarms” – which are, horrifyingly, exactly what they sound like.

Read also: Is artificial intelligence going too far, moving too quickly?

Lastly, the report warned that artificial intelligence could be used by governments and other special interest entities to influence politics and generate propaganda.

AI systems are getting creepily good at generating faked images and videos – a skill that would make it all too easy to create propaganda from scratch. Furthermore, AI can be used to find the most important and vulnerable targets for such propaganda – a potential practice the report calls “personalized persuasion.” The technology can also be used to squash dissenting opinions by scanning the internet and removing them.

The overall message of the report is that developments in this technology are “dual use” — meaning that AI can be created that is either helpful to humans, or harmful, depending on the intentions of the people programming it.

That means that for every positive advancement in AI, there could be a villain developing a malicious use of the technology. Experts are already working on solutions, but they won’t know exactly what problems they’ll have to combat until those problems appear.

The report concludes that all of these evil-minded uses for these technologies could easily be achieved within the next five years. Buckle up.

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This app takes a picture of who stole your device, we are in love

(TECH NEWS) Prey is the ultimate answer to combat a stolen device – going on the offense is sometimes the best defense.

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In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to worry about your phone or computer being stolen – and, in the event that it was stolen, your device’s “Find My Device” app would be enough.

Unfortunately, prophylaxis is the best (and often only) defense against smartphone thieves, which is why an app called Prey is a head above the pack.

Prey takes the process one step further: it takes a picture of the person who stole your phone and uploads it to a server for your viewing “convenience” (we’re assuming that not much about your current situation is convenient if your smartphone’s gone). This both alerts you to the identity of the person if you know them, or at least gives you a face to show to law enforcement.

Prey’s packed with other features as well, including the ability to entirely wipe your device or pull up coordinates on a world map.

Perhaps the coolest side effect of Prey is its ability to generate far more data for a police report than related apps.

While Find My iPhone and similar services can generate a location and allow you to wipe your device, Prey can use the front and rear cameras for thief identification, retrieve files, take screenshots, and pull up local IP addresses and Wi-Fi networks.

Unlike proprietary device GPS apps, Prey works on all four of the major operating systems (and even Linux, if that’s the kind of person you are), making it much easier for you to streamline your recovery efforts should you lose more than one device at a time.

We wouldn’t wish losing a bag full of your precious electronics on many, but it’s not impossible.

As with any technology, there’s a downside to Prey, and in this case, it’s the sheer potential for damage, should Prey’s data access be compromised. The ability to find one’s location and details such as IP addresses and networks is extremely concerning, especially in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica incident – and while Prey asserts that your device’s data won’t even be examined unless you request the service, it’s still a troubling potentiality.

If you’re worried about losing your device(s) and you’re looking for that extra nail in the coffin should you need it, you can check out Prey’s pricing on their website.

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