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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.

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.

Tech News

Facebook starts handing out merit badges like we’re Girl Scouts

(TECH NEWS) Facebook offers merit badges to users, and it’s pretty neat, but we’re also rolling our eyes.

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According to some Facebook Group administrators, Facebook has today rolled out merit badges. So far in the wild, we’ve spotted “Conversation Starter” which praises the admin (or user) for starting engaging posts that got the conversation going.

We have asked numerous users if they’ve seen these badges, and so far it appears that only one badge has been rolled out, potentially with more on the way. Upon logging into the group where you have earned a badge, you’ll see a notification at the top of the feed informing you of your new badge (get out your vest, it’s time to start collecting them all)!

The merit badge that you’ve earned shows up in your profile when other group members (where you’ve earned the merit badge) click on your face:

Currently, when an Admin posts in the group, it still only has their Admin badge next to their name, not the “Conversation Starter” or other badges lined up next to it, but if a regular group member has posted something engaging, the badge appears next to their name (it may be a one-badge-limit so far, maybe hold off on buying a Girl Scout vest for your badge collection):

Lastly, users apparently do have control over the display of whichever neato merit badges we eventually earn or collect:

There is no word on what the ultimate plan is or what merit badges will be awarded, and it appears to be limited to Facebook Groups at the present.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment and will update the story as we learn more. For now, if you want a badge, you can at least get a “Conversation Starter” badge in Facebook Groups, so go get ’em – we’ll soon know which other badges we can earn slash collect slash compete for slash game.

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Slack video messaging tool for the ultra lazy (or productive) person

(TECHNOLOGY) Courtesy of a company called Standuply, Slack’s notable lack of video-messaging options is finally addressed.

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Slack — the popular chat and workflow app — is still going strong despite its numerous technical shortcomings, one of which is its notable lack of native video or audio chat. If you’re an avid Slack user, you might be interested in Standuply’s solution to this missing feature: video and audio messaging.

While it isn’t quite the Skype-esque experience for which one might hope when booting up Slack, Standuply’s video messages add-on gives you the ability to record and send a video or audio recording to any Slack channel. This makes things like multitasking a breeze; unless you’re a god among mortals, your talking speed is significantly faster than your typing, making video- or audio-messaging a viable productivity move.

The way you’ll record and send the video or audio message is a bit convoluted: using a web browser and a private Slack link, you can record up to five minutes of content, after which point the content is uploaded to YouTube as a private item. You can then use the item’s link to send the video or audio clip to your Skype channel.

While this is a fairly roundabout way of introducing video chat into Slack, the end result is still a visual conversation which is conducive to long-term use.

Sending video and audio messages may feel like an exercise in futility (why use a third-party tool when one could just type?) but the amount of time and energy you can save while simultaneously responding to feedback or beginning your next task adds up.

Similarly, having a video that your team can circle back to instead of requiring them to scroll through until they find your text post on a given topic is better for long-term productivity.

And, if all else falls short, it’s nice to see your remote team’s faces and hear their voices every once in a while—if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that they aren’t figments of your overly caffeinated imagination.

At the time of this writing, the video chat portion of the Slack bot is free; however, subsequent pricing tiers include advanced aspects such as integration with existing services, analytics, and unlimited respondents.

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Tech News

This phishing simulator tests your company’s (lack of) readiness

(TECHNOLOGY) Phishero is a tool which tests your organization’s resistance to phishing attacks. Pro tip: Most companies aren’t ready.

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In the wake of any round of cyberattacks, many organizations question whether they’re prepared to defend themselves against things like hacking or other forms of information theft. In reality, the bulk of workplace data thievery comes from a classic trick: phishing.

Phishing is a catch-all phrase for a specific type of information theft which involves emailing. Typically, a phishing email will include a request for sensitive data, such as a password, a copy of a W-4, or an account’s details (e.g., security questions); the email itself will often appear to come from someone within the organization.

Similar approaches include emailing a link which acts as a login page for a familiar site (e.g., Facebook) but actually stores your account information when you sign in.

Luckily, there’s a way for you to test your business’ phishing readiness.

Phishero, a tool designed to test employee resistance to phishing attacks, is a simple solution for any business looking to find any weak links in their cybersecurity.

The tool itself is designed to do four main things: identify potential targets, find a way to design a convincing phishing scheme, implement the phishing attack, and analyze the results.

Once Phishero has a list of your employees, it is able to create an email based on the same web design used for your company’s internal communications. This email is then sent to your selected recipient pool, from which point you’ll be able to monitor who opens the email.

Once you’ve concluded the test, you can use Phishero’s built-in analytics to give you an at-a-glance overview of your organization’s security.

The test results also include specific information such as which employees gave information, what information was given, and pain points in your current cybersecurity setup.

Phishing attacks are incredibly common, and employees – especially those who may not be as generationally skeptical of emails – are the only things standing between your company and catastrophic losses if they occur in your business. While training your employees on proper email protocol out of the gate is a must, Phishero provides an easy way to see how effective your policies actually are.

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