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"Pulse" Turns Heartbeats into Interactive Art

Take a minute and think about your heart. Can you hear it beating? Probably not, but you know it is. Now imagine your heartbeat “in color,” with rhythmic lighting to match. You can now see your unique beat pattern at a new interactive exhibit called “Pulse” at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. In this Log-on segment, VOA’s Carolyn Presutti shows us how your heartbeat joins others and becomes art.

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Facebook to Invest $300 Million in Local News Initiatives

Facebook says it is investing $300 million over the next three years in local news programs, partnerships and other initiatives.

The money will go toward reporting grants for local newsrooms, expanding Facebook’s program to help local newsrooms with subscription business models and investing in nonprofits aimed at supporting local news.

The move comes at a difficult time for the news industry, which is facing falling profits and print readership. Facebook, like Google, has also been partly blamed for the ongoing decline in newspapers’ share of advertising dollars as people and advertisers have moved online.

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, acknowledges the company “can’t uninvent the internet,” but says it wants to work with publishers to help them succeed on and off the social network.

“The industry is going through a massive transition that has been underway for a long time,” she said. “None of us have quite figured out ultimately what the future of journalism is going to look like but we want to be part of helping find a solution.”

Facebook has increased its focus on local news in the past year after starting off 2018 with the announcement that it was generally de-emphasizing news stories and videos in people’s feeds on the social network in favor of posts from their friends.

At the same time, though, the company has been cautiously testing out ways to boost local news stories users are interested in and initiatives to support the broader industry. It launched a feature called “Today In” that shows people local news and information , including missing-person alerts, road closures, crime reports and school announcements, expanding it to hundreds of cities around the U.S. and a few in Australia.

The push to support local news comes as Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, tries to shake off its reputation as a hotbed for misinformation and elections-meddling. The company says users have been asking to see more local content that is relevant to them, including news stories as well as community information such as road closings during a snowstorm.

The $300 million investment includes a $5 million grant to the nonprofit Pulitzer Center to launch “Bringing Stories Home,” a fund that will provide local U.S. newsrooms with reporting grants to support coverage of local issues. There’s also a $2 million investment in Report for America as part of a partnership aiming to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across the country over the next five years.

The idea behind the investments, Brown said, is to look “holistically at how a given publisher can define a business model. Facebook can’t be the only answer, the only solution — we don’t want the publisher to be dependent on Facebook.”

Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, which is receiving $1 million together with the Local Media Association to help their member newsrooms develop new revenue streams, said she is optimistic the investment will help.

“I think they are recognizing that trusted, credible content is of benefit not only to local publishers but to them,” she said.

 

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Huawei Founder Says Company Would Not Share User Secrets

The founder of network gear and smart phone supplier Huawei Technologies says the tech giant would reject requests from the Chinese government to disclose confidential information about its customers. 

Meeting with foreign reporters at Huawei’s headquarters, Ren Zhengfei sought Tuesday to allay Western concerns the company is a security risk. Those fears have hampered Huawei’s access to global markets for next-generation telecom technology. 

Asked how Huawei would respond if Chinese authorities ask for confidential information about foreign customers or their networks, Ren said, “we would definitely say no to such a request.”

The United States, Australia, Japan and some other governments have imposed curbs on use of Huawei technology over concerns the company is a security risk.

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Amphibious Robot Thrives in Water and on Land

Nature finds a way, the old saying goes. We see it in how animals fly, crawl, slink, dig and otherwise make their way through the world. Scientists have long recognized the ways in which evolution has perfected movement in the natural world, and mimicked it in their robot designs. Here’s the latest, and it’s simple and incredibly complicated all at the same time. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Robot Animals Serving as Pets to Dementia Patients

A new form of social therapy is powering-on in the U.S. A group of former toy company employees bought a brand from their ex-employer and started developing robotic household animals that serve as friends and therapy aids to America’s growing elderly population. Arash Arabasadi reports.

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Foreign-Born Workers Powering Silicon Valley’s Startup Success

Home to Apple, Facebook and Google, Silicon Valley is an American economic powerhouse, producing technology companies with global influence. But behind these influential American brands are scores of foreign workers who play a critical role in the Valley’s tech workforce. Deana Mitchell reports.

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Privacy, Please: Latest Gadgets Want Greater Peek into Lives

The latest gadgets want even greater access to your lives.

This week’s CES tech show in Las Vegas was a showcase for cameras that can livestream the living room, a bathroom mirror that captures your face to offer beauty tips and a gizmo that tracks the heartbeat of an unborn child.

These features can be useful — or at least fun — but they all open the door for companies and people working for them to peek into your private lives. Just this week, The Intercept reported that Ring, a security-camera company owned by Amazon, gave employees access to some customer video footage.

You’ll have to weigh whether the gadgets are useful enough to give up some privacy. First, you have to trust that companies making these devices are protecting your information and aren’t doing more than what they say they’re doing with data. Even if a company has your privacy in mind, things can go wrong: Hackers can break in and access sensitive data. Or an ex might retain access to a video feed long after a breakup.

“It’s not like all these technologies are inherently bad,” says Franziska Roesner, a University of Washington professor who researches computer security and privacy.

But she said the industry is still trying to figure out the right balance between providing useful services and protecting people’s privacy in the process

Amazon’s video feeds

As with other security cameras, Ring’s can be mounted outside the front door or inside the home to give you a peek, through an app, of who’s there. But the Intercept said the Amazon-owned company was also allowing some high-level engineers in the U.S. to view customers’ video feeds, while others in the Ukraine office could view and download any customer video file.

In a statement, Ring said some Amazon employees have access to videos that are publicly shared through the company’s Neighbors app, which aims to create a network of security cameras in an area. Ring also says employees get additional video from users who consent to such sharing.

At CES, Ring announced an internet-connected video doorbell that fits into peepholes for apartment dwellers or college students who can’t install one next to their doors. Though it doesn’t appear Ring uses facial recognition yet, records show that Amazon recently filed a patent application for a facial-recognition system involving home security cameras.

Living room livestream

It’s one thing to put cameras in our own homes, but Alarm.com wants us to also put them in other people’s houses.

Alarm’s Wellcam is for caretakers to watch from afar and is mostly designed to check in on aging relatives. Someone who lives elsewhere can use a smartphone to “peek in” anytime, says Steve Chazin, vice president of products. 

The notion of placing a camera in someone else’s living room might feel icky. 

Wellcam says video isn’t recorded until someone activates it from a phone and video is deleted as soon as the stream stops. Chazin says such cameras are “becoming more acceptable because loved ones want to know that the ones they care about are safe.”

Just be sure you trust whom you’re giving access to. You can’t turn off the camera, unless you unplug it or cover it up with something. 

Bathroom cameras 

French company CareOS showcased a smart mirror that lets you “try on” different hairstyles. Facial recognition helps the mirror’s camera know which person in a household is there, while augmented-reality technology overlays your actual image with animation on how you might look.

CareOS expects hotels and salons to buy the $20,000 Artemis mirror — making it more important that personal data is protected. 

“We know we don’t want the whole world to know about what’s going on in the bathroom,” co-founder Chloe Szulzinger said.

The mirror doesn’t need internet to work, she said. Even if it is connected, all data is stored on a local network. The company says it will abide by Europe’s stronger privacy rules, which took effect in May, regardless of where a customer lives. Customers can choose to share their information with CareOS, but only after they’ve explicitly agreed to how it will be used.

The same applies for the businesses that buy and install the mirror. Customers can choose to share some information — such as photos of the hair cut they got last time they visited a salon — but the businesses can’t access anything stored in user profiles unless users specifically allow them to.

Bodily data

Some gadgets, meanwhile, are gathering intimate information. 

Yo Sperm sells an iPhone attachment that tests and tracks sperm quality. To protect privacy, the company recommends that users turn their phones to airplane mode when using the test. The company says data stays on the phone, within the app, though there’s a button for sharing details with a doctor.

Owlet, meanwhile, plans to sell a wearable device that sits over a pregnant belly and tracks the heartbeat. The company’s privacy policy says personal data gets collected. And you can choose to share heartbeat information with researchers studying stillbirths.

Though such data can be useful, Forrester analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo warns that these devices aren’t regulated or governed by U.S. privacy law. She warns that companies could potentially sell data to insurance companies who could find, for instance, that someone was drinking caffeine during a pregnancy — potentially raising health risks and hence premiums.

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Technology Opening New Worlds for Disabled at CES

Proponents of Big Tech say the march of technology into our daily lives is designed to make our lives easier. For some, it’s arguable if a smart refrigerator can actually make life easier. But for the disabled community, technological advances can make a huge difference. Some of that new technology was on display this week at the Consumer Electronics’ show. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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