Ungrateful Google Plebes Somehow Not Excited to Work on Military Industrial Complex Death Machines

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“Don’t Be Evil” has been one of Google’s corporate maxims for over 15 years. But it’s recent dealings with the Department of Defense has put that ideal on ice. For some reason, Google’s workers aren’t psyched about this!

Over three thousand Google employees signed a recent public letter demanding CEO Sundar Pichai shut down Project Maven — a Department of Defense contract to create a “customized AI surveillance engine” — and publicize a clear policy that “neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”

The letter’s got some pretty direct language, calling the company out on its loss of the aforementioned core value: “Google’s unique history, its motto Don’t Be Evil, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.” The commoditization of people’s personal data (ergo, their psyches) not withstanding, obviously.

Gizmodo reported on Project Maven earlier last month, when they described it as “using machine learning to identify vehicles and other objects in drone footage, taking that burden off analysts.” Google and the Pentagon fired back, stating that the technology wouldn’t be used to create an autonomous weapons system that can identify targets and fire without a human squeezing the trigger.

CEO Pichai spun the letter and public exchange with the company as “hugely important and beneficial” in a statement to the New York Times, but of course, didn’t refer to any plans to throw the brakes on the project. Pichai’s statement went on to say that the tech used by the Pentagon is available to “any Google Cloud customer” and reserved specifically for “non-offensive purposes.”

Thing is, Google’s far from the only tech industry player in cahoots with the military. Red flags immediately went up when news broke that a team of researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) was partnering up with weapons company Hanwha Systems — a company that produces cluster bombs, not exactly a popular form of warfare, as far as these things go. Fifty researchers from thirty countries called for an immediate boycott of the Korean institute.

Microsoft and Amazon both signed multi billion dollar contracts with the Department of Defense to develop cloud services. Credit where it’s due: At least the DOD isn’t trying to spin this as anything other than death machine-making. Defense Department chief management officer John Gibson didn’t beat around the bush when he said the collaboration was designed in part to “increase lethality and readiness.”

So that’s fun! And if Google’s recent advancements in AI tech faced a similar fate, think: Weaponized autonomous drones, equipped with private data, and a sophisticated AI. Not saying this is exactly how SkyNet starts, but, this is basically how SkyNet starts.

The counter to this argument, insomuch as there is one, is that these technological developments lead to better data, and better data leads to better object identification technology, which could also lead to more precise offensives, which could lead (theoretically) to less civilian casualties, or at least (again, theoretically) increased accountability on the part of the military (analog: the calculator should make it exponentially more difficult to get numbers “wrong” on your taxes, so the automated hyper-targeted death robots should make it exponentially more difficult to “accidentally” murder a school full of children).

All of which should go without saying that collaboration between the Department of Defense and various Silicon Valley tech companies is a dangerous game, and we have seen how quickly the balance can tilt in one direction. Having informed tech employees call out their CEOs publicly could hopefully lead to tech companies choosing their military contracts more carefully, or at least, more light being shed on who’s making what technologies, or rather, what technologies Silicon Valley coders are unknowingly working on.

More likely is that it just results in these companies being more discreet about the gobstoppingly shady (but profitable!) death machine work they’re doing. Good thing — like the rest of the world with a brain in their heads — we’re all ears.

The post Ungrateful Google Plebes Somehow Not Excited to Work on Military Industrial Complex Death Machines appeared first on Futurism.

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Airtable raises $52M to give non-coders tools to build complex software

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A massive company probably has plenty of engineers on staff and the resources to build a complex backbone of interconnected information that can contain tons of data and make acting on it easy — but for smaller companies, and for those that aren’t technical, those tools aren’t very accessible.

That’s what convinced Howie Liu to create Airtable, a startup that looks to turn what seems like just a normal spreadsheet into a robust database tool, hiding the complexity of what’s happening in the background while those without any programming experience create intricate systems to get their work done. Today, they’re trying to take that one step further with a new tool called Blocks, a set of mix-and-match operations like SMS and integrating maps that users can just drop into their systems. Think of it as a way to give a small business owner with a non-technical background to meticulously track all the performance activity across, say, a network of food trucks by just entering a bunch of dollar values and dropping in one of these tools.

“We really want to take this power you have in software creation and ‘consumerize’ that into a form anyone can use,” Liu said. “At the same time, from a business standpoint, we saw this bigger opportunity underneath the low-code app platforms in general. Those platforms solve the needs of heavyweight expensive use cases where you have a budget and have a lot of time. I would position Airtable making a leap toward a graphical user interface, versus a lot of products that are admin driven.”

Liu said the company has raised an additional $ 52 million in financing in a round led by CRV and Caffeinated Capital, with participation from Freestyle Ventures and Slow Ventures. All this is going toward a way to build a system that is trying to abstract out even the process of programming itself, though there’s always going to be some limited scope as to how custom of a system you can actually make with what amounts to a set of logic operation legos. That being said, the goal here is to boil down all of the most common sets of operations with the long tail left to the average programmers (and larger enterprises often have these kinds of highly-customized needs).

All this is coming at a time when businesses are increasingly chasing the long tail of small- to medium-sized businesses, the ones that aren’t really on the grid but represent a massive market opportunity. Those businesses also probably don’t have the kinds of resources to hire engineers while companies like Google or Facebook are camping out on college campuses looking to snap up students graduating with technical majors. That’s part of the reason why Excel had become so popular trying to abstract out a lot of complex operations necessary to run a business, but at the same time, Liu said that kind of philosophy should be able to be taken a step further.

“If you look at cloud, you have Amazon’s [cloud infrastructure] EC2, which abstracted the hardware level and you can build on existing machine intelligence,” Liu said. “Then, you get the OS level and up. Containers, Heroku, and other tools have extracted away the operation level complexity. But you have to write the app and modal logic. Our goal is to go a big leap forward on top of that and abstract out the app code layer. You should be able to directly use our interface, and blocks, all these plug and play lego pieces that give you more dynamic functionality — whether a map view or an integration with Twilio.”

And, really, all these platforms like Twilio have tried to make themselves pretty friendly to coding beginners as-is. Twilio has a lot of really good documentation for first-time developers to learn to use their platforms. But Airtable hopes to serve as a way to interconnect all these things in a complex web, creating a relational database behind the scenes that users can operate on in a more simplistic matter that’s still accurate, fast, and reliable.

“Obviously MySQL is great if you want to use code or custom SQL queries to interface with the data,” Liu said. “But, ultimately, you’d never as a business end user consider using literally a terminal-based SQL prompt as the primary interface to and from your data. Certainly you wouldn’t put that on your designs. Clearly you would want some interface on top of the SQL level database. We basically expose the full value of a relational database like Postgres to the end user, but we also give them something equally but more important: the interface on the top that makes the data immediately visible.”

There’s been a lot of activity trying to rethink these sort of fundamental formats that the average user is used to, but are ripe for more flexibility. Coda, a startup trying to rethink the notion behind a word document, raised $ 60 million, and all this points towards moves to try to create a more robust toolkit for non-technical users. That also means that it’s going to be an increasingly hot space, and especially look like an opportunity for companies that are already looking to host these kinds of services online like Amazon or Microsoft and have the buy-in from those businesses.

Liu, too, said that the goal of the company was to go after all potential business cases right away by creating a what-you-see-is-what-you-get one size fits all platform — which is usually called a horizontal approach. That’s often a very risky move, and it’s probably the biggest question mark for the company as there’s an opportunity for some other startups or companies to come in and grab niches of that whole pie in specific areas (like, say, a custom GUI programming interface for healthcare). But Liu said the opportunity for Airtable was to go horizontal from day one.

“There’s this assumption that software has to involve literally writing code,” Liu said. “It’s sort of a difficult thing to extricate ourselves from because we have built so much with writing code. But when you think about what goes into a useful application, especially in the business-to-business internal tools in a company use case which forms the bulk of software that’s consumed in terms of lines of code written, most of them are primarily a relational database model, and the relational database aspect of it is not an arbitrary format.

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Hands On: OmniPlan 3.9 is project management for complex jobs on the Mac and iPad

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You tend to know when you need a project management app. You’d be a little crazy to plan a small, intimate dinner party with a project management app but you’d be insane to build an office block without something like OmniPlan.
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UK group planning complex 200-mile autonomous car trial

As the UK attempts to position itself at the forefront of autonomous driving, the government — with help from startups and universities — has embarked on a number of trials in order to rack up the necessary miles on the road. This normally involves…
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It’s judgment day at Uber, as we learn whether SoftBank will succeed in its complex purchase of some of the company

If successful, the deal could calm the boardroom tensions that have derailed the company in 2017.

SoftBank will soon see whether it has finally acquired a multibillion-dollar ownership stake in Uber — or whether the seemingly endless drama between the Japanese investor and the world’s most valuable startup has more scenes left.

The proposed deal, which would also deeply reshape how Uber is governed, expires on Thursday (Dec. 28) at 12pm PT. But because of a strict anti-collusion agreement pushed by SoftBank, existing large Uber investors are largely in the dark as to whether they will be able to sell their lucrative shares at all.

SoftBank is offering Uber investors just under $ 33 per share in an attempt to purchase up to one fifth of the company. The deal is important not just because of the massive amount of cash that would change hands, but also because the deal would trigger a series of reforms meant to mollify the warring factions in Uber’s boardroom.

Employees and institutional investors each have to decide whether that share price — a 30 percent discount from the company’s last valuation — is enough of a payout. If the SoftBank-led group is unable to cobble together at least 13.4 percent of the shares in the company, then the transaction fails and Uber’s governance crisis would deepen.

But on the eve of the deadline, Uber investors confess to little knowledge about whether enough employees or major shareholders have turned in documents volunteering to sell. Why? Because the anti-collusion mandate — a “gag order” in the eyes of some — means that Uber’s owners can’t tell one another whether they’re selling.

So it’s anyone’s guess.

A few tea leaves, though: SoftBank has not yet chosen to extend the 20-business-day schedule for a sale, even though it had the right to do so. That decision leads some Uber insiders to believe that the buyers expect to achieve the minimum threshold for the deal. (SoftBank could also extend the deadline at the last minute.)

And other Uber insiders describe SoftBank’s and Uber’s “brilliant job scaring” existing investors into selling, in the words of one person familiar with the process.

As typically happens with highly sensitive, deadline-driven transactions like this one, many of the bids to sell were expected to arrive in just the final few days before Thursday’s cutoff.

The deal is being brokered by Gregg Lemkau, the co-head of investment banking at Goldman Sachs, according to multiple people with knowledge of the process.

Several investors have complained that the discount remains too severe and have speculated that this initial offer is merely a “low-ball” meant to set the terms for future offers, during which SoftBank and its co-investors can choose to raise their offer price.

Some Uber shareholders have even pressed the SoftBank-led group to shrink the number of investors in its consortium, according to one person familiar with the request. The thinking is that if there were fewer potential buyers — six different co-investors have cycled in and out of the deal in recent months — then the minimum ownership threshold needed to complete the deal could be reduced, increasing its chances of success.

Two of Uber’s earliest investors have already told SoftBank that they plan to sell: Menlo Ventures and Benchmark, the elite venture capital firm that led the ouster of Uber’s ex-CEO, Travis Kalanick. But the two firms have said nothing about the amount they will sell, fueling concerns that their offerings will be relatively minor and primarily symbolic.

Kalanick himself, who owns 10 percent of the company, remains a wild card. While he had told associates earlier this year that he had no plans to sell a single share — perhaps with his eyes on his old CEO seat — his feelings now are more opaque to close observers.

HIs co-founder, Garrett Camp, is widely expected by multiple sources to offer up a substantial amount of his shares in the transaction. Camp could become a cash billionaire with enough of a sale, and he has recently expressed an interest in increasing his donations to charity and philanthropy.

Ryan Graves, Uber’s first employee, is considered by sources to be less likely to sell his Uber winnings.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has encouraged all large shareholders to sell at least some of their equity. That pressure has been applied to early institutional investors like First Round Capital and Alphabet-backed GV, two large shareholders whose decisions could determine whether this deal succeeds or fails.

SoftBank would be under no obligation to say the precise percentage of the company that investors offered to sell — but, of course, Uber could choose to announce that anyway.


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AppDynamics: Complex software drives the IoT, but needs careful navigation

AppDynamics: Complex software drives the IoT

Internet of Business looks at AppDynamics’ strategy for IoT, which focuses on helping companies to manage the complexity of  software that might underpin a single business process. 

Acquired by Cisco in a deal that closed in March 2017, AppDynamics specializes in software tools that enable IT adminstrators to monitor, manage and maintain distributed software architectures.

As AppDynamics CEO David Wadhwani has discussed many times before before, every action by either a user or a machine can initiate many lines of code, running in many systems and often across multiple data centers.

Today, these connected systems increasingly underpin IoT device networks – but many companies still rely on outdated technology and brittle interconnects between them, according to Wadhwani.

But application complexity is growing, even as customers increasingly insist on simplicity and ease of use in their digital experiences. The challenge of the AppDynamics team is to show that the company’s technology can help organizations to bridge this gap.

Read more: Cisco swoops to purchase AppDynamics for $ 3.7 billion days before IPO

AppDynamics core tools

It is still early days for IoT. Many companies are still experimenting – but one of the biggest reasons that they run into problems is that they don’t address the complexity of systems-wide deployment. 

This is where AppDynamics positions its Business iQ product. It’s a line of application- and business-centric dashboards that can be used to track the performance and health of all the different ‘chunks’ of software, in different systems, that work together to underpin a single business process.

According to an AppDynamics strategy statement, “In a world where hardware is a delivery mechanism for software, optimizing for the user experience must be ‘Priority One’. Digital businesses must ensure that these complex, interconnected applications are performing at the highest level and the massive amount of data generated by these apps are being monitored, managed and analyzed in a way that will continuously optimize business decisions.”

This is not a plug-and-play technology; there is a certain amount of work involved in implementing them. In practice, analytics must be isolated and baselined for customer-critical issues and serve as a guide to prioritizing fixes before the customer service department hears about issues.

Monitoring the customer experience with real-time awareness is the goal here and that job has never been more difficult, or more critical, according to AppDynamic executives. 

Read more: Three signs deal with Cisco Jasper for IoT

Device impact

So what are the main IoT offerings in Business iQ? Here, it helps to look at what the company calls “device business impact”; in other words, it’s about ensuring that Business iQ proves visibility into how IoT devices are affecting business processes.

The company also points to what it calls “device application visibility”. Here, we see that AppDynamics’ new IoT visibility functions provide an aggregated view into device uptime, version status and performance. This is intended to help IT administrators drill down into data, in order to get a clearer view into the status, condition and performance of a device, in order to simplify troubleshooting.

“Every company measures success differently. With custom dashboards in IoT visibility, companies from any vertical can quickly build new visualizations to measure the business impact of IoT devices — from the revenue impact of a slow check out for a brick and mortar retailer to the customer impact of a software change in a connected car,” said the company, in an IoT briefing statement.

So what does AppDynamics feel the future of IoT will hold? Will the company’s role change going forward? For its part, AppDynamics insists that future use of IoT technologies will see customers thinking “more holistically” about total application performance, in a world where company survival may be largely impacted by the health of its core customer-facing organization. 

The bottom line here – arguably – is that application infrastructures need to become more intelligent, more performance-aware, more ‘autonomic’ in terms of their ability to self-heal and more inherently aware of how effectively (or not) they are delivering processing power and data access to the users and devices that they exist to serve.

It’s almost as if applications are becoming more dynamic and someone chose to name a tech company accordingly. 

Read more: Live from Las Vegas, Cisco Jasper announces Control Center 7.0

The post AppDynamics: Complex software drives the IoT, but needs careful navigation appeared first on Internet of Business.

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Complex is the latest media company to lay off staff amid a pivot to video

The company said goodbye to some of its product team Friday.

Complex Networks laid off much of its product team on Friday as the media company rejiggers its personnel a year after being bought by Verizon and Hearst.

Once home to a website and a magazine, the media organization appeals to young male audience. Mark Ecko, the fashion designer, started Complex in 2002, 14 years before it was sold in a deal that reportedly valued it at more than $ 250 million. The print magazine shuttered at the start of this year.

The company confirmed the layoffs and said the product unit’s function would be integrated into existing teams. The company said the number of those affected was only a “handful” of the company’s 400 employees.

The reason for the firings? The company says it was part of a “pivot to video” that it embarked upon last year.

That’s the same rationale that has accompanied recent layoffs at various publishers, including Mic.com, MTV, Mashable and Fox Sports

“Since embarking on a rapid expansion into video this past year, we’ve had success in both premium content and across our networks,” the company said in a statement. “We’ve made changes at Complex Networks to ensure we remain efficient, nimble and focused on areas that will deliver on our vision.”

Complex said it had launched more than 30 short story video series on YouTube and elsewhere and was adding staff to its video team.



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Airbnb is opening an apartment complex that won’t piss off the neighbors


A new report today confirmed that Airbnb is investing in the real estate market — specifically, an upscale apartment complex in Kissimmee, Florida, set to open sometime next year. Newgard Development Group will oversee the construction of the building, which will be called “Niido by Airbnb” (apparently a play on the Spanish word for “nest”). The building will have 300 units in total. It sounds fairly plush (if not a little hotel-like), featuring keyless entry, concierge services, and long-term storage. The amenities are all designed to encourage use by Airbnb customers. Tenants will be able to rent their unit out…

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