Macs are complex machines, but in some ways they’re a bit like people. Everything they can do relies on a healthy, uncluttered hard drive; the “brains” of the operation. But you can’t take your Macbook to a psychologist (unless that’s your thing), so instead you’ll want a utility app like Drive Genius. Drive Genius 5 […]
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.
New research sponsored by Intel and published by Juniper Research suggests that smart cities can “give back” 125 hours a year to every resident.
This equates to an entire working week (five 24-hour days), or nearly 16 eight-hour working days.
The report ranks Singapore, London, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago as the world’s smartest cities, with several in China rising up through the top 20 chart as China automates faster than any other nation.
Read more: South Korea most automated nation on earth, says report. The UK? Going nowhere
So how do the figures stack up? There are big plusses for mobility, health, and public safety, according to the research.
Mobility: +60 hours a year
Gridlocks in cities causes drivers to lose up to 70 hours a year, according to Juniper Research.
The study shows that an integrated, IoT-enabled infrastructure of intelligent traffic systems, safer roads, directed parking, and frictionless toll and parking payments could give back up to 60 of those hours a year to drivers who would otherwise be stuck in their cars.
Health: +10 hours a year
Smart cities with connected digital health services can help save people up to 10 hours a year, says the research.
Some of the numerous examples include: wearables and apps that monitor high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, and other medical conditions. These help people manage their health better without hospitalisation, and over time may reduce the need to see doctors.
Meanwhile, telemedicine allows contagious disease sufferers to avoid doctors’ surgeries via high-speed video links in the comfort of their own homes. This not only saves the patient time and effort, but also minimises the risk of contagion.
However, it must be said that these initiatives aren’t limited to urban areas, although they will lead to a greater concentration of useful data within them.
Public Safety: 35 hours a year
Improvements in public safety can help citizens regain a lot of hours, says Juniper Research.
For instance, in Portland, Oregon, (No 12 in the Juniper Smart Cities Index, see below) and San Diego (No 14), Intel has joined forces with GE and AT&T to deploy city-wide smart infrastructures with Current, powered by GE’s CityIQ technology.
Via these city-wide programmes, common street furniture such as street lights can be turned into connected infrastructure beacons that help monitor the pulse of city life, cut costs, design better services, and enable communities to be safer, cleaner, and more sustainable.
The world’s smartest cities
The research ranks the top 20 smart cities worldwide across four key areas: mobility, healthcare, public safety, and productivity.
Singapore emerges as the overall leader, with London not far behind. New York, San Francisco, and Chicago make up the rest of the top five.
The report says that these cities stand out because of their efforts to connect city municipalities, businesses, and citizens to improve what it calls “livability”.
San Francisco and Singapore do well in mobility; Chicago, New York, and Singapore all score highly in public safety; while London and Singapore are the leading lights in connected healthcare, says the report.
Finally, Chicago, London, and Singapore all do well in productivity terms – which must be music to the ears of Whitehall, where the British government has been struggling with flatlining productivity growth for years.
The top 20 smart cities
The full list of the top 20 smart cities identified in the report is:
3. New York
4. San Francisco
14. San Diego
15. Rio de Janeiro
16. Mexico City
See the report in full Smart Cities – What’s in it for Citizens?
Internet of Business says
As the report suggests, smart cities aren’t just about making life better for individual citizens – although Gartner has recently published a report saying that citizen benefit is the be-all and end-all of smart-city programmes. That’s good advice.
Smart cities are also data conurbations: locations where millions of people may gather and go about their data lives, creating a mass of real-time data that can be used to redesign services and create a more sustainable future in terms of resources, energy, and more.
The post Intel: “Smart cities give every person back 125 hours a year” appeared first on Internet of Business.
In his new book “Fair Shot,” Hughes outlines a proposal for “guaranteed income,” to lift health and education outcomes in the U.S.
“Fair Shot” author Chris Hughes is trying to convince America’s richest citizens to give money to working people — not education policy, not inspirational messages, not invocations to try harder. Cash.
“Cash is the best thing you can do to improve health outcomes, education outcomes and lift people out of poverty,” Hughes said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher.
“Of course we need more and better education,” he added. “Of course we need more small businesses to create good jobs. We’ve spent decades thinking about those things, investing in those things and we should think more. However, we overlook the most powerful weapon in the arsenal — and in many ways the simplest. Cash can be that.”
In his new book, he argues that a guaranteed income for people in the U.S. could be financed by the one percent — a group that includes Hughes himself. He met Mark Zuckerberg his freshman year at Harvard, co-founded Facebook and later became a digital adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“My story — which the only thing we can call it is a lucky break — is unfortunately not that uncommon in the economy today,” Hughes said. “I might be extreme, but I don’t think my case is actually that unusual. A small group of people are getting very, very wealthy while everyone else is struggling to make ends meet.”
On the new podcast, Hughes explained how his proposal for guaranteed income — $ 500 a month for everyone making $ 50,000 or less per year — differs from the more commonly discussed concept of universal basic income.
“It’s inspired by the exact same values of cash, no strings attached, to achieve financial stability, recognizing the dignity and freedom of each individual,” he said. “But it’s a more modest place to begin. I make the case that we can and should do this through a modernization of the Earned Income Tax Credit.”
The EITC already gives money to low-income people, but whether you’re eligible and how much you get can vary wildly depending on your age, location, marital status and many other factors, Hughes said. And the policy, first enacted in 1975, has not been updated to address modern forms of economic insecurity.
“Jobs in America have already come apart,” Hughes said. “That is one of the effects of automation, and globalization in particular: All of the jobs in the past 10 years that we’ve created, 94 percent of them are part-time, contract, temporary, seasonal. Yeah, unemployment is near a record low, but the jobs that are out there are not providing the kind of 40 hours a week benefits [like] sick leave or retirement benefits.”
Even a couple hundred dollars could make a huge difference for people with no savings living paycheck to paycheck, who might not know how many hours they’ll be able to work next week, he explained.
“If you have a little bit more financial stability in your life, you’re able to live one step or two steps back from the brink,” Hughes said. “We’re not talking about so much money that everybody wins the lottery and we’re all just hanging out, putting up our feet, whatever the worst images that critics conjure up.”
If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:
- Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
- Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
- And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
On Monday morning, live from the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and media festival in Austin, Texas, Apple’s Senior VP of Internet software and services, Eddy Cue, announced that his company has inked a deal to acquire the popular digital magazine subscription service, Texture. While the financial and logistical terms of the agreement have […]
In humans, common sense is relatively easy to identify, albeit a bit difficult to define. Get in line at the end of it? That’s common sense. Grab the red-hot end of a metal poker that was in the fire moments before? Not so much.
How do we teach something as nebulous as common sense to artificial intelligence (AI)? Many researchers have tried to do so and failed.
But that might soon change. Now, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is joining their ranks.
Allen is investing an additional $ 125 million into his nonprofit computer lab, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), doubling its budget for the next three years, according to The New York Times. This influx of money will go toward existing projects as well as Project Alexandria, a new initiative focused on teaching “common sense” to robots.
“When I founded AI2, I wanted to expand the capabilities of artificial intelligence through high-impact research,” said Allen in a press release. “Early in AI research, there was a great deal of focus on common sense, but that work stalled. AI still lacks what most 10-year-olds possess: ordinary common sense. We want to jump-start that research to achieve major breakthroughs in the field.”
However, even these advanced machines can’t handle more than simple questions and commands. How might one them approach an unfamiliar situation and use “common sense” to calibrate the appropriate action and response? Right now, it can’t.
“Despite the recent AI successes, common sense — which is trivially easy for people — is remarkably difficult for AI,” Oren Etzioni, the CEO of AI2, said in the press release. “No AI system currently deployed can reliably answer a broad range of simple questions, such as, ‘If I put my socks in a drawer, will they still be in there tomorrow?’ or ‘How can you tell if a milk carton is full?’”
“For example, when AlphaGo beat the number one Go player in the world in 2016, the program did not know that Go is a board game,” Etzioni added.
There’s a simple reason we’ve failed to teach AI common sense up to this point: it’s really, really hard.
Gary Marcus, the founder of the Geometric Intelligence Company, drew inspiration from the ways in which children develop common sense and a sense of abstract thinking. Imperial College London researchers focused on symbolic AI, a technique in which a human labels everything for an AI.
Neither strategy has so far resulted in what we could define as “common sense” for robots.
Project Alexandria will take a far more robust approach to the problem. According to the press release, it will integrate research machine reasoning and computer vision, and figure out a way to measure common sense. The researchers also plan to crowdsource common sense from humans.
“I am hugely excited about Project Alexandria,” Gary Marcus, founder of AI lab Geometric Intelligence, said in the press release. “The time is right for a fresh approach to the problem.”
The task is daunting. But if AI is going to reach the next level of utility and integration into even more facets of human lives, we’ll have to overcome it. Project Alexandria might be the best shot at doing so.
It's easy enough to summon Alexa on one of Amazon's speakers, but when you've got a million things to ask the voice assistant, it can be a pain having to say "Hey, Alexa" over and over again. Now, Amazon has rolled out a new feature, which gives its…
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Netflix is reportedly in “advanced negotiations” with former President Barack Obama and his wife concerning the production of exclusive content for the platform. The streaming giant is apparently offering to pay the Obamas for the series of “high-profile” shows, the New York Times reported, citing people familiar with the discussions. Notably, those sources said that […]
The Right to Repair
On March 7, lawmaker Susan Talamantes Eggman introduced the California Right to Repair Act. If passed, the bill would make it considerably easier for consumers to repair their broken electronic devices in the home state of Silicon Valley.
“The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence,” Eggman said in a press statement.
“People shouldn’t be forced to ‘upgrade’ to the newest model every time a replaceable part on their smartphone breaks.”
Under Eggman’s bill, tech companies would have to provide consumers with repair guides and access to repair parts. Independent companies would also have access to diagnostic software and tools previously available only to authorized and first-party repair technicians.
Eighteen other states are already considering similar legislation.
Balancing Security and Convenience
Without right to repair legislation, consumers have no choice but to send their faulty electronic gadgets to repair facilities owned by the device’s manufacturer or retailer. Anyone who has had to deal with a broken device knows how costly this can be.
Even if the device is still under warranty, the process can take an absurd amount of time. To avoid this delay, some people turn to unauthorized repair kiosks, but they don’t have legal access to official spare parts.
Tech industry giants, such as Apple and Microsoft, have actively lobbied against right to repair laws. Apple has been particularly outspoken in their opposition, claiming the legislation could lead to liability concerns and security issues.
The Security Innovation Center (SIC), a new tech industry lobby group, echoes this sentiment. “We are concerned that the proposed bill, written with the best of intentions, is laced with unintended consequences that could lead to the creation of more vulnerabilities for California consumers,” SIC consumer privacy advisor Tim Sparapani said in statement.
Security is, indeed, a concern of every smartphone or gadget owner. Equally important, however, is access to more affordable repair services, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Kit Walsh.
“The bill is critical to protect independent repair shops and a competitive market for repair, which means better service and lower prices,” Walsh said in the news release.
Right to repair legislation could also encourage more people to try to fix their own devices, increasing innovation. It would presumably decrease the number of devices that owners simply discard because buying a new one isn’t much more expensive than paying for repairs, too.
“People shouldn’t be forced to ‘upgrade’ to the newest model every time a replaceable part on their smartphone or home appliance breaks,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste, in the news release. “These companies are profiting at the expense of our environment and our pocketbooks as we become a throw-away society that discards over 6 million tons of electronics every year.”
California already has strong repair laws and a long history of pro-consumer legislation, so Eggman’s bill has a fair chance of passing into law in the state. No word yet on when that might be, but if Silicon Valley’s home state does pass right to repair legislation, it could mark a turning point in consumer protection policies across the nation.
The post Proposed California Law Would Give You the Right to Repair Your Tech appeared first on Futurism.