By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
Google's top news executive has refused to rule out shutting down Google News in EU countries, as the search engine faces a battle with Brussels over plans to charge a "link tax" for using news stories. The Guardian reports: Richard Gingras, the search engine's vice-president of news, said while "it's not desirable to shut down services" the company was deeply concerned about the current proposals, which are designed to compensate struggling news publishers if snippets of their articles appear in search results. He told the Guardian that the future of Google News could depend on whether the EU was willing to alter the phrasing of the legislation. "We can't make a decision until we see the final language," he said. He pointed out the last time a government attempted to charge Google for links, in 2014 in Spain, the company responded by shutting down Google News in the country. Spain passed a law requiring aggregation sites to pay for news links, in a bid to prop up struggling print news outlets. Google responded by closing the service for Spanish consumers, which he said prompted a fall in traffic to Spanish news websites. "We would not like to see that happen in Europe," said Gingras. "Right now what we want to do is work with stakeholders."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
The way newscasters speak is unmistakeable, with their exaggerated modulations and drawn-out pauses. And now, Amazon has taught Alexa, its voice assistant, to approximate the authoritative intonation. From a report: You can listen to samples of the speaking style here, and the results, well, they speak for themselves. The voice can't be mistaken for a human, but it does incorporates stresses into sentences in the same way you'd expect from a TV or radio newscaster. According to Amazon's own surveys, users prefer it to Alexa's regular speaking style when listening to articles (though getting news from smart speakers still has lots of other problems).
Amazon says the new speaking style is enabled by by the company's development of "neural text-to-speech" technology or NTTS. This is the next generation of speech synthesis, that use machine learning to generate expressive voices more quickly. Currently, Alexa uses concatenative speech synthesis, a method that's been around for decades. This involves breaking up speech samples into distinct sounds (known as phonemes) and then stitching them back together to form new words and sentences.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's cutting-corners department
Gap plans to "quickly" close hundreds of Gap-brand stores that are "dragging down the brand," the company told analysts on Tuesday. From a report: The retailer said Tuesday evening that it still has 775 Gap-branded stores globally, in addition to those under the Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta banners. Gap Inc. has more than 3,000 stores around the world. The namesake brand, however, has been the weakest unit of the company of late. In the fiscal third quarter, sales at Gap stores open for at least 12 months fell 7 percent, while those at Old Navy and Banana Republic were positive.
"There are hundreds of other stores that likely don't fit our vision for the future of Gap brand specialty store, whether in terms of profitability, customer experience, traffic trends," CEO Art Peck said Tuesday evening during a call with analysts. "The range from the very best to the very worst stores is extremely broad." Peck said that should the company "address" the bottom half of its fleet of Gap stores, it could contribute more than $100 million to earnings. He added the company is looking to make decisions about shutting stores "with urgency," including looking at closing some of Gap's "amazing flagships." "There likely will be a cash cost to exit many of these stores, which we will attempt to minimize," Peck told analysts. "But I plan to exit those that do not fit the future vision quickly. I'm going to move thoughtfully but aggressively."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's mark-is-sorry department
Do you trust Mark Zuckerberg? The Washington Post: From the moment the Facebook founder entered the public eye in 2003 for creating a Harvard student hot-or-not rating site, he's been apologizing. So we collected this abbreviated history of his public mea culpas. It reads like a record on repeat. Zuckerberg, who made "move fast and break things" his slogan, says sorry for being naive, and then promises solutions such as privacy "controls," "transparency" and better policy "enforcement." And then he promises it again the next time. You can track his sorries in orange and promises in blue in the timeline by The Washington Post. Mark Zuckerberg, in an interview with CNN Business on Tuesday: Zuckerberg resisted growing calls for changes to Facebook's C-suite, reiterated Facebook's potential as a force for good, and pushed back at some of the unrelenting critical coverage of his company after a year of negative headlines about fake news, election meddling and privacy concerns.
"A lot of the criticism around the biggest issues has been fair, but I do think that if we are going to be real, there is this bigger picture as well, which is that we have a different world view than some of the folks who are covering us," Zuckerberg told CNN Business' Laurie Segall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. "There are big issues, and I'm not trying to say that there aren't," he said. "But I do think that sometimes, you can get the flavor from some of the coverage that that's all there is, and I don't think that that's right either."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's enough-already,-my-bank department
After the financial crisis 10 years ago, unhappy customers were expected to flee the megabanks for smaller competitors. It didn't happen. And the big banks became even more entrenched. Now another wave of alternative banks are at it again, and they say they've learned from the mistakes of the upstart banks that tried -- and failed -- before them. The New York Times: Chime, the biggest new name to pop up, has opened two million fee-free online checking accounts and is adding more customers each month than Wells Fargo or Citibank. That has inspired a crop of newer start-ups, like Empower, which started its first fee-free online checking accounts, with lots of digital bells and whistles, in October. Venture capitalists are pouring money into American start-ups that are offering basic banking services -- known as neo-banks or challenger banks. In 2018 so far, American neo-banks have gotten four times as much funding as they did last year, and 10 times as much funding as they did in 2015, according to data from CB Insights.
Big players from outside the consumer banking industry, like Square and Goldman Sachs, are also moving in. "In consumer banking, you have what is one of the largest industries in the United States, in terms of profits, and at the same time one of the least disrupted industries, and the most unpopular with consumers," said Andrei Cherny, the founder of Aspiration, a neo-bank that has attracted nearly a million customers. "Those three things create a perfect storm for disruption." The persistent unpopularity of big banks has been a boon to the newcomers. And they are helped by a new attitude among financial regulators who have grown more comfortable with online banking and young customers who have no hesitation about cashing a check or sending money on a phone.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
The FCC has unveiled a new proposal as part of its plan to help reduce unwanted phone and text spam. From a report: In a move that's sure to make wireless operators happy, the FCC at its December meeting will consider a draft Declaratory Ruling on text messaging that would formally rule text messaging services are information services, not telecommunications services. That means carriers will be able to continue using robotext-blocking and anti-spoofing measures to protect consumers from unwanted text messages. Chairman Ajit Pai revealed the plan in a blog post highlighting items on the Dec. 12 meeting agenda.
"Today's wireless messaging providers apply filtering to prevent large volumes of unwanted messages from ever reaching your phone," Pai wrote. "However, there's been an effort underway to put these successful consumer protections at risk. In 2015, a mass-texting company named Twilio petitioned the FCC, arguing that wireless messaging should be classified as a 'telecommunications service.' This may not seem like a big deal, but such a classification would dramatically curb the ability of wireless providers to use robotext-blocking, anti-spoofing, and other anti-spam features."
That's why he's circulating a Declaratory Ruling that would instead classify wireless messaging as an "information service," denying Twilio's petition [PDF]. "Aside from being a more legally sound approach, this decision would keep the floodgates to a torrent of spam texts closed, remove regulatory uncertainty, and empower providers to continue finding innovative ways to protect consumers from unwanted text messages," Pai said.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's whatever-floats-your-boat department
If a snowstorm hits Denver, it can delay thousands of packages that travel through the city before reaching their final destinations on the other side of the country. But if UPS knows a storm is coming, what is the most efficient way to divert all those online orders and holiday gifts around the bad weather? UPS grapples with this question every winter. From a report: To help, UPS recently built an online platform that combines machine learning and advanced analytics. The app -- called Network Planning Tools, or NPT for short -- lets the company's engineers view activity at UPS facilities around the world and route shipments to the ones with the most capacity. They can also see details about the packages in transit, including their weight, volume, and delivery deadlines. While UPS already has a system called ORION that maps out last-mile delivery routes, and a program called EDGE focused on upgrading UPS facilities, NPT gives its engineers a bird's-eye view of package volume and distribution across all its pickup and delivery operations.
The app gets some of its smarts from AI, which it uses to create forecasts about package volume and weight based on analysis of historical data. Rob Papetti, who leads NPT development for UPS, says the machine-learning algorithms also analyze decisions the company's engineers made and assess how they affected customer satisfaction and internal costs. "[The app] starts to learn from itself and suggest this option versus that option, based on what enabled us to give our customers better service," he says.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's urban-transport-systems department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) warned last week that without a major infusion of cash, [New York City's subway and bus services] will have to drastically cut service or increase fares on the system that carries millions of New Yorkers around the city. The system's financial straits have gotten worse in part because it has fewer riders, and is collecting less money in fares. Expected passenger revenue over a five-year period has dropped by $485 million since July.
"They've entered this death spiral," said Benjamin Kabak, who runs the transit website Second Avenue Sagas. "The subway service and the bus service has become unreliable enough for people to stop using it. If people aren't using it, there's less money, and they have to keep raising fares without delivering better service." The authority is proposing a fare hike that would take effect in March. One option would raise the basic fare for a ride to $3 from the current $2.75. Another option would leave the base fare the same but increase the cost of monthly passes and eliminate bonuses for riders. They are also proposing $41 million a year in service cuts, mainly increasing the time between trains and buses on some routes. And, if approved, the plan would delay the launch of faster bus routes. The proposed cuts "will still leave the MTA with massive deficits, expected to hit nearly $1 billion a year by 2022," the report says. "To tackle those deficits, officials say they would have to cut service more drastically, or raise fares by an additional 15%."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-world-problems department
Ford has filed a patent for a method of eliminating the new car smell after a vehicle has been purchased. In the U.S., "new car smell" is beloved, but in China, customers find the odor disgusting. From a report: While the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office hasn't issued a ruling on the "vehicle odor remediation" patent application, and Ford hasn't committed to moving forward with the project, the paperwork explains what creates the odor so many Americans like: That new car smell is caused by volatile organic compounds given off by leather, plastic and vinyl. Chemicals used to attach and seal car parts may also contribute to the odor. People notice odors when compounds are released, which occurs when a car sits in high temperatures. Ford scientists describe baking the car until the odor disappears, which happens after compounds are released. The process described in the patent involves parking the car in the sun, opening the windows slightly, and optionally turning the engine, heater and fan on.The system includes special software and various air quality sensors, and works only when fitted to a driverless or semi-autonomous vehicle. A lot of technology is involved in the patent application. The car would determine whether conditions are right to expel compounds, and the car would drive itself to a place in the sun and bake away the offensive odor.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's has-a-nice-ring-to-it department
On Twitter, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the transportation portion of the company's Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS), will now be called Starship, while the booster portion will be called Super Heavy. The Verge reports: Plans for the 387-foot Big Falcon Rocket were officially revealed back in September. Eventually, the company hopes that it will replace the company's existing Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon rockets. The craft is currently being developed at the Port of Los Angeles, at an expected cost of $5 billion and will be capable of taking up to 100 tons of cargo or 100 passengers as far as Mars.
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the company hopes to start doing uncrewed launch tests of the new rocket in late 2019. If all goes well, Musk believes that this could be followed by an initial uncrewed flight to Mars in 2022 with a crewed flight taking place as early as 2024. A mission to fly around the moon with a private passenger on board is planned for 2023. However, given that the Falcon Heavy took nearly twice as long to complete as expected, and that only five percent of SpaceX's resources are currently spent on the Starship, it's best to view these plans as an aspiration.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-of-its-kind department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Medical Xpress: EXPLORER, the world's first medical imaging scanner that can capture a 3-D picture of the whole human body at once, has produced its first scans. The brainchild of UC Davis scientists Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi, EXPLORER is a combined positron emission tomography (PET) and X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner that can image the entire body at the same time. Because the machine captures radiation far more efficiently than other scanners, EXPLORER can produce an image in as little as one second and, over time, produce movies that can track specially tagged drugs as they move around the entire body.
EXPLORER will have a profound impact on clinical research and patient care because it produces higher-quality diagnostic PET scans than have ever been possible. EXPLORER also scans up to 40 times faster than current PET scans and can produce a diagnostic scan of the whole body in as little as 20-30 seconds. Alternatively, EXPLORER can scan with a radiation dose up to 40 times less than a current PET scan, opening new avenues of research and making it feasible to conduct many repeated studies in an individual, or dramatically reduce the dose in pediatric studies, where controlling cumulative radiation dose is particularly important.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's better-luck-next-time department
Charter has been using the argument that their First Amendment rights are being violated as it fights off state lawsuits for its poor service. "It recently tried to use the First Amendment card again in a legal battle with Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), which recently accused Charter of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by refusing to carry TV channels run by the African-American-owned ESN," reports Techdirt. "While Charter tried to have the suit dismissed by claiming that the First Amendment prohibits such claims because an ISP enjoys 'editorial discretion,' the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit didn't agree." From the report: The court noted that while ISPs and cable companies do enjoy some First Amendment protection, it doesn't apply here, just like it didn't apply in the net neutrality fight: "As part of its defense, Charter had told the court that by choosing which channels to carry, the company was engaging in a form of editorial discretion protected by the First Amendment. Therefore, it said, the court would have to use a stricter standard to evaluate Entertainment Studios' claim of a legal violation -- a standard that might result in the claim being rejected. The Ninth Circuit said otherwise, saying that just because Charter engages in corporate speech when it selects which channels to carry does not 'automatically' require the court to use the tougher standard."
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's safety-first department
The recent interview Elon Musk conducted with Joe Rogan, where Musk took one puff from a marijuana cigarette after a lengthy conversation around AI, social media and space, is prompting a NASA safety probe at SpaceX. The Washington Post reports that NASA was not amused with Musk's antics and has "ordered a safety review of SpaceX and Boeing as a response to the colorful chief executive's shenanigans," reports TechCrunch. From the report: In an interview, NASA associate administrator for human exploration, William Gerstenmaier, told the Post that the review will begin next year and would examine the "safety culture" of both Boeing and SpaceX. Rather than focus on the safety of the actual rockets, the Post said that the review would look at the hours employees work, drug policies, leadership and management styles, and the responsiveness of both companies to safety concerns from employees. The review is going to be led by the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance within NASA, which has conducted similar probes before, according to the Post report.
According to the NASA official, the process could be "pretty invasive," with the potential for hundreds of interviews with employees at every level and across all locations where the companies operate. At stake is the potential $6.8 billion in contracts the two companies received in 2014 to revive crewed missions to space. SpaceX grabbed $2.6 billion from NASA for the program, while the remainder went to Boeing. In a statement given to the Post, SpaceX said, "We couldn't be more proud of all that we have already accomplished together with NASA, and we look forward to returning human spaceflight capabilities to the United States."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's surprise-surprise department
A new study from Finnish research firm Rewheel has found that U.S. wireless consumers pay some of the highest prices for mobile data in the developed world. The mobile data market in the U.S. has the fifth most expensive price per gigabyte smartphone plans among developed nations, and was the most expensive for mobile data overall. Motherboard reports: While the report notes that mobile data prices have dropped 11 percent during the last six months in the States, U.S. mobile data pricing remained significantly higher than 41 countries in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Normally, having four major wireless carriers helps boost competition, in turn lowering prices. But the Rewheel report was quick to note that the often stunted level of competition seen in U.S. wireless is more akin to countries where there's just three major players. Meanwhile, a monopoly over business data connectivity generally keeps consumer mobile prices high. According to the FCC's own data, 73 percent of the special access market (which feeds everything from ATMs to cellular towers) is controlled by one ISP. This varies depending on the market, but it's usually AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink. These high prices to connect to cellular towers then impact pricing for the end user and smaller competitors, those same competitors and consumer groups have long argued. Another area where prices were high: mobile hotspots. The report found that Verizon charges users $710 per month for its 100 gigabyte mobile hotspot plan. That same plan costs between $11 and $23 per month in several European countries.Read Replies (0)