Snapchat Creator Values its IPO at $24 Billion

In the largest tech IPO since Alibaba went public in 2014, Snap, the parent company of the immensely popular Snapchat app, will price its offering at $17 per share with a $24 billion valuation.


The company looks to make a tidy profit, announcing that it would sell around 200 million shares, for a total take of about $3.4 billion. Co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy will cash out a combined 32 million shares, netting them each a sum of $272 million. They will retain just under 211 million shares, giving them 88% voting power between them. The remainder of the $3.4 billion that’s being offloaded will be divided among other executives and early investors.


Similarly to Twitter, Snap wasn’t able to turn a profit on its Snapchat app before going public. Moreover, the company’s leadership has stated that it projects its losses to continue to grow going forward. However, in terms of popularity, Snapchat has already surpassed Twitter with 450 million daily users. The company is also beginning to move forward with other products, such as Spectacles — a pair of sunglasses with a built-in camera that streams 10-second video clips to the Snapchat account on your phone.


Stranger still, is that the company is asking a lot of faith from potential investors: the IPO will only be offering non-voting shares, meaning Spiegel and his leadership will be in complete control of the company’s future and direction. Even so, as indicated by the size of the valuation, the company is expecting a lot of investor enthusiasm.


Snap shares will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday, March 2nd, under the ticker SNAP.



Microsoft’s DeepCoder Makes Code by Stealing Code

Software programmers have long dreamed of software that can program new software autonomously using artificial intelligence. Microsoft is getting close to achieving that goal, with the help of some university programmers.

Cambridge University teamed up with Microsoft to create an AI program called DeepCoder. According to Business Insider, the software uses pieces of code from real software to fashion new code in response to problems. The software studies the functionality of pieces of code, and then pieces them together in unique ways.

As in other areas of AI development, this new software will probably be implemented gradually. At first, DeepCoder might simply solve existing problems faster or easier than humans can solve them. It could be a tool to save programmer’s time and reduce the number of programmers required for a given project. Eventually, though, DeepCoder might solve programming problems that a human could never solve alone.

If DeepCoder develops to that point, it is difficult to imagine what it might create. Ray Kurzweil and others have dreamed of a future with unlimited artificial intelligence. Software that creates software seems like a step in the right direction.

To be fair, though, DeepCoder is not the first software program to write code. Any high-level programming language is essentially writing code based on user inputs. What is unique here is the way in which DeepCoder creates the software (i.e., be selecting from existing software the pieces of code necessary to achieve a desired outcome).

Because of DeepCoder’s approach, it might face some absolute limits to what it can create. Although an extensive amount of software is available today, the number of functions software can perform is finite. Accordingly, DeepCoder’s ability to solve problems must also be finite.

Still, DeepCoder represents an exciting development. Microsoft and its competitors will likely continue to produce AI tools to aid and eventually replace software programmers in the years to come. The software these tools create could be revolutionary.


Will YouTube TV See an End to Traditional Television?

Will you finally be able to ditch your cable television provider? That may become increasingly possible in the coming months than ever before, considering YouTube’s latest announcement. An article on TechCrunch explains this new announcement in detail: the unveiling of YouTube’s new live internet television streaming service, YouTube TV.


“Cord-cutting,” the term used to describe canceling traditional television subscriptions in favor of internet streaming services, is a growing trend. Why is it becoming so popular? The price of cable television is rising, reaching up to an average of $103.10 a month in 2016. This is what makes internet streaming services so appealing. YouTube announced that YouTube TV will cost $35 a month for a family of six accounts.


With a price point like that, could YouTube TV bring the end of traditional television services? That depends on its availability and offerings. While the announcement is still new, here is what we know will be offered with YouTube TV:


  • Live TV broadcasts from networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox.
  • Other networks such as USA, FreeForm, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News and Fox Business.
  • Sports channels such as ESPN, FoxSports and NBC SportsNet, as well as some regional sports networks.
  • The 28 original series found on YouTube Red.
  • Cloud-based DVR that will never run out of space. Each account will have a personal DVR with tailored recommendations.
  • Visual TV guide.
  • The ability to “cast” content to your television.
  • Use of voice controls.
  • ShowTime and Fox Soccer Plus can be added for an additional fee.


YouTube TV is expected to launch in the United States sometime in the coming months. While switching to YouTube TV will save you money, fewer channels will be offered on the internet streaming service than on traditional television. With this in mind, will YouTube TV see an increase in “cord-cutting”? That is still yet to be seen. However, with other non-traditional television services on the rise, such as Sling TV and Hulu’s own plans for an internet television streaming service, cord-cutting continues to become a more viable option year after year.


Company Security is Turning to Robots for Extra Eyes and Ears

With security being a serious issue these days, the cost of security personnel for businesses and schools is significant. To address this situation, Cobalt Robotics Inc., based in Palo-Alto, California, created a robot that will enhance building security without needing to cut more weekly paychecks or deal with other personnel issues.


The approximately 4-foot tall robots, which look something like large blue and silver bishop playing pieces from a chessboard, are not capable of replacing human security guards. Instead, these little buddies glide around a floor of the building looking for things that might be out of the ordinary, such as people in the office after hours, the sound of a window breaking or possible water leaks.


These units are designed for indoor use only. Using a microphone and cameras, audio is detected and people can be videotaped. Whereas wall-mounted security cameras are stationary, these robots with artificial intelligence are mobile. Again, they are not created to replace existing security camera systems but to complement them.


The Cobalt Robot has 60 sensors, including daytime, nighttime and wide-angle cameras, ultrasound, lidar and depth sensors. This is the same technology found in  self-driving cars used to sense the vehicle’s external environment.


The 2-way video chat and text screen allows a security guard in another part of the building to communicate with the person that the robot has approached. Often, the security guard will ask the person to scan his employee ID badge using the RFID technology found on the front of the robot.


Cobalt’s target market is companies with large or complex buildings, such as hospitals, museums, warehouses, office buildings and schools. The company expects to get a portion of the physical security market, which is expected to reach $110 billion within three years.


Currently, these innovative devices are in pilot-program mode. Plans for future development include flagging changes in the building and tagging assets, such as computers, TVs, inventory and other devices of value.


Investors in this project like the fact that that add additional technology can be added to future models. The robots will not become obsolete because the designers will be able to incorporate new features and keep up with demands of businesses’ growing and changing security needs.


Companies that need more security but need to keep the costs under control will find the Cobalt Robots can patrol floors and examine corners, freeing up security personnel for tasks that only humans can do, such as escorting someone from the building or investigate something that the robot communicates as unusual activity.

Google’s Perspective is an Unexpected AI Tool

When Google says it is making Artificial Intelligence software available to the public, it is hard not to be excited. We know that AI will change things in a big way in the next few years, and there is little doubt that Google will be on the cutting edge. But Google’s release of Perspective might not be the kind of AI users expect.

Jigsaw, a unit of Google, is releasing Perspective, a software tool that detects trolling (e.g., harassment) on the internet. According to The Verge, the software has successfully identified ISIS members online. Online publishers plan to use the tool to police the comments section of their articles. Users will use an API to interact with the software service.

Why would an online publisher want to use Perspective to identify trolls? Presumably, the publisher would identify trolls and then ban them or discipline them in some other way. For non-trolls, that might sound like a pretty great service. If only we all agreed on what constitutes a troll.

Perspective is destined to collide with free speech in a big way. Last year, Twitter’s banning of conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, received mixed reviews; some saw it as a victory for civility, while others saw it as a violation of free speech. It is difficult to imagine a use of Perspective that will not result in the same sort of outcome.

Is Perspective a censorship tool? Google seems to have designed it with good intentions, but it could obviously be used to identify and silence dissenting voices. While companies might use the tool to avoid hostile user comments, governments might find ways to use it to identify citizens with anti-government points of view.

Perspective will, undoubtedly, be a technological breakthrough, but it is unclear whether its service will be a net win for society. Let’s hope that web developers use their new Google-aided powers for good, and not for evil.


Beneficial Deception Keeps Users Happy

Software developers and designers employ various tactics to optimize user experience, but one seemingly devious tactic is quite helpful to both users and brand websites. The practice of beneficial deception isn’t new but tech writer Kaveh Waddell recently investigated the phenomenon after experiencing it himself. While filing his taxes he noticed that the Turbo Tax progress bars seemed a little quirky. They were running too smoothly and taking their time. He wondered if the program was actually double and triple checking his returns like it promised. He also wondered if it should take that long, considering that the program must have been processing the return as he was filling it out. Waddell was correct. The Turbo Tax progress bar was faking it.


After consulting with fellow techie Andrew McGill, the two looked through the program’s source code and found that it ran separately from the actual tax processing portion of the program. It also ran for the same length of time and in the exact same manner for every single Turbo Tax user. According to Turbo Tax, the delay and the bright animations help ease users’ tax anxieties. The graphics provide a bit of time for users to calm down, build confidence and trust the software. Although most other uses of beneficial deception hide faults or delays, the Turbo Tax program developers purposefully create a waiting period.


Not all of this is placed squarely on the developers, of course. User experience experts, test studies, control groups and human behavioral scientists also provide insight into optimal user experiences. This particular tactic, of extending a wait period, also serves to heighten user suspense and creates a more satisfying conclusion to an otherwise easily automated and instantaneous result. It seems people like feeling a little bit nervous, but only a little bit and for only a little while.


Artificial Intelligence Will Only Replace Low-paying Jobs

The rise of automation and artificial intelligence is greeted positively by many within the tech industry. Artificial intelligence software is designed to processes greater amounts of data in less time than any human possibly could, which speeds up decision-making and improves accuracy. On another level, vending kiosks are poised to replace fast food workers. Indeed, automated cars could replace taxi and Uber drivers. In one respect, this is frightening. Fewer jobs will be available, but as pointed out in a report to Congress in 2016, workers earning less than $20 per hour can expect an 83% chance that their job will be transferred to an AI powered robot by 2021. Those earning $40 or more per hour will only face a 31% chance that a robot will replace them.


In a recent Huffington Post article, Anurag Harsh points out that technology has been replacing humans since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. He also brings to light the fact that tractors were once expected to take away all agricultural jobs. In reality, the invention and adoption of the tractor forced generations of would-be farmers to attend and complete high school. Once educated, they moved on to higher skilled, and better paying jobs, in factory towns and urban areas. A way of life changed completely, but the need to earn a living did not.


Considering the historical precedent that has been set, it is imperative that younger generations position themselves for higher paying jobs. Those positions could include engineers who write the code that run the robots, or innovators who conceive new strategies for robotics, or it could be an influx of physicians, lawyers and other creative thinkers who can conceive of patterns and perceive nuances that AI-driven devices will not be able to replicate. So while robots flip hamburgers, chefs will still be in demand. In this sense, robots are helpful in more ways than simply doing drudge work. They challenge us to raise the bar, to receive better educations, to hone greater skills and to earn more money. As the adage goes: work smarter, not harder.


Amazon AWS Outage Ruins Browsing

Aside from being unable to view images, an Amazon AWS outage has caused internet users to experience difficulty when accessing mobile boarding passes, Quora, Business Insider, Giphy and Slack file sharing, among other services and sites. Amazon S3 acts as a web-based storage service for numerous websites, and app backends. It also hosts images for many websites. However, the problem goes beyond slow-loading pages or image download failures. The outage reveals how many sites, services and users depend on AWS.


Although Amazon S3 is only used by .8 percent of the web’s top 1 million sites, the issue is affecting a large swath of users, including Amazon itself. According to reports from TechCrunch, the Amazon service status page relies on Amazon S3 to store its health data. As a result, the site shows an unaffected status despite its ongoing issues. Although that particular situation was resolved, the entire S3 universe is still experiencing broken websites.


The internet of things is also being affected, with users reporting that smart home thermostats, connected lighting and other devices and hardware are experiencing issues. Amazon will most certainly rectify the situation as soon as possible, but in the meantime the exact cause of the issue remains unknown. The likelihood of an outside hack is so low that it is not even being discussed. The outage appears to be the result of an internal issue and tech news organizations are treating it as such.


Although Amazon has not released any specifics on the cause behind the meltdown, some third-party network intelligence experts suspect Amazon’s Ashburn, Virginia data center is the home of the problem. This isn’t the first time the Ashburn location has been compromised. The center was the scene of a fire when it was first being constructed. This outage serves as a reminder that even the cloud has real world problems.

Today’s Developments In The Tech And Software Arena

In the tech and software development arena, Adobe Systems has announced the implementation of security patches for the Cold Fusion app server. Unfortunately, this server has been an increasingly attractive target for hackers. However, with its new patches, Adobe hopes to close any possible loopholes, thereby thwarting existing and future hackers.


These updates can be found for Cold Fusion 10 and 11, addressing important vulnerabilities in the security system and might possibly lead to the disclosure of sensitive information.


All administrators are being advised to upgrade their Cold Fusion version to Version 10 Update or Version 11 Update. This of course, depends upon the brand being used. The Cold Fusion 2016 release however, has not been affected, according to a security bulletin released by Adobe.


Elsewhere, Microsoft has announced a New Windows 10 notification system to keep users informed on a regular basis of Microsoft services that may be, or become, available.


Some Microsoft 10 users will soon begin receiving notices, a direct message called: “Direct from Microsoft”, which may be used to deliver any details pertaining to users’ Microsoft accounts and ancillary services.


Microsoft Rewards (the new name for Bing Rewards), is also to be found under Settings, however, this “New From Microsoft” app may be turned off or on by the user.


This innovation from Microsoft promises to be a channel not only to highlight information, but to include notice of such items as an expiring subscription, limits, security alerts and family safety (parental control) options as well.


Many report, unfortunately, that since the arrival of Windows 10, the bumps in the road have been noticeable and numerous. Among issues reported, one of the most notable has been the freezing up of PCs and another is broken webcams.


Reports also indicate that Windows 10 has received a cold reception from the business world with many businesses claiming that the new OS continues to lag behind the older Windows 8 and Windows XP. Windows XP continues to be the Number One choice among larger enterprises, companies that use a great number of computers and all the services available to them.


In a footnote to this news, polls indicate that while executives do like Windows 10, the average employee does not.


YouTube Goes Where TV Doesn’t

One thing that could be said about YouTube is that it pushes the limits of what people can do for entertainment. For one thing, it takes people far beyond television. YouTube could be used for almost anything. YouTube can be used for watching TV movies, and listening to music. While people may say that television could do that as well, it can’t do that to the same extent that YouTube could. This provides people with a freedom that that goes beyond what they imagined with television. In fact, YouTube is like a cross between television and home media in some ways.

One of the advantages that YouTube has over television is that it can allow people to find some obscure shows from their childhood. They could also listen to songs that they have not heard in a long time. YouTube is one good way to satisfy someone’s nostalgia. Therefore, YouTube not only outdoes TV, but it also outdoes radio as well. One of the reasons behind this is that it allows people a lot of control over the content that they view. This goes beyond channel surfing. They could actually choose what show plays at any time.

Another good thing about YouTube is the sound. For people with the right sound card in their device, they can actually enjoy good sound when hooked up with either a good speaker system or a good pair of headphones to their device. This is perhaps one of the greatest advantages of YouTube. It is the type of entertainment that people could take with them if they have a portable device that allows them to watch it. For one thing, they just need internet connection in which they can get with Wi-Fi if they don’t have their own service. Therefore, they could watch anything like the presidential debates.

YouTube has proven to be a highly innovative invention for people that are passionate about entertainment. For this reason, it is becoming the ultimate source for entertainment.