Twitter Helps Fight Online Abuse With New Filters and Algorithms

Twitter announced on Wednesday that it has made some significant improvements to their algorithm that is designed to help prevent harassment.


A new series of filters and muting options is designed to combat harassment by allowing users to set up filters based on words or phrases that they would like to block out.


The company also stated that it was making some well needed improvements in their algorithm which is designed to automatically detect what they consider abusive accounts.



Potential Uses


Abuse – The most powerful feature of the new filter and algorithm system that Twitter has deployed is aimed to stop internet abuse on the site. Users who engage in any type of abusive behavior can now be muted from your timeline.


Twitter also announced that users without a profile image, verified phone number verified email addresses can be filtered out.


Spoilers – Another common complaint among Twitter users is related to spoilers. Being on Twitter while your favorite TV show is on can lead to finding out what happens before you have the chance to watch for yourself.


With the new mute feature, words or phrases can now be muted so that any mention of your favorite TV show, movie, or anything else you desire will not show up on your timeline.



Unknown users – Some Twitter users have found that accounts with default profile images can, in some cases, be linked to individuals who may use the social site to harass others or otherwise cause problems on the platform.


With the new updates these anonymous users can now be screened and muted.


While some of the newer features are meant to be implemented by the user, such as the ability to block out certain phrases, other improvements will happen on an algorithmic basis, independent of your user settings.


Robots Get Manipulative

Artificial intelligence-powered robots seem to intimidate all kinds of intelligent people, from Stephen Hawking to Elan Musk. But how scary are pieces of machinery? They can be powered down. They are programmed by humans. As far as we know the robots at work in the world today, and not the ones of science fiction, aren’t greedy, or vindictive, or even ethically benign. They are inanimate. On another level, robots aren’t able to navigate space very well. Even autonomous cars rely on the vehicle to attain motion. There doesn’t seem to be much of a threat. However these physical limitations also impede the potential for robots to adapt to environments and solve physical problems. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is about to change that.


Nikhil Chaven-Dafle, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, is developing ways for robotic arms to manipulate objects and make use of their environment. For example, we humans take for granted our ability to screw a light bulb into a socket with one hand, while tightly gripping a ladder with the other. We are able to adapt our grip, orient objects and correct mistakes, like threading the light bulb incorrectly, and starting over. We interact with our environment and we use our environment to assist us in manipulating objects.


Certainly robots are capable of performing physical tasks. Car manufacturing assembly lines prove that robotic arms are highly efficient and capable of completing repetitive tasks. What Chaven-Dafle is developing is something new. He is working on ways for robotic arms to solve physical, not virtual, problems. Chaven-Dafle explained his project to TechCrunch saying, “We basically developed a formulation that allows robots to estimate how the forces and motions and contacts are going to be involved, and use this underlying model, it can predict how the object is going to move in the grasp.”


No word yet on whether robots are capable of manipulating objects in space, or even if that skill poses a threat to humanity. But robots have been safely handling all kinds of tools for quite some time in limited and highly fixed ways.

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.


Verizon Wireless Penalizes Users Who Exceed 200GB Per Month

Verizon is doing everything it can to get a handle on data usage. It has recently announced that it is disconnecting users who use more than 200GB of data within a month. This brings into questions as to the meaning of unlimited data. However, it is important to keep in mind that Verizon wireless has dropped their unlimited data plans more than a couple of years ago. However, it has grandfather the users who have held onto the plan. Users who have averaged more than 200GB of data will either be urged to sign up for new contracts. The other option is that they get disconnected.

While this does seem harsh when it comes to unlimited data use, one must admit that 200GB is a lot. One would have to be online all day everyday. That said, unlimited data is supposed to mean unlimited data. Therefore, that would be a slap to the face for people that are used to not worrying about any data caps. The other thing to consider is that this move might actually push people away from Verizon wireless to mobile carriers that still offer unlimited data.

There is enough controversy when it comes to unlimited data plans to begin with. A lot of people have to deal with being throttled which they don’t like. However, it does say that only a certain amount of data is high speed data. The rest of the data is still unlimited. However, it will only be downloaded at slower speeds.

Verizon Will Purge or Reduce Customers Using 200GB or More of Monthly Data

One of the four major cellular carriers, Verizon, has announced its intention to eliminate “unlimited” data plans from available services. The company actually stopped selling unlimited data plans in 2011, but has “grandfathered” many customers by allowing them to remain in an unlimited data plan if they chose to. However, it appears that customers using what Verizon views as excessive data will be moved to different plans within the next month.

This is part of Verizon’s ongoing push to reduce data consumption rates by its customers. In 2015, they added an additional $20 monthly fee to continue grandfathering customers on unlimited data plans. They’ve also followed other wireless trends and stopped offering contracts, so customers cannot “lock” themselves into a specific rate. When customers upgrade their phones, new plans or updates will become effective.

What, exactly, is considered excessive by the wireless giant? Verizon has determined that customers using more than 200GB of data, averaged over several months, will be selected for review. They’ll be asked to move to new contracts that include data caps of only 100GB of data each month, with an option to add an additional 2GB. Per household line. Additionally, if users choose to take the 100GB plan, they should expect to pay for it: Verizon offers it at $450 per month. That’s over $400 for a limited data plan that users can expect to be speed-throttled once the cap is reached.

Verizon is offering very little to those who do not want to select another, lower-limit plan: they’ll simply disconnect their devices and cut off all service. Customers who want service reinstated will have to choose a new data plan within 50 days to do so.

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.