Google’s Built-In Nest Microphone Wasn’t Supposed To Be A Secret

After Google told users its Nest Secure system’s upgrade would let it be used as another Google Assistant speaker, people were confused—because they didn’t know Nest had a microphone, to begin with. Now, Google says the built-in Nest microphone was never supposed to be a secret.

Nest Secure, home security and alarm system, originally launched in 2017. However, nothing about the product disclosed its microphone. A spokesperson told Business Insider that the microphone “should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part.”

There’s been controversy around various home speakers and their recordings before. Amazon’s Alexa once sent 1,700 hours of recordings to the wrong person. Plus in 2017, Google admitted a flaw in their mini speaker let it secretly record conversations without users knowing.

In its statement, Google did say, “The microphone has never been on, and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.”

Still, it’s reminiscent of a 2010 incident where Google said its Street View cars “accidentally” collected personal data through WiFi networks. As both the Street View cars and previous speaker issues show, devices can collect information without their users or even the company that designed them knowing.

If you want to know why Nest Secure even has a microphone, security systems often use them to provide features that rely on sound sensing. Google said, “We included the mic on the device so that we can potentially offer additional features to our users in the future, such as the ability to detect broken glass.”

Nest Secure’s product page has been updated to mention the microphone.

 

Meet OpenAI’s Text Generator That’s Considered Too Dangerous To Release

If you make something, you usually want to show it off, but some creations can be so good that they should be kept to themselves. Falling under that category, OpenAI’s newest text generator is considered too dangerous to release.

OpenAI is a non-profit research center co-founded by Elon Musk and Sam Altman with a mission to “build safe [artificial general intelligence], and ensure AGI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible.”

The company developed a new natural language model, GPT-2, designed to predict the next word in a sample of 40 gigabytes of text, according to TechCrunch.

Apparently, the system learned to do its job so well that researchers wrote, “Due to our concerns about malicious applications of the technology, we are not releasing the trained model.”

In one example, when GPT-2 was asked to respond to the prompt, “Recycling is good for the world…No! You could not be more wrong!!”, it responded with:

“Recycling is NOT good for the world. It is bad for the environment, it is bad for our health, and it is bad for our economy. I’m not kidding. Recycling is not good for the environment. It is destructive to the earth and it is a major contributor to global warming. Recycling is not good for our health. It contributes to obesity and diseases like heart disease and cancer. Recycling is bad for our economy. It increases the cost of a product, and in turn, the price of everything that is made with that product. Recycling is not good for our nation. We pay a tremendous price for the privilege of having the world’s most advanced and efficient recycling system. Recycling is a huge, colossal waste of time, energy, money, and resources.”

According to TechCrunch, for every good application of the system, OpenAI found bad ones like generating fake news, impersonating people, or automating abusive and spam comments on social media.

Although some people were frustrated by OpenAI’s refusal to release the entire system, the company cited its own charter where it predicts “safety and security concerns will reduce our traditional publishing in the future”.

OpenAI’s policy director, Jack Clark, said the organization’s priority is “not enabling malicious or abusive uses of the technology”, as reported by TechCrunch. Some noted OpenAI was setting a “new bar for ethics in AI” by thinking ahead to possible misuses of their system.

The company will revisit the issue of GPT-2’s release in six months, so it’s possible they may make a difference decision.

8 Black Historical Figures Who Deserve Their Own Biopic And The Actors Who Should Play Them

We’ve barely scratched the surface of historical biopics centered on our Black heroes, heroines and everyday people. We’ve just done our list of who should play Angela Davis in the upcoming biopic helmed by Julie Dash. In honor of Black History Month, here are eight more Black historical figures that deserve the Hollywood treatment, as well as the actors and actresses who should portray them.

1) Emayatzy Corinealdi as Mae Jemison

Photo: NASA, Justin Stephens/CBS Photo: NASA, Justin Stephens/CBS

Justin Stephens/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

With the critical acclaim of films such as First Man and Hidden Figures, it boggles our mind as to why their hasn’t been biopic on Mae Jemison. Jemison is the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. Resemblance aside, Corinealdi more than proved she can carry a film when she played the lead role of in Ava DuVernay’s indie classic Middle Of Nowhere. As Ruby, a registered nurse who must grapple with her feelings for a potential suitor while her husband serves an eight-year prison sentence, Corendali gives a star-making performance. In the right hands, a big budget or even an independent film about Jemison with Corinealdi would touch on all the right beats.

 2) Andre Holland as Ed Dwight

Photo: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)Photo: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

In 1961, Ed Dwight was chosen by the Kennedy administration to be the first African-American astronaut trainee. Soon after, the Kansas City native appeared on the covers of Ebony and Jet magazines. Dwight faced discrimination from other astronauts, but persevered until his resignation from the Air Force in 1966. Dwight broke more barriers as a sculptor, creating more than 100 public art sculptures around the country. Andre Holland, who is receiving rave reviews for his performance as Ray Burke in High Flying Bird, is our only choice to portray Ed Dwight in a biopic.

3) Regina King as Michelle Obama

Photo: Official White House Photo, David Livingston/Getty ImagesPhoto: Official White House Photo, David Livingston/Getty Images

This is a no-brainer. Fresh off of her Oscar-nominated performance as Sharon Rivers in If Beale Street Could Talk, Regina King is pretty much everyone’s choice to portray Michelle Obama if a biopic on America’s First Lady ever comes to fruition. Keep in mind, King is also a master director. Adapting Michelle Obama’s best selling biopic, Becoming, into a feature film, with Regina King directing herself in the lead, and you have a recipe for greatness.

4) Rutina Wesley as Assata Shakur

Photo: NBC News, OWN Photo: NBC News, OWN

Political prisoner Assata Shakur became a high-profile member of the Black Panther party when, in 1973, Shakur was arrested during a traffic stop in New Jersey. A shootout ensued, which left the freedom fighter wounded and a state trooper dead. Shakur was ultimately blamed for the shooting and convicted of first degree murder in 1977. However, Shakur escaped from prison and fled to Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro in 1979 and has lived ever since. Known for her role as Tara on True Blood and Nova Bordelon on Queen Sugar, it’s downright criminal that Rutina Wesley has not had a lead role in a major Hollywood motion picture. A biopic on Shakur with Rutina Wesley in the lead role would be the perfect star-making vehicle.

5) Kimberly Elise as Cicely Tyson

Photo: The Television Academy, Leon Bennett/Getty ImagesPhoto: The Television Academy, Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Known by many as The Great Dame of Black Hollywood, Cicely Tyson opened the doors for many of our faves including Viola Davis. Actors playing actors has been a staple in Hollywood since the dawn of time. Cate Blanchett won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for portraying Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator. We deserve a biopic on the great Cicely Tyson. We have so much material to mine from her six-decade career, including her time as a fashion model for Ebony to her tumultuous relationship with jazz legend Miles Davis, the options are endless. Who better than to portray Tyson than Kimberly Elise. Often noted for her resemblance to Tyson, Elise has proven she has to dramatic heft in films such as Set It Off, Beloved and Woman Art Thou Loosed.

6) Anika Noni Rose as Stephanie St. Clair

Photo: Archive Image, George Pimentel/GettyPhoto: Archive Image, George Pimentel/Getty

 

Known as Harlem’s Queen Of Numbers, Stephanie St. Clair was a Prohibition-era gangster who ran Harlem’s number rackets and fought the Italian mob for control of Harlem in the 1930s. A Tony Award winning actress, Rose oozes that certain je ne sais quoi of The Harlem Renaissance. If her role as Dr. Eva Fletcher in the former BET show The Quad is any indicator, Rose certainly is adept at playing characters who know how to command respect in a male dominated environment. In 2017, it was reported that Tim Story was developing an HBO film about this audacious queenpin. Hopefully Story will consider Rose for the role of St. Clair if the opportunity arises.

7) Jussie Smollett as Langston Hughes

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One of the most prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance and among the most prominent Black voices in literature, Langston Hughes still does not have a major Hollywood motion picture. While Jussie Smollett appeared as Hughes for a brief moment in the 2017 legal drama Marshall, he should definitely reprise his role in a solo film about the famed poet.

8) Terrence Howard as Dr. Donald Shirley

Photo: Fox via Getty ImagesPhoto: Fox via Getty Images

We definitely deserve a do-over of Donald Shirley’s life on the big screen. Only this time, let’s get a Black writer, a Black director and the Shirley family’s input. While Mahershala Ali is expected to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the musical genius in Green Book, it would be nice to see Dr. Shirley’s life and true story on screen, removed from the white gaze. Terrence Howard is closer to how Dr. Shirley looked and his higher-pitched voice sounds similar too. Let’s get a Dr. Shirley movie in production, ASAP. No white saviors allowed though!

Amazon Pays $0 In Federal Income Taxes & It’s Part Of A Bigger Problem

For the second year in a row, Amazon will pay a grand total of $0 in federal income taxes. This frustrating trend is part of a much bigger problem with the tech giant.

Amazon is valued at almost $800 billion as a company. Between 2017 and 2018, Amazon nearly doubled its U.S. profits from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion, Fortune reported. Despite that, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found Amazon paid no income tax thanks to unnamed “tax credits”.

In fact, ITEP reported Amazon will receive a federal income tax rebate of $129 million, working out to a tax rate of -1%.

The Trump Administration plays a huge role in Amazon’s lack of payment. ITEP highlighted the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act that cut corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%. It also failed to “close a slew of tax loopholes that allow profitable companies to routinely avoid paying federal and state income taxes on almost half of their profits.”

But, this isn’t the beginning of Amazon’s tax controversies. In June of 2018, Amazon also killed a small tax in Seattle. The proposed $275-per-employee tax on businesses making at least $20 million in gross revenue had the goal of raising $50 million annually to help the homeless population, as reported by Vanity Fair.

King County, which Seattle is located in, has the third-largest homeless population in the country. All Home reported 33% of King County’s homeless population are Black. Part of Seattle’s crisis is due to effects of a “tech boom” causing rocketing housing prices. As Seattle’s biggest employer, Amazon could have helped rectify the situation by paying the tax.

In addition, when searching for a city to set up new headquarters, Amazon was lured by potential tax breaks. The tech giant planned to build Amazon HQ2 in New York City due to the state offering $1.7 billion in grants and tax breaks.

Amazon’s proposed move to Long Island City, Queens was met by protests from those concerned about gentrification and a widening income gap, as reported by Vox.

The company abandoned its New York plans on Thursday.

Twitter is Testing New Pop Up Profiles to Improve Threads

Twitter is currently set up so clicking someone’s handle brings you directly to their profile. This can be frustrating if you’re deep in a thread because it pulls you out of what you’re reading.  In an effort to make conversations easier to follow, Twitter is testing new pop up profiles to improve threads.

Anyone involved on Black Twitter knows threads are important. Twitter threads are what allows people to tell iconic stories, share resources, or just form a single cohesive thought.

On Tuesday, Twitter announced a new feature that can improve threads, stating, “We’re testing an easier way to check out profiles on iOS without leaving your timeline! Simply tap any @ handle in a Tweet, take a peek, follow, and get right back to it.”

The new feature creates mini “pop up” profiles that you can click on to see, instead of being taken to a user’s entire page. With the new feature, you’ll be able to see someone’s full bio, follower counts, and even when they joined Twitter. There will also be an option of following someone from their mini-profile or using a button that will take you to their full profile.

According to Vox, Twitter said the feature will be available on Android soon. Since Twitter just started testing the new feature, it’s unclear when it’ll be available to everyone.

The feature will work in the main Twitter timeline, too. It may not be a fancy change, but it’s definitely one that users need.

2018 Was A Record Year For Online Hate and Harassment

If logging on to Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platforms in the past year may have felt draining, you’re most likely not imagining it.

Facebook became a cesspool for online harassment in 2018, a new survey from the Anti-Defamation League shows. More than half (56%) of the survey’s respondents said they experienced hate through Facebook. Twitter and YouTube clocked in at 19 percent and 17 percent respectively for survey participants saying they were harassed on the platforms.

Photo: Anti-Defamation League

According to the Anti-Defamation League, 32 percent of Americans reported that the harassment they received was because of their sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, gender identity or disability.

Twitter has updated its community standards, while YouTube is now working to alter features on its products to curtail some of the negative behavior. Earlier this month, YouTube announced that it is working on ways to stop “dislike campaigns” on videos by large online groups. In November, Twitter expanded its hateful speech policies to prohibit dehumanizing speech.

ADL’s report also shows American’s outlook on the impact of hate speech online. Nearly 60 percent of respondents believe that online harassment is making hate crimes off the internet more common. Another 50 percent, believe that online abuse is increasing the use of derogatory language.

As social media platforms continue to expand their policies to deal with the influx of cyberbullying and harassment, it is crucial for users to find their own way to cope by reporting the abuse or taking a break from the platforms.

 

How Tala And Its Employee’s Seek To Promote Financial Inclusion Across The World

The financial company is looking to change the world by solving problems in an innovative way that is relevant to all cultures.

Tala is creating the future of finance by expanding access, choice and control for over three billion people globally. The company is doing so leveraging one simple item – an Android smartphone.

The financial company, originally known corporately as InVenture, with the product name Mkopo Rahisi, was founded in Santa Monica in 2011, and launched the loan product in Nairobi, Kenya in 2014. The loan product was created with a few goals in mind. The main goal is to offer people across the world access to the credit they need to fulfill their dreams without dealing with the obstacles of traditional finance. It is also for those who don’t have an established banking or credit usage history.

At Tala, employees see the world differently by being driven by a fundamental belief to build a company that represents the needs of consumers who don’t have a formal credit history, but show incredible potential. Whether it’s helping customers open a new business, or have flexibility in their budgeting or saving, Tala is using nontraditional data to introduce three billion consumers to the global market.

Fred Muya, who is a software developer for Tala says working for Tala is great. He says it’s been real incredible to see Tala’s growth to deliver financial access, choice and control to underserved people globally.

“I would say of course it’s quite a challenge for us given that you have to factor in different cultures,” said Muya. “You can imagine comparing cultures in Asia, cultures in Africa, cultures in America. Those are three different continents and thinking of addressing the same problem. The challenge at Tala is how we approach those different markets. That’s one thing that I think is significant to measure.”

But, Tala is able to execute on this mission because of two reasons: their talented team and a mobile device.

The company is headquartered in Santa Monica and has team members spread all around the world in places such as Tanzania, The Philippines, Mexico and India. In the Nairobi office, Tala has 183 members, and is its largest office. Nairobi is home to one of their engineering hubs and houses other departments such as customer experience and recoveries, growth and marketing, accounting, people operations and user research.

Each member of the Tala team is very passionate about extending financial freedom to the billions of underserved people across the globe, such as Muya, who works in the Nairobi office and works on back-end applications. Muya works on the services that interact with the mobile app that Tala has in different markets.

Tala is very big on building innovation that solves problems relevant to all cultures and changes perspective on the world. For Muya, seeing the ability for Tala to do so makes it a possibility that something can actually come out of one place and be able to help people across the world.

“I know when people are thinking of building a global product they’ll struggle, but given that Tala has been able to expand to so many markets so far, it just makes you think maybe things are not so different across the world, right?,” Muya said. “There are those specific challenges in each market, but the fact that the core goal, the core mission is still applicable regardless of where you go to, it means to some extent we all have a common ground for all of our needs.”

Through the process, customers apply to Tala through their smartphone. From there, Tala’s app looks for patterns and behaviors that prove consistency and indicate creditworthiness, nearly instantaneously based solely on mobile device data — no paperwork or trips to the bank.

Most importantly, analyzing the data from a potential borrower’s smartphone allows Tala to see a more detailed picture of the applicant’s life than from a paper trail or even an in-person interview. In many cases, the process allows high-potential customers to be approved for credit who might have otherwise been rejected.

Photo: Capital FM

As Tala retains alternative data points from mobile phones such as user’s social networks, mobile money ledgers and GSM data, the company can build relationships among seemingly disconnected bits of information that can tell the company whether the applicant is likely to pay back their loan.

For Tala customer, Jenipher for example,  who is a 65-year-old woman who runs a food stall in Nairobi’s central business district. Jenipher wanted to expand her business, but unfortunately had no previous loan history and wasn’t sure where to start. Her son convinced her to download the Tala app one day and when Tala saw that Jenipher was leading a very creditworthy life, they gave Jenipher her first loan. Now, she has been using Tala credit for almost two years. During that time period she increased her savings by 13 percent  and her revenue by 27 percent, allowing her to open a second food stall. Just recently she applied for a small business loan from a commercial bank to open her own restaurant because she finally has the credit history to prove she deserves it. Fortunately, she was approved and now she is working on fulfilling her lifelong dream at the age of 65.

Engineers at Tala work very hard to figure out the logistics for customers like Jenipher by integrating the product and keeping it the same across all offices. To Muya, he sees engineering treated as a craft at Tala.

In the Nairobi office, engineers work very closely with the U.S. team since most of the product team is located there, says Muya. Team members travel frequently between Santa Monica and Nairobi, and to Tala’s other offices around the world.

But Muya states that there are some advantages of working specifically in Nairobi, because they are able to build services locally.

“The team here [in Nairobi] has gotten to build and work on most of the products that are used in most of our markets,” Muya said. “An added advantage for building some of the services locally is that we get to have more context on it. I think that some of the work we are doing requires us to work with some local tech partners. So, in that case, having a team here is an advantage because we get to work with local partners in an easier way.”

Diaspora innovation and implementation are especially important to the company. Since Tala serves a global customer base, it is important for them to fulfill their mission of acquiring diverse teams working together across borders and boundaries. Although it has its challenges, it is Tala’s strong belief that their company culture should reflect the kind of world we want to build and live in.

photo credit: Tala

The Tala team is definitely excited about where they’ve come and where they’re going.

They are known as  Kenya’s number one finance app and they want to continue to keep the momentum by expanding and innovating their products for their customers all over the world.

Through listening and learning, company has plans to continue designing and roll out more personalized credit products and other financial services that will make their customers’ lives easier. Tala is also trying to differentiate themselves from the other lenders, by utilizing the fact that somebody who has been using Tala for a longer time can certainly trust it more and they can have some benefits, according to Muya.

“For example, they may be able to get a different interest rate if they’re a good customer and are in good standing and not defaulting on their loan,” Muya said. “So trying to build that factor which is about staying ahead of the competition that’s one of the main focus points that we’re working on.”

Tala is all about growth and that’s one thing that has been extremely consistent for Muya, specifically as a software developer perspective. He is entering into his fourth year working with the company.

“If I look at myself or compare myself when I began here at this point, I would say I’ve grown several times over,” Muya said. “And this is specifically due to the company’s focus on personal and professional growth for the team members and it is those efforts that have been good for everybody to keep on improving themselves. I would say that’s one thing that is definitely the most outstanding that makes me actually really really enjoy being at Tala. By being able to grow and learn from people over the three and a half years I have been here so far.”

 

To learn more about the company’s background and employees experiences working with Tala, check out CEO, Shivani Siroya’s TED Talk. Want to join their mission? Check out open roles all around the world here: tala.co/careers, overview video here!

Google and Microsoft Warn Investors That AI Could Cause Legal & Ethical Problems

As the advancement of artificial intelligence poses questions around the potential for bias, increased surveillance, and a myriad of other issues, big tech companies are beginning to take note. Both Google and Microsoft have now warned investors that AI could cause problems.

Last week, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, reported $39.3 billion in revenue during its last quarter, a 22 percent increase from a year earlier. Google’s CEO Sundar Picahi gave some credit to Google’s machine learning technology saying, “AI is helping us drive our mission forward at a scale we couldn’t imagine.”

However, for the first time, the tech giant is now warning investors that the same AI technology they’re pumping millions of dollars into could pose legal and ethical trouble.

Companies are required to file annual reports every year, updating investors on what’s working and what carries risks. In Alphabet’s latest annual report, the company’s “Risk Factor” section noted products and services using AI or machine learning “can raise new or exacerbate existing ethical, technological, legal, and other challenges.”

The report went on to say AI may “negatively affect our bands and demand for our products and services and adversely affect our revenues and operating results.”

Google’s sudden warning echoes one given by Microsoft in its annual report last August. Microsoft wrote “AI algorithms may be flawed” and “if we enable or offer AI solutions that are controversial because of their impact on human rights, privacy, or employment, or other social issues, we may experience brand or reputational harm.”

The timing of these new warnings may seem odd, as both companies have worked with AI for years and even faced backlash before. Back in 2015, users noticed Google’s photo service started mistaking Black people for gorillas. The company’s solution was to stop Google Photos from ever labeling any image as a gorilla, chimpanzee, or monkey, including pictures of actual primates. In 2016, Microsoft launched it’s Tay chatbot on Twitter. In less than a day, it began tweeting “Hitler was right” among other things, as reported by Vox. 

However, public awareness around AI and its potential consequences have dramatically increased, especially as tech companies begin to offer AI services to government agencies. For example, in June of 2018, Google employees forced the company out of a Pentagon contract applying AI to drone surveillance footage.

About 4,000 Google employees created a petition demanding “a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology,” as reported by The New York Times.

Google and Microsoft are not the only tech companies whose AI pose risks. Amazon’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, famously can’t recognize Black people.  Plus, Facebook was fined after the Cambridge Analytical scandal revealed the company failed to safeguard users’ information.

Neither Amazon nor Facebook has made moves to formally warn their investors of problems AI may cause. In fact, Amazon’s annual report filed earlier this year included a section titled “Government Regulation Is Evolving and Unfavorable Changes Could Harm Our Business.”

Amazon wrote, “It is not clear how existing laws governing issues such as property ownership, libel, data protection, and personal privacy apply to the Internet, e-commerce, digital content, web services, and artificial intelligence technologies and services.”

The company’s report directly contradicts Amazon’s Thursday blog post calling for Congress to develop legislation around facial recognition technology. Amazon’s actions suggest a focus on AI profit over ethical use, especially after noting the company only called for legislation after it already marketed and sold Rekognition to law enforcement.

In addition to warning their investors, Microsoft and Google have taken other steps. Microsoft argued for regulation of facial recognition technology before Amazon’s blog post and Google has started engaging policy makers and academics about AI governance.

AI has the potential to be very useful, but it’s not free from bias and can have a detrimental impact. Tech does have a social responsibility, especially if AI software may only exacerbate or introduce entirely new societal problems.

Lyft is Giving Free Rides to Black History Sites for the Month of February

Ride-hailing giant Lyft is celebrating Black History Month by providing up to $10 in free ride credits to passengers traveling to Black historical sites. 

The rides are available to museums, memorial parks, and cultural centers in more than 30 cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Passengers can check out everything from the Apollo Theatre in Harlem to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Lyft is also offering rides to Black-owned business.

The promotion comes as Lyft celebrates the one-year anniversary of its partnership with Black Girls Code, an organization aimed at diversifying the computer science field by educating and providing camps to young Black girls.

Google Has Plans to Expand Atlanta Office

Google has plans to announce the expansion of its Atlanta office.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports the tech giant will lease 200,000 square feet on the top floors of a new Midtown Atlanta tower and will add 500 jobs to the city. This more than triples the space Google currently occupies in Midtown.

“This is more evidence Atlanta is considered a pinnacle of software development talent,” John Yates, a partner in the technology practice at Morris Manning & Martin LLP told the Business Chronicle.

Google’s Atlanta move is part of a larger growth plan in tech hubs across the nation.

Last month, the company announced plans to expand its New York City campus. Google Hudson Square is reportedly a $1 billion project that will be 1.7 million square feet.

The company also purchased Chelsea Market in Manhattan for $2.4 billion with plans to add 300,000 square feet to the location.