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“Why automating some jobs can lead to even more jobs” plus 29 more VentureBeat

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“Why automating some jobs can lead to even more jobs” plus 29 more VentureBeat


Why automating some jobs can lead to even more jobs

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 02:10 PM PST

More bots, more jobs

The labor market always seeks to remove inefficiencies, and it is true that whatever can be automated will be. This has been true since the 1770s, when textile factories became the first to succeed with mechanization, ushering in the industrial revolution and delivering advances across industries, building great fortunes and elevating the life of the average worker.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will define the next industrial revolution, delivering similarly game-changing benefits to companies and workers through efficiency and improved human capital allocation. Investors recognize this, and the record-breaking capital flows into the AI market underscore the awaiting opportunity.

However, with revolution comes uncertainty, and the consensus is that AI will lead to job loss. A recent Harvard Business Review article stated that 82 percent of people fear that AI will create job losses, and an Oxford University study cited by the Economist says that 47 percent of American jobs could be “substituted by computer capital.” Recent research from McKinsey suggests that AI “could automate 45 percent of work activities and that 60 percent of occupations could see 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated.”

So, with these sobering statistics about AI taking over jobs, why would anyone feel upbeat? The reason is that efficiency gains from new technologies almost always provide more benefits than downsides.

Automating blue-collar jobs

While it’s true that some jobs are likely at risk, especially ones where the complete task can potentially be automated with AI (things like replacing taxi drivers with self-driving cars), AI will free up workers for high-value activities versus tedious, repetitive tasks.

Jobs like retail sales respond well to partial automation, which can lead to job growth. For example, McKinsey shows that deployment of bar-code scanners and point-of-sale systems in the 1980s reduced U.S. per-store labor costs by an estimated 4.5 percent and the cost of groceries by 1.4 percent — yet cashiers were still needed. Their employment grew at an average of more than 2 percent between 1980 and 2013, illustrating that even when occupations are partly automated, overall demand for remaining activities will likely continue to grow.

Many jobs still require the decision-making, creativity, communication, and social skills that only humans can provide. And when humans are freed from the drudgery in their jobs, they can actually accomplish more and are thus more valuable.

White-collar AI

In the white-collar world, jobs are not as easy to automate, but AI technology will make those jobs more efficient and productive, too. For example, large amounts of the repetitive work in industries like health care and banking consists of simply accumulating and processing data. Collecting patient medical data and gathering financial reports can be easily accomplished by AI, and emerging technologies like natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) will make the process more seamless, natural, and automated.

In these industries and others, AI will handle routine tasks that were once only doable by humans, such as reading and interpreting emails and reports. This will enable employees to focus on higher-value tasks. For example, instead of a customer service expert responding to yet another request to reset a password, he or she can let the AI respond to that request and focus on more complex troubleshooting. Bankers and financial analysts can concentrate on revenue-generating activities rather than sorting through reams of data and compiling spreadsheets.

In a similar way, leveraging AI for sales and marketing gives companies the ability to drive topline revenue. Automating the interaction between leads and salespeople frees up human capital, meaning that each salesperson can spend more time closing deals, rather than prospecting to create those deals. Automation offers a way to generate more revenue through an overall higher volume of inbound leads, and with greater revenue comes more hiring and greater investment in marketing to generate those leads. AI also enables creation of high-performance sales teams that task AI with “daily grind” prospecting and take all of the rejection, passing only the best leads to salespeople. Sales can then be more consultative, focusing on delivering the most appropriate solutions to customers rather than focusing on potentially outdated metrics.

With routine tasks automated, energy can be applied to tasks that require the judgment and emotional intelligence that robots simply cannot provide. Workers can be confident of a place at the table, because human-centric cognitive and social skills will always remain key to success, especially in high-value functions. McKinsey further suggests that “understanding activities most susceptible to automation could provide a unique opportunity to rethink how workers engage with their jobs and how digital labor platforms can better connect individuals, teams, and projects.”

The emergence of AI presents leaders with an opportunity to challenge ourselves and to think about how many of our own activities can be more efficiently executed with help from machines. This will provide us with the freedom and time to focus on core competencies that can’t be replaced by a robot or algorithm. At least not yet.

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Wordie’s iMessage app lets you create and share custom GIF puzzles

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 01:49 PM PST

Screenshots of the latest version of Wordie, which allows users to create custom puzzles with images and GIFs

A new version of the smartphone game Wordie launched today, and it allows iOS users to create custom puzzles with images and GIFs from Giphy.

Custom puzzles can be sent to groups of friends or shared with the larger Wordie community through the Wordie iOS app or iMessage app extension. Custom puzzles will be added to the Android version of Wordie in the near future.

Each Wordie puzzle contains four images that have something in common. The first to identify the similarity and spell it out wins. A single puzzle can be sent to dozens of friends.

Wordie was created by mobile gaming company The Fast Mind and was one of the first games available since the iMessage App Store launched September 13. The game has more than one million daily active users and has been downloaded more than 20 million times since its debut in iOS App Store in spring 2015.

“It was surprising for us to see that 25 percent [of U.S. players] only play through the iMessage platform,” The Fast Mind cofounder and CEO Jorge Prado told VentureBeat in a phone interview.

IMG_1346

Above: What Wordie’s new visual puzzle creator looks like in iMessage

Wordie, Words with Friends, and Word Swipe are among some of the most popular games available in the Games category of the iMessage App Store.

"When we saw this platform, we said 'This is the right platform for our type of game, not for a car game or shooting game, not even a chess game, but good for our game,'" Prado said. "It's perfect because it's more of a community collaborative type of game."

Group game play with games like Streak Trivia and Wordie allow people to play by themselves or in groups that can include dozens of people.

In Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries where Wordie first gained popularity, before its iMessage app extension was created, users often shared screenshots of challenging puzzles with friends in iMessage or WhatsApp, Prado said.

User-generated puzzles don't just add to the amount of puzzles available, but they also make them more current. For example, many puzzles on Wordie in the past week were related to the Cubs or Election Day, Prado said.

The Fast Mind team is based in Miami and has 14 employees.

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Nvidia’s Q3 revenue grows 54% thanks to Pascal GPU sales

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 01:49 PM PST

A concept rendering of Nvidia's headquarters.

Nvidia reported record revenues of $2 billion for the third fiscal quarter ended October 30, and it blew past Wall Street estimates for both revenues and earnings. Nvidia’s stock rose 13 percent in after-hours trading to $76.66 a share.

Nvidia is riding high on virtual reality, PC gaming, car computing, and artificial intelligence infrastructure. In the third quarter, GAAP earnings were 83 cents a share, up 89 percent from a year ago, on revenue of $2 billion (up 54 percent from last year). Analysts had expected 57 cents per share on revenues of $1.69 billion.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based graphics chip maker is riding high on demand for its Pascal-based graphics processing units (GPUs) in VR machines and gaming computers, but it is also adapting those chips for servers used in AI processing for a variety of applications, from neural networks to driverless cars to supercomputers.

“We had a breakout quarter – record revenue, record margins and record earnings were driven by strength across all product lines,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, founder and CEO of Nvidia, in a statement. “Our new Pascal GPUs are fully ramped and enjoying great success in gaming, VR, self-driving cars and datacenter AI computing.”

He added, “We have invested years of work and billions of dollars to advance deep learning. Our GPU deep learning platform runs every AI framework, and is available in cloud services from Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and Alibaba, and in servers from every OEM. GPU deep learning has sparked a wave of innovations that will usher in the next era of computing.”

During the first nine months of fiscal 2017, Nvidia paid $509 million in share repurchases and $185 million in cash dividends. As a result, the company has returned an aggregate of $694 million to shareholders in the first nine months of the fiscal year. The company intends to return $1.0 billion to shareholders in fiscal 2017.

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Watch Edward Snowden discuss the impact of a Trump presidency

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 01:37 PM PST

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden gave a remote talk today about how the U.S. election — and Donald Trump’s grim victory — will impact privacy rights and mass surveillance in the U.S. and abroad.

The talk was held at the Pathé Tuschinski theater in Amsterdam and began at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. You can watch it here.

When asked about the U.S. election results, Snowden’s response was quite broad: “What we need to start thinking about now is not how do we defend against a president Donald Trump, but how do we defend the rights of everyone, everywhere.”

“If we want to have a better world,” Snowden said, “we shouldn’t hope for an Obama, and we shouldn’t fear a Donald Trump, rather we should build it ourselves.”

And in regards to how the election may help or hurt his case, Snowden, who is still wanted by the FBI, responded, saying “I am the least important part of any of this. This is not about me. This is about us.”

The current president of the United States campaigned on a platform of ending mass surveillance in the United States … and we all put a lot of hope in him because of this … it was a moment where we believed that because the right person got into office everything would change, but unfortunately once he took office we saw he didn’t actually fulfill those promises. He embraced the policies of mass surveillance. This is to talk about a broader point which is, we should be cautious about putting too much faith, or fear, into election officials. If we want to make sure that the rights that we have encoded into our laws are actually reliable, this will never be the work of politicians. This will only be the work of the people. Ultimately, if we want to see a change, we must force it through ourselves.

More to follow.

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Nielsen: Overwatch fans are younger than other esports followers

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 01:25 PM PST

Pew pew heal pew.

Kids go crazy for sugary taste of Overwatch!

Out of all Overwatch esports fans, 68 percent of them are in the age 18 to 34 millennial demographic, according to the 2016 Nielsen Esports Report and Nielsen Video Game Tracking. This is higher than the average for other competitive games, which is at 61 percent. This shows that Blizzard’s team-based shooter is finding a way to appeal to a younger audience than most of its competition. Millennials are also a popular group with marketers, which gives Overwatch an advantage in an esports market that will generate $493 million in 2016, according to a report from intelligence firm Newzoo.

Overwatch released in May for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, but it’s already become big hit. It has sold over 20 million copies. It’s second postrelease hero, the hacker Sombra, is coming out soon.

Esports fans in general are more likely to play Overwatch over a regular U.S. gamer, 17 percent vs. 4 percent. Nielson also noted that 27 percent of Overwatch fans say they don’t follow the game’s competitive scene as much as they want because of a lack of local tournaments. This is a problem that Blizzard itself is trying to fix with its Overwatch League, which will create city-based teams across the world.

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4 factors that will make chatbots more personal in business

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 12:10 PM PST

How to make bots more personal in business.

Chatbots are artificially intelligent platforms that interact and communicate with customers on behalf of a business entity. They are making a difference, developing a different user experience and raising customer retention and loyalty.

With the latter being vital to the running of any business, it has also become vital to have chatbots personalize their services for customers. Personalization is the best way for bots to help customer loyalty grow. It is also a feature that is quite difficult to achieve. Understanding bots, their specific uses, and above all their purpose in an entity may be the key to ensuring personalization.

1. They get to know customers through chat

Customers directly interact with chatbots by talking or messaging. The interaction is similar to conversing with a friend, only the bot can provide first-hand information about brands and products. This is a chance for any business entity to ensure a tailored, unique, and most importantly personalized user experience.

Chatbots can mimic, learn, and gain the ability to relate like a human with time. This ability is a result of the artificially intelligent platforms on which they are designed. They can remember a conversation conducted in the past, continue a conversation, and resolve complex situations by offering the right solution or service, often without human intervention. Making sure they have the pertinent tone for every customer is the challenge. Overcoming it will give chatbots the ability to be completely human-like when offering a service.

2. Their technology keeps improving

Technology is constantly changing and improving, a fact that can’t be ignored when assessing chatbot technologies. Silvia makes chatbots that can be used over a variety of messaging platforms. However, for now it lacks the ability to conduct a smooth, fluent conversation. With time, this is expected to change, and a more personalized chatbot will be able to converse, communicate, and interact with a customer without being pegged as a chatbot. Acquiring human characteristics, ensuring compatibility of the chatbots to different platforms (not just messaging), and including personalization are the main challenges. Overcoming them increases the potential to help many organizations and brands improve customer loyalty and satisfaction.

3. They can manage the flood of customer requests

The main aim of any business entity is to develop loyal customers; to do that, it must ensure top-level customer service. A business entity needs to understand the importance of having chatbot technology included in its operations. Customers are continuously sending requests, complaints, and above all queries about a company’s products and services through social media. When the pile gets left unanswered, it results in disgruntled, annoyed, and brand-irritated customers. A chatbot is the right answer, but a few elements need to be considered in the process. Such concerns include making a chatbot for the right purpose, preserving entity customer experiences, and creating ways to measure the chatbot’s performance.

4. They can fulfill internal business uses as well

Chatbot technology has been successfully deployed not only to enhance customer service and enable purchase decisions, but to offer workplace, personal, or individual assistance as well. Chatbots are useful for interacting not only through messaging platforms, but also through applications and other closed communication surroundings. This includes training employees and offering real-time information about customer interactions. The extensive abilities of chatbots do not have to be limited to messaging platforms, instead offering a convenient and personalized service to any customer any time — even internal ones.

Conclusion

Chatbots have the ability to do many things for a business. Which chatbot is used and for what purpose can determine the success of that business. Assess your needs and your personalization elements before purchasing and implementing a chatbot technology for your brand or business entity.

Microsoft’s Office Lens for iOS now gives verbal cues to line up documents you scan

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 12:04 PM PST

Office Lens for iOS in the App Store.

Microsoft today announced some updates to its Office Lens document scanning app for iOS.

The Immersive Reader mode, which provides a comfortable way to read the text of the documents you’ve scanned, is now included in the app, which first launched in April 2015. The reading mode lets you adjust the text’s font size and spacing and even read the text out loud. Until this point, if you wanted to use the Immersive Reader, you had to import your scanned image into Microsoft’s separate OneNote notetaking app, through which you can view documents on other devices.

But the completely new thing in Office Lens is the ability for your iOS device to give you voice commands that tell you how to position the documents in front of the camera so that they can be completely captured. The feature, which Microsoft calls Framing Guide, takes advantage of the VoiceOver accessibility tooling in iOS. You’ll need to enable VoiceOver if you want to try Frame Guide.

Microsoft, for its part, is drawing on technology it developed through its Seeing AI research, the Office team wrote in a blog post.

Box and Dropbox have both introduced mobile document scanning features in the past year.

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Atlas Reactor partners with ESL for its first major tournament

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 11:05 AM PST

A turn-based competitive game sounds slow and boring, but Atlas Reactor is neither of those things.

Esports could have a new popular game on its hands.

Developer Trion World announced that it has partnered with the esports organization ESL to host the first major tournament for Atlas Reactor, the company’s team-based, turn-based strategy game for PC. Teams will compete for an $8,000 prize purse. This is an early step for the young game that could turn into a stride toward esports glory and earn some cash. The competitive gaming market’s revenues are on pace to generate $493 million in 2016, according to a report from intelligence firm Newzoo.

While $8,000 may not seem like much compared to the huge prize pools of millions of dollars for games like Dota 2 and League of Legends, Atlas Reactor is just a month old, and it’s testing the esports waters now.

“The community's response to Atlas Reactor's competitive structure has been overwhelmingly positive, so we are happy to help solidify the title in the esports arena," said Sean Charles,vice president of publisher relations at ESL, in a press release sent to GamesBeat. "It's always an exciting time when a title shows potential and we look forward to working closely with Trion Worlds to bring Atlas Reactor to a wider gaming audience."

Atlas Reactor has a free version that restricts access to a small number of heroes. However, from November 11 to November 13, players can access all of the game’s content for free.

If you’re interested in signing up for the competition, you can register here.

Pinterest for Android and iOS now lets you tell other users if you’ve tried pins

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 10:00 AM PST

Pinterest's new "try" feature.

Pinterest, the startup behind the eponymous app that lets users pin photos and other content to boards, is announcing today the launch of a new feature in pins that lets users specify whether they’ve tried what’s shown in a pin — for example, a pair of running shoes, or a recipe — and optionally tell other users if they loved it or if it’s not for them. They can also post tips that other users can see later.

The feature is rolling out now on Android and iOS, and it will be coming to the web in the next few weeks, Pinterest engineering manager Nadine Harik wrote in a blog post.

“When you find a Pin you want to try, you can view a new feed to see who’s already cooked that recipe, bought that product or made that project and how it went for them. You can also see the percentage of Pinners who recommend the Pin,” Harik wrote.

Also, when you go to your profile on Pinterest for Android and iOS, you’ll be able to see all of the pins that you’ve tried so far.

This is a nifty, unconventional sort of addition that goes beyond the typical social network habits of liking, commenting, and sharing — sort of like how Pinterest has pushed into ecommerce through buyable pins.

The new feature could well make Pinterest feel a little less like a place where you find things you aspire to buy and a little more like a community where people help one another.

Last month Pinterest said it has more than 150 million monthly active users.

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Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius and Brave Frontier start mobile crossover event

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 08:51 AM PST

Brave Frontier.

Double the brave, double the fun.

The Japanese mobile role-playing game Brave Frontier is celebrating its third anniversary with a special crossover event with Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius, another mobile JRPG. Brave Exvius was itself a Square Enix project that came about with the help of A-Lim and Gummi, the companies behind Brave Frontier. This could bring fans of both games to the other, while give players new content to keep them engaged with the free-to-play titles. Considering that Gumi and Square Enix collaborated to create Brave Exvius in the first place, this continued partnership makes sense.

According to App Annie, Brave Exvius is currently the the No. 555 ranked game in the U.S. Apple App Store, while Brave Frontier is above at No. 135. In Japan, Brave Frontier is No. 496, while Brave Exvius is at No. 102.

From November 9 to December 7, Brave Frontier players can recruit characters from Brave Exvius, while those in the Final Fantasy game can summon the heroes from Brave Frontier. Players of Brave Frontier can also explore a new dungeon where they can battle Veritas of the Dark, the villain from Brave Exvius.

Brave Frontier has done many crossover events in the past, including ones with other Japanese RPG series like Shin Megami Tensei and even the fighter series The Kings of Fighters.

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Russia likely to block LinkedIn next week following court ruling

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 08:30 AM PST

LinkedIn

Rejecting an appeal from the company, a Moscow municipal court confirmed today an earlier court decision to consider LinkedIn as violating the Russian legislation on personal data storage, according to Russian news agency Interfax.

As a consequence, the telecom regulator Roskomnadzor — which had initiated the legal procedure against LinkedIn — will require operators to block access to the site from Russia. This may happen as early as next week, according to Roskomnadzor’s spokesman Vadim Ampelovsky.

Russia’s new legislation on personal data, which came into force in September 2015, requires that companies store Russian citizens’ personal data only on servers located on Russian territory (see white paper by EWDN and EY).

Many Russian and foreign organizations, including AlibabaAppleBooking.com, and Google, have already transferred user data from foreign data centers to Russia or announced plans to do so, while others have not complied so far.

Virtual space or Russian territory?

LinkedIn launched a Russian version of its platform five years ago. Earlier this year, the soon-to-be Microsoft subsidiary had not provided any “substantial answer” to two inquiries from Roskomnadzor, according to the regulator.

In addition, Roskomnadzor pointed to “big disorders with leaks of personal data from LinkedIn since 2010,” as stated by Ampelovsky last month.

In statements made at the court hearing, LinkedIn argued that Russian legislation does not apply to LinkedIn users, “who are factually located in the [virtual space] outside the Russian Federation, and provide their personal data there.”

As reported by TV Rain, LinkedIn denied that it violates Russian users’ rights in any way, since they voluntarily accept the site’s terms of use.

These arguments proved insufficient to convince the Moscow court.

This post first appeared on East-West Digital News, an international resource about innovation in Eastern Europe.

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Cape Analytics raises $14 million to use computer vision for better insurance quotes

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 08:00 AM PST

Cape Analytics uses imagery and other data to assess houses.

Cape Analytics has raised $14 million to use computer vision and machine learning to improve automated property underwriting for insurance companies.

Formation 8 led the round, with participation from XL Innovate, Data Collective, Lux Capital, Khosla Ventures, Promus Ventures, and Montage Ventures. The funding is one more application of machine learning and computer vision for business automation.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cape Analytics starts with images of a home to help assess the home’s value and allow an insurance carrier to deliver more accurate and fast quotes.

The funding will allow Cape Analytics to expand its world-class engineering and sales teams as it brings its proprietary data to more regions and customers around the United States. As part of this financing, Formation 8's Shirish Sathaye has joined the company's board of directors.

Insurers want to provide quick, accurate, and hassle-free quotes to customers but, traditionally, quotes have been based on incomplete or unreliable information from public records, or on slow and expensive in-person reports from property inspectors.

In response, Cape Analytics has developed a cloud-based platform that provides near inspection-quality data on high-value property features – instantaneously and at scale – for entire property portfolios. The company pulls down geo-imagery from partners (outdoor, satellite photos), brings the imagery onto its internal platform (which is sort of like Google Earth), and then runs the images through its proprietary computer vision and AI deep learning algorithms that “understand” the image and extract structured data. That data can be anything related to property condition or attributes: square footage of a home’s footprint; roof condition, type, and material; skylights; solar panels; and other details. This is all info that helps insurers provide a more accurate quote for your home.

Cape Analytics’ CEO and cofounder, Ryan Kottenstette, was previously an investor with Khosla Ventures. Kottenstette has incubated several technology companies that apply computer vision and artificial intelligence to industries ranging from shipping logistics to agriculture to healthcare. Chief technology officer and cofounder, Suat Gedikli, is an expert in image processing, 3D processing, probabilistic state estimation, and machine learning.

"We are honored to partner with such distinguished investors to grow our engineering and sales teams as we add features and scale our platform to offer nationwide coverage," said Kottenstette, in a statement.

Cape Analytics was founded in 2014 and has 20 employees.

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Sevenhugs launches Smart Remote to control TV, lights, music, and thermostat

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 07:00 AM PST

Sevenhugs has launched a new smart remote.

The Internet of Things, or making everyday objects smart and connected, is giving us a lot of devices to control in our homes. So Sevenhugs is today announcing its Smart Remote that allows users to control any device by pointing the remote at it. The San Francisco-based company is also launching a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign today for the project.

Smart Remote can control your TV, lights, music, and thermostat. You can also use it to order an Uber. You can control any device simply by pointing at it. The remote aims to make the smart home experience more enjoyable.

Sevenhugs has applied for patents for its “point and control” technology that enables Smart Remote's screen to adapt automatically to any device. When a user points at a device, Smart Remote instantly displays custom controls to operate that particular device as intuitively as possible. Compatible devices include Samsung Smart TVs, Philips Hue lights, Sonos speakers, Nest Learning Thermostat, and others.

"Customers today are frustrated that every device requires its own app or controller, which leads to clutter, confusion, and wasted time," says Simon Tchedikian, Sevenhugs' cofounder and CEO, in a statement. "We've pushed the boundaries of today's technologies to build a better solution. For the first time in history, we've integrated a precise indoor positioning system in a consumer electronic device, allowing users to control tens of thousands of connected devices in a simple and intuitive way. All you have to do is point at what you want to control."

Sevenhugs has a Kickstarter campaign for its smart remote.

Above: Sevenhugs has a Kickstarter campaign for its smart remote.

Image Credit: Sevenhugs

Smart Remote works with more than 25,000 devices through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or infrared. The screen adapts to any device and displays intuitive touch-screen controls customized for each device you point at. It combines motion-tracking sensors and an indoor positioning system. You can check your weather by pointing at the window (Of course, you could look outside the window, too).

Created in collaboration with French designer Pierre Garner of Elium Studio, Smart Remote's design is “beautiful, sleek, and intuitive,” the company says. Smart Remote learns your habits, predicts your actions, and allows you to create “personalized scenes,” such as automatically dimming your lights when you turn on your TV.

Sevenhugs also offers an open applications programming interface to support continuous expansion of Smart Remote's features and services by developers.

Tchedikian said, "We truly embrace the passion of the Kickstarter community and know that it's the perfect venue for an innovative product like the Sevenhugs Smart Remote. We want our backers to help us build the perfect universal remote control and influence the development of what we view as their product. Now, with the help of the Kickstarter community, we're excited to put the finishing touches on the world's first truly smart remote."

Sevenhugs' Kickstarter campaign goal for Smart Remote is $50,000. Early-bird Kickstarter pricing starts at $100, and the first backers will receive Smart Remote in June 2017. Smart Remote will be available at select retailers in the fall of 2017 for $300.

With offices in San Francisco and Paris, Sevenhugs was founded in 2014 by Tchedikian, Stéphane Jaubertou, Lionel Marty, and Olivier Mandine. To date, Sevenhugs has raised more than $17.5 million, and it has 25 employees.

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Streamlabs lets YouTubers get paid in tips

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 06:30 AM PST

Streamlabs lets streamers collect tips.

Streamlabs enables you to leave tips for gaming livestreamers. It has collected $80 million in tips on an annual basis for 1.5 million Twitch livestreamers. And now Streamlabs is available for YouTubers.

San Francisco-based Streamlabs is the most used third-party application on Twitch, offering both donation and stream tools for the people who have become some of the most influential marketers of games today.

Streamlabs’ tools have become a must-have for serious streamers, said Ali Moiz, the cofounder and CEO of Streamlabs. They’re used by 63 percent of the top 20,000 streamers on Twitch, including famed streamers Lirik, Summit1G, Nightblue3, Voyboy, and Imaqtpie.

Streamlabs is now available on YouTube.

Above: Streamlabs is now available on YouTube.

Image Credit: Streamlabs

"We're excited to finally support YouTube,” said Moiz in a statement. “Our mission is to empower streamers and their communities to succeed wherever they are. Supporting multiple platforms is a key component of that. This is built by streamers for streamers.”

Now these tools will be available to all YouTube content creators. YouTube Subscriptions and Fan Funding, as well as YouTube Gaming Sponsorships, are supported at launch, with more feature support coming later this year. In the past 48 hours since support was released, over 2,000 YouTube content creators representing 2.3 million subscribers have already signed up.

“We’re excited that Streamlabs is bringing its tools to YouTube. This was a requested feature by our creators, and we’re happy to support new tools and services for our community,” said Marc Chambers, the developer relations head at YouTube, in a statement.

Streamlabs does not charge streamers a fee for its services, so 100 percent of tips go to the streamer. The service will remain free to use for content creators on YouTube.

Streamlabs lets YouTubers and Twitch streamers collect tips.

Above: Streamlabs lets YouTubers and Twitch streamers collect tips.

Image Credit: Streamlabs

Previously, Streamlabs was known as Vulcun, a daily fantasy sports company focused on esports titles. But Moiz said the company pivoted away from daily fantasy sports when some states started cracking down on it as illegal gambling.

“We pivoted into streaming software last year after regulatory changes to the DFS space,” he said. “Streamlabs is what we’re focused on now. Instead of esports, the focus is livestreaming tools. Same game-streaming industry, just a different focus.”

Streamlabs has raised $16 million from Sequoia Capital and Matrix. The company has 15 employees, and it makes money through premium features it sells.

Google Daydream View review: A massive step up from Cardboard, but content is lacking

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 06:01 AM PST

Google Daydream and accompanying controller with Google Pixel XL.

Five weeks ago, Google unveiled Daydream View, a VR headset for its mobile virtual reality platform. The headset goes on sale today, and we had the opportunity to play with it for a few days so that we could share our thoughts.

At $79, the Daydream View sits above Google Cardboard, the company’s first foray into VR, and under all the high-end options like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive. Like the Samsung Gear VR, it is powered by a smartphone (must be Daydream-ready, the Pixel and Pixel XL are your only options right now), so set your expectations accordingly. It also comes with its own cute little controller.

Hardware

The Daydream View outclasses all other VR headsets that require a smartphone. Overall, it feels surprisingly comfortable. The outside is coated in a soft fabric that’s reminiscent of a soft jersey shirt or perhaps tights you might wear while exercising. On the inside is a cushy padding. Altogether, it’s a welcome change from the metal and plastic that we’re used to on consumer electronics. This translates into longer sessions and less of a feeling like you’re “wearing” a device.

Setup is straightforward. The elastic strap is easy to adjust, though you’ll probably need to make changes once you’re in virtual reality, because making it tighter or looser also changes the focus. It takes a little bit of tuning, but once you get it just right, it gets easier every time you put it on. There’s no need for more changes, unless of course you’re sharing the device with someone else.

Unlike the Samsung Gear VR, the Daydream View doesn’t require you to carefully plug your phone into a port in order to launch VR mode. You simply place the phone sideways into the headset, laying it down on sturdy plastic and leaning the display up against the rubber nubs. Then you close the lid over the back of the phone and secure the phone in place using the elastic loop at the top of the lid. The phone detects the headset, and you don’t need to worry about lining the two up perfectly.

Google Daydream View from above.

Above: Google Daydream View from above.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

It’s a great touch that the controller fits into the headset itself — you’re less likely to lose it — and it’s definitely smart that Google can issue updates to it over Bluetooth. The controller is well crafted out of a sturdy plastic. It’s more stubby than the one that ships with the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, and it’s also more sensitive to touch because you can swipe in multiple ways on the touchpad. It’s hard to say if the controller’s hardware buttons will give out after extended use.

While Google calls the device a controller, it’s really more of a remote control. This is an important distinction: It’s small and designed for one-handed use. This is fine for selecting things, and it’s even sensitive enough to know when you’re rotating your wrist. But if you’re playing a game, oftentimes it simply doesn’t feel right. Take, for instance, a racing game called VR Karts. Sprint tries to give the effect of a real video game controller: You hold the controller horizontally and accelerate with your left thumb on the trackpad and shoot weapons with your right thumb on the middle “app button” — and you steer by moving the controller. It’s awkward.

Google hasn’t said anything about supporting video game controllers, like Samsung did with the Xbox One controller, and that’s quite unfortunate. Of course, that could change, but we’re not holding our breath.

The headset itself is roomy enough to accommodate eyeglasses, which is nice, because it can make the display look even clearer. In comparison with the latest version of the Oculus Rift, the Daydream View is noticeably lighter — 7.76oz vs. the Rift’s 16.57oz. The result is something that you can wear for a longer period of time without getting too uncomfortable. And you may be less likely to work up a sweat just because of what’s stuck to your face.

Display and performance

The Google Pixel’s display is very good for an Android phone, but here, when you’re looking through biconvex lenses right up next to the display, you start to pick up on pixels. This is one area where the Oculus Rift, for one, does show its strength over the Daydream View.

The sound from the Pixel’s speaker during Daydream is clear and loud enough, as long as you’re in a room that’s not too noisy. Even if you choose not to wear headphones, the experience generally still feels immersive.

Every now and then the display is slow to respond to user input, and high-resolution video can take a second or two to start playing, which points to the computing power that the Daydream taps. This is still mobile VR. It’s usually quite good, but it could be better.

Inside the Google Daydream.

Above: Inside the Google Daydream.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

The Pixel does heat up quite a bit after a while playing games or watching videos in Daydream. At one point, we received a notification saying the phone was overheating. This isn’t the best sign, given that Google isn’t marking just any phone as Daydream-ready. Presumably, if lesser phones were permitted to run Daydream, the performance could be sluggish or the battery could get eaten up faster than it does here.

Daydreaming does drain the battery of the underlying phone. On the Pixel, you still get hours of playtime, but if you look once in a while you’ll certainly notice the percentage going down more quickly than during internet browsing and more typical app usage. That said, you can use Daydream while the Pixel is charging, though that obviously limits its portability. The controller provides up to 12 hours of run time, Google says, but we never had to charge it during our testing.

Software

But the Daydream View’s library and a specially designed version of the Google Play Store have the immediate effect of putting the Daydream View a cut above the Cardboard, build quality aside. The Cardboard effectively gave users an app that directs you to certain content in the Play Store. Here, you have a way to switch into and out of apps without removing the headset from your head, just like in the Oculus Rift and the Gear VR. And with the Play Store, you get to see previews of content while you’re still using the headset. Heck, there’s even a settings screen with a clock on it, which is more convenient than you might think. (Unless, of course, you have a Google Home nearby to tell you what time it is.)

Google Daydream View settings screen.

Above: Google Daydream View settings screen.

Image Credit: Screenshot

There is also the matter of paying for apps and games. Google makes it easy in Daydream. You just type in a pin using a little numerical keyboard that pops up at the bottom of the screen after you’ve chosen to buy something. No need to rip off the headset.

But when it comes to the things you can use in Daydream today, there isn’t a whole lot to talk about. Building on its experience with Cardboard, Google has assembled some very comfortable experiences, including Google Arts & Culture, Google Photos, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Street View, and of course YouTube. But there aren’t very many third-party apps nor games yet — and the ones that do exist didn’t keep us coming back for more.

Fortunately, YouTube VR is good enough that it can be an anchor experience for the Daydream View. You can move the virtual screen around, and you can swipe to make it larger or smaller. Pinning it can make it comfortable to watch while lying down. If you want to search, you can either peck out what you’re looking for on a virtual onscreen keyboard, or you can use speech recognition. We prefer the latter, probably because it’s fast and often accurate. The 360 experiences in the app are impressive, even if the display takes away from the immersion. (And on that note, you don’t have much choice for video resolution — you can select either “Auto” or “Highest” — neither will blow your socks off)

When you play certain videos, you may see an ad. Sometimes you have the ability to skip it and sometimes you don’t, just like on desktop. But there is a difference here that will be interesting to marketers — YouTube ads in VR are extremely immersive, because you literally have nowhere else to look.

We also enjoyed a third-party game called Mekorama VR. It embraces the peculiarity of the controller to navigate. Instead of just viewing the current puzzle — in which you are expected to navigate your little robot character — from a single angle, you can drag and drop the puzzle to rotate it and move it up and down. It felt natural after playing just a short time. While the controller isn’t perfect, it is distinctive and therefore worthy of experimentation on the part of developers. It’s nice to see that happening — especially because the Cardboard never gave users this much control.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, though, you get what you pay for.

Google Cardboard always felt like a joke that became a very inexpensive way to experience VR for the first time. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, a product that we could recommend — if you got your hands on one by chance, there was no reason not to try it. But it didn’t make sense to actually go out and buy it.

The Daydream View is a great buy, but it’s not a must-buy. If you’re serious about VR, go get a real system. If you’re a developer, it makes sense to own this along with a slew of other VR viewers. If you’re a casual user, make sure you have a Daydream-ready phone first, but do wait until there’s enough good content to justify a purchase.

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Why Microsoft cares so much about Xbox Live’s new social features

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 06:00 AM PST

Xbox One S didn't come out in July, but lower prices on the original model helped Microsoft.

In the new era of Xbox Live, you’ll get by with a little help from your friends.

A new update is out for for Xbox One and the Xbox app for Windows 10 that adds several new features, including an easier way for people to find others to play with via the LFG system (LFG standing for “looking for group”). Plus, people can make now make Clubs, player-run places where they can chat and join up with friends and like-minded Xbox users.

GamesBeat interviewed head of platform engineering at Xbox, Mike Ybarra, about the upcoming changes, Microsoft’s focus on social features, and how it plans to moderates these new groups.

Killer Instinct is the first game to get Arena support.

Above: Killer Instinct is the first game to get Arena support.

Image Credit: Microsoft

GamesBeat: Clubs and Looking For Group are out now, but the tournament-based Arena system is coming out a bit later, right?

Mike Ybarra: Yeah, that's right. Arena will stay in preview for a while. We have some great tournaments for Killer Instinct that will go online. We're just getting a bit more fine-tuning, a bit more time on it. It's one of the features that's among the highest growth areas in esports, in terms of developer and consumer interest. We're very excited about what that's going to bring.

GamesBeat: These are also social features. Sometimes these fall updates are more about the interface. Why such a strong push for the social aspect this time?

Ybarra: When we prioritize features, we look at our user voice feedback, which is a general site where anybody can go up and say, "Here's a feature I think is important and would make Xbox better." We look at that pretty closely. There are times where we focus on UI elements because the feedback says it's a little slow, or it's a little too complicated to get into a party, or people want a brand new feature. This cycle — it's a good conclusion to say that we wanted to focus on a lot of the top feedback around bringing people together on Xbox Live, making it easier to find friends, making it more inviting to play with people that have the same likes I have.

That's where you see a lot of the focus in this cycle. In addition to that, there's a lot of interest in ensuring that Xbox Live goes where people go. We have big investments in our mobile app and the Xbox app on Windows 10, making sure those features show up and light up anywhere that people are. They can check on their status, reply to their friends, and be part of that social gaming network at any time of the day. There's a lot of social features here, but it's all based on a consistent prioritization around user feedback and what the fans are asking us for.

GamesBeat: I've seen places for games — Destiny is a big example — where people have been setting up their own sites to find groups. Is there a desire to keep people within the Xbox infrastructure while they're doing these sorts of things?

Ybarra: I wouldn't say that exactly. I love giving gamers choice to go do things any way they want to. They should have fun gaming wherever they game. It's true that there's a couple of websites you can use to get into — you used Destiny as an example, to get into Destiny games. On the console there wasn't really an easy solution to that. A lot of people love those apps because they can go do the weekly Nightfall or strike or raid or whatever they want with new people they meet. We just wanted to make it easier for people to be able to do that on their console or their PC or their phone at any time. A lot of what you see on the websites are what we call "now moment items." I want to do a strike right now in Destiny. I need two more people, level 30 or higher. Must have a microphone. That type of scenario.

With our tech we're allowing you to set it up to seven days in advance, so if you want to do something on Saturday and today's Tuesday you can set it up. People on Xbox Live will accept it. You can approve them going into the group. It's a bit more trustworthy in the sense that the number of people who drop out or don't show up is far less, because you know they're already on Xbox Live. They're playing your game. They've probably looked at your profile. To me it's all about giving gamers the choices they want and making it as easy as possible. We don't want people to have to bring up websites, find websites for different games. We bring that all together in one place across our phone app, the Windows 10 app, and the console.

There's gotta be someone who wants to play me somewhere.

Above: There’s gotta be someone who wants to play me somewhere.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: As I get older, it’s harder to find time to play with people. I think when we’re younger, we would just get on and your friends would be available and you'd play with them. But as the demographic grows up we need to schedule our game time.

Ybarra: I think it's a little different from that. Games have evolved from largely single-player experiences to team experiences. Working together as part of a group to accomplish a task. As games evolve, Xbox Live has to evolve to make sure that we're in front of what customers and game developers expect. To use your example, Destiny's great. There's weekly Nightfall, weekly raids, strikes that reset every single week. You want to find people to do that every week. As games evolve and go forward, across all our devices we want to make sure our platform evolves and enables creators to build these experiences and give fans what they need.

GamesBeat: Clubs are similar, except it's a way for people to join a group and be able to chat with each other that's centered around a shared interest, right?

Ybarra: We designed clubs with a few things in mind. One of them was, we want Xbox Live to be a great place for every type of gamer. I have a 12-year-old son and he has a club that's just his school friends. I know it's completely safe. He can share and chat and do whatever he wants in that club. He has a great time.

I have several clubs for old gamers I went to college with where we hang out. It's about discovering people that have the same values and goals in gaming that you have, but it's also about bringing some of the core clans and guilds that exist over to Xbox Live in a meaningful way for them, so they can easily communicate – either when they're in front of their consoles or when they're on their phone or PC. I think of it as more of a discovery of people that share similar interests and a way to have a safe place to play together and create some awesome gaming moments.

GamesBeat: Are clubs going to be moderated by Microsoft at all, or are the people who start the clubs self-moderating there?

Ybarra: It's a mix of both. When you create a club there's a code of conduct that you accept. Of course, we have teams watching that. At the same time, we want to empower the people that create and moderate the club to have the freedom to do so. Obviously there's the owner of a club. That person controls a whole set of settings on privacy and who can do what within the club that they can manage. There are admins of the club who can invite people and kick people. There's a set of tools that not just one person, but a set of people defined by the owner of the club, can use to help manage the conduct in the club and make sure that it's a great place for people.

GamesBeat: Both of these features have been available in the preview program for a bit. What has the feedback been like? Have you made any changes based on feedback?

Ybarra: We're very excited to get this out of preview and into everybody's hands. It's been a great feedback process we went through and we're super happy with where we are today. All the features we went through in preview, I can't think of one where we didn't receive feedback that caused some change. Some of those changes were minor – maybe the way the UI works – up to questions of whether something was really designed correctly. Several features, we didn't release them. We went back to the drawing board because of feedback. I love the preview audience we have. They give us invaluable feedback. They're some of our most passionate fans. Their feedback impacts the product across the board, whatever it is we do.

You can make a group with fellow Gears of War 4 fans.

Above: You can make a group with fellow Gears of War 4 fans.

Image Credit: Microsoft

GamesBeat: Achievements are seeing some changes in the update. Why mess with something that’s been relatively unchanged since the launch of the Xbox 360?

Ybarra: One of the big asks we see from fans — achievements is something that's a staple of Xbox Live. There's a set of folks out there who love that score and want to drive that score as high as possible. From a game developer's standpoint, it's their way of patting the user on the back when they do something great in the game. We'll introduce achievement rarity later this week when we launch this update to everyone. We wanted to give a special pat on the back to people who achieve something that less than 10 percent of the people playing a title accomplish. To keep going down the Destiny path, if you beat the latest raid in the latest expansion, probably less than percent of players achieve that.

So when you do that and get the achievement, it's a brand-new animation and a brand-new sound in all the UIs – mobile, Windows 10, Xbox. They all show a diamond next to it to recognize the fact that you're one of the 10 percent to achieve that. At the same time, for all achievements, you'll be able to see what percentage of the Xbox Live community that's played the game received the achievement. In Destiny you get one that's almost mandatory, right out of the gate, and you'll see that 85 percent or whatever it is have achieved that. There's a rarity element to it, and then there's the overall percentage element, which has been awesome.

The feedback we have is very positive. You have a goal of getting rare achievements now. People are becoming rare achievement hunters, spending hours trying to get the achievements nobody else has. It's a great feature that's been widely accepted.

GamesBeat: Why change Achievements now?

Ybarra: It's something fans have asked for for a while. We wanted to think about how to implement this in the right way. There are lots of feedback channels and processes we go through. From a feature prioritization standpoint and a user feedback point of view, it was high. We felt like now was a great time to deliver that and give people a little more insight into the number of achievements their fellow gamers are doing across titles.

GamesBeat: Clubs are on both Xbox One and Windows 10, correct?

MS: Yeah, that's right. A lot of users right now are logging in to Xbox Live on their mobile devices. We're very proud of the Xbox app that we have. The engagement is very high. It's our commitment to make sure that when new features come out, users can engage with those anywhere they are. If they're on the bus, on the way home, they can check in on their clubs. They can chat in their club chat. They can look at their latest achievements. They can reply to group messaging on their phone. If they're at their PC, at school or work, they can check in really fast. And of course, if they're in front of the console, they can do the same. That element of consistency is important to us.

GamesBeat: You said Arena is going in testing a bit longer. What info do you want to get out of that longer testing period? What are you looking to tweak?

MS: It's a couple of things. One, developer feedback on Arena. Competitive play, which is inclusive of esports, is one of the hottest areas in a lot of the latest games and future games coming out. Developers are spending a lot of time saying, "I want to figure out how our title engages with that." It increases the amount of time people play in their games. It's healthy for game developers and the titles they make. So we're having a lot of discussions with developers about what that means and how we differentiate ourselves in a meaningful way that provides value to them. Then, from a consumer standpoint, there's a whole host of feedback as far as the experience.

Today, to effectively compete and play in competitive games, it's pretty difficult. There are these large events, but that's .001 percent of the population that actually particulates in those events. A lot of people watch, which is very cool — more people watching and playing is a trend we see too. But we want to make sure that anybody has a chance to play in Arena. There's some work we want to do from an experience point of view to make sure that's super optimized for the broadest set of users on Xbox Live.

Adobe to acquire video ad-tech company TubeMogul for $540 million

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 05:38 AM PST

Adobe company logos are seen in this picture illustration taken in Vienna July 9, 2013.

Adobe has announced plans to acquire ad-tech company TubeMogul in a deal worth more than $500 million.

Founded in 2006, TubeMogul serves up a programmatic platform that lets agencies and brands “plan, buy, measure, and optimize” their video advertising spend across all platforms. The company went public on the NASDAQ back in 2014, but its shares have plummeted from its $22 peak in December 2014 to less than $8 this week, which was roughly the same as its IPO price.

As an incentive to get shareholders to approve the deal, Adobe is offering $14 per share, a price that TubeMogul’s stock hasn’t seen since April this year. The total value of the deal is around $540 million, net of cash and debt.

In terms of how Adobe will use TubeMogul, well, it says that the acquisition will help it transform Adobe Marketing Cloud into the “first end-to-end independent advertising and data management solution that spans TV and digital formats,” according to a statement.

“Whether it's episodic TV, indie films, or Hollywood blockbusters, video consumption is exploding across every device, and brands are following those eyeballs,” explained Brad Rencher, executive vice president and general manager of digital marketing at Adobe. “With the acquisition of TubeMogul, Adobe will give customers a 'one-stop shop' for video advertising, providing even more strategic value for our Adobe Marketing Cloud customers.”

The transaction is expected to close during the first quarter of Adobe's 2017 fiscal year, with TubeMogul CEO Brett Wilson continuing to lead the same team under Adobe’s Digital Marketing umbrella.

Today’s news comes two months after Adobe reported a record $1.46 billion in revenue in its Q3 earnings. It also comes hot on the heels of a major refresh of its Creative Cloud suite of apps, with a particular focus on 3D and virtual reality (VR).

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‘Coming together’: Microsoft’s response to Donald Trump victory echoes many from across the industry

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 05:21 AM PST

Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton

As the dust began to settle on Donald Trump’s momentous election victory, leaders from across the technology industry gave their verdicts, which ranged from despair to defiance to acceptance. Microsoft is the latest company to issue a formal response to the election, with president and chief legal officer Brad Smith noting that “this is a time for the nation to come together.”

It’s clearly not in any company’s interests to criticize the outcome of the election — there is little they or anyone else can do about the result. “Every president-elect deserves our congratulations, best wishes and support for the country as a whole,” said Smith in a blog post. “The peaceful transition of power has been an enduring and vital part of our democracy for over two centuries, and it remains so today. As a company, Microsoft joins many others in congratulating President-elect Donald J. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.”

Smith then outlined four issues that the company believes are key in terms of how the U.S. government will address information technology moving forward.

One was the idea of being more inclusive and addressing the “plight of those who feel left out and left behind” by helping those without a college education use technology to gain new skills and connect with new jobs. Tying in with this, Smith pointed to the need for new labor laws, better benefits, and a “stronger safety net” for those working part-time or working for themselves as part of the so-called gig economy. “While the problem is clear, potential solutions are manifold and more than anything, we need to come together to pursue them,” he said.

Smith also referred to the need to invest in infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, which can be improved with the help of big data analytics. But one of the more telling statements, one that was specific to Trump’s previous musings on immigration, was that more than a third of Microsoft’s engineers have come to the U.S. from almost 157 countries. “We have employees from every race, ethnic background and religion,” said Smith. “If there's a language spoken on the planet, there's a good chance that it's spoken by an employee at Microsoft. And we're committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but the type of inclusive culture that will enable people to do their best work and pursue rewarding careers.”

Smith also addressed the need to strike a “balance” between privacy and safety. “It will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time,” he said. “As this election demonstrated, technology now plays a ubiquitous role in our daily lives. But people will not use technology they do not trust.”

“Coming together”

Technology played a key role in shaping the election — Facebook and Twitter both faced criticism for the way in which misinformation was spread on social media. But Trump hasn't spoken all that much about technology itself, so it’s not clear what his presidency will mean for big players like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. Trump has criticized Amazon in the past over what he called a “huge anti-trust problem,” there are concerns about Trump’s attitude toward surveillance and encryption, and he has also suggested a one-time 10 percent tax on American money held abroad to encourage companies to repatriate earnings held outside the U.S. But the bottom line is that we don’t really know what impact a Trump presidency will have, on the technology industry or on the country as a whole.

Some prominent figures in the technology realm were abrasive and downbeat in their reaction to the election result yesterday, with Hyperloop One cofounder Shervin Pisheva calling for independence for California and Googler and investor Adam Singer noting that the “party is probably over for Silicon Valley,” given that a Trump presidency could lead to a recession. But broadly speaking, there is a common thread emerging across the board: Cohesion and collaboration will get everyone through.

But the notion of “coming together” is a sentiment that was shared by other tech leaders, with Apple CEO Time Cook saying that “the only way to move forward is to move forward together,” and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talking about “finding new ways for all of us to work together.” Elsewhere, AOL’s founder said that “we should accept the result and work together to move the country forward,” and tech investment banker Frank Quattrone added: “We’re a resilient, creative, collaborative nation.”

Regardless of what changes a Trump presidency will herald, companies and citizens have to run with it and fight whatever battles they encounter along the way. “While we all need to do more to support those who haven't moved forward in recent years, we share the conviction that this is a time to bring the entire nation together,” said Smith. “And that means everyone, with an appreciation for the spirit of generosity and mutual respect that has often represented the best of the American spirit.”

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UpLift Brings Installment Payments to Travel With Leading Providers

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 05:05 AM PST

BusinessWire_FeaturedImage

Partnerships with The Mark Travel Corporation and Golden Nugget Make Low-Cost Travel Financing Available to Millions

SUNNYVALE, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–November 10, 2016–

UpLift, Inc., an innovative start-up that brings digital marketing, travel and fintech expertise to major travel brands, today announced strategic partnerships with leading travel providers. With Pay Monthly, UpLift’s new travel financing service, UpLift’s partners can enable travelers to buy now, but pay later through installment payments offered at the industry’s lowest rates. With this influential new marketing capability, travel providers can boost conversion rates, merchandise specific products and increase total trip value.

Strong Support, Promising Market

Financing has long been a common payment option in other categories, from home furnishings to automotive. Through UpLift, major travel brands will now make installment payments available to millions of U.S. consumers. Pay Monthly launch partners include The Mark Travel Corporation — the operator of leading vacation brands such as Southwest Vacations, United Vacations and Funjet Vacations — and Golden Nugget.

UpLift’s Pay Monthly has been optimized for travel’s largest, most demanding customers. Pay Monthly makes it extraordinarily easy for travel brands to offer installment payments to their customers. With UpLift’s Pay Monthly, travel companies convert lookers to bookers.

Pay Monthly is a core element of the UpLift Engine, which helps travel providers to drive substantial improvements in their economics by increasing top line revenue and decreasing transaction costs. With the UpLift Engine, travel providers can expect to reduce credit card transaction costs by seventy basis points and increase revenue by double digits.

“We are all about enhancing our customer’s vacation experience and are excited for our value proposition for consumers to extend deeper into their payment options. This program gives them the ability to realize the vacation of their dreams, and realize it now,” said Ray Snisky, EVP and Chief Commercial Officer at The Mark Travel Corporation. “With UpLift’s Pay Monthly, we can bring an even greater level of value, flexibility and service to all of our clients across our portfolio of brands.”

“UpLift understands the marketing challenges specific to travel providers,” said Rikki Tanenbaum, senior vice president of marketing, Golden Nugget, “and the UpLift Engine was purpose-built for travel companies like ours. With Pay Monthly, we can use financing to boost conversion, upsell, cross-sell, merchandise and drive incremental business. UpLift has reimagined the role of payments for travel providers, and we’re excited to put this vision to work.”

“Travel sellers have long used installment payments as a promotional tool in countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Turkey,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel industry research firm Atmosphere Research Group. “The U.S. is ideally suited for travel financing. In a recent study we conducted, 41% of U.S. travelers expressed an interest in using installment payments for trips that cost $2,000 or more. We believe that in the next 2-5 years, installment payments will become a ‘must have’ feature for all consumer-focused travel sellers – suppliers and intermediaries alike.”

Marketing Focus, Travel Expertise as Key Differentiators

UpLift’s intense focus on making financing a marketing opportunity for travel providers, together with the team’s deep experience in travel, distinguish the company from others focused on generic ecommerce financing.

UpLift CEO and co-founder Brian Barth said, “Our team created one of the most valuable categories in travel, and we know the travel industry like no ordinary fintech company ever could. With Pay Monthly, we’ve reinvented online payments as a marketing tool for major travel brands. Together with our partners, we will expand the entire travel business, making trips possible for millions who otherwise would never have left home.”

UpLift was founded by Brian Barth and Stu Kelly, co-founders of SideStep. SideStep invented the travel metasearch business and was acquired by Kayak in 2007 for $200 million. In 2013, Priceline purchased Kayak for $1.8 billion.

About UpLift:

UpLift brings digital marketing, travel and fintech expertise to major travel brands such as The Mark Travel Corporation – operator of leading vacation brands such as Southwest Vacations, United Vacations and Funjet Vacations – and Golden Nugget. With the UpLift Engine, travel providers can drive substantial improvements in their economics by increasing top line revenue and decreasing transaction costs. The UpLift Engine is built to scale and is easy to implement. Investors include IDG Ventures, PAR Capital and Thayer Ventures. Learn more at www.uplift.com.

UpLift, Inc.
Phil Carpenter, 650-787-5444
pcarpenter@uplift.com

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Glint closes $37 million round to help companies garner real-time employee feedback

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 04:31 AM PST

From Glint's website

Glint, a cloud-based platform that gives companies insight into employee satisfaction and sentiment, has raised a fresh $10 million round of funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners. This closes the company’s series C round at $37 million, having announced a $27 million cash injection just six weeks ago.

Founded in 2013 and launched two years later, Redwood City, California-based Glint uses artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics to determine whether employees are happy, and whether their goals align with that of the company. But the power of Glint’s platform lies in the fact that it promises current, up-to-date data.

Many companies use questionnaires and feedback forms already, but if the data is weeks or months old, then its value is diminished. With Glint, employees can be asked standard “proven” questions anonymously in real time, while companies can also tailor the questions.

Glint

Above: Glint

Glint has raised a total of $60 million since its inception, and its latest dollar infusion will be used to help it expedite its growth, with plans to have one million employees using its platform by next year.

“Because Glint has the ability to surface what workers need and enable managers on a personal level, they no longer feel like a cog in the wheel,” said Bessemer Venture Partners partner Byron Deeter. “Through Glint’s AI-driven technology, Glint customer organizations have a unique view into the complex needs of their workforce. This visibility allows them to solve problems and create real impact on employee engagement and retention, improving business results. This is particularly potent in large, sophisticated operations like United Airlines, Sky Media, and Intuit, many of whom have recently joined Glint’s growing roster of customers.”

While not the sexiest subject on paper, human resources (HR) has emerged as a key industry for investment in recent times. Zenefits has raised more than $500 million, the bulk of which came in a single round last year, for its benefits, payroll, and HR platform, valuing the company at more than $4 billion. Elsewhere, Namely recently closed a $30 million round to target mid-market companies, while Hireology nabbed $12 million.

Other, smaller startups have emerged in the HR realm too, including a poll-making bot called Polly that recently raised a $1.2 million round and CharlieHR, which raised a $1.4 million round to target small businesses with its HR platform.

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RiskIQ raises $30.5 million to use machine learning to assess security risks

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 04:30 AM PST

RiskIQ is a digital risk management firm.

RiskIQ, a startup with a new kind of security technology, has raised $30.5 million in a third round of funding.

Georgian Partners led the round, with participation from existing investors Summit Partners, Battery Ventures, and MassMutual Ventures. RiskIQ notes that threats outside the firewall are vast and dynamic, so the company provides clients with access to the widest range of security intelligence and applications necessary to understand exposures and how to take action. RiskIQ is one of many companies currently applying machine learning to security.

The San Francisco-based company will use this capital to expand its platform, sales, and digital risk applications. Similar to Google, RiskIQ applies machine learning and data science to continuously improve platform intelligence and broaden functionality by leveraging big data, customer usage, and attack activity. The company claims it can enable enterprises to efficiently defend their digital attack surface, pinpoint exposures across their business, and dynamically mitigate cyber threats across web, mobile, and social.

Since 2009, RiskIQ has enabled security staff to reduce the time needed to understand new threats, speed up investigations, and more effectively prevent and remediate incidents. The company says it helps protect some of the largest and most trusted names in financial services, technology, retail, government, healthcare, media, and manufacturing around the world.

RiskIQ uses machine learning to analyze a client's security risks.

Above: RiskIQ uses machine learning to analyze a client’s security risks.

Image Credit: RiskIQ

Customers include Facebook, DocuSign, Under Armour, Lagardére, and Publishers Clearing House. RiskIQ was recently named a leader for Digital Risk Monitoring and received the highest score for the current offering category in The Forrester Wave: Digital Risk Monitoring, Q3 2016. In the first half of 2016, the company reported year-over-year bookings growth of 80 percent.

"We are pleased to have Georgian Partners as part of our strong investment and advisory team. Georgian, like RiskIQ, was founded by entrepreneurs. We share similar business values and philosophies," said Lou Manousos, CEO and cofounder of RiskIQ, in a statement. "They know what it takes to develop a business into a customer-focused, long-lasting, and profitable company — values that our entire board of directors shares."

RiskIQ says it has also penetrated European and Asian markets. It has more than 200 enterprise customers, over 13,000 security analysts using the RiskIQ platform, and hundreds of users subscribing to the RiskIQ PassiveTotal digital threat investigation tool each week.

“RiskIQ has already designed the platform to dominate the Digital Risk Management market, and we are excited to contribute to their success," said Georgian Partners’ Steve Leightell, who will join the RiskIQ board, in a statement.

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Job Today raises $20 million to bring its 24-hour recruitment platform to the U.S.

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 03:04 AM PST

Job Today

Job Today, a young European recruitment startup that specializes in matching candidates with employers within a 24-hour period, has raised $20 million in a funding round led by Flint Capital, with participation from Accel Partners, Mangrove Capital, Felix Capital, Astremedia (Spain), Channel 4 (U.K.), and German Media Pool VC (Germany).

Job Today

Above: Job Today

Founded out of Luxembourg in 2015, Job Today raised its first tranche of funding back in January this year, a $10 million round led by Accel. At the time, Polina Montano, cofounder and COO of Job Today, told VentureBeat that the U.S. was on the company’s radar for launch in 2016, but this has yet to materialize. For now, Job Today is limited to Spain and the U.K., where the service is currently being rolled out to a number of cities across the country. With $20 million more in the bag, however, it said that it is now in a “strong position” to expand into the U.S. and across Europe.

As with many new services, Job Today is adopting a mobile-first approach. Available on Android and iOS, the app is aimed primarily at businesses operating in the retail, hospitality, and service industries, and it claims to have attracted two million candidates and 150,000 businesses, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Holiday Inn. The company claims that it processes “close to one million” job applications every week.

Rather than relying on CVs, job-seekers create a profile in a few minutes, then apply for advertised positions in a single tap. Additionally, there is a built-in messaging feature to facilitate real-time conversations between employers and applicants. It’s kind of like what you’d get if you merged Monster with Hotel Tonight and WhatsApp — a recruitment platform that’s all about the here-and-now, built on a backbone of one-to-one communication.

“We understand what it takes to get a job, because we have been there ourselves,” said Eugene Mizin, Job Today’s cofounder and CEO. “We believe that as someone looking for a job, you’re better off speaking with a prospective employer directly, and that’s exactly what Job Today enables you to do in a matter of minutes.”

Recruitment platforms have garnered significant investment throughout 2016. Just yesterday, Hired added $30 million to its coffers, closing off its Series C round at $70 million. Last month, Jobbio raised $5.6 million to connect employers with job seekers, while Vettery raised $9 million to replace headhunters. Elsewhere, The Muse closed a $16 million round to grow its recruitment service for millennials, Spain-based Jobandtalent grabbed $42 million, and Handshake raised $10.5 million to help college students search for jobs and internships.

“Job Today is solving a vital problem for millions of people, matching job-seekers with employers in 24 hours,” said Andrew Gershfeld, partner at Flint Capital. “We’re thrilled to partner with Job Today and to support the company’s ambitious vision.”

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Mingle Games’ Calming Lia could help you fall asleep

Posted: 10 Nov 2016 12:01 AM PST

Mingle Games' Calming Lia can help you sleep.

Mingle Games has unveiled a game that could help you get better quality sleep. Calming Lia is a night-time “match-3” puzzle game for iOS devices.

The Prague, Czech Republic-based indie game studio created Calming Lia to reduce the negative effect of playing games before going to sleep.

The free-to-play mobile puzzle-adventure game features hand-drawn art and charming, vivid character animations. Intended specifically for night play and encouraging the use of the iOS Night Shift mode, Calming Lia gives players a variety of quests and in-game elements that make each level a fun, challenging puzzle to solve.

The story of Calming Lia focuses on Lia, an imaginative young lady who lives in the world, dreaming of a dreamland when she sleeps, and Bao, a friendly bear with endearing raccoon-like features who represents Lia's courage and well-being throughout her adventures.

Mingle Games' Calming Lia has blue tints that make you drowsy.

Above: Mingle Games’ Calming Lia has blue tints that make you drowsy.

Image Credit: Mingle Games

"The main inspiration for developing this game comes from my daughter's frequent nightmares,” said Vladislav Spevak, the managing director at Mingle Games, in a statement. "It was important to me to create a game that can be played at night and help calm the brain so that the player can have a good night's sleep. Calming Lia is designed to deliver a compelling yet restful experience as you get ready to go to bed."

Players will travel the world, from the depths of magical woods to the peaks of mountains, and farther on and into the mysterious land of dreams. By using unique match-3 mechanics to release positive emotions and fend off the "Boogie Man" and his nightmarish cohorts (spiders, wolves, monsters, etc.), players can improve Lia's abilities to face her fears and remain calm so she can freely explore her imagination.

“Night gaming" is a term the company uses for describing certain features that reduce the negative effect of playing games before sleep and also help or enhance the ability to fall asleep, thus improving the quality and length of players’ sleep.

The three important features of night gaming featured in Calming Lia include soothing music, played at about 60 beats per minute. That pace has a proven impact on the body, mind, and a person's emotions. It slows down the brain’s overactive thought process, enabling the player to relax and get rid of tensions.

It also has sleep-friendly colors. The company says there is significant evidence proving that blue light emitted by all kinds of electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, TV screens, laptops, and others can have a profound effect on our sleep.

Calming Lia features a special "night mode" option in the game menu that automatically suggests switching on a special filter that reduces the blue light at a certain time to make sure any kind of gameplay experience will not have a negative effect.

And the game features distraction. A busy mind is a well-known enemy of sleep. Minds don’t know such things as a perfect time for worries or imagination, the company says. Wandering imaginations or minds occupied with worries just before bedtime are quite common due to more time to think. Sleep experts recommend doing something that will distract the mind from stress and overactive thought processes. Solving challenging puzzles, such as the ones in Calming Lia, can be one of them.

Spevak founded the company in Prague in 2012. It has funding from LRJ Capital. It previously launched Dark Lands, which has had more than 6 million downloads to date and still gets more than 6,000 downloads per day.

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PayPal for iOS now lets you send and request money through Siri

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 10:00 PM PST

Telling Siri to send money through PayPal.

Publicly traded online payment company PayPal today is announcing that its app for devices running iOS 10 now lets users tell the built-in Siri virtual assistant to send or ask other people for money through PayPal.

“Simply say, ‘Hey Siri, send Bill $50 using PayPal.’ Voila!” Meron Colbeci, senior director of core consumer products at PayPal, wrote in a blog post.

PayPal’s Siri support is available in 30 countries, Colbeci wrote: Australia, Austria, Belgium (French and Dutch), Brazil, Canada (English and French), China, Denmark, Finland (Finnish), France, Germany, Hong Kong (Cantonese), India, Israel (Hebrew), Italy, Japan, Malaysia (Malay), Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia (Arabic), Singapore (English), Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (French, German, and Italian), Thailand, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates (Arabic), and United States.

This capability is possible because Apple has exposed the SiriKit tooling for developers building for iOS 10. As a result, Siri can do things inside third-party applications, not just Apple’s own apps. Payments are one of six types of functions that SiriKit can currently support, Apple said in June, and PayPal is one of the first global payment providers to integrate with Siri, a spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

PayPal subsidiary Venmo added Siri support in September, as did competitor Square Cash. Other apps that currently integrate with Siri include Facebook, LinkedIn, Lyft, Pinterest, Skype, Telegram, Uber, and WhatsApp.  Facebook Messenger offers payments, but Siri doesn’t currently support it.

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Zipline raises $25 million to deliver blood, vaccines, and medicines by automated drone

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 09:01 PM PST

Zipline

Drone delivery startup Zipline has closed a $25 million series B round of funding led by Visionnaire Ventures, with participation from Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz.

Founded out of San Francisco in 2011, Zipline is a robotics company that builds autonomous drones designed to deliver vaccines, medicine, or blood on request from health workers operating in hard-to-reach areas. Just last month, Rwanda launched what is considered the world’s first commercial national drone service, with Zipline soon making up to 150 flights each day, delivering blood to 21 transfusion facilities around the country using routes that are pre-programmed into the vehicle.

Zipline has entered into an international partnership with UPS, Gavi, and the Vaccine Alliance to cover medicines and vaccines too, and a spokesperson has confirmed to VentureBeat that the company has signed a bunch of additional drone delivery contracts that it has yet to announce.

The company has also revealed plans to initiate drone deliveries in the U.S. within the next six months, in partnership with the White House and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Indeed, the FAA recently introduced new drone regulations designed to “harness new innovations safely, to spur job growth, advance critical scientific research, and save lives,” it said. The rules are targeted at unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds carrying out “non-hobbyist operations.”

A number of big-name companies such as UPS, Fedex, and Amazon are known to be testing the waters ahead of introducing commercial drone delivery services of their own, and the Obama administration estimates that the industry could be worth some $82 billion by 2025. In the past few months alone, a number of drone-focused companies have attracted investment, including Saildrone, which grabbed $14 million for seafaring drones that capture ocean data. Elsewhere, DroneDeploy closed a $20 million round for its software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform for commercial drone operators, Prenav drew in $6.5 million to help companies inspect their properties using automated drones, and PrecisionHawk nabbed an $18 million round for its land-surveying drones.

Today’s news takes Zipline’s total money raised past the $40 million mark, and the company has some notable investors on board already, including Google Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Visionnaire Ventures, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, and Yahoo founder Jerry Yang.

“Zipline is the best possible combination of social impact and business impact. It’s a smart investment that will help save lives,” said Susan Cho, Visionnaire Ventures cofounder and managing partner. “We look forward to what the future holds for Zipline and the countless people who can benefit from the company's lifesaving technology.”

The company says it will use its new funds to expand its drone delivery service across Africa and other markets globally. “The inability to deliver life-saving medicines to the people who need them the most causes millions of preventable deaths each year,” added Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo. “Zipline will help solve that problem once and for all. We're building an instant delivery system for the world, allowing medicines and other products to be delivered on-demand and at low cost, anywhere. This new funding will help make that vision possible much sooner.”

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Trump election ignites fears over U.S. encryption, surveillance policy

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 07:30 PM PST

Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (By Dustin Volz and Joseph Menn, Reuters) – Donald Trump’s surprise election victory has alarmed technology companies and civil libertarians fearful that a self-described “law and order” president will attempt to expand surveillance programs and rejoin a long-running battle over government access to encrypted information.

Trump’s campaign featured numerous broadsides against the tech sector, including calls for closing off parts of the internet to limit militant Islamist propaganda and urging a boycott of Apple products over the company’s refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone associated with last year's San Bernardino, California shootings.

Trump has also threatened antitrust action against Amazon and demanded that tech companies such as Apple build their products in the United States.

The battle over encryption, which dates to the 1990s, could heat up quickly with Trump’s win and the reelection of Republican Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.

Burr spearheaded a failed effort last year to pass legislation requiring that companies build “back doors” into their products that would allow government agents to bypass encryption and other forms of data protection.

Such requirements are fiercely opposed by the tech industry, which argues that back doors weaken security for everyone and that the government has no business mandating tech product design.

"I imagine (Trump) is going to be a guy who is probably going to mandate back doors," said Hank Thomas, chief operating officer at Strategic Cyber Ventures and a veteran of the National Security Agency. "I don't think he's ultimately going to be a friend to privacy, and the fearful side of me says he will get intelligence agencies more involved in domestic law enforcement."

Jan Koum, co-founder of the WhatsApp messaging service, owned by Facebook, told Reuters that WhatsApp would be “extremely vocal” against any such effort, as it “would damage the reputation of American companies in the global arena.”

WhatsApp rolled out encrypted messages and phone calls on the service earlier this year.

Burr will likely reintroduce his encryption legislation next year, this time with White House support, according to a technology company staffer who works on policy issues and spoke on condition his company not be named.

Trump will enjoy Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. That one-party dominance makes efforts to enact any legislation in Washington more likely, though a broad coalition of Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans in the House of Representatives has repeatedly acted as a bulwark against efforts to expand surveillance or undermine digital security.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about the President-elect’s encryption or surveillance policies.

‘Now there is a reckoning’

Little is known about who is advising Trump on technology policy, but he is expected to lean heavily on former Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn. He could be tapped as Director of National Intelligence or head of the NSA, said Thomas, who knows Flynn.

Former Republican Congressman Mike Rogers and retired lieutenant general Ronald Burgess are part of Trump’s transition team and are focusing on intelligence and security matters, according to a Trump team document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

Trump's ability to expand surveillance operations at the NSA is especially troubling to some privacy advocates because of the level of secrecy that shrouds the programs, said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program.

The President-elect has said that he may want to place some mosques in the U.S. under surveillance and suggested he may want to maintain a national database of Muslims.

A key revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was that few checks and balances were in place to prevent abuses of secret surveillance programs, Goitein said.

"You always have to ask yourself, can you trust the next administration, and the one after that?" she said. "And now there is a reckoning. Are people comfortable with a president Trump that has quite broad powers to conduct surveillance on Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing?"

(Reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington and Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Bill Rigby)

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After Google’s Daydream launch, brands have short window to experiment with VR

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 06:10 PM PST

VR

The demand for virtual reality hardware and content currently outweighs supply, which is a good problem to have when you’re a marketer. But the supply challenges are only temporary. In fact, Google's new Daydream VR device is set to go live tomorrow, paired with a framework that allows Daydream apps to work on some Android phones. Brands and advertisers should use the next short window of time as an opportunity to test creative, understand what works, and get ahead of the curve when it comes to creating content and experiences for a more mature market.

Google Daydream

Above: Google Daydream

Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of US consumers aged 18-54 said they will likely use or purchase VR in the next year, according to a Nielsen study. Another 20 percent said they didn’t plan to try it but then expressed increased interest after learning about the basics. As we enter an era of VR, we still face a number of technological hurdles before we reach mass adoption, but perhaps we are closer than we think.

We've seen the industry gravitate towards a more interactive vs. passive experience for consumers with the success of 3D ad units on mobile devices and 360-degree video. The enormous success of Snapchat Lenses showed us that augmented reality is a precursor of sorts, helping prepare the market for a full-fledged VR experience. According to Snapchat, users spend an average of 20 seconds a day with the Lens feature. During the Super Bowl, Gatorade's Lens had an incredible 165 million views.

Gatorade's Snapchat lens

Above: Gatorade’s Snapchat lens

With the market primed for more interactive and experiential marketing, virtual reality will offer benefits far beyond what traditional advertising can do. Brands can build upon these first forays into AR, 3D mobile, and display ad units to create virtual worlds for consumers that completely transform the ad experience. And with the emergence of lower cost options like Google cardboard, Samsung's Gear VR, or the recently released Xiaomi Mi VR (for an incredible $29), it's now more financially feasible for interested consumers to access content.

Immersive rich media formats perform well beyond traditional measures in that they are 267 percent more effective and 8X more engaging than static banners, according into an eMarketer study.  Interactive VR ad units based in 3D modeling allow for truly user-driven ad experiences, where users have ultimate control over what they see, hear, and interact with in the VR world, giving them even more reason to spend time inside these new and intriguing creative executions.

For brands, this means identifying characteristics of your product or service that can be made interactive and drive storylines from those features and benefits. Marketing has evolved into the art of storytelling, and VR is an opportunity for brands to build experiences around messaging.

Xiaomi Mi VR

Above: Xiaomi Mi VR

Image Credit: www.mi.com

The travel industry has been an early adopter of virtual reality for marketing, and has used immersive video to give jetsetters and vacationers an opportunity to give their beach getaways a test run before booking their tickets. Through the Vegas VR App, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority offers would-be travelers 360 videos and VR experiences to see the sites from their mobile device. And several cruise lines, including Princess and Carnival, let you see the rooms in VR before you commit to booking your tickets.

Vegas VR app

Above: Vegas VR app

Image Credit: www.vrtv.vegas

Virtual reality also lets advertisers tap into what CNN's executive producer Jon Farkas has referred to as the "empathy machine," citing the powerful emotional connection VR can bring. All brands should strive to create meaningful and emotional connections with consumers, as these authentic connections are what build brand loyalty. By engaging all of a consumer’s senses, you can transport them into an entirely different mindset in a way that bridges the divide between the physical and digital worlds.

We're fast approaching the time in advertising where virtual reality is the norm. Brands looking to captivate audiences with highly personalized and experiential campaigns should capitalize on its increasing popularity before widespread adoption.

Paul DeGrote is VP of Creative Services at Amobee.

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Tetris, VR, and escapism: Why we play

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 06:00 PM PST

A metaphor for my life right now.

You have no control. You are a cluster of systems cohabitating a space with the systems of other people and the physical world. The boundless number of variables that determine your second-to-second existence is incomprehensible.

And that’s why we play games.

I don’t like the notion that diving into a video games is about escapism — although, of course, it is just that for me and many others. But what are we escaping from and to when we leave reality behind? What do we find in the turn-based historical strategy game like Civilization VI or a virtual-reality sculpting experience like Tilt Brush? The answer is that we find capacity to control systems that are far too complex to even recognize as tangible forces in our waking lives.

The Tetris metaphor

Think about Tetris, and think about your responsibilities as an adult. In both, you have a set of abilities. You also have something unseen that is relentlessly throwing obstacles at you. You use your abilities to identify, develop strategies, and then deal with those obstacles appropriately, but your work is never done. The challenges never stop, and even as you become more skilled at dealing with them, they start coming faster while you are still dealing with a backlog of problems that you never swept away in the first place.

The difference between your life and Tetris is buried in a quote you might find on its retail packaging if this Russian import were the kind of game that you’d still buy in a store: “It’s easy to understand but difficult to master.” By comparison, life is difficult to understand and impossible to master. Masters of life only exist in our mythology.

But we can simulate what it feels like to “understand and master” in something like Tetris. Games present us with simplified problems and the simplified tools to deal with them. In the end, we still all lose at Tetris, but you need the threat of failure to give you stakes. You need to feel that the control you are practicing matters.

Virtual life

Virtual reality should be the ultimate escape, right? But I think that it doesn’t feel that way for a lot of people specifically because today’s VR experiences are not like Tetris. When people complain that VR still feels like “demos and experiences,” they mean we still haven’t figured out how to marry the best parts of the technology — simulated presence — with the aspects of gaming that enable us to test our capacity to control interactive systems.

But people are still excited about VR because of the potential off apps like Tilt Brush, Google’s three-dimensional painting plaything that turns all of the space around you into a canvas for creation. In that app, the traditional limitations of painting or sculpting have no meaning. Realizing that you can instantly change the color or scale of your work depending on whatever your imagination demands is intoxicating because you are now fully in control and physics can go to hell.

Everyone who uses Tilt Brush experiences that revelation. And for many of us, it makes us wonder how we can test these capabilities against a new set of restrictions. Artists will figure out what VR’s Tetris is — but for now, experimenting with unfettered control is still something wonderful.

The Tetris lesson

But while we wait for VR to evolve, life is still happening around us. And while I think I understand why we play games, it’s more difficult to figure out if that escapism is good for us.

I like to to think that I take something away from me when I put down my games that can aid me in my life. That doesn’t mean figuring out more efficient ways of stacking old junk into a closet because of the hours I put into Tetris — although I’m pretty great at that. Instead, I think it tells me to focus my energy on what little in the world I do have control of. That’s not a new idea, but it’s one that games have helped me come to terms with.

Tetris is to the complexity of existence as “I Will Always Love You” is to the complexity of human emotions. If you want your life to be like Tetris or “I Will Always Love You,” you’re probably not going to fare well in life or relationships.

But if you use Tetris and “I Will Always Love You” to experiment with your capabilities and your feelings in a safe way with the purpose of understanding them, then maybe you can get better at applying them in the impossible-to-master game of life.

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Europe’s VR community has doubled over the past year

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 04:20 PM PST

VR Days Europe attendees in demo mode

Last year there were 50 VR meetup groups in Europe representing 17,000 members. This year these figures have jumped by more than double, with 138 VR meetup groups and 38,000 members. As much as this is exciting news, the frenzied pace of growth has created a VR landscape in Europe that is highly fragmented.

To American eyes, where the cities are as close to one another as the countries are in Europe, and the language remains English regardless how many miles you travel, fragmentation might not seem like a big problem. In Europe, on the other hand, it creates a lot of inefficiencies and missed opportunities that those working in the shaky VR industry would rather avoid.

It's an issue the euVR, an organization that aims at bringing the European VR community together, has been working to solve and is now escalating by rallying event organizers to a timely summit. This past Friday, which was the second evening of the VR Days Europe conference in Amsterdam, they held an invite-only event with 25 heavy-hitting VR community leaders.

It was run by two of its founding members, Dominic Eskofier, head of VR at NVIDIA EMEA and Daniel Doornink, founder and CEO at VRBASE, the VR incubator, accelerator, and studio based in Amsterdam. The countries sitting at the table included Denmark, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, and of course the designated host, the Netherlands.

VR Days Europe event in Amsterdam, Nov. 3-6, 2016

Above: VR Days Europe event in Amsterdam, Nov. 3-6, 2016

Image Credit: Laisa Maria

"It was a very smart move to bring all the event and networking hosts together in one room," Michael Liebe, CEO and founder of Booster Space, head of the International Games Week Berlin, and representing the upcoming VR NOW Con at the meeting, told me.

There was an unusual atmosphere at this particular meetup, with some energetic dynamic at work that balanced tension with a playfulness that one would typically see among peers who have worked together for years. Meanwhile, most of the attendees were strangers to one another despite being central figures in the VR communities of their respective cities or countries of origin.

"Our 'organizer profession' usually means working with other enthusiasts inside your borders but this kind of 'event of the events' puts our work into perspective and gives points of comparison." Olli Sinerma, Chairman and Founder of the Finnish Virtual Reality Association (FIVR), told me.

The mood was light, but the topics hit close to home for everyone in the room. There's a lack of communication, cross-promotion, and collaboration between community leaders. If they can fix that, they can leverage each other's resources and amplify the overall impact of their current projects, initiatives, and events.

Eskofier and Doornink weren't there to lecture but to stir the communal pot amongst a heavy hitting audience of like minds and open the discussion for solutions and strategies they think the euVR would be best equipped to lead.

"In this early-stage industry it is about learning and sharing those learnings to ‘grow the whole pie’ instead of competing for pieces." Doornink told me. "We want to help professionalize the European meetups, unite the organizers, and learn from each other on how to best facilitate the local communities."

One topic discussed was whether organizers would do better to work together when approaching brands for sponsorship support. Some agreed that they could have more impact negotiating at a regional level, while others like Liebe highlighting that many large corporations are typically very fragmented internally, with designated country-based managers that aren't interested in thinking bigger than their own territory.

"The euVR should be a discussion forum that enables sharing of knowledge between all the location-based VR islands we currently have," said Sinerma. "We are all in this together — in the competition of keeping Europe at the forefront of both openness and progressive thinking."

One of the projects euVR has been developing and is currently working to scale out is a database of the VR ecosystem in Europe. It will offer a kind of landscape transparency to better facilitate collaborations, partnerships, and deal flow, not only within the continent but also for the benefit of increasing the interest for foreign investment and partnerships.

"We want to build this into a comprehensive overview of the different players in the space, to help facilitate more collaboration and awareness for how diverse the European ecosystem is," Eskofier said. "So far it has been mostly community-driven, but we are getting sponsorship from Boost VC and Gumi, both major investors in the VR industry, to build it into a more detailed and valuable resource."

Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh is the co-founder at Virtuleap, a sandbox for creative developers to showcase their VR concepts to the world, which is currently running the world's biggest WebVR Hackathon. He is also the Amsterdam Chapter Lead at the VR/AR Association and the European Partner at Edoramedia, a games publisher and digital agency with its headquarters in Dubai.

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Google Home voice control in the connected home is not quite there

Posted: 09 Nov 2016 04:10 PM PST

Google Home.

You are the master of your own domain.

With the Google Home speaker, released on November 4, there’s even some proof. You can speak to Google and issue commands. Turn off the lights. Play a YouTube video. Add milk to your shopping list so your spouse doesn’t think you’re slacking off again.

While the Amazon Echo is a remarkably similar product, Google Home is a standout for many reasons. The Assistant is always listening and can check your Google calendar for you. If you add an item to your grocery list, the Assistant will make a new note in the Google Keep app, no problem. Because there is such a treasure trove of data from parsing searches for users on the web over the past few decades, the Assistant tends to chime in with actual answers to questions — like how far is it to the moon or what is the national debt of the United States.

If you already use Google Music, there’s another perk: Google knows you. I asked the Home speaker to play the song I listen to the most on Google Music (one by The National, obviously). When I randomly asked the Assistant to play any cool song, it picked one by a band called Chase & Status. In other words, it mined my music archive and found a band I would like based on previous listening choices.

I’m impressed by the sound quality of the speaker, too. It has a rich, deep bass — surprising for a speaker the size of a table-top air freshener. I played bands like Iceage (which I’ve used to test many portable speakers over the years), and Home passed with flying colors (literally, when you say OK, Google and the Google colors rotate on the top). For $129, compared to the Echo priced at $180, you might even call Google Home a steal. I highly recommend it for everything, except…

There’s one glaring issue. In terms of full voice control using artificial intelligence and natural language processing, the Google Home has a ways to go. I tested it with Philips Hue and, while it’s definitely cool to tell the Assistant to turn the lights off, the AI sort of ends there. Maybe there’s a way to make this work, but no matter what I said to the speaker it wouldn’t adjust the brightness, switch to another color, or even use one of the stock settings (like Daylight).

With a Google Chromecast, the voice control was also a bit confounding. I asked the Assistant to play the movie The Shallows, which is stored right in my Google Play library, and it told me it doesn’t support video playback. When I asked it to play any song by The Boxer Rebellion on YouTube, it also got confused. I tried a few more times, and eventually one of their music videos did play.

I’m concerned about how much Google Home will let me control the connected home, ironically. It does work with the Nest thermostat for changing the temperature by voice. Also, it works with the SmartThings hub, so conceivably you could connect that product (made by Samsung) to the speaker, then control everything from smart light switches to the Honeywell Lyric thermostat. The possibilities are almost endless there, and I plan to test out the SmartThings gear soon. For now, I can only control the Hue, and only for turning lights on and off. (A Google rep told me the Assistant should be able to change the Hue color and brightness, but it didn’t work for me.)

It’s surprising Google didn’t line up more partners for connected home products, like Vivint or the Lowe’s Iris system. With Alexa, I’m able to lock the door of my house, open the garage door, and control the temperature (a feature Vivint just added), all by voice and with no problems. Alexa can read books, order products, and play trivia games with you. It connects to dozens of connected home products, and Amazon is adding more every month.

That means Google Home is ahead with processing my questions so far, but misses on connected home devices. We’ll see how this all pans out. For now anyway, it’s not something I will use in the home because, if you can only control a few things, it makes more sense to fish out your phone.

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