Netflix’s Binge Interruption

Many would argue that the primary benefit Netflix provides is the ability to binge multiple hours of a show or movies without interruption.

But recently, subscribers have been hit with a major disruption: 10-20 second promotional videos recommending other Netflix titles. They appear between episodes, reminding viewers not to miss a different show on Netflix. Sound familiar?

In response to the outlash Smita Saran, a company spokeswoman, stated “These video promos are actually personalized recommendations for titles we think a member may enjoy watching. In this particular case, we are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster.”

But the people have spoken. Top complaints surround not being able to mute or skip the videos, as well as the fact that they literally pay to not have to watch commercials.

Why It’s Hot: Netflix reported adding only 674,000 subscribers last month when it forecasted it would add 1.2 million. This lack of progress could be prompting Netflix to try new ways to sponsor their content but on the other hand, could push subscribers away with such disruptive features.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/8/17/17722910/netflix-video-promo-feature

Anti-Open-Concept Rooms

Today, about 70% of all US offices are “open concept” meaning no cubicles, no partitions, no private offices. This type of work environment is meant to encourage interaction, collaboration, and equality. But a recent study by Harvard Business School found that face-to-face interaction actually decreased by 72% in open offices, and workers become far less productive. Other results of open-concept offices:

  • An average 15% decline in productivity
  • A 50% increase in the likelihood of getting sick
  • An increase in the number of distractions per hour
  • 60% of employees who work in open floor plan spaces report being dissatisfied with them.

A startup called ROOM is joining the ant-open-office movement by creating easy to assemble rooms within your open concept office. The ROOM One is a $3.5k soundproof booth, scientifically constructed with power outlets and ventilation. Other companies like Wall Box, TalkBox and Zenbooth have announced their similar products. ROOM has already locked in close to 200 clients, including Salesforce, Nike, NASA, and JP Morgan, and a $10m revenue run rate.

Why It’s Hot:

The concept could actually save businesses a ton of money on lost productivity, and be flexible enough for fast-growing companies. BUT open office spaces are reportedly cheaper than traditional office spaces which is partly why they’ve been implemented in the first place. So who is going to pay for your $4,000 phone booth?

Girl Scouts Launch 30 New STEM Badges

Girl Scouts is launching 30 new STEM-related badges including space exploration, cyber security, mechanical engineering & robotics.

The badge rollout announced Tuesday comes at a tense time for Girl Scouts: Boy Scouts of America started accepting girls into its programs last year in a shift toward inclusivity, which the Girl Scouts outwardly opposed.

The new programs, which include programs for multiple age groups, are designed to address a growing science and technology workforce and help girls fill a leadership gap, especially in STEM fields. For girls in 11th and 12th grades, some programs are designed to tackle the college admissions and financial aid application process.

Additionally, Leadership Journeys titled “Think Like a Programmer” and “Think Like an Engineer,” allow girls to pursue their own projects in their communities based on skills they’ve learned. One troop in Colorado developed an app, Daily Daisies, that sends positive messages to high school students’ phones each morning to encourage positive self-esteem during what can be a stressful time of life.

Girl Scouts are learning how to proactively address some of the foremost challenges of today while also building skills that will set them up for a lifetime of leadership.

Why it’s Hot: These new Girl Scout programming will build skills and encourage interest in STEM areas that young girls are not typically encouraged to explore outside Girl Scouting. Sparking interest in these areas from a young age can lead young girls to pursue STEM classes and careers and potentially reduce the gender gap in the most prominent, emerging fields.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/07/17/girl-scouts-launches-new-set-badges-boy-scouts-accepts-girls/788721002/

Hinge employs Nobel prize winning algorithm to find your perfect match

Hinge, the dating app that sets up friends of friends, unveiled a new feature called “Most Compatible” that utilizes a Nobel Prize-winning algorithm.

The algorithm ranks Hinge members by their preferences, pairing each member off with the member they would theoretically prefer most. The ‘Most Compatible’ recommendations appear simultaneously for both parties and disappear after 24 hours. To make these pairings, the app learns a user’s preferences through their liking and passing activity and uses that to pair them with a match whose preferences best align.

The method utilizes the Gale-Shapley algorithm, which was developed 56 years ago to solve ‘the stable marriage problem.’ The algorithm traditionally has individuals rank potential partners by level of preference and cycle through proposals and rejections until each individual is with the partner they prefer most (who isn’t already engaged). In the Hinge app, the algorithm is used to avoid endless browsing and increase success. And it seems to work: the new feature is 8x more likely to result in dates and the company saw a 400% increase in user activity after eliminating the standard ‘swipe’ feature.

Why It’s Hot: Although some users are nervous that their discovery will be limited, this introduction of most compatible matches will only make the process more seamless for users and could possibly become the new standard for dating apps and replace the classic swipe method.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/07/11/hinge-employs-new-algorithm-to-find-your-most-compatible-match-for-you/

Uber’s Beer Goggles Patent

One of the great things about Uber Pool is that it offers people who have had a few too many drinks on a Saturday night a safe and cheap alternative to driving home drunk. On the other hand, a sober ride sharer has to deal with a belligerent passenger who can create an uncomfortable situation for everyone.

Enter Uber’s plan to detect drunken behavior before users get into a Pool. They have applied for a patent for a keystroke system that tracks how a user normally uses the Uber app through AI; how often they make typos, how precisely they click on buttons, how often they drop their phone, their normal walking speed, etc. The algorithm will track changes in these factors along with where and when the ride was requested which then may result in notifying the driver that the passenger may have been drinking. Depending on their level of intoxication, they may be prevented from joining a Pool or could match with drivers trained to handle people in this state.

Why it’s Hot: There’s two obvious issues that could result. 1.) This technology will motivate drivers who don’t want their car ruined to decline drunk passengers, possibly resulting in people driving home drunk instead. 2.) Another, more disturbing possibility, are drivers who would use this information as a draw rather than a deterrent. A common theme in many of Uber driver’s past assault cases have been the passengers level of inebriation. This feature could essentially allow drivers to scan neighborhoods for passengers in a drunken state for this exact purpose.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/6/8/17441554/uber-drunk-passenger-ai

Ikea: People and Planet Positive

In attempts to reduce their carbon footprint, Ikea has announced it will no longer use plastic bags, straws or other single-use plastics, with a goal of phasing these items out completely by 2020. The move is part of an initiative by the furniture giant to become “people and planet positive by 2030,” which will also involve the introduction of affordable home solar products.

Ikea said plastic straws, plates, cups, freezer bags, bin bags, and plastic-coated paper plates and cups would all be phased out and where possible replaced by alternatives. It has invested in a plastics recycling plant to help push the plan forward.

Ikea’s sustainability manager is aiming to design all products “from the very beginning to be repurposed, repaired, reused, resold and recycled.” They also plan to implement more plant-based food options in its eatery, like a vegetarian hot dog, which will be available starting in August. They will be offering products such as a tap nozzle that could save more than 90% of water used and solar panels in 29 markets.

Why it’s Hot:

Ikea’s decision to remove single-use plastic products from all stores is a major step towards influencer big retailers and corporations to follow suit and reduce the amount of throwaway plastic on their shelves. Other brands like Adidas, Dell and Nestle have launched similar movements to combat plastic waste and promote sustainability. Adidas has released a line of shoes made from upcycled plastic waste intercepted before reaching the ocean. Dell is repurposing plastic ocean waste for electronic packaging. And Nestle plans to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025. The EU has even proposed banning plastic products altogether and although come US cities have taken action on plastic, the effort has been less impressive in the US.

Source: https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/ikea-will-no-longer-use-plastic-bags-or-straws/

Farm-in-a-Box

If you’ve been by Lafayette and Houston in the past few weeks, you may have noticeda shipping container with glowing purple LED lights parked on the sidewalk. That shipping container, it turns out, contains a hydroponic farming system capable of producing between two to four tons of produce each year.

Freight Farms calls this a Leafy Green Machine, which “is capable of growing lettuces, herbs, and hearty greens at commercial scale in any climate or location.” Produce can be grown year-round, using less than five gallons of water a day. Plants are grown in liquid nutrients rather than in soil and leftover water gets recirculated resulting in lower water usage. LED lamps provide the plants with the right amount of light and can even affect how the plant looks and tastes. Even more, the produce is more nutrient dense than fruits and vegetables delivered from another location which can lose up to 45 percent of its nutritional value during transport.

Freight Farms is one of many companies beginning to sell farms-in-a-box to hopeful growers. Local Roots, Modular Farms, and Growtainer are a few of the other major players in the space. Their buyers are not just from urban environments like NYC, a farmer in Montana purchased one so she could grow fresh food year round despite the harsh winters. Also in the Arctic, these farming systems are providing fresh produce in frigid climates while avoiding shipments from far away.

The problem is that these farms are quite an expensive investment which doesn’t always pay off. Viraj Puri, CEO of Brooklyn based urban farming company, predicts that these shipping container farms would be more of a complement to traditional farms rather than a replacement since not all fruits and veggies can easily grow in shipping container system.

 

Why it’s Hot: Freight Farms says these innovations “could also be applied to other industries in need of a stable food supply, such as disaster relief, military bases, mining, and offshore industries.” And with a projected 2.4 billion more mouths to feed by 2050, this alternative source of fresh produce is a compelling prospect.

 

Source: http://theweek.com/articles/770526/revolution-farming

Freshman Dropout Predictions

Have you ever wondered if spending more time in the library actually equates to better academic performance? The University of Arizona is tracking freshman students’ ID card swipes to anticipate which students are more likely to drop out.

The new ID card tracking system keeps a record of how often students interact in social settings on campus (like use the campus rec center), what they buy to eat, and their academic performance. According to the University, the data allows them to predict within a freshman’s first 4 weeks if they will return as a sophomore and eventually graduate.

Based on the data, the university identifies a list of freshman in danger of dropping out and shares it with the students’ advisors every quarter, who do their best to intervene. According to the article, students with shrinking social circles and a lack of a routine might be more likely to drop out.

The efforts have been pretty successful so far. After three years of collecting freshman data, their predictions have been 73% accurate. Last year, the school’s retention rate rose to 86.5% (almost 10% above the national average).

“We think by doing these interventions by the 12th week, which is when students make up their mind, you’re sort of doing what Amazon does—delivering items you didn’t order but will be ordering in the future,” says Sudha Ram, a professor of management information systems who directs the initiative.

Like any predictive technology, some major ethical concerns about privacy arose. It could be argued that this level of analyzing students’ social interaction data, which includes timestamps and locations, potentially violates students’ privacy. Still, algorithms can sometimes be wrong and biased. Ram admits, “We live in an era where you shouldn’t be generalizing about ‘groups of people. You should be personalizing solutions at the individual level.” She calls the data she’s analyzed “just a signal.”

Why It’s Hot: This initiative is using predictive technology in a much more meaningful way than say, suggesting what products you might also like to buy on Amazon. If this machine learning tool can identify behaviors that may lead a student to drop out, who’s to say it couldn’t be developed further to signify behaviors that lead students to attempt suicide or fall into depression? If possible, many students could receive help from advisors or family members who were prompted by the system.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/12/17109224/university-of-arizona-tracking-smartchips-student-ids-privacy-drop-out

Apple Watch Data Could Solve a Murder

A woman in Australia has been charged with the murder of her mother-in-law after data collected from the victim’s Apple Watch proved her depiction of the events wrong. The watch outlined a timeline of the victim’s demise, giving prosecutors a look into the woman’s last moments.

Caroline Nilsson told authorities that a group of men invaded her home, tied her up, and killed her mother-in-law. She claimed the act took a total of 20 minutes. The watch’s heart rate data showed a spike in activity followed by an abrupt slowdown on the day of the murder, limiting the timing of the events to a 7-minute window, meaning Caroline is either lying, or terrible at telling time.

The trial is set to continue in June, when it will be decided if the Apple Watch data will be accepted as evidence. Caroline has continued to deny the allegations.

Why It’s Hot:

This is actually the second instance this year where Apple Health data was used as evidence in a murder trial. In Germany, a third-party company examined the data to re-create the murderous activities the accused man had participated in through his movements. As more situations like these occur, the debate over ethical surveillance data is bound to heat up. The creators and distributors of software will face a complex question of when and where they should have to hand over their data.

Source: https://www.digitaltrends.com/wearables/apple-watch-health-data-murder-trial/

Swab & Swipe

A Houston Texas-based dating startup called Pheramor says you can find the perfect match through your DNA (for $19.99 plus a $10/month subscription). The app, which is described as a hybrid between Tinder and 23andMe, is based around the concept that human attraction can be decoded through pheromones, similar to animals. In addition to the 11 “attraction genes” Pheramor uses to suss out biological compatibility, the company also encourages users to connect its app with all their social media profiles, to be data-mined for personality traits and mutual interests.

Pheramor will ship you a kit to swab your cheeks, which you then send back for sequencing. The company will combine that information with personality traits and interests gleaned from your profile to populate your app with a carousel of genetically and socially optimized potential mates in your area. To discourage mindless swiping, each match shows up as a blurred photo with a score of your compatibility, between 0 and 100.

The question is: do human pheromones actually exist? Dr. Richard Doty, the director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania medical center, “The reality is that there’s no scientific evidence for something called a pheromone.”

In a few months the company will roll out a new feature called Second Date, which will track users locations and know if they meet up with one of their matches. The app will then push out a survey to see how the date went. If both parties answer positively, it will suggest that you go out again. The feature will also let Pheramor know if you liked that sort of person, so it can serve you more profiles of similar folks.

Why It’s Hot:

  • Although the DNA feature comes across as the most intriguing quality of the app, the stand out is really the technology will autopopulate your profile based on all your likes, posts and hashtags on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It will even help you choose the most statistically successful kinds of selfies.
  • The privacy policy may be a concern for some, but the actual usage of the Second Date feature is extremely useful and allows the app to continue to improve. Additionally, they are selling data to a large cancer registry. Those same immune genes purportedly responsible for attraction also determine whether or not someone can be a blood stem cell donor for people suffering from disorders like leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell disease. Users can consent to be a part of the registry and fight cancer while finding love!

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/with-this-dna-dating-app-you-swab-then-swipe-for-love/

Mini-Fridge Satellite

Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced they’re leading an $13.5m investment in Astranis, a startup focused on building commercial telecommunications satellites.

Satellite internet has prompted a “new space race” between companies competing to launch devices and establish networks capable of reaching areas where traditional broadband falls short.

There are still 4B people on Earth without internet access, the majority of which live in rural areas, where broadband service isn’t available. Satellite internet has been touted as a solution to this since the mid-’90s, but traditionally operate 22k miles above Earth, in what’s called geosynchronous orbit, which has been too slow in responding to requests. Satellites in low Earth orbit cover less territory and have to launch a lot more which is extremely expensive.

Astranis’s satellites are about the size of a mini-fridge and are a fraction of the cost of other models (only tens of millions of dollars). Astranis will launch its satellites into farther away from Earth and sell bandwidth to internet service providers, allowing it to reach users in more remote areas. Astranis manufactures its satellites in San Francisco and expects to launch its first commercial satellite in 2019.

Why it’s Hot: Although it won’t solve some of the long-standing latency issues, it could provide a cheaper solution for making internet more readily available in previously out-of-range regions. It could be immensely beneficial to emerging markets, which often suffer from poor connectivity issues.

Source: https://venturebeat.com/2018/03/01/andreessen-horowitz-leads-18-million-investment-in-satellite-startup-astranis/

Enjoy the Show

The comedian Dave Chappelle hated when fans would pull out their phones during his show, record his act and post it online. But then he discovered Yondr, the technology that requires fans to place their cellphones into a form-fitting lockable pouch when entering a show. Fans keep the pouch with them during the show but it’s impossible to take photos, videos or text while the pouch is locked.

Chappelle now insists on deploying Yondr at all of the shows on his tour. Other entertainers including Alicia Keys, Guns N’ Roses and Donald Glover have implemented the system as well. The founder of Yondr described the solution as intuitive. “Our attachment to our phones isn’t all that intellectual,” he says. “It’s much more a body thing, so it was always clear to me that whatever solution there is to this problem had to be itself physical and tangible.”

Lesser known bands might be more hesitant to try Yondr as they rely on fan photos and videos to promote their shows. Many music fans, especially younger ones, say they would be disappointed to not be able to capture these experiences and relive them. On the other hand, older brands appreciate the old-school feeling of the fans being actually experiencing the show and not watching it through an iPhone.

Yondr has been used at weddings, schools, restaurants and movie screenings in addition concerts and comedy shows. The phone still gets service so you can feel the phone vibrate when a message arrives. Anyone who needs access during the show can simply leave the room, have the device unlocked and use the phone in the lobby or outside, not dissimilar to smoking.

Why it’s hot: This system addresses a modern dilemma that is not as often seen as an issue but just our current reality. It also calls out the question smartphone etiquette: when and where are our devices appropriate in the modern world?

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/technology/your-phones-on-lockdown-enjoy-the-show.html

Black Mirror Becomes a Reality

What:

China has launched a social credit system designed to reach into every corner of existence both on and offline. The “social credit score” is described as similar to the American financial credit score system with the addition of political activity, social interactions and purchase history. The data is fed into a computer algorithm that calculates each citizen’s numerical trust score which affects almost every aspect of life.

For example: if you take care of your parents, pay your bills on time and give to charity, you’ll be rewarded with a high rating. High ratings can get you access to visas to travel abroad and access to good schools for your children. If you run a red light, criticize the government and social media or sell tainted food to consumers, you could lose access to bank loans, government jobs and the ability to rent a car. Pilot versions are underway in 30 cities currently & Beijing aims to have the full program running by 2020.

Why:

China wants to better control it’s poorly regulated economy, currently the second largest in the world. According to The Week, the social credit system will allow the government to easily punish illegal business people, bureaucrats who take bribes, selling of toxic baby formula or rotten meat. Because China lacks an equivalent to FICO scores that US lenders use to assess consumer credit risks, most Chinese can get credit cards and loans from their own bank. Social credit score system should result in more lending and less fraud, but is mainly a way for the communist party to push citizens toward approved behaviors.

How:

Beijing will score behavior by monitoring the wealth of data generated by people’s smartphones. Smartphone payment methods are overwhelmingly popular there and the payment apps include social networks, ride hailing services, food delivery, hotel booking and even ability to schedule Doctor appointments. That data is then harvested to create the social credit score.

The algorithm assigns users a score between 350 and 950. Higher number = more perks. Lower score means you have to pay larger deposits when reserving hotel rooms, can be shut out of first class seats, etc. Personal traits also factor in highly to your score; how many degrees you have, how much time you spend playing video games, and your even friends scores. And the cherry on top: video surveillance will track everyone through facial recognition. Security cameras in stores and on street corners will be integrated into the surveillance platform & AI will analyze it. Suspicious behavior will be flagged and potentially affect a person’s social credit score.

The system is current up and running in Xinjiang as a testing ground. Authorities are using hand held devices to search smartphones for banned encrypted chat apps and politically suspect videos. Additionally, police checkpoints are equipped with scanners for IDs, faces and eyeballs. The supreme People’s Court blacklist of more than 7 million people who have outstanding fines or judgments will be merged onto the social credit system. When Journalist Liu Hu found himself on able to book a flight on a travel app, he found out that he had entered the incorrect account number when paying a fine which resulted in a blanket ban from all travel (even though he has corrected and paid the fine, he is still on the blacklist). Minor offenses like shoplifting can get you blacklisted as well.

Why It’s Hot

  • The social credit score system has profound implications for life in cities everywhere
  • There’s nothing so distinctly Chinese about it that it couldn’t be scaled up and implemented anywhere else
  • The consequences could be dire if it screws up or a private enterprise gains access to the data
  • Freedoms that were once guaranteed will become contingent on algorithmically determined by good contact

Source: http://theweek.com/print/859/57821/article