The Guardian


Tesla investigates video of Model S car exploding

The Guardian

Tesla has sent a team to investigate a video on Chinese social media which showed a parked Tesla Model S car exploding, the latest in a string of fire incidents involving the company's cars. The video, time stamped Sunday evening and widely shared on China's Twitter-like Weibo, shows the parked EV emit smoke and burst into flames seconds later. A video purportedly of the aftermath showed a line of three cars completely destroyed. The video comes as Tesla is preparing to unveil its "full self-driving" tech at a conference in Palo Alto, California, on Monday. The video is likely to overshadow the company's unveiling of its latest autonomous driving software and hardware.


Facial recognition is big tech's latest toxic 'gateway' app John Naughton

The Guardian

The headline above an essay in a magazine published by the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) caught my eye. "Facial recognition is the plutonium of AI", it said. Since plutonium – a by-product of uranium-based nuclear power generation – is one of the most toxic materials known to humankind, this seemed like an alarmist metaphor, so I settled down to read. The article, by a Microsoft researcher, Luke Stark, argues that facial-recognition technology – one of the current obsessions of the tech industry – is potentially so toxic for the health of human society that it should be treated like plutonium and restricted accordingly. You could spend a lot of time in Silicon Valley before you heard sentiments like these about a technology that enables computers to recognise faces in a photograph or from a camera.


'Companies are seldom treated like this': how Huawei fought back

The Guardian

A pillar box red electric train connects Paris, Verona and Grenada via Budapest's Liberty Bridge and on to Heidelberg Castle in a 120-hectare fantasy business park dreamt up by the Chinese billionaire Ren Zhengfei. Ren, 74, a former Red Army engineer who founded the telecommunications company Huawei in 1987 and still owns a 1.14% stake, asked the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to recreate some of Europe's most historic cities. He hoped to inspire an army of 25,000 research and development staff to challenge Apple, Google and Samsung. While its US competitors keep their research facilities on lockdown to prevent corporate espionage (oft allegedly by the Chinese), Huawei is inviting the world's media into its labs and factories in an attempt to dispel the US government's claims that the privately held company is an arm of the Chinese state and that its technology could be used to hack into western governments. US politicians allege that Huawei's forthcoming 5G mobile phone networks could be hacked by Chinese spies to eavesdrop on sensitive phone calls, gain access to counter-terrorist operations – and potentially even kill targets by crashing driverless cars.


Uber's self-driving car unit valued at $7.3bn as it gears up for IPO

The Guardian

Uber's self-driving car unit has been valued at $7.3bn (£5.6bn), after receiving $1bn of investment by a consortium including Toyota and Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund. With weeks to go until the loss-making San Francisco firm's stock market float, expected to value the company at up to $100bn, Uber said it had secured new financial backing for its plans to develop autonomous vehicles. Japanese carmakers Toyota and its compatriot Denso, a car parts supplier, will invest a combined $667m in Uber's Advanced Technologies Group (ATG). The remainder will come from Japanese conglomerate SoftBank's $100bn Vision Fund, whose largest investor is Saudi Arabia. Toyota and SoftBank are already major investors in Uber, with the latter owning 16%.


Notre Dame and the culture it inspired – from Matisse to the Muppets

The Guardian

As Notre Dame Cathedral's majestic spire tumbled into the inferno on Monday night, live newsreaders around the world decried the tragic loss of this 12th-century marvel. The great timber roof – nicknamed "the forest" for the thousands of trees used in its beams – was gone, the rose windows feared melted, the heart of Paris destroyed forever. What few realised in the heat of the shocking footage was that much of what was ablaze was a 19th-century fantasy. Like most buildings of this age, Notre Dame is the sum of centuries of restorations and reinventions, a muddled patchwork of myth and speculation. Standing as a sturdy hulk on the banks of the Seine, the great stone pile has never been the most elegant or commanding of the ancient cathedrals, but it became the most famous. Begun in 1163, it was larger than any gothic church before it, employing some of the first flying buttresses to allow taller, thinner walls and larger expanses of glazing – including the spectacular rose windows that projected great cosmic wheels of colour into the luminous interior. "Where would [one] find … such magnificence and perfection, so high, so large, so strong, clothed round about with such a multiple variety of ornaments?"


Assassin's Creed creators pledge €500,000 to Notre Dame

The Guardian

Video game creators at Ubisoft Montréal – the development studio that rebuilt 18th-century Paris in its 2014 historical action game Assassin's Creed Unity – have joined the global outpouring of grief in the wake of Monday's devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. Ubisoft will be donating €500,000 to help with restoration efforts, and is also making Assassin's Creed Unity available free on PC for the next week, "giving everyone the chance to experience the majesty and beauty of Notre Dame the best way we know how", said a studio spokesperson. "We hope, with this small gesture, we can provide everyone an opportunity to appreciate our virtual homage to this monumental piece of architecture." Caroline Miousse, a level artist on the game, spent 14 months working almost exclusively on the cathedral, inside and out. It is furnished and decorated as it would have been in 1790, down to the paintings hanging on the walls.


'Disastrous' lack of diversity in AI industry perpetuates bias, study finds

The Guardian

Lack of diversity in the artificial intelligence field has reached "a moment of reckoning", according to new findings published by a New York University research center. A "diversity disaster" has contributed to flawed systems that perpetuate gender and racial biases found the survey, published by the AI Now Institute, of more than 150 studies and reports. The AI field, which is overwhelmingly white and male, is at risk of replicating or perpetuating historical biases and power imbalances, the report said. Examples cited include image recognition services making offensive classifications of minorities, chatbots adopting hate speech, and Amazon technology failing to recognize users with darker skin colors. The biases of systems built by the AI industry can be largely attributed to the lack of diversity within the field itself, the report said.


Would life be happier without Google? I spent a week finding out

The Guardian

Halfway through my week without Google, my wife mentions that she would like to go out to see a film that evening, and I agree to deal with the logistics. In what I initially think is an inspired move, I drop by the local cinema on the way home and scribble down all the film times in my notebook. Then my wife insists on going to a different cinema. "Can I do this by phone?" "Is 118 still a thing?" Turns out it is, and an expensive one: £2.50 a call, plus 75p a minute, plus a 55p access charge from my mobile provider. But more than a million people a year still use the service, and it even offers a text facility that answers questions – although you're essentially just asking someone to Google something for you and text you back, for £3.50 a go. Before I started this experiment, when I tried to imagine what it would be like to take a break from Google, what I was really trying to remember was how my life worked all those years before it started.


Gatwick drone attack could have been inside job, say police

The Guardian

The drone attack that brought Gatwick airport to a standstill last December could have been an "inside job", according to police, who said the perpetrator may have been operating the drone from within the airport. Sussex police told BBC Panorama that the fact an insider may have been behind the attack was "treated as a credible line of enquiry from the earliest stages of the police response". Gatwick's chief operating officer, Chris Woodroofe, believes the perpetrator was familiar with the airport's operational procedures and had a clear view of the runway or possibly infiltrated its communication network. "It was clear that the drone operators had a link into what was going on at the airport," he told Panorama, in his first interview since the incident. He said the culprit had carefully picked a drone that would remain undetected by the airport's DJI Aeroscope detection system being tested at the time.


Smart speakers: five ways to get one on the cheap

The Guardian

Sales of smart speakers are soaring despite some people's concerns over privacy, with Amazon's Alexa leading the charge into homes in various Echo devices and Google's Home and Assistant snapping at its heels. They come in various shapes, sizes and prices, but if you just want to dip your toe into the burgeoning voice-powered world, what's the cheapest way to get Alexa or Google Assistant into your home? Voice assistants don't actually need a dedicated speaker to work. If you have a modern smartphone chances are you either already have Google Assistant, if you have an Android phone, or can install the app on an iPhone. The same goes for Amazon's Alexa, which can even be set as the default voice assistant on an Android phone.