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Amazon's New Microwave: 'Alexa, Please Defrost My Chicken'

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The plan, if successful, could give Amazon an advantage over other tech companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which are all racing to use voice assistants to control everyday devices to promote their services, as well as glean consumer data. The announcement came Thursday at a press event in Amazon's new Spheres building, where executives revealed a flurry of new Echo speaker devices and other electronics powered by its Alexa voice assistant. The products, which included a $50 Echo for cars and a new home security system, shows Amazon's intention to put Alexa at the center of people's lives. It also unveiled a raft of improvements to Alexa, highlighting capabilities that allow it to whisper and hold conversations. Amazon's effort to turn Alexa into the home's central operating system is full of challenges.


Venture Funding Flows to New York City Tech Startups

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James Patchett, president and chief executive of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, said the city has invested in technology projects like cybersecurity, blockchain and virtual and artificial reality. "This momentum has brought critical new investment to New York City's ecosystem, which ultimately has created critical new jobs for New Yorkers," he said in a statement. The city's maturing market is helping boost deal sizes as companies that got seed funding several years ago secure more financing in later rounds, said David Silverman, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Financial institutions may be helping drive the investment as they turn to technology companies for assistance with automation and data management. Data and technology company Enigma, which combines public data with private client information to help customers with things like financial-risk management, underwriting and pharmaceutical safety, has thrived in its New York location, said its co-founder and CEO, Hicham Oudghiri. Nearly all the company's clients are based in New York.


Amazon Is Next to Face EU Scrutiny

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"The question here is about the data," Ms. Vestager said, adding that the investigation was in its "very early days" and that her office has "no conclusions" about whether to open a formal probe. A spokesman for Amazon didn't have any immediate comment. As the EU's antitrust chief, Ms. Vestager has emerged as one of the world's major technology regulators, helping inspire investigations into tech companies from Brazil to the U.S. Most recently, she fined Alphabet Inc.'s Google twice, for a total of €6.76 billion ($7.9 billion), for allegedly abusing the dominance of its search engine and Android operating system to favor its own services--decisions the company has either appealed or said it would appeal. Under her watch, the EU also ruled that Amazon must pay some €250 million in allegedly unpaid taxes to Luxembourg, an order that the Seattle-based company has appealed. Amazon is also drawing increasing scrutiny in its home country.


Facial Recognition Goes Mainstream

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CaliBurger is one example of how facial recognition is beginning to make its way out of the realm of security applications--such as searching for bad guys or unlocking our phones--and into bricks-and-mortar retail and other areas of real-world commerce. Entertainment venues want to speed customers through the gate by scanning their faces. Airlines are looking to smooth out passengers' travel by letting them check bags and do other tasks by taking a selfie. Retailers want to send a salesperson over to help customers if a camera reads their expression and suggests they look annoyed. But the technology faces a big hurdle: consumer concerns.


AI Is the New Weapon Against Cyberattacks

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They're using machine learning to sort through millions of malware files, searching for common characteristics that will help them identify new attacks. They're analyzing people's voices, fingerprints and typing styles to make sure that only authorized users get into their systems. And they're hunting for clues to figure out who launched cyberattacks--and make sure they can't do it again. "The problem we're running into these days is the amount of data we see is overwhelming," says Mathew Newfield, chief information-security officer at Unisys Corp. UIS 0.50% "Trying to analyze that information is impossible for a human, and that's where machine learning can come into play." The push for AI comes as companies face a huge increase in threats and more-sophisticated criminals who can often draw on nation-states for resources.


Software 'Robots' Power Surging Values for Three Little-Known Startups

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They were all founded in 2005 or earlier, but it wasn't until the past few years that they took off after hitting on their current business automating simple back-office tasks and dubbing it "robotic process automation." UiPath on Monday completed a new funding round at a $3 billion valuation, said a person familiar with the process, six months after a prior round valued it at $1.1 billion. In July, rival Automation Anywhere raised its first round of financing at a $1.8 billion valuation. Shares in Blue Prism, a public company in the U.K., have risen nearly 30 times since they were listed in March 2016. It raised about $60 million in a secondary share sale in January.


Alibaba's Jack Ma Says Government Should Stick to Governing

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"Protecting the backward forces who are crying out loud will be the most important factor in destroying innovation," Mr. Ma said. Mr. Ma's comments came a week after he announced his plans to retire in one year as executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., the internet giant with businesses in online retailing, cloud computing and mobile payments. Mr. Ma said he wanted time to pursue philanthropic interests, but some observers saw his decision as part of the fallout from China's authoritarian government increasing restrictions on internet companies. In recent weeks, Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s shares plunged as the government announced its plan to tighten its grip on videogames. Ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing Technology Co. has come under government scrutiny after police said a driver killed a female passenger, the second since May.


Driverless Hype Collides With Merciless Reality

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Hardly a week goes by without fresh signposts that our self-driving future is just around the corner. It will likely take decades to come to fruition. And many of the companies that built their paper fortunes on the idea we'd get there soon are already adjusting their strategies to fit this reality. Uber, for example, recently closed its self-driving truck project, and suspended road testing self-driving cars after one of its vehicles killed a pedestrian. Uber's chief executive even announced he would be open to partnering with its biggest competitor in self-driving tech, Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Waymo.


Robots Are Producing More of What You Eat

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Being able to see is a major frontier in robotics and automation--crossing it is key to autonomous vehicles that can navigate obstacles, humanoid robots that can more closely integrate with humans and drones that can fly more safely. Companies world-wide are investing in computer vision-based technology. Chip maker Intel Corp. bought Mobileye NV for $15.3 billion in March 2017, in part for the Israeli company's vision-based driver-assistance technology. In April, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. led a $600 million funding round in startup SenseTime Group Ltd., which specializes in facial- and image-recognition technology. The sensing and imaging market will grow about 10-fold to $18.5 billion by 2023, market-research firm Yole Développement forecasts.


Don't Believe the Algorithm

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Of the 96 people flagged by the algorithm, only one was a correct match. Some errors were obvious, such as the young woman identified as a bald male suspect. In those cases, the police dismissed the match and the carnival-goers never knew they had been flagged. But many were stopped and questioned before being released. And the one "correct" match?