Washington Post


The skeptic's guide to smart home gadgets

Washington Post

Before you buy any "smart" gadgets, make sure they're not dumb. This holiday season, a third of Americans plan to buy a smart home device, according to the Consumer Technology Association. But just hooking up the Internet to a door lock, kettle or dog bowl (yes, that's a thing) doesn't make it smart. The trick is figuring out which ones are worth the cost, trouble and inevitable security risks. I've been in those weeds.


Apple buys the music discovery app Shazam

Washington Post

Apple on Monday confirmed it has bought Shazam, the music app that can identify a song by hearing just a snippet of it. The acquisition boosts Apple's position in the music world and advances its artificial intelligence efforts. Shazam, launched in 1999, claims that at least 1 billion people have downloaded its app and used it to identify songs at least 30 billion times. Its service was one of the first AI products to be used by a broad audience. As Apple faces other tech giants in this increasingly competitive arena, analysts say Shazam could add significant value not only with its own service but also by making Apple's AI products -- namely Siri -- smarter about music.


Amazon and Google are fighting, and that means consumers lose

Washington Post

Two tech giants are in a messy streaming video fight right now, leaving consumers squeezed in the middle. Google on Tuesday said it would pull its YouTube apps from Amazon's Echo Show, which is an Alexa-powered device with a screen, and Fire TV starting next month. Why? Google pointed a finger at Amazon, which hasn't been selling some products from Google and Nest, which is also owned by Google's parent company. Amazon also doesn't allow Google products to have access to its Prime Video streaming service, the statement said. "Amazon doesn't carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn't make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest's latest products," the company said in a statement to The Post. "Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and Fire TV.


Google wants more humans to help solve the problem of child exploitation on YouTube

Washington Post

In announcing plans to hire many more human moderators to flag disturbing and extremist content this week, YouTube has become the latest Silicon Valley giant to acknowledge that software alone won't solve the many of the problems plaguing the industry. YouTube, which is owned by Google, said Monday night it would significantly increase the number of people monitoring such content across the company next year. By 2018, Google will employ roughly 10,000 content moderators and other professionals tasked with addressing violations of its content policies. The search giant would not disclose the number of employees currently performing such jobs, but a person familiar with the company's operations said the hiring represents a 25 percent increase from where Google is now. The move follows a series of reports last month in which YouTube videos surfaced showing children in disturbing and potentially exploitative situations, including being duct-taped to walls, mock-abducted, and forced into washing machines, according to a BuzzFeed report.


Apple is sharing your face with apps. That's a new privacy worry.

Washington Post

Poop that mimics your facial expressions was just the beginning. It's going to hit the fan when the face-mapping tech that powers the iPhone X's cutesy "Animoji" starts being used for creepier purposes. And Apple just started sharing your face with lots of apps. Beyond a photo, the iPhone X's front sensors scan 30,000 points to make a 3D model of your face. That's how the iPhone X unlocks and makes animations that might have once required a Hollywood studio.


Judge delays Waymo trial after Uber withholds alleged evidence

Washington Post

A federal judge on Tuesday delayed a high-profile trial between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Alphabet, Google's parent company, saying that a new letter contradicted earlier statements made by the ride-hailing company. Waymo requested that the court push back the trial date to gather more information gleaned from the letter, which was only shared with the judge last week, and described Uber's alleged efforts to steal trade secrets from rivals. The letter was written by a lawyer for a former Uber employee, Richard Jacobs, who worked as a security analyst. Jacobs testified at Tuesday's hearing that Uber deliberately used messaging technology to avoid leaving a paper trail, including apps that automatically delete correspondence. He said that a special team at Uber was tasked with gathering code and trade secrets from competing businesses.


Facebook is using AI to try to prevent suicide

Washington Post

Facebook is using artificial intelligence to address one of its darkest challenges: stopping suicide broadcasts. The company said Monday that a tool that lets machines sift through posts or videos and flag when someone may be ready to commit suicide is now available to most of its 2 billion users (availability had been limited to certain users in the United States). The aim of the artificial intelligence program is to find and review alarming posts sooner, since time is a key factor in preventing suicide. Facebook said that it will use pattern recognition to scan all posts and comments for certain phrases to identify whether someone needs help. Its reviewers may call first responders.


How the Pentagon is preparing for the coming drone wars

Washington Post

More than a decade after the improvised explosive device became the scourge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon is battling another relatively rudimentary device that threatens to wreak havoc on American troops: the drone. Largely a preoccupation of hobbyists and experimenting companies, the vehicles are beginning to become a menace on the battlefield, where their benign commercial capabilities have been transformed into lethal weapons and intelligence tools. Instead of delivering packages, some have been configured to drop explosives. Instead of inspecting telecommunications towers, others train their cameras to monitor troops and pick targets. Instead of spraying crops, they could spread toxic gas, commanders worry.


When your kid tries to say 'Alexa' before 'Mama'

Washington Post

In Yana Welinder's house, her son will say "Papa!' to either her or her husband. "Mama" isn't in his vocabulary yet. But her son, who just turned 1, does have a name for another prominent figure in the household: "Aga!" Or, as the rest of us know her, Alexa -- Amazon's voice assistant. Welinder's son can't summon the assistant from the Echo speaker in their home on his own. But he knows what he's trying to do.


The most cutting-edge gifts for the techie in your life

Washington Post

They're probably the person in your life you go to help for all your technology needs. So how can you give something good to the tech-savvy person in your life? Here are some suggestions for gifts to delight those who are always looking at the hottest tech trends and products. As with all cutting-edge tech, this isn't for the faint of heart, both in terms of price and in willingness to try something new. You still won't find a headphone jack with the The iPhone X.