New US drone rules will allow flying at night, over people

The US aviation authority has published new proposed rules about how and when drones can be flown, by professionals, in the US. Reuters:

The FAA is proposing ending requirements that drone operators get waivers to operate at night. Through 2017, the FAA granted 1,233 waivers and “has not received any reports of (drone) accidents,” it said.

The FAA would require that drones have “an anti-collision light illuminated and visible for at least three statute miles,” as well as testing and training.

Under the FAA’s proposals, operators would be able to fly small unmanned aircraft weighing 0.55 pounds (0.25 kg) or less over populated areas without any additional restrictions.

Great news for drone makers. Here’s what market-leader DJI said in an emailed statement:

“Drones prove every day that they belong in the sky doing important work for America, and everyone benefits when it is easier for professionals to safely fly over people and at night,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs. “Drones have helped rescue more than 200 people from peril around the world, and drones help professionals do their work faster, safer, more efficiently and at a lower cost. Removing the barriers to routine night operations and flight over people will mean more benefits for more people.”

The firm notes that currently night flying is allowed, but only if the FAA issues a waiver. This has happened, DJI says, 1,233 times so far without “a single accident” reported.

How algorithms are taking over Big Oil

For generations, the oil industry has offered extremely well-paid work to men and women willing to endure tough conditions and long hours (often) away from home.

But this report in Forbes shows how that is under threat, today:

Artificial intelligence has come to the oil patch, accelerating a technical change that is transforming the conditions for the oil and gas industry’s 150,000 U.S. workers. Giant energy companies like Shell and BP are investing billions to bring artificial intelligence to new refineries, oilfields and deepwater drilling platforms. Already, these investments are paying for themselves by helping drill tricky oil wells faster, predict equipment failures and slash fugitive methane emissions.

The algorithmically-enhanced oil fields are, according to BP, producing 10% more “work”* with 43% less employee input. It’s also safer for both man and environment. Faced with that, it’s hard to make the case against this kind of innovation – but, again, where will those workers go instead?

*The Forbes report doesn’t specify what it means by “work”, per se. Let’s just say BP is enjoying significant efficiency gains.

Robot saves day in California gas station standoff 

The Sacramento Bee writes:

A suspect who tried to set a fire at an Ignacio gas station mini-mart was arrested Saturday afternoon after a six-hour standoff

How did this dramatic scene come to an end…?

The man eventually asked for a cigarette, but was denied because of the fire threat. Negotiators talked him into accepting a vapor pen if he would surrender. After the item was delivered by the robot, the man stepped out of the  vehicle and was arrested without further incident.

Technology saves the day, right? I thought so. But then I read why the suspect was angry in the first place…

The incident began about 7 a.m. when a man became upset over apparent confusion with the payment system while at the 76 gas station on Ignacio Drive, according to Novato Lt. Sasha D’Amico.

How Netflix works

This post on Medium didn’t so much blow my brain as shatter it into tiny pathetic pieces.

(I’m pausing here because, in the process of writing about this, I’ve now noticed this post was published in 2017. I’m carrying on. It’s good.)

Here’s the deepest of deep dives into how Netflix content gets to your eyeballs:

What isn’t as simple is what goes into running Netflix, a service that streams around 250 million hours of video per day to around 98 million paying subscribers in 190 countries. At this scale, providing quality entertainment in a matter of a few seconds to every user is no joke. And as much as it means building top-notch infrastructure at a scale no other Internet service has done before, it also means that a lot of participants in the experience have to be negotiated with and kept satiated — from production companies supplying the content, to internet providers dealing with the network traffic Netflix brings upon them.

I remember the days when a Netflix movie would arrive *in the mail*. A simpler time. But not a better one.

Scooter software glitch suddenly slams on the brakes

Scooter company Lime has admitted it is investigating a rather troubling issue in which riders are thrown off their scooters. While it looks into it, it has suspended its service in Switzerland.

According to TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden (who I met finally this week, after more than a year chatting over the airwaves at various points), a software reboot is causing the scooter’s “theft prevention” measures to kick in. In other words: it slams on the brakes:

The cessation of service comes after reports over the past several months detailed how users have been injured after their Lime scooters stopped abruptly. In November, a doctor broke his elbow after the speedometer on his vehicle failed, the brakes kicked in, and he was thrown into the air. (Fortunately, this happened in front of the hospital, where he also worked.)

Another rider dislocated his shoulder after falling over his Lime scooter’s handle bars when travelling at about 25 km/h (about 15 mph). A third suffered cuts and bruises in a similar incident to the other two: abrupt braking while travelling.

The Social Network 2

Screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin thinks there could be a sequel to The Social Network, the film he made detailing the creation of Facebook. The Hollywood Reporter:

The prolific scribe revealed that he isn’t the only one who thinks so, either. Social Network producer Scott Rudin appears to be eager to get another Facebook movie off the ground. “I’ve gotten more than one email from him with an article attached saying, ‘Isn’t it time for a sequel?”’ said Sorkin, adding: “A lot of very interesting, dramatic stuff has happened since the movie ends with settling the lawsuit from the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo Saverin.”

You could probably get away with much of the same cast. But who would play Sheryl Sandberg, I wonder?

Apple buys 50 business class flights to Shanghai every day

United made a curious decision to create a display stand containing rather delicate information about its biggest (and presumably how unhappy) client, Apple.

It contains some eye-watering numbers. $150m spent on flights with United annually. Fifty business class seats to Shanghai every single day:

If you look closely, it says “This is confidential information, please do not share outside of United” at the bottom of each stand. Someone is getting in trouble.

Still, a fascinating glimpse at what it takes to keep the cogs turning when you’re making millions of phones some 7,000 miles away.

Who’s been watching Ring cameras?

The Intercept’s Sam Biddle on a troubling approach to privacy at Amazon-owned Ring, the “smart” home security firm:

Beginning in 2016, according to one source, Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world. This would amount to an enormous list of highly sensitive files that could be easily browsed and viewed. Downloading and sharing these customer video files would have required little more than a click.

Executives and engineers had access to this data, Biddle writes. And, well, humans gonna human:

Although the source said they never personally witnessed any egregious abuses, they told The Intercept “if [someone] knew a reporter or competitor’s email address, [they] could view all their cameras.” The source also recounted instances of Ring engineers “teasing each other about who they brought home” after romantic dates. Although the engineers in question were aware that they were being surveilled by their co-workers in real time, the source questioned whether their companions were similarly informed.

Now, what’s less clear is to what extent these practices are still going on. The article says Amazon wouldn’t be drawn on prior privacy policies, but the statement provided to the Intercept insisted the only videos analysed are those which have been shared in Ring’s companion app, Neighbor.

The statement in full:

We take the privacy and security of our customers’ personal information extremely seriously. In order to improve our service, we view and annotate certain Ring videos. These videos are sourced exclusively from publicly shared Ring videos from the Neighbors app (in accordance with our terms of service), and from a small fraction of Ring users who have provided their explicit written consent to allow us to access and utilize their videos for such purposes.

We have strict policies in place for all our team members. We implement systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our team members to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them.

Researchers: Microsoft Bing not only shows child pornography, it suggests it

Josh Constine in TechCrunch on what appears to be a sickening, shameful failure on Microsoft’s part to police its Bing search engine:

When researchers searched for “Omegle Kids,” referring to a video chat app popular with teens, Bing’s auto-complete suggestions included “Omegle Kids Girls 13” that revealed extensive child pornography when searched. And if a user clicks on those images, Bing showed them more illegal child abuse imagery in its Similar Images feature. Another search for “Omegle for 12 years old” prompted Bing to suggest searching for “Kids On Omegle Showing,” which pulled in more criminal content.

We talk often about how stopping this kind of content is a cat-and-mouse game, with those determined to cover their tracks constantly coming up with new methods/coded phrases to avoid attention.

But if this report is accurate, Bing was serving up this material with obvious terms that Microsoft should be able to control.

A self-driving ride on the Vegas strip

It’s not news – they’ve been here since last May, apparently – but I was picked up by a self-driving car this evening while hopping from one CES event to another.

It came via Lyft, and while not exactly the most challenging journey, did impress with a solid two-laned left turn across traffic.

Anyway, here’s my Twitter thread: