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How Facebook Is Changing to Deal With Scrutiny of Its Power


SAN FRANCISCO — Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for the breakup of big tech companies like Facebook. Regulators have opened investigations into Facebook’s power in social networking. Even one of Facebook’s own founders has laid out a case for why the company needs to be split up.

Now the world’s biggest social network has started to modify its behavior — in both pre-emptive and defensive ways — to deal with those threats.

Late last year, Facebook halted acquisition talks with Houseparty, a video-focused social network in Silicon Valley, for fear of inciting antitrust concerns, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. Acquiring another social network after Facebook was already such a dominant player in that market was too risky, said the people, who spoke on the condition they not be identified because the discussions were confidential.

Facebook has also begun internal changes that make itself harder to break up. The company has been knitting together the messaging systems of Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp and has reorganized the departments so that Facebook is more clearly in charge, said two people briefed on the matter. Executives have also worked on rebranding Instagram and WhatsApp to more prominently associate them with Facebook.

The social network’s changes are now prompting a debate about whether a more knitted-together Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram is just smart business or helps strengthen potential anticompetitive practices. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has repeatedly said his company faces competition on all sides and is loath to accept a fragmented version of the social giant. He does not want to lose Instagram and WhatsApp, which are enormous and have the ability to continue fueling Facebook’s $56 billion business.

“The big question is, is this a logical business plan?” said Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust official in the Obama administration and senior adviser to Public Knowledge, a nonprofit think tank in Washington. “For a social network with enormous growth in photos and messaging, there’s probably significant business justification for combining the units.”

But Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and the chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, said Facebook’s moves needed to be scrutinized.

“The combination of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp into the single largest communications platform in history is a clear attempt to evade effective antitrust enforcement by making it harder for the company to be broken up,” he said. “We need to hit the pause button.”

Facebook has pushed back on the idea that the company’s moves — particularly in private messaging — are in anticipation of a potential breakup.

“Building more ways for people to communicate through our messaging apps has always been about creating benefits for people — plain and simple,” said Stan Chudnovsky, a vice president at Facebook overseeing messaging. “People want to be able to reach as many people as they can with the messaging app they choose.”

In Washington, Facebook has its eye particularly on the Federal Trade Commission, the agency that is now investigating it for anticompetitive practices, said two of the people with knowledge of the social network.

The F.T.C. became interested in looking at Facebook and its power last year when the agency’s investigators were separately examining the company for privacy violations, said two people close to the process. At the time, the F.T.C.’s investigators uncovered internal Facebook documents that prompted concerns around how the company was acquiring rivals, they said.

Image
CreditWinni Wintermeyer, via Houseparty

Facebook’s long string of acquisitions — it bought Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, among many others — have been targeted by academics and policymakers for reducing competition. They have argued that the company engaged in “serial defensive acquisitions” to protect its dominant position in social networking.

This year, the F.T.C. sought clearance from the Justice Department to open an antitrust investigation into potentially anticompetitive behavior at Facebook, the people close to the process said. The F.T.C. was cleared to do so, and notified Facebook in June. By late July, the agency had contacted at least a half-dozen founders of companies that Facebook had bought over the past 15 years for information on its acquisition practices, said four people with knowledge of the outreach.

Around the time that the F.T.C. activity on Facebook ramped up, the company also stepped back on at least one potential acquisition.

Last December, Facebook executives were in advanced discussions to buy Houseparty, a social networking app that lets multiple people video chat on their mobile phones at once, said two people with knowledge of the talks. Houseparty, founded in 2016 by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Ben Rubin, was especially popular with audiences under the age of 24. Facebook, whose members are getting older, has coveted younger users.

But weeks into the discussions, Facebook’s corporate development team killed the talks with Houseparty, the people said. Houseparty’s executives were told that a deal would draw unwelcome federal government scrutiny to Facebook, they said. Houseparty was later purchased by Epic Games, the makers of the video game Fortnite.

Facebook’s changes that appear to make a breakup of its apps more difficult began more than a year ago. Mr. Zuckerberg focused on combining the underlying infrastructure of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. The project, called “interoperability,” requires years of deeply technical and difficult engineering work.

The aim, in part, was to create less of a hodgepodge of companies and more of a unified network, said people briefed on the strategy. Publicly, Mr. Zuckerberg has said the initiative will help build a more “private” version of Facebook so customers can “communicate across networks easily and securely,” as users flock to messaging services en masse. People will also get a better and more streamlined user experience, he has said. Mr. Zuckerberg has added that a unified messaging system would better lend itself to moneymaking efforts on WhatsApp, which today brings in little revenue.

But the idea of “interoperability” was a departure for Facebook. While Facebook and Instagram have long shared much of the same infrastructure, its different messaging products generally operated independently.

Though employees at Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are in separate physical buildings, executives have also pushed for them to share more internal resources and have reorganized their reporting lines. In one instance, Facebook executives ordered a change in the messaging teams, two of the people said, requiring the Instagram messenger division to report to the leaders at Facebook’s Messenger app. Bloomberg earlier reported on the internal reorganization.

Last year, Facebook also began a rebranding project, tapping at least one outside agency for help, said three people familiar with the initiative. The agency, Prophet Brand Strategy, was asked to make Facebook into a “branded house,” where Facebook’s moniker always preceded the names of WhatsApp and Instagram, they said. The rebranding mandate came from Mr. Zuckerberg and Antonio Lucio, Facebook’s chief marketing officer, they said.

In March, Jane Manchun Wong, an independent security researcher, spotted the new branding “Instagram from Facebook” — in some unreleased lines of code.

Employees at both Instagram and WhatsApp, who have been accustomed to greater autonomy, have chafed at the coming changes, said three people familiar with the divisions.

In hindsight, Facebook had quietly signaled that unification was afoot more than a year ago. In June 2018, the company introduced a combined metric that drew attention away from any individual product. It tallied the number of people who used one or more of any of Facebook’s services, including WhatsApp and Instagram.

The name of the new metric? Facebook’s Family of apps.

Fonte: NYT > Technology

The Week in Tech: How Does 8chan Whack-a-Mole End?


Each week, we review the week’s news, offering analysis about the most important developments in the tech industry. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.

Hi, I’m Jamie Condliffe. Greetings from London. Here’s a look at this past week’s tech news:

Efforts to take a controversial website offline have been complex and divisive — but perhaps also galvanizing.

After the tragic shootings in Texas and Ohio, it came to light that the suspect in El Paso had posted a manifesto outlining his motivations to the online message board 8chan shortly before the massacre, the authorities said. It’s not the first time this has happened: Attackers have posted similar documents to 8chan before other shootings. And it appears the El Paso suspect took inspiration from them.

Cloudflare, an internet infrastructure and cybersecurity company that served 8chan, wavered over how to react. Ultimately it decided to stop providing its services to the site, leaving 8chan vulnerable to crippling cyberattacks. Cloudlfare’s chief executive, Matthew Prince, wrote that 8chan’s “lawlessness” had “contributed to multiple horrific tragedies.”

If 8chan was a mole, it was whacked.

So the site used Epik, another infrastructure company. The mole re-emerged! Briefly. Voxility, a company that provides computing services to Epik, was criticized for helping to support 8chan, so it dumped Epik, indirectly whacking 8chan again.

What now? Well, someone will almost certainly give 8chan a new lease of life. That might be on a crummy server in Russia, or elsewhere.

Even so, it may not come back full throttle. Leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee have called on Jim Watkins, the owner of 8chan, to “provide testimony regarding 8chan’s efforts to investigate and mitigate the proliferation of extremist content.” So it’s possible that 8chan may yet see its hyper-free-speech sensibilities crimped, at least a little.

If that happens, it’s likely to drive a hard core of alt-right users elsewhere. That’s clearly not as easy as it once was, but an 8chan alternative could surface.

Another possibility: “These kinds of communications could move into encrypted environments,” like Telegram or WhatsApp, said Andrew Sullivan, the president and chief executive of the Internet Society, a global nonprofit. “What happens then is you can’t whack the mole, because the mole doesn’t come out of the hole.”

Such marginalization “could reduce the reach of these communities,” said Rasmus Nielsen, a professor of political communication at Oxford University. But “it could increase cohesion inside the hard core,” he added. It’s hard to know what might be the dominant force.

All told, the takedowns have created immense uncertainty. And that raises a profound question: Who should be making such big decisions about what stays online?

Mr. Prince of Cloudflare wrote that his company was “incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter,” and that it did “not plan to exercise it often.”

Even so, the way his decision was made has come under scrutiny. Corinne Cath-Speth, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and the Alan Turing Institute, said it was an ad hoc decision based on a single event, unsupported by a well-defined framework against which such decisions should really be made.

There are two ways to think about that. On one hand, it lacks rigor and consistency and due process that could provide a clear means of making future calls. On the other, it’s a shift away from the First Amendment-minded approach used by many tech companies to simply leave content online.

We might be witnessing with Cloudflare some of the first voluntary steps away from a shrug-the-shoulders mentality, toward a more considered approach to content takedowns.

But, perhaps understandably, it wants to pass on responsibility for codifying such decision-making. “The unresolved question,” Mr. Prince wrote, “is how should the law deal with platforms that ignore or actively thwart the Rule of Law?”

This is not a new phenomenon. “There seems to be a great desire for someone to do something,” Professor Nielsen said. “But the someone is always someone else, and there is no consensus on the something. The tech companies largely argue that policymakers should do it; policymakers in many jurisdictions believe companies should do it.”

Viewed through the lens of the recent shootings, this stalemate looks more problematic than ever. Perhaps from tragedy can come some movement.

If I had a dollar for every person I had spoken to who didn’t know Facebook owned WhatsApp or Instagram I’d … well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I could buy a nice sandwich. Maybe several.

Sadly, my hypothetical money spinner is over. Facebook is adding its name to Instagram and WhatsApp. “We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook,” a spokeswoman told Wired. Understandable, given that it has been criticized for, well, not being clear.

A cynic may point to antitrust investigations into Facebook by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, partly focused on how it has reduced competition, including by buying rising competitors. One of Facebook’s biggest fears seems to be that it could be forced to split off WhatsApp and Instagram. So it’s hard not to view the branding exercise as a (clumsy?) play to demonstrate that the services are too tightly intertwined to be torn apart.

In the same spirit, Bloomberg reported that Facebook planned to take its first real steps toward technical integration of the services by rebuilding Instagram’s chat feature using Messenger technology.

Can Facebook deter a potential breakup? Einer Elhauge, a Harvard law professor, told me that the answer could be contingent on how feasible the authorities deemed a successful split to be. “It’s hard to unscramble eggs,” he said. “Can these eggs be easily unscrambled or not?”

Facebook sure appears to be trying to scramble its eggs as hard and fast as it can.

■ Uber is trying to rule city transit by striking partnerships in cities to sell train and bus tickets and fill gaps with its drivers. But some critics say it could push people away from public transportation.

■ Amazon may penalize product listings by third-party merchants who charge less for products on rival sites, effectively forcing them to raise prices elsewhere.

■ President Trump believes Google might try to sway the 2020 election, and said he would watch it “very closely.”

■ It’s time for Twitter and Instagram to face privacy scrutiny. The former may have used private data for ad targeting without permission; the latter may have let a partner track user locations.

■ Wait, people pay for Tinder? Yep, more than five million of them.

■ Huawei is being pushed out of United States government agencies now that a long-anticipated rule banning their purchases of telecom and video surveillance equipment from the company has been released.

■ Can Big Tech’s legal shield survive? A law that keeps internet companies off the hook for everything they host is under scrutiny from lawmakers, but is probably safe until they agree how to change it.

■ Mark Zuckerberg’s summer reading suggestion? A novel about Thomas Edison and how he tried to protect his electricity monopoly by driving a rival out of business. I believe the correct response is: “Facepalm.”

Fonte: NYT > Technology

Huawei Unveils Harmony, Its Answer to Android, in Survival Bid


DONGGUAN, China — Huawei, the Chinese technology giant, on Friday unveiled its own mobile operating system, Harmony, in an effort to ensure that its fast-growing smartphone business can survive the United States government’s clampdown on the firm.

Huawei has been at the mercy of the Trump administration for the past three months, ever since the Commerce Department began requiring that American companies apply for special permission to sell parts and technology to the Chinese firm, which Washington officials accuse of being a potential conduit for cyberspying by Beijing.

The move effectively choked off Huawei’s access to Google’s Android software and American-made microchips and other hardware components, and put a big question mark over Huawei’s future.

Although President Trump said in June that he would loosen some of the restrictions to allow American companies to continue working with Huawei, economic ties between the United States and China have grown more tense since then, and the prospect of immediate relief for Huawei seems more distant.

Unveiling Harmony at a Huawei developer conference in the southern city of Dongguan on Friday, Richard Yu, the head of the company’s consumer business, said that the new operating system was designed to work not only on mobile phones, but on smart watches and other connected home devices as well.

Indeed, the first Huawei products to run on Harmony will not be smartphones, but “smart screens” that the company plans to release later this year. Mr. Yu said that Harmony would gradually be incorporated into the company’s other smart devices over the next three years. But there is no immediate plan, he said, to release Harmony-based phones.

Huawei’s preference is to continue using Android on its handsets, Mr. Yu said. But he added that there was no technical reason Harmony could not also be used to power a phone. “If we are not able to use the Android operating system, then we can activate Harmony anytime,” he said.

At Friday’s developer conference, which was held in a basketball stadium, Mr. Yu described Harmony’s technical features and capabilities, to occasional bursts of raucous applause. But Huawei did not make any devices running the new operating system available for testing.

Huawei is now the world’s second-largest smartphone vendor, ahead of Apple but behind Samsung. The company’s handsets are big sellers in Europe and across the developing world, although political pressure from Washington has kept Huawei phones from becoming popular in the United States.

Mr. Yu said he believed that were it not for the Trump administration’s pressure on the firm, Huawei would have finished the year as the planet’s No. 1 smartphone maker. Uncertainty about whether Huawei devices would continue to support Google services caused the company’s sales outside China to plummet after Washington’s crackdown.

Huawei began working on Harmony two years ago, Mr. Yu said, and executives at the Chinese firm, which is also a major supplier of equipment for wireless networks around the planet, have been speaking in vague terms about the project for months. In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt that was published in March, two months before the Commerce Department restricted Huawei’s business, Mr. Yu said that Huawei had prepared an operating system as a “Plan B” in case it was cut off from American technology.

More recently, Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder and chief executive, has said that the company’s operating system was originally designed for telecommunications networks, not as an Android replacement.

Like Android, which is far and away the world’s most widely used smartphone operating system, Harmony will be released as open-source software. That means it will be freely available for developers to study, enhance and redistribute.

The new operating system’s Chinese name is Hongmeng, a term from Chinese mythology that refers to the chaotic state of the universe before the creation of heaven and earth. But Huawei decided that the name would be too hard for non-Chinese speakers to pronounce, Mr. Yu said on Friday.

“We hope to bring greater harmony to this world,” he said.

Fonte: NYT > Technology

Legless, Leaping Larvae


Jump, little maggot, jump!

Show the world that not only the finely muscled and strong-boned can defy gravity, but also the soft-bodied and wormy.

Squish your body into a loop, hook your front to your back, pump up the internal pressure and fling yourself skyward in an exhilarating, tumbling arc.

This is not about a new Marvel superhero, although if any film producers are interested in a “Wonder Worm” treatment, I have a few ideas. This is research, several years of it, and all that attention couldn’t come to a nicer larva.

This lively leaper is the young, wriggly form of an insect called the gall midge. It is found in galls, or bumps on plants, not in rotting meat — so that’s a plus. And it’s so tiny, only a tenth of an inch long.

We knew the little fellows could jump, we being the scientific community that studies the quick and surprising movements of soft-bodied cylindrical insect larvae. But only with a video camera recording at 20,000 frames per second, and the use of scanning electron microscopes, did researchers come up with a detailed analysis of just how the marvelous maggots move. Earlier recordings were no faster than 54 frames per second.

The fairly obvious part, which had been figured out, more or less, is that the larva bends its soft body into a springy loop and launches itself across distances up to 30 times its body length. But there are some surprises, a research team reported Thursday in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

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The larva uses two patches of microscopic hairs that bond to each other to form a latch that links its front and rear end together. And it forms kind of a temporary leg to aid its launch. When the latch is released, the maggot flies.

Sheila Patek, who heads a lab at Duke University that studies links between physics and evolution, led the team that studied the movements of gall midge larvae. She is known for work on other quick microscopic movements, like the jaws of the trap jaw ant or the hammer of the mantis shrimp.

She said a friend and one of the authors of the new paper, Michael Wise of Roanoke College, brought the gall midge maggots to her attention.

Her lab doesn’t often find a new subject, she said, and the maggots were “really, really small, and really fast and hard to study.”

But the work paid off. The larvae did not use an anatomical feature called a spatula, which they use to burrow, in order to link front and back. Instead, those patches of microscopic hairs adhered to each other because of so called van der Waals forces, which involve electric attraction and repulsion.

And to help with the launch, the maggots formed a temporary leg of sorts by making a portion of their bodies particularly rigid. The researchers also found that for the larvae, jumping was much more efficient than crawling.

That may be why the larvae leap — to explore spots to burrow. Or it could be to escape predators. Until scientists come up with an answer, we are free to imagine that they jump for joy.

David Hu, a mechanical engineer at Georgia Tech who often studies animal movements but was not involved in this research, said the paper was “full of surprises,” such as the latch: “It’s a soft latch, composed of thousands of microscopic parts, that can shoot a soft larva like its being shot out of a cannon.”

Dr. Patek said the research shows “what you can do with a tiny, worm-shaped body,” and noted that “engineers are extremely interested in soft robotics.”

Earlier reporting on how things move

Fonte: NYT > Technology

Our Cars Are Trying to Keep Us Safe. Here’s How.


Regrettably, personal jet packs and flux capacitors remain figures of science fiction and have not appeared in our garages. The same goes for fully self-driving automobiles.

A few years ago, breathless analysts predicted we’d now be napping behind the wheel while commuting. Nope. Rip Van Winkle may find it popular in 20 years, but full Level Five autonomy is still a dream.

Autonomy has been trickling into cars since the 1958 Chrysler Imperial introduced cruise control. It took nearly 40 years before the Mercedes-Benz S-Class ushered in basic Level One autonomy with Distronic adaptive cruise control that sensed slowing traffic braked to avoid impact.

I have been reviewing cars since 2012, have done more than 200 of them for The Times and also produce a YouTube channel of reviews. That has given me a lot of seat time, and I can see that the pace of autonomy is picking up to the point that Levels One and Two have become ubiquitous; beyond that, not so much.

Level One is a vehicle with at least one automated driver assistance system; Level Two is more than one of the systems working in tandem. It can be confusing to figure out who offers what when you’re car shopping, so I have spent the past few months testing autonomous tech to offer a guide. What I found was that even some affordable cars now have various degrees of autonomy that will help keep you safe.

With Honda Sensing buyers can get tech that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warning. Some of those features are in Subaru’s EyeSight system and Toyota Safety Sense, but blind-spot warning is separate.

While more automakers are making this kind of safety gear standard, do your homework. The tech can be standard equipment, optional or a little of both.

For example, Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 is standard on the 2020 Explorer XLT and includes automatic braking, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warning. But to get adaptive cruise control, XLT buyers need to spend $795 for Ford’s Assist+ version, and that’s after adding a mandatory $5,140 option package.

There is no question that these systems keep us safer. Even when optional, active electronic safety features can pay for themselves quickly. A Honda executive told me it supplied far fewer replacement front fascias for modern CR-Vs equipped with automatic braking. And Subaru said last year that likely pedestrian-related insurance claims fell by 41 percent in vehicles with the second-generation EyeSight system, which was introduced for 2015.

Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, standard on some of the brand’s premium trim levels and optional on others, goes beyond adaptive cruise control and is very confident on the highway. It’s a hands-on system that paces traffic ahead and holds the car within the road stripes.

The Kia Telluride’s impressive Highway Driving Assist, standard on some premium trims, allows drivers to travel sans hands for over a minute and navigates gentle highway curves confidently.

Some systems in luxury cars, including from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, do more. BMW’s Driving Assistant Plus can assess the route and adjust transmission mapping for smoother shifts and better efficiency. The Mercedes GLE450 switches lanes with the tap of a turn signal if the sensors find the space clear.

Image
CreditJohn Macdougall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For all of these systems, drivers must be fully present. No posting on social media. Volvo, which has Pilot Assist, said its City Safety automatic braking is intentionally harsh to discourage people from relying on it.

Still, these systems are no higher than Level Two. Because Levels Three through Five aren’t ready for consumers, the most elaborate Level Two technology s from Cadillac and Tesla.

Cadillac’s optional Super Cruise is impressive. It uses radar, cameras, sensors, very precise GPS, a 130,000-mile database (increasing to 200,00 miles this fall) of highways mapped by a type of laser-based radar known as lidar. Super Cruise also has a camera mounted on the steering column to monitor the driver.

Although Super Cruise is just available on the CT6 sedan, the company said that it would be coming to more models, including the XT6, CT4 and CT5.

The system functions only on mapped divided highways, and it won’t enter or exit them on its own. Arm it, and he CT6 then stays solidly in its lane and paces traffic down to a full stop with no input from the driver. At all.

I traveled 120 miles from the Washington/Oregon border to Tacoma on Interstate 5 without touching the wheel, throttle or brake. The system doesn’t change lanes on its own. Using the turn signal releases the lane-keeping feature so the car can be manually steered.

The camera watches the driver to make sure he or she is facing forward. Watching videos or reading (Stephen King’s “Christine” anyone?) makes the light bar flash red. No napping for you Mr. Winkle. Ignore the lights and chimes and Super Cruise eventually slows the car to a full stop in its lane, triggers the flashers and activates OnStar to summon emergency workers. In short, it thinks you’ve had a heart attack.

After repeatedly testing the internal camera by looking away, the system locked me out temporarily. Not exactly an “Open the pod bay doors, HAL” moment, but I felt scolded.

Super Cruise made the trip significantly more pleasant and relaxing. I enjoyed scenery in a way not possible when focused on the road.

For Tesla, the newest iteration of its Autopilot uses a computer that’s installed in every new Tesla (and can be added to many earlier models).

With eight cameras (and radar, GPS and ultrasonic sensors), Tesla obviously believes visuals like the signs and road stripes that signal humans are the best path to autonomy.

There’s also neural network training at work. Tesla gathers images of significant situations from owner’s cars (tricky intersections, cars with bicycles mounted on them, even vehicles that have rolled over) to continuously improve accuracy. And Tesla does not use lidar.

Andrej Karpathy, Tesla’s senior director of A.I. said he believes “lidar is a short cut that sidesteps the important and fundamental problem of necessary visual recognition that is important to autonomy. Lidar gives a false sense of progress and is ultimately a crutch.”

I spent an afternoon with Lori Howe, the president of the Tesla Owners Club Pacific Northwest, and her fiancé, Brian Manthos in a Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor Performance sedan. Autopilot requires that the driver’s hand is on the steering wheel, but Ms. Howe and Mr. Manthos agreed “it makes long road trips much more relaxing.”

The system is most impressive in Navigate on Autopilot mode. Enter a destination, and it takes on ramps and merges onto the highway. If traffic is bogged down, it can change lanes automatically. It takes off ramps while warning drivers the handoff from computer to human is about to happen. The menu is used to select how closely the car paces traffic ahead or how aggressive lane changes will be, right up to Mad Max mode.

I experienced a few events where the car made some slightly surprising moves, like the steering wheel tugging to the left as if to make a lane change for no apparent reason. Over all, I felt more secure using the hands-free Super Cruise, even though it lacks gee-whiz lane changing. But supposedly, the Tesla is always learning.

The jump to Levels Three, Four and Five in urban conditions is significantly trickier for computers to manage. And when Mr. Van Winkle wakes up behind the wheel, those systems will likely be attached to a luxury brand’s vehicle, because the tech won’t be cheap.

Smarter Driving is a new series all about how to buy, own, drive and maintain your car better. Have something you’d like us to cover? Reach out to the Smarter Driving’s editor, James Schembari, at [email protected].

Fonte: NYT > Technology

Markiplier’s Work Diary: ‘I Find a Game and I Play It. Not Much to It.’


Mark Fischbach recently had an existential crisis, ranting that he had squandered his life playing video games. His lamentations, which he filmed and posted on YouTube three months shy of his 30th birthday, were viewed nearly one million times.

Insanely, that number is rather on the low side for Mr. Fischbach, who is better known as Markiplier to his more than 24 million followers on YouTube and his 12 million followers on Twitter, where he refers to himself as a “Professional Screamer.” In 2012, he dropped out of a biomedical engineering program at the University of Cincinnati and started to record himself playing games and going about his life; since then, the clips have been watched more than 11 billion times. His most popular video, a review of the game “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” has been seen 75 million times. Even a clip about his wisdom teeth removal exceeded 3.7 million.

According to Forbes, Mr. Fischbach is YouTube’s sixth-highest-paid personality, earning $17.5 million last year. He also makes money offline. In 2017 and 2018, he spent months traveling the United States, Europe and Australia, performing in an improv comedy tour. And he became partners with another YouTube personality, known as Jacksepticeye, to start Cloak, a clothing brand for gamers, which sells $80 hoodies and $70 sweats.

We caught up in May, after he drove his Tesla Model X from his home in Los Angeles to Austin. There, he planned to spend several weeks preparing and filming “A Heist With Markiplier,” a film funded by YouTube.


9 a.m. Back at my Airbnb, after a visit to the rock climbing gym. We’re meeting in an hour with Rooster Teeth, the production company for the YouTube movie. It’s my biggest project yet — interactive story, branching narrative. Should be fun.

Depending on the circumstances, I’ll often skip breakfast. I take Adderall for A.D.H.D. and it usually suppresses my appetite. I’ve got to be careful or I could go the whole day without eating if I’m busy.

11 a.m. I usually try to eat my lunches alone so I can take some time to sneak in more Korean study. I’m half-Korean and I want to be able to connect with my family in South Korea. This year, I want to go over there for a full month to immerse myself and really appreciate the culture.

1 p.m. Doing a detailed table read with a room of 20 people, clarifying how we’re going to make every shot happen.

The project is a first-person interactive narrative where the viewer gets to decide how the story plays out. I’ve done one before, called “A Date With Markiplier.” This one is called “A Heist With Markiplier.” I wrote it, and I’m directing it and acting in it. There are also numerous guests stars to help flesh out the world we explore.

5:45 p.m. On to the camera meeting — talking about types of cameras, lenses, lighting, audio. This project is a little different than what I usually do because it’s shot in a first-person style. It’s a more complicated setup: traditional filmmaking, with wireless video monitors, follow focus, mounted monitors, all on a large gimbal, which keeps things nice and stable.

7 p.m. Headed back home, where I’ve got to walk the dogs, Chica and Henry. I brought them with me on this trip. They travel better than they used to. Both used to be car vomiters, but with time, patience and a lot of paper towels they’ve gotten used to it. It helps when we stop for regular charging breaks every couple hundred miles.

8:45 a.m. We’re in a 12-seater van for location scouting. We’ve got a few different options to look at: Prison. Office. Tunnels. Sewers. We’re headed first to some caves at Longhorn Cavern.

12:45 p.m. The cave is a great spot — a secluded, tucked-away secret. It will work wonderfully. It took hours to slowly walk and talk our way through, photographing and code-naming locations as we went so we can reference them later. It’s surreal that I would even be given the opportunity to film in a location like that.

5:30 p.m. After scouting the library in downtown Austin, and then taking the dogs to the park, I’m back home. It’s time to start recording videos of myself playing games.

My setup involves a camera to film my face, a microphone for my voice and a computer for the games — a PC that I assembled myself. Some software running in the background captures it all at once. Easy.

8:30 p.m. I’ve recorded one hourlong video and sent it off to my editor. The simplest videos are of me playing games and narrating over them. I find a game and I play it. Not much to it. Tonight it was a small game called “Don’t Escape: 4 Days in the Wasteland.”

9:21 p.m. I post a video to Twitter of me carrying Chica earlier after she chased a squirrel into the street. This one will eventually get more than 95,000 likes.

10:30 a.m. At Rooster Teeth for a costume meeting. There are a lot of different costume changes in this show: different suits, a burglar outfit, prison clothes.

12 p.m. I’m meeting with the art department to go over props and such. I didn’t have an art department on my last big movie project. I didn’t have producers, or costumers, or craft services. Hell, I didn’t even have a script before. All of this is new to me.

3:30 p.m. Next is script revisions. I’ve got to make some changes now that I’ve seen some of the locations. With a larger team and so many different departments, it’s critical that everyone be on the same page.

4:45 p.m. The change of scenery in Austin is nice. It’s good to be busy. Staying busy feels like moving forward. But I try to stay off my phone when working. I can go down a rabbit hole. Being a YouTuber, I have to keep a finger on the pulse of how my community’s doing, so I keep up on Twitter and check Tumblr on occasion. But people in that community know I’m scatterbrained — they expect that I won’t always be present because I’m working on projects.

5:30 a.m.: I’m up, going rock-climbing at Austin Bouldering Project. It’s not the closest, but it’s the only one near enough that opens early enough.

8 a.m. I got coffee and breakfast on the way back for Amy, my girlfriend. Time to shower, do laundry and study Korean.

10 a.m. I’ve been working with the Make-a-Wish Foundation for years, and this morning at Rooster Teeth I’m meeting a kid with stage four Rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer. His name is Mark as well. He just seems like a normal kid who loves playing games. It’s so hard to think about these kids going through these horrible health issues, but it’s amazing to see them bounce back. To smile. To tough through it. To enjoy the life they have.

2:30 p.m. I check in on a WhatsApp chain about Cloak, my clothing brand, where we talk about specific designs and themes. For April Fools’ Day, we gave away 20 actual cloaks. We’re going slow, step by step, to make sure we don’t overreach or grow too fast or too slowly.

7:45 p.m. Cooking dinner with Amy. We’ve been dating for about three and a half years now. She doesn’t just tag along on these shoots; she’s an essential part of the creative process. She’s there every single day watching every single shot. I’m the type of person that wants creative input from the entire team when I’m working, but there’s one voice that I trust above all others, and that’s Amy.

I usually like to make sure I have time to spend with her. I read intensively, and if I’m not careful, I can plow through a couple of books in a week. I read a lot of science fiction — I gravitate toward the “Warhammer 40,000” universe. I’ve read half of all the books they’ve had so far.

8:30 p.m. Editing. On top of gaming and comedy videos, I also do some original narratives. I have a big project called “Damien” — it’s a surreal horror story about an innocent man, devoid of choice, thrust into a situation he doesn’t understand, desperately struggling to come to terms with his own death. In short, it’s a weird one. On a technical level, it’s a really cool cinematic-animatic style of storytelling I’ve never done before.

It’s been a long, long time coming — eight months — and it’s finally almost ready. I do all the audio mixing. I provide most of the voices myself; I add effects, music. If something needs to be done, I just do it. Not that I’m immune to procrastination, but I can’t stand the thought of waiting any longer for this project to get out there.

6:30 a.m. I’m going to work out, then to the office to check in with wardrobe, then back home to work on “Damien.”

11 a.m. Hectic morning. I’m now having my weekly call with YouTube. It’s a general checkup with different departments at the company to make sure we’re all on the same page about deadlines and other things (like their guidelines about blood and gore).

2:30 p.m. We’re heading out for another location scout soon. It’s a decommissioned water treatment plant on the outskirts of Austin. The feel is 1950s government buildings. Rusted pipes. Large open vats for water, covered in algae. Underground tunnels flooded from the recent rains. It’s perfect.

4:30 p.m. Back at the Airbnb for more editing.

8:45 a.m. I always look forward to weekends because there are finally no more meetings. I can focus on one thing at a time. Today I’m excited because I really think I can finish this project. There’s a concert my girlfriend wants to go to tonight — Jim James, I believe — so I’m going to hunker down and try to get it done before then.

4:30 p.m. I can hardly believe it, but I think “Damien” is done. Rendering out a copy to have before something goes horribly wrong. I’ve sunk 100-plus hours into editing this beast of a video. The artists have sunk far more.

Going to step away for a bit and make a final pass with fresher eyes. Maybe take the dogs for a walk. Looks like we’ll make that concert.

Interviews are conducted by email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.

Fonte: NYT > Technology

Netflix Signs the Duo Behind HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’


LOS ANGELES — Netflix won a battle for talent in the increasingly heated streaming wars on Wednesday.

In a blow to HBO, Amazon and The Walt Disney Company, the longtime producing partners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creators of the television juggernaut “Game of Thrones,” signed a deal with the streaming company to create new TV shows and feature films.

Deadline first reported the news, and Netflix confirmed it on Wednesday.

Mr. Benioff and Mr. Weiss, who started as fiction writers and met each other as graduate students in the 1990s, adapted the George R. R. Martin series of fantasy novels “A Song of Ice and Fire” into the most popular series in HBO’s history. The show consistently generated social-media conversation during its eight-year run while also winning the Emmy in the best drama category three times.

Other suitors for the duo’s services included HBO, Amazon and Disney.

“They are a creative force and have delighted audiences worldwide with their epic storytelling,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer. “We can’t wait to see what their imaginations will bring to our members.”

In a statement, Mr. Weiss and Mr. Benioff said, “We’ve had a beautiful run with HBO for more than a decade and we’re grateful to everyone there for always making us feel at home.”

They also praised Netflix’s leadership team, saying: “We remember the same shots from the same ‘80s movies; we love the same books; we’re excited about the same storytelling possibilities. Netflix has built something astounding and unprecedented, and we’re honored they invited us to join them.”

The move comes as the streaming wars are ramping up, with entertainment companies allocating billions for fresh content and producers with solid track records in greater demand than ever.

Disney’s new streaming service, Disney Plus, is scheduled to premiere in November. HBO Max, the forthcoming service from Warner Media under its new owner, AT&T, will roll out next year. Apple has also gotten in on the act, with original programs of its own scheduled to make their debuts on a new service, Apple TV, in the next few months.

There is a question of how quickly the “Game of Thrones” producers will be able to devote their full attention to their Netflix duties. Mr. Weiss and Mr. Benioff are writing and producing a new “Star Wars” movie for Disney.

The two producers had announced a series for HBO in 2017 set in an alternate-history timeline, in which the Confederacy had won the Civil War. News of the series generated extensive online backlash, and doubts were raised about whether it would ever go into production. The Netflix deal all but kills it off.

Before reaching an agreement with Mr. Benioff and Mr. Weiss, Netflix had signed other major writer-producers, including Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy.

Fonte: NYT > Technology

Radio Giant, Riding Podcast Boom, Takes ‘Stuff You Should Know’ Global


Three times a week, millions of people who crave detailed explanations of time zones, deepfakes, artificial sweeteners and other trivia listen to the latest episodes of the podcast “Stuff You Should Know.”

Soon, the program — already one of the most popular in the world, with more than a billion downloads over its 11 years — will have the chance to attract an even larger and more diverse audience, thanks to a global expansion planned by its new owner, the broadcast giant iHeartMedia.

As part of the plan, “Stuff You Should Know” and five other podcasts will be made available early next year in Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, French and German, iHeartMedia announced on Wednesday.

The courting of international audiences is evidence that the booming podcast business sees potential growth beyond English-speaking nations when major media companies have fully embraced a medium that was once the province of independent hosts working out of basements and garages.

For years, iHeartMedia, which operates about 850 radio stations in the United States and has a popular online music app, iHeartRadio, mostly sat on the sidelines of the podcast revolution. Now it is going all in. Last year, the company bought Stuff Media, the studio that produces “Stuff You Should Know” and other shows, for $55 million, and Robert W. Pittman, iHeartMedia’s chief executive, considers podcasts an essential part of iHeartMedia’s offerings.

“We realized that the behavior of this consumer was the kind of behavior we see on radio,” Mr. Pittman said in an interview. “It’s companionship; it’s the human voice; somebody is keeping me company. We think of podcasts as a way for us to extend that companion relationship.”

By some estimates there are up to 700,000 podcasts, many of them amateur productions. But the market is changing as big media companies invest more in the medium, drawn by the advertising revenue brought in by hit shows.

Podcasts generated $479 million in advertising in the United States last year, according to estimates by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which projected that the market would grow to just over $1 billion by 2021.

Even Mr. Pittman, who began his career as a 15-year-old radio D.J. in Mississippi and still speaks with the confident cadence of a radio announcer, has a podcast: “Math & Magic: Stories From the Frontiers of Marketing.”

The potential revenue brought in by international podcasts will come in handy for iHeartMedia, a company that last month listed its shares on Nasdaq after emerging from bankruptcy with roughly $10 billion lopped off its debt load. Until now, the company’s business has largely been restricted to the United States, although the iHeartRadio app is available in Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

The dive into podcasts may be a necessity for a company built on audio. This year Spotify has spent more than $400 million to acquire several podcast companies while signaling that it might buy more. A new service, Luminary, arrived in April with an ambitious plan, backed by $100 million in funding, to be the Netflix of podcasts, with exclusive, ad-free content.

On Wednesday, Entercom Communications, the second-largest broadcast radio company after iHeartMedia, announced that it was buying two podcast companies, Pineapple Street Media and Cadence13.

American listeners helped create the podcast boom, but the medium is expanding rapidly around the world. More than half of Spotify’s podcast audience is outside the United States, the company said. Last month, two podcast companies, Stitcher and Wondery, announced a partnership to capture more advertising in Britain.

“It has always been more global than we thought,” said Tom Webster of Edison Research, which tracks consumer media behavior.

Erik Diehn, Stitcher’s chief executive, said that about 15 percent of the company’s traffic came from outside the United States. Conal Byrne, the president of the iHeartPodcast Network, said that the international popularity of “Stuff You Should Know” was underscored last year when the hosts toured Australia and New Zealand.

The translation plan that iHeartMedia has come up with for its podcasts is a substantial bet on the growth of the medium overseas. To prepare new editions of the shows, it must transcribe and translate scripts and cast voice actors and hosts who can approximate the tone and attitude of the originals, like the low-key, geeky enthusiasm of Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant from “Stuff You Should Know.”

“I wouldn’t quite say we’re looking for the Josh and Chuck of India,” Mr. Byrne said. “But you find really good voice talent — people who don’t just sit there and read a script, but can truly bring it to life.”

The first batch of international iHeartMedia shows comes from the company’s Stuff Media acquisition, including “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” “Stuff Mom Never Told You,” “Stuff to Blow Your Mind,” “BrainStuff” and “TechStuff.”

The process of translating podcast scripts, with their slang and quirky Americanisms, creates an interesting set of problems. Matthew Lieber, the managing director of Gimlet Media, one of the studios acquired by Spotify, said that his company had once considered international versions, but rejected the idea of mere translations or voice-overs as “serving audiences warmed-over American food.”

Once Gimlet Media became part of Spotify, however, it had greater resources. Next year, Spotify plans to introduce German, Spanish and Portuguese versions of “Sandra,” a fiction podcast from Gimlet about the anxious humans behind an Alexa-like voice assistant. The show is set in Guymon, Okla., so its creative team has had to imagine equivalent places in Germany, Mexico and Brazil.

Mr. Pittman, one of the founders of MTV, said that he saw iHeartMedia’s move into podcasting as a necessary measure to stave off disruption by a new technology. He noted that the television business was slow to adapt to the changes ushered in by the rise of cable decades ago and, more recently, by the rise of the on-demand model pioneered by Netflix and other streaming companies.

Looking at podcasts, Mr. Pittman said, he realized: “If this is something the consumer expects from us — it sounds like us, feels like us — then it is something we ought to be doing, too.”

Fonte: NYT > Technology

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