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A fictional Facebook Portal videochat with Mark Zuckerberg – TechCrunch

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TechCrunch: Hey Portal, dial Mark

Portal: Do you mean Mark Zuckerberg?

TC: Yes

Portal: Dialling Mark…


TC: Hi Mark! Nice choice of grey t-shirt.

MZ: Uh, new phone who dis? — oh, hi, er, TechCrunch…

TC: Thanks for agreeing to this entirely fictional interview, Mark!

MZ: Sure — anytime. But you don’t mind if I tape over the camera do you? You see I’m a bit concerned about my privacy here at, like, home

TC: We feel you, go ahead.

As you can see, we already took the precaution of wearing this large rubber face mask of, well, of yourself Mark. And covering the contents of our bedroom with these paint-splattered decorator sheets.

MZ: Yeah, I saw that. It’s a bit creepy tbh

TC: Go on and get all taped up. We’ll wait.

[sound of Mark calling Priscilla to bring the tape dispenser]

[Portal’s camera jumps out to assimilate Priscilla Chan into the domestic scene, showing a generous vista of the Zuckerbergs’ living room, complete with kids playing in the corner. Priscilla, clad in an oversized dressing gown and with her hair wrapped in a big fluffy towel, can be seen gesticulating at the camera. She is also coughing]

Priscilla to Mark: I already told you — there’s a camera cover built into into Portal. You don’t need to use tape now

MZ: Oh, right, right!

Okay, going dark! Wow, that feels better already

[sound of knuckles cracking]

TC: So, Mark, let’s talk hardware! What’s your favorite Amazon Echo?

MZ: Uh, well…

TC: We’d guess one with all the bells & whistles, right? There’s definitely something more than a little Echo Show-y about Portal

MZ: Sure, I mean. We think Alexa is a great product

TC: Mhmm. Do you remember when digital photo frames first came out? They were this shiny new thing about, like, a decade ago? One of those gadgets your parents buy you around Thanksgiving, which ends up stuck in a drawer forever?

MZ: Yeah! I think someone gave me one once with a photo of me playing beer pong on it. We had it hanging in the downstairs rest room for the longest time. But then we got an Android tablet with a Wi-Fi connection for in there, so…

TC: Now here we are a decade or so later with Portal advancing the vision of what digital photo frames can be!

MZ: Yeah! I mean, you don’t even have to pick the pictures! It’s pretty awesome. This one here — oh, right you can’t see me but let me describe it for you — this one here is of a Halloween party I went to one year. Someone was dressed as SpongeBob. I think they might have been called Bob, actually… And this is, like, some other Facebook friends doing some other fun stuff. Pretty amazing.

You can also look at album art

TC: But not YouTube, right? But let’s talk about video calling

MZ: It’s an amazing technology

TC: It sure is. Skype, FaceTime… live filters, effects, animoji…

MZ: We’re building on a truly great technology foundation. Portal autozooming means you don’t even have to think about watching the person you’re talking to! You can just be doing stuff in your room and the camera will always be adjusting to capture everything you’re doing! Pretty amazing.

TC: Doing what Mark? Actually, let’s not go there

MZ: Portal will even suggest people for you to call! We think this will be a huge help for our mission to promote Being Well — uh, I mean Time Well Spent because our expert machine learning algorithms will be nudging you to talk to people you should really be talking to

TC: Like my therapist?

MZ: Uh, well, it depends. But our AI can suggest personalized meaningful interactions by suggesting Messenger contacts to call up

TC: It’s not going to suggest I videchat my ex is it?

MZ: Haha! Hopefully not. But maybe your mom? Or your grandma?

TC: Sounds incredibly useful. Well, assuming they didn’t already #deletefacebook.

But let’s talk about kids

MZ: Kids! Yeah we love them. Portal is going to be amazing for kids

TC: You have this storybook thing going on, right? Absent grandparents using Portal to read kids bedtime stories and what not…

MZ: Right! We think kids are going to love it. And grandparents! We’ve got these animal masks if you get bored of looking at your actual family members. It’s good, clean, innovative fun for all the family!

TC: Yeah, although, I mean, nothing beats reading from an actual kid’s book, right?

MZ: Well…

TC: If you do want to involve a device in your kid’s bedtime there are quite a lot of digital ebook apps for that already. Apple has a whole iBooks library of the things with read-aloud narration, for example.

And, maybe you missed this — but quite a few years ago there was a big bunch of indie apps and services all having a good go at selling the same sort of idea of ‘interactive remote reading experiences’ for families with kids. Though not many appear to have gone the distance. Which does sort of suggest there isn’t a huge unmet need for extra stuff beyond, well, actual children’s books and videochat apps like Skype and FaceTime.

Also, I mean, children’s story reading apps and interactive kids’ e-books are pretty much as old as the hills in Internet terms at this point. So, er, you’re not really moving fast and breaking things are you!?

MZ: Actually we’re more focused on stable infrastructure these days

TC: And hardware too, apparently. Which is a pretty radical departure for Facebook. All those years everyone thought you were going to do a Facebook phone but you left it to Amazon to flop into that pit… Who needs hardware when you can put apps and tracker pixels on everything, right?!

But here you are now, kinda working with Amazon for Portal — while also competing with Alexa hardware by selling your own countertop device… Aren’t you at all nervous about screwing this up? Hardware IS hard. And homes have curtains for a reason…

MZ: We’re definitely confident kids aren’t going to try swivelling around on the Portal Plus like it’s a climbing frame, if that’s what you mean. Well, hopefully not anyway

TC: But about you, Facebook Inc, putting an all-seeing-eye-cum-Internet-connected-listening-post into people’s living rooms and kids’ bedrooms…

MZ: What about it?

[MZ speaking to someone else in the room] Does the speaker have an off switch? How do I mute this thing?

TC: Hello? Mark?

[silence]

[sound comes back on briefly and a snatch of conversation can be heard between Mark and Priscilla about the need to buy more diapers. Mark is then heard shouting across the room that his Shake Shack order of a triple cheeseburger and fries plus butterscotch malt is late again]

[silence] 

[crackle and a congested throat clearing sound. A child is heard in the background asking for Legos]

MZ: Not now okay honey. Okay hon-, uh, hello — what were you saying?

TC: Will you be putting a Portal in Max’s room?

MZ: Haha! She’d probably prefer Legos

TC: August?

MZ: She’s only just turned one

TC: Okay, let’s try a more direct question. Do you at all think that you, Facebook Inc,

might have a problem selling a $200+ piece of Internet-connected hardware when your company is known for creeping on people to sell ads?

MZ: Oh no, no! — we’ve, like, totally thought of that!

Let me read you what marketing came up with. Hang on, it’s around here somewhere…

[sound of paper rustling]

Here we go [reading]:

Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.

For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.

Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, ‘Hey Portal.’ You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

Pretty cool, huh!

TC: Just to return to your stable infrastructure point for a second, Mark — did you mean Facebook is focused on security too? Because, well, your company keeps leaking personal data like a sieve holds water…

MZ: We think of infrastructure as a more holistic concept. And, uh, as a word that sounds reassuring

TC: Okay, so of course you can’t 100% guarantee Portal against hacking risks, though you’re taking precautions by encrypting calls. But Portal might also ‘accidentally’ record stuff adults and kids say in the home — i.e. if its ‘Hey Portal’ local listening function gets triggered when it shouldn’t. And it will then be 100% up to a responsible adult to find their way through Facebook’s labyrinthine settings and delete those wiretaps, won’t it?

MZ: You can control all your information, yes

TC: The marketing bumpf also doesn’t spell out what Facebook does with ‘Hey Portal’ voice recordings, or the personal insights your company is able to glean from them, but Facebook is in the business of profiling people for ad targeting purposes so we must assume that any and all voice commands and interactions, with the sole exception of the contents of videocalls, will go into feeding that beast.

So the metadata of who you talk to via Portal, what you listen to and look at (minus any Alexa-related interactions that you’ve agreed to hand off to Amazon for its own product targeting purposes), and potentially much more besides is all there for Facebook’s taking — given the kinds of things that an always-on listening device located in a domestic setting could be accidentally privy to.

Then, as more services get added to Portal, more personal behavioral data will be generated and can be processed by Facebook for selling ads.

MZ: Well, I mean, like I told that Senator we do sell ads

TC: And smart home hardware too now, apparently.

One more thing, Mark: In Europe, Facebook didn’t used to have face recognition technology switched on did it?

MZ: We had it on pause for a while

TC: But you switched it back on earlier this year right?

MZ: Facebook users in Europe can choose to use it, yes

TC: And who’s in charge of framing that choice?

MZ: Uh, well we are obviously

TC: We’d like you to tap on the Portal screen now, Mark. Tap on the face you can see to make the camera zoom right in on this mask of your own visage. Can you do that for us?

MZ: Uh, sure

[sound of a finger thudding against glass]

MZ: Are you seeing this? It really is pretty creepy!

Or — I mean — it would be if it wasn’t so, like, familiar…

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

[sound of a child crying]

Priscilla to Mark: Eeeew! Turn that thing off!

TC: Thanks Mark. We’ll leave you guys to it.

Enjoy your Shake Shack. Again.


Portal: Thanks for calling Mark, TechCrunch! Did you enjoy your Time Well Spent?

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Popular software development tool Docker gets Apple M1 support

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Enlarge / Docker running on a Mac.

Docker, a popular multi-platform application used by software developers, has released a version that runs natively on Apple Silicon hardware, including Macs released with Apple’s custom-designed M1 chip.

The M1 chip uses the ARM instruction set and cannot natively run software that was designed to run on the x86 architecture that the Intel processors in previously released Macs used. Though the previous version of Docker did work via Apple’s Rosetta solution, the introduction of an M1-native version of Docker contributes to a closing gap for developers concerned about running their entire suite of tools in an optimal way.

It follows the release of M1 versions of Homebrew, Visual Studio Code, and other developer tools and applications. But some gaps remain—for example, Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2019 IDE (which is distinct from the comparatively lightweight Visual Studio Code) has not been updated.

Docker achieved popularity among developers because it enabled relatively easy use of containers, wherein multiple applications could be developed and tested on a single machine, sharing the operating system’s kernel without interfering with one another.

The public release of the Apple Silicon version of Docker Desktop for Mac was installed 45,000 times in a technical preview, and Docker’s press release says that developers participating in that preview said the application ran “faster and quieter” than it did before the M1 update. The press release included the following statement from Docker Captain Ajeet Singh Raina:

To the many developers eager to know if they can use the latest Macs as a dev machine with Docker, the wait is over… Docker Desktop for Mac [Apple Silicon] will let you do everything you’ve been able to do on a Mac already, and you’ll be able to do it faster and with less noise.

A blog post on the Docker website says that M1 support “quickly became by far our most upvoted roadmap item ever” after it was first requested.

That said, Apple has only released a few Macs that include the M1, and all of them are lower-end machines with limitations like low maximum RAM configurations, support for only one external monitor at a time, and fewer Thunderbolt ports than high-end machines that still have Intel chips—meaning most of the Apple Silicon Macs that would be most suitable for developers have yet to be released.

When they are, they might not have the M1 but may instead feature related chips with performance or feature improvements over the M1. There’s no reason to expect that the changes made to Docker and other M1-native software won’t work just as well on that new chip, should it arrive.

The full release notes for Docker Desktop 3.3.1 with Apple Silicon support can be found at the Docker Docs website.

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Google Earth is now a 3D time machine

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Google has pushed out what it says is Google Earth’s “biggest update since 2017” with a new 3D time-lapse feature. Entering the new “Timelapse” mode of Google Earth will let you fly around the virtual globe with a time slider, showing you satellite imagery from the past 37 years. Google Earth Timelapse has been around for years as part of Google Earth Engine (which is a totally separate interface from Google Earth; it’s a weird Google branding thing), but it was previously only available in 2D. Now, Google has mapped all this data across the 3D Google Earth globe, where you can watch cities being built, forests being cut down, and glaciers receding.

Google Earth Timelapse isn’t just a huge amount of data; properly mapping it across the globe means correcting the images for artifacts and problems. The company had to get clouds out of the way, correct images for perspective, and ensure seamless transitioning through zoom levels. Luckily, Google happens to have some really big computers to handle the load.

The company explains what it took to make Timelapse happen:

Making a planet-sized timelapse video required a significant amount of what we call “pixel crunching” in Earth Engine, Google’s cloud platform for geospatial analysis. To add animated Timelapse imagery to Google Earth, we gathered more than 24 million satellite images from 1984 to 2020, representing quadrillions of pixels. It took more than two million processing hours across thousands of machines in Google Cloud to compile 20 petabytes of satellite imagery into a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic—that’s the equivalent of 530,000 videos in 4K resolution!

To access the timeline, open up Google Earth on the web, click on the navigation ship’s wheel icon, and press the big “Timelapse in Google Earth” button—or just go to g.co/timelapse. With Timelapse open, you’ll get a big panel on the right side with a timeline from 1984 to today, and a few shortcuts to places Google says are particularly interesting. Google Earth Timelapse doesn’t work well across the entire world just yet. Some places, like New York City, appear hopelessly blurry, even when you set the timer to 2020. Google’s highlighted locations, like Dubai, look a lot better and play out like a game of SimCity.

Besides offering a fun, new feature in Google Earth, Google is pitching Timelapse as a teaching tool for climate change. If you want this information in a more portable format than Google Earth, Google has created a big batch of Earth timelapse videos highlighting “urban expansion, mining impacts, river meandering, the growth of megacities, deforestation, and agricultural expansion.” The videos are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0, so you’re free to use them for whatever you want as long as you credit Google.

Like with New York City, there are a few holes in Google’s data right now. Objects like 3D buildings don’t show up in Timelapse mode, and it doesn’t look like the Earth geometry changes, either. This 3D time-lapse feature is a platform for the future, though, and Google says it will “update Google Earth annually with new Timelapse imagery throughout the next decade.”

Listing image by Google

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Intel, Nvidia, TSMC execs agree: Chip shortage could last into 2023

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Intel

How many years will the ongoing chip shortage affect technology firms across the world? This week, multiple tech executives offered their own dismal estimates as part of their usual public financial disclosures, with the worst one coming in at “a couple of years.”

That nasty estimate comes from Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, who offered that vague timeframe to The Washington Post in an interview on Tuesday. He clarified that as an estimate for how long it would take the company to “build capacity” to potentially address supply shortages. The conversation came as Intel offered to step up for two supply chains particularly pinched by the silicon drought: medical supplies and in-car computer systems.

In previous statements, Gelsinger pointed to Intel’s current $20 billion plan to build a pair of factories in Arizona, and this week’s interview added praise for President Joe Biden’s proposed $50 billion chip-production infrastructure plan—though Gelsinger indicated that Biden should be ready to spend more than that.

Born in Arizona…

TSMC CEO C.C. Wei offered a similarly dire estimate to investors on Thursday, saying that the Taiwan-based company hoped to “offer more capacity” for meeting retail and manufacturing demand “in 2023.” TSMC, coincidentally, is moving forward with a manufacturing plant of its own in Arizona, which Bloomberg claims could cost “up to $12 billion,” despite the company clarifying that it intends to prioritize research, development, and production in its home nation.

Graphics card and SoC producer Nvidia joined the grim estimate club this week, though Nvidia has a more optimistic belief that it will emerge with “sufficient supply to support sequential growth beyond [fiscal] Q1 [2022],” according to CFO Colette Kress. Until then, “we expect demand to continue to exceed supply for much of this year,” she added. (Having seen the comment sections of recent GPU reviews at Ars Technica, we sure believe that.)

But as tech companies scramble to navigate natural disasters, exponential consumer demand, and the building of brand-new facilities, some questions remain unanswered. How will so much scaling up of new factories turn out? Will they meet their construction deadlines, and will they be anywhere near as efficient as promised or hoped once their lines open up? Automakers and gamers alike will be watching with keen interest.

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