Eugene Chung Wants To Be Virtual Reality's First Auteur

“We almost decided that we shouldn’t show it to you.”

Eugene Chung is standing in his office, hesitating. Really, he’s standing in a desk-filled condo in a residential building, but here in San Francisco’s fog-soused, startup-heavy Soma neighborhood, all that steel and glass blends together, so we’ll call it an office. And really, he’s not so much hesitating as explaining himself, managing expectations, doing the nervous dance of a perfectionist who’s not quite ready to share what he’s made with the world.

What he’s made is "Allumette", a 10-minute virtual reality movie about an unnamed orphan girl in a floating city. This studio full of 15 animators and designers and engineers has been working on it for the past six-odd months. They’re called Penrose. They’re nervous. The next day, the year-old studio will head to Sundance, where they’ll be making the rounds, showing "Allumette" in private meetings with various movers and shakers, and screening The Rose and I, an earlier work, publicly as part of the festival’s New Frontier showcase.

New Frontier started as an exhibit for experimental film techniques, but in recent years, it has become colonized by virtual reality. This year — the year many hope will be the one that takes VR from a tech-y curiosity to a mainstream pursuit — there are 31 VR experiences at New Frontier.

That's huge, and it's illustrative of the inflection point virtual reality is at right now. The headsets are coming soon, and they’re great. What VR needs, desperately, is things to fill the headsets with. That content is coming; artists and filmmakers and techies and startups and investors all see the same opportunity. Games will be first, goes the industry logic, but narratives — the movies and TV shows and whatever else they can drop a viewer into — are what will take this mainstream.

Michelle Rial / BuzzFeed News

But VR is currently manned almost entirely by technologists, not artists, so there’s a hunt for storytellers — good ones. And, of all of them, Chung, the founder of Penrose and, to date, its sole director (in the filmmaking sense, although the title works in the executive sense as well), might have the most impressive bona fides: He worked on production at Pixar before founding Oculus’s Story Studio — the arm of the VR giant that makes narrative experiences — as the company’s head of film & media. Now he’s struck out on his own to form a studio with complete editorial independence, no allegiances to a single headset or platform, and a team culled from places like Pixar and Dreamworks.

Chung stands a little below average height, with hair long enough that he periodically sweeps it off his forehead during conversation. He has a penchant for slim-fitting sweaters and cool shoes and, like his films, is unfailingly put together and incredibly detailed-oriented. (When he heard a BuzzFeed photographer was coming to the office, he instructed the Penrose staffers to wear solid colors so the pictures would turn out better.) In a field made up largely of computer scientists obsessed with testing the technical limits of this latest, greatest gadget, he’s an unabashed aesthete, the kind of person who casually drops references to Bertolucci and Dostoyevsky in conversation.

The rest of Penrose seems to share Chung’s sensibility. For the entirety of its production, "Allumette" has been known around the office as "Rope", after the Hitchcock film of the same name. When it was first conceived, the studio decided it would be made without cuts — the hallmark of the original Rope. The plan didn’t stick, but it speaks to the ambition of the studio: It's clear that Penrose is gunning to be included in a canon.

The problem is, for VR right now, there isn’t any canon to speak of, and the rules to entry aren’t going to be clear for quite some time. Chung may be well-positioned to become the medium’s first auteur, but to do that he has to figure out what makes for a VR classic before anyone else.

Michelle Rial / BuzzFeed News

Ultimately, Chung decides that "Allumette" is ready to show. Close enough, at least. But he’s quick to point out that it’s not a movie, it’s a trailer — a 10-minute-long, narrative trailer that doesn’t exactly give an idea of what the movie is about so much as drop the viewer into a world and let them look around before starting a story and jerking them out once things get moving. It is, essentially, a Sundance-worthy short film: breathtaking, ambitious, a little confusing.

It’s certainly not a trailer in the traditional sense of the word. But Chung — like Penrose as a studio — is a perfectionist, and the prevailing sense of the office is that everything, no matter how long it’s been in production, is a work in progress. The product can always be better. They call "Allumette" a trailer because, even in its polished state and despite its ability to wow viewers, they don’t consider it finished.

Penrose

"Allumette" takes place in a cobblestone-paved city dominated by canals. It’s based on Venice but it’s in the sky, the waterways replaced with clouds. The protagonist is a young girl, alone, dragging a suitcase behind her. She settles on a corner and opens the case. In it are three long matches, almost as tall as her, each one a different color. She strikes one and it glows, iridescent, brighter until it takes up your entire field of view and all you can see is a gold that brightens into a white screen.

When the light from the match fades, you see empty sky filled with clouds, and a ship, powered by clockwork gears, flying across it. The match girl has a mother in this scene, and when they dock in the city they sell a match to a pedestrian. The scene fades, back to the little match girl alone again, at night, where she strikes another match.

The perspective through which all of this is viewed is important. "Allumette" and The Rose and I — Penrose’s first feature — both do something unusual for virtual reality movies, which is take the viewer a step back from the experience. To date, most VR sets and experiences have been designed for first-person viewing. But Penrose’s style — inasmuch as a studio can have a style after just two pieces — is to disregard the first person. In both The Rose and I and "Allumette", the viewer is much, much bigger than the story — a disembodied person in space with the story playing out in miniature in front of them.

It works a lot like the third person in a book. You’re reading the book, but it’s from a perspective where you can see all the characters at once. Like a book, "Allumette" doesn’t make you think too hard about this. You can still relate, obviously, get caught up in the action, and identify with the characters. In VR you just notice the strangeness of perspective a little more.

The approach isn’t all that different than a standard, 2D movie, but in VR, it’s almost heretical. Penrose is breaking the fundamental promise of VR — to put you in another person’s shoes. This kind of approach has been trumpeted at length by the most visible people working in the field. Chris Milk, creator of the app/platform/production studio Vrse and longtime VR evangelist — he was recently the subject of a Vanity Fair profile touting him as “virtual reality’s first auteur” — calls the medium as an “empathy engine.”

The problem is, this doesn’t work. At least not for storytelling.

Michelle Rial / BuzzFeed News

Right now, a foundational tenet of virtual reality is the concept of presence. How realistic can each headset make a new world? How does each experience pull you in, make everything feel real? How in the moment are you? Presence is discussed as if it's a quantifiable metric, and, because it’s the true differentiating factor between VR and film — VR is the one you can actually live in — it’s considered by many in the field to be the most important quality. So much so that some enthusiasts capitalize it in writing: Presence.

But there are a few major problems with this. The is a fundamental one. It's virtual reality, not reality, and at some point you're going to run up against that. You can’t lean against a table in VR and not fall over in your living room — there are limits to how realistic this can all get, and at some point the sense of presence has to be broken.

The second problem is that presence is fundamentally at odds with storytelling. “Presence is the holy grail of VR,” says Chung, “but when you feel present it’s hard to absorb a story.” Stories require attention — good ones have characters and plot and dynamism. Presence requires only existence. The things that you’re in the moment for, the thing some virtual reality enthusiasts and creators are striving for, is an experience that you’re unable to separate from real life, which makes it hard to also absorb a story. It would be like trying to listen to Serial while having sex.

“There’s a really interesting identity question in VR. Who are you in the experience? It’s a difficult question to answer,” says Chung. “There was one idea we had early on that you’re a ghost. Or a comatose person — a Diving Bell and the Butterflytype effect. But if you are trying to tell a story, there’s a problem of identity.When you change the scale of the story, you skirt that problem. You don’t have to wonder who you are.”

The Rose and I takes place in space — the little prince, from the classic French children’s story, lives on another planet and finds a rose that is coughing. He goes inside, finds a watering can, and waters the rose. In most VR experiences, the viewer would be one of the two characters: the prince or the rose. Instead, the entire planet is about the size of a beach ball, the prince inches tall. Instead of being one of the characters, the viewer is a kind of director, deciding where to watch from.

The choice appears to have paid off in the case of The Rose and I. “They made really good use of positional tracking,” says Will Mason, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of UploadVR, a virtual reality trade publication that launched in 2014. “You’re controlling how you’re viewing the story — do you follow the rose or the person? It really added to the storytelling.”

There’s a race going on, but because this is art, no one knows where the finish line is.

Mason says he’s seen too many virtual reality experiences to count, and what Penrose has produced so far ranks “very close to the top.”

And Shari Frilot, a senior programmer for Sundance and the curator (and co-founder) of New Frontier, says The Rose And I “still stands out from the pack.”

“The craft of it is so great, and its approach is so unique ... It would absolutely work in our animation section, but it’s a virtual reality piece.”

“I’ve got my eye on them.”

Penrose

Chung didn’t have to be nervous about showing "Allumette". Any imperfections are of the kind that are only visible to the person who made it. It's richly realized fantasy world, filled with cobblestones that seem solid, clouds you can walk through and wonder why they don’t feel like San Francisco fog, and a character you ache to understand. You want to see what happens next.

Penrose

"Allumette" feels handcrafted because, in a sense, it was. Virtual reality experiences are usually created on computers, but Penrose found a new method — working on the piece in virtual reality. That means that engineers and designers are putting on headsets and manipulating the actual environment with controllers to get every single detail right. The tools to do this hadn’t existed before "Allumette." They were never necessary, until Penrose (and others) realized that things would work better if environments could be designed in virtual reality — so they had to develop the tech on the fly. It’s a little like inventing a new kind of paintbrush while finishing a painting.

“The way we’ve done it for decades, it doesn’t translate,” says Chung. “It’s so much faster when you do things natively. You don’t jump out and jump back in to check each part of your work. We’re becoming native VR creators. We’re thinking in VR.”

It’s that experience that makes Chung confident that "Allumette," when completed, won’t be hampered by its length. At 10 minutes, the trailer is at the longer end of the spectrum for virtual reality movies — and it’s only the first third of the final version. Chung talks about the finished product in vague terms, but "Allumette" could ends up clocking in at more than 30 minutes — something that hasn’t been tackled yet by a virtual reality narrative.

Michelle Rial / BuzzFeed News

What Chung is doing — and he seems to relish the task — is lay out the ground rules for a new art form. It’s a risky business. If "Allumette" is too long, and it gives viewers nausea, or makes their eyes ache, or just becomes impossible to follow, that’s likely a year’s worth of work down the drain. And it’s an invaluable year — other virtual reality creators are puzzling at the same problems Penrose is, and the painstakingly detailed approach means that a nimble studio could figure out keys to success before the perfectionists do. There’s a race going on, but because this is art, no one knows where the finish line is.

Chung has chosen not to make things easy. He’s the son of an opera singer, obsessed with the early days of film, and not looking to pull any punches. “I think ultimately what drives us is pushing the medium forward,” he says. “Audiences can always smell inauthenticity.” At a moment when many virtual reality projects are interested in a documentary experiences that get as close to real life as possible, Chung & co. opt for a claymation-style aesthetic, and jerky stop-motion animation instead of something smoother and less challenging. Chung understands that this is a risk, but it sounds like one he’s happy to make. “It would be a disservice to not try things like that,” he says, “because we don’t have a studio we can make decisions like this.”

When it's finished,"Allumette" will be be a three-chapter-long saga set in a Venice of the clouds, with flying ships powered by perpetual motion machines. It's longer — maybe much longer — than we know audiences will tolerate. It will be about “sacrifice and the love that a mother has for a child, the things that a parent is willing to do for the greater good.”

It will be, if nothing else, the fulfillment of an artistic vision.

“We’re doing this for art’s sake, for story’s sake, not because anyone wants us to,” Chung says.

Art is usually what defines technology, not the other way around. We can list countless films, but no one still marvels at the projector that made them possible. The stage is set for virtual reality’s mainstream release, and it has the potential to become its own medium, but if we look back on it in a few years, the important thing about virtual reality won’t be the refresh rates of the screens or the amount of head-tracking each headset can do, or even the price of each piece of hardware — the tech is going to improve, steadily and probably quickly. What people will remember is the first thing that truly blew them away when they put on a headset. And to find out what’s going to do that, you need artists.

“All the early stuff did was show you that this is a different medium,” says Chung. “Now we need to test those limits.

“It does feel like we’re on the frontier of something.”

Penrose

Grindr Went Down And Panic Ensued

“Swear #Grindr goes down more times than I do”

Grindr had an outage on Saturday, and users were pretty upset to say the least.

Grindr had an outage on Saturday, and users were pretty upset to say the least.

Via Twitter: @JMPoff

The app appeared to be down for several hours, forcing many to take to social media to vent their frustrations.

The app appeared to be down for several hours, forcing many to take to social media to vent their frustrations.

Via Twitter: @LittleGusComedy

Via Twitter: @MbudDul

Via Twitter: @BrophyDan


View Entire List ›

We Asked 13 Friscans How They Feel About Frisco

Frisco gives us the ~feels~!

1. You should!

1. You should!

2. This dog is also wrong.

2. This dog is also wrong.

It its defense, it is a dog.


View Entire List ›

Facebook To Restrict Private Firearms Sales

Facebook is planning to announce that the network will no longer allow its user to conduct private firearms sales through pages and groups, according to a Reuters report.

While Facebook confirmed that "Licensed retailers will still be able to advertise firearms on Facebook that lead to transactions outside of Facebook's platform," sales from private citizens will be subject to crackdown from the site.

Previously, Facebook's terms of service stipulated that, "Ads and Sponsored Stories may not promote firearms, ammunition, paintball guns, bb guns, fireworks, explosives, pepper spray, knives, tasers, or weapons of any kind, including those used for self-defense. Ads and Sponsored Stories may not directly or indirectly link to landing pages where users can purchase any of these products." It did not mention private groups, pages, or private messages, leaving room for pages such as this:

Facebook / Via Facebook: 882482471810753

As of now, it's unclear whether this affects just Facebook's site or its other companies as well, including What'sApp and Instagram.

Facebook has not yet responded to request for comment.

This Is The Version Of The Kim Kardashian Game That Could've Been

A rival game company’s lawsuit claims Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was based on these images.

Kung Fu Mobile claims in a lawsuit that they met with Kris Jenner in 2011 to discuss a potential Kardashian themed video game – and showed her mockups of what the game would look like. Jenner didn't go with Kung Fu, and instead partnered with competitor Glu Mobile instead. Glu subsequently came out with the smash hit Kim Kardashian: Hollywood in 2014.

The lawsuit claims Glu based its game off the mockups and pitch that Kung Fu had made for Jenner, and is suing for copyright infringement and breach of contract.

Kris Jenner and Glu are fighting the claims and asking for a dismissal. A hearing for the motion to dismiss will be held February 29th.

Kung Fu's mockups were entered into evidence in the court document of the case. Here's what their game would've looked like:

Kung Fu's mockups were entered into evidence in the court document of the case. Here's what their game would've looked like:


View Entire List ›

Why A Marxist Social Policy Is Gaining Ground In Silicon Valley


Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr / Via flic.kr

This week, the startup incubator Y Combinator put up a job listing for a researcher to study basic income, a policy where the government would, as described by Y Combinator boss Sam Altman, give all citizens "enough money to live on with no strings attached."

There are other ways to describe the UBI ("universal basic income"), the cutest being "mincome" (short for minimum income), but the general parameters include just that: all citizens get a base amount of money, unconditional on employment status or other factors.

"If you give people freedom — and you free them from the worry and stress of paying for food — some people will do nothing," Altman told BuzzFeed News in an interview. "And some people will create incredible new wealth."

It's an idea that has united Marxists and libertarians, making unlikely comrades of anarchist anthropologist David Graeber and billionaire investor Peter Thiel. Some proponents argue the policy would raise the standard of living, return a degree of labor market power to working people, and compensate unwaged work by women. Others believe direct cash payments are a more efficient way for the government to distribute money than the current welfare system.

To these pluses, Altman adds the promise of a "truer" meritocracy.

"Fifty years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people," Altman wrote. "I also think that it’s impossible to truly have equality of opportunity without some version of guaranteed income."

The notion of paying people for nothing, which has been gaining popularity in recent months, last had traction at the level of government in the 1960s and 70s, when both conservatives and liberals voiced support for versions of the policy. Free-market champion Milton Friedman and Richard Nixon each favored variations of basic income, as well as Democratic politicians such as George McGovern.

'Pepper', humanoid robots, are displayed at a smartphone stall to illustrate their applications for corporate use.

Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP / Getty Images

The idea in, its new tech context, is a kind of Soylent for economics, a synthetic miracle cure-all for poverty, manufactured by the same method and minds that tackled hunger by making a hipper, nerdier version of nutritional shakes.

After all, basic income is not such a far cry from unemployment benefits, the Earned Income Tax Credit, social security, or a souped-up take on Obama's recently proposed "wage insurance." But when techno-utopian VC firms get involved, a semi-radical social safety net study becomes a futuristic moonshot to sketch a blueprint for a society in which robots will have eliminated most kinds of work.

"I’m fairly confident that at some point in the future, as technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs and massive new wealth gets created, we’re going to see some version of this at a national scale," Altman wrote.

BuzzFeed News spoke with Altman to learn more about the proposal. Here's what he had to say.

Given that a number of studies have looked at basic income in the past, what's behind the decision to fund more research now?

I think those past studies are not super relevant to the world in 2016. It’s such a different time in the world. Technology in 2016 enables people to accomplish much more, with much less, than at any time in history.

Which technology in particular do you have in mind?

I don't think it's any one technology. I think it's where we are on the general exponential curve of technology. We are not so far away from a society where we have enough for everyone.

Also, in the world today, many people can create new innovations. However, with the fear of poverty that so many people face, it's very difficult to take the risks to do that. I don't think we can have equality of opportunity without something like a basic income.

Do you think favor for basic income has reached a high level of saturation in Silicon Valley?

I think there are still a lot of people who think it’s a really horrible idea. And there are a lot of people who look at how quickly everything’s changing and see this as something on the scale of the industrial revolution or cultural revolution in terms of changing the potential of what people can accomplish when you take away the fear of not being able to pay rent or for food.

If you give people freedom — and you free them from the worry and stress of paying for food — some people will do nothing. And some people will create incredible new wealth. We see this all the time at Y Combinator with people who wouldn’t be able to start up without support from us.

People dress as robots for Halloween in West Hollywood.

David Mcnew / AFP / Getty Images

You mentioned you've been interested in basic income for a long time. Did you come to it via conservative thinkers like Milton Friedman, liberal theorists, or some combination?

I honestly can't point to the time I became interested in this. [It's been] sort of a gradual process over the past 10 years. As you point out, it comes from a lot of places — it's one of the few ideas that I've heard staunch support for from liberals, conservatives, libertarians, authoritarians, etc.

What do you think it is about basic income that appeals so much to some in the tech community, rather than proposals such like welfare, unemployment benefits, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or wage insurance?

I'm not entirely sure. Speaking for myself, it seems fair, it seems simple, and it seems like it could be good for society.

Mannequin robots perform different poses during a demonstration at the annual International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo.

Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP / Getty Images

There seem to be good indicators that on-demand economy workers can't all count on making minimum wage. Might a basic income help underwrite gig economy startups, by raising the floor for contingent workers? Or could you see basic income undercutting the model?

I'm not sure. It would certainly give the workers much more power [and] flexibility.

One of the questions you mention trying to answer is, "Do people sit around and play video games, or do they create new things?” To push against that — would it be so bad if people do both — if a basic income enables more play?

Of course it'd be okay. I personally love playing video games. On a more serious note, I don't think hard work for its own sake is valuable (only if it actually creates new value). I think we are heading towards a world where we don't need everyone to work. If some people are happy and fulfilled playing video games, more power to them.

(Edited and condensed for clarity and length.)

Facebook Doesn't Like Calling Twitter By Its Name, And Twitter Is Pissed

When a Twitter flame war between Wendy's and Burger King last week ended with Wendy's saying it would respond to its rival's antics by serving "edible food," the spat became national news. And like many such silly and shareable stories, it made its way to Facebook's Trending List, which happily named the brands involved, but not the platform on which they sparred.

To Facebook, the Wendy's vs. Burger King Twitter fight happened not on Twitter, but in an otherworld called "Social Media."

Evidently, the word "Twitter" is something of a stumbling block for Facebook, which seems to abstain from using it, particularly in its Trending column where Twitter-related stories are often described as "Social Media" ones. And this has caused enough consternation over at Twitter that some executives are finally calling bullshit. Twitter COO Adam Bain, for example, has clearly lost patience with the euphemism, repeatedly calling it: Facebook's "Code for Twitter."

And, to be fair, Facebook has given Bain and Twitter plenty of reason to protest this week. That epic Kanye West vs. Wiz Khalifa Twitter fight? Facebook said it happened on "Social Media." The Twitter debate between B.O.B and Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Earth's shape? Yup, also "Social Media."

All this during a week in which Facebook poached Twitter product head Kevin Weil to work for Instagram, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg began referring to Facebook as the new "town hall" — a phrase that sounds an awful lot like Twitter's description of itself as the "global town square."

In fairness, Facebook does occasionally refer to its own posts as occurring on "social media," and the company has no policy forbidding the use of Twitter's name.


Asked why the Trending column often refers to Twitter as "Social Media," a Facebook spokesperson sent the following response in an email: "Trending topic descriptions and summaries are written with the goal of making sure that the topic is clear and well-summarized, so that people get an accurate summary of the news event quickly.”



Chrooma Keyboard v1.4.1 for Android

Chrooma Keyboard v1.4.1 for Android
Chrooma Keyboard v1.4.1 for Android  - Jika kamu merasa bosan dengan tampilan keyboard android kamu yang gitu-gitu aja, kamu bisa mendownload dan install aplikasi yang satu ini. Chrooma Keyboard merupakan aplikasi keyboard android yang bisa dibilang sangat bagus, dan memang mendapat banyak respon positif. Dengan keyboard ini, kamu dapat merubah warna layout keyboard sesuai dengan yang kamu mau. Selain itu masih banyak lagi kelebihan dari aplikasi keyboard yang satu ini.

Screenshot :

Chrooma Keyboard v1.4.1 for AndroidChrooma Keyboard v1.4.1 for Android

System Required : Android OS 4.4 or Higher

Download :
Note : Pilih salah satu link saja.

How To Download

BACA JUGA: Cara Mendapatkan Dollar dari Adfly!

Semoga Bermanfaat. :)

Internet Download Manager 6.25 Build 11 Final

Internet Download Manager atau yang lebih kita kenal dengan sebutan IDM kembali melakukan update yang kini mencapai versi Internet Download Manager 6.25 Build 11 Final, seperti biasa pada update minggu ini hanya merupakan perbaikan bugs dan juga update untuk kompabilitas terhadap browser terbaru, IDM sendiri merupakan download manager terbaik karena didukung dengan fitur yang sangat komplit dan tentunya dengan kemampuan download yang sangat baik.

Screenshoot:


What's new in version 6.25 Build 11?
  • Added support for Firefox 45
  • Fixed bugs
Cara Installasi:
  • Exit IDM (dari try icon)
  • Install IDM sampai selesai
  • Copy Patch ke directory installasi IDM
  • Jalankan Patch kemudian klik patch, tunggu sampai proses patching selesai
  • Enjooy
Download: 
Jika ada pertanyaan/request, hubungi saya di  Twitter
Anda ingin MENGHASILKAN UANG DARI ANDROID?  Cek Disini Yah

Ted Cruz Mocks Trump Debate Absence With Cartoon Duck Snapchat Filter

Ted Cruz has a new nickname for Republican rival Donald Trump: Ducking Donald. And he's propagating it on Snapchat.

The nickname is a reference to Trump's decision to withdraw from tonight's Republican debate, and Cruz's campaign used it in a sponsored Snapchat filter that also included a cartoon rubber duck sporting Trump's trademark hairdo.

In an email, a Snapchat spokesperson confirmed the filter's authenticity and said that it will run today in Iowa only.

Snapchat isn't exactly a part of the political-advertising mainstream, but it's picking up some steam. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul and John Kasich — as well as some Super PACs — have all run ads on the platform this election season.

Cruz used the same "Ducking Donald" attack in a post included in Snapchat's Live Story from the debate. "I'm looking forward to being on the debate stage tonight in Iowa," he said. "The only question is: Where will Donald be?"




FCC: U.S. Broadband Still Terrible

Matt King / Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday agreed to release its 2016 Broadband Progress Report to the public at the end of this week. And when it’s published it will be as shocking and dismal as the one that preceded it.

Conducted over 2015, the FCC’s review found that broadband internet is “not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion to all Americans,” a finding that prompted the agency to “take immediate action” to accelerate connectivity. Worse: The U.S. ranks just 16th out of 34 developed nations in broadband speed and access.

34 million Americans currently lack access to broadband internet, according to the FCC. Rural communities are especially deprived, with 39 percent of the rural population lacking access, compared to just 4 percent in urban areas. The commission found that 41 percent of American schools have failed to meet the agency’s short-term goal of 100 Mb speeds. These schools educate nearly half of the nation’s children.

FCC officials described the disparity in web access as a significant barrier to economic and social life. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn challenged those who have access to connected computers and mobile devices to “forgo either for a week” to see “how challenging it is to keep up with the daily demands of work, school, home, health, commerce, sanity, just about everything.”

But even as the majority of FCC commissioners support efforts to close the gap — providing broadband subsidies for poor households, offering government grants to schools and rural communities, spurring industry investments in network infrastructure — commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai registered their displeasure.

“The [Obama] administration’s policies have failed,” said Pai, who along with O’Rielly, the other Republican commissioner, often voices dissenting opinions within the FCC. “You might think that for all the money the Administration has spent, there would be real progress. But the FCC doesn’t think so. And in many ways, I agree."

O’Reilly characterised the broadband report as politically motivated, designed to invite additional government regulation into the broadband market. “I strongly oppose the notion that broadband is not being deployed in a timely fashion,” he said. “Apparently, no amount of progress will ever be good enough for a commission that is bent on regulating broadband at any cost.”

To be fair, the FCC’s report indicates that the country’s glaring internet gap seems to be closing, with the percentage of Americans without access at 20 percent in 2012, 17 percent in 2013 , and 10 percent in 2014. That said, five years ago, in its 2011 Broadband Progress Report, the agency also concluded that "broadband is not being reasonably and timely deployed and is not available to all Americans,” a conclusion the agency has come to pretty much every year since.

Amazon Stock Crashes After Company Reports Record Profit

Yes, profit.

David Ryder / Getty Images

Amazon

Amazon stock had soared in the lead-up to what many expected would be a positive earnings report. It was up up almost 9% on Thursday, and its share price more than doubled in the past year.

But investors sold off the stock in after-hours trading following the earnings report, and the stock was down almost 13%. Amazon reported a $482 million profit for the quarter, which was more than double the $214 million profit in the same period in the previous year, but well below what analysts expected. It was also the largest quarterly profit Amazon has ever reported.

This is a huge shift for Amazon, which in recent years has worried investors with its large spending and seeming indifference to profits. In early 2013, Slate described Amazon as "a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers." The company was coming off a $39 million loss in 2012.

In 2013, it would earn $274 million, and in 2014, the company lost $214 million. In all of 2015, however, profit soared $482 million. The gyrations in income came with massive investments by Amazon in faster delivery, free delivery for Amazon Prime members, and the expansion of its media offerings, including original content, for Prime members.

But revenue didn't grow as much as people expected in the last three months. Amazon had $35.7 billion worth of sales, up 22% from $29.3 billion a year ago but slightly below what analysts had expected.

Investors have flocked to Amazon because of the belief that it will continually hoover up more and more of the brick-and-mortar retail business, along with having the most profitable cloud computing business in the world. That's why Amazon trumpets metrics besides profits like revenue, to show how quickly its e-commerce footprint overall is growing, and different measures of cash flow, which generally track money coming into the company and the money it takes to run the business in a given period.

One bright spot was Amazon web services, the company's cloud computing business. It reported $2.4 billion in revenue, just above what analysts expected, and $687 million in operating profit — a huge number given that all of Amazon made about $1.1 billion in operating profit for the quarter.


View Entire List ›

Apple Is Issuing A Recall For Some Of Its Wall Plug Adapters


Apple

Today in power cord plug wall-adapter news, Apple is announcing a sizable voluntary recall of AC wall plug adapters designed for Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Continental Europe, New Zealand and South Korea. The recall covers certain adapters sold and shipped with Mac and certain iOS devices between 2003 and 2015. It also includes plug adapters sold in the Apple World Travel Adapter Kit, so you might want to check if yours are affected on Apple's site, here.

The recall comes after incidents where, according to the company, "affected Apple two-prong wall plug adapters may break and create a risk of electrical shock if touched." Apple did not elaborate but insists that the incidents are "very rare." The company said in a statement that it is aware of 12 incidents worldwide, none of which took place in the United States. The recall does not affect Apple UBS power adapters or Apple plug adapters designed for Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Kingdom, or the United States.

In an official statement, Apple gives some instructions on how to identify a recall-worthy adapter, but they're pretty confusing: "An affected two-prong plug adapter has either four or five characters or no characters on the inside slot where it attaches to the main Apple power adapter." So you might be best off checking with the company if you have any concerns or suspicions you might be affected.

Given the small number of incidents, the voluntary recall is out of an abundance of caution but given the wide scope of the recall, a large number of people will be eligible for an adapter exchange. To find out how to make the exchange, you can visit Apple's adapter recall page.

This Smart Pill Tells Your Doctor If You Miss A Dose

Ingram Publishing / Getty Images

Matthew Panks takes five pills a day to keep his blood pressure low. But sometimes he forgets or runs out, so he listened with interest last month when his physician proposed trying a new kind of pill: one that, when swallowed, wirelessly alerts an app to its ingestion. And if Panks doesn’t take his meds? The app reminds him, and notifies his doctor — and his wife — if he misses a dose.

“I’m human,” the 58-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, California, told BuzzFeed News. Sometimes “I forget to take it and it does remind you. It’s a nice thing to have around.”

This futuristic-sounding setup was invented by Proteus Digital Health, a startup that wants to usher in an era of so-called wireless medicine — where your health is continually monitored even when you’re out of your doctor’s sight.

Though privacy advocates worry that digestible sensors might herald unparalleled new forms of surveillance, Proteus’s executives say they’re out to fix a long-standing and often fatal problem: Up to half of patients in developed countries don’t follow prescribed treatments for chronic illnesses, leading to additional health complications and costs, according to the World Health Organization. By one estimate, medication nonadherence causes 125,000 deaths annually in the United States alone.

Since 2001, Proteus has been working on a high-tech solution to that problem and last year the FDA cleared it for human use. It makes a pill coated in digestible metals — copper and magnesium — which react with stomach acid to send a tiny electrical signal through your body. This charge zaps a Band-Aid-like patch on your skin, which sends a signal via Bluetooth to an iOS app that notes you’ve taken the pill. The skin patch, worn for days at a time, also transmits physiological data like step count and time spent being active versus resting.

Last month, Proteus began for the first time to give pills and patches to patients outside of its FDA clinical trials. The company teamed up with Barton Health System in the Lake Tahoe area and outfitted 100 patients with high blood pressure with its system.

Proteus' technology: the app, patch, and pill.

Proteus Digital Health

Those patients include Panks, who works for the U.S. Forest Service and, until the pilot program, had never worn so much as a Fitbit. Panks takes one pill in the morning and four in the evening — he keeps them by the coffeemaker so as not to forget — and some of them contain Proteus’s ingestible sensor (Proteus has altered only a certain few medications). So far, Panks enjoys getting reminders, learning about his biometrics and, for example, pushing himself to walk more steps a day.

Barton CEO Clint Purvance said Proteus’s technology addresses one of health care’s most frustrating problems. “We look at the data: Do we need to change the medicine or is this the right dose?” he told BuzzFeed News. “Now we know they’re taking it regularly, we can make appropriate decisions on how to adjust that medicine instead of going into another medicine or changing dose.”

Right now at Barton, a compounding pharmacy combines Proteus’s sensors with eight generic medications for hypertension. Proteus says academics at University of California, San Francisco, the University of Washington, and UC San Diego are also experimenting with whether the sensors can monitor more complicated conditions like tuberculosis and hepatitis C. Big pharma is eyeing the company’s technology as well: Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. of Japan wants to build Proteus’s sensors into its antipsychotic medicine Abilify, and the FDA agreed to consider it for review in September.

Michelle De Mooy, deputy director of the Privacy and Data Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, worries about the privacy implications of digestible sensors like the ones Proteus has developed. She wonders, for example, what might happen if a patient’s medication-taking patterns were to be shared with employers, insurers or anyone who has a financial stake in keeping health care costs low.

“Quantifying health and electronic medical records can facilitate people really taking control of their health care,” De Mooy said. “But when it’s something that almost feels like surveillance of the body, that concerns me. ... What happens when a patient doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do?”

Proteus Digital Health


It may be too early to answer those questions about Proteus, but they are important to keep in mind as wireless medicine advances. Proteus isn’t the only company developing medical sensors for the body: Startup MC10 is developing a tattoo-like BioStamp that can monitor temperature, heart rate, and movement; various insulin makers are working on an “artificial pancreas” that would automatically detect glucose levels and administer insulin to diabetics without needing manual interference. Proteus has the added advantage of more than $350 million in funding and a $1.1 billion valuation.

Dr. George Savage, Proteus’s chief medical officer, said that the company values patients’ privacy; he stressed the ease of opting out of medication tracking. “This all relies on wearing a Band-Aid and pairing it with your phone and taking medicine with a digital chip inside,” he told BuzzFeed News. “If a patient doesn’t want to do this, they only have to take the Band-Aid off.” He added that patients working with Proteus typically appear “hungry for help.” “Right now, if you think about it, we’re expecting people to learn how to manage a chronic illness based on a few minutes with a doctor and a piece of paper that’s very complicated.”

Savage noted that Proteus takes several steps to protect patients’ information — it encrypts the smartphone and cloud databases in which it’s stored in accordance with federal privacy laws. Patients are also able to choose who accesses Proteus’s cloud-based app.

Panks, for his part, doesn’t mind being held accountable. “It keeps me pretty much on the level,” he said.

This Boy Was Thrown Out Of School Because Of His DNA, Parents Say

Claudioventrella / Getty Images

On Oct. 10, 2012, 11-year-old Colman Chadam was pulled out of class at his public middle school in Palo Alto, California, and asked if he wanted to say goodbye to his friends. According to Chadam’s parents, the teacher told him it was his last day at the school. Officials allegedly told the Chadams that the reason for their son's dismissal involved his DNA: Colman had genetic markers associated with the rare disease cystic fibrosis — even though, James and Jennifer Chadam say, he is healthy and has never had the actual disease.

The Chadams say that a teacher revealed this confidential information to other parents, who then complained that Colman posed a health risk to their children, inciting the Palo Alto Unified School District to force Colman to transfer schools, according to their complaint.

So they sued, alleging that the district violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and their son’s First Amendment rights to the privacy of his medical information. Their 2013 lawsuit, which sought to recoup legal fees and damages, was thrown out by a federal court that said there wasn’t enough evidence that the district denied Colman access to a service because it considered him disabled. But this month, the Chadams appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — and attorneys for the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education are voicing support for the family.

As DNA testing proliferates, this case raises broader issues about how genetic information should be protected and shared — not just in schools but also in workplaces and insurance companies.

“The family would like a definitive and unequivocal statement from the Ninth Circuit that you can’t just do this to people based on genetic markers alone,” Stephen Jaffe, the family’s attorney, told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “The more people that get genetic testing done, either for medical reasons or recreationally, the more possibility this stuff gets out. … It’s not a great leap to be concerned about what happens to this information.”

A spokesperson for the Palo Alto Unified School District did not immediately return a request for comment.

Colman’s DNA was analyzed as part of a treatment he underwent after having emergency surgery to correct a heart defect at birth in 2000. From a DNA test, Colman’s parents learned he had genetic markers linked with cystic fibrosis — an inherited disease that creates thick, sticky mucus in the lungs and digestive system. Yet Colman has been monitored ever since and has never developed the illness, his parents alleged in court documents filed Jan. 14.

Based on the complaint, Colman’s genes appear to contain a mutation or mutations that have been identified in people with — but are not necessarily proven to lead to — cystic fibrosis, Dr. Dennis Nielson, director of UC San Francisco’s Cystic Fibrosis Center, told BuzzFeed News. Out of 2,000 associated mutations, “there are 160 or more we know cause disease,” said Nielson, who does not have direct knowledge of the case. “There will be a bunch more that cause disease that we don’t know that much about. There are a whole bunch of genetic variations that cause minor problems that don’t ever lead to the kinds of problems we really define as cystic fibrosis.”

Colman’s genetic makeup wasn’t an issue until summer 2012, the Chadams say, when they moved to Palo Alto. To enroll Colman at Jordan Middle School, Jennifer Chadam filled out district-requested paperwork with private medical information about him, according to the lawsuit. That September, one of Colman’s teachers told another set of parents that Colman “had the disease of cystic fibrosis,” according to the complaint.

A boy (not Colman Chadam) sneezing.

Mermusta / Getty Images

These parents, whom the lawsuit refers to as “Mr. and Mrs. X,” appeared to be alarmed by the news because their children had active cystic fibrosis. People with cystic fibrosis can cross-infect each other and spread germs that lead to lung infections, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. (The organization recommends that such people keep at least 6 feet apart and use separate facilities.)

School administrators told the Chadams that these other parents had “discovered” Colman’s condition, according to the lawsuit. Mr. and Mrs. X then allegedly asked the district to remove Colman from school, citing concerns about their children’s health — even though the Chadams explained that Colman was healthy. The Chadams’ doctor also defended Colman in a letter, saying that he wasn’t a health risk, according to the lawsuit.

To diagnose cystic fibrosis, doctors look for not only genetic mutations, but also a positive sweat test (a high amount of salt in sweat) and a clear symptom like a lung infection. Only then does someone have cystic fibrosis, said Nielson of UCSF. “If he really doesn’t have clinical cystic fibrosis,” he said of Colman, “then he’s not a risk to anybody else.”

Jordan Middle School.

Instagram: @palo

In 2012, when Colman was told he would be transferred to another school, his family obtained an injunctive relief that ultimately kept him in school. The Chadams later sued in federal court; the district successfully sought to dismiss the lawsuit. The trial court ruled in 2014 that the district had reasonably believed, based on medical advice it had received, that Colman did pose a health risk, and therefore hadn’t violated the ADA. The Chadams didn’t show evidence that the district had denied Colman access to a service, program, or activity because it considered him disabled, the trial court ruled. It also ruled that under the First Amendment, the Chadams could sue only individual employees in the school district, not the school district as a whole.

The district cited a letter from a Stanford University doctor recommending that the school remove Colman for the safety of Mr. and Mrs. X’s children, according to court documents. But the Chadams say in court filings they did not know who the doctor was, despite asking the district.

Jaffe, the Chadams’ attorney, argued in the appeal that the trial court order suggests that “a school district’s real or imagined concern over potential safety issues overrides ... an individual’s First Amendment rights to the privacy of his medical and other information. That is a dangerous holding against which a strong public policy exists.” He cited a 1987 case in which the Supreme Court ruled against discrimination based on the contagious effects of a physical impairment.

And he argued that the Chadams' case could have broad implications. “Affirming the district court’s ruling in this case will open a wide gap in the wall of privacy protection the law presently affords personal genetic information,” Jaffe continued. “It will implicitly permit unqualified non-medical persons such as school districts, insurance companies and employers to base life-altering decisions on private genetic information. It will cause the public to hesitate or refuse to get genetically screened when to do so may be in their best interests or would assist medical research.”

“If he really doesn’t have clinical cystic fibrosis, then he’s not a risk to anybody else.”

He described one hypothetical scenario to BuzzFeed News: “An employer sees some of his employees has a genetic marker … and says ‘I’m going to fire you because you’re a danger to my other employees and I don’t want them getting sick.’ That’s not a great leap.”

The Chadams now also have support from attorneys from the Departments of Justice and Education. In an amicus curiae brief filed this week, they argued that the trial court hadn’t had the legal grounds to throw out the case — so it should be revisited.

“In view of these straightforward allegations,” they wrote, “the complaint cannot reasonably be construed to allege anything other than that defendant intentionally removed (Colman) from his school, and therefore denied him the benefit of attending his neighborhood school, because of his perceived disability.”


Internet, But Over The Air: How A Startup Plans To Take On The Cable Companies

Starry

Internet.

But through the air.

Chet Kanojia is not the first person to have this idea, but his new startup, Starry, promises to revolutionize how the internet gets delivered to people's homes — instead of using cables, it plans to use the air. If it can pull it off, Starry will bring some much-needed competition to the broadband market, where cable companies often have a local monopoly. But that's a giant "if."

Kanojia's last company, Aereo, also had grand visions of disrupting the airwaves, through tiny antennas that sucked up free-to-air TV signals and streamed them to viewers over the internet. It looked promising, until the Supreme Court ruled it was violating copyright laws, in a decision that effectively killed the company.

The secret sauce this time around is the use of high-frequency radio spectrum, which has been used for point-to-point communications in the military and in scientific research, but is still a fairly novel proposition for use by an internet service provider.

Using this spectrum means you can transmit huge amounts of data quickly, but it comes with drawbacks — in particular, it only works over short distances. To get around this, Starry requires a series of devices: Rooftop antennae every couple of kilometers, connecting to receivers on household windows that broadcast into the home.

Starry claims this setup can provide internet at faster speeds, with no data caps and at a lower cost than cable companies. The big savings come, Kanojia said, from the much lower cost of building out the infrastructure for the service. No digging trenches along roads and sidewalks, no mile after mile of cable and the maintenance crews that come with it.

"It's frankly amazing technology," Kanojia said. He estimated that the per-home cost of building out the service would be $25, not the $2,500 he said traditional fixed-wire broadband costs. But rolling out those huge networks of rooftop devices won't be easy.

And the details are still limited: Starry and its representatives declined to comment on where the service would launch outside of Boston (where it will have a trial this summer), how much it would cost, how much money the company had raised, or its valuation.

“Plug it in, set it up, and in a few minutes like magic, you have faster than broadband internet, through the air,” a slick promotional video said.

The company has about 50 employees, including several senior executives from Aereo. It has big name investors like Tiger Global, the private equity firm KKR, and Aereo backer IAC. While Kanojia's last venture flamed out after its defeat at the Supreme Court, he earned many fans in the tech industry for his hard-charging approach to shaking up an old, cushy set of incumbents.

And this time, he doesn't expect lawsuits to be his biggest headache — instead, the challenge will simply be delivering on the promise of a "magical" alternative to rolling out a cable network. "I don't see a legal problem," Kanojia told reporters. "It's a huge execution problem."




More Than Half Of Facebook Users Only Use It On Mobile Devices

For more than half of Facebook's 1.59 billion monthly active users, the platform's desktop version might as well not exist.

823 million of those 1.59 billion access Facebook only via their mobile devices.

Reporting fourth quarter earnings after market close Wednesday, Facebook released a slew of new metrics showcasing its strength in mobile. Among the most impressive stats: A whopping 1.44 billion of Facebook's 1.59 billion monthly active users access it on mobile devices in some way. It seems Facebook is largely a mobile company, with few holdouts using its service on the desktop.

Facebook

Mobile user growth helped Facebook turn in impressive results for the quarter. The company reported revenue of $5.67 billion, beating analyst estimates of $5.37 billion. Of that, $4.5 billion came from mobile devices, up 81% from last year.

Facebook possesses some of the best advertising data in the world, thanks to its many members, which tell it everything from their full names to what type of pets they have — this in addition to logging on to the service, giving Facebook the ability to target them with ads whether they're on their phones in a public library or using a friend's computer.

This combination of user numbers and data is why Facebook is predicted to capture more than 30% of total display ad spending in the U.S. this year, according to eMarketer.

Obama Administration Takes On Inequality In Silicon Valley

Caroline O'Donovan / BuzzFeed News

East San Jose, in Santa Clara County, California, is a town of pickup trucks, strip malls, and single-family homes just a short drive from the mythical campuses of billion-dollar companies like Facebook and Google. And it’s where workers and organizers gathered to meet with Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, across the street from a row of abandoned storefronts, on Tuesday afternoon.

The group discussed what has become a popular, if not exactly pleasant, topic in the Silicon Valley region: the widening inequality gap between white-collar tech workers and the janitors, drivers, cooks, and landscapers Perez came 3,000 miles to meet. The mood was hopeful.

The event was hosted by a coalition of labor groups calling itself Silicon Valley Rising, which this week proposed a ballot initiative in San Jose that would require employers to give more hours to the people who already work for them, rather than hiring additional part-time workers. Perez was there because President Obama, in his last 357 days of office, has decided to make economic security for American workers a priority — and he’s starting with Silicon Valley.

“We work in a very important part of the country, where there are very important companies,” said Inmar Liborio, a janitor with the SEIU who spoke through a translator.“But the reality for janitors and their families,” he went on to say, “is that we can’t live here. Sometimes we have to commute up to two hours just to come to work.”

BuzzFeed News/ Caroline O'Donovan

This week, a lot happened in Washington that could impact people like Liborio. On Monday the Department of Labor announced that, for the first time in 10 years, it (along with the Bureau of Labor Statistics) will try to make an accurate count of how many people are sustaining themselves and their families on part-time, gig, and contract work. And on Tuesday, the administration announced a $100 million pilot grant for an idea that has already built some momentum in Silicon Valley: portable benefits, essentially a pooled fund for things like workers' comp and paid time off that follows a worker between jobs.

Throughout the week, Secretary Perez will be talking to tech companies about exactly who would pay into such a fund. He told BuzzFeed News that he feels “employers need to have skin in the game.”

“I hear people say, 'The only way we can innovate is if we have unfettered discretion as employers to do whatever we want,'” Perez told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t agree with that.”

One of the people watching Secretary Perez speak about the White House’s plan for “inclusive innovation” was a cafeteria worker who serves daily meals to employees on Intel’s campus, not 10 minutes from the Mexican Heritage Plaza.

Wednesday, she joined 79 of her colleagues at Guckenheimer Corporate Dining in petitioning for a “fair right to organize.” A spokesperson for the union told BuzzFeed News that cafeteria workers bring in around $22,000 a year, a sum that simply can’t cover the cost of living in San Jose, where he said at least one Intel cafeteria worker is living five to a bedroom.

Venmo Adds Support For Merchant Payments

Venmo

Venmo, the popular payments app, is finally reaching beyond peer-to-peer payments. On Wednesday afternoon, the service introduced a feature that will allow people to use their Venmo accounts to make payments inside third-party apps. In doing so, the Paypal-owned company is shifting to a service that facilitates retail purchases.

At launch these new merchant payments will be limited to two apps: Munchery, an on-demand food startup, and Gametime, a sports ticket vendor. Venmo, according to a statement from general manager Michael Vaughan, intends to support additional apps in the future. Merchant payments will be limited to Venmo's iOS app at launch, but the company says an Android build is on the way.

For Venmo users, merchant payments will streamline purchases previously made with credit cards. Payment information is stored securely in Venmo. The app's sharing option, which pulls all money transfers made on it into an activity feed, will become a second, optional step when making payments in a third party app.

According to a report in Quartz, Venmo plans to extend the new feature to all PayPal merchants. The company will presumably charge a service fee for every payment capitalizing on the additional dollars flowing through it as it supports more merchants.

If you have a Venmo account, you'll get an email when the feature is available.

The FCC Wants You To Choose Your Own Cable Box

Columbia Pictures

Should consumers who pay for cable or satellite TV have an array of set-top options from which to choose? The head of the Federal Communications Commission thinks so. But he’ll be working against the current market, where consumers generally rent equipment from their TV providers at what many believe are unfair prices, absent real competition.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler proposed an alternative vision for cable boxes Wednesday, one in which consumers personally select the set-top device they use to watch TV shows or internet video. In an essay published by Re/code, Wheeler argued that his proposal would enhance telecom innovation, increase consumer choice, and lower costs.

“It’s time to unlock the set-top box market — let’s let innovators create, and then let consumers choose,” he said, comparing the forced rental of set-top boxes to decades past, when households had to lease their telephones from operators.

According to the FCC, 99 percent of pay-TV customers rent set-top boxes from their providers. And unlike computers, TVs, and mobile phones, the cost of cable boxes to consumers has increased, averaging $231 every year. Wheeler’s proposal wouldn’t set a government standard for delivering TV and internet programming; instead it would set rules forcing providers to pass along channel line-ups and the content itself to the creators of competing devices and software.

Without this overhaul, Wheeler believes consumers end up leasing pricey, inferior products — devices that fail to connect well with the proliferation of online streaming content.

While third-party box providers like Roku, Apple, Google and Tivo stand to gain from a more open arrangement, cable companies face the prospect of lost revenue from fewer set-top box rentals, and potentially the forfeiture of crucial consumer data — who is watching what and when — information that tech companies can use to calibrate advertising and other services.

Wheeler said he will share the details of his proposal with his fellow commissioners this week.

Google Beats Go, The Ancient Game That Computers Couldn't Crack

Wei-hua / Getty Images

The board game Go has a deceptively simple premise: Defeat your opponent by using white or black stones to claim the most territory on a 19-by-19 grid. But people have been wrestling with it for millennia — and the game has confounded some of the most advanced artificial intelligence around. While “supercomputers” like IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson have trounced humans at chess, checkers, backgammon, and even Jeopardy!. Go, with its relative multitude of possible moves, was unbeatable.

Until now. Google researchers said Wednesday that their Go software has defeated a pro player — European champion Fan Hui — at the full version of the game. The researchers said their work, described in a new Nature study, appears to be a major artificial intelligence milestone. Beyond cracking the ancient game, it could also improve the intuitive feel and accuracy of Google’s current and future products. It’s a big win for machines.

“It was one of the big open problems that people didn’t really know how to solve,” Stefano Ermon, an assistant professor of computer science at Stanford University, told BuzzFeed News. (Ermon was not involved with the project.) “I don’t think anybody was expecting to see it solved so soon. It’s really a major step forward.”

Zhengzaishuru / Getty Images

The program, known as AlphaGo, was developed by DeepMinds Technologies, a British artificial intelligence company that Google acquired in 2014 and renamed DeepMind. Go presents a particularly difficult challenge for artificial intelligence, the researchers explained, because every position comes with an average of 200 possible moves — compared to 20 possible moves in chess. Chess pieces with assigned values, like queens and pawns, add another layer of structure to gameplay. There is no equivalent in Go.

In 1997, an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue beat the world chess champion. That machine relies on knowledge inputted in a structured way that can quickly be searched and retrieved, Google’s DeepMind researchers said. In contrast, AlphaGo “learns” on its own, through algorithms derived from two types of computer neural networks: one that identifies possible moves that are most likely to lead to a win, and another that evaluates the favorability of each position that lies ahead. “This approach makes AlphaGo’s search much more human-like than previous approaches,” DeepMind engineer David Silver said in a conference call with reporters.

The researchers trained AlphaGo to predict human moves by running it against 30 million moves from games played by humans, then had it play millions of simulated games against itself and gradually improve through trial-and-error. Finally, AlphaGo faced off against other Go programs and won all but one of 500 games — even when opponents were given a head-start. Against Fan Hui, it enjoyed a clean sweep in a five-game match, the first time that a Go professional has lost such a match.

"I don’t think anybody was expecting to see it solved so soon. It’s really a major step forward."

The progress AlphaGo has made in a relatively short amount of time is certain to surprise Go devotees, even though DeepMind researchers hinted that a big announcement was coming back in November. In 2014, when another piece of software called Crazy Stone beat Go grandmaster Norimoto Yoda, it had a four-stone head-start. When Wired asked its programmer when a machine would win without a handicap, he guessed “maybe ten years.” Facebook was also vying to crack Go — but Google appears to have won that race.

In a statement about the newest study, British Go Association President Jon Diamond said, “Before this match, the best computer programs were not as good as the top amateur players, and I was still expecting that it would be at least five to 10 years before a program would be able to beat the top human players. Now it looks like this may be imminent.”

AlphaGo will next face off against the top Go player in the world, Lee Se Dol of South Korea. But it may well have a wider impact on Google’s services. The researchers said the deep learning that powers AlphaGo could be used to improve Google services already familiar to millions — improving web or smartphone search recommendations. Soon, it could also be used to analyze X-rays and help doctors make diagnoses. And in the long term?

“My dream is to use these learning systems to help with science,” said Demis Hassabis, DeepMind co-founder. “You can think of the system we built for Go as applicable to any problem that fits the description where you have a large amount of data that you have to find the insights in and find structure in automatically, and then you want to be able to make long-term plans with it and decisions about what to do next to reach some kind of goal.”

Georges Gobet / AFP / Getty Images

Hearing about AlphaGo may make it sound like it won’t be long before robots take over our minds and jobs, a fear shared by the likes of Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates — but the DeepMind scientists were quick to dispel that notion. Although these systems can learn how to perform tasks themselves, they still require human direction. The company set up an internal ethics board when it joined Google to oversee how the technology is deployed, and the researchers said that they share Google’s promise to never use artificial intelligence for military purposes.

“Undoubtedly there will be huge benefits to society,” Hassabis said, “but we’ve got to make sure they’re evenly distributed.”