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05.18.16 | 2:20 pm

Google teaches smartwatches some new tricks with Android Wear 2.0

The company announced a range of improvements to Android Wear, its wearables OS, here at Google I/O. Together, these should make wearing smartwatches from Samsung, LG, and Motorola slightly more fun.

• Android Wear apps can now access the Internet directly over Bluetooth, WiFi, or cellular. This will greatly reduce wearables' dependence on a paired smartphone.

• Wear devices will have a new notification design and app launcher.

• Wear app developers will be able to use more of Google's Material Design tools, which will make wearables apps look cleaner and prettier.

• Developers will be able to make their apps show data as complications–small bits of data on the watch face.  

• Wearable users will soon be able to use keyboard and handwriting input to communicate with apps.

The new version of Wear will be released this fall, Google says.

07.20.17 | 2 hours ago

Citymapper doesn’t just want to give you directions—it wants to drive you there

Back in May, Citymapper test drove its "smart" (if it does say so itself, which it totally does) bus service, which ran around London for a few weeks making all the other buses look dumb by comparison. Now, the company is expanding on the concept. It's been approved by the city for its first commercial bus route: CM2 – Night Rider.

The bus service will only run late night (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) through the heart of East London, helping hipsters get home from a night of sipping cocktails at Super Lyan in Hoxton or making eyes at each other at Sager + Wilde in Shoreditch. The service will launch in late August or maybe early September ("you know how it is," Citymapper resignedly writes in a Medium post today) and will run on weekend nights for now. Check out more details here.

[Image: Citymapper

07.20.17 | 2 hours ago

Elon Musk’s latest Boring Company tweet is a doozy

Not sure what he means here, but the tech billionaire just claimed on Twitter that he has received "verbal govt approval" for a hyperloop network connecting New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

Seems like a stretch given that area he describes is served by multiple transportation agencies and government bodies—and hindered by a bloat of bureaucratic red tape—but we'll reach out anyway. 

Earlier this year, Musk unveiled a conceptual look at an underground tunnel network he says could alleviate traffic congestion in cities like Los Angeles. More on that here.

Update: Important context. Thanks, Elon.

07.20.17 | 2 hours ago

You’ll never want to go outside again thanks to PBS’s space TV lineup

When it comes to space TV, Star Trek is not the final frontier (neither is Babylon Five or even Battlestar Galactica). That's because science-fiction has nothing on reality. PBS has just announced a new lineup of space-themed programming and you won't need to leave the house to see the stars for a long time. Plan your viewing parties now.

* NOVA "Eclipse Over America," Monday, August 21, 9 p.m. ET

"Join scientists and citizens alike as they observe the first total solar eclipse to traverse the U.S. mainland in more than a generation."

* The Farthest – Voyager in Space, Wednesday, August 23, 9 p.m. ET

"Learn how NASA's epic Voyager mission, launched in 1977, revolutionized our understanding of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their dazzling moons and rings."

* NOVA "Death Dive to Saturn", Wednesday, September 13, 9 p.m. ET

"A suspenseful ride during Cassini's final hours as it dives into Saturn's atmosphere."

* A Year in Space, Wednesday, November 15, 8 p.m. ET

"Follow astronaut Scott Kelly's record-breaking 12-month mission on the International Space Station, from launch to landing, as NASA charts the effects of long-duration spaceflight by comparing him to his identical twin on Earth, astronaut Mark Kelly."

* Beyond A Year in Space, Wednesday, November 15, 9 p.m. ET

"Picking up where the first film left off—Scott Kelly's last day in space and return to Earth—the final installment also introduces the next generation of astronauts training to leave Earth's orbit and travel into deep space."

If you're one of those pesky cord-cutters, a bunch of the shows will be available to stream the morning after broadcast on PBS.org and the PBS apps.

[Image: NASA]

07.20.17 | 3 hours ago

Intel, still seeking life beyond PCs, abandons wearables for AR

Intel is reportedly giving up on wearables as hype around the technology cools off. CNBC reports that the company laid off its entire Basis group two weeks ago–after a round of deep cuts in November–and is now shifting the focus of its larger New Technologies Group toward augmented reality.

Intel had acquired Basis, a maker of fitness-focused smartwatches in 2014 as part of a broader push into wearable technology, but the company hasn't found much success since then. Fossil's Intel-powered Android Wear watch was a poor seller on a platform that's struggling in general, Basis had to recall its Peak smartwatches due to overheating, and Intel's talk of smart shirts never went anywhere. Rather than persist in wearables, Intel seems to be pursuing the next big thing in AR. We'll see in a few years how that turns out. 

Meanwhile, read our interview today with Intel's chief of self-driving cars, one of the company's recent ambitions.

07.20.17 | 3 hours ago

Air France doesn’t want you to call its new millennial-focused airline “low cost”

Like an old guy on Tinder, Air France wants to make itself more appealing to young people. The airline just announced its new plan to hook up with the "young and connected" travel market—an airline called Joon. (Because they couldn't just call it the dollar-sign eye emoji?)

The new airline is aimed at "the millennials (18 to 35 year-olds), whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology," Air France said in a statement, adding that the new brand has been "entirely designed to meet their requirements and aspirations." The company didn't release any details about how they will appeal to those flying net natives, but we're guessing free in-flight wi-fi, Instagrammable snack options, and selfie-worthy décor in millennial pink. 

While much has been said about how millennials love saving money (or at least the money they aren't spending on avocado toast), they won't be able to do it on Joon, because Air France adamantly says it is not a low-cost airline, but "will offer original products and services that reflect those of Air France." Joon will start on short flights in the fall, before rolling out long-haul flights in 2018. [H/T The Local]

07.20.17 | 3 hours ago

The ACLU is suing the Trump administration over its secret “religious liberty” plan

The ACLU is trying to force the Trump administration to provide concrete details about a vaguely worded May 4 executive order supposedly aimed at promoting free speech and religious liberty. Louise Melling, the group's deputy legal director, said in a Daily Beast post today that the order is woefully short on specifics and, so far, federal agencies have refused to be more transparent about it.

"Earlier this year, the ACLU filed requests with various federal agencies demanding information on how the administration was planning to expand religious exemptions that pave the way for discrimination. None of those federal agencies complied. That's why we are suing today. We are looking to unmask everything we can about Trump's plan, so we can best expose the threat he poses to the rights and dignity of countless Americans."

The order is feared to be an attempt to let employers discriminate against women and members of the LGBT community based on religious objections. Check out Melling's full post here.

And if you want to learn more about what the ACLU is doing to take on Trump, you can meet the man leading the resistance at Fast Company's New York headquarters on Monday, July 24, where ACLU executive director Anthony Romero will be on hand as part of our "Inside Story" series. Get tickets here.

[Photo: Flickr user Jom Mattis]

07.20.17 | 4 hours ago

Cortana’s next gig is on a slick thermostat

Microsoft wants to take its Cortana voice assistant beyond just smart speakers and Windows devices, and its next move appears to be onto a connected thermostat from Johnson Controls. The GLAS thermostat will detect when someone's in the room, alter its settings based on indoor and outdoor air quality, and of course respond to spoken commands.

The notion of a voice-controlled thermostat isn't new. The new Ecobee 4 has Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant built in, and connected speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home can both control thermostats from Nest and Honeywell. But like the Cortana-powered Invoke speaker, GLAS seems to be a bit more business-focused. Johnson Controls doesn't currently sell thermostats direct to consumers, and while a promo video mentions home use, it also shows the device in lots of office and industrial settings. Pricing and availability information might help clarify the matter, but Microsoft isn't offering that just yet.

07.20.17 | 4 hours ago

Twitter says its new anti-abuse efforts are working, but others aren’t convinced

For years, Twitter users have complained that the social platform doesn't adequately protect users from abuse, and that the reporting system it uses is opaque. So earlier this year, the company pledged to crack down on this problem and completely revamp how it handles reported abuse. 

Today, Twitter published an update on its progress, indicating that, by some measures, the efforts are working. According to Twitter, it takes action on 10 times as many abusive accounts now compared to last year. The company also says that one solution—which puts first offenders into a sort of "time out" and tells them why they're there—has produced promising results: 

"Accounts that we put into this period of limited functionality generate 25% fewer abuse reports, and approximately 65% of these accounts are in this state just once."

The company admits there's still a lot of work to be done, and anecdotal evidence on Twitter corroborates that. BuzzFeed, for example, looked into recent Twitter abuse situations that the new system did not protect against. In most cases, it took heightened public attention for Twitter to take action, instead of the abuse being handled by the system itself. When asked, Twitter declined to comment about those examples to BuzzFeed.

You can read Twitter's blog post about the new anti-abuse system here

07.20.17 | 10:10 am

Good job, humans: The world is basically a pile of plastic garbage now

Since the 1950s, humans have produced 18.2 trillion pounds of plastics, and most of it is sitting in trash piles that never degrade. That's according to a really freaking depressing new study published in the journal Science Advances, which reveals that all those straws, fidget spinners, sandwich bags, water bottles, and whatever else, produce a mind-numbing amount of garbage. While 9% of plastic has been recycled, and 12% incinerated, nearly 80% of the plastic we produce just sits in landfills, where they will probably remain until the apocalypse (when only the water bears will be left). We're not exactly learning our lesson, either—by 2050, scientists expect another 26.5 trillion pounds of plastic trash will be produced worldwide.

As USA Today points out, that's about as much as 1 billion elephants weigh, not that there are a billion elephants left on the planet, either. But who needs majestic animals when you can have the real-life version of Marjory the Trash Pile from Fraggle Rock?  [via USA Today]

[Photo: kanvag/iStock]

07.20.17 | 9:01 am

Funding for cultural orgs would be tied to diversity under NYC plan

Employees and board members of such cultural landmarks as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, the American Museum of Natural History, and others could soon get a lot less homogenous. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is mandating that these organizations provide data on their boards and staff to the city. Future funding for the groups would then be linked to efforts to "meaningfully" diversify the ranks currently dominated by white male executives and wealthy industry mavens.

Sixty-seven percent of city residents identify as minorities, but only 38% of the workforce of these organization are minorities. De Blasio didn't set specific goals overall, rather the organizations will be required to target "meaningful goals." 

During a time when so many diversity programs are failing to make a measurable difference, some suggest tying compensation to diversity goals as a way to ensure progress.

[Photo: Flickr user Mike Steele]

07.20.17 | 7:46 am

Detroit 1967 social media accounts will live-tweet the events of the 1967 Detroit riot and unrest

This July will mark the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riot that began in the early hours of July 23, 1967. It was one of the most contentious events of the 1960s, which exposed just how strained race relations were in most of the U.S. at the time as well as shedding light on the institutional racism ingrained in our society. In order to commemorate the historic event, the Detroit Free Press, which won a Pulitzer for its original coverage, wants to reimagine what the reporting of the event would be like if social media existed at the time.

That's why the publication will be live-tweeting the unfolding of the 50-year-old as if it were happening live on its anniversary days this year. "The result will be our approximation of what social media would have looked like if digital journalism existed at that time," the Detroit Free Press said in a statement. You can follow along with the live-tweeting of the historic events via the Detroit1967 account on Facebook, the @Detroit_1967 account on Twitter, and the @Detroit_1967 account on Instagram.

07.20.17 | 7:25 am

Here’s everything Facebook says it’s doing to help journalists (and publishers)

The company published a lengthy post today giving a six-month updated on its Facebook Journalism Project. The project aims to establish stronger ties between Facebook and those in the news industry—and probably also aims to defuse the mounting tensions between it and publishers, who fear the social network has too much control as the gatekeeper of their content. In the post, Facebook breaks down the improvements it's made to better supports publishers' and journalists' needs. They include:

• Instant Articles enhancements, including the ability to support simultaneous publishing on Google AMP and Apple News (coming soon) through the Instant Articles SDK

• an upcoming tool that will support subscriptions in Instant Articles

• an improved Rights Manager, which helps publishers better protect the rights to the videos they post

• the introduction of the Facebook for Journalists Certificate, a three-course curriculum designed by the Poynter Institute and Facebook.

• the introduction of Facebook Safety for Journalists resources, which teaches journalists how to protect their accounts and themselves on Facebook

Facebook also announced that its Instant Articles now pays out over $1 million per day to publishers via the Facebook Audience Network.