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01.12.17 | 5:45 pm

Study: Many more VR developers say they’ll build their next game for HTC’s Vive instead of Oculus Rift

It's been really hard to tell which of the big-name virtual reality systems that have hit the market in the last year or so are doing the best. Samsung recently said it had sold 5 million Gear VRs, while a leading industry exec said the Vive is outselling the Rift 2-to-1. But neither HTC nor Oculus has revealed numbers that show if that's true. Still, one can sometimes get a sense of how hardware platforms are doing by what software developers want to build for them.

So here's one more data point suggesting Vive is doing better than Rift. A new study, the "State of the Game Industry 2017," from the Game Developers Conference, makes the case that although just 24% of game developers are building for virtual reality systems, more of those have decided to put their efforts behind Vive games than for any other platform. The survey, which polled more than 4,500 developers, concluded that Vive was the preference of 24% of developers for their current projects (with Rift at 23%, PlayStation VR at 13%, and Gear VR at 13%). But when asked about their next game, 33% said they'd develop exclusively for Vive, with just 24% for the Rift, 15% for the PSVR, and only 9% for Gear VR. 

Games, of course, are not the only genre of VR content, but they are a very big part of the ecosystem, and the fact that Vive is far and away developers' first choice for future projects is an indication that HTC's efforts to be the industry's dominant platform are, to some extent, paying off. 

[Photo: Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns]

06.23.17 | 3 hours ago

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop $120 “Bio-Frequency Healing” sticker packs get shot down by NASA

Goop had claimed the costly "Body Vibes" stickers were "made with the same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut's vitals during wear" and because of that were able to "target imbalances" of the human body's energy frequencies when they get thrown out of whack, reports Gizmodo. The thing is, NASA confirmed to Gizmodo that they "do not have any conductive carbon material lining the spacesuits" of astronauts.

But NASA didn't stop there. When told that the founder of the company that makes the "Body Vibes" stickers sold by Goop claimed he "found a way to tap into the human body's bio-frequency" but that "most of the research that has been collected is confidential and is held as company private information," a former chief scientist at NASA's human research division told Gizmodo: "Wow. What a load of BS this is." For its part, a Goop spokesperson now says the stickers were never formally endorsed by them and "based on the statement from NASA, we've gone back to the company to inquire about the claim and removed the claim from our site until we get additional verification."

This isn't the first time Goop has endorsed questionable claims, such as the claim that taking an Aleve is like "swallowing a hand-grenade."

06.23.17 | 4 hours ago

Amazon’s drone “beehive” patent proves the company is full of mad scientists

The patent describes a multilevel fulfillment center where drones swarm to deliver packages in densely populated urban areas. As Business Insider points out, the beehive patent joins other Amazon patents for fulfillment and logistics including flying warehouses, mobile truck-based mini warehouses, and even underwater warehouses.

[Image: Amazon/USPTO]

06.23.17 | 4 hours ago

Google now hides your private medical records from search results

The search giant added "confidential, personal medical records of private people" to the list of information it removes from search results, the company noted on its removal policies page. Though it's not common for medical practices or insurers to upload your medical records to the internet for all to see, sometimes records do get uploaded inadvertently or via hacks.

Today's move by Google should make it harder for people to browse your health history should the above have happened to you. Google's full list of information they now may remove from search results include:

• National identification numbers like U.S. social security numbers, Argentinean single tax identification numbers, Korean resident registration numbers, Chinese resident identity cards, etc.

• Bank account numbers

• Credit card numbers

• Images of signatures

• Nude or sexually explicit images that were uploaded or shared without your consent

• Confidential, personal medical records of private people 

06.22.17 | 3:58 pm

The OTC hearing aid market could boom in 2018—if Congress lets it

Forty-eight million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, but only a few get hearing aids—whether because of cost ($1,000-$6,000 per pair), denial of the problem, or stigma. Bypassing the trip to a doctor and making hearing aids available over the counter could get affordable products to more Americans, says the Consumer Technology Association.

How does it know? Because of the growth in a gray area of devices called personal sound amplification products. PSAPs don't have FDA approval as hearing aids, which means the makers aren't allowed to say that they help people with hearing loss, but obviously that's the intention and why people use them. PSAP sales have grown 40% since last year—to 1.5 units and $225 million, according to a new study CTA released today. It expects the market to grow another 50% in 2018.

Bipartisan legislation sailing through Congress may further help. The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 would allow PSAP makers to finally claim that they do, in fact, help people with both mild (barely noticeable) and moderate (somewhat debilitating) hearing loss. CTA has set standards and today announced a logo (see below) to designate PSAPs that actually work well and won't be harmful by over-amplifying sound. The standards might serve as a guideline for the FDA if Congress approves the Over The Counter Hearing Aid Act this summer. 

06.22.17 | 3:36 pm

After being blamed for division, Facebook’s new mission seeks to foster unity

On the surface, the new mission statement that social networking giant Facebook unveiled today, "Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together," doesn't sound all that different than the old one, "To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." But Facebook is a giant business, and it's taken a lot of flak recently for being a medium that propagates divisiveness. Step by step, Mark Zuckerberg's company has tried to tackle that reputation, with Zuckerberg's manifesto, with lots of new tools for combating the spread of fake news, as well as new systems for trying to keep terrorists off the service.

Facebook doesn't make changes to things like its mission statement without lots of internal discussion. So it's clear that the new one is about making the case that it's about building unity rather than just being a place for people to share their ideas–no matter what those ideas may be. As Zuckerberg put it today, "We need to give people a voice to get a diversity of opinions out there, but we also need to build enough common ground so we can all make progress together. We need to stay connected with people we already know and care about, but we also need to meet new people with new perspectives. We need support from family and friends, but we also need to build communities to support us as well."

It's a very optimistic message, and Facebook is going to have to do a lot to convince skeptics that it can be a force for positive change in a world that desperately needs one. It won't be easy, and it won't happen immediately. But as the largest community of people the world has ever seen, with nearly 2 billion active users, Facebook has the potential to be that change agent. "Our lives are all connected. In the next generation, our greatest opportunities and challenges we can only take on together–ending poverty, curing diseases, stopping climate change, spreading freedom and tolerance, stopping violence," Zuck wrote. "No single group or even nation can do them alone."

06.22.17 | 2:13 pm

Maybe this is the reason why there aren’t more women founders in tech

A report by the Information today levied allegations of unwanted advances against Justin Caldbeck, a "well-connected" cofounder and partner at Silicon Valley VC firm Binary Capital. Six women who have previously consulted with Caldbeck in some capacity—be it for funding or advice while starting a business—told the Information he had behaved inappropriately with them. The women making the accusations include Google alum and former Minted CTO Niniane Wang and Susan Ho and Leiti Hsu, who cofounded travel concierge service Journy. From the story: 

Ms. Wang alleges Mr. Caldbeck, while informally trying to recruit her for a tech company job, tried to sleep with her. Ms. Ho said that Mr. Caldbeck, while discussing investing in their startup, sent her text messages in the middle of the night suggesting they meet up. Ms. Hsu says that Mr. Caldbeck groped her under a table at a Manhattan hotel bar.

The other women, who chose to remain anonymous, reportedly had similar accounts. Binary denied the allegations altogether: 

Binary issued a statement that said the notion Mr. Caldbeck had "engaged in improper behavior with female entrepreneurs" was "false." Binary said that while the Information had "found a few examples that show that Justin has in the past occasionally dated or flirted with women he met in a professional capacity, let's be clear: There is no evidence that Justin did anything illegal, and there is no evidence that any of his investing decisions were affected by his social interests.

If you've been paying attention, none of this—the allegations or Binary's flippant response—is remotely surprising. The Information spoke to a number of women in tech who said they had similar encounters with other VCs, and they felt it was part of the reason female founders were underrepresented in tech. What's worse is that sexual harassment laws meant to protect employees don't apply to the VC-founder relationship. Read the full report here

06.22.17 | 2:09 pm

Tech companies are poaching much-needed AI professors, says Microsoft researcher who poaches them

Computer science and now AI studies are booming at U.S. universities—in part because of the great job prospects that they offer to grads. But those same prospects are draining away AI and machine learning professors, who are lured by lucrative, challenging jobs in the private sector. That's happening even at top universities like Stanford, says Jennifer Chayes, a former UCLA mathematics professor who now heads Microsoft Research for New York City and New England. "I don't know if there are any—or there are very, very few—of the core [machine learning] faculty at Stanford left," she says. "I just hired one last year."

She talked about the issue at Bloomberg's Spotlight on Artificial Intelligence conference in San Francisco today. "Stanford can't begin to pay them enough," says Chayes. A bigger incentive, she thinks, is that working in the private sector is more intellectually appealing. Professors can focus on their research without having to teach hundreds of students. And they have access to better data from customers. "If you are a researcher in AI and ML, you need massive amounts of … interactive data," she says.

Many private-sector AI researchers teach at universities on the side, but Chayes says that's not a reliable fix. And while companies do train interns and employees—she says Microsoft has about 1,500 AI interns per year—this doesn't help with the basic research needed to develop new types of applications. "So I think it's a really bad trend," Chayes says. "[A]ll of us need to figure out a way to make it possible for AI and ML faculty to stay at universities and train the next generation."

06.22.17 | 1:21 pm

Baby come back: Uber employees are passing around a petition to keep Travis Kalanick

Some employees want to bring back ousted CEO Travis Kalanick. An email is reportedly circulating among Uber staff, asking them to sign a petition calling for Kalanick's return. According to Axios, more than 1,000 current employees have signed. It appears there is a disconnect between employees who see Kalanick as an important driver of Uber's business and the board members who feel he has become a liability. The internal turmoil over how to revamp Uber's corporate culture and goals indicates a long and difficult road ahead for the ride-hailing company as it attempts to refashion its image. 

06.22.17 | 12:28 pm

Beautycounter’s scientists invented a moisturizer that mimics your skin’s biology

Moisturizer is a tricky product. Our skin's moisture levels change throughout the day, and depending on the season, many products that feel good in the morning don't work by the afternoon or evening, when conditions change. The ideal product would adapt to your skin, identifying when it is drier or sweatier. 

Beautycounter, a brand that focuses on creating safer beauty products, has been working on a solution. The challenge was made harder by the fact that the brand has a list of 1,500 ingredients that it will never include in a product because they are known to cause harm. But a Beautycounter scientist has managed to create a bio-mimicking formula that deploys ingredients in green olives, beetroot, and green rice. The moisturizer is supposed to match the structure of your skin and adapt to its hydration levels throughout the day. In a clinical study, the product appeared to keep users' skin optimally hydrated for 26 hours. 

There's clearly a market for an adaptive moisturizer. Beautycounter sold out of the cream in 24 hours after it launched earlier this week. The brand is now feverishly working to make more to meet demand. 

(Image via Beautycounter)

06.22.17 | 11:25 am

John Oliver and HBO are getting sued by the coal industry after a “Last Week Tonight” segment

On Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver targeted the coal industry. Now they are striking back. In the episode, he pleaded with President Trump to "stop lying to coal miners" about his ability to revive the shrinking industry. Oliver also targeted Bob Murray, the notoriously litigious CEO of Murray Energy, even though he knew he was likely to be sued for doing so, as the company sent the show a cease-and-desist order before the episode even aired.

Murray runs the country's largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy Corporation, and has sued media companies in the past, including recently filing a libel suit against the New York Times. Despite that cautionary tale, on the June 18 episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver said Murray doesn't do enough to protect his miners' safety. He illustrated that point with a government report that concluded that the collapse of one of Murray's mines in Utah, which killed nine people, was due to unauthorized mining practices, while Murray claims the collapse actually happened because of an earthquake. 

A legal complaint filed on June 21 in the circuit court of Marshall County, West Virginia, states that Oliver and his team "executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies,"  They called the segment a "callous, vicious, and false attack" that "childishly demeaned and disparaged" Murray, "a 77-year old citizen in ill health," which they claim caused "emotional and physical distress and damage." The complaint also says Murray's legal team tried to share studies with Oliver's staff that proved an earthquake was responsible for the mine collapse, but were ignored.

HBO, however, stands by Oliver and his team. "We have confidence in the staff of Last Week Tonight and do not believe anything in the show this week violated Mr. Murray's or Murray Energy's rights," HBO said in a statement to Fast Company.

 [Photo: Wikipedia]

06.22.17 | 11:15 am

Here’s the full text of the new health care bill that GOP senators have been hiding from us 

After weeks of closed-door meetings, Senate Republicans have finally unveiled their revamped health care bill, which is intended to kill the Affordable Care Act. 

The New York Times writes that the new 142-page bill would create a tax credit system enabling citizens to purchase their own insurance. It also, reports the Times, gets rid of many Obamacare benefits, including "maternity care, emergency services and mental health treatment." 

While it was initially touted as a complete rewrite of the House health care bill from last month, it looks to be quite similar. You can read the full text of the bill here.

06.22.17 | 10:55 am

Not even Rob Lowe can help KFC launch a chicken sandwich into space 

Extraterrestrials are going to have to wait a little longer to try KFC's spicy chicken sandwich. Back in April the company made Rob Lowe dress up like Colonel Sanders to help announce KFC's plan to launch a sandwich into space to prove it's out of this world or some other marketing malarkey. They weren't joking, though. KFC teamed up with World View to launch a high-altitude balloon/sandwich delivery system, which was supposed to reach the stars today, but has been delayed because of high wind conditions. "Due to weather, we won't be launching the Zinger today," KFC wrote on Facebook. "But technically mankind has waited all of eternity to launch a chicken sandwich into space, so a little longer probably won't hurt. Updated launch date to come."

As reported by, World View tweeted that the next interstellar sandwich delivery attempt could come as early as Saturday.