All posts in “Software”

Metacert’s Paul Walsh on ICOs, phishing, and the future of fake news


Metacert is a company that hunts down and kills fake news. Created by Paul Walsh, it can assess whether or not a link is trustworthy and warn you before you click. Further, he’s found great traction with ICO creators who are using the software to keep people from sending their investors to doctored websites.

In this episode of Technotopia I talked to Paul about his work with fake news and how we can stop it from spreading. The prognosis is good: so far his company has stopped hundreds of attacks and classified thousands of links. Computers, it seems, will soon save us from ourselves.

Technotopia is a podcast about a better future by John Biggs. You can subscribe in Stitcher or iTunes and download the MP3 here.

Featured Image: filo/Getty Images

This battery-free cellphone runs on light and radio waves


Who cares about an OLED and a notch when your phone can sip power from its surroundings, allowing you to make calls without ever having to charge your phone.

This wild cellphone is part of a Google Faculty Research program and received three U.S. National Science Foundation grants for total investment of about $2 million. For that money, the creator, Vamsi Talla, built a single-board cellphone that can make regular phone calls connect you to emergency services. The team is commercializing the product at Jeeva Wireless.

According to IEEE, this thing can even make Skype calls:

The phone receives power from sunlight or RF waves sent from a nearby base station, a fixed point of communication for customer cellular phones on a carrier network. With a technique called backscattering, the phone can make a voice call by modifying and reflecting the same waves back to the base station.

We also were able to make Skype voice calls, proving that the prototype—made of commercial, off-the-shelf components—can communicate with a base station and applications like Skype. The phone consumes only 3 microwatts of power—which is about 10,000 times less than what a current smartphone consumes.

Because this technology doesn’t require much in the way of changing cell towers Talla believes most cellphones could easily add this feature in the future. This means you could make a call even on a dead phone. Talla is also planning to add an e-ink display which means you could feasibly do very basic smartphone functions on your battery-less phone. The current model could cost as little as $1 to produce, which makes it excellent for developing countries.

Two new handhelds will help you relive the golden age of gaming

Whether you’re an older gamer who remembers the Atari 2600 and Sega Genesis with great fondness or a doting grandparent who doesn’t remember exactly what the grandkids wanted (the Nintendo Swamp or something?), the new AtGames portable consoles will either excite you to no end or cause deep disappointment.

These crazy little consoles contain dozens of Atari or Genesis games. The Atari version includes more than 70 games, including Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Pitfall and Frogger. The Ultimate Portable Game Player supports SD card side-loading of games and includes 85 Sega Genesis and Mega Drive games, including Phantasy Star.

AtGames has been making these things for a while, but for the first time the systems support HD video and can connect to your TV via HDMI. Further, the new portables include more games. The new models will appear next month and cost a measly $60.

I’ve tried the “console-style” versions of these games, including the new “Atari Flashback 8 Gold Activision Edition,” which features 29 Activision games, and I found myself quite pleased with the speed, quality and fun. Arguably you can hop on Alibaba and get a PSP-looking retro gaming handheld that plays all of these games and more, but if you’re looking for something quick, dirty and fun (or if you want to disappoint the 14-year-old in your life who wants to play these games like she wants a hole in the head), give them a try. There’s nothing like the pixelated Tarzan yell of Pitfall Harry to bring tears to eyes of a gamer of a certain age.

Run to the rock


The past week has been a tough one for lovers of freedom. Slippery slopes have been slid down and a side of the human mind that once remained in shadow has reared its head. Charlottesville is just the first step down a dark road.

In real life, on the public square, our support of freedom of speech and public assembly – a freedom that has long helped hater and lover alike – is in question. Do we open our squares to men who will fight equality? Do we unlock our school grounds so that fear can reign? Do we simply close our windows on loudspeakers calling out for genocide or do we act? I don’t have an answer, but sunlight has always been the best antiseptic and seeing most of these groups on a bare parade ground lays bare their insignificance.

But what do you about the Internet where everything is shadow hiding inside corporate iron? The Internet is a utility, to a degree, but not one whose sanctity is guaranteed to us by some holy writ. We send bits over corporate networks onto servers housed in corporate basements. We shout into corporate megaphones and write screeds – like this one – into corporate editor windows.

On that skein of wires there is no sunlight. We, the creators of that world, must decide. Do we let hate live alongside love? What is conversation when everyone yells? What is fair when everyone has the loudest voice?

I was once a free-love kind of Internet zealot. I still agree that DRM is wrong, that media wants to be free and that good media will be paid for by someone. I still agree that sex is far less egregious than violence and that visions of both help define the lines of our personalities and ensure we do not wander too far into some puritan desert. I was angry, for example, when Pinterest pulled sexual content but know I know things have changed. Pinterest runs is own servers. It is responsible for the contents. It deserves final say.

And that’s where we are now. If you hate, says Wired in a recent profile of Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, you will be shut down.

“Insta­gram is supposed to be a place for self-expression and joy,” wrote Nicholas Thompson in the profile. “Who wants to express themselves, though, if they’re going to be mocked, harassed, and shamed in the comments below a post? Instagram is a bit like Disneyland—if every now and then the seven dwarfs hollered at Snow White for looking fat.”

Or who wants to star in a Ghostbusters reboot and be called racial slurs? And who wants to live in a world where /r/aww lives next to /r/poli?

We, the curators of the Internet, have to decide. Some of us already have. We see Cloudflare and GoDaddy pulling their services from white power site Daily Stormer. Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince agonized over the decision. He, like most Internet users, expects the web to be free as in freedom.

“Our team has been thorough and have had thoughtful discussions for years about what the right policy was on censoring. Like a lot of people, we’ve felt angry at these hateful people for a long time but we have followed the law and remained content neutral as a network. We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret support by Cloudflare,” he wrote. “You, like me, may believe that the Daily Stormer’s site is vile. You may believe it should be restricted. You may think the authors of the site should be prosecuted. Reasonable people can and do believe all those things. But having the mechanism of content control be vigilante hackers launching DDoS attacks subverts any rational concept of justice.”

In the end this is where we must go. It’s folks like Rabbi Abe Cooper as well as Valley CEOs who will help us find a way forward. Freedom of speech in the public square is one right we all have. But there is no free speech in the walled garden if the gardener doesn’t will it.

Listen to Nina Simone. She sang an old spiritual and sang it beautifully.

“Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to? Where you gonna run to? All on that day,” she said. “We got to run to the rock. Please hide me, I run to the rock. All on that day. But the rock cried out. I can’t hide you, the rock cried out. I ain’t gonna hide you there.”

Haters are hiding. They run to the rock. The rock is cries out. It won’t hide them. They must stand, then, and face those they wronged. This is the way it has always been and always will be. We can’t let the Internet change that.

Clara Labs nabs $7M Series A as it positions its AI assistant to meet the needs of enterprise teams


Clara Labs, creator of the Clara AI assistant, is announcing a $7 million Series A this morning led by Basis Set Ventures. Slack Fund also joined in the round, alongside existing investors Sequoia and First Round. The startup will be looking to further differentiate within the crowded field of email-centric personal assistants by building in features and integrations to address the needs of enterprise teams.

Founded in 2014, Clara Labs has spent much of the last three years trying to fix email. When CC-ed on emails, the Clara assistant can automatically schedule meetings — reasoning around preferences like location and time.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably come across x.ai or Fin. But while all three startups look similar on paper, each has its own distinct ideology. Where Clara is running toward the needs of teams, Fin embraces the personal pains of travel planning and shopping. Meanwhile, x.ai opts for maximum automation and lower pricing.

That last point around automation needs some extra context. Clara Labs prides itself in its implementation of a learning strategy called human-in-the-loop. For machines to analyze emails, they have to make a lot of decisions — is that date when you want to grab coffee, or is it the start of your vacation when you’ll be unable to meet?

In the open world of natural language, incremental machine learning advances only get you so far. So instead, companies like Clara convert uncertainty into simple questions that can be sent to humans on demand (think proprietary version of Amazon Mechanical Turk). The approach has become a tech trope with the rise of all things AI, but Maran Nelson, CEO of Clara Labs, is adamant that there’s still a meaningful way to implement agile AI.

The trick is ensuring that a feedback mechanism exists for these questions to serve as training materials for uncertain machine learning models. Three years later, Clara Labs is confident that its approach is working.

Bankrolling the human in human-in-the-loop does cost everyone more, but people are willing to pay for performance. After all, even a nosebleed-inducing $399 per month top-tier plan costs a fraction of a real human assistant.

Anyone who has ever experimented with adding new email tools into old workflows understands that Gmail and Outlook have tapped into the dark masochistic part of our brain that remains addicted to inefficiency. It’s tough to switch and the default of trying tools like Clara is often a slow return to the broken way of doing things. Nelson says she’s keeping a keen eye on user engagement and numbers are healthy for now — there’s undoubtedly a connection between accuracy and engagement.

As Clara positions its services around the enterprise, it will need to take into account professional sales and recruiting workflows. Integrations with core systems like Slack, CRMs and job applicant tracking systems will help Clara keep engagement numbers high while feeding machine learning models new edge cases to improve the quality of the entire product.

“Scheduling is different if you’re a sales person and your sales team is measured by the total number of meetings scheduled,” Nelson told me in an interview.

Nelson is planning to make new hires in marketing and sales to push the Clara team beyond its current R&D comfort zone. Meanwhile the technical team will continue to add new features and integrations, like conference room booking, that increase the value-add of the Clara assistant.

Xuezhao Lan of Basis Set Ventures will be joining the Clara Labs board of directors as the company moves into its next phase of growth. Lan will bring both knowledge of machine learning and strategy to the board. Today’s Clara deal is one of the first public deals to involve the recently formed $136 million AI-focused Basis Set fund.