All posts in “Tech News”

Apple just dropped the public beta for MacOS High Sierra. Here’s how to get it.

The next version of MacOS is ready for testing.

Apple just released the first public beta for High Sierra, the next version of MacOS. The update brings enhancements to many of Apple’s native apps, like Photos and Mail, as well as under-the-hood performance improvements to graphics and video encoding.

If you want to take it for a spin, you can sign up for Apple’s beta program and download it right now.

As with any beta release, the update is bound to have bugs, so Apple recommends you only install beta software on a secondary device. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have a current backup, just in case something goes wrong.

But, if you’re okay with the risk, there’s a lot to look forward to in the High Sierra update, even if it’s more of a refresh of last year’s Sierra update.

Apple has made significant improvements to the Photos app, with a revamped user interface and new editing tools; Safari, which can now prevent auto-play videos; and Mail, which now comes with faster search.

There’s also Apple’s new File System, as well as enhancements to Siri, Notes, and Spotlight (which are also integrated in iOS 11). And, for VR developers and enthusiasts, High Sierra will be the first version of MacOS to support virtual reality.

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Dubai will roll out self-driving, drone-launching police bots, because of course

Dubai, the self-proclaimed “Future City,” is getting its own unit of autonomous, drone-launching robotic police vehicles, because what’s more future than than Robocops?

The city’s police force will be the first in the world to roll out Singapore startup Otsaw Digital’s O-R3 autonomous robot, according to a report from the Gulf News spotted by The Verge. The self-driving, self-charging electric bots might be small — the Gulf News compared the size of the O-R3 to an electric kiddie car — but they purportedly boast a suite of features that could make them formidable security guards once they start rolling a beat. 

Most notably, Dubai’s O-R3 units will use “biometric detecting software” to identify people who are wanted by the police or observed committing crimes as “undesirables,” alerting human officers so they can take action.     

The AI controlling the bot can detect and dodge obstacles — and when it hits its limits, it can launch a companion drone to follow after an escaping perp. Check out a controlled demo of the system below:

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Director of the Smart Services Department of the Dubai Police, Brigadier Khalid Nasser Al Razooqi, told Gulf News that the feed from the O-R3’s cameras will be linked to an internal command room, where human officers will monitor the footage collected on patrols.

The city’s police force will roll out the new bots soon, with active patrols slated to start before the end of the year at tourist destinations around the city, according to Al Razooqi. 

Dubai’s law enforcement efforts first embraced AI with its adoption of PAL Robotics’ REEM robot, an ineffectual-looking Robocop wannabe that made the rounds at the Dubai Mall during the Gulf Information Security Expo and Conference back in May. That android looks like it’ll serve a more a public-facing civil servant role, while the O-R3 patrols could actually help the police force identify and corral lawbreakers.   

The self-driving patrols join Dubai’s already impressive autonomous aspirations. The city is projected to be the first in the world to launch a pilot-free flying taxi service later this year, too, and Uber’s flying car initiative plans to introduce a working prototype and possibly even passenger flights to Dubai airspace by 2020. 

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A ruling against Google in Canada could affect free speech around the world

Google's Canadian engineering headquarters in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario seen on January 14, 2016. (Reuters)Google's Canadian engineering headquarters in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario seen on January 14, 2016. (Reuters)
Google’s Canadian engineering headquarters in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario seen on January 14, 2016. (Reuters)

The Supreme Court of Canada issued an order to Google Wednesday: Stop showing search results for a company accused of fraud, not just in Canada, but throughout the world. Yes, that includes everybody reading this in America.

But the court’s ruling that the Alphabet. Inc., (GOOG, GOOGL) search subsidiary “de-index” the company could also invite other courts — including those in countries not as nice as Canada — to issue their own global takedown demands for other sites, which can easily lead to free speech being squashed.

And U.S. companies that want to do business in those other nations will have little choice but to comply. Too bad, eh?

Litigate locally, punish globally

This story started with a lawsuit filed by Barnaby, British Columbia-based Industrial-networking vendor Equustek Solutions Inc., alleging that a competitor, Datalink Technologies Gateways Inc., had started selling its technology as its own.

A lower court told Datalink to knock it off, but the firm then fled the province to “an unknown location” while continuing to hawk its wares online. 

Equustek asked Google to stop sending people to Datalink’s sales pages, and Google complied. But as Datalink kept moving the offending sales pitch from one page to another, Equustek asked Google to stop pointing people to Datalink’s site entirely — and to do the same around the world.

An appeals court granted that request, and Canada’s Supreme Court upheld that while rejecting free-speech arguments in a 7-2 ruling.

“This is not an order to remove speech that, on its face, engages freedom of expression values, it is an order to de-index websites that are in violation of several court orders,” Justice Rosalie Abella wrote. “We have not, to date, accepted that freedom of expression requires the facilitation of the unlawful sale of goods.”

Google’s press office released a statement in response: “We are carefully reviewing the Court’s findings and evaluating our next steps.”

Corporations versus governments

The traditional view of trying to keep something off the internet, as Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore points out is, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

But multinational corporations, unlike internet packets, operate in fixed locations. They have employees that can be arrested, assets that can be seized and bank accounts that can be hit with fines.

Having any one country tell a company doing business there that it must take something offline within that country has always been a risk, and sometimes tech firms have opted not to run accept such demands — Google’s decision to pull out of the booming Chinese market over government censorship is a perfect example of this.

But Canada’s Supreme Court has flipped this script with its globally-binding ruling. Daphne Keller, a director of Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, called it “much more far reaching than most” in an email.

And the underlying offense here, an intellectual-property violation, is far from being something everybody can agree on as being beyond the pale worldwide. Said Keller: “I am in tons of discussions about this, and the one point of consensus is global removal of child pornography.”

Further, this isn’t just any rogue judicial body engaging in global grandstanding. “The Canadian Supreme Court is well respected around the world, and this ruling will carry some weight elsewhere,” emailed Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Geist, who had earlier urged the court to adopt a narrower remedy, said the judges should have limited their ruling to Google’s Canadian site.

Everybody loses

The court’s ruling is a mess all around. It won’t actually solve the problem of people finding undesirable content online for the same reasons that the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” doctrine can’t.

Like the EU’s “RtbF,” Canada’s ruling doesn’t encompass every search engine and says nothing about social media, with its proven ability to send massive amounts of people to a site. Nor can it stop individual people or sites from pointing to offending pages — something that can become more likely after a dose of publicity.

The problem looms much larger for everybody else online. Canadian judges may be a reasonable lot, but if they see fit to assert global jurisdiction, so can any other country’s judges.

In France, privacy regulators have fined Google a token amount for not honoring a right-to-be-forgotten request worldwide. (Memo to French president Emmanuel Macron: This is not a good look for will not help your startup nation ambitions.)

Libel laws are far friendlier to plaintiffs in the United Kingdom; imagine British courts deciding that their rulings must now apply worldwide?

And on Monday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got a court order demanding that Twitter (TWTR) close the account of American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin. What if he forced Google to stop linking to attacks on him?

“What’s hate speech in France is free speech in the U.S.,” explained Pamela Samuelson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “What’s fair use in the U.S. may be infringing in Spain. What’s defamation in Australia or the UK may be protected speech in the U.S.”

In every case, the result will be courts overseas deciding what we as Americans can find online. And then maybe U.S. courts will return the favor, and the internet as a whole can get meeker and shallower, one ruling at a time.

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Email Rob at; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.


Even Steve Jobs didn’t understand what the iPhone truly was

The phone is dead. The iPhone killed it.

It’s hard to say when exactly the inflection point came. Was there was a single point in time that the devices in our pockets became computers first and phones as a distant second? Was it the original iPhone, released 10 years ago today? Perhaps it was the iPhone 3G, which added faster internet, or the iPhone 5, which supported LTE. Or maybe it was iPhone OS 2, which opened up the App Store for developers to create their own communication platforms outside of SMS and voice calls.

Whether it was a slow transition or a single device, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the iPhone has forever changed how people communicate by putting the internet at the forefront.

Looking back to the original announcement of the iPhone on June 29th, 2007, it’s easy to see how most people would not have predicted that the “phone” part was the least important aspect of this new device. During the keynote, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs famously faked out the audience by claiming that he would be announcing three revolutionary products, which he quickly revealed to be a single device. The first was “a widescreen iPod with touch controls,” the second “a revolutionary mobile phone” (emphasis mine), and the third “a breakthrough internet communicator.”

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If you watch the video, you can see the first two so-called products get wild applause, while the third — the internet communicator — gets more muted clapping when compared to the long-rumored touchscreen iPod and Apple-produced phone. It almost seems as if the third “product” was added in simply so Jobs could have one more thing to neatly round out the list.

The original iPhone barely lived up to its internet-connected claim, anyway. There were no third-party apps and data was slow and limited to AT&T’s Edge network. Even the iPhone version of Safari, while miles better than any competitor’s internet browser at the time, was still a far cry from the barely indistinguishable mobile internet we have today. Outside of email, the iPhone was just a very good-looking phone.

But somewhere along the way, Apple managed to build out the iPhone from both a hardware and a software standpoint, to the point where Jobs’ prediction of the iPhone being a breakthrough internet communicator has become a reality. In fact, the idea of communication through internet, whether it be social networking or messaging apps, has taken over the iPhone much so that it’s come to completely subsume the music and calling aspects of the original announcement.

The numbers back this up, too. Data topped cellular voice service as a source of revenue for carriers back in 2014. Nielsen data from 2010 notes that voice calls have been steady on a decline since 2008 — right after the release of the iPhone in 2007 — across demographics, except for adults over the age of 54. The VOIP Report said last year that roughly a quarter of smartphone owners don’t even average a single call a week.

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Now to be fair, the iPhone didn’t accomplish this alone: the incredible success of Android put smartphones in the hands of millions across the globe. But it was the iPhone that started the trend, that was the first device to truly put the internet into a mobile device for mainstream users. I may be on the younger side of the staff, but I remember memorizing phone numbers to call friends on my family’s landline. I also recall the moment of panic when I accidentally hit the “internet” button on my Motorola Razr. In just a few short years, the internet has gone from something that was technically possible to have on a phone if you were willing to put in time, effort, and money to get a poor facsimile of the web to load into the core feature.

The actual ability to place phone calls isn’t the central component of the iPhone (or really, any smartphone) today. If the Galaxy S8 or iPhone 7 in your pocket magically lost the ability to make cellular calls overnight, would you even notice? Would it dramatically affect your interactions with family and friends? I can say for me that it wouldn’t. Apps like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram get dozens of times more use than the “phone” feature on my iPhone. And apps like Facebook Messenger or Apple’s own FaceTime service have brought calls via the internet. Even the dynamic of what we think of as cell service has changed. Before the iPhone and the modern smartphone, whether or not you had an EDGE icon on your screen didn’t matter at all, so long as you had bars for texting and calling. Today, if there’s no LTE, we basically consider the devices completely useless.

Looking back, it’s amazing to see how much things have changed in terms of the way we use our devices in the short decade from the original iPhone to now. And while it’s hard to say what the next decade holds for how communication will evolve, it’s fascinating to think about how foreign it may seem compared to how ubiquitous phone calling was 10 years ago.

A look back at the release of the iPhone

iPhone 10th anniversary: looking back at how Apple changed the mobile landscape

As the Apple iPhone officially turns 10, we look back at how the introduction of Apple’s touchscreen smartphone influenced the rest of the mobile industry and society as a whole. From bringing us the emoji by conquering the Japanese market to turning the modern world into a society of tech addicts, here are the many ways the iPhone changed, well, everything.