Ford invests in the future of autonomous vehicles by partnering with AI company

Why it matters to you

Ford hopes to bring autonomous vehicles a little closer to reality through its partnership with an artificial intelligence company.

Ford is driving toward a driverless future. On Friday, the company announced a $1 billion investment over the course of the next five years in artificial intelligence company Argo AI. The goal will be to “develop a new software platform for Ford’s fully autonomous vehicle coming in 2021” by combining the automaker’s expertise in cars and Argo’s experience in robotics. The results of the partnership may also be licensed to other companies, should they prove successful.

Argo certainly has the pedigree to make this a fruitful relationship — after all, founders Bryan Salesky (who now serves as the CEO) and Peter Rander (chief operating officer) formerly led the self-driving car teams at Google and Uber, respectively. The duo and their team seeks to produce the virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE level self-driving cars.

MoreFord’s new 2018 Expedition packs enough tech to double as a mobile office

“The next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile, and autonomous vehicles will have as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” said Ford President and CEO Mark Fields. “As Ford expands to be an auto and a mobility company, we believe that investing in Argo AI will create significant value for our shareholders by strengthening Ford’s leadership in bringing self-driving vehicles to market in the near term and by creating technology that could be licensed to others in the future.”

With this new investment, Ford will become the majority stakeholder in Argo AI, but a joint press release notes that Argo AI will operate with “substantial independence,” and that its employees will maintain “significant equity participation in the company.” Argo AI’s employee headcount is growing fast — by the end of 2017, the company says it will have more than 200 team members.

“We are at an inflection point in using artificial intelligence in a wide range of applications, and the successful deployment of self-driving cars will fundamentally change how people and goods move,” said Salesky. “We are energized by Ford’s commitment and vision for the future of mobility, and we believe this partnership will enable self-driving cars to be commercialized and deployed at scale to extend affordable mobility to all.”

Facebook goes all-in on video with latest update, new app for TV

Why it matters to you

Facebook is a prime destination for video, and its latest updates seek to improve the viewing experience for users.

Although Facebook isn’t necessarily thought of as a video platform, it does provide a massive portal to video content. Facebook is aware of this, which is why the social network is rolling out new video playback features on its mobile app, and introducing another app for TVs.

Facebook listed the video-focused updates in a post on its Newsroom blog. For starters, videos in the News Feed will now autoplay with sound turned on by default, and audio will fade in and out as you scroll past them. The company says the change has received positive feedback in testing, though if you disagree, it can be switched off in the settings. Either way, devices switched to silent will not automatically play sound in the News Feed.

More: Facebook’s latest test brings large, unavoidable ads to Messenger

A more welcome addition might be the larger preview for vertically formatted videos. Facebook notes it has been testing this layout for some accounts as well, and soon it will roll out to all iOS and Android users. The new viewing experience also sports a smoother animation to scale to full-screen more seamlessly, as well as a redesigned progress bar with thumbnails to make navigating videos much more convenient.

Finally, Facebook is adding watch-and-scroll functionality similar to what Google implemented quite a while ago in its YouTube app. Users can now minimize video to a picture-and-picture view while continuing to browse their News Feed. On Android, videos even continue to play outside of the app — similar to how the social network’s Chat Heads messaging feature operates.

In addition to the update for mobile, Facebook also announced it is making the move to bigger screens with a video app for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Samsung Smart TV. The new app allows for easy viewing of videos shared by pages and friends, and also recommends content based on interest. It expands upon a feature the social network rolled out last fall, which introduced the ability to stream videos straight to a TV from any device. Facebook says it is working to bring the app to additional platforms in the future.

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Jack Dorsey is ready to give Twitter an AI makeover

@Jack is ready to give Twitter an AI makeover.
@Jack is ready to give Twitter an AI makeover.

Image: Pavlich/Newspix/REX/Shutterstock

Jack Dorsey thinks AI-driven personalization could be the solution to Twitter’s problems.

Speaking to investors at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet conference in San Francisco, Twitter’s top executive said the embattled company is increasingly turning to AI and machine learning as a way to tailor Twitter to its users’ interests — and hinted that there are much bigger changes to come.

While Twitter has not previously talked much about artificial intelligence, Dorsey said a new emphasis on machine learning and AI internally has helped make the service easier to understand and more relevant to its users. 

Twitter, he said, is “still the best place to get a sense of what’s going on in the world … but as we get better and better at applying machine learning and AI to our system, which we really haven’t done in the past — it’s been very mechanical — it gets easier and easier, and we believe that topics and interests are a big part of that future to make it easier.” 

” … the goal there is eventually to become a lot more topic-based”

Dorsey pointed to the app’s recently added “explore” tab as one area where users can already see the start of more personalized experience tailored around specific topics. “As you exhaust your timeline you can go to explore and you can actually see topics. And the goal there is eventually to become a lot more topic-based and interest forward.”

As for what a more AI-driven approach means for the timeline, Dorsey was less clear, though he hinted that there is much more to come in the year ahead in the way of more personalized experiences.

“I think for the majority of our life we’ve been fairly mechanical and that manifests in making people do the work and now we have a much stronger machine learning artificial intelligence discipline within the company where we can do things for people. We can be more predictive and it allows us to create more experiences; a few are magical and feel like ‘Oh, Twitter is showing me something I wasn’t expecting and it’s great.'”

Twitter, of course, has been experimenting with variations of this approach for some time. The service made the controversial switch to a more algorithmically driven timeline last year — a change the company is now “seeing a lot of benefit from,” according to Dorsey.

More recently, the platform has also adjusted search results to emphasize relevancy over recency and Twitter is also testing a new “top videos for you” section of its timeline that surfaces content from accounts you don’t follow. 

If all that’s beginning to sound more like Facebook than Twitter, it’s definitely not all in your head. Figuring out how to make the firehose of news, updates and other Twitter content more manageable for users has long been one of the service’s biggest problems. Adding more machine learning and personalization (a la Facebook) into the mix is an easy way to address those issues, even if the result may upset Twitter purists. 

But before you start dusting off #ripTwitter, Dorsey had a few words of reassurance that Twitter wouldn’t “over-AI it” when it comes to a more curated experience. 

Still no word on that edit button, though. 

Comcast’s Xfinity Stream app will offer remote access to DVR recordings

Why it matters to you

You will be able to access live TV and DVR content anywhere, if you are a Comcast subscriber.

Launching on February 28th for all subscribers, the new Comcast Xfinity Stream app will let users access live television streams, recorded DVR content, and on-demand programming from any remote location. As detailed by Comcast, this app will replace the aging Xfinity TV app, which originally launched for iOS users during late 2010.

Compatible with both iOS and Android devices, subscribers will be able to access more than 200 live streaming channels using the Xfinity Stream app. Some of those channels include ESPN, MSNBC, CNN, NBC Sports, Disney Channel and Nick Jr. While Comcast didn’t name all the “top cable and premium networks” alluded to in the press release, live streaming also includes music with fifty “Music Choice” channels on the service.

If subscribers don’t want to use LTE streaming due to expensive data plans, Comcast is including an offline viewing feature for both on-demand programming and DVR content. Subscribers will be able to download TV shows and movies to their mobile device, ideal for watching later without online access. Similar to the Xfinity TV app, users will still be able to schedule DVR recordings while away from home.


The new app will tie directly into Comcast’s Stream TV service for cord cutters; currently scheduled for a nationwide launch later this year. The service is targeted at customers that want access to local network stations without having to rely on an external television antenna. Interestingly, the service only works within a home that’s connected to a Xfinity Wi-Fi network. Subscribers cannot access the service remotely.

Other features within the Comcast Xfinity Stream app includes the ability to search content using categories, filtering content with critical scores as well as Common Sense Media ratings, and setting content restrictions using parental controls. Regarding bi-cultural support, Comcast is including Spanish language options within the app and the ability to access secondary audio feeds in Spanish for English programming.

Current Xfinity TV app users should expect that app to automatically update to the Xfinity Stream app on or after February 28th. New users will be able to download the app on the App Store or Google Play.

Dorsey: Twitter still has “a long way to go”

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey spoke on stage with COO and CFO Anthony Noto at the Goldman Technology Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. The leaders of the social media giant reiterated Twitter’s mission as a real-time information platform and spoke of its latest accomplishments, but also talked about the challenges of growing what is already a widely-used site.

“We have a long way to go,” said Dorsey, about improving the user timeline experience and making it more relevant to its 319 million active users. Originally known as the platform for instant news coverage, the company has been experimenting with ways to make sure that the most interesting tweets are shown, whenever someone logs in. Using Twitter “still requires a ton of work to find and follow the right accounts,” he said.

Dorsey spoke of Twitter’s global influence, which has garnered significant attention lately, in part because it seems to be the U.S. President’s favorite way to communicate with the American people. There’s “a lot of dialogue about policy shifts and what’s happening in this country and around the world.”

The protests and the firestorm and of controversy reminded him of the “Arab Spring” situation, which unfolded on the platform in 2011. Dorsey is seeing “a lot of the same patterns that we saw in the Iranian revolution.”

Noto also spoke of the obstacles for monetization, claiming that Twitter is often held to a higher standard than its competition. Because the company has already become such a force in attracting ad budgets, it’s a “much higher bar to get the next dollar of revenue,” he said. Twitter recently disappointed investors with its earnings.

Twitter wants to extend beyond news and become known more for sports and entertainment. They touted some of the early successes of their video efforts, saying that they recently had 5.1 million unique viewers for the Grammy’s.

It’s been a rocky road as a public company, with Twitter seeing its shares rise and fall since its 2013 IPO. Because of the volatility, there has been regular speculation as to whether the company is an acquisition target.

Dorsey also serves as the CEO and co-founder of Square, and has faced criticism for simultaneously running two public companies. Some have suggested that it would be easier if he just focused on one.

But Dorsey’s committed to running them both and in a signal that he’s bullish on Twitter, he recently purchased $7 million in shares.  

Said Dorsey, Twitter is “still the best place to get a sense of what’s going on in the world.”

Featured Image: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook now lets you find and apply for jobs on mobile and desktop

Why it matters to you

Facebook’s new updates aimed at job seekers could transform the way you use its service.

Looking for work? You can now add Facebook to the long list of career sites that can help you find a new job.

On Wednesday, the company announced it is launching a new jobs bookmark on its mobile apps and the web. Businesses with a Facebook presence can now add job openings to their page on the social network. The two updates combined allow users to discover and apply for jobs directly on Facebook.

More: New LinkedIn feature makes it easier for contractors to connect with recruiters

Page admins can publish job openings in a matter of minutes, according to Facebook. A typical vacancy post must include a photo, job title, location, job type (i.e. full-time, part-time), and a detailed description, along with optional info such as a summary, and salary. The post is then published to the company’s page and will also appear on the News Feed of their followers. Businesses will also have the option to boost the post (by paying a premium) to reach a larger or more targeted audience.

Facebook users can find jobs via the site’s new bookmark, which offers filters to help cater your search to match your criteria. You can also seek out jobs manually by visiting a company’s page and clicking on the jobs tab, located alongside other sections such as “home,” “posts,” and “photos.”

To apply for a vacancy, select the “apply now” button on the post. This action will open up an application form pre-populated with the info you have available on your profile (such as name, city, email). Here you will also be required to add more job-specific info about yourself. You can then submit the application via Messenger: the service will be the first port of call for all your future communications with the business in regard to the opening. Page admins will then be able to review your info and message you back about the status of your application.

Facebook began testing its new feature in November and claims that a number of businesses have already used it to fill roles. Seeing as 1 billion people visit business pages every month, the update should generate plenty of interest.

For the platform itself, it may also prove a boost in terms of accumulating personal data. Who knows, you may end up treating Facebook as you would LinkedIn (one of the platforms that could feel the direct impact of the big blue social network’s latest venture). After all, anyone searching for a job via Facebook would be advised to update their personal profile to make it look more professional. That would mean adding more photos, and educational and work experience info — sections you may have neglected in the past. Additionally, pages on Facebook could see higher rates of engagement as more people start following the companies they want to work for.

The job openings updates are currently only available to users and businesses in the United States and Canada.

Our favorite startups from 500 Startups’ 19th class


With federal funding for universities in a nose dive, Almabase wants to step in to be the one-stop-shop for alumni associations looking to build rapport with alumni — and ultimately raise money. Founders Sri Maneru and Kalyan Varma noticed that donation rates were considerably higher for charities than universities and figured that if they could move the needle even a little, the quality of higher education could see improvements.

Today, colleges often use Facebook groups and other manual systems to organize alumni, but they’re rarely comprehensive. Instead, Almabase combines career services, event planning, mentorship, networking and donations into a single service. Some schools that have tested the system have seen close to a 5X increase in donations — of course, it’s important to remember that some schools do have robust systems in place to manage their networks, but not everyone shares the same resources.

This privacy app may work for White House aides, but it’s still a mystery

White House staff are using an app called Confide.
White House staff are using an app called Confide.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Endorsements are a solid way to vault a product into a new stratosphere, and there are perhaps few better endorsements than the White House. 

Signal and WhatsApp are the current darlings for anyone interested in sending secure texts on their phone, but an app called Confide got a huge — uh — signal boost on Monday when The Washington Post reported that staffers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were using it because they are afraid of being “accused of talking to the media.”

But how exactly does Confide work, and how secure is it?

Confide’s website stakes the app’s appeal on three pillars. First, it claims “military-grade” encryption. Second, the texts disappear as soon as they’re read. Third, your messages can’t be screenshotted. This all fits with the app’s motto of sorts, which is that they believe texts should be as private as “the spoken word.” 

“If the reports that U.S. political operatives are using Confide are accurate, we think it makes sense, regardless of which side of the aisle they’re on,” Jon Brod, co-founder and president of Confide, said via email. “Confide is particularly useful for people who communicate sensitive information as a matter of course.”

That may well be true. Confide may have “military grade” end-to-end encryption. The feature that erases messages on sight may make it the best privacy-conscious chat app there is. But it’s a claim that’s hard to make or refute for anyone outside the company, because Confide’s source code isn’t publicly available. And several experts have questioned how secured it really is.

“Confide looks like an unknown.”

“Signal and WhatsApp are two apps that are well-respected among the security community,” said David Wagner, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “They’ve gotten quite a bit of scrutiny and analysis, and on the whole they seem to be pretty good, pretty secure. Confide looks like an unknown.”

Wagner waved off concerns others have raised about Confide’s compliance with government encrypted standards, saying such things are more a “compliance” ordeal than a security concern. But without being able to dig into the source code, he’s a little worried Confide could be too much like Snapchat. 

Snaps disappear a few seconds after a user sees them, but Snap Inc. endured a string of bad press after users learned their messages weren’t actually deleted. And if they’re not deleted, that means they can be recovered, even if not by your average internet sleuth. 

Confide may be nothing like Snapchat in this regard, but without the source code, Wagner says it’s not possible to tell. And hey, more than a few past stories have called Confide the “Snapchat for business.”

For now, White House staff will probably keep using it. And leaks to the media will probably keep coming.

Artist creates satirical ‘monument’ to Donald Trump in VR

While you’re sitting on the sidelines wondering if VR is worth the cost of entry, visual artists are embracing the medium — and making political statements in the process. 

One of those artists is Dante Orpilla, a Los Angeles-based traditional painter and illustrator who just picked up the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive a few months ago. Orpilla, who also happens to work full-time at Reddit as a designer, uses the full range of VR tools to lay out his vision, including Oculus apps Quill and Medium

His latest work is called “The Trump Memorial,” a Medium sculpture he shared on Instagram. Accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek text description, the work serves as a commentary on the U.S. president’s immigration policy and addiction to Twitter. 

But beyond art-meets-politics statements, it’s the new canvas of virtual reality that appears to have truly captured the artist’s imagination. 

“This new medium is an entirely different beast,” says Orpilla. “On a piece of paper, or canvas, or wall, or even computer screen … you have clearly defined boundaries.”

“Those rules don’t exist in VR. It’s like closing your eyes and dreaming … It’s exciting and scary at the same time.”

But that Medium sculpture isn’t even his best work. The most impressive of Orpilla’s VR art is revealed in his Quill renderings, which don’t just demonstrate his talent with lines and shapes, but with visual narrative. 

“I think that as the tools begin to catch up with our ambitions in this brave new world, and as artists begin to rewrite the rules on what we can and cannot do,” says Orpilla, “we will begin to see art take the shape of visceral experiences unlike anything we’ve seen before.”