‘Hope Floats’ is a seaborne bot that spams lawmakers with calls

The project started out as a reaction to the 2016 US presidential election. “Right after the election, we were strapped with wanting to provide something to our community (in Red Hook) and our audience … People needed to get stuff out,” says Bethany Tabor, technology programs manager at Pioneer Works, the nonprofit foundation behind Hope Floats. At first, the idea was to build something cathartic. “We wanted to just build a screaming booth where you could go in and scream,” added David Sheinkopf, the organization’s director of technology.

But Sheinkopf wanted to encourage what he called “constructive expression” instead of futile yelling, so the team decided to develop something more effective. So they set about building a phone booth for people to call their elected officials.

'Hope Floats' is a seaborne bot that spams lawmakers with calls

That’s the first part of Hope Floats, which launched online and in physical form this past Sunday at Pioneer Works’ monthly open house, which happens every second Sunday. As hundreds of New Yorkers wandered around the bright, airy gallery, the installation was actually quite easy to miss. Aside from a small sign next to the phone booth, there wasn’t an eye-catching setup to draw your attention to the installation. Still, several people stopped to read the project’s on-screen explanation, while a handful of them stayed to leave a message.

If sending your representative a note is something you prefer to do in private, you can also do so on the Hope Floats website. The physical phone booth lets people without internet access use the service. Sheinkopf pointed to the neighborhood’s elderly population as an example.

Only one phone booth is up and running at Pioneer Works right now, but Sheinkopf says the dream is to have phone booths that are solar-powered, with 3G or 4G LTE connections via a mobile hotspot so they can be installed “in the public space.” The setup is already weatherproof, making it a good fit for parks and sidewalks. The team’s ability to bring Hope Floats to more places depends on whether it gets enough sponsors.

'Hope Floats' is a seaborne bot that spams lawmakers with calls

Whether you make the trek out to Red Hook or see one in your neighborhood in future, placing a call via a Hope Floats booth is like entering a time warp. The device is anachronistic and somewhat confusing. The 15-inch screen is accompanied by a receiver on the right and a keyboard-and-mouse combo below it that evoke public phones from decades ago. Some people reached out to touch the screen last Sunday, and it took them a while to figure out that they actually had to use the accompanying mouse to navigate the menus.

At the booth, you can look up your district congressional representative, select a cause to discuss and leave a voice message for them. Tabor and Sheinkopf say they wanted to make Hope Floats a nonpartisan project, and as such, they tried to avoid leading questions or slanted scripts. Topics include immigration policy, travel bans, women’s reproductive healthcare, trans rights and NEA advocacy. There’s also an umbrella option called “Other” if your issue isn’t on the list.

'Hope Floats' is a seaborne bot that spams lawmakers with calls

Leaving a message at the booth can get tricky. Since the installation is basically a computer accessing the Hope Floats website and not an actual phone, you have to click the microphone symbol to start recording. At this point, most people, myself included, reached out to tap the screen. But you have to use the rolling ball next to the keyboard to move the cursor, press the “click” button below it, and click again to save your recording.

Sheinkopf is aware of the problems and says it’s a work in progress. In fact, after watching folks repeatedly tap the screen on Sunday, Sheinkopf added a label to the machine, indicating where the mouse was. He also says his team would work on shortening the introduction as well as improve the color scheme of the topics list, which is currently difficult to read.

'Hope Floats' is a seaborne bot that spams lawmakers with calls

The second part of the Hope Floats experience is more rewarding. All the messages people have left, whether from the booth or website, are being stored on a server. In September, Sheinkopf and his team will launch a callbot that will repeatedly dial the intended recipient of each message and play the recording. Sheinkopf says this is meant to help “people who have full-time jobs who can’t be on the phone all day long.” Since a large volume of calls on an issue can bring lawmakers offices to a halt, this is a more effective means of reaching your elected official than simply emailing or tweeting at them.

The team is also working on a raft-mounted device that will be launched into the water on September 30th. It will head towards Washington, DC, as it continues to place automated calls to various congressional representatives. During its symbolic journey to the nation’s capital and the heart of the government, the raft will use solar panels to stay powered, along with a mobile hotspot and radio to make calls. As you might expect, the raft will also have GPS to help keep it on course. But even if it meets an untimely demise, the spirit of Hope Floats will live on. The raft is only meant to place about 5 percent of calls made by participants; the main system, hosted on servers back home, will do the bulk of the work.

'Hope Floats' is a seaborne bot that spams lawmakers with calls

Hope Floats has many goals. It aims to show that participating in politics doesn’t necessarily demand a lifestyle change. “We would hope that people feel like it’s less of an obstacle to engage with their government and feel like they participated in something that up until now felt very distant from them,” Tabor says. “It’s also about demanding that your representatives do their job and represent you,” she adds. But the team also wants to inspire others to explore creative ways they can use technology for political engagement.

But the project can’t achieve much if it continues to operate at such a small scale. According to Pioneer Works, 30 messages were left on Sunday. At this rate, about a thousand calls will be saved by the time the raft launches at the end of next month. You can continue to send messages via the booth or the website even after the raft sets off. Hope Floats needs greater momentum to make politicians pay attention, but I suspect it will gather steam once the callbot starts dialing.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/16/hope-floats-political-call-bot-art/

Lyft still sees a place for human drivers in an autonomous fleet

Matthiesen explains that the company already has an advisory board that is working on how human drivers will fit into a vision of a driverless fleet. Humans can do things that self-driving cars simply cannot, such as help with suitcases or assist passengers with mobility impairments. He explained, “There are things we’re doing beyond getting a passenger from point A to point B, additional services that we as a company can look at.”

Still, it’s likely that eventually that most of Lyft’s drivers will eventually be replaced by self-driving tech. Last month, the company announced they were opening a research division in Palo Alto focused exclusively on autonomous vehicles. Human drivers may serve more of a concierge function, taking on passengers that need extra help, while self-driving cars will likely take on the bulk of straightforward rides.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/14/lyft-human-drivers-self-driving-fleet/

AI beats top ‘Dota 2’ players in one-on-one matches

The result is an AI that not only has the fundamentals nailed down, but understands the nuances that take human players a long time to master. It’s adept at tricks like zoning (preventing the enemy from hitting your creeps to deny them experience and gold) and raze faking (starting a raze animation to trick an enemy into dodging a non-existent attack). While its actions per minute aren’t any better than that of an average flesh-and-bone player, the choices make a huge difference. And it doesn’t take too long to learn, either; OpenAI’s creation can beat regular Dota 2 bots after an hour of learning, and beat the best humans after just two weeks.

Of course, these victories came about under controlled, ideal conditions. One-on-one matches are far less complex than standard five-on-five matches, and it’s notable that the machine learning system doesn’t use the full range of tactics you see from human rivals. OpenAI hopes to have its bot mastering five-on-fives by next year’s Invitational, though. And while Elon Musk is a bit hyperbolic when he says that Dota 2 is “vastly more complex” than Go, it’s true that even this limited accomplishment is impressive. The title not only involves much more freedom of movement than most board games, but depends on feinting, denial and other less-than-obvious tactics. What OpenAI has learned with Dota 2 might just translate to other fields where understanding subtleties can be crucial to success.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/12/ai-beats-top-dota-2-players/

Toyota allies with Intel to develop self-driving car ecosystem

Practically everyone is wading into the autonomous car space. And, collaboration between firms is just as common. Alphabet’s Waymo, and GM, are buddying up with Lyft. Renault is cozying up to Nissan. And China’s search giant Baidu is targeting, well, everyone. And that’s just a smattering of the team-ups currently taking place. Toyota itself also recently hooked up with Nissan to build a US assembly plant for EVs and self-driving cars.

All those connected car tests are already racking up big data, which will ramp up exponentially over time. In fact, it’s estimated the data volume between vehicles and the cloud will reach 10 exabytes per month by 2025, said Toyota. That’s approximately 10,000 times larger than the present amount, according to the company. Pooling some of that data in the form of an alliance therefore makes a lot of sense. Especially, if Toyota and Intel intend to keep up with the competition.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/11/toyota-intel-self-driving-car-alliance/

Xbox’s self-published indies have their own space on the store

You know, because the M-rated Resident Evil: Revelations Collection featured on the store’s landing page is appropriate for everyone. Especially compared to utterly gruesome fare like party game Animal Rivals and the “relaxing puzzle game” ERMO.

Much like the program’s predecessor on Xbox 360, this wall, as minor as it might seem, cordons off the high-profile indies Microsoft has a vested interest in pushing — and limits potential income for developers — from the ones anyone can publish on the system. I digress. The offerings has grown since the Creators games were available in limited fashion, and a vast majority of them are free. The most expensive title is Derelict Fleet from developer Bionic Pony priced at $9.99. For more info, check out Xbox Wire and the video below.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/10/xbox-creators-program-games-xbox-one-windows-10/

Insurers increasingly use apps and drones instead of agents

Companies like DJI are tweaking their drones for property surveying that works for construction and insurance, while auto insurance companies are leaning on self-service apps to make estimates. According to the WSJ, this is a part of rising customer satisfaction with insurance claims over the last few years as measured by JD Power. It’s also something I unexpectedly got a closer look at earlier this year when I ran into a deer.

Using my insurance company’s app I sent in pictures (including the one shown above) the next day and within a few hours had an estimate that I could take to repair shops. It didn’t do much to speed up the process, unfortunately, as part shortages kept my car in the shop for over a month. Also, my photos of the outside of the car didn’t reveal the damage to internal parts like the radiator and turbo mount, which may have caused more back and forth later, but weren’t much of a factor in how much time the repairs took. It was more convenient than needing to arrange an appointment with an agent, but it still shows that some things are better done by an expert.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/05/insurers-increasingly-use-apps-and-drones-instead-of-agents/

The Morning After: Friday August 4th, 2017


Anyone know a lawyer?FBI arrests UK security researcher who stopped WannaCry outbreak

The Morning After: Friday August 4th, 2017

Marcus Hutchins, aka @MalwareTechBlog on Twitter, became known worldwide earlier this year when his quick action during the WannaCry outbreak prevented an untold number of computers from being damaged. This week the UK-based security researcher was in Las Vegas to be around the Def Con event, but then news broke that law enforcement had detained the young hacker. Eventually, the Department of Justice revealed that the FBI has him in custody for allegedly having a hand in creating and distributing the Kronos trojan. For more analysis of the charges against him, check out this report by the Washington Post.


Interesting.Chevy Bolt outlasts Tesla’s Model S in ‘Consumer Reports’ range test

The Morning After: Friday August 4th, 2017

While the Bolt is rated for 238 miles of driving by the EPA, the car exceeded that in the Consumer Reports test, squeezing out 12 more miles for a total of 250. That means the Bolt officially beats Tesla’s Model S, at least in this particular test. When CR tested the Model S 75D, it got 235 miles, compared to the EPA estimate of 259.


Don’t use these.Millions of previously-pwned passwords are now downloadable for free

The Morning After: Friday August 4th, 2017

In a bid to help internet companies improve their security, Have I Been Pwned operator Troy Hunt has released a database containing hashes for 306 million passwords that have previously appeared in leaks. Suggesting better alternatives for people using these passwords could help keep their accounts secure and makes it easier to follow guidelines established by the NIST.


An extra buck every month.LastPass Premium now costs twice as much

The Morning After: Friday August 4th, 2017

LastPass is one of the more popular password managers, and yesterday the company announced its prices are going up. While it’s introducing a $48 family plan to help keep your household (of up to six people) covered for less, individual subscriptions are doubling in price to $24 per year. Meanwhile, its unlimited sharing and emergency-access features are no longer available in its free option. Still, at $2 per month, it’s cheaper than competitors like Dashlane and 1Password, and for security’s sake, a password manager can be worth the money to wrangle your ever-growing list of unique passwords. Just something to keep in mind.


A lesson in compromise.Moto Z2 Force review: one step forward, another step back

The Morning After: Friday August 4th, 2017

Motorola tried to blend the best bits of the old Z and Z Force into a single body but made some compromises that mean the Z2 Force won’t work for everyone. The phone is both sleek and powerful, but it also has unremarkable battery life and a lackluster camera. If you love Moto’s Mods then this is the way to go, but there may be better options available.


Cheaper than the Surface StudioDell’s massive Canvas display for artists is available for $1,800

The Morning After: Friday August 4th, 2017

This 27-inch touchscreen display is perfect for design and art projects — if you can afford it.

But wait, there’s more…

The Morning After is a new daily newsletter from Engadget designed to help you fight off FOMO. Who knows what you’ll miss if you don’t subscribe.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/04/the-morning-after-friday-august-4th-2017/

Photography algorithm alters perspective after images are captured

The quick video below gives an example of the kinds of results you can get with this technique:

As the research paper notes, the woman in the images didn’t move at all throughout the photo shoot, but the background was able to be manipulated from a wide-angle shot into a close-up with software after the fact.

Of course, those images have to come from somewhere. To get computational zoom to work, you’ll need a “stack” of images captured a fixed focal length at different distances. In layman’s terms, that means you’ll need to use your feet and move through the scene; you can’t cheat by using a zoom lens. So no, computational zoom can’t magically create scenes without having the image data to start with — but once it does have those images, it can do some pretty creative things.

Photography algorithm alters perspective after images are captured

Once those photos are shot, they’re fed into the computational zoom system and run through its algorithm, which can figure out the camera’s orientation based on the rest of the images — ultimately it can build out the entire scene in 3D from a variety of viewpoints, which lets the photographer create a final image combining multiple perspectives. There’s no word on when this technology might be available to photographers to try themselves, but it’s easy to imagine professionals using this to give themselves a lot more flexibility in adjusting image composition after the fact.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/03/computational-zoom-photography-algorithm-alters-perspective/

Windows 10 will soon include built-in eye tracking

Microsoft partnered with Tobii on Eye Control, and it won’t surprise you to hear that Tobii’s trackers have the broadest compatibility with the new feature. The upgrade is available in beta as part of a Windows Insider preview if you’re eager to try it right away, although there’s no firm timetable for when it’ll reach stable Windows versions.

The addition represents the next big step in making PCs truly accessible. Both Apple and Microsoft have accessibility features, but they’re usually focused on vision and hearing issues. This opens the door to people who need an entirely different control scheme. Don’t be surprised if you see eye tracking interfaces (and eventually, other interfaces) come to other platforms and mobile devices.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/08/01/windows-10-eye-tracking-support/

Unlock VR mode in ‘Alien: Isolation,’ if you dare

Although Alien: Isolation came with a hidden Rift DK2 mode, it wasn’t previously compatible with the consumer version of the headset. And, despite releasing a bunch of DLC, it seems Sega never felt there was enough demand to release a VR update. That hasn’t stopped the game’s fans from taking the DIY approach with the mod — hurrying it out it as an alpha so others can get their hands on it immediately.

Alas, the experience isn’t without its hitches. The VR mod is designed for seated play only and works with an Xbox controller or keyboard and mouse. There are also no snap-turns — which could make for a queazy ride — and scaling issues mean that interactive objects can be hard to focus on. Fortunately, these are known bugs that the mod’s creator /u/Nibre is working on fixing. Additional features are also in the pipeline (including Vive support). It is an alpha after all, so it’s best to jump in and test it for yourself. That is, if you have the guts (and the stomach) for it.

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Source URL:http://www.engadget.com/2017/07/31/alien-isolation-vr-mode/