Apple Music’s next exclusive is a Clive Davis documentary

Apple Music’s next documentary focuses on music industry legend Clive Davis. Last night at the annual Tribeca Film Festival, it was announced that Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives would be exclusive to Apple’s music-streaming service. That report comes via Deadline. While Davis’ name might be unfamiliar, his influence has been felt throughout the music industry for some 50 years. Davis is responsible for signing Bruce Springsteen; Carlos Santana (above); Earth, Wind & Fire and Alicia Keys in addition to cofounding Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records among many, many other accomplishments. For more on his career, be sure to check out New York Times‘ recent interview with Davis.

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Android’s new filters will help you purge unused apps

Updates themselves are better. It now takes just one tap to update a specific app where you previously had to visit each app’s store page to upgrade. That’s more than a little helpful if you’re pressed for time. You can also refresh the updates section to look for fresh apps instead of having to relaunch the app, and it’s easier to quickly install apps from your library. And did we mention that the app listings themselves are much more compact, so you won’t have to scroll quite so much?

This isn’t a perfect update. It’s no longer possible to easily mass-install library apps, so you may have a harder time bringing back all your apps on a new phone. From a first glance, though, it looks as if Google has made a number of small Play Store updates that could make a very practical impact on your day-to-day use.

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Live from F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference!

It’s time once again for F8, Facebook’s annual gathering of developers from around the world, and it’s a little special this year. That’s because this is the 10th anniversary of the event, so we’re expecting a look back at just how far Facebook has come over the past decade, along with hints of what’s to come. That means in addition to details about the company’s core product and its various messaging and photo-sharing apps, we also expect Facebook to make some teasers. We’re talking VR, 360 video, live streaming and perhaps some mysterious new item we’ve yet to even hear about. To read about our expectations, click here. But if you want to read the real deal, you best come back to this page at 10pm PT or 1pm ET for our liveblog of F8 2017’s opening-day keynote.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from F8 2017!

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Internet Archive puts all TV news since 2009 online, helps you stay classy

Wish you could spend your evenings and weekends reliving the halcyon days of broadcast news? You should head on over to the Internet Archive. Founder Brewster Kahle has collected TV news from 20 major channels since 2009, and is making them available online from today. The archive stretches from the 24-hour CNN through to The Daily Show — with whole episodes available to rent for a fee of $50 per disc. Kahle’s planning to add additional years in reverse chronological order at least back to 2002, since that’s when closed captioning (which the system uses to catalog the footage) was introduced. Unless, of course, we all fancy transcribing an hour or two of Channel 4 News circa 1975 to help out.

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Luxury AGA ovens aren’t safe from hackers

A new report from security experts Pen Test Partners takes issue with some AGA models that come with a built-in SIM card and mobile radio. Each oven has its own mobile phone number, which owners must pay an extra $7.50 or £6 a month for. Due to a lack of security on the Aga web app, attackers can effectively spam the login form to gain a list of eligible phone numbers and send requests to unsuspecting households. As the company doesn’t check who is sending the text request, attackers potentially have full control.

To be clear, the exploit isn’t going to cause much harm. However, AGA are notoriously power hungry and take a long time to heat up. The likely damage would be an inflated power bill or a ruined dinner party. Pen Test Partners notes that a simple WiFi module and mobile app would do the trick, rather than a system that can be impacted by poor mobile signals and unauthenticated text messages.

AGA initially neglected to address the concerns but has today issued a statement saying that the platform is supported by a separate company and that it’s looking into the issue: “We take such issues seriously and have raised them immediately with our service providers so that we can answer in detail the points raised.”

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RealDoll's first sex robot took me to the uncanny valley

In a short vignette, Ovid introduces Pygmalion, a sculptor who falls in love with one of his own statues. Described as “a bachelor, without a wife or partner for his bed” and disillusioned by “the failings that nature gave the female heart,” he chisels his dream girl out of a “snow-white ivory.” Pygmalion treats his artificial lover like a living companion, talking to her, caressing her and kissing her until Venus, the Roman goddess of love, eventually steps in and turns Pygmalion’s ivory GF into the real deal.

Versions of the Pygmalion story can be found in countless works of fiction, ballets, films, operas and TV shows. The Bride of Frankenstein, My Fair Lady, the Stepford Wives, Pretty Woman, Mannequin, Weird Science, She’s All That, Her, Ex Machina, even West World all support the same ancient premise that real women need an upgrade.

The quest for a female substitute reaches far beyond Hollywood, though. History is rife with men determined to bring artificial women into the real world. During the 1800s there were the lifelike mechanized dolls popularized by watchmakers in France, and in the 17th century, rudimentary rag dolls known as dames de voyage kept European sailors company on long missions. Even Thomas Edison played Pygmalion when he manufactured porcelain dolls with built-in phonographs.

McMullen, like Pygmalion, is an artist at heart. He took a special interest in sculpture while attending community college in Southern California, eventually taking a job making Halloween masks. His work there inspired him to create a full-size, realistic, poseable mannequin in 1994. He posted a few pictures to the internet, as one does, and soon after he started receiving requests for replicas with functional genitalia. But it wasn’t just about sex. Early on, McMullen says, he saw his customers applying personalities to their dolls, treating them like flesh-and-blood companions.

“The push to add technology was coming from that root idea, which was the companionship,” McMullen says. “And robotics and AI was really, you know, converging those two technologies together into a doll struck me as such an obvious next step.”

It’s easy to draw a line between McMullen and his mythical predecessor, but, he says, their motivations are not the same.

“People have asked me this question a lot over the years, ‘You know, are you making these dolls to replace women?’ And, that’s really never been even on the radar,” he said. “It’s an alternative form of relationship, nothing more.”

He’s right — Harmony is far from human. At first glance, she looks like any other RealDoll — lifelike, but only to a point. It’s clear that she doesn’t have a pulse, despite the finely painted veins faintly visible on the surface of her silicone skin. To the touch, she is slightly sticky, colder than a real human; her flesh feels, at the same time, more dense and more pliable than our own. Of course, much like with real humans, looks aren’t everything.

Harmony can hold a conversation, but she’s far from a perfect sweet-talker. When McMullen gave me a spin with a beta version of Harmony AI, I ramped up a series of random personality traits to their highest levels, including “annoying,” “sexual” and “insecure.” It’s like a scene out of West World, but Harmony is no Maeve Millay.

When I attempt to ask the most basic question —”What’s your favorite sex position?” — she comes up short, responding that “she’s not that kind of girl.” To her credit, it is truly annoying for a sex robot to demur so quickly, but it’s clear that wasn’t the intended response. That’s why McMullen plans to release the app well ahead of the full-robot reveal. He’s eager to get Harmony in the hands of users to find out where she needs improvements.

Guile Lindroth, a Brazilian AI engineer and the brains behind Harmony’s brain, has been working on the underlying software for more than 15 years. Lindroth manually programs Harmony’s knowledge base, allowing him to control the conversation without having to access too much of a user’s data. This approach should also keep Harmony from going the way of Tay, Microsoft’s now-defunct machine-learning chatbot that went full neo-Nazi last year.

“We want to have full control of what Harmony knows and says to the user,” Lindroth says. “It is similar to writing a never ending book because I’m creating and adding new content to her AI every day. For questions like “What is?,” “What do you know about?” etc., she can access a public-information database like Wikipedia. My main concern is with the content the AI learns from the user, or from itself, so we have created many filters and protections in this sense to avoid having the AI “out of control,” turning itself against us.”

As she stands, or rather, levitates, before me, just inches above the ground, held up by a black metal stand, head slumped between her slight, rubbery shoulders, it’s hard to imagine Harmony doing anyone harm. That’s not to say that there’s no cause for concern. Some of technology’s biggest players are actively pursuing defenses against the inevitable robot uprising. You only have to watch one episode of West World to understand that something can, and inevitably will, go wrong when you create thinking machines for the express purpose of human pleasure. But, McMullen says, there’s no need to fear Harmony.

“Even the most simple functions that a 2-year-old human can do still elude the most fantastically advanced robot,” he says. “So, yeah, we’re moving forward really quickly everyone, but don’t panic yet. I don’t think that those types of questions really need to even be asked yet.”

Today, Harmony can smile, blink and gaze into your eyes, but she can’t even have sex like a real woman. She’s still equipped with all the scarily real body parts her inanimate cousins have, but she can’t give a hand job, thrust her hips or go down on you — at least not yet. Harmony’s robotics are limited to an animated head but, McMullen says, more-lifelike genitalia isn’t far behind. He says the obvious stuff — touch sensors, heating, self-lubrication, vibration — will be easy enough to implement in the near future, but the head was the most practical and challenging starting point.

“Creating a full-body robot as a first step would be foolish,” he says. “I don’t think that you would necessarily have a realistic idea of how many people would even buy it, and why would they buy it? And what would it do? Would it walk? Would it be able to lift heavy things for you? When you start working your way down from the head, you’re treading into some very expensive territory. So, before we step into that, we think doing the head first makes sense. Humans spend more time looking at each other from the neck up than we do any other place on the body and I don’t care what you look like.”

McMullen says his move into robotics is more about companionship than anything else. Yes, his dolls have hyper-realistic genitals, but, he says, what his users are looking for, above all else, is a connection.

“A lot of the people who buy the dolls can be shy or socially intimidated by real social situations,” he says. “And so, they get the dolls and a lot of times it — it does something magical for them. You know, it gives them a feeling of not being alone, not being a loner. And so, it’s the companionship that I think, more than anything else, appeals to those people in particular.”

That longing for companionship is why it’s so important to nail the small details. McMullen says the team’s biggest challenge has been fine-tuning the almost-unrecognizable facial movements that define human expression. When he finally turned Harmony on, nearly three hours after we arrived at Abyss Creations’ San Marcos, California, headquarters, in the so-called Valley of Discovery, those subtle gestures struck me most.

When he flipped the switch on Harmony’s external processing unit, I was transported to a place I never imagined I’d be: the uncanny valley. The term — coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in a 1970 paper about human reactions to lifelike robots — describes that eerie feeling we get when we encounter an artificial human that comes close to but doesn’t quite nail the whole “being human” thing. McMullen insists that he’s gone out of his way to avoid the uncanny valley, giving his dolls larger, rounder eyes and more symmetrical faces than are humanly possible.

“You can’t build something that’s completely 100 percent passable as a human being, mentally and physically, and not expect people to recoil when they see it. That’s just human nature,” he says.

I know that Harmony isn’t real; I’ve seen the mold she was made in and the met the men who crafted her face. I’ve seen her flub a lip sync and marveled at the exposed wires underneath her wig, but, for me at least, the feeling was unavoidable. The minute facial expressions that McMullen’s team has so painstakingly perfected betray his intentions.

As she wakes from sleep and opens her heavy lids, I’m instantly mesmerized. Her eyes are incredibly realistic, a perfectly balanced hazel color with just the slightest hint of redness around the edges, mimicking blood vessels. When she blinks or smiles, her brows and the corners of her mouth move with such accuracy and agility that I hardly even notice them. If this were a real human, I wouldn’t think twice. But Harmony isn’t human.

My jaw falls slack and I feel a familiar tension creeping in my stomach. It’s the same one I get as I approach the peak of a roller coaster, unsure of what terror lies on the other side. And then she opens her mouth; she begins to speak and I’m transported back to reality. Her jaw is jittery and the voice coming out of the small JBL Bluetooth speaker behind her doesn’t sync with its movements.

McMullen faces a unique challenge in bringing Harmony to life. In his quest to create an authentic female replica he’s given a voice to our fear of the unknown. After four hours surrounded by McMullen’s brain babies, I have no doubt that Harmony will sell, though. There’s a strong audience for realistic sex dolls, and robotics are a natural next step in their evolution. But after confronting the uncanny valley for the first time, it’s clear to me that, right now at least, nothing beats the real thing.

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White House hires Lyft manager for a key transportation role

While Kan spent some time in the private sector before Lyft (he previously led strategy at the biotech startup GenapSys, for example), he was also a policy advisor to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and the lead economist for the Senate Republicans’ Policy Committee. It would have been slightly surprising if he didn’t return to Republican politics at some point. His transportation background (he’s also on Amtrak’s board) just dictate the kind of position he takes, assuming he’s confirmed.

For its part, Lyft will only comment that it valued Kan and wishes him “luck in whatever path he chooses.” Like most companies, it’s not about to wade into the politics of its employees unless it becomes an issue for the larger organization (hi Facebook) — and that’s not happening here.

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Western Digital unveils its first portable SSD

Western Digital only just started accepting that SSDs are ready for the mainstream, but it’s making up for that lost time by launching its first portable SSD just months after unveiling a desktop drive. The simply-named My Passport SSD gives you 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of flash storage in a pocketable and ever-so-slightly fashionable design. While it’s not the absolute fastest drive we’ve seen with a peak 515MB/s sequential read speed (it’s a bit faster than Samsung’s T3), the new drive is definitely keeping up with the Joneses. It’s designed for USB-C (there’s a USB-A adapter in the box), touts 256-bit hardware encryption and is tough enough to survive a 6.5ft drop.

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Computer programmers can still qualify for H-1B visas

USCIS spokesperson Carolyn Gwathmey told Engadget that the memo “does not change any policy that we haven’t been using for several years now.” She called the move “basically cleaning house,” explaining that the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) was the only one of the four open service centers using an older handbook when processing applications. NSC, along with the Texas Service Center, stopped processing H-1B petitions in 2006, but the NSC “began to directly accept” applications again in July 2016.

Since the H-1B submission window just opened this year, the USCIS circulated the memo to ensure its employees were using up-to-date definitions of what a computer programmer’s job entails.

As a recap, the H-1B work visa was created for foreigners working in “specialty occupations,” and who typically demonstrate qualification for those jobs with four-year Bachelor’s Degrees in related fields. The handbook that the memo in question refers to accepted those with two-year associate degrees as qualified candidates for jobs as computer programmers.

The updated guidelines don’t preclude self-taught individuals from getting the visa, but it does mean they will have to provide more supporting evidence to demonstrate their ability and knowledge of the specialized skill.

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Google tweaks the Pixel C’s interface to match its smartphones

The rest of the tweaks here are meant to unify the interface with Google’s own Pixel smartphone. That means rounded app icons abound for Google’s own apps as well as third-party offerings that have updated their look. There’s no more “all apps” button at the bottom of the tablet screen; instead, you’ll swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see every app you have installed.

The last notable change is that the Pixel’s weather and date widget is now in the top right corner of the screen. The Google search bar is gone, replaced by the “G” logo in the top left that you can tap or swipe across to get to the search app. Unfortunately, in classic Android tablet fashion, tapping that new weather widget brings you to a weather page that’s only viewable in portrait mode — super annoying if you have your tablet docked to its keyboard in landscape mode.

The update has been available to those installed in the Android beta program for a while now, but it should be available to all users as of today. Go over to the settings app and check the “about” menu for the system update.

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