Bill Gates is backing the waterless toilet of the future — here’s how it works

In developing countries, access to public utilities like running water and sewer systems are often not available. The lack of those resources leads to unsanitary conditions that can put people’s lives at risk. Researchers at Cranfield University hope to put an end to that with the waterless Nano Membrane Toilet. The design has so much potential to change lives that it’s been backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Fighting fake news: how Google, Facebook and more are working to stop it

Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Wikipedia are undertaking a concerted effort to crack down on the dissemination of fake news. While some may cry “fake news” to any story they disagree with, fake news is defined by Facebook as “hoaxes shared by spammers” for personal and monetary reasons. 

The term “fake news” also encompasses falsehoods disguised to look like legitimate news and overtly biased reporting meant to sway voters during elections. 

Although fake news has always existed, Google’s preeminence in search and Facebook’s position as a dominant content distribution platform have changed the way we consume news. 

In the past, most people got their news from trusted newspapers with clear ethical guidelines that set them apart from dubious sites on the web. Today, users more often consume news shared through social networks as part of a curated feed, often with little vetting, forming an echo chamber effect of confirmation bias

Photo credit: Google

We’ve already seen some of the results of proliferating fake news in the 2016 US presidential election and Britain’s Brexit vote. Experts found that for both, state-sponsored fake news campaigns attempted to sway voters toward more populist candidates. It’s unclear, however, if these efforts had any material effect on election results. 

The problem of fake news is far from over, but with increased awareness of what constitutes fake news and its potential impacts in the real world, tech companies, journalists and citizens are feeling the pressure to combat its spread. 

How tech companies are fighting fake news 

To address fake news, Google announced plans last month to improve the quality and reliability of its search results. This came after the search giant was criticized for showing results for sites denying the Holocaust

One of the methods Google is employing is using human editors to evaluate the quality of search results. The ultimate goal of this effort is to train the company’s search algorithms to spot low quality and false content. 

Another tool Google has adopted is user reporting for its Autocomplete feature, adding another human element into the mix. Users can now report when Autocomplete results are offensive, misleading or false. Google is also working to add reporting features to its Featured Snippets, which are the small blurbs found at the top of search results. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially scoffed at the idea the social network was responsible for the dissemination of fake news that ultimately swayed the US election. 

But in recent months, Facebook has stepped up its efforts to fight fake news, and Zuckerberg admitted in a post the company has a “greater responsibility than just building technology that information flows through.” 

In December 2016, Facebook launched new tools for users to report low quality or offensive content as well as fake news. 

Facebook didn't stop there; it partnered with third-party fact checking organizations like Snopes, Politifact and the Associated Press to flag stories as disputed. What’s more, a warning will pop up when users go to share disputed content with a link to find out why the content is flagged. 

Facebook also launched a guide for spotting fake news that appeared at the top of users’ News Feeds. The guide included basic steps and tips on how to vet sources and recognize fake news, but only appeared in 14 countries for “a few days” in April. 

“When people click on this educational tool at the top of their News Feed, they will see more information and resources in the Facebook Help Center, including tips on how to spot false news, such as checking the URL of the site, investigating the source and looking for other reports on the topic,” said Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s VP of News Feed, in a blog post at the time.

While Facebook and Google have launched tools and other initiatives to combat the spread of misleading or false information, Twitter has been relatively silent. 

The company has a spam policy that bans users for “repeatedly [creating] false or misleading content,” but not much else in the way of stemming the spread of fake news articles and other misleading content. 

Twitter declined to comment for our story, and Google did not respond to interview requests. Facebook declined an interview but pointed us to its blog posts on its fake news initiatives. 

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, has also taken up the torch against fake news by launching a new online publication called Wikitribune

Wikitribune aims to pair journalists with volunteer community contributors to cover political topics, science and technology. The site will be funded primarily by donations, like Wikipedia, through crowdfunding campaigns. 

The hope is Wikitribune will differentiate itself from traditional news organizations by allowing the online community to work with professional reporters to represent facts and offer greater transparency into what goes on in a newsroom. The site's tagline is: 'Evidence-based journalism'.

Is any of this working? 

With the steps Google and Facebook have taken in recent months, one might  wonder if any of them are doing anything to stop fake news. 

Unfortunately, it appears too early to tell, but the recent election in France gives some hope that the measures aren’t for naught. Leading up to May 7’s French presidential election, Facebook suspended 30,000 fake accounts that were spreading fake news, spam and misinformation, according to Reuters

Facebook suspended 30,000 fake accounts that were spreading fake news, spam and misinformation

Facebook also went old school by taking out full page ads in French newspapers, including Le Monde, L’Express, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel and Bild, according to the Washington Post

The ads outlined basic steps to spotting fake news, similar to the guide that briefly appeared at the top of users’ News Feeds. 

While Facebook declined to provide numbers for our story, NewsWhip, a company that tracks the spread of stories across social media, found that just 10% of the top 200 most shared stories across platforms surrounding the French election were fake news. This is compared to the nearly 40% that were deemed fake news leading up to the US election.

A false news story claimed French President Emmanuel Macron was aligned with Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda

“There is a fake news problem without any doubt, but what we like to do is try to quantify how bad that problem is,” said NewsWhip CEO Paul Quigley in a Bloomberg report earlier this month. 

While the data from the French election suggests fake news fighting efforts were effective, to some degree, misinformation was still widely shared. 

NewsWhip saw fake news stories claiming Emmanuel Macron, who went on to win the election, was aligned with Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda garner over 100,000 engagements across social media. Macron also filed a legal complaint against newspaper Le Pen for its story falsely reporting he had an offshore bank account.

“It’s hard because people have predispositions to liking certain kinds of stories," Quigley told Bloomberg, "and if you have a certain opinion of certain politicians and you’re being fed a diet from particular websites that confirms your worldview every day, you’re going to want more of that.

“So people are kind of opting into fake news a little bit — it’s hard for the platforms, because they are developing algorithms that serve you the stuff you want.”

Facebook, the content distributor

One argument heard often in the talk about fake news is the erosion of the US Constitution’s First Amendment. 

The amendment states, in part: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.“

Other countries like the UK have similar protections, but what the First Amendment means in practice in the US is that citizens are free to express themselves in nearly any way they choose through any medium, and anything that hinders those expressions is considered a violation of their rights.

However, Sally Lehrman, Director of the Journalism Ethics Program and the Trust Project at Santa Clara University, doesn’t think the First Amendment has anything to do with the fight against fake news. 

“It’s not a question of free speech. [Facebook] already makes decisions about what they do and don’t show,” Lehrman tells TechRadar, referring to Facebook’s previous removals of the historic ‘Napalm Girl’ photo and violent videos.

Santa Clara University’s Sally Lehrman| Photo credit: Chris Shipley (YouTube screenshot)

Lehrman is correct in that Facebook already polices the content on its platform. For example, Facebook prohibits nudity and violent imagery, but the social network is constantly reevaluating what content to allow or forbid. 

In a Facebook document leaked to The Guardian, an example was given of a user’s statement describing a grossly violent act against a woman. Although violent and upsetting, Facebook determines something like this is self expression and therefore permissible. 

Last year, Facebook got into hot water after Gizmodo broke news that the social network’s human editors routinely suppressed conservative news in the Trending Topics section. 

This led Facebook to fire its human curators and turn instead to algorithms to simply show what stories were generating buzz. 

Months later, however, Facebook was forced to redesign the Trending Topics section to combat the proliferation of fake news. And just this week, Facebook redesigned its Trending Topics section once again to show more sources around a single news story. Changes like this have propelled Facebook into the content distribution business rather than simply acting as a social media network. 

Paul Niwa of Emerson College | Photo credit: Paul Niwa

“Facebook needs to think about its responsibilities [as a platform],” Paul Niwa, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Journalism at Emerson College, tells us. 

“Are they a content producer or are they a gatekeeper?,” he poses. ”That is an ethical, not a legal conversation. If they don’t adopt these ethical standards, it’s going to threaten their business because either the government or the public will take action against Facebook.”

Google is in a league apart from Facebook, according to Lehrman. “Google is different because it’s the open web,“ she says. “The public isn’t asking Google to censor [its results] but asking it to be more thoughtful about it.” 

Tech companies are now in process of holding themselves accountable

Santa Clara University’s Sally Lehrman

That’s not to say Google couldn’t do more to combat fake news. “I don’t see any training in Google News about how to compare information,” says Niwa, referencing Facebook’s tips for spotting fake news. “Tech companies should be investing in news literacy,” he continues. 

While linking to fact checking sites is a good start, Google could do more with being transparent about how it prioritizes results, which can be found in this company blog post but not in the results themselves.

Working together

After months of launching new tools and initiatives, one thing is clear: tech companies cannot fight fake news on their own. The strategies Google and Facebook are employing rely heavily on third-party fact checking organizations, media outlets and the public. 

“I think we’re all responsible for fake news,” says Lehrman. “Journalism and news organizations hold themselves accountable and tech companies are now in process of holding themselves accountable.” 

Photo credit: Google

Niwa agrees. “Citizens have to take a stronger responsibility over what we read and to take an active role about credibility of sources,” he says. “This is not something that is too much to ask as Americans used to do this during the penny press era of the 19th century.”

One of the ways Niwa sees journalists, tech companies and citizens working together is in educating the public about vetting their news sources. 

“Because of the consolidation of media, Americans have lost a lot of those skills,” says Niwa. ”Tech companies should be investing in [teaching] news literacy.” 

Niwa cites the transition from print to broadcast media as another time when fake news ran rampant. “It took decades for Americans to sort all of that out, and I think we’re in the midst of that process.” 

Photo credit: Facebook

While it’s easy to point fingers at Facebook and Google as the conduits through which fake news flows, journalists and citizens bear some responsibility as well. 

The experts we spoke with say journalists must work with tech companies to combat the spread of fake news via fact checking services and by helping to train the algorithms companies' engines rely on. Citizens, meanwhile, need to take responsibility for vetting sources and thinking twice before sharing news they find. 

It’s too early to tell if fake news is on the decline and if Google, Facebook, and others’ efforts are successful in stemming its spread. However, what is clear is that fake news isn’t going away unless all parties step up to fight it. 

“I’m optimistic about the future,” says Niwa. “I believe that the more experience users have with the internet, the more likely they are to discuss ideas other than their own.” 

Lehrman is equally optimistic about the future of news consumption. “There’s a thirst for news and we see that with [news] subscription rates going up,” she says. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but the bright spot is that we’re seeing a lot more news consumption and active engagement.”

from TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Android co-founder’s new phone reveal teased for Tuesday

Two months after teasing a mysterious new handset, high-profile startup Essential could just be days away from unveiling its debut phone.

Founded by Android co-founder Andy Rubin, Essential has let loose its first tweet on its official Twitter page, announcing that "something big" is expected to go down this coming Tuesday, May 30.

Rubin was originally reported back in January to be designing a new, high-end smartphone that featured a ceramic back, edge-to-edge display, and the ability to tack on new hardware via the handset's charge port — not unlike Motorola's clip-on Moto Mod upgrades.

Since then, Rubin teased an image of what appears to be a bezel-less handset while Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt confirmed that the phone Rubin is cooking up runs on Android.

This gives us at least two possible details about the mysterious Essential Phone, though we look to learning more hard deets when Essential drops its "big" news next week.

Via The Verge

  • Our review of Google's own Pixel phone

from TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Spectrum kept raising my monthly TV and internet bill but wouldn’t tell me why (CHTR)

time warner cableThis past weekend, I spent more than an hour on the phone with Spectrum, my internet and cable provider, because my bill was increasing every month without my knowledge for seemingly no reason at all.

I eventually resolved the situation — finding out about a bunch of hidden charges in the process — and even got a discount on my service. But that was only after I insisted on talking to a manager and agreeing to accept slower internet service.

My situation is not unique. The problems I ran into — a lack of transparency about billing practices and a lack of communication about service changes — illustrate just how awful it can be do deal with internet service providers (ISPs) in America. Monthly bills can feel arbitrary, and customers are often left with few choices other than cancelling their service. And even that’s not much of a solution, since most Americans have few choices when it comes to internet providers.

I’ve been a Time Warner Cable customer for as long as I’ve lived in New York City. When it comes to competition, we actually have a decent situation here. In terms of the big providers, customers can choose among Optimum, Verizon Fios, and Spectrum (formerly Charter, which renamed its service after purchasing Time Warner Cable last year).

Though I regularly check offers from the competition, Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) has consistently been cheaper and generally more reliable. Plus, you don’t have to sign a contract, as you do with the others. You can cancel at any time, although that’s often easier said than done.

When my fiancée and I moved apartments last year, we had Time Warner Cable install our cable TV and internet service the day we moved in. For 200Mbps download speeds and a limited cable package, TWC told us we’d pay $120 for the first year of service. After that, the price would increase, although TWC didn’t say by how much. This billing practice — giving customers a flat rate for a year before increasing the price — is typical among internet service providers, and we were totally fine with it.

After our first year of service ended, we saw our bill increase by $10, to $130 a month. We considered switching ISPs, but Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) was still our cheapest option for both cable and internet. And since we had expected the bill change after the first year, we were OK with a $10 increase.

But the following month — April — our bill unexpectedly jumped another $13 to $143. And then this month, it increased again, this time by $2, to $145.

My fiancée and I called Spectrum the night we got our latest bill. A representative told us what we were paying was “still low” for what we have and said we should expect further price increases.

The rep could not give us a specific timeline for how many months it would take before our bill would stop increasing. But when it was all said and done, our monthly rate would end up being $173 per month, she told us.

We were given no prior notice about these price increases, whether by email, billing statement, or otherwise. Although we agreed to a price increase after the first year of service when we signed up with Time Warner Cable, we didn’t agree on having our bill jump every single month.

spectrum time warner cableWe pressed the Spectrum rep on why our bill was seeing seemingly random increases every month and why the company kept raising the price of our service, instead of just raising it once after the first-year discount expired. The Spectrum rep responded by saying the company felt the gradual increases are “easier on customers.”

But it didn’t feel easier to us. We were concerned that our bill was increasing at an unpredictable rate for seemingly no reason — we hadn’t changed our service — and we wanted to know why. So I asked to speak to a manager. 

We were quickly transferred to Spectrum’s retention center, where we spoke to a woman named Esmy. After listening to our concerns, Esmy explained that when we signed up for service, Time Warner Cable made our first year’s bills cheaper by applying a bunch of individual discounts. Those discounts were now expiring one by one, which was causing the fluctuating price increases each month.

It was good to have that explanation, but it was baffling. As I explained to Esmy, we had received no information about these particular discounts. Our statements didn’t say what discounts we were receiving, how they were applied, or when they expired.  

spectrumAfter a long discussion, Esmy eventually offered us a deal. We’d get a lower monthly rate than we paid in our first year, but we’d have to accept slower internet service. Instead of 200Mbps speeds, we’d get 100Mbps, since Spectrum no longer offers a 200Mbps plan.

We decided to take the offer, because the the price was less expensive than what we’d pay one of Spectrum’s rivals. 

But the price we were paying was less important to me than what we had to go through to find out why our bill kept going up. We would have never known what was going on if we hadn’t called Spectrum and then insisted on talking to a manager when the customer service rep couldn’t answer our questions. It’s ridiculous that we had to go that far just to get an explanation for what we were being charged.

And that’s not the only example of Spectrum’s arbitrary and opaque billing practices. Another comes into play when customers decide to upgrade their internet service, say from 50Mbps to 300Mbps. After making the upgrade, Spectrum will not only charge them a higher rate for the speedier service, but will also apply a one-time $199 fee. When I asked a Spectrum representative about it, the rep couldn’t explain the reason behind the fee or why it’s so hefty. The rep did confirm, though, that it’s not due to any technical change needed for the faster service or the need to install new hardware. It’s just the way it is. 

Those kind of arbitrary fees as well as the lack of transparency and predictability that Spectrum has exhibited is bad for customers. Because many subscribers pay their bills through auto-pay, they expect them to be a certain amount each month. When bills suddenly change, it can cause confusion, frustration and undue stress. The lack of a clear explanation for such changes feels unfair and could open the door for predatory practices.

The bottom line is that Spectrum needs to be more transparent. It — and its rivals, which can be just as bad — needs to communicate bills, fees, discounts, and changes to customers’ accounts clearly and well in advance of when it sends out its monthly statements.

Two years ago, Time Warner Cable ranked dead last in customer satisfaction in a a survey of 300 companies. Although it’s merged with another company and switched names since then, it doesn’t seem like its customer service or the overall experience it offers have gotten any better.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

SEE ALSO: The Apple TV is a mess — and hardly the ‘future of TV’ Apple advertised

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NOW WATCH: This animated map shows how religion spread across the world

One of BMW’s most famous cars from the 1990s has returned

BMW 8 series concept

For six years in the mid-1990s, the 8 Series coupe sat atop BMW’s lineup.

The angular luxury coupe came to symbolize the BMW’s styling during the decade.

After 20 years away, the 8 series is set to reappear in production guise sometime in 2018.

On Thursday, BMW gave us a sneak peek at the new 8 Series with the introduction of the 8 Series Concept ahead of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como in Italy.

The number 8 has always represented the pinnacle of sports performance and exclusivity at BMW,” BMW chairman Harald Krüger said in a statement. “The forthcoming BMW 8 Series Coupe will demonstrate that razor-sharp dynamics and modern luxury can go hand-in-hand.”

BMW 8 Series ConceptTrue to original form, the new 8 Series retains original model’s sleek and angular looks. Up front, BMW’s signature kidney grille plays a prominent role along with a pair of slim headlights. The front fascia flows into a long sloping hood before reaching the car’s low-slung greenhouse.

“The design of the BMW Concept 8 Series provides a fresh interpretation of iconic BMW styling cues,” BMW Group design boss Adrian van Hooydonk said in a statement. “And it also showcases a new approach to the use of forms which is reflected particularly prominently in the car’s surfacing. A handful of crisp lines mark out clear surfaces, and the car’s volumes are powerfully sculpted.”

BMW 8 series conceptAt this point, the 8 Series Concept is still a design study. Which means there are virtually no technical details available on the vehicle. A production version of the next-generation 8 Series coupe is expected to debut sometime next year. At the same time, the 8 Series is also primed to replace the current generation 6 Series — Which has been around since 2012 — as the company’s flagship coupe.

SEE ALSO: Ferrari’s greatest rival just solved its biggest problem

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NOW WATCH: BMW just showed off the futuristic interior of its next-gen cars

The actor behind one of the most pivotal ‘Silicon Valley’ characters is suddenly leaving

tj miller silicon valley hbo

T.J. Miller, who plays startup incubator Erlich Bachman on the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley,” is leaving the show after the current fourth season.

“The producers of ‘Silicon Valley’ and T.J. Miller have mutually agreed that T.J. will not return for season five,” HBO told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement Thursday. “In Erlich Bachman, T.J. has brought to life an unforgettable character, and while his presence on the show will be missed, we appreciate his contribution and look forward to future collaborations.”

Miller has played Erlich Bachman since the show’s first season and earned a Critics’ Choice TV Award for the role in 2015.

Currently, the actor stars on Comedy Central’s parody talk show “The Gorburger Show.” He also has an HBO special, “Meticulously Ridiculous,” airing on June 17.

Miller, who has starred in the movies “Cloverfield” and “Deadpool,” also has a full slate of movies coming out in the next year, including “The Emoji Movie,” “How to Train Your Dragon 3,” and potentially “Deadpool 2.”

Earlier on Thursday, HBO announced that “Silicon Valley” had been renewed for a fifth season.

SEE ALSO: HBO renews ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘Veep’ for new seasons

DON’T MISS: ‘Silicon Valley’ star T.J. Miller says it’s ‘funny’ that people claim to have inspired his ‘buffoon’ of a character

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NOW WATCH: This is the worst part of Silicon Valley, according to the cast of ‘Silicon Valley’

Top 10 Technology Trends for 2017

A strategic technology trend is one with substantial disruptive potential that is just beginning to break out of an emerging state into broader impact and use or which are rapidly growing trends with a high degree of volatility reaching tipping points over the next five years, according to Gartner.

1/10 Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence and advanced machine learning are composed of many technologies and techniques (e.g., deep learning, neural networks, natural-language processing [NLP]).

The more advanced techniques move beyond traditional rule-based algorithms to create systems that understand, learn, predict, adapt and potentially operate autonomously. This is what makes smart machines appear "intelligent."

2/10 Intelligent Apps

Intelligent apps such as VPAs perform some of the functions of a human assistant making everyday tasks easier (by prioritizing emails, for example), and its users more effective.

Over the next 10 years, virtually every app, application and service will incorporate some level of AI.

3/10 Intelligent Things

As intelligent things, such as drones, autonomous vehicles and smart appliances, permeate the environment, Gartner anticipates a shift from stand-alone intelligent things to a collaborative intelligent things model.

4/10 Augmented Reality

The landscape of immersive consumer and business content and applications will evolve dramatically through 2021, says Gartner. VR and AR capabilities will merge with the digital mesh to form a more seamless system of devices capable of orchestrating a flow of information that comes to the user as hyperpersonalized and relevant apps and services.

5/10 Digital Twin

A digital twin is a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system that relies on sensor data to understand its state, respond to changes, improve operations and add value.

Within three to five years, hundreds of millions of things will be represented by digital twins.

6/10 Blockchain

Blockchain and distributed-ledger concepts are gaining traction because they hold the promise to transform industry operating models. While the current hype is around the financial services industry, there are many possible applications including music distribution, identity verification, title registry and supply chain.

7/10 Conversational Systems

The current focus for conversational interfaces is focused on chatbots and microphone-enabled devices (e.g., speakers, smartphones, tablets, PCs, automobiles).

However, the digital mesh encompasses an expanding set of endpoints people use to access applications and information, or interact with people, social communities, governments and businesses.

8/10 Mesh App

In the mesh app and service architecture, mobile apps, web apps, desktop apps and IoT apps link to a broad mesh of back-end services to create what users view as an "application."

The architecture encapsulates services and exposes APIs at multiple levels and across organizational boundaries balancing the demand for agility and scalability of services with composition and reuse of services.

9/10 Digital Technology Platforms

Digital technology platforms provide the basic building blocks for a digital business and are a critical enabler to become a digital business. Every organization will have some mix of these five digital technology platforms.

The platforms provide the basic building blocks for a digital business and are a critical enabler to become a digital business.

10/10 Adaptive Security Architecture

The intelligent digital mesh and related digital technology platforms and application architectures create an ever-more-complex world for security.

The IoT edge is a new frontier for many IT security professionals creating new vulnerability areas and often requiring new remediation tools and processes that must be factored into IoT platform efforts.

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