AI

AI Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit (nytimes.com) 80

One of the poorest-kept secrets in Silicon Valley has been the huge salaries and bonuses that experts in artificial intelligence can command. Now, a little-noticed tax filing by a research lab called OpenAI has made some of those eye-popping figures public [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: OpenAI paid its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than $1.9 million in 2016. It paid another leading researcher, Ian Goodfellow, more than $800,000 -- even though he was not hired until March of that year. Both were recruited from Google. A third big name in the field, the roboticist Pieter Abbeel, made $425,000, though he did not join until June 2016, after taking a leave from his job as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Those figures all include signing bonuses.

[...] Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology and thousands of companies want to work with it. Element AI, an independent lab in Canada, estimates that 22,000 people worldwide have the skills needed to do serious A.I. research -- about double from a year ago.

Bitcoin

Hackers Keep Robbing Cryptocurrency YouTubers (theverge.com) 39

Hackers are going after YouTubers who make videos about cryptocurrencies. Adrianne Jeffries, reporting for The Verge: Cryptocurrency vlogging has exploded on YouTube over the last two years. In the last 90 days, there were 122,000 videos on cryptocurrency or Bitcoin uploaded to YouTube, garnering 328 million views, according to video analytics platform Tubular Labs. As it turns out, YouTubers are juicy targets for hackers because they share so much information about themselves. They often share their screens as they make trades, which can reveal what apps, usernames, and cryptocurrency addresses they use. They may even tell their followers what systems they use to secure their holdings, which can end up being a blueprint for attackers.

"You have to be very careful about that stuff as a YouTuber," says Peter Saddington, the host of Decentralized TV on YouTube who infamously bought a Lamborghini with his Bitcoin earnings. "In my early days of YouTube, I used to show my trades. I learned that was not a good idea." Saddington was hacked in late 2017.

United States

The Higher Your Salary, the More Time Your Employer Will Pay You Not To Work (qz.com) 396

The best-paid workers in the US not only make more money than many of their colleagues, they also tend to get more paid vacation days. An anonymous reader shares a report: An annual survey of of employee benefits conducted by the US government shows that, in 2017, nearly half of the people in the top 25% of earners received at least 10 days of paid vacation. The bottom 25% was not so lucky -- only around a tenth of them received such generous leave. Paid vacation time is often overlooked in measures of pay inequality in the US, because the value of time off does not appear in the household income statistics.
Businesses

Finland Is Killing Its Basic Income Experiment (businessinsider.com) 537

tomhath shares a report: Since the beginning of last year, 2000 Finns are getting money from the government each month -- and they are not expected to do anything in return. The participants, aged 25-58, are all unemployed, and were selected at random by Kela, Finland's social-security institution. Instead of unemployment benefits, the participants now receive $690 per month, tax free. Should they find a job during the two-year trial, they still get to keep the money. While the project is praised internationally for being at the cutting edge of social welfare, back in Finland, decision makers are quietly pulling the brakes, making a U-turn that is taking the project in a whole new direction. "Right now, the government is making changes that are taking the system further away from a basic income," Kela researcher Miska Simanainen told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.
Businesses

Jeff Bezos Reveals That Amazon Has Over 100 Million Prime Subscribers (theverge.com) 121

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed today that the company has over 100 million Prime members, "marking the first time in the 13-year history of Amazon offering its Prime membership that the company has ever revealed its number of subscribers," reports The Verge. From the report: According to Bezos, Amazon Prime also saw its best year ever in 2017, with the company shipping over five billion products with Prime and signing up more new members than in any previous year. Also revealed today, Whole Foods Market will discontinue its rewards program on May 2 and fold it into Amazon Prime. "Stay tuned for additional announcements for Amazon Prime members," reads the Whole Foods FAQ page focused on digital coupons, rewards and online accounts. "Any account benefits, including membership and/or unused rewards, will not roll into any future programs."
Transportation

Autonomous Boats Will Be On the Market Sooner Than Self-Driving Cars (vice.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In the autonomous revolution that is underway, nearly every transportation machine will eventually be self-driving. For cars, it's likely going to take decades before we see them operating freely, outside of test conditions. Some unmanned watercraft, on the other hand, may be at sea commercially before 2020. That's partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through U.S. ports in 2016. The world's 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

Startups and major firms like Rolls Royce are now looking to automate the seas and help maritime companies ease navigation, save fuel, improve safety, increase tonnage, and make more money. As it turns out, autonomous systems for boats aren't supremely different than those of cars, beyond a few key factors -- for instance, water is always moving while roads are not, and ships need at least a couple miles to redirect. Buffalo Automation, a startup in upstate New York that began at the University at Buffalo, just raised $900,000 to help commercialize its AutoMate system -- essentially a collection of sensors and cameras to help boats operate semi-autonomously. CEO Thiru Vikram said the company is working with three pilot partners, and intends to target cargo ships and recreational vessels first. Autonomous ships are an area of particular interest for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which sets the standards for international waters. It launched a regulatory scoping exercise last year to analyze the impact of autonomous boats. By the time it wraps in 2020, market demand may make it so that we already have semi-autonomous and unmanned vessels at sea.

Bitcoin

German ICO Savedroid Pulls Exit Scam After Raising $50 Million (techcrunch.com) 190

German company Savedroid has pulled a classic exit scam after raising $50 million in ICO and direct funding. The site is currently displaying a South Park meme with the caption "Aannnd it's gone." The founder, Dr. Yassin Hankir, has posted a tweet thanking investors and saying "Over and out." TechCrunch reports: A reverse image search found Hankir's photo on this page for Founder Institute, and he has pitched his product at multiple events, including this one in German. Savedroid was originally supposed to use AI to manage user investments and promised a crypto-backed credit card, a claim that CCN notes is popular with scam ICOs. It ran for a number of months and was clearly well-managed as the group was able to open an office and appear at multiple events.
United Kingdom

Amazon Employee Explains the Poor Working Conditions of An Amazon Warehouse 304

Earlier this week, James Bloodworth, a former UK Amazon employee that worked undercover in the "fulfillment center" for six-months, released a book detailing the mistreatment of warehouse employees at the commerce company. He described the work culture as a prison after discovering that Amazon warehouse staff were peeing in bottles to avoid taking too many breaks. Since the report first broke, many Amazon employees have come out to share their thoughts on the working conditions, including one Reddit user who claims that "the post is pretty spot on": They don't monitor bathroom breaks, but [your] individual rate (or production goal) [doesn't] account for bathroom breaks, or... let's say there is a problem like you need [two] of something and there's only one left, well you have to put on your "andon"... wait for someone to come "fix" for you, all the while your rate is dropping. The [two] most common reasons [people] get fired are not hitting rate, and attendance. They don't really try to help you hit rate, they just fire and replace.

My first week there [two] [people] collapsed from dehydration. It's so [commonplace] to see someone collapse that nobody is even shocked anymore. You'll just hear a manager complain that he has to do some report now, while a couple of new [people] try to help the guy (veterans won't risk helping [because] it drips rate). No sitting allowed, and there's nowhere to sit anywhere except the break rooms. Before the robots (they call them kivas) pickers would regularly walk 10-15 miles a day, now it's just stand for 10-12 hours a day. [People] complain about the heat all the time but we just get told 80 degrees (Fahrenheit obviously) is a safe working temp. [Sometimes] they will pull out a thermometer, but even when it hits 85 they just say it's fine. There's been deaths, at least one in my building... Amazon likes to keep it all hush hush. Heard about others, you can find the stories if you search for it, but Amazon does a good job burying it...
Amazon has denied the allegations, saying: "Amazon ensures all of its associates have easy access to toilet facilities which are just a short walk from where they are working. Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We have not been provided with confirmation that the people who completed the survey worked at Amazon and we don't recognize these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings."
Education

100 Top Colleges Vow To Enroll More Low-Income Students (npr.org) 95

Research shows that just 3 percent of high-achieving, low-income students attend America's most selective colleges. And, it's not that these students just aren't there -- every year tens of thousands of top students who don't come from wealthy families never even apply to elite colleges. Universities are taking note -- and banding together under something called the American Talent Initiative -- a network backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Aspen Institute and the research firm Ithaka S+R. To join the club, schools have to graduate 70 percent of their students in six years -- a qualification that leaves just under 300 schools in the U.S. eligible. Nearly a third of those schools -- exactly 100 -- have signed on. Their goal? Enroll 50,000 additional low- and moderate-income students by 2025. From a report: Each school has its own goals, too -- many want to increase the number of Pell Grant students on campus, others aim to improve graduation rates -- but they're all on board to share strategies, learn from each other's missteps and provide data to monitor their progress.
Communications

A Florida Man Has been Accused of Making 97 Million Robocalls (bloomberg.com) 173

A Florida man accused of flooding consumers with 97 million phone calls touting fake travel deals appeared Wednesday before lawmakers to explain how robocalls work and to say, "I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged." From a report: Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, who is fighting a proposed $120 million fine, told senators that open-source software lets operators make thousands of phone calls with the click of a button, in combination with cloud-based computing and "the right long distance company." "Clearly regulation needs to address the carriers and providers and require the major carriers to detect robocalls activity," Abramovich said in testimony submitted in advance to the Senate Commerce Committee. He has asked the Federal Communications Commission to reduce the fine proposed last year, calling it disproportionate, in part because most calls went unanswered or resulted in a quick hang-up by consumers. The panel's chairman, Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called Abamovich and officials from the FCC and other agencies to discuss ways to stop abusive calls.
Businesses

Amazon and Best Buy Team Up To Sell Smart TVs (cnet.com) 98

Amazon and Best Buy want to sell you your next smart TV. From a report: The companies, which are two of the biggest electronics retailers in the US, on Wednesday revealed a new multiyear partnership to sell the next generation of TVs running Amazon's Fire TV operating system to customers in the US and Canada. Best Buy will be the exclusive seller for more than 10 4K and HD Fire TV Edition models made by Toshiba and Best Buy's Insignia brand starting this summer. Pricing on the sets has not yet been announced. These smart TVs will be available only in Best Buy stores, on BestBuy.com and, for the first time, from Best Buy as a seller on Amazon.com.
Bitcoin

Cambridge Analytica Planned To Launch Its Own Cryptocurrency (theverge.com) 60

Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters, attempted to develop its own cryptocurrency this past year and intended to raise funds through an initial coin offering. The digital coin would have helped people store online personal data and even sell it, former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser told The New York Times. The Verge reports: Cambridge Analytica, which obtained the data of 87 million Facebook users, was hoping to raise as much as $30 million through the venture, anonymous sources told Reuters. Cambridge Analytica confirmed to Reuters that it had previously explored blockchain technology, but did not confirm the coin offering and didn't say whether efforts are still underway. The company also reportedly attempted to promote another digital currency behind the scenes. It arranged for potential investors to take a vacation trip to Macau in support of Dragon Coin, a cryptocurrency aimed at casino players. Dragon Coin has been supported by a Macau gangster Wan Kuok-koi, nicknamed Broken Tooth, according to documents obtained by the Times. Cambridge Analytica started working on its own initial coin offering mid-2017 and the initiative was overseen in part by CEO Alexander Nix and former employee Brittany Kaiser. The company's plans to launch an ICO were still in the early stages when Nix was suspended last month and the Facebook data leak started to gain public attention.
Crime

Former FCC Broadband Panel Chair Arrested For Fraud (dslreports.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: The former chair of a panel built by FCC boss Ajit Pai to advise the agency on broadband matters has been arrested for fraud. Elizabeth Ann Pierce, former CEO of Quintillion Networks, was appointed by Pai last April to chair the committee, but her tenure only lasted until September. Pierce resigned from her role as Quintillion CEO last August after investigators found she was engaged in a scam that tricked investors into pouring money into a multi-million dollar investment fraud scheme. According to the Wall Street Journal, Pierce convinced two investment firms that the company had secured contracts for a high-speed fiber-optic system that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue. She pitched the system as a way to improve Alaska's connectivity to the rest of the country, but the plan was largely a fabrication, law enforcement officials say. "As it turned out, those sales agreements were worthless because the customers had not signed them," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in prepared remarks. "Instead, as alleged, Pierce had forged counterparty signatures on contract after contract. As a result of Pierce's deception, the investment companies were left with a system that is worth far less than Pierce had led them to believe." Quintillion says it began cooperating with lawmakers as soon as allegations against Pierce surfaced last year. Pierce was charged with wire fraud last Thursday and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Bitcoin

New York's Attorney General Is Investigating Bitcoin Exchanges (theverge.com) 41

The office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today that it has launched an investigation into bitcoin exchanges. He's reportedly looking into thirteen major exchanges, including Coinbase, Gemini Trust, and Bitfinex, requesting information on their operations and what measures they have in place to protect consumers. The Verge reports: "Too often, consumers don't have the basic facts they need to assess the fairness, integrity, and security of these trading platforms," Schneiderman said in a statement. His office sent detailed questionnaires to the thirteen exchanges, asking them to disclose who owns and controls them, and how their basic operation and transaction fees work. The questionnaire also asks for specific details on how exchanges might suspend trading or delay orders, indicating Schneiderman is particularly concerned with exchanges manipulating the timing of public orders. The investigation will attempt to shed more transparency on how platforms combat market manipulation attempts and suspicious trading, as well as bots, theft, and fraud. Many of the exchanges Schneiderman is targeting, such as Beijing-based Huobi, have headquarters located outside the U.S., but the attorney general has jurisdiction over any foreign business operating in New York. Coin Center's director of research Peter Van Valkenburgh tells The Verge that the new investigation might be overkill, given the existing rules already in place for bitcoin exchanges. "Far from being unregulated," he says, "these businesses must contend with state money transmission licensing laws, federal anti-money laundering law, CFTC scrutiny for commodities spot market manipulation, SEC scrutiny for securities trading (should any tokens traded be securities), and in this case, state consumer protection investigations from the several attorneys general."
United States

Online Tax Filers Will Get Extension After IRS Payment Website Outage (cnbc.com) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: The IRS will give last-minute filers additional time to file their tax returns after the page for paying their tax bills using their bank accounts crashed, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Associated Press. The IRS "Direct Pay" page allows filers to transfer funds from their checking or savings account to pay what they owe. As of 5 p.m. ET on April 17 -- Tax Day -- the page was still unavailable. Direct Pay is a free service. The "Payment Plan" page, where filers can pay their tax bill in installments also appears to have crashed. "I'd strongly advise folks who owe any federal taxes and cannot pay online to mail a check or money order to the IRS to the appropriate address," said Patrick Thomas, director of Notre Dame Law School's Tax Clinic. According to a TurboTax spokesperson, the IRS's technical difficulties are affecting all tax preparers and tax returns. "Taxpayers should go ahead and continue to prepare and file their taxes as normal with TurboTax," the spokesperson said. "TurboTax has uninterrupted service and is available and accepting e-filed returns," she said. "We will hold returns until the IRS is ready to begin accepting them again." H&R Block said it will continue to accept returns from filers.
Government

IRS 'Direct Pay' Option Not Working on Tax Day (cbsnews.com) 137

An anonymous reader shares a report: Online payments on IRS.gov are partially down. But the government still expects its money. A page on the IRS website that allows taxpayers to make a payment is not working for many as of Tuesday morning. Clicking on "Make a payment" on the payments page redirects the user to a page titled "unplannedOutagePage. Note that your tax payment is due although IRS Direct Pay may not be available," the page notes. UPDATE 04/17/18: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Associated Press that online tax filers will get an extension due to today's website outage.
The Courts

Supreme Court Set To Hear Landmark Online Sales Tax Case (gizmodo.com) 246

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could at least somewhat clarify Donald Trump's complaints about Amazon "not paying internet taxes." It will also decide if those cheap deals on NewEgg are going to be less of a steal. The case concerns the state of South Dakota versus online retailers Wayfront, NewEgg, and Overstock.com in a battle over whether or not state sales tax should apply to all online transactions in the U.S., regardless of where the customer or retailer is located. It promises to have an impact on the internet's competition with brick-and-mortar retailers, as well as continue to address the ongoing legal questions surrounding real-world borders in the borderless world of online.
Bitcoin

Coinbase Buys Earn.com For Reported $100 Million, Adds Key Executive (cnbc.com) 8

Digital currency exchange Coinbase announced today that it has acquired Earn.com, a portal that allows people to make money by answering emails or completing other tasks. Coinbase did not disclose the terms of the deal but according to Recode, the offer was more than $100 million. As part of the acquisition, the crypto company will bring on Earn's founder and CEO Balaji Srinivasan as its first-ever chief technology officer. From the report: Srinivasan will act as "technological evangelist" for both the industry, and for Coinbase in his new role, the company said. "Balaji has become one of the most respected technologists in the crypto field and is considered one of the technology industry's few true originalists," Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said in a blog post Monday. Srinivasan holds a BS, MS, and PhD in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University, and has taught courses in data mining, stats, genomics, blockchain at his alma mater. He will also be responsible for recruiting more talent, an effort that the San Francisco-based company has beefed up in recent months.
Businesses

Netflix CEO: Why Even $8 Billion Investment in Content Isn't Enough (axios.com) 93

Netflix expects to spend about $8 billion on content this year. For Hollywood studios, that's a reasonable figure. But for Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, it's not enough. From a report: The company is competing against a range of traditional entertainment companies around the globe, and of course, against the need to work, sleep and do other things. Speaking at TED in Vancouver, Hastings noted that $8 billion is about what Disney spends. "That's spread globally," he said. "It's not as much as it sounds." Hastings noted that House of Cards wasn't really the company's first effort at original content. It had tried back in the days when it was still mailing out DVDs. "It didn't work out because we were sub-scale," he said.
The Almighty Buck

How the Quakers Became Unlikely Economic Innovators by Inventing the Price Tag (aeon.co) 232

Belying its simplicity and ubiquity, the price tag is a surprisingly recent economic development, Aeon magazine writes. For centuries, haggling was the norm, ultimately developing into a system that required clerks and shopkeepers to train as negotiators. In the mid-19th century, however, Quakers in the US began to believe that charging people different amounts for the same item was immoral, so they started using price tags at their stores to counter the ills of haggling. And, as this short video from NPR's Planet Money explains, by taking a moral stand, the Quakers inadvertently revealed an inefficiency in the old economic system and became improbable pricing pioneers, changing commerce and history with one simple innovation.

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