Snapchat Adds More Accessible Search Feature

Snap Inc. said Friday that its Snapchat messaging app would add an option for users to search through photos and videos that users have posted to the public.

The move came days after larger rival Facebook Inc. stepped up efforts to encourage users to take more photos and edit them with digital stickers that show the influence of Snapchat.

Snapchat will enable users to search for photos and videos known as “Snaps” posted to the “Our Story” option on the app, by creating new “Stories” using machine learning technology, the company said in a blog post.

The “Our Story” option is derived from Snap’s widely copied “Stories” feature that is a slideshow of user content that disappears after 24 hours.

“Our Story” allows users to post their Snaps as part of a larger public collection, which users will be able to search through with the latest update.

For instance, users can use the search feature to find “Snaps” related to events such as local basketball games and topics such as puppies.

The search feature, which was rolled out in some cities Friday, is an addition to curated “Stories,” where public “Snaps” about major events like Wimbledon or the Coachella music festival already appear.

Snapchat popularized the sharing of digitally decorated photographs on social media, especially among teenagers, but faces intense competition from larger Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram.

Users will now be able to search for over 1 million “Stories” on Snapchat, Snap said, making the app more accessible.

Snap’s shares were up 1.5 percent in afternoon trading, while Facebook’s stock was down marginally.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us

Georgian Entrepreneurs Look to Silicon Valley for Funding

Boris Kiknadze, chief executive of Pawwwn, took a deep breath as he looked out to the crowd of Silicon Valley venture capitalists and began his pitch.

With just 10 minutes to speak, Kiknadze rapidly described his business idea — Pawwwn, an online payment and management system to make transactions easier for pawnshop owners and their customers. The pain point for pawn shops is payment. Pawwwn takes away that pain, he said.

For months, Kiknadze and his co-founder had developed Pawwwn in his home country of Georgia before getting on a plane for San Francisco. Since the firm launched in March, Kiknadze has had 20 customers trying out the service.

But with 1,400 pawnshops in Georgia and 12,000 more in the U.S., Kiknadze saw a big opportunity. And to achieve that, he needs cash — $1 million, which he said he would use to launch Pawwwn in the U.S.

Competing for investors

Kiknadze is part of Startup Georgia, a project administered by Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency, that connects U.S. experts and investors with startups in Georgia.

More than 250 entrepreneurs tried out in Georgia to qualify for a week of training in Tbilisi, the nation’s capital. Among those 50 who participated in the training, 20 were selected for seed funding and three months of additional training with a Silicon Valley expert with weekly videoconferencing meetings.

Of those, eight were chosen to travel to the U.S. for a boot camp and to pitch to investors directly.

Georgia, a country of fewer than 4 million people, is looking to the success of small countries, such as Estonia and Israel, to pitch itself as a burgeoning tech hub, said Mark Iwanowski, founder and president of Global Visions-Silicon Valley, which provided the U.S. support for the program.

For U.S. investors, typically reluctant to invest beyond U.S. tech hubs, there is an opportunity to get more value in overseas companies, where labor costs are lower, he said. To attract these investors, foreign companies need to incorporate in the U.S. and set up a team here.

Over the past week in Silicon Valley, the Georgian entrepreneurs received one-on-one mentorship training as they refined their pitches. They heard from lawyers on protecting intellectual property and listened to venture capitalists talk about how to approach investors.

“If a venture capitalist says they love it, it kind of doesn’t mean anything,” said Steve Goldberg, operating partner at Venrock, a venture firm. “My advice is to have people on the team who understand venture-speak.”

“Understand what the investor is looking for,” said Ron Weissman of Band of Angels, Silicon Valley’s oldest seed fund. He suggested approaching investors seeking a conversation — “I’m not here to raise money. I’m here to get a sense of what it would take to interest you.”

Tech’s next ‘unicorn’?

That is the kind of approach honed by Vamekh Kherkheulidze, founder and medical adviser to ORsim, a Georgian operating room virtual reality simulator.

By slipping on a virtual reality headset and a special glove that gives all the sensations of holding instruments and operating on a person, medical students can better learn how to become surgeons, Kherkheulidze said. And that’s important, because there’s a shortage of surgeons both in the U.S. and worldwide.

From potential investors, ORsim is looking “for supporters,” he said. “We promote new ways of education and we want investors who understand that.”

Still, his ambition is big. “We want to expand and expand fast,” Kherkheulidze said. Already, ORsim, with $35,000 in pre-seed funding from Startup Georgia, has an appendectomy simulator.

“Our hope is to be a unicorn,” Kherkheulidze said, referring to the term used to describe startups worth more than $1 billion in valuation. But in addition to greatly improving surgical training worldwide, he sees his company as a way to help his home country.

“If we are worth $1 billion, you can increase the economy. What was Skype’s influence in Estonia?” he said, referring to the Estonian internet communication service bought by Microsoft for more than $8 billion.

After the pitches, the entrepreneurs mingled with investors. No one got investment on the spot, but most are hopeful and are following up with meetings next week.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us

Trump Set to Overturn Online Privacy Protections, Stirring Debate

U.S. President Donald Trump is poised to sign legislation overturning privacy protections for Internet users, a move supporters say will level the playing field for providers but critics argue will hurt consumers.

The bill eliminates Obama-era regulations that required Internet service providers, or ISPs, to get permission before collecting or selling sensitive user data, such as Internet browsing history.

Supporters say the bill will create a more even field for ISPs, which are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Other Internet companies, such as Facebook and Google, are managed by the Federal Trade Commission, which places fewer restrictions on how they can collect and sell user data.

“Having two privacy cops on the beat will create confusion within the Internet ecosystem and will end up harming consumers,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, on Tuesday.

Democrats, groups object 

Supporters also argue that the reaction has been overblown, noting that the Obama-era FCC rules, which had been approved in December, hadn’t even been put in place yet.

The bill passed Congress this week with the overwhelming support of Republicans. White House officials have previously said Trump will sign the legislation, despite objections from Democrats and privacy advocate groups.

“This legislation will seriously undermine the privacy protections of the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe that their private information should be just that — private — and not for sale without their knowledge,” a group of 46 Democratic lawmakers said this week in a letter urging Trump to veto the bill.

Tom Wheeler, the former head of the FCC, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times calling the repeal a “dream for cable and telephone companies, which want to capitalize on the value of such personal information.”

U.S. Internet companies have long profited from U.S. privacy regulations, which are generally considered weaker than those in parts of the developed world, such as the European Union.

Big companies make big money from data

Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon “profit heavily from the mining of consumer data,” says Evan Swarztrauber with the Internet privacy advocacy group TechFreedom.

“It’s at least arguable that the U.S. has more successful tech firms than the EU because the U.S. has a more relaxed privacy framework, which allows for more innovation and experimentation,” he says.

But profit should not be the only consideration, according to critics, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.

“Should President Donald Trump sign S.J. Res. 34 into law, big Internet providers will be given new powers to harvest your personal information in extraordinarily creepy ways,” Ernesto Falcon, a legislative counsel at EFF, said in an online post.

Bill has limited international impact

Falcon slammed lawmakers who “have decided to give our personal information to an already highly profitable cable and telephone industry so that they can increase their profits with our data.”

The bill itself has limited international impact. Falcon says the bigger concern for global web users is state-sponsored surveillance, such as that conducted by the NSA.

“No real amount of commercial deregulation or regulation would offset the loss of privacy rights that state-sponsored surveillance violates in terms of international issues,” he told VOA.

 

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us

Research Bridges Spinal Cord Injury, Restores Some Movement

Researchers in a pilot clinical trial have made it possible for a paralyzed man to move his arm. As Bronwyn Benito reports, it is a critical step toward restoring mobility to people with paralysis.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us

White House Defends Plan to Eliminate Obama-era Internet Privacy Rules

The White House on Thursday defended a bill recently passed by Congress to repeal Obama-era internet privacy protections, saying the move was meant to create a fair playing field for telecommunication companies.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer, during a Thursday news briefing, reiterated President Donald Trump’s support for the plan to repeal a rule forbidding internet service providers from collecting personal data on users.

Spicer said the Obama administration’s rules reclassified internet service providers as common carriers, similar to hotels and other retail stores, treating them unfairly compared with edge providers, like Google and Facebook.

Repealing the rules, he said, will “allow service providers to be treated fairly and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be reviewed on a level playing field.”

Critics of the repeal bill say it could put the internet browsing histories of private citizens up for sale to the highest bidder.

“Apparently [House Republicans] see no problem with cable and phone companies snooping on your private medical and financial information, your religious activities or your sex life,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of net neutrality group Free Press Action Fund. “They voted to take away the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans just so a few giant companies could pad their already considerable profits.”

Win for telecoms

Repealing the rules, which were instituted just prior to last year’s presidential election by the Federal Communications Commission but hadn’t yet taken effect, could be seen as a win for major telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T, which can use the consumer data to target digital ads more effectively.

The companies have said the privacy rules put them at a disadvantage compared with websites like Facebook and Google, which aren’t normally regulated by the FCC and weren’t affected by the rules.

Spicer called the rules “federal overreach” instituted by “bureaucrats in Washington to take the interests of one group of companies over the interests of others, picking winners and losers.”

“[Trump] will continue to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth,” Spicer said.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us

Long Now Foundation Thinks 10,000 Years Ahead

In a cave in a mountain in western Texas, the Long Now Foundation is building a clock – a big clock, 150 meters tall. The clock will tick only once each year, go bong once a century, and once a millennium, it will send out a cuckoo. Its creators plan for it to last at least 10,000 years.

But they’re not doing it just to build a better clock.

“The goal of the Long Now Foundation,” explains its Executive Director Alexander Rose, “is fundamentally to foster long term responsibility and to think about the future in much deeper terms.”

He calls the enormous, slow-ticking timepiece an icon of long-term thinking, one of many projects Long Now has launched on that scale.

“There’s certain problems such as climate change, or education or things like that that can only be solved if you’re thinking on a multi-generational or even longer time frame,” he said.

 

Ferrets and mammoths

One of those long-term projects is an effort to save the black-footed ferret. This endangered, New World weasel is vulnerable to the old-world disease known as plague.

The Long Now’s Revive and Restore project is exploring how to genetically modify the ferret’s DNA to resist plague.

Rose says that Revive and Restore is also looking for ways to bring back the woolly mammoth. 

“We’re sitting on the cusp of one of the very first times in human history where we can do that. That project has been pulling together different scientists as well as ecologists to figure out not only what species we could do but what we should do to help the environment.”

Disappearing languages are another Long Now priority. This century, thousands of rare human languages may disappear. The Long Now is partnering with linguists and native speakers to preserve these languages on line. The foundation also has created language “decoder rings.” Each of these palm-sized disks, made from long-lasting nickel, holds miniaturized language pages for over 1,000 languages.

University of Colorado archives director Heather Ryan has assisted what’s called the Rosetta Project. She says the Rosetta Disks are a great thought experiment for long-term thinking. And if we ever lose our on-line experts, she says, they may also be practical.

“Looking 10,000 years into the future, somebody could come across and . . . pick up the fact that there’s information etched on here. We can then find clues to all the languages of human civilization over time,” Ryan said.

In the here and now

To foster long-term responsibility, the Long Now Foundation sponsors talks and podcasts with visionaries, such as Dr. Larry Brilliant. The physician and epidemiologist is a former hippie and current philanthropist, who helped the World Health Organization eradicate smallpox.

Audience members say hearing these long-term thinkers gets them thinking about their future. One teenage boy announces, “Eventually, I want to make a difference in the world.” A man in the crowd observes, “We have to have a long-term view in order to have a long term life.”

 

As for pessimists who wonder, what’s the point of thinking 10,000 years ahead, when the world might not survive another 10 months, another member of the audience answers with a laugh, “Makes you wonder, but you’ve always got to keep your eye on the future or else you’ll be stuck. And you can’t get anything done if you’re stuck.”

By helping people care, dream and do, the Long Now Foundation plans to make the world a better place for a long time to come.

Build a better website in under an hour. Start for free at us