Asteroid worth $10,000 quadrillion ‘could transform global economy’

NASA scientists are outdoing themselves yet again: by reworking the planned route for a robotic mission to a giant asteroid worth $10,000 quadrillion, they’ve managed to cut costs, launch sooner and arrive four years earlier than planned. Not bad.
The Psyche planetoid, measuring 240km (149 miles) in diameter, is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and is made almost entirely of iron and nickel.

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At current market prices, such an asteroid, a truly unique object in our solar system, is estimated to be worth $10,000 quadrillion ($10,000,000,000,000,000,000). That is, if you could successfully tow it into orbit and then mine it (and find someone to buy all of it, of course). For scale, the entire global economy is worth over $74 trillion.

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Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

“We challenged the mission design team to explore if an earlier launch date could provide a more efficient trajectory to the asteroid Psyche, and they came through in a big way,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, as cited in a NASA press release.

“This will enable us to fulfill our science objectives sooner and at a reduced cost,” he added.

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The original launch date for the mission was in 2023 with a scheduled arrival sometime in 2030. With the new trajectory, however, it will launch in the summer of 2022 and arrive at the asteroid belt in 2026.

The key to the galactic shortcut is mindblowing in and of itself: By scrapping a planned gravity boost around the Earth, the team of scientists figured out how to avoid any pit stops or paying the gravity toll in passing too close to the sun.

“The biggest advantage is the excellent trajectory, which gets us there about twice as fast and is more cost effective,” said Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe.

Speculation is rife among the NASA team that the asteroid could indeed be the solidified core of a planet.

“It’s such a strange object,” Elkins-Tanton previously told Global News Canada in January.

“Even if we could grab a big metal piece and drag it back here … what would you do? Could you kind of sit on it and hide it and control the global resource – kind of like diamonds are controlled corporately – and protect your market? What if you decided you were going to bring it back and you were just going to solve the metal resource problems of humankind for all time? This is wild speculation, obviously.”

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The Psyche mission craft, built by Space Systems Loral (SSL) in Palo Alto, California, has also been upgraded. Instead of the original design, which featured a four-panel solar array in a straight line on either side of the craft, the new design features a more powerful x-shaped design.

“By increasing the size of the solar arrays, the spacecraft will have the power it needs to support the higher velocity requirements of the updated mission,” said SSL Psyche Program Manager Steve Scott.

The Psyche craft is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, a series of lower-cost, highly focused robotic space missions that are exploring the solar system. The Psyche mission is only one of exploration, it won’t actually be towing this giant metal ball back to Earth.

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More specifically, the mission will investigate whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to Earth’s core, and what its surface is like.

Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Calls for Universal Basic Income

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, during his Harvard commencement address on Thursday, called for universal basic income for citizens who can have the “cushion” to take risks like starting a business or learning a skill, without being pressured to keep a steady job that may not advance them outside their economic class.

“Now it’s time for our generation to define a new social contract,” Zuckerberg said. “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”

Universal basic income is a controversial idea that’s benen derided as sort of a fancy name for public welfare by some. Others can’t see any way around it, once artificial intelligence and automation become economically more attractive than people.

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Specifically, Zuckerberg mentioned self-driving cars as the most imminent example of technology that will create massive disruption to the economy.

Zuckerberg, 33, dropped out of Harvard to start Facebook and move from Boston to Silicon Valley, returned this week as a billionaire and semi-political figure — although he says he’s not running for office — who seemed to be doing his best impression of America’s current-greatest orator, former President Barack Obama.

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The similarity in tone was likely not accident: Zuckerberg, who ditched the hoodie for a presidential suit, put forth ideas all shared by the president, and used phraseology and vocal rhythms similar him, too.

In an interview with Wired in October Obama didn’t actually mention basic income, by name but did say policy-makers at all levels are going to have to “have a conversation” about it.

“We are going to have to have a societal conversation about how we manage this,” Obama said then. “How do we make sure that folks have a living income? … The social compact has to accommodate these new technologies, and our economic models have to accommodate them.”

“Our generation is going to have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks, but we have the potential to do so much more than that,” Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg said the greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail, and with universal basic income, more people might have the freedom to take risks.

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“If I had to support my family growing up instead of having the time to learn how to code, if I didn’t know that I was going to be fine if Facebook didn’t work out, I wouldn’t be standing up here today,” he said. “And if we’re honest, we know how much luck we’ve had to get to this point in our lives.”

Prynt’s new mobile printer uses AR to create Harry Potter-style moving pictures

Printing static photos from your phone was so last year. Now, it’s all about AR.

Prynt, a startup that makes a small mobile printer that connects to your phone, has just released their newest device, called Prynt Pocket. And the device puts a renewed focus on the company’s AR play, which essentially makes each printed photo a Harry Potter-style moving image.

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When you select a photo to print, the app will automatically upload the short video clip from the Live Photo, or another video clip you choose, to the cloud. Then, whenever you (or anyone else with the Prynt app) scans the static image you printed, the associated video is overlaid on top using AR. Check out the video below for an example:

It’s actually a really cool twist on the slightly stale mobile printing industry, as long as you preview the live photo to make sure the overlaid video isn’t showing anything you didn’t intend. You also get a notification when someone else uses the app to “activate” a photo you printed.

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Moving onto the hardware, Prynt Pocket, which retails for $149.99, is about half the size of the old version – a big deal considering you’re going to want to carry this around with you. It also now prints at a much faster speed, and has a sliding dock mechanism that lets it support phones of all sizes.

I spend the last week playing around with Prynt Pocket and was really impressed. The first thing I noticed was seamless integration between the startup’s app and the printer itself. It’s all too common for young hardware startups to have connection issues between their software and hardware, making it especially notable when it just works.

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Printing quality was just O.K. Some images ended up looking a little cartoonish, and the quality was definitely worse than pocket printers I’ve tried from companies like Polaroid. But the faster printing speed, AR features and easy of use makes up for this – most Bluetooth mobile printers are a total pain to use.

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Originally launching as a Kickstarter, Prynt has since raised $9.2M in funding, including a $7M Series A which closed last year the startup said would be used to build out this AR functionality. It proved to be a good move, as since then AR has had a resurgence in interest fueled by giants like Facebook and Snapchat committing to the space.

Uber inadvertently underpaid New York City drivers for over two years

Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] said on Tuesday it underpaid its New York City drivers for the past two-and-a-half years, an error that could cost the ride-hailing company tens of millions of dollars.

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Uber generally takes a commission from its drivers after deducting taxes and some fees, but it instead took a higher percentage from its New York City drivers using the full fare before accounting for sales taxes and fees, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Uber usually takes a 25 percent commission from U.S. drivers under a November 2014 nationwide driver agreement, the report said.

FILE PHOTO: A man exits the Uber offices in Queens, New York
FILE PHOTO: A man exits the Uber offices in Queens, New York, U.S., February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

The company could pay drivers back at least $45 million, averaging at about $900 per driver, the Journal reported.

“We are committed to paying every driver every penny they are owed – plus interest – as quickly as possible,” Rachel Holt, Uber’s regional general manager for U.S. and Canada, said via email.

All New York City drivers under the 2014 agreement would be eligible for a refund, regardless of whether they are still active or not, as long as they completed an Uber ride, the Journal report said.

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The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents 50,000 drivers in New York City, on Tuesday called on regulators to investigate the payments practices of Uber and other ride-hailing apps.

The guild, in a statement, also called for an investigation into Uber’s use of the “upfront pricing” feature, which guarantees customers a certain fare before they book a ride.

Drivers have complained that the feature short-changes them while Uber gets the difference, the guild, which was set up last year with Uber’s help, said.

In January, Uber agreed to pay $20 million to settle claims by the U.S. government that it exaggerated prospective earnings in seeking to recruit drivers and that it downplayed the costs of buying or leasing a car.

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Uber has been hit with a number of setbacks lately, including accusations of sexual harassment from a former female employee and a video showing Chief Executive Travis Kalanick harshly berating an Uber driver.

(Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal and Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru and Heather Somerville in San Francisco; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)

Apple Reinvents the Pizza Box, and It’s a Wheel

(NEWSER) – Remember that time when Apple tried to patent a paper bag? Well, it’s also tackled the humble pizza box. As Quartz puts it, “Like all things Apple, there are no sharp corners on this box,” meaning the box is no square.

The other main innovation in Apple’s take on pizza travel technology is holes in the top of the box, presumably so that steam will escape and not make your pizza soggy.

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It’s actually a patent that Apple applied for seven years ago, with the head of Apple’s food service team listed as one inventor, though it’s only now making stomachs growl thanks to a Wired article on Apple’s new mothership campus that mentioned the box. (Apple actually currently offers the box, which is personal pie-sized, at its existing campuses, notes the Verge.)

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Per the patent, the box is preformed, “such that no assembly of the container is required”; features a “nested configuration” that “allows for multiple containers to be stored in a nested stack, thereby minimizing storage space”; and, per Newsweek, features “concentric ridges” for structural support. And remember those eight holes in the lid? They are known as a “plurality of apertures that allow for the outflow of air from within the container.”

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If the design doesn’t grab you, perhaps the box’s greenness will: It “can be fabricated from various types of re-used material along the lines of molded fiber.”

Or, you know, it’s a round box with holes in which you can carry your pizza to your desk.

Apple and Nokia see deeper partnership after ending patent dispute

Apple (AAPL.O) has settled a patent dispute with Finnish telecom equipment maker Nokia and agreed to buy more of its network products and services, sending Nokia shares up 7 percent.

The deal means Nokia will get bigger royalties from Apple for using its mobile phone patents, helping offset the impact of waning demand for its mobile network hardware.

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Such legal battles are common in the industry but can drag on for years and analysts had not been expecting such a quick resolution to the dispute that started in December.

Under the deal announced in a joint statement from the companies on Tuesday, Nokia will also supply network infrastructure products to Apple, and Apple will resume sales of Nokia’s digital health products in retail and online stores and look at further collaboration in health.

Digital health is one of the areas Nokia is targeting as it tries to develop new businesses to offset the industry-wide slump in demand for network equipment. Last year, Nokia bought France’s Withings S.A., a small firm with products such as activity trackers and baby monitors built on digital platforms.

“There could emerge big future value from this as Apple could become an important distribution channel,” said Handelsbanken analyst Daniel Djurberg, who has an “accumulate” recommendation for Nokia shares.

“I have not given any value so far for Nokia’s digital health business, but might apply an option value to it.”

INDUSTRIAL DEAL

Nokia Chief Executive Rajeev Suri told the company’s annual general meeting later on Tuesday that the deal would help expand network sales beyond telecom operators to global internet and technology giants.

“(The deal) involves a business collaboration … in particular in areas of IP and optical equipment, which is quite key to webscale players when they build their data centers,” he said. “It’s a good deal, a multi-year licensing deal, and I love it that it has an industrial deal and aspect to it.”

Under the patent license agreement, Nokia will receive a “significant” upfront cash payment and additional revenues from Apple starting from the current quarter. The companies did not give further details but analysts said the revenue was likely to be far higher than a previous deal.

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Inge Heydorn, fund manager at Sentat Asset Management, said it was a smart move to collaborate on digital health products.

“It’s interesting for Nokia in a five- to 10-year perspective since I think it will be hard to be profitable within mobile infrastructure,” said Heydorn, whose firm does not hold any shares in Nokia.

Nokia shares, which fell in December when the patent dispute was announced, jumped to their highest since February 2016 and were up 6.7 percent at 5.89 euros by 1509 GMT (11:09 a.m. ET).

A previous patent license contract between the companies expired last year, and both sides took legal action in December. Apple complained of being overcharged and Nokia responded by accusing Apple of violating technology patents.

In the absence of a new deal, Nokia cut its annual run-rate forecast in December for patent and brand licensing sales to 800 million euros ($900 million) from 950 million euros previously. In its latest quarterly report released in April, Nokia stopped giving an annual run-rate forecast altogether.

“(The agreement) moves our relationship with Apple from being adversaries in court to business partners,” Nokia’s Chief Legal Officer Maria Varsellona said in a statement.

QUICK RESOLUTION

Analysts were surprised by the relatively quick resolution of the dispute between Apple and Nokia.

“Nokia told analysts in April don’t calculate on any license revenue from Apple, not even in 2018, so this is a positive surprise. It will also limit Nokia’s legal expenses,” said Djurberg who said he would probably raise his Nokia estimates.

“For Nokia, it’s good news they got this out of the way, but we still have to wait for details about the financial impact,” said OP Equities analyst Hannu Rauhala.

“The previous annual rate was 150 million euros, so I assume this to be more, around 500 million euros.”

Rauhala said Apple might have been willing to settle with Nokia as the U.S. company’s patent battle with chipmaker Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) has escalated.

Patent royalties represent only a sliver of Nokia’s overall revenue, more than 90 percent of which comes from telecoms network equipment. But licensing payments are highly profitable and the network business is suffering an industry-wide slump.

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Nokia’s patents cover technology that reduces the need for hardware components in a phone, conserves battery life, increases radio reception, helps in recovering lost phones and enables voice recognition, among other features.

Once the world’s dominant cellphone maker, Nokia sold its handset business to Microsoft (MSFT.O) in 2014 to focus on its network business and large portfolio of mobile device patents.

Nokia’s total sales in 2016 were about 24 billion euros.

(Additional reporting by Olof Swahnberg; Editing by David Clarke)

Symantec says ‘highly likely’ North Korea group behind ransomware attacks

(REUTERS) Cyber security firm Symantec Corp (SYMC.O) said on Monday it was “highly likely” a hacking group affiliated with North Korea was behind the WannaCry cyber attack this month that infected more than 300,000 computers and disrupted hospitals, banks and schools worldwide.

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Symantec researchers said they had found multiple instances of code that had been used both in the North Korea-linked group’s previous activity and in early versions of WannaCry.

In addition, the same Internet connection was used to install an early version of WannaCry on two computers and to communicate with a tool that destroyed files at Sony Pictures Entertainment. The U.S. government and private companies have accused North Korea in the 2014 Sony attack.

North Korea has routinely denied any such role. On Monday, it called earlier reports that it might have been behind the WannaCry attack “a dirty and despicable smear campaign.”

Lazarus is the name many security companies have given to the hacking group behind the Sony attack and others. By custom, Symantec does not attribute cyber campaigns directly to governments, but its researchers did not dispute the common belief that Lazarus works for North Korea.

In a blog post, Symantec listed numerous links between Lazarus and software the group had left behind after launching an earlier, less virulent, version of the malware in February. One was a variant of software used to wipe disks during the Sony Pictures attack, while another tool used the same internet addresses as two other pieces of malware linked to Lazarus.

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At the same time, flaws in the WannaCry code, its wide spread, and its demands for payment in the electronic bitcoin before files are decrypted suggest that the hackers were not working for North Korean government objectives in this case, said Vikram Thakur, Symantec’s security response technical director.

“Our confidence is very high that this is the work of people associated with the Lazarus Group, because they had to have source code access,” Thakur said in an interview.

But he added: “We don’t think that this is an operation run by a nation-state.”

With WannaCry, Thakur said, Lazarus Group members could have been moonlighting to make extra money, or they could have left government service, or they could have been contractors without direct obligations to serve only the government.

The most effective version of WannaCry spread by using a flaw in Microsoft’s Windows and a program that took advantage of it that had been used by the U.S. National Security Agency, officials said privately.

That program was among a batch leaked or stolen and then dumped online by a group calling itself The Shadow Brokers, who some in U.S. intelligence believe to be affiliated with Russia.

Analysts have been weighing in with various theories on the identity of those behind WannaCry, and some early evidence had pointed to North Korea. The Shadow Brokers endorsed that theory, perhaps to take heat off their own government backers for the disaster.

Cybersecurity company Kaspersky has said it had found several similarities between the WannaCry malware from the earlier attack and those used by Lazarus. But in an interview last week, its Asia research director, Vitaly Kamluk, said it was not conclusive evidence. “It’s unusual,” he said.

Beau Woods, deputy director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said that the Korean language used in some versions of the WannaCry ransom note was not that of a native speaker, making a Lazarus connection unlikely.

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But Thakur said that some hackers deliberately obfuscate their language to make tracing them harder. It is also possible that the writer in question was a contractor in another country, he said.

Thakur said a less likely scenario is that Lazarus’ main aim was to create chaos by distributing WannaCry.

If the hackers’ main objective was to earn money on the side, that would suggest an undisciplined hacking operation run by North Korea, one that could be exploited and weakened by the country’s many foes.

“The intelligence community will probably take away from this that there is a possibility of splinters in the Lazarus Group, or members who are interested in filling their own pockets, and that could help,” Thakur said.

Lazarus has also been linked to attacks on banks using their SWIFT messaging network. Last year, hackers stole $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank. Symantec said malware used in that attack was linked to Lazarus.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn, Dustin Volz, Jeremy Wagstaff and Ju-Min Park; Editing by Chris Reese, Mary Milliken and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

 

Hong Kong police arrest 21 Uber drivers

Hong Kong police on Tuesday arrested 21 Uber drivers for illegal car-hiring as part of a clamp down against Uber Technologies Inc’s operations in the Asian financial city.

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The arrests marked the latest upset for the San Francisco-based technology company, which in March said it would help five convicted Uber drivers to appeal their court case in Hong Kong.

Police said they began an undercover operation in May and on Tuesday arrested 20 men and one woman between the ages of 21 and 59 for illegally driving a car for hire and driving without third-party risk insurance.

“I would like to stress that our law enforcement action is ongoing and we do not rule out further arrests,” said Lau Tat-fai, a chief inspector of police in the Kowloon West district.

“We would like to say to the operator of the mobile phone application, as a responsible organisation, you need to ensure cars for hire are equipped with a permit as required by Hong Kong laws. This is a basic responsibility to passengers and (shows) respect for Hong Kong laws,” Lau said.

He said those who assist or instigate drivers might also have to bear legal responsibility.

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A Uber spokesman said the company was “extremely disappointed” by the police action.

“We stand together with the twenty-one driver partners and their families, and will continue to provide assistance, including legal support, during this difficult time,” the spokesman said.

Uber said it has a ridesharing insurance policy of up to HK$100 million per trip for riders and third-parties, which complies with local laws including Hong Kong’s insurance regulations.

“Ridesharing should not be a crime. Hong Kong is an international city known for its embrace of global economic trends and new technologies, but current transportation regulations have failed to keep up with innovation,” Uber said in an emailed statement.

Uber said it is committed to working with Hong Kong authorities, especially the incoming administration, to resolve the matter.

A court in March had found five Uber drivers guilty and fined them HK$10,000 (992 pounds) each. It also revoked their driving licenses for a year, but that punishment was suspended upon the drivers’ appeal.

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Uber began a fierce publicity campaign following the verdict, posting advertisements on newspaper front pages and giving out plane tickets and Manchester United football jerseys to a few passengers.

The embattled technology company pulled out of Taiwan this year over mounting fines from regulators, but said last month it would resume services.

Google AI beats Chinese master in ancient game of Go

A Google artificial intelligence program defeated a Chinese grand master at the ancient board game Go on Tuesday, a major feather in the cap for the firm’s AI ambitions as it looks to woo Beijing to gain re-entry into the country.

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In the first of three planned games in the eastern water town of Wuzhen, the AlphaGo program held off China’s world number one Ke Jie in front of Chinese officials and Google parent Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) chief executive Eric Schmidt.

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Chinese Go player Ke Jie, left, looks at the board as a person makes a move on behalf of Google’s artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo, during a game of Go at the Future of Go Summit in Wuzhen in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. A computer that plays go has started a match against China’s No. 1 player in a test of whether artificial intelligence can master one of the last games that machines have yet to dominate. (Chinatopix via AP)

The victory over the world’s top player – which many thought would take decades to achieve – underlines the potential of artificial intelligence to take on humans at complex tasks.

Wooing Beijing may be less simple. The game streamed live on Google-owned YouTube, while executives from the DeepMind unit that developed the program sent out updates live on Twitter (TWTR.N). Both are blocked by China, as is Google search.

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Google pulled its search engine from China seven years ago after it refused to self-censor internet searches, a requirement of Beijing. Since then it has been inaccessible behind the country’s nationwide firewall.

The ceremonial game – the second time AlphaGo has gone head-to-head with a master Go player in a public showdown – represents a major bridge-building exercise for Google in China, following a charm offensive in recent years.

It has announced plans to bring some services back to the country, including its app store Google Play.

In March it also said Chinese users would be able to access the Translate mobile app, marking its most recent success launching a previously banned service. Like AlphaGo, Translate also uses DeepMind’s artificial intelligence software.

Beijing is pushing to become a major player in artificial intelligence. Chinese search engine giant Baidu Inc (BIDU.O), launched an AI lab in March with China’s state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission.

Go, most popular in countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, involves two contestants moving black and white stones across a square grid, aiming to seize the most territory. Its origins date back thousands of years.

The board game is favored by AI researchers because of the large number of outcomes compared to other games such as western chess. According to Google there are more potential positions in a Go game than atoms in the universe.

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AlphaGo made history when it beat a top South Korean professional player last year.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

 

Softbank-Saudi tech fund becomes world’s biggest with $93 billion of capital

(REUTERS) The world’s largest private equity fund, backed by Japan’s Softbank Group and Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund, said on Saturday it had raised over $93 billion to invest in technology sectors such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

“The next stage of the Information Revolution is under way, and building the businesses that will make this possible will require unprecedented large-scale, long-term investment,” the Softbank Vision Fund said in a statement.

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Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son, chairman of Softbank, a telecommunications and tech investment group, revealed plans for the fund last October and since then it has obtained commitments from some of the world’s most deep-pocketed investors.

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In addition to Softbank and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the new fund’s investors include Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment, which has committed $15 billion, Apple Inc, Qualcomm, Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology and Japan’s Sharp Corp.

The new fund made its announcement during the visit of President Donald Trump to Riyadh and the signing of tens of billions of dollars worth of business deals between U.S. and Saudi companies. Son was also in Riyadh on Saturday.

After meeting with Trump last December, Son pledged $50 billion of investment in the United States that would create 50,000 jobs, a promise Trump claimed was a direct result of his election win.

The fund may also serve the interests of Saudi Arabia by helping Riyadh obtain access to foreign technology. The Saudi economy has been severely damaged by low oil prices, and policymakers are trying to diversify into new industries.

The PIF signaled an interest in the tech sector last year by investing $3.5 billion in U.S. ride-hailing firm Uber. Saturday’s statement did not say how much the PIF had committed to the fund, but previously it has said it would invest up to $45 billion over five years. Softbank is investing $28 billion.

The new fund said it would seek to buy minority and majority interests in both private and public companies, from emerging businesses to established, multi-billion-dollar firms. It expects to obtain preferred access to long-term investment opportunities worth $100 million or more.

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Other sectors in which the fund may invest include mobile computing, communications infrastructure, computational biology, consumer internet businesses and financial technology.

The fund aims for $100 billion of committed capital and expects to complete its money-raising in six months, it added.