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SD Times news digest: Undo LiveRecorder for Java, Splice Machine Kubernetes Ops Center, and PyTorch 1.6 launched

Undo has announced support for Java. With LiveRecorder for Java, developers can resolve bugs much faster than before. It simplifies the traditional and lengthy process of debugging complex Java applications down to Record, Play, and Resolve, the company explained. 

Developers debugging Java applications get an automatic 100% reproduction of the error that caused the failure. Developers can then reverse-debug the recording by replaying it, offline, on another machine, according to the company. 

“By accelerating MTTR of bugs and reducing the amount of time spent debugging overall with LiveRecorder, Java development teams can start looking at other ways to improve productivity and drive rapid continuous delivery” said Barry Morris, the CEO of Undo. 

Splice Machine Kubernetes Ops Center
The DevOps platform is designed to lower operating costs by making it easier to provision, manage, and operate many scale-out SQL RDBMS’s with machine learning.

“With its comprehensive data capabilities, Splice Machine supports extensive OLTP, OLAP, data science, and MLOps in a single open source platform, making it easy for developers to get what they need to do done, without stitching a huge number of disparate technologies together,” Splice Machine wrote in a post that contains additional details on the release. 

The three editions of Splice Machine are delivered with Helm carts, a standard packaging format for Kubernetes that will allow Splice Machine to be deployed to certified Kubernetes distributions like Rancher.

PyTorch 1.6 launched
PyTorch 1.6 was released with native AMP support and Microsoft joined as a maintainer for Windows. 

The PyTorch 1.6 release includes a number of new APIs, tools for performance improvement and profiling, as well as major updates to both distributed data parallel (DDP) and remote procedure call (RPC) based distributed training.

From this release onward, features will be classified as Stable, Beta and Prototype. Additional details are available here.

Apache Hadoop 3.3
Apache Hadoop 3.3.0 contains a number of features and enhancements including ARM support, the upgrade protobuf from 2.5.0 as well as lots of enhancements of S3A, ABFS, and Tencent Cloud COS File system implementation. 

DFS clients can now use a single domain name to discover servers (namenodes/routers/observers) instead of explicitly listing out all hosts in the config.

Also, Java11 Runtime support has been added in the new release. Additional details on Hadoop 3.3 are available here.

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Microsoft’s new Family Safety app offers parental controls across phones, PCs and Xbox

Microsoft’s new screen time and parental controls app, Microsoft Family Safety, is today launching publicly on iOS and Android, following a preview of the experience which had arrived earlier this spring. The app is designed to help parents better understand children’s use of screen time, set limits and create screen time schedules, configure boundaries around web access, and track family members’ location, among other things.

The app competes with other parental control technologies, including those built into iOS and Android — the latter of which is also available as a standalone app, called Family Link. Like its competitors, Microsoft Family Safety will work best for those who have already bought into the company’s own ecosystem of products and services. In Microsoft’s case, that includes Windows 10 PCs and Xbox devices, for example.

Also like many screen time apps, Family Safety displays an activity log of how screen time is being used by kids. It can track the hours spent on devices, including Windows computers, phones, and Xbox, as well as across websites and apps. It can also show the terms kids are searching for online.

Image Credits: Microsoft

A weekly report is emailed to parents and kids, with the hopes of encouraging discussions around healthy use of screen time. This was already a complicated subject before the pandemic. But now, with kids attending school at home and filling summer downtime with hours in games while parents still try to work without childcare, it’s grown to be even more complicated.

Initially, parents may have just given up on screen time altogether, grateful for anything that allowed them that gave them moments of peace. But with staying at home becoming a new normal, many families are now reconsidering what amount of screen time is healthy and how much is too much.

With the new app, parents can set screen time limits that apply across devices — including Xbox. These limits can be narrowly configured to allow for access to educational apps that facilitate online learning, while limiting other types of screen time — like gaming, for instance. When kids run out of time, they can ask for more and parents can choose whether or not to grant it.

Meanwhile, the web filtering aspects of the new app take advantage of Microsoft’s newer browser, Microsoft Edge across Windows, Xbox, and Android. The app will allow parents to set search filters and block mature content. Other content controls will notify parents if the child tries to download a mature game or app from the Microsoft Store, as well.

Image Credits: Microsoft

 

Parents can also control purchases by granting approval to kids’ requests, so there won’t be surprise bills later.

Plus, the app’s built-in location sharing means families can skip downloading additional family locator apps, like Life360, for access to basic location tracking features — like those that show family members on a map and lets you save favorite locations, like “Home.”

Image Credits: Microsoft

Since its preview period, Microsoft has expanded the app’s capabilities to include a handful of new features, including one that lets you block and unblock specific apps, a location clustering feature, and an expanded set of options for granting more screen time (e.g 15 or 30 mins., 1, 2, or 3 hours, etc.). Accessibility options were also updated and improved, including improved visual contrast for low vision users and additional context for screen readers.

You’ll note, however, that some of Family Safety’s experience don’t fully extend to iOS and Android, like purchase controls and web filtering. On iOS, the app can’t even track screen time usage as Apple makes no API available for this, even after launching its own screen time service and shutting down competing apps.

That’s due to how other platforms have their own operating systems and ecosystems locked down to encourage customers to only buy and use their devices. Unfortunately, that means families that have devices from a variety of vendors — like iPhone users who also game on Xbox, or Android users whose computer is a Mac, for instance — don’t have simple tools that let them manage everything from one place.

Microsoft says it will soon roll out two new features to Family Safety following its launch. These include location alerts and drive safety (e.g. aimed teen drivers),, and will be a part of a paid Microsoft 365 Family Subscription.

The new Family Safety app is rolling out now for iOS and Android as a free download. You may not be able to immediately access the app due to its phased rollout, but should sometime this week.


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The hype, haplessness and hope of haptics in the COVID-19 era

Devon Powers
Contributor

Devon Powers is an associate professor of advertising at Temple University and the author of “On Trend: The Business of Forecasting the Future.”

David Parisi
Contributor

David Parisi is an associate professor at the College of Charleston and author of “Archaeologies of Touch: Interfacing with Haptics from Electricity to Computing.”

In March, Brooklynite Jeremy Cohen achieved minor internet fame when he launched an elaborate scheme to court Tori Cignarella, a cute stranger living in a nearby building.

After spotting Cignarella across an air shaft, Cohen used drones, Venmo, texting and FaceTime to interact with his socially distanced crush. But it was on their second date when Cohen pulled out all the stops. He purchased a gigantic plastic bubble, sealed himself inside and invited his new friend to go on a touchless walk. As Cohen wrote on Instagram, “just because we have to social distance doesn’t mean we have to be socially distant.”

Cohen’s quirky, DIY approach made for fun clickbait for a few days. But it’s also a somewhat unflattering metaphor for the kinds of touch-centric entrepreneurialism that has proliferated in the age of COVID-19. From dating to banking, education to retail, the virus has pushed everyone to rethink how touch and proximity factor into daily interactions. Businesses besieged by the uncertainty of shutdown orders, partial re-openings, remote work, disease spikes and changing consumer behavior have been forced to test-drive solutions on the fly.

Amid that confusion, a few common approaches have emerged. Some are rushing to return to normalcy, adopting quick fixes at the expense of more broad-based solutions. Others are using the pandemic as an excuse to accelerate technological shifts, even those that may be unwelcome, impractical or both. Still others are enforcing guidelines selectively or not at all, tempting consumers back, in part, through the promise of “normal” (read: non-distanced and non-regulated) interactions.

Enter haptics. Investment in touch technologies had been on the rise before COVID-19, with virtual reality fueling fresh interest in haptic gloves and full-body suits, and haptics for mobile devices like wearables and smartwatches infusing the field with new resources. While it is difficult to capture the health and growth of the haptics industry with a single number, one estimate puts the global haptics market at US$12.9 billion in 2020, projected to grow to US$40.9 billion by 2027.

In addition to established players like Immersion Corporation, founded in 1993 and active working on haptics applications ranging from gaming and automotive to medical, mobile and industrial, Sony, Apple, Microsoft, Disney and Facebook each have dedicated teams working on new haptics products. Scores of startups, too, are currently bringing new hardware and software solutions to market: Ultraleap (formerly Ultrahaptics), a Bristol-based company that develops midair haptics, has secured $85 million in funding; HaptX, which makes exoskeleton force feedback gloves for use in VR and remote manipulation, has raised $19 million in funding; and Neosensory, focused on routing sound through the skin with a wrist-based wearable Buzz, has received $16 million in funds. A recent industry-wide initiative intended to make it easier to embed haptics in multimedia content suggests that we could soon see growth in this area accelerate even further.

Despite these trends, the business of touch isn’t heading in one clear direction. And with such variety in business responses, customers have responded with confusion, frustration, anxiety and defiance. More than disgruntlement, though, COVID-19 shines a light on a longstanding debate over whether the future will have more touch or less. Tensions around touch were already high, but rapid changes, Band-Aid solutions and short-term thinking are making the problems worse.

What’s needed now is a longer view: serious, systematic thinking about where we — as consumers, citizens, humans — want and need touch, and where we don’t. To get there, we need greater investment not just in technologies that sound good, but ones that will deliver on real needs for connection and safety in the days ahead.

Plexiglass is the new mask

While the mask may be the most conspicuous symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic in much of the world, the new normal has another, clearer symbol: plexiglass.

Plexiglass leads the way as our environments are retrofitted to protect against the virus. In the U.S., demand began rising sharply in March, driven first by hospitals and essential retailers like grocery stores. Traditional sectors like automotive are using much less of the stuff, but that difference is more than made up for by the boom among restaurants, retail, office buildings, airports and schools. Plexiglass is even popping up in temples of bodily experience, surrounding dancers at strip clubsclients at massage parlors and gymgoers in fitness centers.

Like plexiglass itself, the implications for touch are stark, if invisible. Plexiglass may communicate sterility and protection — though, truth be told, it dirties often and it’s easy to get around. More to the point, it puts up a literal barrier between us.

The story of plexiglass — like that of single-use plastic, ventilation systems, hand sanitizer and ultraviolet light — underscores how mundane interventions often win the day, at least initially. It is much easier for a grocery store to install an acrylic sneezeguard between cashiers and customers than it is to adopt contactless shopping or curbside pickup. At their best, interventions like plexiglass are low-cost, effective and don’t require huge behavior changes on the part of customers. They are also largely reversible, should our post-pandemic lifestyles revert back to something more closely resembling our previous behaviors.

Besides their obvious environmental consequences, plasticized approaches can erode our relationship to touch and thereby to each other. In Brazil, for example, some nursing homes have installed “hug tunnels” to allow residents to embrace family members through a plastic barrier. Given that “when will I be able to hug my loved ones again?” is a common and heart-wrenching question these days, the reunions hug tunnels facilitate are, well, touching. But as a shadow of the real thing, they amplify our desperate need for real connection.

The same with circles on the floor in elevators or directional arrows down store aisles: In expecting us to be our best, most rational and most orderly selves, they work against cultural inclinations toward closeness. They indicate not so much a brave new future as a reluctant present. And without proper messaging about their importance as well as their temporariness, they are bound to fail.

Touch tech to the rescue

To feed our skin hunger, futurists are pushing haptic solutions — digital technologies that can replicate and simulate physical sensations. Haptics applications range from simple notification buzzes to complex whole-body systems that combine vibration, electricity and force feedback to re-create the tactile materiality of the physical world. But although the resurgence of VR has rapidly advanced the state of the art, very few of these new devices are consumer-ready (one notable exception is CuteCircuit’s Hug Shirt — released for sale earlier this year after 15+ years in development).

Haptics are typically packaged as part of other digital techs like smartphones, video game controllers, fitness trackers and smartwatches. Dedicated haptic devices remain rare and relatively expensive, though their imminent arrival is widely promoted in popular media and the popular technology press. Effective haptic devices, specially designed to communicate social and emotional touch such as stroking, would seem particularly useful to re-integrate touch into Zoom-heavy communication.

Even with well-resourced companies like FacebookMicrosoft and Disney buying in, these applications will not be hitting home offices or teleconferencing setups anytime soon. Though it would be easy to imagine, for example, a desktop-mounted system for facilitating remote handshakes, mass producing such devices would prove expensive, due in part to the pricey motors necessary to accurately synthesize touch. Using cheaper components compromises haptic fidelity, and at this point, what counts as an acceptable quality of haptic simulation remains ill-defined. We don’t have a tried and tested compression standard for haptics the way we do with audio, for instance; as Immersion Corporation’s Yeshwant Muthusamy recently argued, haptics has been held back by a problematic lack of standards.

Getting haptics right remains challenging despite more than 30 years’ worth of dedicated research in the field. There is no evidence that COVID is accelerating the development of projects already in the pipeline. The fantasy of virtual touch remains seductive, but striking the golden mean between fidelity, ergonomics and cost will continue to be a challenge that can only be met through a protracted process of marketplace trial-and-error. And while haptics retains immense potential, it isn’t a magic bullet for mending the psychological effects of physical distancing.

Curiously, one promising exception is in the replacement of touchscreens using a combination of hand-tracking and midair haptic holograms, which function as button replacements. This product from Bristol-based company Ultraleap uses an array of speakers to project tangible soundwaves into the air, which provide resistance when pressed on, effectively replicating the feeling of clicking a button.

Ultraleap recently announced that it would partner with the cinema advertising company CEN to equip lobby advertising displays found in movie theaters around the U.S. with touchless haptics aimed at allowing interaction with the screen without the risks of touching one. These displays, according to Ultraleap, “will limit the spread of germs and provide safe and natural interaction with content.”

A recent study carried out by the company found that more than 80% of respondents expressed concerns over touchscreen hygiene, prompting Ultraleap to speculate that we are reaching “the end of the [public] touchscreen era.” Rather than initiate a technological change, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to push ahead on the deployment of existing technology. Touchscreens are no longer sites of naturalistic, creative interaction, but are now spaces of contagion to be avoided. Ultraleap’s version of the future would have us touching air instead of contaminated glass.

Touch/less

The notion that touch is in crisis has been a recurring theme in psychology, backed by scores of studies that demonstrate the negative neurophysiological consequences of not getting enough touch. Babies who receive insufficient touch show higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can have all kinds of negative effects on their development. In prisons, for example, being deprived of touch through restraint or solitary confinement is a punishment tantamount to torture. As technology continues to make inroads into our lives, interactions that once required proximity or touch have become mediated instead, prompting ongoing speculation about the consequences of communicating by technology rather than by touch.

The coronavirus pandemic intensifies this crisis by demanding a sudden, collective withdrawal from physical contact. The virus lays a cruel trap: the longer we’re apart, the more we crave togetherness and are willing to take dangerous risks. But giving in to the desire to touch not only exposes us and those we care about to a potentially mortal danger, it also extends the amount of time before we can resume widespread touching.

The pandemic has already revealed important lessons about touch, haptics and humanity. First is that while circumstances can change quickly, true social and behavioral change takes longer. The many examples of Americans acting as though there is no pandemic going on should give pause to anyone thinking touch-free futures are just around the corner. Atop this, there is plain-old inertia and malaise, which suggests some pandemic-era interventions will stick around while others will disappear or slacken over time. Consider 9/11 — nearly two decades later, though we still can’t greet our loved ones at their gate, most airports don’t strictly monitor our liquids and gels.

By the same token, one can imagine unfilled hand sanitizer stations as the ultimate hangover from these times. We may begin to like the plexiglass barriers between ourselves and our fellow subway passengers, but hate them at restaurants and sporting events. We may encounter more motion-detecting sliding doors and hand-tracking options, but when they falter we may revert to revolving doors, handles and push-buttons.

A second and equally important insight is that the past and the future exist side by side. Technological development takes even longer than behavioral change, and can be bedeviled by momentary trends, expense and technological limitations. For example, there are a lot of pressures right now to transform stores and restaurants into “last-mile” fulfillment centers, to embrace AR and VR and to reimagine space as contact-free. In these scenarios, objects could be touched and handled in virtual showrooms using high-fidelity digital touch technologies. But some of this pressure is based on promises that haptics have yet to fulfill. For instance, being able to touch clothing through a mobile phone may be possible in theory, but would be difficult in practice and would mean other trade-offs for mobile phones’ functionality, size, weight and speed.

Touch/more?

But just as the coronavirus pandemic did not create making us miss touching, it also did not create all the problems with touching. Some of the touch we were used to — like the forced closeness of a crowded subway car or the cramped quarters of airline seats — is dehumanizing. Social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have drawn attention to how unwanted touch can have traumatic consequences and exacerbate power imbalances. We must think broadly about the meaning of touch and its benefits and drawbacks for varying types of people, and not rush toward a one-size-fits-all solution. Although touch may seem like a fundamentally biological sense, its meaning is continually renegotiated in response to shifting cultural conditions and new technologies. COVID-19 is the most rapid upheaval in global practices of touching that we’ve seen in at least a generation, and it would be surprising not to see a corresponding adoption of technologies that could allow us to gain back some of the tactility, even from a distance, that the disease has caused us to give up.

Too often, however, touch technologies prompt a “gee whiz” curiosity without being attentive to the on-the-ground needs for users in their daily lives. Businesses looking to adopt haptic tech must see through the sales pitch and far-flung fantasies to develop a long-term plan for where touch and touch-free make the most sense. And haptic designers must move from a narrow focus on solving the complex engineering problem touch presents to addressing the sorts of technologies users might comfortably incorporate into their daily communication habits.

A useful exercise going forward is to consider how would we do haptic design differently knowing we’d be facing another COVID-19-style pandemic in 2030? What touch technologies could be advanced to satisfy some of the desires for human contact? How can firms be proactive, rather than reactive, about haptic solutions? As much as those working in the field of haptics may have been motivated by the noble intention of restoring touch to human communication, this mission has often lacked a sense of urgency. Now that COVID-19 has distanced us, the need for haptics to bridge that physical gap, however incompletely, becomes more obvious and demanding.

Businesses feel it too, as they attempt to restore “humanity” and “connection” to their customer interactions. Yet as ironic as it might feel, now is the time not to just stumble through this crisis — it’s time to prepare for the next one. Now is the time to build in resilience, flexibility and excess capacity. To do so requires asking hard questions, like: do we need VR to replicate the sensory world in high fidelity, even if it’s costly? Or would lower-cost and lower-fidelity devices suffice? Will people accept a technologized hug as a meaningful proxy for the real thing? Or, when touch is involved, is there simply no substitute for physical presence? Might the future have both more touch and less?

These are difficult questions, but the hardship, trauma and loss of COVID-19 proves they demand our best and most careful thinking. We owe it to ourselves now and in the future to be deliberate, realistic and hopeful about what touch and technology can do, and what they can’t.


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GitHub provides more visibility into upcoming releases with public roadmap

GitHub wants to it easier for its users to anticipate and plan around new features. The GitHub public roadmap will allow GitHub to clearly communicate what it is working on, while giving users a way to plan for new releases.

On the roadmap there are several boards, each pertaining to a particular upcoming release. Items on the board relate to a particular feature, and those items will link to more detailed issues with information on what exactly is planned.

According to the company, each item on the GitHub public roadmap is labeled with the following information:

Release phase, which describes the next expected phase for the item
Feature area, which indicates what area the item belongs to
Feature, which indicates the feature or product that the item belongs to 
Product SKU(s), which indicates which product SKU(s) the feature is expected to be available in
Deployment model, which indicates whether it is being deployed on cloud or server and when

“As customers have gotten used to us shipping new things, we’ve also heard you clearly tell us that you’d like more visibility into what we’re working on, what we’re going to be shipping, and when … With more transparency into what we’re building, you can also plan better and share feedback earlier to influence what we’re building,” Shanku Niyogi, senior vice president of product at GitHub, wrote in a post.

The GitHub public roadmap is available as a public repository on GitHub here

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OpenXR announces 1.0 Adopters Program and new ecosystem developments for AR/VR

The Khronos Group and OpenXR working group has announced the OpenXR 1.0 Adopters Program and open-source conformance tests. OpenXR is a royalty-free, open standard that provides direct access into AR/VR runtimes across diverse platforms and devices.

As part of the adopters program, Oculus and Microsoft are shipping multiple conformant implementations of OpenXR with new advanced cross-vendor hand and eye-tracking extensions

In addition, Microsoft has released an OpenXR-conformant runtime fortheHoloLens 2 headset, and Oculus has shipped conformant runtime for the Android-based Quest. 

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Valve has also released a developer preview implementation of OpenXR 1.0 with new features on SteamVR and the ability to use OpenXR apps with Varjo headsets.

“The Working Group has put tremendous effort into OpenXR conformance testing to create a truly reliable cross-platform API. We encourage OpenXR implementers to use the tests in their own development, and consider contributing additional tests to help further reduce cross-vendor variability,” said Brent Insko, the working group chair at OpenXR Working Group and lead XR architect at Intel. “With the release of the conformance tests and official launch of the AdoptersProgram, widening availability of OpenXR across diverse devices, and expanding use in large open source projects, OpenXR is now ready for the next wave of adoption and deployment.”

The OpenXR Working Group also announced two OpenXR cross-vendor extensions for eye and hand tracking to expand the range of advanced UI techniques that can be portably deployed through this cross-platform, cross-vendor API. 

“OpenXR enables XR games and applications to target the widest range of hardware with maximum performance,” the open consortium wrote in a post.

Lastly, the OpenXR 1.0 Conformance Test Suite has been published as open source under the Apache 2.0 license on GitHub for continued public development and for use by any company as they implement the OpenXR API on their platform.

“The time to embrace OpenXR is now,” said Don Box, technical fellow at Microsoft. “In the year since the industry came together to publish the OpenXR 1.0 spec and demonstrated working bits at SIGGRAPH 2019, so much progress has happened. Seeing the core platforms in our industry getting behind the standard and shipping real, conformant implementations, as well as coming together to push the spec forward with cross-vendor extensions for critical features like hand tracking and eye tracking, is singularly awesome.”

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Twitter restricts Donald Trump Jr.’s account for sharing COVID-19 misinformation

Twitter has temporarily frozen Donald Trump Jr.’s account after the president’s son shared a video making false and potentially life-threatening claims about the coronavirus pandemic.

The younger Trump’s account was restricted Tuesday morning after he shared a link to the viral video, tweeting “This is a much [sic] watch!!! So different from the narrative that everyone is running with.”

“The Tweet referenced was in violation of our COVID-19 misinformation policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. The company said that the tweet violated its rules against COVID-19 misinformation and must be deleted. Trump’s account was not suspended, but its functionality will be restricted for 12 hours.

This account has not been permanently suspended. Per the screenshot, the Tweet requires deletion because it violates our rules (sharing misinformation on COVID-19), and the account will have limited functionality for 12 hours. More in our rules: https://t.co/0wHWVV5QS4 https://t.co/0gq7rlaNw7

— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) July 28, 2020

The video was widely publicized by Breitbart News and features a number of people in lab coats who refer to themselves as “America’s Frontline Doctors.” In the video, the individuals push various false and dangerous claims, including the claim that masks don’t prevent the spread of the virus and yet another defense of the drug hydroxychloroquine, which hasn’t proven effective in treating the virus.

Stella Immanuel, one figure central to the video, has made outlandish unscientific claims in the past, the Daily Beast’s Will Sommer reports. Those claims include the assertion that “alien DNA” is currently in use for some medical treatments and that some gynecological problems are a result of a patient having sex with demon-like “spirit husbands” and “spirit wives.”

President Trump shared the video multiple times on Monday night in tweets that now appear as “no longer available” on his timeline. The now-removed tweets are wedged in between a number of remaining retweets that defend hydroxychloroquine as a “gold standard” and a “game changer.” The retweets also attack White House pandemic advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci’s credibility.

Facebook and YouTube are also working to scrub instances of the viral video. On Facebook, it collected more than 14 million views and became one of the platform’s most popular posts before the company took action to remove it.

Platforms scramble as ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy video spreads misinformation like wildfire

 


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Moderna’s 30,000-participant Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial kicks off in the US

The largest trial yet for a potential COVID-19 vaccine began on Monday, as drug company Moderna began providing the first of an anticipated 30,000 volunteers with shots of its candidates. This is a blind trial, wherein some participants will get the vaccine and some will get placebos. Each participant will get two doses, and researchers will study them to see which group suffers more actual infections as they proceed about their lives as they would normally.

There are more than 70 anticipated trial sites across the U.S. for this study; the first to begin vaccinating the volunteer participants is located in Savannah, Georgia. The makeup of the overall group of participants is intended to study not only geographical distribution, covering regions hard-hit by the virus and those with less severe outbreaks, but also to represent a wide sample when it comes to demographics of those participating.

The Moderna trial is being undertaken in partnership with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and represents one of the fastest development cycles of a vaccine ever. Just around two months after work was begun on the Moderna vaccine, it was already being tested in humans for the first time, and early data from its Phase 1 tests (which were on a much smaller scale) have shown promising indications that it does indeed provide some infection protection — though large-scale tests like this are definitely required before anyone can say anything definitive about its efficacy.

In addition to making sure that the vaccine is actually effective as a vaccine, this large-scale test is intended to prove it’s safe to take. Early results indicated some side effects, but again, it’s impossible to say anything definitive about downsides until you test at scale.

Other trials are also making quick progress, including one for a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford. Moderna has previously said that experimental versions of the vaccine might be available on an emergency basis for healthcare workers by this fall, if all goes to plan.


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Cloudflare releases new developer serverless solution

Cloudflare has unveiled a new serverless solution to compete with AWS Lambda.

The release of Cloudflare Workers Unbound offers a serverless platform for developers to run complicated computing workloads across the Cloudflare network and pay only for what they use.

According to the company, the new solution can save users up to 75% for the same workloads running on centralized serverless platforms such as Lambda. 

“Serverless promises both a radical new economic model for compute, and a radically simplified programming model, with the developer focusing on orchestration and composition of rich back end services. Autoscaling, performance, observability, built-in security and support for a range of modern programming languages are all provided by the infrastructure,” said James Governor, co-founder and analyst at RedMonk.

Developers can now run heavy workloads without having to worry about overly restrictive CPU constraints, Cloudflare explained. They also won’t have to pay for hidden extras like API gateway or DNS request fees.

Developers can also write code in JavaScript, C, C++, Python, Go, Rust, Scala, Kotlin, and even COBOL and have access to debugging tools, automatic scaling, and performance benefits. 

“Other serverless platforms throttle CPU, resulting in workloads that take longer. The efficiency of the Cloudflare Workers isolates architecture lets Cloudflare run CPUs unthrottled so users can get more done per second of compute time,” Cloudflare wrote in a post.

Additionally, Cloudflare said the platform is built to withstand the latest security threats, including sophisticated timing attacks, and was reviewed by the team that discovered the Spectre class of vulnerabilities.

The company will continue to offer the original Cloudflare Workers model, now known as Cloudflare Workers Bundled, with its pricing for basic workloads.

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Google to invest $10 billion in India

Google said on Monday that it plans to invest $10 billion in India in the next five to seven years as the search giant looks to expand its presence in the key overseas market.

Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google, today unveiled Google for India Digitization Fund through which it will be making the investments in the country.

“We’ll do this through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments. This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” he said at the company’s annual event focused on India.

Investments will focus on four areas important to India’s digitization:

First, enabling affordable access and information for every Indian in their own language, whether it’s Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi or any other
Second, building new products and services that are deeply relevant to India’s unique needs
Third, empowering businesses as they continue or embark on their digital transformation
Fourth, leveraging technology and AI for social good, in areas like health, education, and agriculture

India is a key overseas market for Google, where a range of its products and services including Search, YouTube, and Android have made inroads with much of the entire online population.

Though Google, like every other American tech giant, makes only a fraction of its revenue from the world’s largest internet market.

Pichai said

More to follow…


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Mobile developer Tru Luv enlists investors to help build a more inclusive alternative to gaming

Developer and programmer Brie Code has worked at the peak of the video game industry – she was responsible for many of the AI systems that powered non-player character (NPC) behavior in the extremely popular Assassin’s Creed series created by Ubisoft. It’s obvious that gaming isn’t for everyone, but Code became more and more interested in why that maxim seemed to play out along predictable gender lines, leading her ultimately to develop and launch #SelfCare through her own independent development studio TRU LUV.

#SelfCare went on to win accolades including a spot of Apple’s App Store Best of 2018 list, and Code and TRU LUV was also the first Canadian startup to attend Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp program. Now, with over 2 million downloads of #SelfCare (without any advertising at all), Code and TRU LUV have brought on a number of investors for their first outside funding including Real Ventures, Evolve Ventures, Bridge Builders Collaborative and Artesian Venture Partners.

I spoke to Code about how she came up with and created #SelfCare, what’s next for TRU LUV, and how the current COVID-19 crisis actually emphasizes the need for an alternative to gaming that serves many similar functions, but for a previously underserved groups of people for whom the challenges and rewards structures of traditional gaming just don’t prove very satisfying.

“I became very, very interested in why video games don’t interest about half of people, including all of my friends,” Code told me. “And at that point, tablets were becoming popular, and everyone had a phone. So if there was something universal about this medium, it should be being more widely adopted, yet I was seeing really clear patterns that it wasn’t. The last time I checked, which was maybe a couple years ago, there were 5 billion mobile users and around 2.2 billion mobile gamers.”

Her curiosity piqued by the discrepancy, especially as an industry insider herself, Code began to do her own research to figure out potential causes of the divide – the reason why games only seemed to consistently appeal to about half of the general computer user population, at best.

“I started doing a lot of focus groups and research and I saw really clear patterns, and I knew that if there is a clear pattern, there must be an explanation,” Code said. “What I discovered after I read Sheri Grainer Ray’s book Gender Inclusive Game Design, which she wrote in 2004, in a chapter on stimulation was how, and these are admittedly gross generalizations, but men tend to be stimulated by the sense of danger and things flashing on screen. And women, in her research, tended to be stimulated by something mentioned called a mutually-beneficial outcome to a socially significant situation. That’s when you help an NPC and they help you, for instance. In some way, that’s more significant, in the rules of the world than just the score going up.”

TRU LUV founder and CEO Brie Code

Code then dug in further, using consumer research and further study, and found a potential cause behind this divide that then provided a way forward for developing a new alternative to a traditional gaming paradigm that might prove more appealing to the large group of people who weren’t served by what the industry has traditionally produced.

“I started to read about the psychology of stimulation, and from there I was reading about the psychology of defense, and I found a very simple and clear explanation for this divide, which is that there are two human stress responses,” she said. “One of them, which is much more commonly known, is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When we experience the fight-or-flight response, in the face of challenge or pressure or danger, you have adrenaline released in your body, and that makes you instinctively want to win. So what a game designer does is create these situations of challeng,e and then give you opportunities to win and that leverages the fight-or-flight response to stress: That’s the gamification curve. But there is another human stress response discovered at the UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab in 2000, By Dr. Shelly Taylor and her colleagues. It’s very prevalent, probably about half of stress responses that humans experience, and it’s called tend-and-befriend.”

Instead of generating an adrenaline surge, it releases oxytocin in the brain, and instead of seeking a victory over a rival, people who experience this want to take care of those who are more vulnerable, connect with friends and allies, and find mutually beneficial solutions to problems jointly faced. Seeking to generate that kind fo response led to what Code and TRU LUV call AI companions, a gaming alternative that is non-zero sum and based on the tend-and-befriend principal. Code’s background as an AI programmer working on some of the most sophisticated virtual character interactions available in modern games obviously came in handy here.

Code thought she might be on to something, but didn’t anticipate the level of #SelfCare’s success, which included 500,00 downloads in just six weeks, and more than 2 million today. And most of the feedback she received from users backed up her hypotheses about what the experience provided, and what users were looking for an an alternative to a mobile gaming experience.

Fast forward to now, and TRU LUV is growing its team, and focused on iterating and developing new products to capitalize on the clear vein of interest they’ve tapped among that underserved half of mobile users. Code and her team have brought on investors whose views and portfolios align with their product vision and company ethos, including Evolve Ventures which has backed a number of socially progressive ventures, and whose managing director Julius Mokrauer actually teaches a course on the subject at Columbia Business School.

#SelfCare was already showing a promising new path forward for mobile experience development before COVID-19 struck, but the product and TRU LUV are focused on “resilience and psychological development,” so it proved well-suited to a market in which mobile users were looking for ways to make sustained isolation more pleasant. Obviously we’re just at the beginning of feeling whatever impacts come out of the COVID-19 crisis, but it seems reasonable to expect that different kinds of mobile apps that trigger responses more aligned with personal well-being will be sought after.

Code says that COVID-19 hasn’t really changed TRU LUV’s vision or approach, but that it has led to the team moving more quickly on in-progress feature production, and on some parts of their roadmap, including building social features that allow players to connect with one another as well as with virtual companions.

“We want to move our production forward a bit faster than planned in order to respond to the need,” Code said.”Also we’re looking at being able to create social experiences a little bit earlier than planned, and also to attend to the need of people to be able to connect, above and beyond people who connect through video games.”


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