Apple’s first AI paper shows it’s ready to play with other kids

The most important part of Apple publishing its first academic paper on AI is not necessarily the methods it uses to better teach artificial intelligence systems, but the fact that it published the paper at all.

Prior to the Thursday publish date, the legendarily secretive Apple has kept all of its research locked up, particularly where AI is involved.

AI is the motor that makes Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, run — among many other future and present uses. Sharing findings with academics can help advance the field for everyone, not only Apple.

AI is immensely important for Apple, which competes directly with Google, Amazon and Microsoft in bringing meaningful artificial intelligence to tech. By making its projects transparent, Apple can also hope to recruit top researchers.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

LG Levitating Speaker makes your music fly

You’ve heard of soaring music, but this is ridiculous. LG has created a speaker that actually flies.

Sort of, anyway. The LG Levitating Wireless Speaker, also known as the PJ9, hovers above its catchily-named Levitation Station base to play music with no wires, as if by magic.

The hovering speaker connects to two devices at a time over Bluetooth and kicks out 360-degree sound. When the battery runs low — after 10 hours, according to LG — the flying speaker sinks gently back into the dock. It’s no floating Death Star speaker, but then what is?

The Levitating Speaker will be shown off for the first time at CES, the annual gadget extravaganza taking place in Las Vegas in the new year. Look out for loads of previews, photos and videos of the coolest new kit right here on CNET.

7 TV trends to expect at CES 2017

For a week in early January, televisions run Vegas.

Sure there’s other stuff announced at the massive Consumer Electronics Show there: audio/video gear, phones, tablets, computers, streaming media devices, car tech, drones, action cameras, wearables, appliances and a whole pavilion worth of accessories. But TVs always seem to draw a big chunk of the buzz, and dominate the booths of the most important manufacturers there.

In 2017 I expect more of the same, with LG, Samsung and Sony grabbing attention for their big-screen debuts, while upstarts like TCL, Hisense and LeEco try to make TV waves too. I’ve been briefed by many of the major players already, and while I can’t tell you exactly what they’ll announce (yet), I can point toward some of the bigger trends. Here’s a taste.

4K for all

Non-4K TVs won’t go away entirely in 2017, but at CES in particular they’ll be rarer than $5-blackjack tables. Basically every TV on display, announced or talked about will have 4K resolution, from the massive-screened booth magnets to the 40-inch demo units used to show off another technology entirely. All those extra pixels (four times as many as standard 1080p TVs) don’t really cost much extra to manufacture anymore, and all but the cheapest TVs sold in 2017 will have 4K resolution.

HDR (and other confusing terms) everywhere

High dynamic range debuted last year in earnest, and this year it will follow the same path as 4K: into everything. I expect nearly every TV announced at the show to handle HDR content, whether in HDR10, Dolby Vision or both. HDR on a cheaper TV won’t necessarily mean a better picture, but don’t expect TV makers to tell you that. What they will do is bombard you with other new terms designed to promote superior image quality, from quantum dots to nits to percentage of DCI coverage to local dimming zones to mini-brands like SUHD and Super UHD.

OLED is the answer, how much cheaper is the question

In the last few years OLED technology has emerged as image quality champion. LG is the only manufacturer capable of mass-producing big-screen OLED TVs, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon (even if Sony’s rumored OLED comes out, it will use an LG panel). Despite the lack of other OLEDs LG still has some competition from high-end LCDs, however, so in 2016 it dropped its prices lower than ever. Next year I expect those prices to drop further, but I have no idea how much.

How can Samsung compete against LG’s OLED?

Beyond its picture quality chops OLED also has plenty of wow factor, especially if LG brings its rumored wallpaper TV to market. Samsung is the world’s number one TV maker, but it needs to do more than show another fancy-named curved TV to steal LG’s thunder. I wouldn’t put it past Samsung to distract from pesky storylines re: exploding phones (and dangerous washing machines) by releasing some really cool concept TV, along the lines of the modular, bendable and/or supermassive displays of yore. QLED, anyone?

3D TV is dead. Is curved TV next?

In early 2016 Samsung basically killed off 3D TV by removing the feature entirely from all of its TVs. But the company has kept curved TVs afloat, while rival LG has pared them down (only one 2016 series of OLED was curved) and Sony, Vizio and everyone else said “hard pass.” Will the curve live for another year, and will anyone besides Samsung continue hawking it?

Chinese names get more aggressive

After a couple of years in the shadows, the big Chinese TV makers are set to make a splash in 2017. Expect major TV announcements from TCL, Hisense (here’s a taste) and LeEco, the company that bought Vizio, and maybe others. TCL (now the No. 4 brand in North America) and Hisense (which bought Sharp in 2015) are known primarily for budget models but could make a stronger higher-end play, with or without the Roku operating system. Meanwhile LeEco’s 85-inch behemoth is tailor-made for CES… could it go even bigger? I mean, what’s CES without at least a couple 100-inch TVs?

Plenty of hype and pretty pictures, and a few cool surprises

I’ve been going to CES since the days when press kits were made of actual paper (and you needed a Toshiba rolly bag to carry them all home). Over the years there’s one trend that’s becoming more and more apparent: Don’t expect many real details at the show. Prices? Availability? Yeah, right. Models beyond flagships and concept displays? Good luck. Information that’s not subject to change when the TV actually hits the market? HA! Heck, last year Samsung only showed one model of TV at CES, saving the real meat for mid-April.

The sets TV makers want us in the press to talk about, photograph and feature in videos are the flagship TVs and the crazy concept sets that might never see the light of day, but sure do look cool. And face it, aren’t those the ones you’d rather hear about anyway?

I’m looking forward to seeing the new TVs in person anyway, even if they’re preproduction samples or mock-ups, and I’m always surprised by a bunch of stuff I learn, even after all these years. TVs are still huge business, and CES is the motherlode of big screens. I’ll be there to cover the biggest ones, so stay tuned.

Smart gadgets need security. Startups, that’s your cue

At CES next week, expect booth after booth of smart devices — and a host of approaches to their security.

You know, locks, cameras, appliances, doorbells, electrical outlets — anything you can put a sensor on. Many of these will be made by brand-new companies, hoping to capitalize on the mania for devices that can talk with each other.

The chatter between all those gadgets — known collectively as the internet of things — is going to be cacophonous. Machina Research estimates the IoT market will jump to 27 billion devices by 2025, up from 6 billion now, and will generate roughly $3 trillion in revenue.

You may find a lot to like in the internet of things. Wouldn’t it be nice if your lights turned on when you pulled into the driveway? That could happen if your car is talking to your house. Need to double-check that you locked the house before you board a flight? The internet of things can do that too, assuming your doors are connected to your home’s Wi-Fi.

You may, though, not like the vulnerabilities that come with that convenience. Those conversations create the opportunity for digital eavesdropping. And once the bad guys access your home — even virtually — private and personal information doesn’t stay that way.

That’s why you’ll be hearing a lot about IoT security at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, where more than 500 exhibitors making internet-of-things sensors will pitch their wares. Hundreds more will hawk accessories, appliances and security for your smart home. It’s all part of the annual tech extravaganza that is CES, which last year brought you LG’s rollable OLED screen, Parrot’s Disco drone and Samsung’s internet-connected super fridge.

The emphasis on the internet of things won’t be limited to the slew of companies on the expo floor — including Ring (video doorbells), Blink (home security cameras) and Petcube (cameras for Fido and Tabby) — but will also encompass the variety of conference sessions on topics ranging from IoT business models to overviews of what the “domestic digital future” might look like.

Squeezing in security

Jenny Fielding, managing director of the IoT program at startup accelerator Techstars, is flying into Las Vegas especially to hear pitches on wearables and on the internet of things. She’s already worked with companies like robotic toy company Sphero and industrial IoT company Pillar Technologies, and at CES she’ll be looking to invest in a wide range of IoT areas, from industrial applications to the home front.

She knows that IoT startups, consumed with getting a company and a product off the ground, may not always give security its due. The fundamentals — and sometimes the frills — of hardware and software often take priority. The philosophy has been, if consumers aren’t thinking about the security of their smart baby monitor, why should a startup?

That’s starting to change.

“You’re running a startup, and you’re doing a million things and you also have to think about securing your end users’ data and hardware,” Fielding said. “It’s something startups are realizing, that it is important to have certain levels of security around their applications.”

It’s can be a struggle, though.

“The first thing to realize is security is not a feature that sells anything,” said Earlence Fernandes, a researcher in IoT security at the University of Michigan. Security isn’t the core function of these devices and that’s one reason there are so many insecure devices on the market, he said.

AT&T’s 2016 Cybersecurity Insights report expressed a similar concern: “Items like network-connected wearables or smart coffee pots will become of increasing interest to hackers due to the often limited attention paid to security in their development cycles.”

At the Defcon hacker conference, a software engineer demonstrated how he could hack August’s first- and second-generation smart locks. The company quickly fixed the vulnerabilities.

Such problems are widespread, researchers say. An estimated 70 percent of IoT devices had vulnerabilities ranging from password security to encryption, according to a study conducted by HP in 2014. In the same study, HP found an average of 25 vulnerabilities per device in the 10 most common IoT products on the market.

‘No hack-proof system’

Butterfleye, which makes smart home security cameras, is looking for ways to design IoT devices that don’t rely on the owner’s home network. The San Mateo, California-based company uses two forms of encryption and stores information in the cloud, rather than the device itself.

Butterfleye will be at CES. Brandon Nader, senior marketing manager, says a hacker would have to be inside your home with access to the camera, as well as have your phone in hand, and be logged into the app, in order to access the video.

“There is no hack-proof system,” said Brandon Nader, senior marketing manager for Butterfleye. “The objective is to go as far as you can to make it really hard for that to happen.”

Security hasn’t been a selling point in the past, but consumers are starting to take notice. They’ve been barraged by reports of hacks that could hit them personally — those big breaches at Yahoo, for instance — and of incidents for which some of the blame could fall on devices in their own homes.

In October, Twitter, Netflix, Reddit, Spotify and other big services were knocked offline when a distributed denial-of-service attack, commonly known as DDoS, hijacked security cameras, baby monitors and other IoT devices that had been infected with malware. The malware had commandeered the devices, directing them to bombard key sites with enough traffic to paralyze them.

The ability to take over devices also means hackers can gain insight into what you’re doing and when. For example, someone could figure out when you’re home based on your smart thermostat’s presets. You don’t leave the heat cranking when you’re not home, do you?

“Security has moved from the tech pages to the main pages,” said John Curran, managing director of communications, media and tech at Accenture.

A 2015 Accenture report showed that 54 percent of consumers were cautious about what they shared because they didn’t feel confident their online data was secure. They did, however, prefer trusted brands.

That may benefit startups — including those in CES’s startup central, dubbed Eureka Park, introducing themselves to the world for the first time — that make security a priority now. Eventually, it could help ensure that these companies survive long after they tear their booths down for the year.

After all, what better way to build trust than with solid security.

“It’s the companies that figure this out who will have the biggest advantage and who will ultimately have the best position in the marketplace,” Accenture’s Curran said.

Samsung gets wacky: High-tech skin care, a Post-It printer and more

Samsung has a bunch of wacky new products to show off for 2017.

The gadgets come from the company’s internal incubator for offbeat ideas, the Samsung C-Lab. They’ll be among the many tech treats shown off for the first time at CES, the annual gadget extravaganza taking place in Las Vegas in January. Look out for loads of previews, photos and videos of the coolest new kit right here on CNET.

Let’s kick off with Tag+, a little button that pairs with a toy and connects to an app. It serves up online fun stuff and joins up with other kids who have the same toy.

That isn’t the only fun gadget Samsung is ready to show off. Mopic is a phone case that lets you watch 3D content without a pair of glasses, in case you thought that died five years ago. And the brilliantly-named Mangoslab Nemonic prints from your smart device onto Post-It notes.

Skin in the game

Samsung wants to look after your skin with Lumini and S-Skin, two skin care devices that monitor your complexion. The S-Skin device beams LED light onto your skin to rejuvenate blemishes. It also comes with biodegradable micro-needle patches that push teeny-tiny needles into your face. Because you’re worth it!

Lumini is a camera that detects your face and analyses skin care emergencies such as pimples — gasp! — freckles — disaster! — and increased pores — oh the horror! It then tells you what products to rub on your face to make sure you conform to society’s crushingly unattainable beauty standards.

Smarter smart TV

Samsung also unveiled a trio of updated smart TV services that group together batches of TV shows and related content into personalised categories: Sports, Music and TV Plus.

The Sports option pulls together all the information on your favourite team into one place, no matter which channel is showing the game. The Music service will tell you what song is playing in a live TV show, like Shazam for TV. It supports streaming services including Spotify, Napster, Deezer, Sirius XM and more. It launches in France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

TV Plus creates a new electronic program guide (EPG) based on your favourite shows. Already available in the US and Asia, it comes to Europe in April 2017.

In 2017, which comic book film are you most excited to see?

This year brought to the big screen some great, some good and some questionable films, including yet another handful of comic book films.

Now, with 2016 (thankfully) nearly behind us, we’re looking ahead to some of the fun things 2017 has to offer — starting with some pop culture. Read up on next year’s upcoming movies, then let us know which comic book film you’re most excited to see next year. (For added fun, each title link below takes you to the film’s trailer on CNET — if we have one.)

The LEGO Batman Movie

Opens: February 10, 2017

OK, so it may not exactly be a comic film, but it certainly looks like it’ll be fun for all! Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) returns to Gotham and must save the city from the Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Rosario Dawson, Jenny Slate and Michael Cera also lend their voices as Barbara Gordon, Harley Quinn and Robin, respectively.

Logan

Opens: March 3, 2017

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The final outing of Wolverine on the big screen features an aged Hugh Jackman who’s approached by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) to take care of (we assume) X-23. Naturally, violence ensues and I’m sure there’ll be some mutant-on-mutant fighting. There are definitely beards though.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Opens: May 5, 2017

Pretty sure Baby Groot is just going to save the universe and we’re all going to be even more in love with him than we already are. Maybe along the way we’ll set up some “Avengers: Infinity War” plot lines and get some Star-Lord and Gamora action, or at least resolution.

Wonder Woman

Opens: June 2, 2017

Do you think she has the power to save the DCEU? Played by Gal Gadot, this (sort-of) origin story sees Princess Diana leaving her home to fight in World War I alongside soldiers such as Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Opens: July 7, 2017

Spidey as played by an actual teenager! Tom Holland plays the titular hero after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” introduced him to the world. We know Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) also makes an appearance, but we still don’t know who Zendaya plays.

‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’

Opens: October 6, 2017

This sequel to “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, which was based on a 2012 series called “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar (who also wrote and produced the first film), pretty much all we know about this film is who it stars: Taron Egerton, Channing Tatum, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry. But you’ve seen the first film (or “Kick-Ass”), you know we’re in for another knockdown bloody film.

‘Thor: Ragnarok’

Opens: November 3, 2017

The third Thor (Chris Hemsworth) outing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will pair the god with Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk. It was recently confirmed that the film will borrow from the Planet Hulk comic storyline, with director Taika Waititi confirming to Total Film magazine it takes place on Sakaar and has an “out there” plot.

Justice League

Opens: November 17, 2017

Directed by Zach Snyder (“Batman v Superman”), this DCEU entry will be the first to bring the titular superhero group together. The film stars Henry Cavill (Superman), Ben Affleck (Batman), Gadot (Wonder Woman), Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Ezra Miller (The Flash) and Ray Fisher (Cyborg). Like the other films set to be released late next year, we don’t know much about the plot except that it has a lot of people in it, including: Jesse Eisenberg, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Willem Dafoe and Jeremy Irons.

But 2017 isn’t just about comics. There are more than 50 (!) films we’re already gearing up to watch next year. What’re you already counting the days to see?

Child uses sleeping mom’s fingerprints to buy Pokemon gifts

A

fingerprint-ID locked phone wasn’t going to stop this 6-year-old from catching ’em all.

Online purchases have been a pain in the wallet for parents, with the Federal Trade Commission hitting Apple, Google and Amazon with complaints accusing the companies of making it too easy for kids to make in-app purchases.

Kids buying online without their parents’ consent has cost these companies millions in settlements. For Bethany Howell, in Arkansas, her daughter’s unsolicited shopping spree reportedly cost her $250 in Pokemon presents.

The wannabe Ash Ketchum — or maybe Team Rocket is more apt — used her mother’s thumb to unlock a phone and open the Amazon app as mom napped on the couch just days before Christmas, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Little Ashlynd ordered 13 Pokemon gifts for herself, and told her parents she was “shopping” when they thought their Amazon account was hacked. The 6-year-old at least reassured her parents though that she got the shipping address right.

Howell was only allowed to return four of the items, after her daughter’s scheme was foiled. She told Ashlynd that Santa Claus learned about her fingerprint folly and wouldn’t be bringing her all the gifts.

Apparently Saint Nick isn’t the only one who sees you when you’re sleeping. So parents, start wearing gloves to bed.

Apple beats Samsung to top holiday phone activations

Apple had nearly twice as many phone activations this holiday season as its rival Samsung, according to new research released Tuesday.

About 44 percent of new phone activations during the holidays were Apple’s iPhones, compared with Samsung’s 21 percent, said mobile-app analytics firm Flurry. While the iPhone continues to be the gift of choice, Flurry noted Samsung is “slowly growing in popularity throughout the holiday season, up 1 percent from last year.”

Rounding out the list of top manufacturers by activation were Huawei with 3 percent and LG, Amazon, Oppo, Xiaomi and Motorola with 2 percent each. The wide gap between the top two and the rest of the field underscores the long-standing domination Apple and Samsung have had over the global phone market.

Medium-size phones, such as Apple’s iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7, continue to be the most popular mobile type, but their popularity waned from 54 percent last year to 45 percent this holiday season, Flurry found.

Some of that decline was due to phablets — those oversized handsets like Apple’s new iPhone 7 Plus — which continue to eat away at sales of medium-size phones. During the holidays, phablets accounted for 37 percent of device activations compared with 27 percent during the 2015 holiday season, Flurry reported.

The data, derived from examining app activations throughout the week leading up to Christmas day and the start of Chanukah, comes amid an industrywide “phone fatigue.” Consumers in mature markets, like the US and China, have been turned off by a lack of exciting features in new phones, causing more of them to stick with their current smartphones.

Church accidentally prints words for rap song instead of hymn

We pray to God hoping that he’s listenin’.

These aren’t my words. They’re those of Tupac Shakur, from his fine anthem “Hail Mary.”

You might think there’s an almost religious quality about such lines. The rest of the song, however, is a touch more troublesome.

For example: “I ain’t a killer but don’t push me, revenge is like the sweetest joy, Next to gettin’ p****.”

The congregation at the 2016 Catholic Joy to the World Festival in Colombo, Sri Lanka, was encouraged a couple of weeks ago to intone Tupac. The lyrics to this “Hail Mary” were printed in the program. Yes, instead of the words to the prayer with which so many Catholics are familiar.

Andrew Choksy, who attended the service, told CNN: “A few of the older ladies in front of us could not stop looking at the printed booklet.”

This was surely human error, but how could this possibly have happened? The Archdiocese of Colombo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Father Sunil De Silva of archdiocese told CNN that there had been a mistaken download from the internet.

And who might have been responsible for this? In his words: “A young boy.”

Perhaps entrusting young boys to download the words to a prayer is not unlike companies entrusting their Twitter accounts to young boys. They end up tweeting, for example, crotch-grabbing jokes — as happened to KFC.

Sometimes with young boys, it’s like this: “I got a head with no screws in it, what can I do?”

Yes, of course this is another line from Tupac’s “Hail Mary.”

Police request Echo recordings for homicide investigation

You have the right to remain silent — but your smart devices might not.

Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot are in millions of homes now, with holiday sales more than quadrupling from 2015. Always listening for its wake word, the breakthrough smart speakers boast seven microphones waiting to take and record your commands.

Now, Arkansas police are hoping an Echo found at a murder scene in Bentonville can aid their investigation.

First reported by The Information, investigators filed search warrants to Amazon (see below), requesting any recordings between November 21 and November 22, 2015, from James A. Bates, who was charged with murder after a man was strangled in a hot tub.

While investigating, police noticed the Echo in the kitchen and pointed out that the music playing in the home could have been voice activated through the device. While the Echo records only after hearing the wake word, police are hoping that ambient noise or background chatter could have accidentally triggered the device, leading to some more clues.

Amazon stores all the voice recordings on its servers, in the hopes of using the data to improve its voice assistant services. While you can delete your personal voice data, there’s still no way to prevent any recordings from being saved on a server.

“It is believed that these records are retained by Amazon.com and that they are evidence related to the case under investigation,” police wrote in the search warrant.

Amazon has not sent any recordings to the officers but did provide Bates’ account information to authorities, according to court documents. The retailer giant said it doesn’t release customer information without a “valid and binding legal demand.”

“Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course,” the company said in a statement.

Even without Amazon’s help, police may be able to crack into the Echo, according to the warrant. Officers believe they can tap into the hardware on the smart speakers, which could “potentially include time stamps, audio files or other data.”

The investigation has focused on other smart devices as well. Officers seized Bates’ phone but were unable to break through his password, which only served to delay the investigation.

“Our agency now has the ability to utilize data extraction methods that negate the need for passcodes and efforts to search Victor and Bates’ devices will continue upon issuance of this warrant.”

Police also found a Nest thermostat, a Honeywell alarm system, wireless weather monitoring in the backyard and WeMo devices for lighting at the smart home crime scene.

Ultimately, it might have been information from a smart meter that proved to be the most useful. With every home in Bentonville hooked up to a smart meter that measures hourly electricity and water usage, police looked at the data and noticed Bates used an “excessive amount of water” during the alleged drowning.

Officers have also seized an iPhone 6S, a Macbook Pro, a PlayStation 4 and three tablets in the investigation.