TIME Autos

Google Wants Automakers’ Help to Build Self-Driving Cars

Vehicle prototype photo of Google's self-driving car.
Google Prototype of Google's self-driving car.

And automakers are also interested in working with Google

It doesn’t look like Google is planning to go it alone in the world of cars. An executive for the search giant told Reuters Wednesday that the company plans to talk to traditional automakers like General Motors, Ford and Toyota as it aims to bring self-driving cars to the mainstream by 2020.

“For us to jump in and say that we can do this better, that’s arrogant,” Chris Urmson, Google’s lead on its self-driving car initiative, told Reuters. But the company still hasn’t yet decided whether it will build its own cars or offer software and parts for cars manufactured by others.

Jon Lauckner, GM’s chief technology officer, said earlier this week that his company would “be open to having a discussion” with Google about developing self-driving cars. Companies like GM, Audi and Mercedes-Benz are already well on their way to developing their own driverless systems.

As part of Google’s plans for the auto world, the company is reportedly developing a car-specific version of its next operating system, Android M, that will allow drivers to access the Internet and use Android apps without synching their smartphones to their vehicles.

[Reuters]

TIME Smartphones

This Is China’s Answer to Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus

Xiaomi Mi Note
ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images Lei Jun, chairman and CEO of China's Xiaomi Inc. presents the company's new product, the Mi Note on Jan. 15, 2015 in Beijing, China.

Xiaomi is out with a high-end phablet

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi is going after Apple with its latest device.

Xiaomi on Thursday unveiled the Mi Note, a 5.7-inch premium smartphone that company CEO Lei Jun specifically identified as slimmer and lighter than Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus, while boasting a larger screen, Engadget reported. Jun added that the Mi Note’s 13-megapixel camera does’t protrude from the phone’s back — a jab at how iPhone 6 users often complain about how the camera lens sticks out.

There are two options for the Mi Note: a lower-resolution model, on sale Jan. 27, and a premium resolution phone (Mi Note Pro), on sale by late March. Off-contract, the base phone starts at 2,299RMB ($370) for the 16GB model, while the Mi Note Pro has 64GB of storage and is 3,299RMB ($530). The Mi Note Pro is the most expensive phone ever sold by Xiaomi, which first became popular for making well-received phones at affordable prices.

Xiaomi, which is only four years old, became the world’s most valuable startup last month. Known as “China’s Apple,” the company is China’s number one smartphone manufacturer, and number three in the world by sales, behind Apple and Samsung.

[Engadget]

 

TIME Social Media

Study: Social Media Users Aren’t More Stressed Out

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Getty Images

But they are more aware of their peers' stress

People who spend a lot of time online or using social media do not have higher levels of stress compared to those who don’t, a new survey suggests.

The Pew Research Center surveyed 1,801 people about how much stress they feel based on a scale that assesses how much people consider their lives to be uncontrollable, unpredictable or overloaded. Despite growing concern over “digital stress,” the survey found that Internet, social media and cellphone users did not have higher stress levels than less tech-inclined participants. On top of that, women who use a lot of social media report being less stressed overall.

However, people who use social media are more aware of stressful events in other people’s lives, like the loss of a job or a death in the family, which can contribute to an individual’s own stress levels. Women with an average-sized Facebook network were aware of 13% more stressful events in their close friends’ lives and aware of 14% more in the lives of acquaintances. Men were 8% more aware of stressful events in their friends lives and 6% more aware of events in their acquaintances’ lives.

Women reported they were most often informed of other people’s stress from photos shared online on sites like Pinterest and Twitter, whereas men’s awareness came most often from text messages, email and LinkedIn. Women who use Facebook and Pinterest are typically aware of 29% more stressful events in the lives of their closest friends and family, and men who text and are on Facebook and LinkedIn are aware of 67% more stressful events for friends and family.

Awareness of certain events happening in the lives of other people, like the death of child or partner, resulted in more stress for women. For men, friends being accused of crime or getting demoted at work stressed them out most.

“Learning about and being reminded of undesirable events in other people’s lives makes people feel more stress themselves,” said study author Keith Hampton, a Rutgers University scholar, in a statement. “This finding about the cost of caring adds to the evidence that stress can be contagious.”

So while you may not be experiencing Fear Of Missing Out every time you log online, being inundated with the goings-on of others can be a stressful experience overall.

TIME technology

What Wikipedia’s First Users Got Wrong

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Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images The "Wikipedia" logo is seen on a tablet screen on Dec. 4, 2012 in Paris

The web behemoth went live on Jan. 15, 2001

These days the real challenge would be finding someone who doesn’t use Wikipedia all the time. But, back in 2003, when TIME first mentioned the word in its pages, the challenge in writing about Wikipedia was explaining what it was.

Wikipedia had launched on Jan. 15, 2001 — that’s 14 years ago Thursday — and contained a mere 150,000 entries when TIME explained that “To contribute to wikipedia.org, an online encyclopedia, all you need is Web access.” The 113-word blurb continued:

Wikipedia (“wiki” comes from the Hawaiian word for fast) invites visitors to create new entries or edit existing ones. This may sound like a recipe for chaos–a disclaimer on the site reads, “It is of course possible for biased, out-of-date or incorrect information to be posted.” But since thousands of people review updates and changes every day, false information usually gets corrected.

Still, even two years later, in 2005, it was obvious that not everybody got the point. That was when TIME profiled Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and discovered that many potential users, misunderstanding his product and his role, made a major mistake: they thought that he had written every page. As TIME reported:

…the e-mails that make him laugh out loud come from concerned newcomers who have just discovered they have total freedom to edit just about any Wikipedia entry at the click of a button. Oh my God, they write, you’ve got a major security flaw!

As the old techie saying goes, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Wikipedia is a free open-source encyclopedia, which basically means that anyone can log on and add to or edit it. And they do. It has a stunning 1.5 million entries in 76 languages–and counting. Academics are upset by what they see as info anarchy. (An Encyclopaedia Britannica editor once compared Wikipedia to a public toilet seat because you don’t know who used it last.) Loyal Wikipedians argue that collaboration improves articles over time, just as free open-source software like Linux and Firefox is more robust than for-profit competitors because thousands of amateur programmers get to look at the code and suggest changes. It’s the same principle that New Yorker writer James Surowiecki asserted in his best seller The Wisdom of Crowds: large groups of people are inherently smarter than an élite few.

At that point, Wikipedia’s 1.5 million entries included 500,000 in English.

Today’s article count? On its birthday, the encyclopedia boasts about 4.7 million entries in English alone — and that’s perhaps the only statistic in the world for which citing Wikipedia isn’t, as TIME once put it, a recipe for chaos.

Read more: A Brief History of Wikipedia

TIME apps

Hands-on: Google Translate Is Now a Way Better Travel Companion

It's not perfect, but it'll help you get around and order food

A new Google Translate update released for Android and iOS Wednesday should let you have more seamless conversations with people speaking other languages, Google says, as well as translate road signs on the fly using your phone’s camera.

The new functionality seems almost like it’s beamed in from the future, but does it actually work? We took the new features for a spin to find out.

Conversation Mode

Google Translate on Android was already pretty sophisticated, allowing users to conduct conversations across languages by alternating between two language detection modes. But the new update makes real-time conversations even more seamless. When the app is in listening mode and set to translate between a pair of languages, you can simply place your phone between two people and speak normally. The app can naturally detect which of the two languages you’re speaking on the fly. After you say a sentence, the app will present a written translation and speak the words in the foreign language as well.

In our tests using a high-end Moto X smartphone, the app was able to translate several sentences flawlessly when I spoke with a colleague fluent in French about Paris. Some sentences came back in English somewhat garbled (“what you eat and when you were there” instead of “what did you eat when you were there”), but for the most part it was pretty easy to maintain a dialogue using context clues.

A conversation with a Spanish speaker didn’t go as well — but the speaker in our test wasn’t fully fluent. The app seemed to get tripped up several times by her American accent. It had a difficult time differentiating between words that are similar in Spanish but wildly different in English (for instance, the app several times interpreted Sí, which means yes in Spanish, as Si, the Spanish word for if, or the letter “C” in English). For this conversation we had to hold the phone up to our mouths, using it more like a traditional microphone. It seems likely that the app is more attuned to native speakers of particular languages.

Translations in Spanish, French and English alike fell apart pretty quickly if we tried to move beyond simple sentences. The app isn’t good at interpreting a pause in speech as a period ending a sentence or a comma before a new clause. So while conversations are “real time,” they’re a bit halting as you wait for the translations, and they have to be simple so as not to confuse the app.

The translations also often skipped over a lot of proper nouns, including relatively simple names like Jonathan. And like all voice-recognition apps, it worked best in a quiet space, which may not always be available during real-world use.

Scanning Mode

The update also introduces a nifty new feature to translate text in the real world using a camera phone. Previously, users had to take a snapshot, wait for the app to scan all the text within the frame, and then see the translations. Now, the app can translate text on the fly. A “Stop” sign changes to a “Parada” sign before your eyes. The feature also works pretty well for itemized lists (like restaurant menus), but it gets finicky when you try to translate a whole block of text.

Conclusion

Overall, the new features would make Google Translate a great companion for a trip abroad. The app seems useful for handling simple requests, like asking for directions or ordering a meal. It can’t fully shatter a language barrier, but for two people who don’t speak each other’s language at all, it would certainly create a bridge toward understanding.

Our biggest request, however: a button you can press to explain what the app does in any language, so people won’t freak out when you try to shove a smartphone in their face.

TIME Innovation

Check Out This Gorgeous Throwback iMac Concept

It's weird and beautiful, but it isn't real

Remember Apple’s original, boxy desktop computers like the Apple II series? What if Apple designed a modern iMac taking design cues from those old machines and fusing them with the slim aluminum unibody of modern day iMacs?

That’s exactly what the designers at Curved Labs had in mind when making this throwback iMac concept. Their design puts a present-day face on the Apple computers of yore, while ripping out a bunch of mass out of the back.

While it’s not a real product, the Curved team says their concept iMac would have all the fixings of a modern desktop, like an 11.6-inch touchscreen, 128GB of solid state storage, an SD card slot, camera and microphone.

TIME Crime

3 Ways Facebook Might Just Save Your Life Someday

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Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images A thumbs up or "Like" icon at the Facebook main campus in Menlo Park, California, May 15, 2012.

Facebook could be the future of public safety

What do 1.35 billion people across the world have in common? They’re using Facebook every month.

No social network, smartphone or language has ever connected the number of people that Facebook does. And that unparalleled reach — not to mention how much time people spend on the site — has given the site a sense of public responsibility, as evidenced by the company’s Tuesday announcement that it will start showing Amber Alerts for missing children in users’ News Feeds. That marks one of Facebook’s most organized forays into public safety, efforts that have also included Ebola donation banners and a feature making it easier to let friends know you’re safe when disaster strikes.

Facebook is still foremost a private, friend-to-friend space. But the introduction of sponsored posts, Pages, Groups and News Feed has also turned it into a modern-day bulletin board: a place to share digital flyers about missing persons and pets, wanted criminals and unsolved crimes, ongoing crises and calls-to-action. And the lion’s share of Facebook users — 1.12 billion every month — access the site on mobile devices, meaning the site has far more immediacy and penetration than any public safety system before it.

Facebook is still in its early days of experimenting with ways to leverage its scale to serve as a safety platform. But if the motivation behind putting Amber Alerts on Facebook is that information spread via the site has helped bring missing children back home before, then we should expect Facebook to launch even more ways to help the public — some of which might just save your life someday.

Here are some possibilities:

An alternative for dialing 9-1-1

Facebook has been used as a “text to 9-1-1″ for those who can’t call the police directly due to service limits or threats of violence. In 2011, a Utah mother and her son were rescued from a five-day abduction after the woman, who didn’t have phone access, snuck into a closet with a computer and posted a Facebook status asking for help. Last year, an American climber fell into an 80 ft. crevasse in the Himalayas, only to be recused after he posted a plea for help on Facebook. And over the summer, a 10-year-old girl posted a plea for help after a tree fell on her dad and there wasn’t any cell service.

It wouldn’t be that far of a stretch to see Facebook establish an emergency account, that, when messaged, relayed information to police. Facebook can automatically geotag posts and messages via smartphone (if you’ve granted it permission to do so), letting responders know your whereabouts. That’s a level of location accuracy that neither texting nor wireless calling to 9-1-1 can provide — a problem that’s currently on the government’s agenda.

Medical help via crowdsourcing

Sharing photos on Facebook has resulted in people getting medical advice or attention. In 2010, a British nurse was flipping through photos of a friend’s daughter when she noticed the two-year-old was displaying signs of eye cancer, and advised her friend to seek medical attention. In 2011, a father shared a photo of his son, who had developed a strange facial rash, with a doctor he was friends with on Facebook. The doctor advised him to seek medical treatment, and his son was diagnosed with leukemia. In both cases, parents were urged to seek treatment for their children before they might have otherwise.

Facebook wouldn’t be the first to organize this digital doctor’s appointment: There’s already a photo-based diagnosis app called Figure 1, which has been touted as an “Instagram for doctors.” It allows users to upload photos of themselves before getting advice from medical professionals, who must be verified to take part. It’s a way for patients to access on-the-go, free healthcare, but also for doctors to learn more about medicine. Still, the one thing Figure 1 lacks is the user base of Facebook or Facebook-owned Instagram, which boasts 300 million monthly active users.

In this regard, Facebook could leverage its massive user base to make medical miracles happen. Take bone marrow transplants, for example: Potential marrow donors must register and provide DNA samples before they’re matched. This naturally limits the donor pool and lowers patients’ odds of receiving a transplant. One bone marrow donor, who was matched to a leukemia patient, has spoken out about how a Facebook advertisement drove him to register. There are several national campaigns to invite donors to register, but Facebook’s reach is on a whole other level.

Finding missing pets

Though it’s hard to imagine an Amber Alert for missing pets, Facebook could leverage its geolocation services to allow users to opt into hyperlocal notifications. Several Facebook Pages already exist for the purpose of sharing lost pet information — they’ve located missing pets and even kidnapped animals — but the regions they serve are often far too large: members of a lost dogs page for the state of Texas, for example, post pups several times per hour.

In the mean time, though, there’s the option of purchasing local Facebook ads. One pet owner who lost his cat in 2012 paid for his Facebook post to be promoted to 60,000 users nearby. Shortly after, a woman who had seen the cat then got in touch with the owner, who was later able to track down his cat with the new information.

TIME Social Networking

Why MySpace Still Gets Tons of Visitors on Thursdays

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Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images The "Myspace" logo is seen on a tablet screen on December 4, 2012 in Paris.

Hint: They've come for a throwback

MySpace might have taken a licking, but it keeps on ticking, according to a revealing interview with the CEO published Wednesday.

MySpace CEO Tim Vanderhook told the Wall Street Journal that the site still draws 50 million visitors a month. That’s a massive 575% leap over last year’s traffic.

But even more intriguing is that MySpace gets a weekly surge of visitors every Thursday. What explains that bump?

It turns out it’s probably due to a weekly social media ritual called “Throwback Thursday” (or #TBT), in which users share long-forgotten photos, often from school or summer camp, and maybe tag a few other friends or family members along the way. Vanderhook said that some of these nostalgia-seekers return to MySpace every Thursday to raid their image libraries like a dusty old attic before heading over to post them on Twitter or Instagram.

“They may not visit every day, but they come back once a week or once a month,” Vanderhook told the Journal. The phenomenon may reinforce MySpace’s reputation as a mid-2000’s throwback, but it also helps the site stay alive and kicking.

TIME Gadgets

We Just Learned a Little More About the Apple Watch

New details emerge about Apple's upcoming wearable device

A leaked iPhone app is revealing new details about Apple’s upcoming Apple Watch, which is due out early this year, according to a new report this week. The Apple Watch will be able to send text messages using your voice, remind you to stand up once in a while and track your heart rate. A companion app for your iPhone will help you customize your Apple Watch and arrange its home screen.

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