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CES 2019: ‘Family tech’ gadgets appeal to parental anxiety

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Matt O’Brien, The Associated Press


Published Thursday, January 10, 2019 8:49PM EST

LAS VEGAS — Every year, the CES gadget show brings more devices promising to make life a little bit easier for harried parents.

Sure, the kids might love them too: who wouldn’t want a computerized Harry Potter wand that also teaches coding? The Las Vegas show’s growing “family tech” sector encompasses products that range from artificially intelligent toys and baby monitors to internet-connected breast pumps.

Their common thread is an appeal to parental anxiety about raising smart kids, occupying their time, tracking their whereabouts and making sure they’re healthy and safe.

Some also come with subtle trade-offs. “Technology makes us forget what we know about life,” said psychologist Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies people’s relationships with machines. She’s particularly concerned about robots that seek to befriend or babysit young children.

NOT-SO-IMAGINARY FRIENDS

Take the cute, furry Woobo, meant to be a real-life version of a child’s imaginary friend that can help set tooth-brushing routines, answer complex questions and play educational games. It’s part of a new cottage industry of sociable toys, which includes robots like Cozmo and Sony’s dog-like Aibo.

A gentle pull at the ears switches the screen-faced Woobo into listening mode. The $149 toy talks in a child-like voice and makes a game out of boring chores that might otherwise require a parent’s nagging. Its makers say Woobo doesn’t glue kids to its screen because it invites them to go find things in the home, help parents cook dinner or play family games like charades.

“Our focus on the content side is not to replace parents,” said Shen Guo, who co-founded Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Woobo after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. “It’s to enhance family time.”

But its appeal for a child’s emotional attachment and nurturing sets off alarm bells for Turkle, who has been warning against what she calls “artificial intimacy” since the Tamagotchi digital pet craze of the 1990s.

Research has shown the benefits of children playing out their inner feelings and worries by projecting them onto inert dolls. But Turkle says that doesn’t work when the toys seem real enough to have their own feelings.

“Pretend empathy is not a good thing,” Turkle said. “Everything we know about children’s development is that if you read to a child, what’s going on is the relationship, the talking, the connection, the mentoring, the safety, the sense that people love learning. Why do we think this is a good idea to give this to some robot?”

IS YOUR BABY BREATHING?

Talk to makers of the next generation of baby monitors unveiled at CES and you’d be surprised that generations of children survived infancy without artificial intelligence systems analyzing their every breath.

“Babies want to breathe. Babies want to live,” says Colt Seman, co-founder of Los Angeles-based startup Miku, which promises to monitor breathing and heart rate without letting parents get overly worked up about it.

Regulators haven’t approved any baby monitors for medical use and instead recommend parents focus on providing a safe sleeping environment. Some doctors worry that such devices create additional stress for parents.

Unlike most past offerings, the latest crop of baby monitors that measure vital signs are “contactless” — meaning they don’t work by attaching some electronics to a baby’s sock or chest. Raybaby’s device resembles a one-eyed robot that detects breathing patterns using radar technology. The non-ionizing radiation it emits is at low levels, but might still turn off some parents already concerned about keeping their babies too close to smartphones.

Most of the other devices rely on computer vision. A camera by Nanit watches a baby from above and measures sleeping patterns by tracking the slight movements of a specially-designed swaddle. It also uses the data it collects to recommend more consistent sleep times. Nanit’s Aaron Pollack acknowledges that some parents might still check Nanit’s phone app to check breathing data five times a night “out of sheer anxiety.”

“We’re not trying to prevent that,” he said. “We’re just trying to give you some piece of mind.”

Two others, Miku and Utah-based Smartbeat, each boast of a level of precision and analytical rigour that could eventually help predict when the baby is going to get sick. Both have phone alert systems to report worrisome breathing irregularities. Smartbeat’s analysis is purely image-based, while Miku also uses radar. Miku’s sleeker hardware comes at a cost: It’s $399, well above the $250 Smartbeat.

TECH IN THE WOMB

Of course, parental anxiety begins even before a child is born — hence Owlet’s new $299 pregnancy band that wraps around a woman’s abdomen to track fetal heartbeats by taking an electrocardiogram. The idea is to put on the stretchy band before going to sleep starting about three to four months before the due date.

It sends a morning wellness report to a user’s smartphone app, with details including an expectant mother’s contractions and sleep positions — and warnings if fetal heartbeat or movements fall outside acceptable ranges.

An owl-faced medallion above the mother’s belly gives the band the look of a superhero emblem — and why not? Pregnancy is tough.

“It’s really just having that extra piece of mind, between doctor’s visits, that everything is OK,” said Owlet spokeswoman Misty Bond.

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Wedding attack and tech: How OpenText’s investigations service beats the traditional approach

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At its heart, an investigation is a hunt for relevant facts in order to tell a story — a story that drives strategies for organizations, including law firms.

Tracy Drynan, head of OpenText Recon Investigations — a seamless end-to-end service that helps companies and law firms find evidence for all types of investigations including internal investigations, litigation assessments, compliance and regulatory investigations, c-suite vetting and more — says these stories are a more powerful tool than most people think.

The team led by Drynan arms both in-house and external counsel with the information needed to guide their corporate and outside lawyers with the information needed to guide their clients: an investigation empowers them. What differentiates OpenText Recon is the speed with which the team utilizes specialized tools and workflows to efficiently locate evidence. This approach gains insights into patterns, gaps and relationships in a fraction of the cost of a traditional eDiscovery review, and more quickly gathers the relevant facts to create that critical story.

“Whether it be litigation or a regulatory investigation or an internal audit, often time is of the essence,” Drynan says. “Being able to make decisions that affect your bottom line, your liability, your risks which ultimately challenge your resources, even public opinion, is critical.”

Too often, an archaic model is applied to investigations — one derived when we still existed in a paper society — that analyzes all available information but doesn’t actively hunt for relevant facts, and that produces a disconnect. An efficient model does not need to analyze every piece of information.

“It’s flawed for this reason,” Drynan says. “When you review a set of information, even when you apply advanced analytics and information retrieval science, it is still at the end bucketed for a team to analyze it contiguously. In a way, we are still following the pre-electronic paradigm — we are reviewing almost paper documents one by one, and that unfortunately is handicapping both the talent and the technology in the hunt for the facts.”

While lawyers may make a living hunting facts and building narratives, Drynan would argue their approach could be improved and points out that many of the companies hired by firms to help out during an investigation still apply that outdated model. OpenText Recon breaks that pattern and approaches the hunt differently — they don’t compartmentalize anything, which means the team can identify patterns more easily. Those patterns become the clues, which become the facts, that become the story that allow lawyers to make those critical decisions. The result is not a stack of documents, but a more nuanced report outlining the important facts to analyze.

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Canada takes aim at Netflix, Airbnb in $6.5B big-tech tax plan

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Canada’s federal government is planning to force foreign-based technology firms such as Netflix Inc. and Airbnb Inc. to charge their users a sales tax in a move aimed at boosting the government’s coffers by as much as $6.5 billion over the next five years. 

The new taxation plans, outlined in the government’s Fall Economic Statement, attempt to level the playing field between Canadian companies and foreign-based digital corporations that were largely exempt from paying federal sales taxes. Some provinces — such as Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Quebec — introduced taxes on streaming services like Netflix earlier this year. 

The government announced Monday that any foreign-based company selling digital products or services to consumers in Canada will be required to collect and remit the Goods and Services Tax or Harmonized Sales Tax. The new tax changes are proposed to begin on July 1, 2021. 

“Canadians want a tax system that is fair, where everyone pays their fair share, so the government has the resources it needs to invest in people and keep our economy strong. That is why we are moving ahead with implementing GST/HST on multinational digital giants and limiting stock option deductions in the largest companies,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, in prepared remarks. 

“And Canada will act unilaterally, if necessary … to apply a tax on large multinational digital corporations, so they pay their fair share just like any other company operating in Canada.”

Those taxes will include any sales on products or services made through digital marketplace platforms, sales to Canadians of goods that are located in Canadian fulfillment warehouses, as well as any companies whose platforms help to facilitate short-term rental accommodations in Canada. 

However, the new taxation moves wouldn’t see streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video, Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+, and Spotify Technology SA meet certain Canadian-content requirements, something the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission​ recommended be adopted rather than introduce new tax measures in a wide-ranging report released earlier this year. 

The CRTC estimates that those streaming services record annual revenue of roughly $5 billion, according to its most recent financial data. The federal broadcast regulator said in January that Ottawa should require foreign streaming services to invest in local programming rather than “digital taxes” that would likely get passed down to consumers. 

“It is more appropriate to establish a regime that requires such online streaming services that benefit from operating in Canada to invest in Canadian programming that they believe will attract and appeal to Canadians,” the report said. 

Ottawa will also consider new corporate-level taxes for foreign-owned digital corporations and is working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to develop a framework it expects to provide further details on in the next budget. It expects the new measure will result in $3.4 billion in new tax revenue over the next five years once it is introduced sometime in 2022. 

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RevoluGROUP Canada Inc. RevoluPAY To Pursue Dubai Financial Services Authority PSP License

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia(GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — RevoluGROUP Canada Inc. (TSX-V: REVO), (Frankfurt: IJA2) (the “Company”) is pleased to announce that it has dispatched Company advisor Erik A. Lara Riveros to pursue the petition of a Payment Service Provider (“PSP”) Money Service Business License in the Dubai International Financial Centre (“DIFC”) from the Dubai Financial Services Authority.

Corporate Rational For a PSP License in Dubai

In May 2020, RevoluPAY was granted the European PSD2 license. In September, RevoluPAY received Pan-European passporting approval to operate in 27 E.U. countries. The Company has further expanded its international open banking reach through definitive agreements (“DA”) with BBVA, Flutterwave, and Thunes. Additionally, via direct PSD2 SEPA passporting, the Company added sixty-eight countries and territories to its financial operations roster. In November, the Company submitted petitions for both the analogous United States MSB licenses and the Canadian FINTRAC license. The MEASA region of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is a significant financial hub that necessitates exposure for both financial operations and a strategic base for the region’s operations. The Company considers the DIFC an excellent regional hub, having introduced robust legislation for payment services providers (“PSP”) like RevoluPAY.

Furthermore, DIFC conveniently fills the timezone gap for a global financial center between London and New York’s leading financial centers in the West and Hong Kong and Tokyo in the East. Company advisor Erik A. Lara Riveros is duly accredited with the Dubai Financial Services Authority, which should aid the Company’s plans to obtain the Dubai PSP license and establish a corporate financial hub in the region. The Company has diligently prepared all required documentation, and Mr. Lara Riveros arrives in Dubai on the 4th of December 2020 to initiate the license petition process. The global operations of RevoluPAY expect to benefit from the multi timezone capability garnered from a supplementary and PSP licensed subsidiary domiciled in the MEASA region.

License Sought in Dubai

The Company intends to pursue the Category 3D license, which covers the following activities, “Providing or Operating a Payment Account, executing Payment Transactions or Issuing Payment Instruments, including creating and maintaining accounts for executing payment transactions, issuance of personalized sets of procedures agreed upon by the users and the provider, for initiation or execution of payment instructions.”

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