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Washington Post Finds Itself in the Middle of the Jeff Bezos Story

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Jeff Bezos says owning The Washington Post is a “complexifier” for him. The newspaper could say the same about him.

The paper has flourished under Mr. Bezos’ ownership. Since he bought the newspaper in 2013 for $250 million, The Post has added over 200 people to its newsroom, which now numbers 900 journalists, and won plaudits and awards for its coverage of, among other subjects, the Trump administration. The paper has more than 1.5 million digital subscribers, and the business has been profitable for the past three years.

But the newsroom entered tricky editorial terrain last week when it became a factor in an apparent extortion attempt against Mr. Bezos, while also having to independently cover the events around its owner.

The drama featured a litany of classic tabloid elements that would challenge any newsroom — a marriage-busting affair documented by The National Enquirer, Hollywood agents with ties to political figures, secret rendezvous at high-end hotels and sexting — let alone one whose owner sits at the center of the controversy.

It was also a stark reminder that Mr. Bezos is a very public figure of great wealth and influence. He is the world’s richest person by dint of his command of Amazon, a company that is reaching further and further into the lives of everyday people, whether through its e-commerce business, its entertainment properties or its numerous warehouses around the country that employ hundreds of thousands.

His personal project, Blue Origin, describes its mission as “building a road to space so our children can build the future.”

With his blog post detailing his extortion allegations last week, Mr. Bezos has now also become a prominent commentator on the First Amendment. He said he was fighting back against alleged tactics that have no business in journalism, while The Enquirer claims he is merely trying to muzzle a publication because its coverage embarrassed him.

The editorial page of The Post clearly sides with its owner. On Friday, the day after Mr. Bezos published his blog post, the paper published an editorial praising him for exposing an “insidious model of intimidation and corruption masquerading as journalism.”

The overall situation will “test both Marty Baron and Jeff Bezos,” Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of The Columbia Journalism Review, said in an email, referring to The Post’s executive editor. Mr. Bezos gets “good marks so far,” Mr. Pope said, but “the truth is that the rules of journalism are not baked into his bones; it’s something he’s going to have to learn, at a very stressful and trying time.”

Mr. Bezos did not respond to a request for comment.

The Washington Post declined to make Mr. Baron available for an interview but the paper did provide a statement from him.

“Jeff has never gotten involved in our reporting or our final stories,” he said. “People surmise that it must be difficult to cover Jeff and Amazon. But we’ve gone five and a half years with his ownership, and he hasn’t once intervened in any way.”

The clash between Mr. Bezos and The Enquirer began last month when the tabloid published an exposé of his extramarital affair with the television personality Lauren Sanchez. Mr. Bezos fought back in his remarkably revealing blog post on Medium, the online open platform. He accused David J. Pecker, the chairman of The Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., of threatening through intermediaries to publish graphic photographs of Mr. Bezos if he did not publicly announce that The Enquirer’s reporting on his affair was not politically motivated.

The Post has traditionally focused on the nation’s capital, with not as many resources devoted to business coverage. That has started to change. The Post had previously said it would nearly double the number of journalists devoted to covering Silicon Valley to 25, including a reporter in Seattle who will focus on Amazon.

It also aggressively followed up on the revelation about Mr. Bezos’ private life.

The Post published a lengthy article on Feb. 5 about The Enquirer’s coverage of Mr. Bezos’ affair. It quoted Gavin de Becker, his longtime security chief, as saying the leak of evidence of Mr. Bezos’ infidelity to The Enquirer was “politically motivated,” designed to embarrass Mr. Bezos because he owns The Post. Mr. de Becker added that the effort could also involve figures from President Trump’s campaign.

Emails from American Media that Mr. Bezos included in his blog post referred to the Post article and demanded that he — and the newspaper — refrain from any statements or suggestions that politics played any part in its coverage of his affair with Ms. Sanchez.

Like other newspapers, including The New York Times, The Post ran front-page articles on Mr. Bezos and American Media on Friday and Saturday. Those were not the only articles about his interests. The paper also published a report about Amazon’s potentially pulling out of its agreement to build a headquarters in New York City, as well as one about a lawsuit filed against Amazon by the director Woody Allen, who said its streaming service had improperly backed out of a four-movie deal with him.

“I think they’ve finally woken up to the fact that their owner is a huge story,” said Mr. Pope, who has criticized the paper’s past coverage of Amazon as anemic. With the fight between Mr. Bezos and American Media, he said, “they’ve moved into an appropriately higher gear.”

Mr. Baron said the paper had not changed its approach to its coverage of Mr. Bezos or his business interests. Mr. Baron has said that he, along with other executives, talks with Mr. Bezos about “strategy” every two weeks or so, but that the discussions do not touch on the paper’s coverage. Mr. Bezos owns The Post separately from Amazon.

“Because I know full well that he won’t interfere, it’s not really difficult to cover him and Amazon at all,” Mr. Baron said in his statement. “In all the years of his ownership, there hasn’t been one report of his exerting influence, explicitly or implicitly, on our coverage.”

Frederick J. Ryan Jr., the publisher and chief executive of The Post, echoed those sentiments in a statement, and said Mr. Bezos had played no part in the editorial that praised his blog post.

“Jeff has always made it clear that he expects The Washington Post will act with complete independence, both in our news coverage and editorials, and treat him and his companies just as we would anyone else,” Mr. Ryan wrote. “We have never wavered from that position.”

Donald Graham, whose family had owned The Post for almost 80 years before he sold it to Mr. Bezos, said he was “delighted” by the editorial. “I agree with every word of it,” he said in an email.

He added, “Had they not editorialized, perhaps The Times would be doing a piece about the absence of such an editorial and what did that mean?”

Bill Grueskin, a Columbia University journalism professor and a former editor at The Wall Street Journal, said it should have been made clearer to readers that Mr. Bezos had nothing to do with the editorial.

“Readers deserve to know whether Bezos knew about the editorial in advance, or in any way contributed to discussions that led to it,” he said.

To show that the newspaper remains independent of its owner, The Post pointed to another editorial, from early last year. That editorial warned that cities should “proceed with caution, with their eyes at least as wide open as their wallets,” when bidding to be a location for Amazon’s second headquarters.

That has now become a major hometown story. Amazon recently announced that it would build a headquarters in nearby Arlington, Va., meaning it will be one of the largest employers in the region.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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Lamborghini’s latest Huracán is a supercar with a supercomputer

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Over the past few decades, technology has made vehicles safer and easier to drive. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, torque vectoring and other bits of tech keep cars on the road instead of flying into a ditch when things get hairy. It’s why newer cars typically handle corners better than older cars.

At Lamborghini, they’ve taken things further with their new Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata or LDVI system. The Engine Control Unit (ECU) takes data from the entire car and uses it to adjust how the new Huracán EVO Spyder drives in real time (actually in less than 20 milliseconds. But that’s about as close as you can get to real time). Cars have been doing some form of this for a while but the Italian automaker needs to be able to do this at incredible speeds and in environments your typical sedan or SUV doesn’t encounter.

At Lamborghini, they’ve taken things further with their new Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata or LDVI system. The Engine Control Unit (ECU) takes data from the entire car and uses it to adjust how the new Huracán EVO Spyder drives in real time (actually in less than 20 milliseconds. But that’s about as close as you can get to real time). Cars have been doing some form of this for a while but the Italian automaker needs to be able to do this at incredible speeds and in environments your typical sedan or SUV doesn’t encounter.

With this technology, Lamborghini is able to take the raw power of an all-wheel-drive supercar with a V10 engine and 630 horsepower and tame it, just enough, so your average driver (who can shell out $287,400) can enjoy themselves behind the wheel of the all-wheel-steering vehicle without, you know, flying into a ditch.

To achieve this, the LVDI is actually a super fast central processing unit that takes in data about the road surface, the car’s setup, the tires and how the driver is driving the vehicle. It then uses that info to control various aspects of the Huracan.

The system works in concert with the Lamborghini Piattaforma Inerziale (LPI) version 2.0 hardware sensors. This system uses gyroscopes and accelerometers located at the car’s center of gravity. It measures the vehicle’s movements and shares that data with the LVDI computer.

Lamborghini says the system is so in tune with all aspects of a drive that it can actually predict the best driving setup for the next moment. In other words, if you’re behind the wheel flying around corners on a back road, the system will recognize your behavior as you enter a corner and adjust itself.

“Where it’s possible to do a bigger jump in the future is with the intelligent use of four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering and the movement and control of the torque wheel by wheel in a way that can be more predictable and that is what we have with the Huracan EVO,” said Maurizio Reggiani, chief technology officer of Automobili Lamborghini.

Lamborghini is thinking about a world beyond a completely gas-powered engine though — it has a pipeline for hybrid and electric vehicles. But Reggiani notes that Lamborghini will probably be the last automaker to leave behind a large growling power plant.

Putting all that power to the ground in a controllable way requires an incredible amount of technology — that’s where LVDI and other pieces of technology come in. The automaker believes the result is a driving experience that matches exactly what the driver wants, regardless of the mode the car is in. Whether it be Strada, Sport, or the track ready Corsa, the vehicle (in a controlled way) should deliver.

That control allows a driver to do something that typically takes months if not years to master: drifting. It goes against what the car wants to do — lose traction. But in Sport mode it’s possible. To do that, the vehicle has to figure out (in real time and safely) things like what angle it wants to slide. The Huracán EVO Spyder has to understand that you want to drift and not fight that. If it does, it will jerk the car (and driver) back into alignment.

Lamborghini Huracan EVO Spyder

To relive your Fast and Furious dreams, the automaker started where lots of companies start with new technology: In the simulator. But a computer can’t faithfully reproduce the real world. Mostly that has to do with tires, a variable that’s tough to predict because of the density of the rubber’s compound and its wear.

Then, of course, there’s the driver. We all drive differently but the experience must be the same for everyone. It’s important that even with all that technology, it’s still a driving experience. “We don’t want to have something that substitutes the driver. We want to have a car that is able to understand what the driver wants to do,” Reggiani said.

Lamborghini is known for large engines, intense growls, striking design and bank-busting prices. But the reality is all that power would be useless if drivers couldn’t actually control the car. The automaker’s latest system makes that possible for everyone. Sure, only a select few can own a Lamborghini, but everyone can appreciate a system that makes driving safer while simultaneously more fun.

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This device makes it easy for the elderly to stay in touch with their loved ones

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Only 20 percent of over-75s in the UK have a smartphone compared to 95 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds. Digital technologies change fast, become obsolete quickly and usually need you to spend a bit of time learning how to use them.

This helps explain why most older adults tend to use what they know best when it comes to communicating, which usually means a phone call via a landline or basic mobile, instead of a quick text or social media update.

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But it doesn’t have to be this way. My colleague Massimo Micocci and I have recently designed a more modern device we hope will help older people stay in more frequent touch with instant updates, but that has a familiar feel to it. By drawing on smart materials and what we call “design metaphors”, we hope to make new technology more accessible.

When older people don’t have access to instant messaging, a phone call or a visit may be the only way for friends and family to check their loved ones are well. And doing so more than (or even) once a day might not be feasible or wanted.

Similarly, older people might feel that ringing their relatives morning and night just to let them know they’re OK would be an inconvenience. And while you can buy specialized monitoring devices that record people’s movements around their home, these often feel like an invasion of privacy.

With this in mind, we developed something that lets older people broadcast their status to their families like a social media update. Our device (which is designed for research purposes rather than commercial development) looks like an analogue radio. But it lets users transmit information about their activity captured from a wearable heartbeat sensor in a way that is entertaining and intuitive, and only shared with selected group of followers.

The keep-in-touch. Author provided

The information includes how energetic their current activity is, for example whether they are conducting an active task such as gardening, or a relaxing and restful one such as reading a book.

By designing the device to evoke technology with which people will feel instantly familiar, we’re using the principle of design metaphor. Most people find it easier to interact with devices that resemble products they have already used.

In cognitive psychology, this is known as inferential learning, referring to when someone applies established knowledge in their brain to a new context. The design of our “radio” device makes it easier for users to work out how to use it, based on their previous interactions with traditional radios – even though it has a very different function.

Giving users control

There are plenty of systems that enable people to monitor older family members. But usually these are fully passive, where the older adults are observed directly through cameras and sensors around their homes. Or they are fully active, for example mobile phones that require the older adults to stop what they’re doing and respond right away.

Instead, our device lets people choose the level of communication they want. It runs in the background and doesn’t transmit detailed information such as images of people in their homes. This makes it a much less intrusive way of letting someone know you’re OK.

We also wanted to make the device very easy to understand, interpret and remember. So rather than having an information screen that showed text or images, we wanted to create a display that used so-called smart materials to convey what the user was doing.

In this context, smart materials are those that can change color, shape, viscosity or how much light they emit. Our research showed that light-emitting materials were the best way of conveying messages without words for both under and over-60s.

The “radio” is just a research prototype but it has allowed us to understand that the combination of innovative materials and familiar artefacts can be a successful way to encourage aging users to adopt new technologies. In this way, smart materials and design metaphors could help bridge the digital gap and promote innovation among older consumers.

This article is republished from The Conversation by Gabriella Spinelli, Reader in Design Innovation, Brunel University London under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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