Amazon employees start every day by answering a simple question about work

Every morning, Amazon employees start their day by answering a question that pops up on their computer screens.

The questions are typically work-related, with topics ranging from thoughts about their managers to the length of meetings, or the number of times they’ve received positive feedback in the past week. In some cases, it asks less sensitive questions like how crowded bathrooms get, and even throws follow-up questions when needed.

The daily Q&A program, called Connections, rolled out across the company in April of last year after small pilots beginning in 2014. It’s one of the most ambitious HR programs Amazon has launched in the past year to better understand its sprawling workforce, which is now estimated to be the second largest in the U.S. at over 566,000.

CNBC talked to more than a dozen current and former employees to get a sense of how this and other HR programs are working. Some expressed skepticism about Connections, saying they weren’t convinced the answers were truly anonymous, while managers weren’t always sure how to use the data.


Motorcycle cop tickets a self-driving car in San Francisco

Now here’s a genuine novelty: In San Francisco, a motorcycle cop pulled over an autonomous vehicle and issued it a ticket. The future has arrived.

But the reason — police said it failed to yield to a pedestrian at a crosswalk — probably shouldn’t be taken lightly, coming a day after a self-driving car operated by Uber Technologies Inc. struck and killed a woman walking her bicycle across the road March 18 in Tempe, Ariz. Cruise Automation, the operator of the ticketed self-driving car, says the vehicle did nothing wrong. The story was first reported by CBS affiliate KPIX-TV.

Cruise tells the station that its onboard data shows the pedestrian was 10.8 feet away from the car when it began driving in autonomous mode down Harrison Street at 14th Street. The officer pulled the car over shortly after it began accelerating and ticketed the human test driver.

“Safety is our priority in testing our self-driving vehicles,” Cruise said in a statement. “California law requires the vehicle to yield the right of way to pedestrians, allowing them to proceed undisturbed and unhurried without fear of interference of their safe passage through an intersection. Our data indicates that’s what happened here.” It tells the station the human test driver did everything right but is responsible for the citation.


Amazon passes Alphabet to become 2nd most valuable company

March 20 (UPI) — Amazon became the second most valuable company in the world Tuesday, surpassing Alphabet, the parent company of Google, in stock value.

Amazon’s stock market value increased 2.7 percent by the end of the day, bringing its total value to $768 billion at $1,586.51 per share. The stock jump was enough to pass Alphabet, which fell 0.4 percent for a total value of $762.5 billion.

The milestone comes days after Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos topped the Forbes annual billionaires list with a total wealth of $112 billion, becoming the first American to pass the $100 billion mark.

Last month, Amazon surpassed Microsoft in value.

Apple has a comfortable lead at the top spot with an $889 billion valuation.

But Amazon is rising fast, increasing in value by 85 percent over the past 12 months, including 35 percent so far in 2018, CNBC reported.

As neither company shows any signs of slowing down, Wall Street analysts predict at least one of them may soon reach a value of $1 trillion, which would be the first for any company.


Google pledges $300M for news initiative

March 20 (UPI) — Google pledged $300 million Tuesday to start a new initiative to “elevate and strengthen quality journalism” throughout the next three years.

The campaign to be known as the Google News Initiative includes programs to combat the spread of false information and to drive subscriptions to news publications, Google Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler wrote in a blog post.

“The commitments we’re making through the Google News Initiative demonstrate that news and quality journalism is a top priority for Google,” Schindler wrote. “We know that success can only be achieved by working together, and we look forward to collaborating with the news industry to build a stronger future for journalism.”

As part of the initiative Schindler said Google is creating a Disinfo Lab alongside the Harvard Kennedy School’s First Draft to combat misinformation during elections and breaking news event when the company said “bad actors” often attempt to target Google platforms to spread inaccurate content.


Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook under fire from politicians over data controversy

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic want answers after Facebook’s latest controversy involving the 2016 election.

The growing scrutiny comes after news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign, reportedly gained access to information about 50 million Facebook (FB) users.

The data was collected by a professor for academic purposes in accordance with Facebook rules, the company said. But then the information was transferred to third parties, including Cambridge Analytica. The transfer violated Facebook policies.

Facebook on Friday night said it has booted Cambridge Analytica from using its platform.

News of the data transfer sparked renewed questions about whether the social media company does enough to protect its users.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Saturday that her office is opening an investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter Saturday that “Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.”

“It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves,” she said. “They say ‘trust us.’

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WiFi-equipped school buses help students get online

ST. STEPHEN, S.C. — For eighth-grader Lakaysha Governor, her daily two-hour school bus commute had been spent catching up with friends and trying to tune out distractions from unruly preschoolers.

Now, thanks to Google, the aspiring forensic anthropologist said she’s able to spend that time finishing up her daily school work so she’s free to engage in her favorite activity once she gets home: reading.

Lakaysha is one of nearly 2,000 students in South Carolina’s rural Berkeley County benefiting from a grant from Google, which on Monday unveiled one of its 28 WiFi-equipped school buses in the area. The tech giant has also given the school district 1,700 Chromebooks, the stripped-down laptops on which public school children do their class and homework as school books largely are replaced by online worksheets and articles.

Some students like Lakaysha in this sprawling, rural district about 50 miles north of Charleston spend a total of two hours riding the bus to and from school each day. With much of students’ homework now online-only, that’s time lost in terms of trying to prepare for the next day.

Lilyn Hester, a Google spokeswoman based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, told CBS affiliate WCSC-TV that the “Rolling Study Halls” pilot program at Berkeley County offers the district an opportunity to “bridge the digital divide.”

“A Rolling Study Hall is like an extended classroom. It addresses the needs of students that don’t WiFi or Internet access in their home” Hester said.


Facebook says it will push more local news stories into your News Feed

Facebook says it will bring you more local news stories in your news feed, even if you didn’t ask to see them. “Starting today, we’re going to show more stories from news sources in your local town or city,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg says in a post announcing the latest change to his company’s News Feed.

The change means that people who follow a local news publication will see more stories from that publication — and that people who don’t follow a local news outlet will see more from local publications, too, if people in their network are sharing a particular story.

Zuckerberg says the move is at least partly the result of the self-guided tour of the U.S. he conducted last year. “Many people told me they thought that if we could turn down the temperature on the more divisive issues and instead focus on concrete local issues, then we’d all make more progress together,” he writes.

This is the third announcement about changes to Facebook’s News Feed that the company has made in the last month. The first one announced a general overhaul for the feed, which will de-emphasize news and other commercial content. Then the company said it would try to promote more “trustworthy” publications — once its users told them which publications were trustworthy.

There should be at least one more announcement to come, which will presumably focus on “informative” content.

That’s because in a post he published on Jan. 19, Zuckerberg said his company wanted to promote “news that is trustworthy, informative and local,” and now he’s covered two of the three categories.

Back to local: Facebook says it will identify local publishers by looking at ones that are “clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area.”

In theory, that could include national publishers like the New York Times, which has a concentration of readers in the New York City area. But it’s really meant to promote local and regional publishers. Facebook will start by looking at U.S.-based publishers but says it intends to expand the effort into other countries.

Facebook says the boost won’t apply to any particular kind of content — beyond conventional news stories, it will also boost “local sports, arts and human-interest stories,” the company says in a blog post.

Facebook’s announcement is a reminder that even though it says it wants to cut down on the amount of news in your feed, it won’t cut out news altogether. Zuckerberg says that news used to make up 5 percent of an average Facebook user’s feed, and now it will shrink down to 4 percent.

What Facebook is also doing, without spelling it out explicitly, is trying to cut down on fringe publishers, or bad actors that are deliberately trying to game the system.

The “trustworthiness” criteria the company announced earlier makes it harder for unknown publications to start showing up in your feed. And emphasizing local also makes it harder for edge cases.

It’s one thing to gin up fake stories about pedophile-friendly pizza parlors that spread around the internet; it’s another to create bespoke fake news about your neighborhood pizza parlor, since that takes a lot more work. We’ll see how the “informative” tweak works.

It’s hard to argue that the tweak will dramatically help local publishers, since it won’t solve the underlying business problems that make local news a very difficult proposition. But more exposure isn’t a bad thing for those publications, or their readers.

It’s also the second time Facebook has announced a local news initiative in the last month. It previously said it was testing “Today In,” a dedicated module for local news in six cities.


BlackBerry shares soar as software sales hit record

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s BlackBerry Ltd reported stronger-than-expected quarterly profit on Thursday as high-margin software sales hit a record, boosting investor confidence in its turnaround and sending shares up 14 percent.

Software and services revenue rose 26 percent to $196 million in the second quarter ended Aug. 31 from a year earlier, above the average forecast of $175 million of two analysts polled by Reuters.

The results bolstered hopes that Chief Executive John Chen was succeeding in rebuilding BlackBerry, whose revenue has declined for seven years as its smartphone business collapsed. Chen has discontinued handset manufacturing and focused on selling software to industrial companies, governments and corporations.

“Obviously a very good quarter for the software business, which is a good sign for BlackBerry,” said Nicholas McQuire, an analyst at CCS Insight.

The company reported quarterly profit of 5 cents a share, excluding special items, versus a break-even forecast by analysts.

Quarterly software and services revenue was buoyed by a sharp increase in licensing fees, to $56 million from $16 million a year earlier.

Licensing will eventually contribute about as much revenue as BlackBerry’s larger enterprise software business, Chen said in a call with reporters, according to Bloomberg News.

Chen told BNN television that the company hoped to close another autonomous-vehicle software deal directly with an unnamed carmaker later this year, which would follow a deal inked with Ford Motor Co last October that has started to produce revenue for BlackBerry.

“There’s some exciting growth opportunities,” Morningstar analyst Ali Mogharabi said, citing progress in getting BlackBerry technology into self-driving cars.

The company said on Sept. 20 that it would partner with auto supplier Delphi Automotive Plc on a software operating system for self-driving cars, sending its shares up 9 percent that day.

BlackBerry could earn licensing fees of $5 to $25 per car with advanced self-driving technology, up from the $1.50 to $5 it earns for just providing infotainment systems, Chen said on an analyst call.

Some investors said it was too early to call the turnaround a success.

“The company is at the intersection of some interesting trends … but it’s still early days for them,” said Lori Keith, a portfolio manager at Parnassus Investments, which does not own BlackBerry shares.

Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry said it expected adjusted full-year revenue of $920 million to $950 million. Analysts on average had forecast $924.4 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. It also forecast meeting its software sales growth target of 10 to 15 percent.

Licensing revenue for its software and brand name include royalties on BlackBerry-branded devices sold by China’s TCL Communication Technology Holdings Ltd and Indonesia’s BB Merah Putih.

BlackBerry also said on Thursday it signed a new deal for a Chinese manufacturer to sell BlackBerry Secure-branded devices starting early next year.

The company posted quarterly net income of $19 million, or 4 cents per share, compared to a loss of $372 million, or 71 cents a share, a year earlier. Total revenue excluding items fell 29 percent to $249 million.

BlackBerry’s Canadian-listed shares were up 12.5 percent at C$12.98 after rising as high as $13.47. Its U.S.-listed stock rose 13.2 percent to $10.45, the highest since June.

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Japan is building the fastest supercomputer in the world

Japan is aiming to regain the edge in technology innovation which it lost to China and South Korea, by building the world’s fastest computer.

The Japanese government is to spend 19.5 billion yen ($173 million) on creating the fastest supercomputer known to man with a 130 petaflops processing power that would propel the country into a new technological era.

Currently China’s Sunway TaihuLight holds the record with 93 petaflops capacity, churning calculations at the rate of 93 quadrillion per second.

Engineering and Technology reports:

The computer, to be capable of 130 quadrillion calculations per second, will be available for a fee to Japanese companies developing driverless cars, robots, medical diagnostics and other systems.

“As far as we know, there is nothing out there that is as fast,” said Satoshi Sekiguchi, a director general at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, where the computer will be based.

The currently fastest supercomputer in the world is China’s Sunway Taihulight, which is used for weather forecasting, pharmaceutical research and industrial design, but is only capable of 93 quadrillion calculations per second.

The fastest supercomputer ever built in Japan, the Oakforest-PACS developed by Fujistsu, is only capable of 13.6 petaflops.

The new machine, dubbed ABCI for Artificial Intelligence Bridging Cloud Infrastructure, will be completed by the end of 2017. It will provide Japanese innovators with a domestic capability to perform complex analyses involving massive amounts of data. Japan also hopes to advance in the field of artificial intelligence and deep learning, which mimics processes in the human brain to develop smart computer systems.

The technology will help create better algorithms for self-driving cars, capable of analysing large amounts of visual traffic data, and optimise factory automation.

Japanese companies can bid for the project until 8 December.


Theresa May to advise tech firms over apprehension content

Technology companies must go “further and faster” in removing extremist content, Prime Minister Theresa May is to tell the United Nations.

She will urge social networks and search engines to act when she addresses the general assembly.

Mrs May will also host a meeting with other world leaders and firms including Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter.

Separately, tech giant Google has said it will give a total of £1m to fund counter-terrorism projects in the UK.

  • Google launches UK ‘anti-terror fund’
  • Politicians take on the internet over extremism

The prime minister has repeatedly called for an end to the “safe spaces” she says terrorists enjoy online.

Ministers have called for limits to end-to-end encryption, which stops messages being read by third parties if they are intercepted, and measures to curb the spread of material on social media.

On Wednesday, the prime minister will hail progress made by tech companies since the establishment in June of an industry forum to counter terrorism.

But she will urge them to go “further and faster” in developing artificial intelligence solutions to automatically reduce the period in which terror propaganda remains available, and eventually prevent it appearing at all.

The UK, France and Italy are to call for a target of one to two hours to take down terrorist content wherever it appears.

‘Best brains in the world’

Internet companies will be given a month to show they are taking the problem seriously, with ministers at a G7 meeting on 20 October due to decide whether enough progress has been made.

A Downing Street source said: “These companies have some of the best brains in the world.

“They should really be focusing on what matters, which is stopping the spread of terrorism and violence.”

Technology companies defended their handling of extremist content after criticism from ministers following the London Bridge terror attack in June.

Google said it had already spent hundreds of millions of pounds on tackling the problem.

Facebook and Twitter said they were working hard to rid their networks of terrorist activity and support.

YouTube told the BBC that it received 200,000 reports of inappropriate content a day, but managed to review 98% of them within 24 hours.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Mrs May will say terrorists will never win, but that “defiance alone is not enough”.

“Ultimately it is not just the terrorists themselves who we need to defeat. It is the extremist ideologies that fuel them. It is the ideologies that preach hatred, sow division and undermine our common humanity,” she will say.


Google said the UK counter-terrorism fund was part of a $5m global commitment.

The search giant has faced criticism about how it is addressing such content, particularly on YouTube.

The funding will be handed out in partnership with UK-based counter-extremist organization the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).

An independent advisory board will be accepting the first round of applications in November, with grants of between £2,000 and £200,000 awarded to successful proposals.

ISD chief executive Sasha Havlicek said: “We are eager to work with a wide range of innovators on developing their ideas in the coming months.”

A spokesman for the Global Internet Forum to Combat Terrorism, which is formed of tech companies, said combating the spread of extremist material online required responses from government, civil society and the private sector.

“Together, we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure that our platforms are not used to distribute terrorist content,” said the spokesman.

Mrs May’s appearance at the UN comes days before she is due to give a major speech on Brexit – a subject that led to repeated questions from journalists on her visit.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was accused of undermining her plans by writing a 4,000-word newspaper article setting out his own vision for Brexit.

Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Johnson said he was “mystified” by the row his article had prompted, saying he had “contributed a small article to the pages of the Telegraph” because critics had been saying he was not speaking up about Brexit.