How Facebook Will Build the Connected World

How Facebook Will Build the Connected World
Our plan has three parts: planetary connectivity, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
By Mike Schroepfer
Mar 26 2015

This is drawn from Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer’s second-day keynote speech for the Facebook F8 Developer’s Conference

Every generation of technology changes the way we connect with people.

A hundred fifty years ago, it took ten days to send a message from New York to California by Pony Express. With the invention of the telegraph, you could send the same message instantly. When the telephone arrived, text gave way to voice. And today, with just your mobile phone, you can video chat with someone on the other side of the world.

Over time, the trend is clear: connecting becomes faster, more efficient, more immersive. And with each invention, technology’s capacity to serve society has taken a giant leap forward. As the world has become more connected, people have gotten access to new information and opportunities.

It’s tempting to see progress as inevitable. But in every era of innovation, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs had to confront new bottlenecks — solving the technical problems that held us back from connecting in better ways. Today, we’re about to enter a new era in connection, but to get there we need to solve new challenges. At Facebook, we’re focused on three big bottlenecks to the future.

The first is planetary connectivity.

Right now, only a third of the world is connected to the internet. To connect everyone, we have to build infrastructure at planetary scale — and find new ways to bring people online.

Together with hundreds of companies, we’re working on the Open Compute Project to build data center, network, and hardware designs that are scalable, efficient, and sustainable. We’re also developing radical new infrastructure to connect people living in some of the most inaccessible areas on Earth. Today, we announced the first successful test flight of our UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) platform, which engineers at Facebook’s Connectivity Lab will deploy to connect people in remote communities.

It’s our hope that this platform — and others developed by the Connectivity Labteam — will provide new, more cost-effective solutions for our operator partners around the world. As with the Open Compute Project, we want to work with the broader community to accelerate the pace of innovation.

True global connectivity is an incredibly hard engineering challenge, but one we have to solve to make the next generation of technology more inclusive than the last.

Our second focus is building intuitive interfaces and systems that are simple and scalable, with the aid of artificial intelligence.

AI can help people connect with the things that matter to them, but it requires a new kind of machine intelligence that can understand context.

With the help of our world-class research team, we’re building these systems. We recently developed an AI that could identify 487 different categories of sports. We tested it on some obscure video footage and it worked. Who knew that “underwater hockey” is a real thing?

We’ve also developed an exciting new technology called Memory Networks, which adds a kind of short-term memory to the convolutional neural networks that underpin our deep learning systems. This allows them to understand language more deeply than ever before, and answer relatively complex questions about a text that’s never been seen before. Here’s the system being demonstrated.


Trans-Pacific Partnership Seen as Door for Foreign Suits Against U.S.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Seen as Door for Foreign Suits Against U.S.
Mar 25 2015

WASHINGTON — An ambitious 12-nation trade accord pushed by President Obama would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment “expectations” and hurt their business, according to a classified document.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership — a cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s remaining economic agenda — would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America and Asia. Under the accord, still under negotiation but nearing completion, companies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings — federal, state or local — before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.

Backers of the emerging trade accord, which is supported by a wide variety of business groups and favored by most Republicans, say that it is in line with previous agreements that contain similar provisions. But critics, including many Democrats in Congress, argue that the planned deal widens the opening for multinationals to sue in the United States and elsewhere, giving greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.

The chapter in the draft of the trade deal, dated Jan. 20, 2015, and obtained by The New York Times in collaboration with the group WikiLeaks, is certain to kindle opposition from both the political left and the right. The sensitivity of the issue is reflected in the fact that the cover mandates that the chapter not be declassified until four years after the Trans-Pacific Partnership comes into force or trade negotiations end, should the agreement fail.

Conservatives are likely to be incensed that even local policy changes could send the government to a United Nations-sanctioned tribunal. On the left, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, law professors and a host of liberal activists have expressed fears the provisions would infringe on United States sovereignty and impinge on government regulation involving businesses in banking, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and other sectors.

Members of Congress have been reviewing the secret document in secure reading rooms, but this is the first disclosure to the public since an early version leaked in 2012.

“This is really troubling,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat. “It seems to indicate that savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government, such as made-in-America laws or anti-tobacco laws. I think people on both sides of the aisle will have trouble with this.”

The United States Trade Representative’s Office dismissed such concerns as overblown. Administration officials said opponents were using hypothetical cases to stoke irrational fear when an actual record exists that should soothe worries.

Such “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” accords exist already in more than 3,000 trade agreements across the globe. The United States is party to 51, including the North American Free Trade Agreement. Administration officials say they level the playing field for American companies doing business abroad, protect property from government seizure and ensure access to international justice.

But the limited use of trade tribunals, critics argue, is because companies in those countries do not have the size, legal budgets and market power to come after governments in the United States. The Trans-Pacific Partnership could change all that, they say. The agreement would expand that authority to investors in countries as wealthy as Japan and Australia, with sophisticated companies deeply invested in the United States.

“U.S.T.R. will say the U.S. has never lost a case, but you’re going to see a lot more challenges in the future,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio. “There’s a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for these companies.”

One 1999 case gives ammunition to both sides of the debate. Back then, California banned the chemical MTBE from the state’s gasoline, citing the damage it was doing to its water supply. The Canadian company Methanex Corporation sued for $970 million under Nafta, claiming damages on future profits. The case stretched to 2005, when the tribunal finally dismissed all claims.


The Sharing Economy: Disruption’s Tragic Flaw

[Note:  This item comes from friend Doc Searls.  DLH]

The Sharing Economy: Disruption’s Tragic Flaw
The case of Uber shows why European companies should not follow the example of their American competitors too closely. It pays to take the needs of customers and contractors into account.
By Shoshana Zuboff
Mar 23 2015

I. Digital Disruption

Are Germany and Europe behind the curve in digital disruption? Earlier this year Volkmar Denner, the CEO of Bosch, told the Financial Times:  “Uber is not a revolutionary technology, it’s a business model innovation — and there we are not good enough yet…That’s where I see the biggest threat.” There’s also been quite a lot of material coming out of the European Commission and other sources on the need for more digital disruption in Europe. Is Mr. Denner correct?  Should Germany and Europe imitate the Uber model? Is it a model that will drive economic history?  Will it make our societies more prosperous?  More democratic?

What does the U.S. experience suggest about the answers to these questions and the wider prospects of the so-called “sharing economy?” Just exactly who is sharing what with whom and who benefits?  Let’s start by examining the key forces driving this disruption.

First among equals are fundamental changes in consumption that represent a shift from the mass to the individual. We live in a new society of individuals whose needs and demands have been frustrated for decades.  This is no mere cohort effect. Today most of us share an expectation of psychological self determination—the sense that we create ourselves. Across generations we take for granted that we will design our own lives: family life, work life, religion, sexuality, community, what we eat, how we dress…the list is long.  We no longer simply take these things for granted as handed down from traditions or dictated by conventions. When we are thwarted in these expectations, we smolder and suffer. We yearn for trustworthy channels to these resources, but we are typically disappointed.

A second driving force is the entire assembly of new digital capabilities. Only these technologies finally make it possible to create new market forms that can effectively respond to individuals’ needs at an affordable price.

Third, most people are looking for convenient access  to the resources they need for effective life. In the U.S. many people are living deeply stressful hectic lives. Two income families are the norm. Most families struggle with childcare, healthcare, and employment security.

Fourth is the demand for affordability due to stagnating incomes and a retrenchment of consumer credit.  The real wages of U.S. workers have been flat since 1979. Sharp decreases in union representation, the shift to disaggregated global production, the reduction of the labor share — these factors have each contributed to this stagnation.

Fifth, there is an on-demand labor pool. In US 37% of the working age population, 92 million people, are not permanently employed and appear to have given up seeking full time jobs.  There are many others for whom one paycheck is not enough.

II. Mutation


Fleece Force: How Police And Courts Around Ferguson Bully Residents And Collect Millions

[Note:  This item comes from friend Ed DeWath.  DLH]

Fleece Force: How Police And Courts Around Ferguson Bully Residents And Collect Millions
By Ryan J. Reilly & Mariah Stewart
Mar 26 2015

PASADENA HILLS, Mo. — “Lacee Scott?” the judge called. The 23-year-old rose from a hard black plastic chair, walked past the fireplace and stood before the table at the front of the living room.

From the outside, the house is barely distinguishable from others on the street — brick, three bedrooms, built in 1948. Over the entrance, however, there is a sign identifying it as City Hall. Once a month, the living room, with its lamps, hardwood floors and clock on the mantle, becomes a courtroom. Those with business before the judge first check in with the clerk in the dining room before taking a seat among the rows of chairs set up in the family room.

Scott, a senior at Alabama A&M University, had lived in Pasadena Hills during high school. Her father, a former St. Louis County police officer, works for Walgreens. Her mother is the principal of a local elementary school. Last summer, when Scott was home visiting her family, a notice was placed on her car.

Parking had never been an issue in her quiet, suburban community. Pasadena Hills is small, with a population of less than 1,000. But the municipality had recently passed an ordinance requiring those parking overnight to display a $10 residential parking sticker on their vehicles. The notice ordered Scott to come to City Hall to obtain the sticker.

The city office has extemely limited business hours, however. The seven-hour drive from Huntsville, Alabama, back to Pasadena Hills also made it difficult for Scott to appear in person. Soon, the city began mailing her threatening letters. 

“They sent me a letter and said there would be a warrant out for my arrest if I didn’t come back for this,” Scott told The Huffington Post of her court appearance. “For $10. For parking in front of my house.” 

Such experiences are not uncommon in St. Louis County. According to a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice released this month, authorities in nearby Ferguson routinely abused the rights of residents, who were viewed “less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.” Attorney General Eric Holder said the Ferguson Police Department had essentially served as a “collection agency,” with officers competing to see who could issue the largest number of citations.

A number of Ferguson officials have resigned in the wake of the DOJ report, including the police chief, Thomas Jackson, and the municipal court judge, Ronald Brockmeyer. Yet the problems with municipal courts in St. Louis County extend far beyond Ferguson.

In dozens of interviews with The Huffington Post over the past several months, residents have called the system “out of control,” “inhumane,” “crazy,” “racist,” “unprofessional” and “sickening.” Some have told stories of being slapped with large fines for minor violations and threatened with jail if they couldn’t pay.

“Everyone’s got a horror story about the police,” former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch told HuffPost in a recent interview. “And most of that horror story relates back to being ticketed for some minor violation.”

Even before the DOJ released its report, the need to change the way St. Louis County’s many tiny municipalities operate had become a rallying cry among protesters, lawmakers and even members of law enforcement.

Last year, Missouri’s attorney general filed suit against several municipalities for violating state law regarding the collection of revenue through traffic fines.

In December, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson said he believed some municipalities “victimize those whom they are designed to protect.” In February, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar called some of the current practices “immoral.”

“If you think that taxation of our citizens through traffic enforcement in St. Louis County is bad, you have no idea how bad it is,” Belmar said.

There are 90 separate municipalities in all, home to 11 percent of Missouri’s total population. The largest is Florissant, an area of 12 square miles with over 52,000 residents. The smallest, the village of Champ, has just six houses. Population: 13.

Police are an overwhelming presence in St. Louis County. Nationally, the United States has roughly 2.4 police officers for every 1,000 residents, according to FBI statistics. In many parts of St. Louis County, the ratio is much higher. Beverly Hills, Missouri, with fewer than 600 people covering just 13 blocks, has 14 officers on its police force.

As in Ferguson, many of these police departments and local courts generate massive amounts of revenue for city coffers. Municipalities in St. Louis County took in $45 million in fines and fees in 2013 — 34 percent of the amount collected statewide — according to Better Together St. Louis, a nonprofit working to improve municipal government in the St. Louis region.

The municipal courts lie at the heart of this system. There are 81 in all. Some are housed in government buildings that were built for public use. Others, like the ones in Pasadena Hills or nearby Country Club Hills, have been set up in buildings designed as residential homes. Kinloch holds court in the cafeteria of an abandoned elementary school. In Beverly Hills, the police department and court share a building with a pharmacy. There’s an ATM in the lobby, and a payday loan outlet is conveniently located next door.

The reach of these courts extends beyond traffic and parking violations. Some municipalities require occupancy permits for those who live in their jurisdictions, which in practice means people can be fined for sleeping over at their boyfriend or girlfriend’s house. In some municipalities, overgrown grass or failing to subscribe to a designated trash collection service are offenses that can ultimately lead to an arrest record.

Even clothing choices can be a target. Pine Lawn has a municipal code that bans saggy pants. One man received a $50 fine in 2012 for wearing pants that were too big for his waist, according to court documents. After he missed two court dates associated with his fashion crime, he was slapped with two additional $125 fines, and for a time, there was a warrant out for his arrest.


Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial
Research shows that when governments provide citizens with economic security, they embolden them to take more risks.
Mar 26 2015

In 1988, Ronald Reagan traveled to the Soviet Union and gave a speech at Moscow State University, making the case for capitalism. America’s secret, he argued, was its entrepreneurs, whose “courage to take risks” was responsible “for almost all the economic growth in the United States” and much of its technological edge. This risk-taking was made possible, he continued, by economic freedom, which he associated with “limited, unintrusive”government. 

Reagan was right about the link between startups and growth, but wrong in assuming that small government was the way to encourage them. 

His belief in a tradeoff between taking care of citizens and promoting innovative new businesses is at odds with the evidence. In fact, one way to get more people to start companies, according to a growing body of research, is to expand the welfare state.

Pundits and researchers often note the negative correlation between government spending and entrepreneurship, both within the U.S. and internationally, and conclude that growth requires trimming social welfare programs. Jim Manzi of the National Review, for example, a thoughtful commenter on economic policy, wrote last year that, “we must accept some amount of social dislocation in return for innovation.” But correlations can be misleading. A series of more recent studies challenge the view that larger or more activist government necessarily threatens entrepreneurship. In fact, that may get the relationship precisely backwards.

Entrepreneurs are actually more likely than other Americans to receive public benefits, after accounting for income, as Harvard Business School’s Gareth Olds has documented. And in many cases, expanding benefit programs helps spur new business creation. 

Take food stamps. Conservatives have long argued that they breed dependence on government. In a 2014 paper, Olds examined the link between entrepreneurship and food stamps, and found that the expansion of the program in some states in the early 2000s increased the chance that newly eligible households would own an incorporated business by 16 percent. (Incorporated firms are a better proxy for job-creating startups than unincorporated ones.) 

Interestingly, most of these new entrepreneurs didn’t actually enroll in the food stamp program. It seems that expanding the availability of food stamps increased business formation by making it less risky for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. Simply knowing that they could fall back on food stamps if their venture failed was enough to make them more likely to take risks.

Food stamps are not an isolated case. In another paper, Olds looked at the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which offers publicly funded health insurance for kids whose families don’t qualify for Medicaid. By comparing the rate of entrepreneurship of those who just barely qualified for CHIP to those whose incomes just barely exceeded the cutoff, he was able to estimate the program’s impact on new business creation. The rate of incorporated business ownership for those eligible households just below the cutoff was 31 percent greater than for similarly situated families that could not rely on CHIP to care for their children if they needed it. 

The same is true of recent immigrants to the United States. Contrary to claims by the right that welfare keeps immigrants from living up to their historic role as entrepreneurs, CHIP eligibility increased those households’ chances of owning an incorporated business by 28 percent. 

The mechanism in each case is the same: publicly funded insurance lowers the risk of starting a business, since entrepreneurs needn’t fear financial ruin. (This same logic explains why more forgiving bankruptcy laws are associated with more entrepreneurship.)

A 2010 study by RAND found a similar effect with Medicare. American men were more likely to start a business just after turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare than just before. Here again, government can make entrepreneurship more appealing by making it less risky. By this logic, Obamacare doubles as entrepreneurship policy by making it easier for individuals to gain health insurance without relying on an employer.


FCC to Close 16 of 24 Field Offices

FCC to Close 16 of 24 Field Offices
Chairman pleads budget proposal before Congress
Mar 24 2015

WASHINGTON—Field offices are on the chopping block at the Federal Communications Commission. Sixteen of 24 are being targeted for closure, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told members of Congress Tuesday. Wheeler appeared before the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government to plead the agency’s case for 2016 funding. 

He said an audit of field offices revealed several with one manager to four employees in “oversized rental facilities, which are draining our resources.”

“After analyzing a contractor report on field office use, we have determined that we can more efficiently deploy staff using a ‘tiger team’ approach and make better use of regional offices,” he said in prepared testimony. “This plan, if accepted by my fellow commissioners, will lead to 16 field office closures and annual savings of $9 million without diminished productivity.”

Non-auction flat funding has led to staff cuts, he said. The commission currently has 1,708 full-time positions, compared to a 20-year average of 1,877. Contractors have been cut as well, from 600 in 2012 to 435 by the end of 2016.

Yet the 2016 budget request is the first in 10 years that doesn’t include a request for more bodies, but rather cuts 37 positions—30 of them from field offices. (See “FCC Possibly Downsizing Enforcement Field Offices,” at Radio World.)

Wheeler said while the staff’s been shrinking, demands have increased and so has the workload for those still standing. At some point, he said, the cuts will have a negative effect.

“For example, in the licensing operations area since 2010, our FTE levels have declined by more than 25 across several bureaus, versus steady growth in licensing activity over that same time, so at some point licensing operations could slow,” he said. 

Licensees ultimately will feel the pain, he said. 

The commission is asking for an $84 million increase for 2016 in part because the agency’s lease is up in 2017. After mentioning that the commission has generated 13 times its operational costs for the U.S. Treasury for 20 years, Wheeler went on to request auction funding of up to $117 million, $25 million from the Universal Service Fund and $388 million in general spending authority.  

“If the commission’s lease were not expiring in 2017, our budget proposal would look different and my presentation today…,” Wheeler said. “We would have been asking for a modest increase over last year’s funding level…”

Wheeler said moving would cost around $51 million up front—similar to the costs associated with moving for the National Institutes of Health and the National Labor Relations Board. In the long run, he said the move would save money.


As Twitter launches Periscope, Meerkat announces $14 million in funding

As Twitter launches Periscope, Meerkat announces $14 million in funding 
Welcome to the live-streaming wars 
By Ben Popper
Mar 26 2015

This morning saw dueling announcements in the world of live-streaming apps. Twitter finally pushed Periscope to the public, and Meerkat announced it had raised a pile of cash with strong connections to Hollywood. Right now Meerkat has the hype, coming off a strong SXSW and high-profile celebrity users like Jimmy Fallon. At the same time, Meerkat relies heavily on Twitter for its distribution. That puts it in a perilous position, something we saw at work when Twitter cut off Meerkat’s access to its social graph.

Part of the Meerkat money, $14 million, comes from traditional tech players like Greylock, Comcast Ventures, and other Silicon Valley investors. But the list also includes Ashton Kutcher, Lorne Michaels’ BroadWay Video Ventures, and talent agencies like William Morris Endeavor and CAA. Twitter reportedly paid $100 million for Periscope before it had even launched.

Over the last two weeks Meerkat has shot up the iOS app stores charts. Analytics firm App Annie shows it’s moving from number 500 in the social category and under number 1,000 overall, to number 22 in the social category and 160 overall. Neither service is available yet on Android.

One key difference between the two services for now is that Periscope allows users to archive their broadcasts for replay when they are done. In our reviewwe found this to be its killer feature, removing the somewhat overwhelming urgency of needing to tune in to every live stream that sends along a push notification.