FILE PHOTO: A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo
April 16, 2021
By Raphael Satter
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Amid the cascade of U.S. sanctions imposed Thursday on Russian cybersecurity companies and officials alleged to be operating on behalf of the Kremlin’s intelligence services, one company stood out: the Fresh Air Farm House in Karachi, Pakistan.
The Farm House, whose Facebook page shows a waterpark-equipped holiday rental, is run by 34-year-old Mohsin Raza, one of two founders of an online fake ID business that prosecutors say helped Russian operatives get a toehold in the United States.
According to a U.S. Treasury statement and an indictment issued this week by federal prosecutors in New Jersey, Raza operated a digital fake ID mill, churning out images of doctored drivers’ licenses, bogus passports and forged utility bills to help rogue clients pass verification checks at U.S. payment companies and tech firms. The six-count indictment charges Raza with making false documents and aggravated identity theft.
Reuters reached Raza in Pakistan at a telephone number provided by the U.S. Treasury’s sanctions list. He confirmed his identity and acknowledged being a digital counterfeiter, saying he used “simple Photoshop” to alter ID cards, bills, and other documents to order.
Raza – who said he’s also dabbled in graphic design, e-commerce and cryptocurrency – denied any wrongdoing, saying he was merely helping people access accounts that they’d been frozen out of.
Among his customers, the New Jersey indictment alleges, was an employee of the Internet Research Agency – an infamous Russian troll farm implicated by U.S. investigators, media reports, leaked documents, and former insiders in efforts to interfere in U.S. elections. The IRA employee used Raza’s services in 2017 to procure forged drivers’ licenses to support the identity of fake accounts on Facebook, according to the indictment.
Facebook Inc did not immediately offer any comment. Raza said he didn’t track who used his service.
He said inspiration for his business came several years ago when a PayPal account which he had opened under an alias was locked, trapping hundreds of dollars he’d received for optimizing online search results.
Unwilling to forgo what he described as “hard-earned real money,” he Photoshopped an identity document under his alias’ name. Once PayPal unfroze his account, he realized he had stumbled on a good idea and the business took off from there. His site, Second Eye Solutions, boasted of “6,000 & more satisfied clients” before Raza pulled it down Thursday morning.
The old website featured scores of customer reviews thanking Second Eye for providing bogus identity documents used to verify accounts – mostly with PayPal. PayPal Holdings Inc had no immediate comment.
Money earned from the fake ID business was poured into the construction of the Fresh Air Farm House, Raza said. The facility, which features three bedrooms, a playing field, a water slide, and a BBQ area, is now on a U.S. list of sanctioned entities alongside Russian oligarchs and defense contractors.
Raza’s business is an example of how transnational cybercrime can serve as a springboard for state-sponsored disinformation, said Tom Holt, who directs the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.
The alleged use by Russian operatives of a Pakistani fake ID merchant to circumvent American social media controls “highlights why this globalized cybercrime economy that touches so many areas can be a perfect place to hide – even for nation-states,” he said.
Holt said that the sanctioning of the Farm House appeared to be a signal to the cyber-criminal milieu about steering clear of Russian actors.
“To the extent that you can’t deter through direct action, you can get some of these facilitators on notice,” Holt said.
(Reporting by Raphael Satter. Editing by Jonathan Weber and Rosalba O’Brien)
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The iPhone 13 release is already on the horizon. We’re expecting to see four new iPhones from Apple in September — the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max (though they may have different names).
From the rumors and leaks published so far, we aren’t expecting a major design change for the iPhone 13 — it’ll likely be pretty similar to the iPhone 12 in terms of models, size and price. (See more about how the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 are expected to stack up here.) But there are a few notable changes and upgrades that could make using the iPhone 13 a lot easier. Here’s what we know right now.
Read more:iPhone 13’s juiciest rumors: Smaller notch, lidar and more leaks
iPhone 13 sizes
These are the rumored iPhone 13 sizes:
iPhone 13 Mini: 5.4-inch
iPhone 13: 6.1-inch
iPhone 13 Pro: 6.1-inch
iPhone 13 Pro Max: 6.7-inch
Now playing: Watch this:
iPhone 13 rumor roundup
A smaller notch
Apple has included a notched display on every iPhone since the 2017 iPhone X, as a place for the selfie camera. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in March predicted that the iPhone 13 will have a smaller notch than its predecessors.
The same Lightning port (for most iPhone 13 models)
While the headphone jack is a thing of the past for iPhones, some had predicted that the rise of MagSafe accessories last year meant that the next iPhone would be portless. However, Kuo predicts that all iPhone 13 models will still include a Lightning port — except for the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
A 120Hz display
In March, Kuo also predicted that the two iPhone 13 Pro models will use LTPO technology in their displays for a 120Hz refresh rate, which we’ve heard in previous rumors as well. The number of hertz a phone screen is able to display refers to its number of frames per second, which determines how fast and smooth the screen feels when you’re scrolling through apps and web pages. It also affects how smooth supported games feel.
Many people were expecting to see the 120Hz refresh rate in the iPhone 12, since some higher-end phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the OnePlus 8 Pro, have this feature. On Twitter, tech analyst and leaker Jon Prosser claimed the decision not to implement 120Hz in the iPhone 12 pro was made due to battery life issues, since 5G drains so much battery on its own. But that will likely be less of a problem in the iPhone 13.
A bigger battery
All four iPhone 13 models will feature larger batteries than their iPhone 12 counterparts, according to Kuo. This would support the 120Hz display.
We haven’t seen a ton of leaks involving potential iPhone 13 colors. The iPhone 12 comes in five colors: deep blue, minty green, red, white and black. Apple usually replaces one color with another in its new models, but we aren’t sure what that will be yet.
For more, check out our review of the iPhone 12, and the best ways to sell or trade in your old iPhone.
Stay up-to-date on the latest news, reviews and advice on iPhones, iPads, Macs, services and software.
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Organizations are investing more in data analytics during the pandemic, a paper from West Monroe shows. A recent survey by KPMG agrees; the polling of C-suite executives found that data and analytics platforms are the most common new technology to be adopted, with 21% of respondents reporting the piloting of AI and machine learning solutions.
Driving the trend is a growing realization that AI can help enterprises maximize returns on investments in tech, mining the most insights from data. For example, AI can be used to spotlight parts of a website customers are likely to pay attention to, or help inform retailers about what their customers are likely to purchase.
“A positive trend to come out the pandemic was that organizations recognized that data was so important,” Sandy Carter, VP of worldwide public sector and programs at Amazon, told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “A lot of them came to the realization that they needed more insights in order in order to make the right decisions.”
How analyzing data can help
Indeed, most organizations have to wrangle countless data buckets — some of which have long gone underused. A Forrester survey found that between 60% and 73% of all data within corporations is never analyzed for insights or larger trends. The opportunity cost of this unused data is substantial, with a Veritas report pegging it at $3.3 trillion by 2020. That’s perhaps why organizations have taken an interest in solutions that ingest, understand, organize, and act on digital content from multiple digital sources.
Much of these analytics workloads are being processed in the cloud, which offers flexibility in how — and when — they can be executed. IDG reports that the average cloud budget is up from $1.62 million in 2016 to a whopping $2.2 million today. A Lemongrass survey found that IT leaders were motivated to migrate systems by desires to secure data, maintain data access, save money, optimize storage resources, and accelerate digital transformation.
Carter gave the example of Splunk, which worked with the City of Los Angeles to build a data analytics solution for its over 40 different agencies. The city wanted to take the 240 million records they create daily and use it to correlate along with other city data to gain insights. Specifically, they wanted to evaluate cyber threats,
Hacks and breaches have surged in the past year, due in large part to the pandemic. Canalys found that more records were compromised from March 2020 to March 2021 than in the previous 15 years combine. In one scary example, in February hackers attempted to poison a Florida city water supply by remotely accessing a server. And in 2015 and 2016, cyberattacks caused large-scale power outages in Ukraine.
With the help of Splunk and Amazon Web Services (AWS), Carter says that the City of Los Angeles is now able to evaluate 100 million threats each month using analytics, and to share the data throughout all 40 of its agencies.
Benefits and barriers
Challenges for some organizations continue to present barriers to adopting data analytics, however. Respondents to the Lemongrass survey reported pegged security and compliance as the top issues facing enterprises when moving legacy systems to the cloud. Separate research by Alatian and Wakefield Research found that data quality issues contributed to failed implementations of AI and machine learning.
Carter says that one AWS customer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, suffered from a lack of awareness of what AI and data might bring to the table. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency, which administers the country’s naturalization and immigration system, expressed an eagerness to apply machine learning models to its data but without specific goals in mind. With the help of Amazon, the agency determined which insights might be useful to its employees, like the percentage of likely no-shows to appointments and the number of next-year applications.
Successful migrations to the cloud can lead to a wealth of benefits, surveys show. For example, according to OpsRamp, the average savings from cloud migration come to around 15% on all IT spending. Small and medium businesses benefit the most, as they spend 36% less money on IT that way. Moreover, 59% of companies report an increase in productivity after migrating apps and service to the cloud, Microsoft says.
“If you’re going to use analytics and you’re going to use machine learning, the cost structure, on-demand, and agile nature of the cloud makes sense,” Carter said. “A lot of organizations … hustled to get their data to the cloud, because they knew that without building, storing, and managing that in a data lake, use of analytics and machine learning would be would be inhibited.”
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Deep learning set off the latest AI revolution, transforming computer vision and the field as a whole. Hinton believes deep learning should be almost all that’s needed to fully replicate human intelligence.
But despite rapid progress, there are still major challenges. Expose a neural net to an unfamiliar data set or a foreign environment, and it reveals itself to be brittle and inflexible. Self-driving cars and essay-writing language generators impress, but things can go awry. AI visual systems can be easily confused: a coffee mug recognized from the side would be an unknown from above if the system had not been trained on that view; and with the manipulation of a few pixels, a panda can be mistaken for an ostrich, or even a school bus.
GLOM addresses two of the most difficult problems for visual perception systems: understanding a whole scene in terms of objects and their natural parts; and recognizing objects when seen from a new viewpoint.(GLOM’s focus is on vision, but Hinton expects the idea could be applied to language as well.)
An object such as Hinton’s face, for instance, is made up of his lively if dog-tired eyes (too many people asking questions; too little sleep), his mouth and ears, and a prominent nose, all topped by a not-too-untidy tousle of mostly gray. And given his nose, he is easily recognized even on first sight in profile view.
Both of these factors—the part-whole relationship and the viewpoint—are, from Hinton’s perspective, crucial to how humans do vision. “If GLOM ever works,” he says, “it’s going to do perception in a way that’s much more human-like than current neural nets.”
Grouping parts into wholes, however, can be a hard problem for computers, since parts are sometimes ambiguous. A circle could be an eye, or a doughnut, or a wheel. As Hinton explains it, the first generation of AI vision systems tried to recognize objects by relying mostly on the geometry of the part-whole-relationship—the spatial orientation among the parts and between the parts and the whole. The second generation instead relied mostly on deep learning—letting the neural net train on large amounts of data. With GLOM, Hinton combines the best aspects of both approaches.
“There’s a certain intellectual humility that I like about it,” says Gary Marcus, founder and CEO of Robust.AI and a well-known critic of the heavy reliance on deep learning. Marcus admires Hinton’s willingness to challenge something that brought him fame, to admit it’s not quite working. “It’s brave,” he says. “And it’s a great corrective to say, ‘I’m trying to think outside the box.’”
The GLOM architecture
In crafting GLOM, Hinton tried to model some of the mental shortcuts—intuitive strategies, or heuristics—that people use in making sense of the world. “GLOM, and indeed much of Geoff’s work, is about looking at heuristics that people seem to have, building neural nets that could themselves have those heuristics, and then showing that the nets do better at vision as a result,” says Nick Frosst, a computer scientist at a language startup in Toronto who worked with Hinton at Google Brain.
With visual perception, one strategy is to parse parts of an object—such as different facial features—and thereby understand the whole. If you see a certain nose, you might recognize it as part of Hinton’s face; it’s a part-whole hierarchy. To build a better vision system, Hinton says, “I have a strong intuition that we need to use part-whole hierarchies.” Human brains understand this part-whole composition by creating what’s called a “parse tree”—a branching diagram demonstrating the hierarchical relationship between the whole, its parts and subparts. The face itself is at the top of the tree, and the component eyes, nose, ears, and mouth form the branches below.
One of Hinton’s main goals with GLOM is to replicate the parse tree in a neural net—this would distinguish it from neural nets that came before. For technical reasons, it’s hard to do. “It’s difficult because each individual image would be parsed by a person into a unique parse tree, so we would want a neural net to do the same,” says Frosst. “It’s hard to get something with a static architecture—a neural net—to take on a new structure—a parse tree—for each new image it sees.” Hinton has made various attempts. GLOM is a major revision of his previous attempt in 2017, combined with other related advances in the field.
“I’m part of a nose!”
A generalized way of thinking about the GLOM architecture is as follows: The image of interest (say, a photograph of Hinton’s face) is divided into a grid. Each region of the grid is a “location” on the image—one location might contain the iris of an eye, while another might contain the tip of his nose. For each location in the net there are about five layers, or levels. And level by level, the system makes a prediction, with a vector representing the content or information. At a level near the bottom, the vector representing the tip-of-the-nose location might predict: “I’m part of a nose!” And at the next level up, in building a more coherent representation of what it’s seeing, the vector might predict: “I’m part of a face at side-angle view!”
But then the question is, do neighboring vectors at the same level agree? When in agreement, vectors point in the same direction, toward the same conclusion: “Yes, we both belong to the same nose.” Or further up the parse tree. “Yes, we both belong to the same face.”
Seeking consensus about the nature of an object—about what precisely the object is, ultimately—GLOM’s vectors iteratively, location-by-location and layer-upon-layer, average with neighbouring vectors beside, as well as predicted vectors from levels above and below.
However, the net doesn’t “willy-nilly average” with just anything nearby, says Hinton. It averages selectively, with neighboring predictions that display similarities. “This is kind of well-known in America, this is called an echo chamber,” he says. “What you do is you only accept opinions from people who already agree with you; and then what happens is that you get an echo chamber where a whole bunch of people have exactly the same opinion. GLOM actually uses that in a constructive way.” The analogous phenomenon in Hinton’s system is those “islands of agreement.”
“Imagine a bunch of people in a room, shouting slight variations of the same idea,” says Frosst—or imagine those people as vectors pointing in slight variations of the same direction. “They would, after a while, converge on the one idea, and they would all feel it stronger, because they had it confirmed by the other people around them.” That’s how GLOM’s vectors reinforce and amplify their collective predictions about an image.
GLOM uses these islands of agreeing vectors to accomplish the trick of representing a parse tree in a neural net. Whereas some recent neural nets use agreement among vectors for activation, GLOM uses agreement for representation—building up representations of things within the net. For instance, when several vectors agree that they all represent part of the nose, their small cluster of agreement collectively represents the nose in the net’s parse tree for the face. Another smallish cluster of agreeing vectors might represent the mouth in the parse tree; and the big cluster at the top of the tree would represent the emergent conclusion that the image as a whole is Hinton’s face. “The way the parse tree is represented here,” Hinton explains, “is that at the object level you have a big island; the parts of the object are smaller islands; the subparts are even smaller islands, and so on.”
According to Hinton’s long-time friend and collaborator Yoshua Bengio, a computer scientist at the University of Montreal, if GLOM manages to solve the engineering challenge of representing a parse tree in a neural net, it would be a feat—it would be important for making neural nets work properly. “Geoff has produced amazingly powerful intuitions many times in his career, many of which have proven right,” Bengio says. “Hence, I pay attention to them, especially when he feels as strongly about them as he does about GLOM.”
The strength of Hinton’s conviction is rooted not only in the echo chamber analogy, but also in mathematical and biological analogies that inspired and justified some of the design decisions in GLOM’s novel engineering.
“Geoff is a highly unusual thinker in that he is able to draw upon complex mathematical concepts and integrate them with biological constraints to develop theories,” says Sue Becker, a former student of Hinton’s, now a computational cognitive neuroscientist at McMaster University. “Researchers who are more narrowly focused on either the mathematical theory or the neurobiology are much less likely to solve the infinitely compelling puzzle of how both machines and humans might learn and think.”
Turning philosophy into engineering
So far, Hinton’s new idea has been well received, especially in some of the world’s greatest echo chambers. “On Twitter, I got a lot of likes,” he says. And a YouTube tutorial laid claim to the term “MeGLOMania.”
Hinton is the first to admit that at present GLOM is little more than philosophical musing (he spent a year as a philosophy undergrad before switching to experimental psychology). “If an idea sounds good in philosophy, it is good,” he says. “How would you ever have a philosophical idea that just sounds like rubbish, but actually turns out to be true? That wouldn’t pass as a philosophical idea.” Science, by comparison, is “full of things that sound like complete rubbish” but turn out to work remarkably well—for example, neural nets, he says.
GLOM is designed to sound philosophically plausible. But will it work?
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Mercedes-Benz lifted the final veil Thursday on its flagship EQS sedan after weeks of teasers, announcements and even a pre-production drive in which TechCrunch participated. The company peeled off the camouflage of the EQS — the electric counterpart to the Mercedes S Class — and revealed an ultra-luxury and tech-centric sedan.
The exterior is getting much of the attention today; but it’s all of the tech that got ours, from the microsleep warning system and 56-inch hyperscreen to the monster HEPA air filter and the software that intuitively learns the driver’s wants and needs. There is even a new fragrance called No.6 MOOD Linen and is described as “carried by the green note of a fig and linen.”
“There is not one thing because this car is 100 things,” Ola Källenius, the chairman of the board of management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz, told TechCrunch in an interview the morning of the EQS launch. “And it’s those 100 little things that make the difference and that makes a Mercedes a Mercedes.”
Mercedes is betting that the tech, coupled with performance and design, will attract buyers. This is a high-stakes game for Mercedes. The German automaker is banking on a successful rollout of the EQS in North America that will erase any memory of its troubled — and now nixed — launch of the EQC crossover in the United States.
Quick nuts and bolts
Before diving into the all the techy bells and whistles, here are the basics. The EQS is the first all-electric luxury sedan under the automaker’s new EQ brand. The first models being introduced to the U.S. market will be the EQS 450+ with 329 hp and the EQS 580 4MATIC with 516 hp. Mercedes didn’t share the price of these models. It did provide a bevy of other details on its performance, design and range.
The EQS that will be available in the U.S. has a length that is a skosh over 17 feet, precisely 205.4 inches long, which is the Goldilocks equivalent to the Mercedes S Class variants.
Mercedes EQS 580 4MATIC
The vehicle has a co-efficient drag of 0.202, which sneaks below Tesla’s Model S and the upcoming Lucid Motors Air, making its the most aerodynamic production car in the world. All EQS models have an electric powertrain at the rear axle. The EQS 580 4MATIC also has an electric powertrain at the front axle, giving it that all-wheel drive capability. The EQS generates between 329 hp and 516 hp, depending on the variant. Mercedes said a performance version is being planned that will have up to 630 hp. Both the EQS 450+ and the EQS 580 4MATIC have a top speed of 130 miles per hour. The EQS 450+ will have a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds, while its more powerful sibling will be able to achieve that speed in 4.1 seconds.
The EQS will have two possible batteries to choose from, although Mercedes has only released details of one. The heftiest configuration of the EQS has a battery with 107.8 kWh of usable energy content that can travel up 478 miles on a single charge under the European WLTP estimates. The EPA estimates, which tend to be stricter, will likely fall below that figure.
The vehicle can be charged with up to 200 kW at fast charging stations with direct current, according to Mercedes. At home or at public charging stations, the EQS can be charged with AC using the on-board charger.
Now on to some of the technological highlights within the vehicle.
There are loads of driver assistance features in the EQS, which are supported by a variety of sensors such as ultrasound, camera, radar and lidar that are integrated into the vehicle. Adaptive cruise, the ability to adjust the acceleration behavior, lane detection and automatic lane changes as well as steering assist helps the driver follow the driving lane at speeds up to 130 mph are some of the ADAS features. The system also recognizes signposted speed limits, overhead frameworks and signs at construction zones, and includes warnings about running a stop sign or a red light.
Another new feature is the microsleep warning function, which becomes active once the vehicle reaches speeds over 12 mph. This feature works by analyzing the driver’s eyelid movements through a camera on the driver’s display, which is only available with MBUX Hyperscreen.
There are several active assist features that will intervene if needed. An active blind spot assist can give a visual warning of potential lateral collisions in a speed range from around 6 mph to 124 mph. However, if the driver ignores the warnings and still initiates a lane change, the system can take corrective action by one-sided braking intervention at the last moment if the speed exceeds 19 mph, Mercedes said. The feature remains active even while parked and will warn against exiting if a vehicle or cyclist is passing nearby.
There is also an active emergency stop assist feature that will brake the vehicle to a standstill in its own lane if the sensors and software recognizes that the driver is no longer responding to the traffic situation for a longer period. The brakes are not suddenly applied. If the driver is unresponsive, it begins with an acoustic warning and a visual warning appears in the instrument cluster. Those warnings continue as the vehicle starts to slowly decelerate. Hazard lights are activated and the driver’s seatbelt is briefly tensioned as a haptic warning. The final step is what Mercedes describes as a “short, strong brake jolt” as an additional warning followed by the car decelerating to a standstill, with an optional single lane change if necessary.
Mercedes is also offering the option of DRIVE PILOT, which is an SAE Level 3 conditional automated driving system feature. This would allow hands-free driving. Regulations in Europe prevent that level of automation to be deployed in production vehicles on public roads. However, Källenius told media in Germany on Thursday that the company is on “on the verge of trying to certify the first volume production car Level 3 system in Germany in the second half of this year,” Automotive News Europe reported.
The car that learns
Many of the technological gee-whiz doodads in the EQS tie back to an underlying AI that is designed to learn the driver’s behavior. That is achieved through software and a dizzying number of sensors. Mercedes said that depending on the equipment, the EQS will have up to 350 sensors that are used to record distances, speeds and accelerations, lighting conditions, precipitation and temperatures, the occupancy of seats as well as the driver’s blink of an eye or the passengers’ speech.
The sensors capture information, which is then processed by electronic control units (computers) and software algorithms then take over to make decisions. TechCrunch automotive reviewer Tamara Warren noticed the vehicle’s ability to learn her preference during a half day with the EQS.
Mercedes ran through a number of examples of how these sensors and software might work together, including an optional driving sound that is interactive and reacts to different parameters, such as position of the accelerator pedal, speed or recuperation.
The intuitive learning is mostly apparent through interactions with the MBUX infotainment system, which will proactively show the right functions for the user at the right time. Sensors pick up on change in the surroundings and user behavior and will react accordingly. Mercedes learned from data collected from the first-generation MBUX, which debuted in the 2019 Mercedes A Class, and found most of the use cases fall in the Navigation, Radio/Media and Telephone categories.
That user data informed how the second-generation MBUZ, and specifically the one in the EQS, is laid out. For instance, the navigation app is always in the center of the visual display unit.
Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz
The MBUX uses natural language processing and so drivers can always use their voice to launch a radio station or control the climate. But Mercedes is really pushing the EQS’ intuitive learning capabilities. This means that as a driver uses the vehicle, items that might be typically buried in the menu will appear up front, or offered up depending on the time or even location of the vehicle.
“The car gets to know you as a person and your preferences and what you do,” said Källenius. “It’s almost like it serves up the option that you want to do next, before you even think about it you get.”
“You get a pizza delivered before you even get hungry,” Källenius said, jokingly. “That’s phenomenal in terms of intuition.”
According to Mercedes there are more than 20 other functions such as birthday reminders that are automatically offered with the help of artificial intelligence when they are relevant to the customer. These suggestion modules, which are displayed on the zero-layer interface, are called “Magic Modules.” Here is how it might work: if the driver always calls a particular friend or relative on the way home on certain evenings, the vehicle will deliver a suggestion regarding this particular call on this day of the week and at this time. A business card will appear with their contact information and — if this is stored — their photo, Mercedes said. All the suggestions from MBUX are coupled with the logged-in profile of the user. This means that if someone else drives the EQS on that same evening, with their own profile logged-in, this recommendation is not displayed.
If a driver always listens to a specific radio program on their commute home, this suggestion will be displayed, or if they regularly use the hot-stone massage, the system will automatically suggest the comfort function in colder temperatures.
This also applies to the vehicle’s driving functions. For example, the MBUX will remember if the driver has a steep driveway or passes over the same set of speed bumps entering their neighborhood. If the vehicle approaches that GPS position, the MBUX will suggest raising the chassis to offer more ground clearance.
Health and wellness
Remember those sensors? There’s a way for drivers to take it a step further and link their smartwatch — Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3, the Mercedes-Benz Venu or another compatible Garmin — to the vehicle’s so-called energizing coach. This coach responds to the user’s behavior and will offer up one of several programs such as “freshness,” “warmth,” “vitality” or “joy” depending on the individual. Via the Mercedes me app, the smartwatch sends vital data of the wearer to the coach, including pulse rate, stress level and sleep quality. The pulse rate recorded by the integrated Garmin wearable is shown in the central display.
What does this all mean in practice? Depending on the user’s wants and the AI system’s understanding of what he or she wants, the lighting, climate, sound and seating might change. This is, of course, all integrated with the voice assistant “Hey Mercedes” so drivers can simply make a statement to trigger the program they want.
If the driver says “I am stressed,” the Joy program will be launched. If the driver says “I’m tired,” they are then prompted to take a break the Vitality program.
Mercedes S Class owners might already be familiar with these options, although the automaker notes that EQS builds on the system. There are now three new energizing nature programs called forest glade, sounds of the sea and summer rain, as well as training and tips options. Each program launches different and immersive sounds, created in consultation with the acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. For instance, “forest glade” will deliver a combination of birdsong, rustling leaves and a gentle breeze. The program is rounded off by warm music soundscapes and subtle fragrance.
Sounds of the sea will produce soft music soundscapes, wave sounds and seagull sounds. Blasts of air from the air conditioning system completes the effect. Meanwhile “summer rain” offers up sounds of raindrops on leafy canopies, distant thunder, pattering rain and ambient music soundscapes.
Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz
For those long drives that require a break, Mercedes added a power nap feature. Once power nap is selected (and no, never when driving), the program runs through three phases: falling asleep, sleeping and waking up. The driver’s seat moves into a rest position, the side windows and panorama roof sunshade are closed and the air ionization is activated. Soothing sounds and the depiction of a starry sky on the central display support falling asleep, according to Mercedes. Once it is time to wake up, a soundscape is activated, a fragrance is deployed and a brief active massage and seat ventilation begins. The seat raises and the sunshade in the roof liner opens.
As mentioned, the “Hey Mercedes” voice assistant uses natural language processing and can handle an array of requests. Mercedes said the assistant can now do more, and certain actions such as accepting a phone call can be made without the activation keyword “Hey Mercedes.” The assistant can now explain vehicle functions.
The assistant can also recognize vehicle occupants by their voices. There is in fact individual microphones placed at each seating area within the vehicle. Once they have been learned, the assistant can access personal data and functions for that specific user.
The voice assistant in the EQS can also be operated from the rear, according to Mercedes.
These personal profiles are stored in the cloud as part of “Mercedes me.” That means the profiles can also be used in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles with the new MBUX generation. Security is built in and includes a PIN and then combines face and voice recognition to authenticate. This allows access to individual settings or verification of digital payment processes from the vehicle, the automaker said.
Screens and entertainment
Finally, yes the screens. All of the screens. The 56-inch hyperscreen gets the most attention, but there are screens throughout the EQS. What is important about them is how they communicate with each other.
The hyperscreen is actually three screens that sit under a common bonded glass cover and visually merge into one display. The driver display is 12.3 inches, the central display is 17.7 inches and front passenger display is 12.3 inches. The MBUX Hyperscreen is a touchscreen and also throws in haptic feedback and force feedback.
“Sometimes when I think about the first design and what we’ve actually done here, it’s like, ‘Are we mad to try to create a one meter 41 centimeters curved bonded glass, one piece in the car,” said Källenius. “The physical piece in its own right — it’s a piece of technological art.”
Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz
A lot of attention was paid to the backseat because the EQS, like its S Class counterpart, is often used to chauffeur the owner. Mercedes won’t call this a rear-seat entertainment system and instead refers to it as a multi-seat entertainment system because everything is connected.
Källenius explained that if a driver wants the two rear passengers to watch a different movie, a simple drag and swipe motion on the main screen will throw that new programming back to the rear. The passengers can also throw movies from left to right.
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The Apple Watch has finally been approved to collect ECG readings in Australia, but in the years since that feature debuted internationally the market has filled with devices ready and waiting to give you information about your heart.
Unlike some other health metrics collected by gadgets like smartwatches and scales, which are more there for entertainment and general information purposes, a lot of the data collected on your heart has the potential to be diagnostically relevant. Amanda Buttery, manager of clinical evidence for the Heart Foundation, welcomes these innovations.
“The development of smartwatch ECG technology is promising, particularly because atrial fibrillation is known to cause a third of all strokes in Australia,” she said. Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia in which your heart beats irregularly.
“However, findings from such technology should be interpreted and discussed by a doctor in the context of a person’s overall health.”
Most people who buy smartwatches are under the age of 40, and yet the people who would derive the most benefit from the health features are much more mature than that. The Apple Watch is ideal for iPhone users over the age of 60, who are far too young to need any kind of medical alert necklace, but still want some way to monitor their health and get help if needed.
In addition to the ECG function, which can detect cardiac abnormalities and will be activated in Australia in the coming weeks, the Apple Watch Series 4 and later features fall detection which can automatically call for help. The watch can also send alerts when your cardio fitness drops to a concerning level.
If you want a smartwatch that’s big on health information, but looks more like a traditional watch, the Withings Scanwatch was the first in Australia to have its ECG monitoring feature approved by the TGA. It also does blood oxygen monitoring (like the Apple Watch), but its face is primarily just a very nice analogue watch, with a black circle up the top that can display information when you want it to. All the measurements are synced to the Health Mate app, and can be sent to others like Google Fit or Apple Health, so you can look to see how you’re trending and bring up any concerns with your doctor. Scanwatch doesn’t have fall detection, however, which will be a dealbreaker for many.
But heart health information doesn’t have to come from a wrist-mounted gadget you wear all the time. Withings’ Body Cardio scale will take your heart rate whenever you step on it, as well as your weight and body composition information, and chart it over time. You need to be careful when tying weight to overall health though. While weight can be a factor in heart issues, the weight could just be another symptom of the larger problem, or completely unrelated. Overweight people find it difficult enough to get proper health advice from many doctors, even without getting their heart health advice from a judgy scale.
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The partnership said its workers developer platform is faster and 75% less expensive than AWS Lambda.
NVIDIA and Cloudflare announced a partnership that will “put AI into the hands of developers everywhere.”
Working with NVIDIA, Cloudflare will offer artificial intelligence (AI) tools to developers on top of its workers developer platform, making it “easier and faster for developers to build the types of applications that will power the future all within a platform.” On the Cloudflare blog, it claimed that it is faster and 75% less expensive than AWS Lambda.
More about artificial intelligence
Cloudflare also announced it will support TensorFlow, the open source tool for testing machine learning models, so developers will have access to familiar tools to help build applications before deploying on Cloudflare’s network.
The announcement said the intent of the partnership is to “bring AI to the edge at scale.”
Developers rely on AI for applications that require any number of tasks, including text translation on webpages to image object recognition, which “makes machine learning models a critical part of application development,” according to the announcement.
SEE: Natural language processing: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Developers need to keep proprietary machine models reliable and secure. Security is paramount to Cloudflare, which routes all web traffic for its internet customers through its intelligent global network. Users expect functionality to be fast and reliable. Cloudflare addresses its customer’s “security, performance and reliability needs” while NVIDIA provides developers with a range of AI-powered application frameworks which include Jarvis for natural language processing, Clara for healthcare and life sciences and Morpheus for cybersecurity.
NVIDIA’s and Cloudflare’s partnership, it said on Cloudflare’s blog, will combine NVIDIA’s accelerated computing technology and Cloudflare’s edge network to create a very large platform for developers to deploy applications that use pre-trained or custom-machine learning models “in seconds.” Developers can use familiar tools to build and test machine learning models as it leverages the TensorFlow platform, which can be deployed globally onto Cloudflare’s edge network.
“Cloudflare Workers is one of the fastest and most widely adopted edge computing products with security built into its DNA,” said Matthew Prince, co-founder & CEO of Cloudflare. “Now, working with NVIDIA, we will be bringing developers powerful artificial intelligence tools to build the applications that will power the future.”
Machine learning models were initially deployed on expensive centralized servers or would use cloud services that presented limitations to specific regions around the world.
Cloudflare and NVIDIA, the announcement said, “will put machine learning within milliseconds of the global online population enabling high performance, low latency AI to be deployed by anyone.” Developers can deploy custom models without the risk of being on end-user devices where they might risk being stolen, because the machine learning models themselves will remain in Cloudflare’s data centers.
“As companies are increasingly data driven, the demand for AI technology grows,” said Kevin Deierling, senior vice president of networking at NVIDIA. “NVIDIA offers developers AI frameworks to support applications ranging from robotics and healthcare to smart cities and now cybersecurity with the recently launched Morpheus.”
Cloudflare uses machine learning for needs that include business intelligence, bot detection, anomaly identification and more. Cloudflare uses NVIDIA accelerated computing to speed training and inference tasks and present the same technology to any developer that uses Cloudflare Workers.
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Alfredo Giron-Nava didn’t spot many peers at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development.
The postdoctoral researcher was one of only six junior scientists at the event, held in Copenhagen in May 2019. Four of them began discussions on how to boost the representation of junior scientists in the initiative, which sets global research priorities for ocean sciences.
After they persuaded organizers to give them a concluding talk slot, Giron-Nava, now a fisheries researcher at Stanford University in California, told the meeting, “It’s important to have early-career researchers who, at the end of the decade, will feel ownership and leadership of the objectives we are deciding here.” The room erupted into applause.
Anecdotally, steps by junior researchers to claim seats at science’s decision-making tables are becoming more common. Doctoral students, postdocs and people who have had their PhD for less than ten years are joining advisory boards, oversight councils and conference-organizing committees. Others have started their own advocacy and research initiatives by founding non-profit organizations and companies, bringing fresh perspectives and up-to-date expertise to boardrooms and advisory committees. And they gain organizational, management and leadership experience.
Junior researchers who are interested in leadership roles should seize opportunities sooner rather than later, says Juan Pablo Alperin, who studies scholarly communications at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Alperin served as the first early-career researcher on the advisory board of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a global open-access advocacy organization. “Stay in touch with shaping the profession you are going to be living in — leadership positions do that in a direct way,” he advises.
Open science and open-access-publishing movements have created early-career leadership opportunities, specialists say. Mark Patterson, former executive director of eLife, which runs the open-access journal eLife in Cambridge, UK, says he detects a strong appetite among junior researchers for systemic change in how science is shared and published.
Members of a group eLife set up in 2014 to represent the needs and aspirations of early-stage researchers convinced Patterson, who is now retired, and his colleagues to involve more junior scientists in the running of the journal. In response, the non-profit organization added a dedicated early-career-researcher seat to its board of directors, and created a pool of junior peer reviewers for articles. The board position is currently held by cell biologist Prachee Avasthi at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Other publishers have added early-career advisers either on their boards (PLOS) or in their advisory groups (Journal of Cell Biology). Nature and the Nature-branded journals, which are published by Springer Nature, do not have a formal advisory board or panel. The company is recruiting junior researchers for a soon-to-be launched Springer Nature US Research Advisory Council.
In March, eLife announced a partnership with PREreview, a preprint review platform, to engage more early-career researchers and those from under-represented groups in peer review.
Brianne Kent, a neuroscientist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, says more junior researchers are in positions of influence because so many are active in movements around open science, open access and reproducibility. Those include non-profit advocacy groups such as ASAPBio in San Francisco, California, and the Future of Research in Boston, Massachusetts. “Early-career researchers are really driving these initiatives to change scientific culture,” says Kent, who is the first, and currently the only, junior scientist to sit on the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s 16-member governing council.
The council oversees how federal funding for health research in Canada is spent. Kent, who joined in 2019 when she was a postdoc, says her position is not a dedicated junior seat, but grew out of a general call for applications to diversify the council. She was one of four members to draw up the council’s strategic plan for 2021–31, directing which health priorities the council will fund in the coming decade. Both Kent and Avasthi say that senior board colleagues have welcomed them and encouraged them to participate fully. “I love being on the eLife board so much because everyone on it is so dissatisfied with the status quo in publishing,” says Avasthi. She’s been a vocal proponent of new policies for peer reviewing preprints. Her seat is 100% an equal seat, she says, with her feedback sought and taken seriously.
Nick Shockey, SPARC’s director of programmes and engagement in Washington DC, says that junior researchers are the very audience that journals, professional societies and conferences need to reach most. “Not to have the diversity of their perspective on boards is a real handicap,” he adds.
The inclusion of early-career researchers in advisory roles, even in small numbers to start with, will, by the very nature of their demographic, automatically bring diversity to boards and governing bodies. “Early-career researchers today look very different from people who reached their research positions 30 years ago,” says Alperin. An early-career adviser brings with them not only a beginner’s viewpoint, but also fresh perspectives. They might have different cultural, ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds — they could be first-generation immigrants, Indigenous researchers or people from sexual and gender minorities, for example.
Senior researchers say that their junior colleagues often have the most up-to-date expertise on technology and methodologies in their research fields. They still get their hands dirty at the bench or in the field, and dive deeply into the literature daily.
Many early-career leaders also boast the digital skills that drive today’s globalized research. They tend to be digital natives, often know basic software coding and are comfortable working with big data on cloud-based platforms. Many also deftly connect with other researchers and communities through social media.
Ecologist Monica Granados, policy adviser at Environment and Climate Change Canada, the national agency in Gatineau that coordinates environmental policy, compares graduate students and postdocs to those who work hands-on in an assembly line. For example, she says, they have been early adopters of digital lab notebooks that share data immediately on the Internet. “They see where mistakes and inefficiencies are and the ways that the science could be improved,” she says.
Early-career researchers not only bring new skills and diverse perspectives, they also pick up valuable skills managing teams and projects, organizing and planning events and honing their verbal and written communication. Sometimes, it’s possible to publish advisory work, as Giron-Nava did with his commentary on the early-career initiatives of the UN decade project (A. Giron-Nava Mar. Technol. Soc. J. 53, 7–11; 2019). These publications, often cited or shared widely on social media, showcase junior researchers’ service and can raise their profiles.
Granados used her knowledge about the latest open-science technologies and initiatives when working on a report that summarizes how many peer-reviewed publications and how much data the government of Canada has made openly accessible (SBDAs Open Science Metrics Working Group. Preprint at Zenodo https://doi.org/f5jr; 2019).
Many early-career leaders are motivated to give back to their communities or research fields, and, for those living abroad, to improve the opportunities for their own fledgling careers at home. After studying in France and the United States, molecular biologist Khadidiatou Sall had always planned to return to Senegal to put her technical skills to use. “The African continent missed the second industrial revolution, and it did not go well for us,” says Sall. “We cannot miss the digital revolution.”
In 2017, she founded a non-profit organization called Science Education Exchange for Sustainable Development (SeeSD), as well as an innovation lab start-up in Dakar named Ubbil. “In the Senegalese context, you realize that you can’t put things off, because that has a consequence for everyone, including you,” she says.
Ubbil uses open-source software to build low-cost digital tools for Senegalese businesses to manage their inventories, accounting and customer relations. The lab’s biotechnology component trains scientists in genomics, gene sequencing and bioinformatics. It also manufactures face shields for health-care workers at 60 hospitals in Senegal for use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SeeSD promotes science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and arts education in schoolchildren in Senegal, using culturally relevant methods, in local languages and by including examples of Indigenous and traditional knowledge.
Sall relied on a wide community of family, friends, school directors and others working in the education sector to get SeeSD up and running while she was still a doctoral student in the United States.
Thomas Mboa was also a doctoral student, in science communication, when he founded Mboalab in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The innovation lab provides space for Internet-based study, a wet biology lab and ‘do-it-yourself’ science environment where people can “find local solutions to fix local problems”, he says. (The lab is named after the word mboa, which means ‘new’, ‘unique’ or ‘village’ in local languages.)
For example, the Kossamtor project at Mboalab built an incubator to help local people safely ferment a type of yogurt called kossam. Mboa, now a postdoc at the Open African Innovation Research Partnership at the University of Ottawa in Canada, also leads a project producing dried diagnostic and research enzymes. These do not need to be stored in refrigerators, which can be difficult to access in parts of Africa. “Decision-makers here are not always at the same level of understanding about how technology is evolving,” says Mboa, who splits his time between Canada and Cameroon. “It is better for young Africans to take action.”
Both Sall and Mboa felt that conventional academic careers would limit their freedom to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas. However, that means they are both doing multiple jobs. “Sometimes I feel like a principal investigator because I’m doing a lot of training and answering questions,” adds Sall, who also teaches genomics and bioinformatics at University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar.
The professional development Sall gains from running these initiatives is at least equal to what she would achieve as an assistant professor, she says. Others say that the professional benefits from their advisory, advocacy and leadership roles far outweigh the time taken away from their research. The biggest boon might be the researchers’ greatly expanded professional networks and amplified profile.
“Professionally, having access to this network — and the future prospects of jobs it represents — is amazing,” says Giron-Nava, who is also at the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco, California. Through the UN decade initiative, he has direct access to global scientific and policy directors, as well as to top scientists at leading research centres around the world.
These connections lead to speaking engagements, collaborations and research projects, as well as other advisory roles.
As a postdoc, Kelly Ramirez co-founded the advocacy organization 500 Women Scientists to promote the voices and stories of women in STEM. She says her advocacy and policy work helped her to “sell herself” during the two years of interviews before she landed a job as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“For job talks, I already had the practice of telling things in a succinct, storytelling way,” she says. And her work running an organization meant she understood budgets, fundraising and managing a diverse team. That showed her future faculty colleagues that she had the skills to be a successful group leader.
Early-career leaders who participate in peer review and on tenure-review committees get to pull the curtain back on evaluation processes that they will also go through. “A lot of the mystery is gone when you are using that experience in your own process,” says Avasthi. From her work at eLife, she says, she has learnt to take reviews of her own work less personally and to embrace transparency in evaluations.
These junior scientists are also picking up soft skills rarely gained in the lab or field. After 18 months of co-leading the Early Career Ocean Professionals programme for the UN decade project, Giron-Nava has polished his diplomacy skills, learning how to negotiate and argue scientific points in a way that respects cultural differences and international viewpoints. “We have faced many situations in which our usual Western approach to collaboration does not resonate with colleagues in eastern Africa or southeast Asia. We have had to navigate this challenge to develop a truly inclusive programme,” he says.
On SPARC’s board, Alperin got the insider’s view of national political lobbying when the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research law — to make taxpayer-funded research publications available to the public after 12 months — was being stewarded through the US Congress. “It was fascinating to hear the strategizing of meetings with lawmakers and to see how things move into policy and law,” he says.
And Granados and Sall have turned their networking and leadership skills into the ultimate benefit — a full-time job doing something they are passionate about.
“What I can do through my own research pales in comparison to bringing the open-science tools and ethos to other researchers,” says Julia Stewart Lowndes, who runs Openscapes, a programme she developed at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California, to increase the efficiency of scientific collaboration.
Through this programme, she has advised dozens of US academic and government research teams on how to engage in open-data science. She says that more such ‘horizontal leadership’ positions — which support, train or aid research colleagues at various career stages and levels — should be created and funded for early-career researchers.
Participation on boards or in leading initiatives can come at a cost: time taken from an individual’s projects, publications or grants. But many early-career leaders have developed strategies for time management and work–life balance to mitigate the downsides of their intense involvement.
Some positions require significant amounts of time for in-person or virtual meetings, or frequent phone or video-conference calls. Hard deadlines for conferences or reports mean that research papers can slide to the back burner.
Giron-Nava sets firm work boundaries — by dedicating at least 80% of his work time to fisheries research and other fellowship work. Pre-pandemic, he scheduled travel so that he had at least 7–10 consecutive days at home in California, and restricted his UN reading and work to long international flights when possible. During the pandemic, he blocks off at least one day per week to be free of video-conference meetings.
Mboa says that overstretched junior scientists need to say ‘no’ sometimes. He has learnt to turn down invitations to speak on panels — especially when he feels that he is being asked because organizers want to simply tick a box to say they have “someone coming from Black Africa”.
Sall, who teaches, leads a non-profit organization and runs a company, sets weekly and monthly goals for each initiative. But despite delegating tasks to others, she still works six days per week, often late into the night, which can be mentally exhausting. She takes Sundays off and relaxes by listening to podcasts and audiobooks, watching television and films, and spending time with her family.
Ramirez wonders how her work on 500 Women Scientists will be valued in her tenure review. Many early-career advisers and advocates face pressure from their research supervisors and peers to spend more time on their own research. “Science continues to value science first,” she says.
Navigating that criticism can be tricky, but many early-career researchers say the advantages of their leadership work are worth it. Their passion projects keep them energized and pushing forward in their research and other roles.
As a group, Shockey says, junior scientists are less entrenched in specific scientific methodologies or processes, have fewer work commitments beyond their own research, and bring high levels of energy and creativity to endeavours. “That energy is absolutely a real thing,” he says.
But, he adds, that energy can easily be dismissed by organizations as not being as valuable as decades of experience. To his mind, that’s a mistake. “Excitement coupled with ideas”, he says, “is what drives things forward.”
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Netflix has the best back catalogue of documentaries in the business.
From Oscar-winning documentaries like Icarus all the way through to crowd-pleasing viral hits like Tiger King, Netflix has documentaries on almost every possible topic. We’ve decided to highlight some of our favourites.
Editors’ top picks
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They’re in no particular order, and it’s impossible to represent the broad spectrum of what’s available. We’ve just called out the documentaries we think you can’t miss.
Murder Among the Mormons
Some of Netflix’s more recent true crime documentaries have been a bit bloated and… sorta bad?
Thankfully Murder Among the Mormons is a return to form. Definitely watch this one.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal
Recently released, Operations Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal has a name as long as some of Netflix’s recent documentaries. Thankfully, this isn’t as bloated as, say, the recent Cecil Hotel docu, but it could still use some trimming.
Operation Varsity Blues focused on the FBI investigation into college admissions that put actress Felicity Huffman into jail. Its director Chris Smith previously worked on the Fyre Festival documentary. This isn’t quite as compelling, but is still well worth watching.
The Last Dance
In 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, Netflix dropped this piece of sports doc perfection.
The Last Dance focuses on the Chicago Bulls during their 97-98 NBA title winning season, but really it’s a jumping off point for a documentary that tells the life story of its central star, Michael Jordan.
As a result, many criticized it for being a little too Jordan-focused, but The Last Dance was an event documentary that lived up to the hype.
Time may dull its impact, but when Tiger King was first released on Netflix, the entire world couldn’t stop talking about it.
It’s a show that moves rapidly from the bizarre to the downright unbelievable. Tiger King explores the strange underbelly of big cat breeding, focusing on a cast of unforgettable (and ultimately dangerous) characters. It drags its audience to weird places. Completely unforgettable.
This Oscar-winning documentary is an absolute belter.
Icarus starts out as an expose on the impact performance-enhancing drugs have on sports performance, but a sequence of events drags director Bryan Fogel into a web of geopolitics and conspiracies. To say more would spoil it, but Fogel ultimately has created a documentary that had a very real impact on our perception of sports as a whole. In that respect, Icarus is a literal game changer.
Released in Feb 2021, Pele is a fantastic look at the World Cup run of one of the most celebrated soccer players in all of history.
Best of all, this is a documentary that doesn’t pull punches. It asks hard questions of Pele, including his silence during a military coup that transformed Brazil into a dictatorship for decades. It’s about soccer, for sure, but Pele’s history is the history of an entire country, this documentary understands that.
My Octopus Teacher
My Octopus Teacher follows Craig Foster, a filmmaker who spent a year snorkelling and interacting with an octopus off the coast of South Africa. It’s a nature film, sure, but it’s simultaneously a documentary designed to inspire awe in the viewer. In short, octopi are incredible. Little aliens on Earth, essentially. This is the story of a relationship between humans and nature but it’s also an inspiring call to action: Don’t ignore the wonder that exists all around you.
Knock Down the House
Regardless of your views on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Knock Down The House is an incredible underdog story that cannot be missed. Focusing on progressive female candidates during the 2018 congressional primary campaigns, it’s an insightful look at the democratic process. It’s an inspiring reminder that we need to fight in order to make the voices of ordinary people count.
The true crime documentary genre is utterly saturated at this point, but The Staircase stands out.
Focusing on Michael Peterson and the death of his wife Kathleen, The Staircase is more than just a murder mystery. It’s a drawn-out epic that takes place over literal decades, a documentary that follows Peterson and examines his every move, but somehow still remains objective.
David Attenborough nature documentaries are so ubiquitous they’re vulnerable to self parody, but Our Planet is — I believe — the high watermark. Only Planet Earth, another Attenborough docu, comes close. But I prefer this one.
Wild Wild Country
Overlong and bloated, Wild Wild Country is nevertheless one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve ever watched on Netflix.
It tells the story of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajnees, who attempted to build a gigantic sprawling commune, for what was essentially a sex cult, in the United States. It’s a strange story that somehow becomes stranger with age. Much like Tiger King the story plumbs depths you won’t believe. At times it’s a slog, but Wild Wild Country is absolutely worthwhile.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die
Prime Video gives you access to the (admittedly) great All or Nothing series, which gives you behind the scenes access to top Premier League clubs like Man City and Spurs, but both of those come across buffed and polished. You never really get true behind the scenes access.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die is different. It’s gritty, brutal and gives you access to the worst parts of what it means to run a soccer team. It almost hurts to watch.
Making A Murderer
With the swathe of true crime documentaries and podcasts that came in its wake, it’s easy to forget that the world once lost its collective mind over Making A Murderer. In a lot of ways it created the template that many Netflix documentaries now follow. A real original.
Five Came Back
I absolutely adore this documentary. Five current acclaimed directors (including Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola) help tell the story of five famous movie directors from the ’30s and ’40s who did frontline work during the Second World War. It wraps their legacies alongside the impact of the war itself into a truly compelling story of Hollywood’s golden age.
I’ve watched plenty of true crime documentaries on Netflix, but nothing has come close to The Keepers. A staggering story, told across generations, that’s respectful of the victims, yet compelling throughout.
It’s a story about the unsolved murder of Catherine Cesnik, a nun who taught at a Catholic school in Baltimore, but The Keepers goes further than you might expect and exposes a potential cover up of sex abuse allegations.
13th by Ava Duvernay is a staggering documentary that tells the story of American slavery and its long-lasting impacts, many of which still resonate today.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, this should be mandatory viewing.
Challenger: The Final Flight
This look at the explosion of NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it is a well-produced, well-made look back at the tragic events of 1986.
It does great work, with great access and some intimate interviews with those left behind. Well worth a watch.
The Speed Cubers
If you’re looking for a slightly more uplifting documentary, you could do far worse than The Speed Cubers, a look at the world of competitive rubix… cubers?
Athlete A is a great feature length expose on Larry Nassar, the team doc of US Gymnastics, who had been sexually abusing female athletes for decades.
Be warned: This one is harrowing.
Who Killed Little Gregory
Who Killed Little Gregory is a documentary focused on the horrific murder of Grégory Villemin. It’s arguably the best true crime documentary on Netflix. It’s about a murder, and attempts to solve that murder, but it’s also a lesson in media representation and the horrific sexism Grégory’s mother had to face in the wake her own son’s murder.
Another Oscar winner for Netflix, this documentary is the first produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions team.
American Factory tells the story of Fuyao, a Chinese company that built a factory in Ohio that inhabits a now-closed General Motors plant. You have to watch this movie.
American Murder: The Family Next Door
There are a lot of true crime documentaries out there (and on this list) but American Murder: The Family Next Door sticks out.
It tells the story of Chris Watts, a seemingly regular guy who murdered his wife and children. The access to footage is staggering and it’s edited and produced in a unique way, using text messages and social media posts to tell the story. It’s a horrific reminder of the banal, incredibly common existence of domestic violence.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
By this point we all have some sort of understanding of Jeffrey Epstein’s story but Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich does itself a great service by focusing on the stories of the survivors of his abuse.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Hulu also has a great Fyre festival documentary, but I prefer this Netflix one. Unlike many Netflix documentaries, which are stretched and bloated into multi-part episodes, this documentary is sharp, direct and solid gold the entire way through.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Not gonna say much here. Nina Simone is a legend and this is maybe one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.
A lot of people have forgotten about this documentary but it’s a humdinger. Amanda Knox focuses on the famous murder Knox was accused of. But beyond that, this docu is a great examination of how media reporting can skew a case. The sexism here was fairly brutal.
Telling the bizarre story of the “pizza bomber”, Evil Genius is definitely one of those docu-series that should have been a movie, but it’s compelling nonetheless. It thrives by focusing on the characters behind the crime. Well worth a gander.
The Great Hack
In the wake of the Capitol siege, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica controversy almost feels like ancient history, but that doesn’t make this documentary any less important. If you haven’t seen it, then watch it.
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The study supplies the latest evidence that Facebook has not resolved its ad discrimination problems since ProPublica first brought the issue to light in October 2016. At the time, ProPublica revealed that the platform allowed advertisers of job and housing opportunities to exclude certain audiences characterized by traits like gender and race. Such groups receive special protection under US law, making this practice illegal. It took two and half years and several legal skirmishes for Facebook to finally remove that feature.
But a few months later, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) levied a new lawsuit, alleging that Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithms were still excluding audiences for housing ads without the advertiser specifying the exclusion. A team of independent researchers including Korolova, led by Northeastern University’s Muhammad Ali and Piotr Sapieżyński , corroborated those allegations a week later. They found, for example, that houses for sale were being shown more often to white users and houses for rent were being shown more often to minority users.
Korolova wanted to revisit the issue with her latest audit because the burden of proof for job discrimination is higher than for housing discrimination. While any skew in the display of ads based on protected characteristics is illegal in the case of housing, US employment law deems it justifiable if the skew is due to legitimate qualification differences. The new methodology controls for this factor.
“The design of the experiment is very clean,” says Sapieżyński, who was not involved in the latest study. While some could argue that car and jewelry sales associates do indeed have different qualifications, he says, the differences between delivering pizza and delivering groceries are negligible. “These gender differences cannot be explained away by gender differences in qualifications or a lack of qualifications,” he adds. “Facebook can no longer say [this is] defensible by law.”
The release of this audit comes amid heightened scrutiny of Facebook’s AI bias work. In March, MIT Technology Review published the results of a nine-month investigation into the company’s Responsible AI team, which found that the team, first formed in 2018, had neglected to work on issues like algorithmic amplification of misinformation and polarization because of its blinkered focus on AI bias. The company published a blog post shortly after, emphasizing the importance of that work and saying in particular that Facebook seeks “to better understand potential errors that may affect our ads system, as part of our ongoing and broader work to study algorithmic fairness in ads.”
“We’ve taken meaningful steps to address issues of discrimination in ads and have teams working on ads fairness today,” said Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborn in a statement. “Our system takes into account many signals to try and serve people ads they will be most interested in, but we understand the concerns raised in the report… We’re continuing to work closely with the civil rights community, regulators, and academics on these important matters.”
Despite these claims, however, Korolova says she found no noticeable change between the 2019 audit and this one in the way Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithms work. “From that perspective, it’s actually really disappointing, because we brought this to their attention two years ago,” she says. She’s also offered to work with Facebook on addressing these issues, she says. “We haven’t heard back. At least to me, they haven’t reached out.”
In previous interviews, the company said it was unable to discuss the details of how it was working to mitigate algorithmic discrimination in its ad service because of ongoing litigation. The ads team said its progress has been limited by technical challenges.
Sapieżyński, who has now conducted three audits of the platform, says this has nothing to do with the issue. “Facebook still has yet to acknowledge that there is a problem,” he says. While the team works out the technical kinks, he adds, there’s also an easy interim solution: it could turn off algorithmic ad targeting specifically for housing, employment, and lending ads without affecting the rest of its service. It’s really just an issue of political will, he says.
Christo Wilson, another researcher at Northeastern who studies algorithmic bias but didn’t participate in Korolova’s or Sapieżyński’s research, agrees: “How many times do researchers and journalists need to find these problems before we just accept that the whole ad-targeting system is bankrupt?”
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