AI for an Eye

While they predate the warm and fuzzy moniker that is “wearables,” contact lenses are one of the more common pieces of technology applied to the body today. But, unlike most other commercial wearable devices, corrective contact lenses have not been particularly sexy. They help us see as well as we should see and then their job ends. Or, at least, that’s where it has historically—yes, like everything from cars to shoes to refrigerators, the contact lens is about to get “smart.”
The innovation of smart contact lenses is moving in a few different directions. One notable and noble pursuit is health monitoring. Alphabet’s Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) is doing work here, with a lens that monitors (via tears) blood glucose levels for diabetics, and startup Medella Health recently secured $1.4 million for its competitive product. Meanwhile, Swiss-based Sensimed AG, has received FDA approval for a lens that tests eye pressure for glaucoma patients. Unlike traditional glaucoma tests, Sensimed AG’s Triggerfish makes it possible to monitor eye pressure for a 24-hour period, including sleep, for more accurate assessment of a glaucoma patient’s risk of vision loss.
The contact lens has an advantage in the health monitoring space—at least compared to other wearables that didn’t originate as medical devices and don’t connect so intimately with the body—but this isn’t the only future for the smart lens. There are new opportunities for vision correction coming, as evidenced by Google and Novartis and EPGL; both teams are developing autofocus lenses in an effort to correct farsightedness. And, of course, there are a number of other innovations in the works that will appeal to our sci-fi’d imaginations, like Ocumetrics, a company that reportedly has created a lens that improves vision 3x better than 20/20. While their “bionic” lens, technically a surgical implant, has received some skepticism from the medical community, it generated a fair amount of buzz in social media. (And, understandably so; for those of us who spent childhoods watching The Six Million Dollar Man, the wait for bionic vision has been long and grueling.)
Meanwhile, Samsung recently filed a patent for a smart lens, which, according to Sammobile, “shows a contact lens equipped with a tiny display, a camera, an antenna, and several sensors that detect movement and the most basic form of input using your eyes: blinking.” This is foundational user interface stuff that sets us up for interactions akin to Google Glass, but right there on the eyeball. It leads a future where the recording of experiences becomes incidental and video games, augmented and virtual reality can be experienced without the need for bulky equipment. In this way, tech becomes more discreet—a point of interest to marketers who have relied on the showmanship of early adopters because how do you fuel word of mouth for “invisible” technology?
More provocative, however, is the potential for change in human behavior as the boundaries between our bodies and information continue to dissolve. If you think there’s no need to lock facts, figures, and trivia into memory because your smartphone is in your pocket today, wait until you can blink your way through IMDB. And how does human interaction shift when Facetime happens in your face, when we have the power to conduct background checks on the fly? (“Hello, it’s great to meet you and…um…are you browsing my Facebook page right now?”) Given the pace of innovation today, it’s not difficult to imagine a world where the smart lens gives a lawyer or student a steroid-like advantage on the intellectual playing field, or a quick lens check become the norm before, say, the National Spelling Bee—all before the next time you need to renew your driver’s license.
As all the world’s information migrates from our fingertips to our eyes, the next logical step is to introduce some level of processing of the information—artificial intelligence—in a lens. Progress here depends a lot on computer vision, the same technology that helps a self-driving car distinguish between a traffic light and a man wearing a green hat. Computer vision is one of the more intensive areas of innovation today—Slate published an interesting piece on the challenges—and naturally there are a number of innovators tackling it. This includes a Russian developer that has created an open source computer vision platform in collaboration with both Google and Facebook. It’s also likely that large scope of data acquired as a result of the first wave of camera-like smart lenses will play a meaningful role in advancing computer vision. In other words, smart lens wearers will be effectively teaching computers how to see.
But we’re not cyborgs (eyeborgs?) yet. Even as humans get more comfortable with the idea of body hacking via objects like radio frequency ID chips, there’s still something squeamish about putting technology right there in the eye.  (Cue A Christmas Story: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”) Innovations in miniaturization, like ETH Zurich’s ultra-thin circuit—50 times thinner than a human hair—help address these concerns.
There is also the powering of smart lens technology to consider—how do these things get their juice? Google’s glucose-monitoring lens would be powered by a “reader” device, such as a piece of clothing or headband that sits near the lens. Google also has a patent for solar-powered contact lens, while Sony’s recent patent includes “…sensors [that] would convert the movements of the eye into energy to power the lens.”
With these and other patents and products in the works today, it’s clear to see that both the reach and role of the contact lens is on the brink of transformation. From vision correction and enhancement to health monitoring, from entertainment to data capture and processing, the range of applications for smart lenses is vast and sets the stage for a behavioral shift on par with—if not more substantial—than what we’ve seen with the mobile device. While we’re not quite there yet, it’s a good time to start thinking about the implications—if recent advances in technology have taught us anything, it’s that big changes can happen in the blink of an eye.

A sneak peek at Sony’s PlayStation Vue internet TV service

Sony may have just shuttered its music service, but it’s getting ready to launch another media venture: PlayStation Vue, the company’s upcoming live TV service, is supposed to launch before the end of the quarter. Sony has been testing the service with a limited number of users in New York since late last year, but in recent days, the company has been inviting a number of new users to this beta test, suggesting that a launch may be coming soon.

Sony announced its intentions to start an internet TV service at CES 2014, and then officially unveiled its name and launch plans last November. At the time, the company also shared some highly polished screen shots to show off how Vue will look like. With new users getting added to the service, those pictures are being augmented by much-needed real-world experiences.

One user, who declined to be identified for this story, shared a few snapshots and first impressions with me that give us a better picture of Vue, and how it differs from the recently soft-launched Sling TV service. I asked Sony for comment, but haven’t heard back yet.

PlayStation Vue

The programming: Sony announced in recent months that it has struck agreements with CBS, NBC and Fox as well as Viacom, Scripps and Discovery for Vue. Asked which channels this has brought to the service, my source told me the following:

“Spike, CBS, NBC, Fox, My9, Telemundo, American Heroes, Animal Planet, BET, BET Gospel, Big Ten network, Bravo, CBS Plus, Centric, Chiller, Cloo, CMT Pure Country, CNBC, CNBC World, Comedy Central, Cooking Channel, Cozi TV, Destination America, Discovery Channel, Discovery Family, Discovery Life, DIY, E!, Esquire, Exits, Food Network, Fox College Sports (3), Fox Sports 1,2,3, FX, FXM, FXX, Golf Channel, HGTV, Investigation Discovery, LOGO, Movies TV, MSNBC, MTV (Hits, Jam, 2, U), Nat Geo, all the Nickelodeons, OWN, Oxygen, Palladia, Science, Sprout, SYFY, Teen Nick, Travel, TV Land, Universal, USA, Velocity, VH1, Vh1 Classic, Soul, YES Network.

No real big surprises on that list. Sports fans will appreciate the number of sports channels, but the one most sports fans really want to have — ESPN — is obviously missing. Also, it looks like Sony signed really big bundles with all of the programmers, forcing it to carry numerous channels with very small audiences. Seriously, I had to google a number of them to even figure out what they were.

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The UI: Sony has been previewing a very polished UI that combines content galleries with large cover art wallpaper. That’s definitely part of the UI, but Sony is also offering a much more traditional channel guide, with a twist: Instead of listing all channels in a left column, Vue is grouping them in a header row, and then listing shows by time in columns underneath. Kind of like a cable guide turned on its side, if you will.

Other than that, I’ve been told that the interface is “very snappy,” very easy to use and “very PlayStation 4 store-esque.”

The rights: One of the big issues that came up with the launch of Sling TV were the varying rights assigned to each channel. Some networks let users rewind and watch shows from the past 72 hours, but most didn’t. That doesn’t seem to be an issue with PlayStation Vue, at least from what I’m hearing so far. The service allows users to catch up on shows for up to three days, and also “record” episodes on its cloud DVR for up to 28 days. Users can add any show to their list of “my shows” and then access past episodes quickly, making them much less dependent on the channel grid, or schedule in general for that matter.

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The price: Sony hasn’t said how much Vue will cost, and it hasn’t given current beta testers any additional information about this either. Reports in the past have indicated that the company could charge between $60 and $80 for the bundle, at which point it wouldn’t be a whole lot cheaper than traditional cable. That’s largely due to those big bundles Sony is buying from programmers in order to get crown jewels like those broadcast channels and cable networks like Comedy Central.

The big question is whether that will fly with users, many of whom are looking for an alternative to cable exactly because it is a big, expensive bundle, forcing them to pay for many channels they don’t actually watch. Asked whether he’d pay for Vue, a beta tester told me: “I would pay for this service if they let you pick channels al a carte.”

My guess is that’s not the answer Sony was hoping for.

The Interview is heading to YouTube, Google Play and Xbox today

The off-again, on-again saga around The Interview continues: Google and Microsoft have agreed to make the movie available online. The film becomes available on 12/24, starting at 10am PT on YouTube, Google Play as well as through Xbox Live and via Sony’s own website. Consumers will be able to rent the movie for $5.99, or buy a digital copy for $14.99.

Sony confirmed the release of the movie Wednesday, following a report from CNN that first mentioned ongoing negotiations between Sony and YouTube. The studio apparently plans to make the release available on Seetheinterview.com, which is inaccessible at the time of writing.

Sony had canceled all release plans for The Interview last week after major theater chains pulled out of the release following threats of violence and the devastating hack attack on Sony’s servers. At the time, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton said that there were no plans to release it online. This week, the film’s fate changed completely: The film will now debut in around 300 independent theaters on Christmas Day.

The online release apparently came together after Sony reached out to a variety of online platforms last Wednesday. Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond published the following statement about it on the company’s blog:

“Last Wednesday Sony began contacting a number of companies, including Google, to ask if we’d be able to make their movie, “The Interview,” available online. We’d had a similar thought and were eager to help—though given everything that’s happened, the security implications were very much at the front of our minds.

Of course it was tempting to hope that something else would happen to ensure this movie saw the light of day. But after discussing all the issues, Sony and Google agreed that we could not sit on the sidelines and allow a handful of people to determine the limits of free speech in another country (however silly the content might be). “

Re/code’s Peter Kafka reported Wednesday that negotiations between Sony and Apple to add The Interview to iTunes on the same day apparently fell through. However, it’s still possible that Apple will get the movie later, or that other online distributors will get a piece of the action as well. And Variety added that Sony is talking to Netflix about carrying the movie as well.

Getting The Interview on the day it is released in theaters would be a major coup for Google; these kinds of same-day releases are called “day and date” releases in the industry, and have been very controversial in the past. Major theater chains have long resisted this idea, arguing that a simultaneous online release would harm their box office sales. But with the major chains out of the picture for The Interview, Sony may be free to pursue the online route — and it could possibly look for clues on how other movies might fare in the future.

This has been updated throughout with further information on the release.

Why Sony is way out on a limb with legal threats against Twitter

Sony is threatening Twitter with a lawsuit unless it removes accounts and tweets that have posted screenshots or excerpts from its hacked emails, but the legal basis for such threats is limited and so far Twitter has resisted Sony’s requests

North Korea appears to be back online

The internet seemed to be back up in North Korea on Tuesday, after experiencing a nearly “unprecedented” interruption, according to the BBC and other reports although Akamai said sporadic glitches occurred throughout the day (see chart.)

David Belson, [company]Akamai[/company] senior director of industry and data intelligence said the root cause of Monday’s multi-hour outage and shorter glitches on Tuesday remains unclear. He noted via mail that “it’s unlikely to be a physical cause [like a] fiber cut, a concerted effort on the part of the DPRK government (since that’s usually more of a go down/stay down scenario), or a router misconfiguration.”

Monday’s outage, reported by tech vendors including Dyn and CloudFlare, remains shrouded in mystery — sort of like the Sony hack that preceded it. Last week, the FBI blamed North Korea for breaking into Sony’s servers, taking corporate documents and releasing embarrassing internal emails. But some cyber security experts don’t believe that North Korea is the culprit.

That led Sony to make the controversial decision to pull The Interview, a comedy centered on a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Some suspect the interruption in North Korea is part and parcel of the “proportional response” to the Sony hack that President Barack Obama vowed last week. Others point to China — North Korea relies on China Unicom as its main pipeline to the rest of the world so that is obviously a possible single point of failure, Belson said although other than that there is no indciation that China is responsible for the outage.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said reports of Chinese involvement had “no basis in reality,” according to the BBC.

north korea outage

Note: This story was updated at 3:04 p.m. PST with comments and data from Akamai.

The fair use case to show The Interview if Sony will not

After Sony cravenly cancelled The Interview, people who had no interest in the comedy now want to see it — mostly so they can stick it to North Korea, whose threats caused the film to be cancelled in the first place. But where can they watch it?

Some options are already emerging. As the Wall Street Journal proposed, the U.S. government could release the film everywhere, including North Korea where dissidents already smuggle in movies via balloons and USB sticks. Under the Journal’s plan:

[A]n alternative would be for the U.S. government to buy the movie rights from Sony and release it into the public domain. Anyone could then share the file online without violating copyright, burn it onto DVDs or even re-edit it to make new viral videos. Chinese netizens love to mock Kim, and North Koreans like to watch movies smuggled across the border from China. Perhaps the CIA could dub the movie into Korean to make sure it gets to its target audience.

It’s not a bad idea, but perhaps there’s no need to wait for the U.S. government to buy the movie. Instead, distributors of any shape or size, from Netflix to film blogs, could rely on copyright’s fair use exemption to show the movie without asking [company]Sony[/company].

Law professor James Grimmelmann raised this idea last week:

Fair use rules involve courts balancing the rights of the copyright owner against the interest of the public. And in this case, the public interest case for showing the movie is enormous, given the awful precedent that this piece of censorship is setting. As David Carr of the New York Times put it:

Once the film was successfully censored, you could count the days until other films were affected. Actually, it happened earlier in the same day, before The Interview was shelved, when New Regency announced that it would drop an untitled thriller about North Korea that was to have starred Steve Carell. […]

The threats and subsequent cancellation will become a nightmare with a very long tail. Now that cultural discourse has become the subject of online blackmail, it is hard to imagine where it will end.

There is still the matter, though, of how fair use rules actually apply. Here, as with any other copyright case, it involves a standard test. The test involves four steps, but in practice, only two factors really matter: the reason someone is using the copyrighted work, and the effect that this use will have on the market.

As Grimmelmann notes above, the market factor tilts heavily in favor of anyone showing The Interview since, right now, there is no market for the film. And as for the other major fair use factor (known as “the purpose of the use”), there is a good argument that showing the film counts as a so-called transformative use. Unlike Sony’s original intention for the movie, which was as a lowbrow form of entertainment, others who show it would be making a powerful political statement. As President Obama noted on Friday:

“We cannot have a society in which some dictators someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States … That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”

Does this mean that the fair use case for showing The Interview is open-and-shut? No, it’s not. But the case is strong and, anyway, would Sony really double down by filing copyright lawsuits over a movie that it was too cowardly to release in the first place?

So let’s hope that everyone from [company]Netflix[/company] to [company]BitTorrent[/company] considers making a stand on this one. This would be a good occasion for the file-sharing crowd to prove that they care about something more than getting movies for free. And for [company]Hulu[/company] and [company]Amazon [/company]and anyone else with an interest in Hollywood, this would be a second chance to take up George Clooney’s call for the film industry to take a stand about something that matters more than money.

Everything you need to know about the recent Snapchat leaks

It has been a dramatic 24 hours for Snapchat, which had some internal emails leaked last night via the Sony hack. Sony Entertainment’s CEO, Michael Lynton, sits on Snapchat’s board.

There’s been dozens of articles about all the information surfaced, reported on (mostly) by Business Insider. Some of the details were legitimate product news, others  provided a glimpse into the mind of its 24-year-old CEO Evan Spiegel. Snapchat has historically been a private company and done little media outreach. So the document dump is one of the more comprehensive looks at its vision.

In a statement released today, Spiegel said he was “devastated” by the privacy violation and felt like he was “going to cry all morning.” He explained that he believes keeping secrets, although difficult, is key for a company’s development so it can “work free from judgment” and “feel safe in our expression and creativity.”

To give you the quick rundown on all the news, we put together this list of everything you need to know about the Snapchat leaks. Most of it is not hugely groundbreaking, but there’s definitely some compelling nuggets for those following the social media company and its meteoric rise.

News

1) It looks like Snapchat acquired a company called Vergence Labs for $15 million, which makes eyeglass frames akin to Google Glass that can record and store video. It’s not clear why Snapchat wanted it.

2) Snapchat bought an iBeacon/QR code company called Scan.Me for $50 million. Another confusing, currently inexplicable purchase. (This news came from TechCrunch)

2) Snapchat paid $30 million for video tech startup AddLive. The deal had previously been reported, but not the sum Snapchat paid.

2) Facebook may have bid even more than $3 billion for Snapchat based on emails between author Malcolm Gladwell and Lynton. Gladwell asked if the company was crazy and Lynton responded, “If you knew the real number you would book us all a suite at Bellvue.” Other messages suggest that Mark Zuckerberg believed Evan Spiegel was behind the leak of the news, and he wasn’t happy about it.

3) Snapchat considered starting a music label this past summer. Emails showed that Spiegel wants to use Snapchat to promote musicians from a Snapchat-run label. But after Snapchat’s partnership plans with Vevo fell apart (because Snapchat wanted too high an advertising revenue cut), the plan stalled.

3) Evan Spiegel seems to have insulted Tencent by asking to take $40 million personally through a secondary offering and not informing board member Mitch Lasky from Benchmark. “They didn’t like the fact that I didn’t know what was happening … part of what gives them comfort at the high valuations is knowing that someone they trust — me — is fully engaged on the board,” Lasky said in an email to Lynton. Tencent also wasn’t pleased with the $4 billion valuation Spiegel was aiming for. The Chinese internet company appears to have passed on a followup funding deal because of that.

Behind-the-scenes

1) Various VCs expressed excitement over Snapchat because it’s seeing high, passionate engagement from its users. “I am not overstating it when I say that Snapchat’s utility requires hours of your time a day,”Jerry Murdock from Insight Venture Partners told Lynton. “Snapchat’s stickiness is very real.” In an email, Spiegel explained that he doesn’t think the app’s advantage is teens or its threat to Facebook — it’s the fact that it has pioneered a new form of messaging.

2) After Evan Spiegel gave a public speech, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo emailed Lynton singing his praises. He said, “I really think [Spiegel] is one of the best product thinkers out there right now.”

3) Despite the fact that Spiegel is stereotypically seen as a reckless bro who lucked into running such a successful company (see: his sexist college frat emails), his emails suggest otherwise. In one message to Lynton, he penned a comprehensive, dense analysis of market dynamics to explain why he thought Snapchat should stop fundraising and start building revenue streams. Other emails showed that Spiegel was reaching out to category experts (like the now Twitter CFO Anthony Noto) for further education.

And now you’re caught up! This is a living document, and as more Sony leaks emerge we’ll continue to update with relevant Snapchat information.

Pro tip: If you use cloud storage, bring your own security

If you weren’t already worried about the security of your company’s internal memos and other documents, the recent Sony hack probably fixed that (and reinforced the message that if you don’t want egg on your face, you shouldn’t write embarrassing emails).

Here’s the thing: Security is hard, and as we’ve heard over and over, it requires a mix of technologies from different providers, constant vigilance and good end-user practices to safeguard a company’s crown jewels.

Thanks to widely publicized breaches at Target, Home Depot and — yes — [company]Sony[/company], companies are reconsidering their security practices, according to a new research note from Nomura Securities analyst Frederick Grieb. That means more budget will flow to security next year and also that top-notch Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and Chief Security Officers (CSOs) with expertise in both relevant technologies and their company’s business and regulatory requirements are in short supply.

Lesson: Add your own security

In that vein, the director of security for a Fortune 100 healthcare provider recently told me that keeping company data and documents secure, requires that companies layer additional security atop whatever cloud storage and file share service is used. These storage vendors may have good marketing statements, but when you drill down, not very good security stories, he said.

Speaking on the condition that neither his or his company’s name be disclosed, he said the issue for a highly regulated company like his is to ensure that a document — whether it’s a PDF file of a doctor’s report or a digital X-ray of a broken arm — is protected not only at both ends (“at rest”) but also in transit (“in motion”).

That’s because the basic problem of the internet is that traffic goes through any number of third parties. “You don’t know and you can’t trust that your file is private — it’s like sending a postcard in the mail — anyone can read it,” he noted.

To address this, his company is deploying fan-favorite Dropbox but is also using a third-party product, nCrypted Cloud, to encrypt files before they’re sent, which leaves the encryption keys in the hands of the customer. The cloud storage provider, whether it’s [company]Dropbox[/company] or Box or Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive does not hold those keys and cannot access the files or disclose them to third parties. (Neither does nCrypted Cloud, which competes with WatchDox and Sookasa, for that matter),

Shutterstock/deepspacedave

He’ s also trying out a new nCrypted Cloud product, Infinite Mail, that strips out attachments embedded in messages, and replaces them with secure links that the intended recipient can open as set up by an IT administrator. It supports popular [company]Microsoft[/company] and [company]Google[/company] email products.

If the problem of secure mail can be solved, this security exec sees possibly huge perks down the road. Currently, the cost of printing and mailing reports and benefits documentation is humongous — it can cost a company like his up to $100 million a year. If there is a way to guarantee secure digital delivery of such documents to the right end users, the cost savings could be huge.

Sony tells media to hide hacking news, but threats ring hollow

As Sony’s misery grows over a massive hacking incident, the studio is lashing out in a desperate way: it is warning news agencies to destroy any leaks they receive, or else Sony will hold them responsible for any damages.

The letter, which is signed by super lawyer David Boies, was sent to various outlets, including the New York Times, the Hollywood Reporter and security blogger Brian Krebs:

It instructs recipients to notify Sony if they receive information related to the hacking and to confirm that “destruction has been completed.” Or what? Here’s the threat:

If you do not comply with this request, and if the Stolen Information is used or disseminated by you in any manner, [Sony] will have no choice but to hold you responsible for any damage or loss … including … any loss of value of intellectual property and trade secrets.

Legal scholars, however, give little credence to Sony’s threat, pointing to a Supreme Court case from 2001 that clearly shields the news outlets:

The case in question involves a radio DJ who broadcast parts of a recording that had been obtained in an illegal fashion. As the court noted, the First Amendment protects those who publish or describe such information (provided they did not have a role in obtaining it).

As a lawyer who has pled famous constitutional cases before the Supreme Court, Boies clearly knows the threats are empty. So why is he making them? It’s hard to know for sure, but the likely explanation is that Sony is desperate for somebody to do something to respond to the embarrassing series of hacks, which have disclosed everything from racist emails about President Obama to sensitive financial figures from the studio. The hackers, who want to stop the release of an impending Seth Rogen film that mocks North Korea, have also promised a “Christmas surprise.”

Sony’s discomfort is clearly understandable. But while the “stolen” (Sony’s word) information raises ethical issues, like those described by Aaron Sorkin, the studio doesn’t have appear to have a legal leg to stand on.