Uber suspends UberPOP in France, citing safety and legal concerns

Uber Protests
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San Francisco-based Uber announced today it will stop offering its controversial UberPOP service in France, a move that comes after a week of sometimes violent protests by taxi drivers and a crackdown by the national government.

“In the light of last week’s violence, we have today decided to suspend uberPOP, our ride sharing service, until September’s Constitutional Court decision,” the company said in a statement. “It’s a tremendously sad day for our 500,000 French uberPOP passengers, as well as the drivers who used the platform. However, safety must come first. Our regular UberX service, which uses licensed cars and makes up a majority of our trips each day in France, will continue to operate as usual.”

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Home cleaning wars: Helpling acquires Hassle to create Europe’s latest ‘super startup’

Helpling employees huddle in the new offices. Behind them are Polaroid photos of cleaners who approved for the service.
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Germany’s Helping confirmed today it has acquired U.K.-based Hassle.com to create a home-cleaning giant in one of tech’s most fiercely competitive spaces.

The companies did not disclose the value of the deal. Tech.eu reported the size as a $35.5 million all-stock deal. However, a source familiar with the deal told VentureBeat the acquisition was made using a mix of stock and cash.

The acquisition brings together to companies that have raised almost $70 million in venture capital over the past two years. The new company will now be operating in 14 countries, including nine in Europe, and on five continents.

Benedikt Franke, co-founder of Helpling, said the two rivals had grown closer in recent months as they edged toward competing in each other’s territories. Ultimately, they decided to merge rather than pour tons of resources into trying to battle each other.

“The best way to go about this and to leverage this potential was to join forces,” he said.

Both companies recruit and vet home cleaners, and then provide a platform for clients to connect and hire them on-demand. This online home cleaning concept has been immensely hot in the past two years, but more recently it’s also been consolidating.

Another big competitor in this space is U.S.-based Handy, which has reportedly been in talks to acquire another home cleaning rival, Homejoy. Respectively, the companies have raised more than $60 million and almost $40 million, though Handy provides more services on its platform than just cleaning.

Homejoy seems to have fallen on hard times of late, not long after raising $38 million. The company has experienced some executive turnover. And Helpling took a hard look at buying Homejoy before passing.

Alex Depledge, cofounder of Hassle.com, will join the Helpling executive team and oversee Hassle operations in the U.K. and Ireland, where the company will continue to operate under the Hassle name.

Depledge, who has been a fierce advocate for the European startup scene, said that while it was tempting to go it alone and try to raise more money, the deal was just too logical for Hassle to pass up. In recent months, Depledge said she was comfortable that the Helpling founders shared “the same values and the same vision.”

“I just felt like we would fast-forward two years,” she said. “And instead of growing through all these turf wars, we could avoid that and really leverage our strengths.”

The two companies, however, arrived at this deal after traveling very different paths.

Hassle, founded in 2012, was one of the pioneers of the home-cleaning market but was also the smaller of the two companies. It had a scrappy feel, building with minimal resources until finally raising $6 million last year in a round led by Accel Partners.

The company primarily focuses on the U.K. and Ireland. Helpling had been facing a costly battle if it had wanted to move to enter the lucrative London market.

Helpling, in contrast to Hassle, came out of the Rocket Internet startup factory in Berlin. From the germ of an idea in January 2014, the company was already operating in 140 cities within nine months.

This year alone, Helpling has raised an additional $52 million in venture capital over two rounds, making it a daunting competitor. In addition to Europe, Helpling has launched in Canada, Australia, Brazil.

Both executives said the immediate focus would be on growing with their current territories. Any decision on moving into new regions, including the U.S., would likely be far down the road. But if and when that happens, it sounds like the new Helpling will be ready to take the fight to any U.S. competitors.

Depledge said the new entity showed that European startups are now thinking more ambitiously, and are ready to compete with U.S. rivals who are typically better funded.

“This is European collaboration at its best,” she said. “Usually, we wait around to be picked up by the Americans. Now, we’re positioning ourselves as a force to be reckoned with. This is the kind of entity, the European ‘super startup,’ we’ve been talking about creating. Now we’re making this happen, and we should be really proud of this.”

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Tesla says it delivered 11,500 electric cars globally from April through June

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Keeping to its promise of releasing quarterly global sales totals in a timely fashion, Tesla Motors announced its second-quarter delivery totals this morning.

According to the Silicon Valley carmaker, it delivered 11,507 Model S luxury electric cars from April 1 through June 30.

That is its highest quarterly total thus far, and brings Tesla’s global deliveries for the first half of 2015 to 21,537 cars.

Tesla’s release, in its entirety, reads:

Today Tesla Motors announced 11,507 Model S deliveries for Q2-2015.

This was a new company record for the most cars delivered in a quarter and represents an approximate 52-percent increase over Q2 last year.

2015 Tesla Model S 70D, Apr 2015 [photo: David Noland]

There may be small changes to this delivery count (usually well under 1 percent), as Tesla only counts a delivery if it is transferred to the end customer and all paperwork is correct.

Also, this is only one measure of our financial performance and should not be relied on as an indicator of our quarterly financial results, which depend on a variety of factors, including the cost of sales, foreign exchange movements and mix of directly leased vehicles.

The company did not, however, break out those deliveries by market, leaving it unclear how the Tesla Model S fares in sales against the three other high-volume plug-in cars in U.S. sales

Those are the Nissan Leaf–by far the world’s best-selling electric car, with more than 180,000 delivered as of late June–the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, and the BMW i3, which comes in battery-electric and range-extended versions.

The Model S base price is more twice that of either of the Leaf and Volt, but Tesla Model S sales in the U.S. are likely somewhere between 600 and 1,200 per month, putting it among the top four.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk previously said the company’s sales goal was 55,000 for the full calendar year.

If Model S global sales stay steady for the balance of the year, that would indicate that it expects to deliver roughly 12,000 Model X electric SUVs.

That may be an ambitious goal, given that the completed car still hasn’t been shown in public, and any kind of volume deliveries would only begin in October or later.

Tesla refuses to release monthly sales numbers, either globally or by market, as other makers do.

It began releasing the global totals by quarter in April because, it said, the company believes “inaccurate sources of information are sometimes used by others to project the number of vehicle deliveries.”

This story originally appeared on Green Car Reports.

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Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the future is full of artificial intelligence, telepathy, and virtual reality

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Mark Zuckerberg made some mind-bending predictions about the future at a Q&A he hosted on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

They may seem far-fetched now but some of the Facebook CEO’s ideas are shared by futurists and scientists alike.

Scientists at Facebook and elsewhere are working toward a future where artificial intelligence (AI), telepathy, and virtual reality are commonplace. In fact, some of that technology is already here.

In the future, Zuckerberg hopes we’ll be able to:

Send your thoughts to another person

Almost all the technology being built today focuses on creating rich commnication experiences, Zuckerberg said. As that technology improves, he foresees us bypassing smartphones and computers altogether, and speaking to each other using the power of our minds

“One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology,” he said. “You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too if you’d like. This would be the ultimate communication technology.”

Zuckerberg isn’t alone in asserting that telepathy will soon be commonplace. Ray Kurzweil, computer scientist and futurist who’s made some outrageous predictions of his own, believes that we’ll soon be able to connect our minds to the cloud, and communicate with the internet and others through the use of tiny DNA robots.

Today, scientists are working on technology that sends simple yes and no messages using skull caps that have external sensors and receivers. A person wearing one cap can nod their head or blink, which would be translated to a yes or no question, and sent via a magnetic coil affixed to the second person’s head.

Have a computer describe images to you.

Zuckerberg posted a video of Yann LeCunn, director of Facebook’s AI research, two weeks ago that revealed some of Zuckerberg’s ideas about AI. LeCunn expounds on his work in computer vision, a subfield of AI that focuses on improving how computers perceive visual data like images and videos.

This AI tech already exists, LeCunn said, in ATM machines to the facial recognition systems that allows Facebook users to tag friends in photos. Zuckerberg believes this work will eventually culminate into a computer that can view an image or a video and describe it in plain English.

He believes it’s a technology that will be widely available in the near future, but the beginnings of it are available right now in computer science labs across the world.

“We’re building systems that can recognize everything that’s in an image or a video,” Zuckerberg said. “This includes people, objects, scenes, etc. These systems need to understand the context of the images and videos as well as whatever is in them.”

Use lasers to beam the internet from the sky

Making the internet, and more specifically Facebook, accessible to as many people on the globe remains one of Zuckerberg’s primary concerns. Facebook has developed laser communications system that are attached to drones and essentially beam the internet down from the sky.

“As part of our Internet.org efforts, we’re working on ways to use drones and satellites to connect the billion people who don’t live in range of existing wireless networks,” he said. “Our Connectivity Lab is developing a laser communications system that can beam data from the sky into communities. This will dramatically increase the speed of sending data over long distances.”

Facebook lasers

According to Popular Science, Facebook has already rounded up test flights of the drone, which “reportedly have a larger wingspan than a Boeing 737 – 102 or 138 feet.”

Be immune to diseases

In a rare encounter between a social media mogul and a physicist, Stephen Hawking asked Zuckerberg, “I would like to know a unified theory of gravity and the other forces. Which of the big questions in science would you like to know the answer to and why?”

Zuckerberg’s response centered on his fascination with people and his hopes for medical advances that will essentially turn us all into Supermen.

“I’m most interested in questions about people,” he said. “What will enable us to live forever? How do we cure all diseases? How does the brain work? How does learning work and how we can empower humans to learn a million times more?”

Once again, AI comes into the fray. Watson, the IBM machine that famously defeated world chess champion Garry Kasporov in 1996 and world Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings in 2011 is back — better than ever and this time in hospitals. Watson is assisting doctors at MD Anderson hospital with developing treatment plans for leukemia patients.

It’s an industry that many AI scientists believe is ripe for change, and one where AI can make a real difference.

“I’m convinced that machine learning and deep learning are going to have a profound impact on how medical science is going to be in the future,” Yoshua Bengio, AI scientist at the Universite de Montreal told Business Insider. “The natural machine learning thing to do is to consider millions and millions of people, and measure their symptoms and…connect the dots. Then be able to say ‘given all the information we have for that particular person, their medical history, that’s the best treatment.’ That’s called personalized treatment.”

Live in a virtual reality world.

Asked about how the world will look from a technology and social media perspective, Zuckerberg answered, “We’re working on VR because I think it’s the next major computing and communication platform after phones…I think we’ll also have glasses on our faces that can help us out throughout the day and give us the ability to share our experiences with those we love in completely immersive and new ways that aren’t possible today.”

Zuckerberg has a stake in making virtual reality a feasible device for every day users. Facebook purchased Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion, and it’ll soon be available for consumers next year.

This story originally appeared on Business Insider.

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Data scientists and lawyers: A marriage made in Silicon Valley


Data scientists can frequently run up against a wall from their legal department when they try to innovate based on sensitive customer data. It makes sense — after all, data science teams and legal teams are natural antagonists. Data scientists take risks and innovate with big data. Lawyers avoid risks at all cost and act as the letter of the law.

But when we are forced to collaborate with people with radically different mindsets, there is the potential to grow – and, in the best of scenarios, create dynamic teams that drive results neither could have created singlehandedly.

That’s what happened with our team at Intuit when we decided to put the dueling forces of our data science team and our legal team together into one group, hoping that the outcome would be a much smarter use of our big data. And we’ve seen some amazing results.

Our data engineering and analytics team now reports into the legal department. It was a shaky start, with both sides eyeing each other warily. On one hand, the data team was eager to push ahead and harness the power of data from our 50 million customers. On the other, the legal team was well aware that this was highly sensitive data and any mistake or misuse could do serious damage to both our customers and the company. The challenge for both sides was to come together to safeguard the data while untapping its potential and delivering tangible benefits to our customers. Both sides want to solve the most important customer problems with data.

Even though many on the outside thought we were crazy, the two teams grew together to become one – and along the way we learned a few key lessons that can be of help to other companies and organizations exploring how to bring together their own odd couples:

Shared Outcome:  Even though we started with different world views, everyone on the team was bound together by a shared vision of what success looked like. Because we were working with data, we also established a specific set of Data Stewardship Principles that guided our work. First and foremost amongst these principles was that it was the customers’ data not ours.

Shared Accountability: With a shared vision of success in place, it was equally important to make clear that we would win or fail together as a team. It didn’t matter if someone worked on the engineering team or the security team, we made sure that the entire team was held accountable for getting there. It was vital that no finger pointing would be tolerated. We made clear that everyone had a role to play and that everyone was accountable for the team’s ultimate success. This shared responsibility helped break down barriers and transform conflict into teamwork.

Healthy Tension Builds Trust: As with any healthy marriage, sometimes it’s important to let it all hang out and clear the air. We were no different. We did not always agree – yet we worked hard to build enough trust so that all points of view could be heard and we could work towards our common goals. The only thing worse than ignoring someone is blindly doing everything they say. Either extreme will stifle creativity.

A Learning Curve: Ultimately, both our data team and our legal team learned from each other. They took practices and insights from the other to improve their own work. Today, our legal team has adopted some of the rapid experimentation innovation techniques used by the data team – and our data scientists have adopted a more rigorous partnership mindset. The key is promoting the mindset that you can always learn from other people, especially those who are most different from yourself – and that this learning never stops.

Building a successful odd couple team is not easy. But when you strike the right balance and empower odd-couple teams to collaborate, innovate, and work together, the possibilities are endless.

Bill Loconzolo is vice president of Intuit’s Data Engineering and Analytics big data team.

Laura Fennell is chief counsel and head of the Legal, Data, Compliance and Policy Division at Intuit.


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Tips For Finding Success As A Female Engineer

femaleengineer It was apparent from the first time I took a computer programming class in high school that it was one of the few subjects that really excited me. Initially, it was just an option I was trying out, but I soon knew that engineering was what I wanted to major in and pursue for my lifelong career. The thing I love most about engineering is that there are limitless opportunities to do meaningful… Read More

Email is broken, it needs to die, and we’ll be sorry when it’s gone

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Everyone hates email. It wastes our time, too much of it is spam, it’s a to-do list that strangers can write on, it’s ugly, it’s slow, it’s unreliable. And did I mention the spam?

Perhaps the worst thing about email is the way it makes us unlikeable. I’m a reasonably nice person, as anyone who has met me face to face can probably tell you. But when I start sending emails, watch out. What I think is a perfectly ordinary, level headed email often comes across to other people as demanding or insensitive. (To say nothing of my autoreplies — those drive my coworkers up the wall.)

It’s not just me — I’ve seen people get enraged at each other over a seemingly innocuous intra-office email thread that suddenly escalates like an international border incident. But when those people get together face to face, the anger and the tension dissipate in minutes. The problem in these situations is clear: It’s the way email enforces a kind of formality, combined with lack of nuance. The combination can be toxic.

No wonder people are fleeing to messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Kik, and beyond. And on the enterprise side, no wonder Slack’s business is booming: If you can get your internal company communications off email and onto a fun platform that encourages productivity, shareability, and searchability — while supporting GIFs and emoji — it’s a win for everyone.

Yes, there’s no doubt about it: Email is an unholy hack, a broken mess, an ever-growing floating island of garbage and dead fish swirling around in some forgotten part of the ocean. It needs to die, and the sooner the better.

And yet.

Let’s just imagine a future without email — maybe just a few years hence, when these messaging apps are widespread enough that you could legitimately say “I’m deleting my email account” and not be seen as strange or experimental. And, more importantly, when you could do that and still be confident that the right people could reach you, whether that’s by Twitter DM or Facebook or Slack.

First of all, none of the messaging apps have anywhere near the market penetration and reach of email, which reaches 2.5 billion people today, according to the Radicati Group. So you’ll probably need to keep a few messaging apps: Facebook Messenger for your friends using that, Snapchat for your other group of friends, Slack for work, and so on.

Second, these messaging apps all have their own ways of doing things, so each one has its own rules and its own interface. Lest you think that’s a small problem, just look at how often people mistakenly send private direct messages to all their Twitter followers. Even the CFO of Twitter made that mistake, and who can blame him? It’s ridiculously easy to do this. So you need to use extra caution with Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and whichever apps you’re using, to ensure that you are using each one the right way, and not committing some horribly embarrassing (or business-threatening) mistake.

Third, they’re not interoperable. Each messaging app has its own separate platform, its own notifications on my mobile devices, its own list of my friends. You can’t send a message from Messenger to your friend on KakaoTalk, and you never will be able to. There’s no incentive for these companies to open up their message platforms to all comers.

Fourth, these platforms often lack fundamental features that are actually quite useful. Slack, for instance, still doesn’t have threaded messages. If you don’t reply to someone’s post super quick, you might as well forget about it, because someone else is going to start another conversation and then no one will know what you’re replying to. (I know there is a workaround, but it’s kludgey.) Or how about filters and folders? It’s often quite useful to filter messages from a certain person — your boss, for example — into a special high-priority folder, where you can give it special attention, or save it along with all the other messages that person sent.

Fifth: Spam. You may not have noticed it, but if you’re a Gmail user, outright spam is getting rarer and rarer in your inbox, thanks to ever-more sophisticated spam filtering. Google has spent more than a decade honing its spam algorithms, and the result works pretty darn well. Twitter, by contrast: If you missed the old days of X10 camera spam and offers for green card lawyers, just turn on the setting that lets anyone send you a DM even if you’re not following them. Google’s spam mechanism has the equivalent of a Ph.D., while Twitter’s is still in kindergarten.

Finally, there’s one more angle to consider: Email, from a marketer’s point of view, actually works, with an ROI of 38 to 1, according to one estimate (.pdf). There’s a reason that Twitter and Slack, despite being their own messaging platforms, still send daily emails to people. For many Internet users, email is still the way they’d prefer to be contacted, and companies are happy to oblige, because engagement levels are so much higher than in other media.

And email marketing companies are thriving — Campaign Monitor, to name one example, raised $250 million last year.

Now, you could argue that this is exactly the problem: Too much email marketing is making email useful only for marketing. But I think the reason email marketing works so effectively is because, at the end of the day, people are still very attached to their inboxes.

We may complain about email. We may suffer from crappy email clients and all-company email threads that never end. Our inboxes may never get close to zero.

But if the current crop of messaging apps really did succeed in killing off email, I think we would all start to miss it pretty soon.

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Sony files patent for weird selfie technology that reads your facial expressions

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Now that the importance of selfies is well understood, Sony has filed a patent on mobile technology that takes selfies continually, and even picks out the good ones for us.

The patent outlines a way for a phone, camera or augmented reality device (like Google Glass) to take photos of the user continually throughout the day and night. The images are sent over a secure network to a server that processes them. The software then detects the emotional states displayed in each photo, and tags them as such.

Then it’s possible to search for all the happy moments throughout the day, for example, or all the sad ones. All the selfies that show a blank expression could be filtered out. The technology also offers ways of creating timelines of various emotional events — represented by images — throughout the day.

The system takes photos of the user during sleep, which might reveal some useful things about sleep quality and patterns. Or it might just be creepy.

There are some glaring privacy concerns with the technology. With so many selfies being shot and sent over a network, the target for would-be image thieves gets much bigger.

Research courtesy of SmartUp Legal.

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