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Update March 2018


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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 
Technology
 

March 17, 2018 - March 23, 2018

Google expansion plans helping to turn NYC into tech hub

Visitors walk through archways carved out of the brick walls at New York’s landmark Chelsea Market building in the Meatpacking District. Google, which has an office building across the street on Ninth Avenue, is reportedly close to reaching a $2.4 billion deal to add the Chelsea Market building. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Karen Matthews

New York (AP) - As New York City waits to hear whether it’s been chosen as the site for Amazon’s second headquarters, recent moves by another tech giant, Google, to expand its footprint in the city are helping to legitimize New York’s claim to be Silicon Valley East.

Google is reportedly close to a reaching a $2.4 billion deal to add a landmark Meatpacking District building to its already substantial New York campus.

The building, a block-long former Nabisco factory named after its ground-floor upscale food mall, Chelsea Market, sits across the street from Google’s current New York City headquarters, a massive, art deco, former shipping terminal that also occupies an entire city block.

Google already leases space in Chelsea Market, which also contains offices for Major League Baseball and the local cable news channel NY1, among other tenants.

If the sale goes through, it would be among the priciest real estate transactions for a single building in city history. It would also give Google a remarkable Manhattan campus to supplement its still-growing main headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Representatives for Google did not respond to requests for comment about the company’s New York expansion plans.

Google already occupies another former Nabisco cookie factory just west of Chelsea Market. And, across the street from that factory, it has also announced plans to lease another 320,000 square feet of space at Pier 57, an office and retail complex built on a pier over the Hudson River.

A New York Post real estate writer this week dubbed Google’s slice of Manhattan “Alphabet City,” a reference to the name of both Google’s parent company and a neighborhood on Manhattan’s east side.

The pending Chelsea Market deal was first reported by the real estate publication The Real Deal.

The Google expansion comes as other tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook and Spotify, are also growing in the city. In addition to considering New York among the 20 finalists for its new eastern U.S. headquarters, Amazon recently signed a deal to bring 2,000 employees to a building, formerly occupied by The Associated Press, on Manhattan’s far west side.

New York has been pitching itself as an alternative to Silicon Valley for years. And while tech may never rival financial services and Wall Street as the most important private-sector employer and economic driver in New York, it has established a legitimate footprint that goes beyond a few big-name companies.

A report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that New York City had 7,600 tech firms in 2016, an increase of 23 percent since 2010. The report found that the average salary for tech employees in the city was $147,300.

Julie Samuels, executive director of Tech:NYC, a trade association of New York tech companies, said the presence of large companies like Google and Amazon has created “a robust ecosystem” where young engineers and others move to New York to work for the large companies and then leave after a few years to found startups.

Tasso Argyros, the founder of three-year-old startup ActionIQ, agreed. “One of the best things that happened for New York was when Google opened up their office here,” he said.

Argyros said people in Silicon Valley told him he was “a little bit crazy” when he moved to New York in 2013.

But his data-focused marketing company seeks to attract big companies as clients and it’s helpful to be in the New York area with its high concentration of Fortune 500 companies.

“It’s much easier to be close to your customers,” he said.

Samuels and Argyros said another advantage to New York is that tech isn’t the only game in town.

Samuels said she was pleased to learn that she and her husband are the only parents in her 3-year-old son’s preschool class who work in tech.

“That would never happen in San Francisco,” she said. When she lived in the city by the Bay, “everyone I knew was in tech.”

Argyros said there’s “a little bit of groupthink in Silicon Valley. There’s a lot of people who have similar jobs, they read similar things. But New York is really too big to be dominated by one industry.”


Update March 10, 2018 - March 16, 2018

4 robots that aim to teach your kids to code

In this Jan. 10, 2018, file photo, Anki Cozmo coding robot is on display at CES International in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Ryan Nakashima

Las Vegas (AP) - You’ve seen apps and toys that promise to teach your child to code. Now enter the robots.

At the CES electronics show in January, coding robots came out in force. One convention hall area was packed with everything from chip-embedded, alphabet-like coding blocks to turtle-like tanks that draw on command.

Of course, no one can really say how well these coding bots teach kids, or even whether learning to code is the essential life skill that so many in the tech industry claim. After all, by the time today’s elementary-school kids are entering the workforce, computers may well be programming themselves.

But experts like Jeff Gray, a computer science professor at the University of Alabama and an adviser to the nonprofit coding education group Code.org, say kids can derive other benefits from coding robots and similar toys. They can, for instance, learn “persistence and grit” when the toys inevitably do something unintended, he says.

So if you’re in the market for a coding robot that teaches and maybe even entertains, here’s a look at four that were on display at CES. But beware: None of them are cheap.

Cubetto

London-based Primo Toys, the makers of this mobile wooden block, believes kids can learn coding concepts at age 3 before they can even read. And they don’t even need a screen.

The “Cubetto” block on wheels responds to where chip-embedded pieces are put on a wooden board. Different colors represent different commands - for example, to “go straight” or “turn left.”

Kids can bunch together a number of commands into what’s called a function and can also make Cubetto repeat actions in a loop.

Pros: Good for parents who want to avoid more screens.

Cons: Doesn’t offer an immediate path to real coding.

Price: $226

Shipping: Now

Online: https://www.primotoys.com

Root

Root Robotics’ flattish, hexagonal droid has downward-facing scanners, magnetic wheels, touch-reactive panels, lights, motion sensors, and a pen-grabbing hole in the center of its body.

Controlling it does require a screen.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, company also claims kids don’t need to be able to read and can start playing with Root at age 4.

Root draws, moves, sees and reacts to touch and various other commands. Kids can use Root to start drawing lines and progress to creating snowflake-like mathematical patterns called fractals.

Co-founder Zee Dubrovsky says his daughter began coding with Root at age 4, and progressed up to the point where her robot drew her name on a whiteboard in school.

Pros: Sturdy frame; kids can progress from graphical block-based codes to text coding.

Cons: Requires lots of clean, flat surface area, preferably whiteboards. Root has three difficulty levels, some of which wade into deeper math, so parental time commitment could be considerable. The Kickstarter-launched company has taken a while to ship items, so delivery could be delayed.

Price: $199

Shipping: June 2018 (although the company has been working to fulfill Kickstarter orders since May 2017)

Online: http://www.codewithroot.com

Cozmo

This bundle of personality on wheels debuted in 2016. It now comes with an app called Code Lab, which allows kids to drag and drop blocks of code that control its movements and animations. They can even access facial and object recognition functions enabled by Cozmo’s front-facing camera.

Cozmo, recommended for kids aged 8 and up, looks like a little tractor and can pick up interactive cubes, which are included.

Part of its appeal are the twitches and tweets that make it seem like an energetic pet, according to Boris Sofman, the CEO and co-founder of Cozmo maker Anki, based in San Francisco.

Pros: Its expressive eyes and movements make it seem like a little R2-D2.

Cons: Because it’s so full of personality, there might be a disconnect between programming it to do things and just letting it be itself.

Price: $180

Shipping: Now

Online: https://www.anki.com/en-us/cozmo

Evo

This dome-shaped, wheeled dynamo about the height of a few fingers looks for direction right out of the box - and comes equipped to follow around any finger placed before its frontal camera.

“We want kids to immediately engage with a robot,” says Nader Hamda, founder and CEO of Evo’s maker, Redondo Beach, California-based Ozobot.

The robot makes sounds, flashes lights, moves and can sense and react to its environment.

An app helps kids - aged 8 and up - program Evo to do what they want. The bot’s downward facing scanners also let it follow lines drawn on regular paper, some of which embody coding instructions. For instance, blue-black-blue gets it to speed up; green-red-green-red tells it to spin.

Pros: It’s cheaper than other coding bots.

Cons: It doesn’t do quite as much as other bots.

Price: $89

Shipping: Now

Online: https://ozobot.com 


Update Saturday, March 3, 2018 - March 9, 2018

Facebook forges ahead with kids app despite expert criticism

Facebook’s Messenger Kids app is displayed on an iPhone in New York, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. The app lets kids under 13 chat with friends and family, is ad-free and connected to a parent’s account. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Barbara Ortutay

New York (AP) - Facebook is forging ahead with its messaging app for kids, despite child experts who have pressed the company to shut it down and others who question Facebook’s financial support of some advisers who approved of the app.

Messenger Kids lets kids under 13 chat with friends and family. It displays no ads and lets parents approve who their children message. But critics say it serves to lure kids into harmful social media use and to hook young people on Facebook as it tries to compete with Snapchat or its own Instagram app. They say kids shouldn’t be on such apps at all - although they often are.

“It is disturbing that Facebook, in the face of widespread concern, is aggressively marketing Messenger Kids to even more children,” the Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood said in a statement this week.

Messenger Kids launched on iOS to lukewarm reception in December. It arrived on Amazon devices in January and on Android Wednesday. Throughout, Facebook has touted a team of advisers, academics and families who helped shape the app in the year before it launched.

But a Wired report this week pointed out that more than half of this safety advisory board had financial ties to the company. Facebook confirmed this and said it hasn’t hidden donations to these individuals and groups - although it hasn’t publicized them, either.

Facebook’s donations to groups like the National PTA (the official name for the Parent Teacher Association) typically covered logistics costs or sponsored activities like anti-bullying programs or events such as parent roundtables. One advisory group, the Family Online Safety Institute, has a Facebook executive on its board, along with execs from Disney, Comcast and Google.

“We sometimes provide funding to cover programmatic or logistics expenses, to make sure our work together can have the most impact,” Facebook said in a statement, adding that many of the organizations and people who advised on Messenger Kids do not receive financial support of any kind.

But for a company under pressure from many sides - Congress, regulators, advocates for online privacy and mental health - even the appearance of impropriety can hurt. Facebook didn’t invite prominent critics, such as the nonprofit Common Sense Media, to advise it on Messenger Kids until the process was nearly over. Facebook would not comment publicly on why it didn’t include Common Sense earlier in the process.

“Because they know we opposed their position,” said James Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense. The group’s stance is that Facebook never should have released a product aimed at kids. “They know very well our positon with Messenger Kids.”

A few weeks after Messenger Kids launched, nearly 100 outside experts banded together to urge Facebook to shut down the app, which it has not done. The company says it is “committed to building better products for families, including Messenger Kids. That means listening to parents and experts, including our critics.”

One of Facebook’s experts contested the notion that company advisers were in Facebook’s pocket. Lewis Bernstein, now a paid Facebook consultant who worked for Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit behind “Sesame Street”) in various capacities over three decades, said the Wired article “unfairly” accused him and his colleagues for accepting travel expenses to Facebook seminars.

But the Wired story did not count Lewis as one of the seven out of 13 advisers who took funding for Messenger Kids, and the magazine did not include travel funding when it counted financial ties. Bernstein was not a Facebook consultant at the time he was advising it on Messenger Kids.

Bernstein, who doesn’t see technology as “inherently dangerous,” suggested that Facebook critics like Common Sense are also tainted by accepting $50 million in donated air time for a campaign warning about the dangers of technology addiction. Among those air-time donors are Comcast and AT&T’s DirecTV.

But Common Sense spokeswoman Corbie Kiernan called that figure a “misrepresentation” that got picked up by news outlets. She said Common Sense has public service announcement commitments “from partners such as Comcast and DirectTV” that has been valued at $50 million. The group has used that time in other campaigns in addition to its current “Truth About Tech” effort, which it’s launching with a group of ex-Google and Facebook employees and their newly formed Center for Humane Technology.
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Google expansion plans helping to turn NYC into tech hub


4 robots that aim to teach your kids to code


Facebook forges ahead with kids app despite expert criticism


 



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