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Building the Matrix, Drugs Made of Sewage, and Anti-Innovation America—The Download, May 12, 2017

The most fascinating and important news in technology and innovation delivered straight to your inbox, every day.

Finally, an algorithm can summarize pages of text for us slow-reading humans.
Who has time to read every article they see shared on Facebook? All the attachments in their inbox? Or those terms of service during each app install? Not me, and probably not you, either. But, until now, attempts to have machines read, digest, and precis long streams of text have been sloppy and inaccurate, mainly because language is such a tough nut for machine learning. Our own Will Knight explains (succinctly) how Salesforce may have finally cracked it.

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Europe’s new unicorn wants to build the Matrix. Really.
London startup Improbable is living up to its name: a new $502 million investment by Softbank values the firm at over $1 billion—a rarity in Europe. Why the fuss? The company was established to build ultra-detailed virtual worlds for video games, but the same tech can simulate entire cities, and its CEO now describes his ambition as wanting “to build the Matrix.” As this excellent Wired UK piece explains, that's caught the attention of military officials, city leaders, Hollywood, and more.

The Uber-Waymo lawsuit is shifting up a gear.
In February, Waymo claimed that one of its ex-engineers took trade secrets with him to build hardware at Uber. Now the judge presiding over the court case has asked federal prosecutors to investigate. Part of Uber’s autonomous car operation has been suspended, too, though as documents are under seal it remains unclear how big a deal that is—or, for that matter, which part of the case is considered to be criminal. For now, it’s good news for Waymo and more bad press for Uber.

Ten Fascinating Things

  1. A blockchain-based smart contract is only as trustworthy as the data it draws on, and if the source is the Internet that's a problem. But there could be a fix.
  2. Grim news from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: if the Paris pact fails due to U.S. withdrawal, warming could pass 1.5 °C within 10 years.
  3. When Thomas Patterson woke up from a coma in 2016, it was thanks to a set  of viruses that had been been harvested from sewage.
  4. The smart home is getting creepier: the latest monitor cams don’t just stream video, they can tell who’s there and what they’re doing, too.
  5. Donald Trump has signed an executive order to upgrade U.S. cyber defenses (and it actually makes sense).
  6. If regulators aren’t going to help consumers make sense of what companies are doing with their data, how about using an AI watchdog app that can?
  7. To solve its painfully slow Internet connections, Australia spent $36 billion on infrastructure. Eight years later, data rates still lag most of the Western world.
  8. We know that judicious use of electric shocks could be used to treat disease, but they could also help stem bleeding, too.
  9. A startup called Flexe finds spare warehouse space, offers it as storage for e-tailers, then ships their wares next-day. Amazon better watch its back.
  10. The rise and fall of the juice-squeezing startup Juiceroo made everyone laugh. But is it a sign that America has become anti-innovation?

Quote of the Day

"I decided to just catch some Pokémon in church because, why not? I believe it’s both safe and not prohibited by law."

— Ruslan Sokolovsky explains why he thought it would be OK to play Pokémon Go during a church service. Now, he’s been given a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence by Russian prosecutors for inciting religious hatred.

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