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EPA opens new office dedicated to environmental justice and civil rights

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formed a new office designed to help marginalized communities deal with the extra burdens of pollution and climate change, Reuters has reported. The Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights will be staffed by 200 EPA employees located in the agency's Washington head office and 10 regional bureaus. 

"The establishment of a new office dedicated to advancing environmental justice and civil rights at EPA will ensure the lived experiences of underserved communities are central to our decision-making while supporting community-driven solutions," said US Vice President Kamala Harris.

One of the primary jobs of the new office will be to oversea the distribution of $3 billion in environmental justice grants created by the passage the of Inflation Reduction Act, as part of a $60 billion investment in environmental justice. It'll also check that other EPA programs hew to President Biden's Justice40 initiative designed to ensure that 40 percent of certain government investments flow to disadvantaged communities. Finally, it'll help communities access grants, enforce civil rights laws and resolve environmental conflicts.

The new office was launched at an event in Warren County, North Carolina, the site of 1982 protests over toxic waste dumping in the region. The resulting civil disobedience actions and arrests failed to stop the 22-acre dump, but gave birth to the modern environmental justice movement. The 40th anniversary of the protests was commemorated by participants last week. 

Amazon will hold a Prime Early Access Sale on October 11th and 12th

After weeks of rumors, Amazon has officially announced that it plans to hold a second sales event this fall exclusively for Prime members. The second Prime Day of the year, dubbed "Prime Early Access Sale," will be held on October 11th and 12th in the US, UK, Canada and 12 other countries, following the same two-day format as the original event.

Amazon Prime Day has historically been an annual event in which Prime members have access to thousands of sales from the online retailer. It's been not only a way for Amazon to increase sales during the summer months, but also helps the company to drum up more subscribers for Prime. This year's Prime Day on July 12th and 13th brought a plethora of discounts on things like household essentials, clothing, electronics and more, and most of them were reserved for Prime members. However, like years past, there were select sales available to anyone on Prime Day as well.

Since Amazon has not had a second Prime Day in one year before, it's hard to anticipate what this new sales event will bring. Since it'll be held in the middle of October, we expect it to unofficially mark the start of the holiday shopping season for Amazon. It's also possible that the discounts available to Prime members only during this sales event may not come back around for everyone until Black Friday or Cyber Monday. That may encourage some shoppers to stock up on holiday gifts as early as they can snag them on sale.

Engadget will cover all of the best tech deals we can find during this second sales event, held in 15 countries including the US, Canada, the UK, much of Europe, and Turkey. If you plan on taking advantage of those sales, be sure to check Engadget for more information leading up to the event, and follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and sign up for our Engadget Deals newsletter so you never miss the latest news.

iPhone 15 'Ultra' could replace next year's Pro Max model

Next year’s iPhone could introduce a change to Apple’s naming convention. According to Bloombergreporter Mark Gurman, the company could call its largest and most expensive device in 2023 the iPhone 15 Ultra instead of the iPhone 15 Pro Max as you would expect given its recent track record. The shift would reportedly coincide with the most significant redesign of the iPhone since Apple released the iPhone 12 in 2020. Gurman expects the iPhone 15 to feature USB-C, among other “bigger changes.”

Apple’s smartphone line has seen a couple of branding tweaks over the years. In the early days of the iPhone, when the company released a substantial update every two years, iterative models carried an “S” designation. Since 2019 and the diversification of the line to include separate mainstream and premium variants, the company has employed “Pro” and “Pro Max” designations to market its most advanced phones. Moreover, earlier this year saw the return of the Plus branding, which Apple had not used since 2017. Dropping Pro Max in favor of Ultra would make a lot of sense since the Apple Watch line now includes an Ultra model.

The iPhone 15 rumor mill has already produced a few interesting predictions. Gurman previously reported that Apple was testing USB-C iPhones ahead of the European Union implementing a law requiring all new smartphones made after 2024 to feature the port. More recently, display analyst Ross Young said the entire iPhone 15 line would feature the iPhone 14 Pro’s Dynamic Island display cutout.

Looking to the more immediate future, Gurman also wrote today that Apple might not hold another event this fall. He says the company plans to announce new Mac mini, MacBook Pro and iPad Pro models before the end of the year. However, as those will be primarily iterative updates to existing devices, Gurman suggests Apple is “more likely” to share the existence of those products with the world through a series of press releases.

NieR: Automata's spinoff anime arrives this January

NieR: Automata’s anime spinoff will arrive early next year. The adaptation, now titled NieR: Automata Version 1.1a, will debut in January 2023. NieR creator Yoko Taro shared the release window during Aniplex Online Fest over the weekend (via Gizmodo), revealing at the same time that the story of the anime would differ from its source material. The two will at least share the same premise. NieR: Automata opens with a ruined Earth and a proxy war involving human-made androids. "Nier: Automata was a story we created to be a game, so copying it as-is wouldn’t make an interesting story for an anime," Taro said during the panel.

A-1 Pictures, best known for its work on series like Erased, From the New World and Your Lie in April, is producing the project, with Ryouji Masuyama co-writing the script alongside Taro. Masuyama’s previous credits include Gurren Lagann and Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance. "I'm the one going around and breaking things for [A-1 Pictures], so if anyone is dissatisfied [with the anime's story], it's likely to be my fault," Taro warned fans. Given that NieR: Automata features multiple endings, it’s probably for the best the anime won’t hew too closely to the game.

The panel didn’t mention details about distribution outside of Japan. However, since Sony owns both Aniplex and Crunchyroll, there’s a good chance simulcast rights will go to the streaming service. It will be interesting to see if the anime brings renewed interest to NieR: Automata, much like the recent release of Edgerunners on Netflix did for Cyberpunk 2077. Commercially, Automata performed better than publisher Square Enix expected, but the company has yet to announce a proper sequel – though we did get a mobile spinoff and remaster of the original NieR last year.

'Oxenfree II: Lost Signals' is delayed until 2023

Night School Studio has delayed the release of Oxenfree II: Lost Signals. The sequel to 2016’s Oxenfree won’t arrive until next year, the developer announced on Saturday. “To make Oxenfree II truly special and add more localizations, we’re moving our release window to 2023,” the studio posted on Twitter. News of the delay came shortly after Netflix announced subscribers could download the original game for free.

The streaming giant acquired Night School Studio in 2021. Given Netflix’s global audience, taking more time to localize the game in more languages makes a lot of sense. To that point, the new “Netflix Edition” features subtitle support in more than 30 languages. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals will be available on Steam, PlayStation 4, PS5 and Nintendo Switch when it arrives next year.

Apple Pay Later may not arrive until next year due to 'technical and engineering' setbacks

Apple Pay Later may not arrive until next spring, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. As you may recall, Apple announced the buy now, pay later feature at WWDC 2022 and said, at the time, that it would arrive alongside iOS 16. Well, the latest version of the company’s mobile operating is here and Apple Pay Later is nowhere to be found.

A footnote on Apple’s website states the feature will arrive “in a future update.” As Gurman notes, other previously announced iOS 16 features that aren’t available yet are listed as coming “later this year.” Gurman believes the discrepancy is due to the fact Apple doesn’t know when Pay Later will be ready, and the feature may not arrive until iOS 16.4 ships in 2023. “I’m hearing there have been fairly significant technical and engineering challenges in rolling out the service, leading to delays,” he notes.

It’s interesting to learn Apple is encountering technical challenges implementing a Pay Later service. Based on Gurman’s previous reporting, the company has been working on such a feature for more than a year. It even went out of its way to create a subsidiary called Apple Financing to conduct credit checks and customer approvals. All those moves suggest the company sees financial services as a significant part of its future. 

Hitting the Books: How Southeast Asia's largest bank uses AI to fight financial fraud

Yes, robots are coming to take our jobs. That's a good thing, we should be happy they are because those jobs they're taking kinda suck. Do you really want to go back to the days of manually monitoring, flagging and investigating the world's daily bank transfers in search of financial fraud and money laundering schemes? DBS Bank, Singapore's largest financial institution, certainly doesn't. The company has spent years developing a cutting-edge machine learning system that heavily automates the minutia-stricken process of "transaction surveillance," freeing up human analysts to perform higher level work while operating in delicate balance with the antique financial regulations that bound the industry. It's fascinating stuff. Working with AI by Thomas H. Davenport and Steven M. Miller is filled with similar case studies from myriad tech industries, looking at commonplace human-AI collaboration and providing insight into the potential implications of these interactions. 

Working with AI cover
MIT Press

Excerpted from Working with AI: Real Stories of Human-Machine Collaboration by Thomas H. Davenport and Steven M. Miller. Reprinted with permission from The MIT Press. Copyright 2022.

DBS Bank: AI-Driven Transaction Surveillance

Since the passage of the Bank Secrecy Act, also known as the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, in the US in 1970, banks around the world have been held accountable by governments for preventing money laundering, suspicious cross-border flows of large amounts of money, and other types of financial crime. DBS Bank, the largest bank in Singapore and in Southeast Asia, has long had a focus on anti-money laundering (AML) and financial crime detection and prevention. According to a DBS executive for compliance, “We want to make sure that we have tight internal controls within the bank so the perpetrators, money launderers, and sanctions evaders do not penetrate into the financial system, either through our bank, through our national system, or internationally.”

The Limitations of Rule-Based Systems for Surveillance Monitoring

As at other large banks, the area of DBS that focuses on these issues, called “transaction surveillance,” has taken advantage of AI for many years to do this type of work. The people in this function evaluate alerts raised by a rule-based system. The rules assess transaction data from many different systems across the bank, including those for consumers, wealth management, institutional banking, and their payments. These transactions all flow through the rule-based system for screening, and the rules flag transactions that match conditions associated with an individual or entity doing suspicious transactions with the bank—those involving a potential money laundering event, or another type of financial fraud. Rule-based systems—in the past known as “expert systems” — are one of the oldest forms of AI, but they are still widely used in banking and insurance, as well as in other industries.

At DBS and most other banks across the world, rule-based financial transaction surveillance systems of this sort generate a large number of alerts every day. The primary shortcoming of rule-based surveillance systems is that most — up to 98 percent — of the alerts generated are false positives. Some aspect of the transaction triggers a rule that leads the transaction to be flagged on the alert list. However, after follow-up investigation by a human analyst, it turns out that the alerted transaction is actually not suspicious.

The transaction surveillance analysts have to follow up on every alert, looking at all the relevant transaction information. They must also consider the profiles of the individuals involved in the transaction, their past financial behaviors, whatever they have declared in “know your customer” and customer due diligence documents, and anything else the bank might know about them. Following up on alerts is a time-intensive process.

If the analyst confirms that a transaction is justifiably suspicious or verified as fraud, the bank has a legal obligation to issue a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) to the appropriate authorities. This is a high-stakes decision, so it is important for the analyst to get it right: if incorrect, law-abiding bank customers could be incorrectly notified that they are being investigated for financial crimes. On the other side, if a “bad actor” is not detected and reported, it could lead to problems related to money laundering and other financial crimes.

For now at least, rule-based systems can’t be eliminated because the national regulatory authorities in most countries still require them. But DBS executives realized there are many additional sources of internal and external information available to them that, if used correctly, could be applied to automatically evaluate each alert from the rule-based system. This could be done using ML, which can deal with more complex patterns and make more accurate predictions than rule-based systems.

Using the New Generation of AI Capabilities to Enhance Surveillance

A few years ago, DBS started a project to apply the new generation of AI/ML capabilities in combination with the existing rule-based screening system. The combination would enable the bank to prioritize all the alerts generated by the rule-based system according to a numerically calculated probability score indicating the level of suspicion. The ML system was trained to recognize suspicious and fraudulent situations from recent and historical data and outcomes. At the time of our interviews, the new ML-based filtering system had been in use for just over one year. The system reviews all the alerts generated by the rule-based system, assigns each alert a risk score, and categorizes each alert into higher-, medium-, and lower-risk categories. This type of “post-processing” of the rule-based alerts enables the analyst to decipher which ones to prioritize immediately (those in the higher- and medium-risk categories) and which ones can wait (those in the lowest-risk category). An important capability of this ML system is that it has an explainer that shows the analyst the evidence used in making the automated assessment of the probability that the transaction is suspicious. The explanation and guided navigation given by the AI/ML model helps the analyst make the right risk decision.

DBS also developed other new capabilities to support the investigation of alerted transactions, including a Network Link Analytics system for detecting suspicious relationships and transactions across multiple parties. Financial transactions can be represented as a network graph showing the people or accounts involved as nodes in the network and any interactions as the links between the nodes. This network graph of relationships can be used to identify and further assess suspicious patterns of financial inflows and outflows.

In parallel, DBS has also replaced a labor-intensive approach to investigation workflow with a new platform that automates for the analyst much of the support for surveillance-related investigation and case management. Called CRUISE, it integrates the outputs of the rule-based engine, the ML filter model, and the Network Link Analytics system.

Additionally, the CRUISE system provides the analyst with easy and integrated access to the relevant data from across the bank needed to follow up on the transactions the analyst is investigating. Within this CRUISE environment, the bank also captures all the feedback related to the analyst’s work on the case, and this feedback helps to further improve DBS’s systems and processes.

Impact on the Analyst

Of course, these developments make analysts much more efficient in reviewing alerts. A few years ago, it was not uncommon for a DBS transaction surveillance analyst to spend two or more hours looking into an alert. This time included the front-end preparation time to fetch data from multiple systems and to manually collate relevant past transactions, and the actual analysis time to evaluate the evidence, look for patterns, and make the final judgment as to whether or not the alert appeared to be a bona fide suspicious transaction.

After the implementation of multiple tools, including CRUISE, Network Link Analytics, and the ML-based filter model, analysts are able to resolve about one-third more cases in the same amount of time. Also, for the high-risk cases that are identified using these tools, DBS is able to catch the “bad actors” faster than before. 

Commenting on how this differs from traditional surveillance approaches, the DBS head of transaction surveillance shared the following:

Today at DBS, our machines are able to gather the necessary support data from various sources across the bank and present it on the screen of our analyst. Now the analyst can easily see the relevant supporting information for each alert and make the right decision without searching through sixty different systems to get the supporting data. The machines now do this for the analyst much faster than a human can. It makes the life of the analysts easier and their decisions a lot sharper.

In the past, due to practical limitations, transaction surveillance analysts were able to collect and use only a small fraction of the data within the bank that was relevant to reviewing the alert. Today at DBS, with our new tools and processes, the analyst is able to make decisions based on instant, automatic access to nearly all the relevant data within the bank about the transaction. They see this data, nicely organized in a condensed manner on their screen, with a risk score and with the help of an explainer that guides them through the evidence that led to the output of the model.

DBS invested in a skill set “uplift” across the staff who were involved in creating and using these new surveillance systems. Among the staff benefiting from the upskilling were the transaction surveillance analysts, who had expertise in detecting financial crimes and were trained in using the new technology platform and in relevant data analytics skills. The teams helped design the new systems, beginning with the front-end work to identify risk typologies. They also provided inputs to identify the data that made most sense to use, and where automated data analytics and ML capabilities could be most helpful to them.

When asked how the systems would affect human transaction analysts in the future, the DBS compliance executive said:

Efficiency is always important, and we must always strive for higher levels of it. We want to handle the transaction-based aspects of our current and future surveillance workload with fewer people, and then reinvest the freed- up capacity into new areas of surveillance and fraud prevention. There will always be unknown and new dimensions of bad financial behavior and bad actors, and we need to invest more time and more people into these types of areas. To the extent that we can, we will do this through reinvesting the efficiency gains we achieve within our more standard transaction surveillance efforts.

The Next Phase of Transaction Surveillance

The bank’s overall aspiration is for transaction surveillance to become more integrated and more proactive. Rather than just relying on alerts generated from the rule-based engine, executives want to make use of multiple levels of integrated risk surveillance to monitor holistically from “transaction to account to customer to network to macro” levels. This combination would help the bank find more bad actors, and to do so more effectively and efficiently. The compliance executive elaborated:

It is important to note that money launderers and sanctions evaders are always finding new ways of doing things. Our people need to work with our technology and data analytics capabilities to stay ahead of these emerging threats. We want to free up the time our people have been spending on the tedious, manual aspects of reviewing alerts, and use that time to keep pace with the emerging threats.

Human analysts will continue to play an important role in AML transaction surveillance, though the way they use their time and their human expertise will continue to evolve.

The compliance executive also shared a perspective on AI: “It’s really augmented intelligence, rather than automated AI in risk surveillance. We do not think we can remove human judgment from the final decisions because there will always be a subjective element to evaluations of what is and is not suspicious in the context of money laundering and other financial crimes. We cannot eliminate this subjective element, but we can minimize the manual work that the human analyst does as part of reviewing and evaluating the alerts.”

Lessons We Learned from This Case

Netflix’s adaptation of 'The Three-Body Problem' will arrive in 2023

At its Tudum event today, Netflix shared an update on its highly-anticipated adaptation of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. First announced in 2020, the upcoming live-action series from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will arrive sometime next year. Netflix shared a behind-the-scenes teaser showing off a few character moments.

Some of the actors set to star in the project include Benedict Wong (The Martian, Doctor Strange), Eiza González (Baby Driver), as well as John Bradley and Liam Cunningham of Game of Thrones fame. Considered a modern sci-fi masterpiece, The Three-Body Problem was first published in China in 2008. It took another six years before the novel arrived in the west, and it subsequently became the first Asian novel to win a Hugo Award. Cixin and Ken Liu, who translated two of the novels in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy into English, are consulting on the live-action adaptation.

Netflix signed Benioff and Weiss to a lucrative $200 million deal in 2019. The 3-Body Problem is the first project the duo is writing for the company – though they also produced a series with Sandra Oh. Netflix is likely to share more information about the 3-Body Problem in the coming months. 

An AI program voiced Darth Vader in ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ so James Earl Jones could finally retire

After 45 years of voicing one of the most iconic characters in cinema history, James Earl Jones has said goodbye to Darth Vader. At 91, the legendary actor recently told Disney he was “looking into winding down this particular character.” That forced the company to ask itself how do you even replace Jones? The answer Disney eventually settled on, with the actor’s consent, involved an AI program.

If you’ve seen any of the recent Star Wars shows, you’ve heard the work of Respeecher. It’s a Ukrainian startup that uses archival recordings and a “proprietary AI algorithm” to create new dialogue featuring the voices of “performers from long ago.” In the case of Jones, the company worked with Lucasfilm to recreate his voice as it had sounded when film audiences first heard Darth Vader in 1977.

According to Vanity Fair, Jones had signed off on Disney using recordings of his voice and Respeecher’s software to “keep Vader alive.” Lucasfilm veteran Matthew Wood told the outlet that James guided the Sith Lord’s performance in Obi-Wan Kenobi, acting as “a benevolent godfather,” but it was ultimately the AI that gave Vader his voice in many of the scenes.

While there’s something to be said about preserving Vader’s voice, Disney’s decision to use an AI to do so is likely to add fuel to disagreements over how such technology should be used in creative fields. For instance, Getty Images recently banned AI-generated art over copyright concerns. With Jones, there's the possibility we could hear him voice Vader long after he passes away. 

'Oxenfree' is now free to download for Netflix subscribers

More than six years after its PC debut and five years after arriving on iOS and Android, Netflix is making Oxenfree freely available to those with a subscription to its streaming service. Starting today, you can download the new "Netflix Edition" of the game from the iOS and Android app stores. New to this version of Oxenfree is expanded localization support. All told, you can now play the game with subtitles in more than 30 languages.  

Oxenfree joins Netflix's growing catalog of games but is particularly notable for being an in-house release. The company acquired Oxenfree developer Night School Studio last year. Despite what seems like little interest from subscribers, Netflix is moving forward with its gaming ambitions. The company will release Desta: The Memories Between, the latest project from Monument Valley developer Ustwo, on September 27th. It also teased that the critically acclaimed Kentucky Route Zero would "soon" be available for free as well. 

'The Witcher: Blood Origin' debuts December 25th on Netflix

The Witcher: Blood Origin, a prequel to Netflix's live-action adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski's fantasy novel series, will debut on December 25th, the streamer announced today during its Tudum event. Netflix also revealed that English actress Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, Starstruck) is part of the cast. Driver will narrate the events of the series and may even appear in The Witcher, which will return next summer. Driver said her character plays a pivotal part "in connecting Blood Origin's past with The Witcher's future."       

Set thousands of years before the story of Geralt and Ciri, Blood Origin will center on the Conjunction of the Spheres, the moment in the Witcher universe where humans, elves and monsters all come to inhabit the fantasy world of the series. Actress Michelle Yeoh stars as Scian, the elven protagonist of the tale. Originally slated to run six episodes, Blood Origin will instead be four episodes long. 

Artemis 1 won’t launch on September 27th due to Tropical Storm Ian

NASA can’t seem to catch a break. After completing a successful fueling test of the Space Launch System on Wednesday, the agency had hoped to move forward with Artemis 1 on September 27th. Unfortunately, that date is no longer on the table due to Tropical Storm Ian.

The storm formed Friday night over the central Caribbean. According to The Washington Post, meteorologists expect Ian to become a hurricane by Sunday before hitting Cuba and then making its way to the Florida Gulf Coast. As of Saturday, it’s unclear where Ian will make landfall once it arrives on the mainland. There’s also uncertainty about just how strong of a storm the state should expect, but the current above-average warmth of ocean waters in the eastern Gulf Coast is not a good sign.

In anticipation of Ian becoming a hurricane, NASA has decided to prepare the SLS for a rollback to the safety of the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building. The agency will make a final decision on Sunday. If the forecast worsens, the rollback will begin on Sunday night or early Monday morning. The plan gives NASA the flexibility to move forward with another launch attempt if there’s a change in the weather situation.

If Artemis 1 can’t fly before October 3rd, the next earliest launch window opens on October 17th. A rollback to the VAB would mean NASA could also test the batteries of the rocket’s flight termination system. That would give NASA more flexibility around the October 17th to October 31st launch window.

Watch Netflix’s Tudum fan event here at 1PM ET

Netflix will host the second installment of its Tudum global fan event today. The stream will feature news, trailers and clips from more than 120 shows, movies, specials, documentaries and games. You'll be able to watch the event, which starts at 1PM ET, below. Netflix will also stream the event on its Twitter, Twitch and Facebook channels, as well as its YouTube channels around the world.

Among many, many other projects, Tudum will feature an update on season three of The Witcher, details on prequel series The Witcher: Blood Origin, an appearance from the Squid Game cast and a Stranger Things blooper reel. In addition, Tudum will include news on The Crown, trailers for new seasons of Outer Banks and Manifest, a first peek at Jennifer Lopez's movie The Mother and an exclusive clip from Rian Johnson's follow-up to Knives Out, Glass Onion. There will also be a look at the Netflix version of Oxenfree — the company bought developer Night School Studio last year

This could be an important event for Netflix, which has had a fairly rough year. Its subscriber numbers dropped for the first time — it lost around 1.2 million subscribers in the first six months of 2022. Netflix has raised prices in several territories in recent months and it has a cheaper, ad-supported tier on the way. To both keep current subscribers on board and bring in newcomers, Netflix has to get folks excited about what it has to offer. Events like Tudum can help with that.

'Breaking Bad' creator's next series will stream on Apple TV+

Back in August, Deadline reported that Vince Gilligan was pitching his next series after Better Call Saul to around eight or nine networks and platforms. Now, the upcoming show has found a home: It will stream on Apple TV+, which has already put in an order for two seasons. The still-untitled project will star Rhea Seehorn, who also played Saul Goodman's wife Kim Wexler in the Breaking Bad prequel. "After fifteen years, I figured it was time to take a break from writing antiheroes… and who’s more heroic than the brilliant Rhea Seehorn?" Gilligan said in a statement. 

While official details about the upcoming show have yet to be released, previous reports said it's completely unrelated to the Breaking Bad universe. Deadline described it as something more akin to The Twilight Zone in that it will be set in our world but will bend reality as we know it. Gilligan will be heavily involved in the show's creation as showrunner and executive producer. And while the series may not be connected to Breaking Bad and its prequel, it will still be part of Gilligan's overall deal with Sony Pictures Television.

In his statement, Gilligan pointed out that the upcoming project will reunite him with Zack Van Amburg, Jamie Erlicht and Chris Parnell. All three used to be Sony TV co-presidents who left the company to work at Apple. The tech giant hired Van Amburg and Erlicht back in 2017 to give its TV ambitions a boost by making them its video programming division leaders. They're "the first two people to say yes to Breaking Bad all those years ago," Gilligan said. It's still very early days for his next project, though, so you may have to wait a while for a streaming date.

Recommended Reading: The phone-monitoring 'shameware' apps used by churches

The ungodly surveillance of anti-porn ‘shameware’ apps

Dhruv Mehrotra, Wired

Some churches ask congregants to install activity-tracking apps on their phones in the name of accountability. Many churchgoers aren't aware some software monitors a lot more than internet history. Some even take screenshots every minute before sending them to an "accountability partner." When asked about the apps, Google told Wired two of the most popular ones violate its policies. 

Trump’s ‘big lie’ fueled a new generation of social media influencers

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Jeremy B. Merrill, The Washington Post

Following the 2020 election, a wave of new influencers burst on the scene, amassing big follower counts by echoing former President Donald Trump's claims of election fraud. 

The dark side of frictionless technology

Charlie Warzel, The Atlantic

"There is a fundamental tension in the tech industry between the desire to build at all costs, because building is a universal virtue, and the less flashy value system of maintaining structures that already exist so that they may flourish," Warzel writes in his Galaxy Brain newsletter. 

Japan pledges $2 billion in funding for pandemic vaccine research initiative

The Japanese government has earmarked $2 billion in funding for vaccine research in an effort to make sure its country is better prepared for any future pandemic, according to Nature. Japan lagged behind other countries not just in developing vaccines, but also in approving them when it came to COVID-19. As the publication points out, three of Japan's most advanced COVID-19 vaccine candidates are still undergoing clinical trials. To prevent a repeat, the country established the Strategic Center of Biomedical Advanced Vaccine Research and Development for Preparedness and Response (SCARDA) back in March. 

SCARDA's central research center will be based in Tokyo, but it will be supported by four core institutes, namely Osaka University, Nagasaki University, Hokkaido University and Chiba University. The $2 billion funding is supposed to keep it running for five years. $1.2 billion will go towards the center's vaccine research and development projects, while $400 million will be spent on supporting start-ups in drug development. The other $400 million will go towards setting up a network of research centers across the nation, as well as towards vaccine testing.

SCARDA will initially focus on developing vaccines for eight infectious diseases, including COVID-19, monkeypox, SARS, dengue and Zika virus. Its researchers will look into various types of vaccine technologies, as well, such as mRNA and viral vectors. The center aims "to find seeds for future vaccines," but its ultimate goal is to be able to conjure up diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatments within 100 days of the identification of a pathogen that has the potential to become a pandemic. 

It was the UK government that first proposed the 100-day response goal, based on what it learned from COVID-19. "The first 100 days when faced with a pandemic or epidemic threat are crucial to changing its course and, ideally, preventing it from becoming a pandemic," the UK wrote in its pandemic preparedness report to the G7. According to the World Health Organization, it recorded over 2.5 million cases and 200,000 deaths 100 days after it declared COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern. A swift response from the start could've prevented those numbers from getting any higher. 

Google Home can now use Nest speakers to detect your presence

Google Home no longer needs to lean solely on smart home devices like thermostats to know whether or not you're around. Home's optional presence sensing feature can now use interactions with Nest speakers and smart displays to help detect activity in your abode, letting it perform automated actions. If you talk to your Nest Audio or tap your Nest Hub, for instance, Google may know to turn the lights on. Second-gen Nest Hubs can also use their Soli radar sensor to tell when you're close.

You can enable presence sensing in the Google Home app for Android and iOS by visiting the Features section in the settings. Detection is strictly opt-in, and Google stresses that ambient noise won't trigger presence cues. Cameras, doorbells and the Nest Hub Max won't switch devices between "home" and "away" modes.

Google Home presence sensing settings on Android

The expansion makes presence detection considerably more useful. Until now, you needed a Nest Guard, Nest Protect, Nest Thermostat or Nest x Yale smart lock in tandem with your phone's location. While those are frequently good indicators, they don't always tell the full story — you might lock the door when someone is still at home. The use of speakers and displays could make Google's smart home automation more reliable, particularly in unusual scenarios.

Mercedes' F1 team used biofuel to cut freight carbon emissions by 89 percent

Formula 1 isn't exactly the most environmentally friendly organization, but it's trying to become much greener. F1 is targeting net zero carbon emissions by the end of the decade and engine makers have been testing sustainable fuels over the last few years. F1 leaders are aiming to only use sustainable fuels in F1 cars by 2026. Race cars are only a small piece of the puzzle, though. Holding two dozen grands prix around the world requires shifting cars, parts and other materials between circuits, which generate more carbon emissions.

The Mercedes-AMG F1 team, however, has experimented with a way to reduce freight emissions. It used hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO 100) biofuel in 16 trucks as it moved operations between Spa, Zandvoort and Monza for the final three European grands prix of the season. Since those circuits are relatively close to each other, Mercedes didn't need to rely on, say, air freight to ship cars and components. That gave the team a good opportunity to test the biofuel, given a total driving distance of around 1,400 kilometers (870 miles). However, the team noted it needed to use diesel fuel for the last 20km (just over 12 miles) due to supply issues.

An analysis found that using HVO 100 reduced freight emissions by 89 percent. Overall, Mercedes saved 44,091kg (97,204 pounds) of carbon dioxide emissions, compared with solely using diesel for both journeys. It noted HVO 100 is derived from vegetable oils, waste oils and fats and that it's entirely free of fossil fuels. The fuel also produces less Nox and particulate emissions.

“Sustainability is at the heart of our operations. Trialing the use of biofuels for our land freight is another example of our commitment to embed sustainability in every decision we make and action we take," Mercedes F1 team principal Toto Wolff said. "We aim to be on the cutting edge of change and hope we can make the adoption of sustainable technology possible as we are all in the race towards a sustainable tomorrow.”

Other biofuels are being tested for use in Formula 1. Teams started using E10 biofuels (which contain 10 percent renewable ethanol) in F1 cars this season as part of the transition to fully sustainable fuels. While that's some distance away from employing fully sustainable fuels, the use of E10 and HVO 100 are positive steps toward making motorsport much healthier for the environment.

How to stream tonight's historic Yankees-Red Sox game on Apple TV+ for free

Don't panic that you might miss out on tonight's potentially legendary match-up between the Yankees and Red Sox just because it's on Apple TV+ — there's a good chance you can tune in for free. Apple is streaming the game at no charge as part of its weekly Friday Night Baseball feature, with coverage starting at 6:25PM Eastern and the action starting in earnest at 7PM. It'll require a little bit of work and a compatible device, but you too can see if Aaron Judge will break Roger Maris' American League home run record. Here's how to watch.

You'll need to either sign into or create a free Apple ID account at the Apple TV+ website or a supporting app. You may be prompted to add a credit card, but Apple won't charge you for this or any Friday Night Baseball game. The service is available on the web for Android- and computer-based viewers. iPhone, iPad and Mac users can also try the native app.

You also have many choices for watching in the living room. On top of Apple TV boxes, you can also tune into the Yankees-Red Sox game using the app for recent smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, HiSense, Panasonic and Vizio. PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S owners can also watch, as can people with Fire TV, Google TV and Roku media players. Receivers for Comcast's Xfinity and T-Mobile's Magenta TV similarly offer Apple TV+ apps.

The free viewing might just head off some controversy. New York State Attorney General Letitia James has been worried enough about the TV+ exclusive to issue a statement asking Apple and the MLB to make the game available on the Yankees-oriented YES Network, calling the deal "wrong and unfair." However, James incorrectly claimed people need to "pay extra" to watch — if you're reading her press release or tweet (i.e. you have internet access), you can stream the potentially history-making showdown at no charge. The exclusive is only really a problem if all your devices are too old to use either the app or the web client.

Amazon's updated e-book return policy looks like a big win for authors

Anyone who has been taking advantage of Amazon's liberal return policy regarding e-books could soon be in for a shock. That's because following discussions with the Authors Guild, Amazon has agreed to block automatic returns on digital books that are more than 10 percent read. 

Currently, the problem for authors on Amazon is that customers can return e-books online anytime within seven days of purchase no matter how much content has been consumed. That means if you can you read a book in less than a week, you can simply return it when you're done for free, resulting in a loss of profits for the author. 

However, under the new policy which is scheduled to go into effect sometime before the end of the year, Amazon will begin blocking automatic returns on e-books that are more than 10 read, which will then need to be reviewed by a representative to ensure that the return is genuine. The Authors Guild says the goal is to create a deterrent for people who abuse Amazon's current policy and to prevent people from treating Amazon's e-book marketplace as an ersatz library. 

Issues with Amazon's e-book return policy date back more than a decade, but had recently come under fire again after lifehacks about the company's guidelines began circulating online. And according to NPR, in some cases, abuse of the company's return policy even resulted in some authors having negative earnings balances, which typically happened when customers returned an e-book after the creator had been paid out by Amazon.

Thankfully, after concerns were raised by both the Authors Guild and the Society of Authors in the UK earlier this year, it seems Amazon has finally decided to update its policy, with the Authors Guild posting a statement thanking the company for "taking good faith action" against returns abuse. 

Boeing to pay $200 million to settle charges over 'misleading' crash statements

Boeing has agreed to pay $200 million to settle charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency found that Boeing made "materially misleading public statements" related to crashes involving its 737 Max aircraft. The company's former CEO Dennis Muilenburg will also pay $1 million to settle charges. The SEC alleged that Boeing and Muilenburg violated the antifraud provisions of federal securities laws. They neither admitted to nor denied the agency's findings.

The SEC alleged that, after the first crash in October 2018, which caused the death of 189 people, Boeing and Muilenburg were aware that the anti-stall Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) posed an ongoing safety concern. However, the company told the public that the 737 Max was “as safe as any airplane that has ever flown the skies.” 

After a second crash in March 2019, in which 157 people died, the company and Muilenburg claimed "there were no slips or gaps in the certification process with respect to MCAS, despite being aware of contrary information," the SEC said in a statement. Following the crashes, all 737 Max planes were grounded for over 18 months.

"There are no words to describe the tragic loss of life brought about by these two airplane crashes," SEC Chair Gary Gensler said. "In times of crisis and tragedy, it is especially important that public companies and executives provide full, fair and truthful disclosures to the markets. The Boeing Company and its former CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, failed in this most basic obligation. They misled investors by providing assurances about the safety of the 737 Max, despite knowing about serious safety concerns."

The settlement "fully resolves the SEC’s previously disclosed inquiry into matters relating to the 737 Max accidents," Boeing told CNN. “Today’s settlement is part of the company’s broader effort to responsibly resolve outstanding legal matters related to the 737 Max accidents in a manner that serves the best interests of our shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders."

Boeing previously reached a $2.5 billion settlement with the Department of Justice to avoid criminal charges. Last year, a grand jury indicted Boeing's former chief technical pilot, Mark A. Forkner, on fraud charges. Forkner, the only Boeing employee who has faced a criminal indictment in relation to the crashes, was accused of deceiving the FAA's Aircraft Evaluation Group during evaluation and certification of the 737 Max. Following a four-day trial earlier this year, a jury found Forkner not guilty.

Mercedes says the electric G-Class will arrive in 2024

Mercedes-Benz has revealed when you might be able to get behind the wheel of its electric G-Class. The automaker's CEO Ola Källenius told members of the media that the vehicle will arrive by the end of 2024, according to Autoblog.

The company announced a zero-emission electric version of the SUV back in 2019 and we got a close-up look at an EQG concept last year. Last fall, Källenius put a prototype of the EV through its paces at Mercedes’ testing grounds in Graz, Austria — that's where the company typically evaluates the internal combustion version of the G-Class. He seemingly had a positive experience. “From now on, going off-road is electric,” Källenius told reporters.

Making an electric version of the G-Class work was essential for the SUV to stick around for the long haul. Mercedes plans to have an all-electric vehicle lineup by 2030.

VW's latest concept is a self-driving travel pod that can replace short flights

Many automakers dream of self-driving cars that are effectively lounges on wheels, but VW is taking things one step further. The brand has unveiled a Gen.Travel "design study" EV that it hopes could replace short flights. The four-person travel pod would be completely autonomous (that is, SAE Level 5) and revolve around a modular interior that can be customized for each trip. Businesspeople could work at a conference table during a ride, while red-eye travellers could use two seats that convert into beds.

The Gen.Travel could also be more comfortable than even some nicer airline seats. Dynamic lighting would not only help maintain natural sleep cycles, but reduce motion sickness. A configuration with front seats could keep children (and let's be honest, adults) entertained with augmented reality. While the bubble-like cabin is built to maximize your view of the outdoors, it promises both safety and isolation for sleeping passengers.

VW Gen.Travel interior for business

VW didn't outline performance. However, it said that a combination of AI and platooning (automated driving in convoys) could extend the range.

This is a research project meant to test driverless pods as "mobility-as-a-service" options. You probably won't ever sit in the Gen.Travel. It's a real prototype, though, and VW says features might find their way into production cars. We wouldn't count on all of them reaching the self-driving machines VW expects to make from 2025 onward, but don't be surprised if future robotaxis seem very familiar.

Robotic sleeves can provide arm control to kids with cerebral palsy

Children with cerebral palsy might soon use technology to gain some independence. UC Riverside researchers are developing robotic sleeves that provide arm control to kids with cerebral palsy-related mobility issues. Rather than augment the arm like an exoskeleton, the technology will use voltage sensors to detect muscle contractions and predict what the wearer wants to do, like bend the elbow. Inflatable bladders will then push the arm toward the intended destination.

Soft robotics will play an important role. Scientists are building the sleeves using elastic, nylon and other material that will not only be more comfortable, but promises to lower the costs. The creators also hope to minimize the use of electronics.

The project is still in the early stages and is expected to run for four years, with the research team holding yearly feedback meetings with patients, families and therapists. If all goes well, though, kids with cerebral palsy will perform everyday tasks like brushing their teeth without needing help from their parents or a special caretaker. Project head Jonathan Realmuto adds that the technology is "universal" — future iterations could assist anyone with mobility issues, including adults.

The 2021 Apple TV 4K drops to $120, plus the rest of the week's best tech deals

If you're an Apple or Samsung fan, you have a lot of discounted gadgets to choose from this week. Apple's base iPad remains on sale for $280, or you can pick up the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for a record low of $900. On the Samsung side, the 1TB T7 Shield SSD is back on sale for only $100, and you can still get up to $200 off the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4. And if you're on the market for a new smart display, Amazon has discounted both its Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 5 models. Here are the best tech deals from this week that you can still get today.

2021 Apple TV 4K

Apple TV 4K (2021)
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Apple TV 4K is down to a near record low of $120 right now. It's our favorite high-end streaming device thanks to its support for 4K HDR content with Dolby Vision, plus its excellent, redesigned Siri remote.

Buy Apple TV 4K at Amazon - $120

10.2-inch iPad

Apple's entry-level iPad has dropped to an all-time low of $280. We gave it a score of 86 for its solid performance, excellent battery life and improved Center Stage cameras.

Buy iPad at Amazon - $280

12.9-inch iPad Pro

Apple iPad Pro (2021) review
Chris Velazco/Engadget

The latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro remains on sale for $200 off, so you can grab one for as low as $900. We gave the tablet a score of 87 for its M1 chipset that provides incredible performance, its gorgeous screen and the new Center Stage cameras.

Buy iPad Pro (128GB) at Amazon - $900

MacBook Air M1

Apple MacBook Air M1
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

If you're willing to go for an older model, the MacBook Air M1 is on sale for $850 right now, which is close to its all-time-low price. As one of Apple's first machines with the M1 chipset, it impressed us when it first came out with its blazing fast performance, excellent keyboard and trackpad, plus its lack of fan noise.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $850

AirPods Max

Apple's AirPods Max are $120 off and down to $429, which is the cheapest price we've seen them on Amazon. We gave the headphones a score of 84 for their excellent sound quality, comfortable fit and strong ANC.

Buy Apple AirPods Max at Amazon - $429

Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon's mid-sized smart display is down to a near record low of $80. We gave it a score of 87 for its improved cameras for video chatting, its solid sound quality and its minimalist design.

Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $80

Amazon Echo Show 5

Amazon Echo Show 5

The Echo Show 5 is more than half off right now and down to only $40. This is one of our favorite small smart displays, in part because its size makes it a great alarm close. We like its simple design, good sound quality and its tap-to-snooze feature.

Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon - $40

Samsung T7 Shield

The 1TB model of the Samsung T7 Shield SSD is back on sale for $100, which just about the best we've ever seen. This rugged drive has a tough exterior that can withstand drops from nearly 10 feet, plus an IP65 rating for dust- and water-resistance. It also has the same read/write speeds of the other T7 models and works with a bunch of devices including PC, Mac, Android and even some game consoles.

Buy T7 Shield (1TB) at Amazon - $100

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4 is already $200 off at Amazon, bringing it down to $1,600. The Z Flip 4 also has a discount of $100, so you can pick that one up for as low as $900. Both of these foldables just came out and we gave the Z Fold 4 and the Z Flip 4 scores of 86 each.

Shop Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Flip 4 deals at Amazon


HBO Max has discounted its annual plan, so you can save 30 percent if you sign up and pay for one year upfront. If you can deal with ads, the service will cost $70 for 12 months, down from the usual $100. to get an ad-free experience, you'll pay $105, which is $45 off the usual rate.

Subscribe to HBO Max

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