Big Tech &
Secret’s founder returns with anti-loneliness app Ikaria (5 minute read)
Chrys Bader-Wechseler co-founded Secret in 2013. It closed down two years later after raising $35 million and serving 15 million users. The app allowed people to post without a name or consequences, making them open up, but also causing some bullying. Bader-Wechseler learned from Secret and developed Ikaria, a chat app that creates safe spaces to chat with close friends, family, or people going through similar life challenges. The app will provide a guided experience to help members reflect and discuss what is going on in their hearts and minds. Ikaria plans to develop a customer relationship with users, which could mean a subscription or in-app payments for content. The startup doesn't want to rely on advertising as it would mean that the app wouldn't serve its users properly.
SpaceX Wants to Launch 4 Tourists Into Super High Orbit (2 minute read)
SpaceX wants to launch up to four tourists into a super high orbit by the end of next year. It will be working with Space Adventures Inc., a company that has already helped put tourists into orbit while working with the Russian space program. Ticket prices are expected to be in the millions. The passengers will fly to an orbit two to three times higher than the ISS, at roughly 500 to 750 miles above Earth. SpaceX will use the same type of Dragon capsule that NASA will use in a few months to launch astronauts to the space station.
This edible blob filled with water means you don’t need a plastic bottle (3 minute read)
Notpla is a startup that creates edible packaging made from seaweed and plant extracts. Water-filled pods will be available for runners at a half-marathon in London on March 1. The pods are made by dipping a sphere of ice in a mixture of calcium chloride and brown algae extract. The extract forms an edible membrane that holds everything in place as the ice melts. These packets of water can be opened by biting and then eaten or thrown away. The packaging will quickly biodegrade. While the design can replace plastic bottles in some situations, they are biodegradable and can only hold small amounts of water, so a more long-term solution for plastic bottles still needs to be found.
We've Just Seen the First Use of Deepfakes in an Indian Election Campaign (5 minute read)
Two videos of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Manoj Tiwari criticizing the incumbent Delhi government went viral on WhatsApp on February 7, a day ahead of the Legislative Assembly elections in Delhi. One of the videos was a deepfake, a video created with tools that can fabricate visual and audio content to make it seem real. The Delhi BJP IT Cell partnered with a firm to create positive campaigns using deepfakes in order to reach different linguistic voter bases. Many experts believe that deepfakes will be used to take the ongoing war on disinformation and fake news to a whole new level. Many popular deepfake videos are complete face swaps, but a more subtle version exists which only alters lip movements to match target audio. As more deepfake material is created, more of it will bypass fact-checking and inevitably some will start spreading misinformation. This can be especially damaging in countries where technological literacy is low.
Programming, Design & Data Science
Spotify Unwrapped: How we brought you a decade of data (5 minute read)
Spotify Wrapped is one of Spotify's largest marketing and social campaigns of the year. Every year, users see a detailed breakdown of their listening habits. The Wrapped team consists of many sub-teams that are responsible for marketing, legal, design, data, frontend, and backend engineering. In 2019, the team processed around five times the amount of data compared to 2018's Wrapped campaign at a fraction of the cost. This was achieved through optimizing the architecture so it could read, process, and validate data quickly and effectively. The system was designed so that group-by key operations were reduced, and the output data from yearly jobs was used for some metrics. As the summaries were broken down into smaller data stories and workflows, Spotify was able to create a more flexible system that allowed for quick iteration and exploration.
Tesla Autopilot Saved 8 Lives In Storm Dennis (2 minute read)
Tesla's Autopilot kept working during Storm Dennis in the southern part of the UK and seemingly managed to save eight lives. Two Tesla Model X vehicles were involved in an accident caused by Storm Dennis. The vehicles were coming towards each other from opposite directions when a 400-year-old oak tree fell onto the path of the vehicles. Both families in the vehicles credit Autopilot for saving their lives by engaging their Automatic Emergency Breaks just in time.
Kickstarter Employees Win Historic Union Election (4 minute read)
Kickstarter employees have voted to form a union with the Office and Professional Employees International Union. The final vote was 46 for and 27 against. This is the first time workers at a major tech company in the US have successfully unionized. Kickstarter will support and respect the decision. Employees feel like the most important issues for the union will be creating clearer policies and support for reporting workplace issues and also creating clearer mechanisms for hiring and firing employees. Prior to the vote, Kickstarter had hired Duane Morris, a Philadelphia law firm that specialized in labor-management relations and maintaining a union-free workplace. Kickstarter has been considered as one of the most ethical places to work in tech, but employees have been disagreeing with some of the company's decisions in recent years.