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Technology

    Samsung seems to be playing it safe with its first major smartphone since the embarrassing recall of its fire-prone Note 7. The Galaxy S8 features a larger display than its predecessor, the Galaxy S7, and sports a voice assistant intended to rival Siri and Google Assistant. But there is no increase in battery capacity, providing the battery more breathing room. The Note 7 pushed the engineering envelope with its battery, which contributed to a series of spontaneous smartphone combustions. The Galaxy S8 will come in two sizes, both bigger than last year's models. Both models have screens that curve around the edges and get rid of the physical home button. The Note 7 recall cost Samsung at least $5.3 billion. Though many customers remain loyal, any further misstep could prove fatal for the brand. 'We're in the process of earning back that trust,' said Drew Blackard, a senior director of product marketing for Samsung. In the U.S., Samsung will start taking orders Thursday, with shipments scheduled for April 21. Prices haven't been announced yet. ABOUT THAT BATTERY Samsung has blamed the Note 7 fires on multiple design and manufacturing defects in its batteries. Inspectors concluded that the initial batteries were too small for their capacity, and that their external pouch put pressure on the internal structure, leading to damage and overheating. Samsung recalled the phones and shipped replacements, but the newer batteries had welding defects and a lack of protective tape in some battery cells. Samsung recalled the replacements, too, and scrapped the phone. The company says phones will now go through multiple inspections, including X-rays and stress tests at extreme temperatures. The standard-size S8 phone has as much battery capacity as last year's Galaxy S7, but the phone is 4 percent larger by volume. The larger S8 Plus model has 3 percent less capacity than the Galaxy S7 Edge and the same capacity as the Note 7, but the phone's volume is larger by 12 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Both models have larger displays, meaning more drain on the battery. Samsung says that software and processor efficiencies will let the new phones offer all-day battery life under normal use. BIGGER, WIDER SCREENS The S8 phone's display measures 5.8 inches diagonally, compared with 5.1 inches on the S7. The S8 Plus will be 6.2 inches, compared with S7 Edge's 5.5 inches and the Note 7's 5.7 inches. Both S8 models are taller than their predecessors, but widths are roughly the same to preserve one-handed use. Samsung is getting rid of the 'Edge' distinction and bringing curved sides to all S8 phones. It's also minimizing the frame, or bezel, surrounding the display; gone is a horizontal strip with the home button at the bottom. Instead, Samsung is embedding a virtual home button in the display, leaving Apple's iPhones as among the few to sport a distinct home button. VOICE ASSISTANT Samsung claims its new voice assistant, Bixby, will do much more than rivals from Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. For one thing, Samsung says Bixby will be able to handle any smartphone task currently managed by touch. Bixby will also offer information on books, wine and other products scanned with the phone's camera. But there's a major caveat: Bixby will work only with selected Samsung apps, including the photo gallery and messages. Not all touch commands will have voice counterparts right away. Other apps will be able to adopt Bixby, but Samsung has had a mixed track record in getting other companies to support its home-brewed functions like Bixby. 'I think the brand will struggle to compete in the longer term with the broader digital ecosystems from Google, Amazon or Apple,' Forrester analyst Thomas Husson said. OTHER FEATURES The front camera is getting a boost to 8 megapixels, from 5 megapixels, while the rear one stays at 12 megapixels. As with previous models, the S8 is water and dust resistant and features a memory card slot to supplement 64 gigabytes of built-in storage. The S8 will get an iris scanner to let people unlock the phone by looking at it ; the feature was new in the ditched Note 7 phone. Samsung will include premium earbuds from AKG, a brand it acquired when it bought Harman International. BEYOND THE S8 Samsung's virtual-reality camera, Gear 360, will now accommodate a higher resolution, known as 4K, and work with iPhones, not just Samsung phones. An optional docking station will turn the S8 phone into a desktop computer when connected to a regular TV. In that mode, people will be able to resize windows and work with several apps at once. It's similar to what Microsoft offers on its Windows 10 phones. Samsung also unveiled a router that doubles as a hub for internet-connected appliances and lights. Samsung said its previously announced Gear VR headset upgrade, which will now include a hand-held controller, will go on sale in April for about $130. Existing owners can buy just the controller for about $40. The company hasn't announced prices and release dates for the other accessories.
  • One Mideast airline affected by the ban on most electronics in the cabins of U.S.-bound flights will lend iPads to its top-paying travelers. Etihad Airways said on Wednesday that it will offer the tablets to U.S.-bound passengers in first and business class, along with vouchers for free onboard Wi-Fi starting on April 2. The U.S. government last week barred passengers from 10 Mideast and North African cities from carrying electronics larger than cell phones onto U.S.-bound flights. Medical devices were exempted. Etihad's hub in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, was among the cities affected. The government-owned carrier operates 45 flights a week to six American cities: Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington.
  • A major update to Microsoft's Windows 10 system will start reaching consumers and businesses on April 11, offering 3-D drawing tools, game-broadcasting capabilities and better ways to manage your web browsing. This 'Creators Update' also aims to make future updates less disruptive. Microsoft said Wednesday that it will roll out the Creators Update to some 400 million Windows 10 devices worldwide over time. Though there's no set schedule, devices that came with Windows 10 installed will likely get the update first. That will make it easier for Microsoft to work out kinks for older devices, which are potentially more problematic. Once you get it, here are four things to check out. ___ WEBSITE CLUTTER Throughout the day, you're likely using your web browser for a variety of tasks — researching a trip, checking the news and, gasp, doing actual work. Having all those websites open at once could prove cumbersome. Windows 10's Edge browser now has a small icon on the upper left corner for setting aside a group of websites. Say, your deadline on a work project is rapidly approaching. Just hit the button to clear out website tabs for your Caribbean getaway. When you're ready to return to trip planning, hit an adjacent icon to restore those tabs you've set aside. You can set aside multiple groups; the most recent ones appear on top. When things get rough, you can scroll down to check the set of job search sites you set aside weeks ago. Though browsers let you bookmark sites, you probably don't want permanence for trips and short-term projects. Once you restore tabs using the new feature, you'll need to set them aside again when you're done for future access. And tabs won't sync across devices. ___ IN 3-D Paint, a graphics app Microsoft first shipped with Windows 1.0 in 1985, is getting a major refresh. You can now create images in 3-D . Start by pressing the cube icon at the top. You can create 3-D images from scratch or choose an object, such as a cylinder, a fish or a person. You can get additional models from a 3-D online community called Remix and even share your creations there. You can add stickers, such as eyes, by tapping the icon to the right of the cube. Play around to get a feel for all the capabilities. Expect lots of trial and error — and frequent use of the 'undo' button. 3-D images created through paint will be compatible with 3-D printers and printing services. ___ GAMERS, REJOICE A game mode optimizes the computer for gaming. Other tasks can still run in the background but won't consume as much of the system resources. Game mode is on by default; you can turn it off through a new central location for system-wide game settings (individual games might still have their own settings). Windows 10 also gets a broadcasting service called Beam, which Microsoft bought last year. Before, to share live streaming of game play, gamers had to install and activate Beam or a competing service separately. ___ LESS-ANNOYING UPDATES Although Creators Update is only the second major update since Windows 10's release in 2015, Microsoft has issued many smaller ones along the way. They often require a restart and can come at inopportune times — such as the start of an important meeting. Users with the Home edition of Windows 10 had no options for postponing updates. Microsoft says it has listened and will give all users the ability to schedule a time or defer updates for three days. This doesn't mean you can avoid updates forever, but it gives you more say over when.
  • Congress has sent President Donald Trump legislation that would kill an online privacy regulation, a move that could eventually allow internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to sell the browsing habits of their customers. The Federal Communications Commission rule issued in October was designed to give consumers greater control over how internet service providers share information. But critics said the rule would have stifled innovation and picked winners and losers among Internet companies. The House voted 215-205 to reject the rule. The Senate had already voted to the block it. The vote is part of an extensive effort that Republicans have undertaken to void an array of regulations issued during the final months of Democratic President Barack Obama's tenure. But the vote was closer this time with 15 Republicans siding with Democrats in the effort to keep the rule in place. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Republicans put profits over the privacy concerns of Americans. 'Overwhelmingly, the American people do not agree with Republicans that this information should be sold, and it certainly should not be sold without your permission,' Pelosi said. 'Our broadband providers know deeply personal information about us and our families.' Internet companies like Google don't have to ask users' permission before tracking what sites they visit. Republicans and industry groups have blasted that discrepancy, saying it was unfair and confusing for consumers. But proponents of the privacy measure argued that the company that sells you your internet connection can see even more about consumers, such as every website they visit and whom they exchange emails with. That information would be particularly useful for advertisers and marketers. Undoing the FCC regulation leaves people's online information in a murky area. Experts say federal law still requires broadband providers to protect customer information — but it doesn't spell out how or what companies must do. That's what the FCC rule aimed to do. The Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broadband privacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back. He and other Republicans want a different federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to police privacy for both broadband companies like AT&T and internet companies like Google. GOP lawmakers said they care about consumer privacy every bit as much as Democrats did. Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said the FTC has acted as America's online privacy regulator since the dawn of the internet. He called the rule an effort to strip the agency of that role. 'The internet has become the amazing tool that it is because it is largely left untouched by regulation_and that shouldn't stop now,' McCarthy said. Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas parted ways with his Republican colleagues on the issue. He said the privacy protections were 'commonsense measures' that would have ensured internet users continue to have control over their personal information. 'We don't want the government having access to our information without our consent, and the same goes for private business,' Yoder said. Broadband providers don't currently fall under FTC jurisdiction, and advocates say it has historically been a weaker agency than the FCC. The American Civil Liberties Union urged Trump to veto the resolution, appealing to his populist side. 'President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans, said the ACLU's Neema Singh Guliani. Republicans repeatedly discounted the privacy benefits generated by the rule. Over the last two months, they've voted to repeal more than a dozen Obama-era regulations in the name of curbing government overreach. The criticism of their efforts was particularly harsh Tuesday. 'Lawmakers who voted in favor of this bill just sold out the American people to special interests,' said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.
  • The House voted Tuesday to block online privacy regulations issued during the final months of the Obama administration, a first step toward allowing internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to sell the browsing habits of their customers. The Federal Communications Commission rule was designed to give consumers greater control over how internet service providers share information. But critics said the rule would have added costs, stifled innovation and picked winners and losers among Internet companies. The House voted 215-205 to reject the rule, and sent the legislation to President Donald Trump for his signature. The vote is part of an extensive effort that Republicans have undertaken to void an array of regulations issued during the final months of Democratic President Barack Obama's tenure. But the vote was closer this time than previous rescind efforts, with 15 Republicans siding with Democrats in the effort to keep the rule in place. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the Republican-led effort was about putting profits over the privacy concerns of Americans. 'Overwhelmingly, the American people do not agree with Republicans that this information should be sold, and it certainly should not be sold without your permission,' Pelosi said. 'Our broadband providers know deeply personal information about us and our families.' Internet companies like Google don't have to ask users' permission before tracking what sites they visit. Republicans and industry groups have blasted that discrepancy, saying it was unfair and confusing for consumers. But proponents of the privacy measure argued that the company that sells you your internet connection can see even more about consumers, such as every website they visit and whom they exchange emails with. Undoing the FCC regulation leaves people's online information in a murky area. Experts say federal law still requires broadband providers to protect customer information — but it doesn't spell out how or what companies must do. That's what the FCC rule aimed to do. The Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broadband privacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back. He and other Republicans want a different federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to police privacy for both broadband companies like AT&T and internet companies like Google. GOP lawmakers said they cared about consumer privacy every bit as much as Democrats did. 'What America needs is one standard across the internet ecosystem and the Federal Trade Commission is the best place for that standard,' said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said the FTC has acted as America's online privacy regulator since the dawn of the internet. He called the rule an effort to strip the agency of that role. 'The internet has become the amazing tool that it is because it is largely left untouched by regulation — and that shouldn't stop now,' McCarthy said. Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas parted ways with his Republican colleagues on the issue. He said the privacy protections were 'commonsense measures' that would have ensured internet users continue to have control over their personal information. 'We don't want the government having access to our information without our consent, and the same goes for private business,' Yoder said. Broadband providers don't currently fall under FTC jurisdiction, and advocates say the FTC has historically been a weaker agency than the FCC. The American Civil Liberties Union urged Trump to veto the resolution, appealing to his populist side. 'President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans,' said the ACLU's Neema Singh Guliani. Republicans repeatedly discounted the privacy benefits generated by the rule. Over the last two months, they've voted to repeal more than a dozen Obama-era regulations in the name of curbing government overreach. The criticism of their efforts was particularly harsh Tuesday. 'Lawmakers who voted in favor of this bill just sold out the American people to special interests,' said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.
  • Samsung's fire-prone Galaxy Note 7 phone might come back as refurbished or rental phones. Samsung says it's considering bringing the recalled units back to market. The company says it will first consult regulatory authorities and carriers and assess local demand. It's not yet known when and which countries such phones would be sold. Samsung killed the Note 7 phone after dozens overheated and caught on fire. Samsung recalled one set, but found problems with the replacements as well. The spontaneous fires, many chronicled in videos circulated on YouTube, prompted Samsung to recall millions of phones and take a $5.3 billion hit on its earnings. Samsung conducted extensive tests since then and has blamed multiple design and manufacturing defects in batteries made by two different companies. That means Samsung could replace phones with safer batteries. For phones that aren't returning to the market, Samsung says it will reuse components and recycle what's left. Samsung revealed its plans late Monday, just two days before it is schedule to announce a new flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, at an event in New York.
  • Uber's first report on employee diversity shows low numbers for women, especially in technical positions. In that regard, the company is similar to other Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple. But Uber's report comes as pressure mounts on the company in light of sexual harassment claims by a former employee, the antics of its embattled CEO Travis Kalanick and ongoing criticisms of a boorish 'brogrammer' culture. Management defections include that of the company's president, Jeff Jones, after just six months on the job. Thirty-six percent of the company's worldwide employees are women, according to the report , which does not count drivers as employees. Google, in comparison, has 31 percent women and Apple, 32 percent. When it comes to technology jobs such as engineering, only 15 percent are women at Uber. At Google, it's 19 percent and Apple, 23 percent. As with other tech companies , Uber is making some progress in diversifying its work force. The new hires at the company show a higher percentage of women — 41 percent — as well as more underrepresented minorities. In the U.S., the largest ethnic group at Uber is white and the second largest is Asian. The report also shows that nearly 9 percent of the company's U.S. employees are black and almost 6 percent are Hispanic. At Google, a much larger company, the numbers are 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Uber also says 15 percent of its U.S. employees hold work visas, and they hail from 71 countries. Other technology companies have not been disclosing this information, but it's possible that they will follow Uber's steps — especially as the industry continues to clash heads with President Donald Trump's administration over immigration issues. Uber has about 12,000 employees worldwide, about half in the U.S. The San Francisco company has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an investigation into the sexual harassment charges leveled by the former engineer, Susan Fowler. The company plans to release the findings next month.
  • Tech billionaire Elon Musk is announcing a new venture called Neuralink focused on linking brains to computers. The company plans to develop brain implants that can treat neural disorders — and that may one day be powerful enough to put humanity on a more even footing with possible future superintelligent computers, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing unnamed sources. Musk, a founder of both the electric-car company Tesla Motors and the private space-exploration firm SpaceX, has become an outspoken doomsayer about the threat artificial intelligence might one day pose to the human race. Continued growth in AI cognitive capabilities, he and like-minded critics suggest, could lead to machines that can outthink and outmaneuver humans with whom they might have little in common. In a tweet Tuesday, Musk gave few details beyond confirming Neuralink's name and tersely noting the 'existential risk' of failing to pursue direct brain-interface work. STIMULATING THE BRAIN Some neuroscientists and futurists, however, caution against making overly broad claims for neural interfaces. Hooking a brain up directly to electronics is itself not new. Doctors implant electrodes in brains to deliver stimulation for treating such conditions as Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and chronic pain. In experiments, implanted sensors have let paralyzed people use brain signals to operate computers and move robotic arms. Last year , researchers reported that a man regained some movement in his own hand with a brain implant. Musk's proposal goes beyond this. Although nothing is developed yet, the company wants to build on those existing medical treatments as well as one day work on surgeries that could improve cognitive functioning, according to the Journal article. Neuralink is not the only company working on artificial intelligence for the brain. Entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, who sold his previous payments startup Braintree to PayPal for $800 million, last year started Kernel, a company working on 'advanced neural interfaces' to treat disease and extend cognition. RISK OF OVERHYPE Neuroscientists posit that the technology that Neuralink and Kernel are working on may indeed come to pass, though it's likely to take much longer than the four or five years Musk has predicted. Brain surgery remains a risky endeavor; implants can shift in place, limiting their useful lifetime; and patients with implanted electrodes face a steep learning curve being trained how to use them. 'It's a few decades down the road,' said Blake Richards, a neuroscientist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. 'Certainly within the 21st century, assuming society doesn't implode, that is completely possible.' Amy Webb, CEO of Future Today Institute, pointed out that the Neuralink announcement is part of a much larger field of human-machine interface research, dating back over a decade, performed at the University of Washington, Duke University and elsewhere. Too much hype from one 'buzzy' announcement like Neuralink, she said, could lead to another 'AI Winter.' That's a reference to the overhype of AI during the Cold War, which was followed by a backlash and reduced research funding when its big promises didn't materialize. 'The challenge is, it's good to talk about potential,' Webb said. 'But the problem is if we fail to achieve that potential and don't start seeing all these cool devices and medical applications we've been talking about then investors start losing their enthusiasm, taking funding out and putting it elsewhere.' __ AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter in New York contributed to this report.
  • Facebook is adding more Snapchat-like features to its app. The company says it wants to let your camera 'do the talking' as more people are posting photos and videos instead of blocks of text. Facebook is rolling out an app update starting Tuesday. With it, you can tap a new camera icon on the top left corner. That opens up the phone's camera to do a photo or video post. You could have posted photos from the app before, but it took an extra tap. Once you open the camera, you'll find Facebook's other new Snapchat-like features, including filters that can be added to images. Other effects, such as animations and other interactive filters, are a new twist to dressed-up photos. Also new is a 'stories' tool that lets you post photos and videos that stay live for 24 hours. This feature is already available on Messenger and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Snapchat pioneered camera-first sharing and is wildly popular with younger users. Years ago, Facebook tried to buy the company but was rebuffed. Since then, it has been trying, with varying degrees of success, to clone Snapchat's most popular features. It might be working: Snapchat's growth rate has slowed down since Instagram introduced its own 'stories' feature.
  • Amazon is testing a grocery pickup service in Seattle. The AmazonFresh Pickup service is currently open only to Amazon employees. Eventually, members of Amazon's $99-a-year Prime loyalty program will be able to order groceries online and drive to a pickup location, where crews will deliver items to the car. Amazon says orders will be ready in as little as 15 minutes after being placed. The service is being tested in two locations in Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered. The service is the latest way Amazon is testing new ways to shop. At an Amazon Go convenience store in Seattle, items selected are automatically monitored and added to a virtual cart so shoppers can skip the checkout. That store is also open only to Amazon employees so far. Amazon already has a grocery delivery service in some cities.