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FCC Empowers Carriers to ‘Aggressively Block’ Robocalls

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Voice service providers now have the power to “aggressively block” robocalls before they reach consumers.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to empower carriers to block unwanted calls—as long as customers are informed and can opt out.

Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the group approved a “Declaratory Ruling,” which aims to protect customers from the top down.

While some phone companies already offer call-blocking tools on an opt-in basis, this week’s ruling clarifies that they can provide them as the default, meaning everyone will benefit.

Consumers also have the option to sign up for even tougher services, including blocking calls from any number not on their digital contact list or other “white lists.”

“There are many tools available right now that are effective in blocking unwanted calls before they reach consumers,” according to Pai. “But their deployment has been limited because they’re only being made available on an opt-in basis, and many of the consumers who would most benefit from these tools, such as elderly Americans, are unaware that they can opt in.

“We believe today’s clarification will make it easier for consumers to participate in and benefit from call-blocking programs,” he said in a statement.

Optimists would expect phone companies to immediately take advantage of the new feature, quickly rolling out consumer tools to block unwanted calls.

Realists, on the other hand, understand that change doesn’t happen overnight.

As Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out, the FCC vote doesn’t require carriers to deploy automatic call blocking, nor does it prevent them from charging extra for such services.

Providers don’t seem too keen on changing their ways, either.

According to Ars Technica, T-Mobile responded to the vote by noting that it lets consumers opt in to a free call-blocking program. But said nothing about whether it will move from an opt-in to an opt-out service.

Verizon, meanwhile, applauded the FCC’s decision to authorize stronger robocall blocking, calling it “welcome news.”

Wireless customers can already choose to automatically block robocalls for free using Verizon’s Call Filter service, which sends blocked calls directly to voicemail. (And who checks their voicemail anymore, anyway?)

Moving forward, the firm plans to “evolve” its service, taking advantage of the new flexibility the FCC has provided.

“With the help of these new FCC rules, we’ll be able to provide our customers the benefits of spam alerts and blocking more broadly and conveniently,” Executive Vice President Ronan Dunne said.

The Commission also started the process of requiring carriers to implement SHAKEN/STIR protocols, which use digital certificates to ensure Caller ID numbers aren’t being spoofed.

“I’m optimistic that all of these measures will meaningfully reduce the number of unwanted robocalls that Americans get,” Pai said.

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Polaroid Lab Turns Smartphone Snaps Into Instant Photos

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Like live theater and paper books, printed pictures provide a sense of presence that movies, e-books, and digital images lack.

It’s that feeling—plus a hint of nostalgia—that keeps Polaroid in business.

Now, the company is launching a portable printer* that turns smartphone snaps into instant photos.

“Unlimited cloud storage can actually be your memories’ worst enemy, causing your digital photos to skyrocket in numbers and end up falling into a void of oblivion,” Polaroid CEO Oskar Smolokowski said in a statement.

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With a camera in every pocket, people are taking more pictures than ever. But it’s easy to lose track of special moments among a sea of online pixels.

Enter Polaroid Lab.

The idea, according to Smolokowski, is to turn precious pictures into tangible photographs, “bringing them into the world as something you can hold in your hand and store on the fridge door rather than in the cloud.”

Simply select an image from the Polaroid Originals app, place your handset on top of the machine, press a button, and voila! An instant photo (that you don’t need to shake).

Using a combination of mirrors, light, and “the unique Polaroid chemistry,” snaps are recast as instant pictures (via Polaroid)

The appliance uses a combination of mirrors, light, and “the unique Polaroid chemistry” to recast snapshots as a leave-to-develop, white-rimmed keepsake.

Starting in October, you can make pictures instead of just taking them with the $130 Polaroid Lab, compatible with iPhone 6S/iOS 11 and above, Android 7 or higher, and current Samsung, Huawei, Google Pixel, and One Plus models.

Sign up for the company newsletter “to get your hands on one first.”

*According to Polaroid, its new device is “not a printer, not a scanner, just an instant formula for timeless images.

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McDonald’s Plans to Serve AI Voice Technology at Drive Thru

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McDonald’s is slowly but surely eliminating humans workers from its fast-food equation.

Following the rollout of self-order kiosks and “personalized” menus, the burger empire plans to automate drive-thrus with its acquisition of Apprente.

The Silicon Valley startup, purchased for an undisclosed sum, was founded in 2017 to create voice-based platforms for multilingual, multi-accent, and multi-item conversational ordering.

Now, McDonald’s wants to use the system for faster, simpler, and more accurate order taking.

“Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental … and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers, while making it simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests,” McD’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement.

It’s not entirely clear exactly how the Apprente tech will work; McDonald’s has already tested the automation solutions at select restaurants, but provided no further details.

“Apprente was born out of an opportunity to use technology to solve challenging real-world problems,” according to co-founder Itamar Arel. “And we’re thrilled to now apply this to creating personalized experiences for customers and crew.”

Arel & Co. will be founding members of a new in-house team called McD Tech Labs, expected to grow with the addition of engineers, data scientists, and other experts in the future.

While the initial focus will be to enhance McDonald’s drive thrus, the company aims to incorporate this technology into mobile ordering and kiosks.

“As we all know, technology can change by the day. And with that, so do our customers’ expectations,” a Golden Arches press release said. “We are committed to delivering the best possible experience for restaurant crew and our customers. And this is only the beginning.”

Earlier this year, McDonald’s purchased AI platform Dynamic Yield, teasing upcoming “personalized” menu options related to time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic, and trending items.

The electronic bill of fares even understands current service times, suggesting only those things that are easy to make during peak hours, in an effort to keep the drive thru running smoothly.

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Machine Learning Estimates Risk of Cardiovascular Death

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MIT researchers have developed a machine learning model that can estimate, based on the electrical activity of their heart, a patient’s risk of cardiovascular death.

The system, dubbed “RiskCardio,” was created by the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) with the intention of better predicting health outcomes.

It focuses on folks who have survived acute coronary syndrome (ACS)—a range of conditions involving decreased flow to the heart. Just 15 minutes of a patient’s raw electrocardiogram (ECG) signal can produce a score that places people into different risk categories.

“We’re looking at the data problem of how we can incorporate very long time series into risk scores, and the clinical problem of how we can help doctors identify patients at high risk after an acute coronary event,” lead study author Divya Shanmugam said in a statement.

“The intersection of machine learning and healthcare is replete with combinations like this—a compelling computer science problem with potential real-world impact,” she added.

This isn’t the first machine-learning attempt at risk metrics; previous experiments have used external patient information like age or weight, or knowledge and expertise specific to the system.

RiskCardio, however, relies solely on patients’ raw ECG signal—with no added information.

Say someone checks into the hospital after an ACS: A physician would normally estimate risk of cardiovascular death or heart attack using medical data and lengthy tests before choosing a course of treatment.

MIT’s invention aims to improve that first step.

The team tested their model using data from a study of past patients, separating each person’s signal into a collection of adjacent heartbeats. They then assigned a label—”risky” for those who died of cardiovascular complications and “normal” for those who survived—to each set of beats.

When demonstrated on a new patient, CSAIL analysts were able to estimate whether someone would suffer from cardiovascular death within 30, 60, 90, or 365 days.

Moving forward, the team hopes to make the dataset more inclusive to account for different ages, ethnicities, and genders, and evaluate how their system accounts for ambiguous cases.

“Machine learning is particularly good at identifying patterns, which is deeply relevant to assessing patient risk,” Shanmugam said. “Risk scores are useful for communicating patient state, which is valuable for making efficient care decisions.”

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