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New Uber Initiative Boosts Rider Safety on College Campuses

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Uber is cracking down on fake rideshare drivers after a college student was murdered last month waiting for a pick up.

The transportation network, in partnership with the University of South Carolina, has launched the Campus Safety Initiative: a national effort to help students learn how to avoid fraudulent chauffeurs.

In March, 21-year-old USC student Samantha Josephson went missing after getting into a car outside a Columbia bar. Her body was later found on a secluded dirt road in nearby Clarendon County.

The Columbia Police Department announced that 24-year-old Nathaniel Rowland has been charged with murder and kidnapping, after matching large amounts of blood in the suspect’s car to the missing New Jersey woman, CBS reported.

It’s believed Rowland posed as an Uber driver to lure his victim into the car.

“We were heartbroken by the recent crime committed by a fake rideshare driver in South Carolina,” Andrew Macdonald, Uber VP of operations, wrote in a blog post. “While no words can alleviate the loss felt by the Josephson family, we are committed to continuing to take action to make our communities safer.”

Existing public awareness campaign Check Your Ride, introduced two years ago, encourages users to double check that the vehicle and driver match details in the app before entering a car.

But if you’re in a hurry or maybe a bit tipsy, safety precautions can often be thrown to the wind.

New in-app safety features—like push notifications and banners—are rolling out now to remind folks how to confirm the right car before it arrives.

“In addition to these steps, you can also ask the driver to confirm your name,” Macdonald suggested, echoing the #WhatsMyName mission by the Josephson family to educate the world on rideshare precautions.

Inspired by the University of South Carolina and its students, Uber is working with the Columbia Police Department to create dedicated pickup zones—well-lit areas with law enforcement on hand to help riders and drivers connect safely.

“Our goal is to make checking your ride before you get in the car synonymous with using Uber,” Macdonald said. “There is nothing more important than the safety of the people we serve and we’re constantly working to improve.”

Rival Lyft also announced enhancements to the safety and security of its platform, including continuous background checks and enhanced identity verification.

Neither of which will save an unsuspecting rider from getting into the wrong car. But every little bit helps, right?

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LGBTQ+ Video Creators Sue YouTube, Google

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A group of LGBTQ+ video creators are suing YouTube and parent company Google for discrimination.

Eight plaintiffs are alleging their content was suppressed, their ability to advertise was restricted, and their subscribers were culled, according to The Washington Post.

The suit, filed this week in the Northern California District Court, also asserts that YouTube enforces it policies unevenly, giving a pass to channels with large audiences—even if their content is prejudiced.

“Our LGBTQ+ content is being demonetized, restricted, and not sent out to viewers, which has highly affected our ability to reach the community that we strongly want to help,” singing duo and lesbian couple Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers said in a video explaining why they’re suing Google/YouTube.

“YouTube is supposed to be a safe space for us. I don’t feel safe at all,” transgender cat lover Chase Ross added.

“Things need to change. The algorithm needs to change. We need to stand together, because we’re more powerful in numbers,” he said. “And honestly, standing here, watching our videos get demonetized, it’s disheartening; it hurts. And it needs to end right now.”

The class action lawsuit maintains that YouTube’s software algorithms, as well as its human reviewers, single out and remove content featuring words like “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual.”

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As a result, those video creators are losing followers and advertising revenue.

Kam and Chambers, whose BriaAndChrissy channel boasts more than 850,000 subscribers, claim that YouTube’s enforcement reduced their monthly earnings from $3,500 to about $500.

Brett Somers’ channel Watts the Safeword—”kink-friendly” sex education—lost more than $6,000 in average monthly sales as a result of restrictions, he said.

YouTube, meanwhile, denies the allegations (two years after it was caught censoring LGBTQ+ users).

“Our policies have no notion of sexual orientation or gender identity and our systems do not restrict or demonetize videos based on these factors or the inclusion of terms like ‘gay’ or ‘transgender,’” company spokesman Alex Joseph said in a statement published by FFWD.

“In addition,” he continued, “we have strong policies prohibiting hate speech, and we quickly remove content that violates our policies and terminate accounts that do so repeatedly.”

The Google-owned video streaming site—the world’s largest, with nearly 2 billion monthly views—wields enormous power over creators. It can promote or bury content as it sees fit, and there’s very little anyone can do about it.

“By controlling an estimated 95 percent of the public video communications that occur in the world, Google and YouTube wield unparalleled power and unfettered discretion to apply viewpoint-based content policies in a way that permits them to pick winners and losers,” Peter Obstler, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told WaPo.

“We are not going to stand by and let our community get dismissed, belittled, or discriminated against,” Somers said in the video, encouraging supporters to spread the word and stand up against YouTube.

Neither Google nor YouTube immediately responded to Geek’s request for comment.

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Robot Dog Astro Can Sit, Lie Down, and Save Lives

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Who’s a good boy? Astro, the four-legged seeing and hearing intelligent robodog.

Using deep learning and artificial intelligence, scientists from Florida Atlantic University’s Machine Perception and Cognitive Robotics (MPCR) Laboratory are bringing Astro to life.

A robotic tail wagger is not exactly new: Boston Dynamics has been honing its all-electric Spot lineup for years.

But Astro has a head start—literally.

FAU’s quadruped features a 3D-printed noggin (designed to resemble a Doberman pinscher) that contains a computerized brain.

He doesn’t just look like a dog, though. He learns like one, too: Astro is being trained via deep neural network to learn from experience and perform real-life tasks.

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Built-in sensors, radar imaging, cameras, and a directional microphone help ensure that, just like a flesh-and-blood pooch, he can respond to commands like “sit,” “stand,” and “lie down.”

Eventually, researchers hope Astro will be able to understand hand signals, detect different colors, comprehend various languages, coordinate with drones, distinguish human faces, and recognize other dogs.

“Astro is inspired by the human brain and he has come to life through machine learning and artificial intelligence, which is proving to be an invaluable resource in helping to solve some of the world’s most complex problems,” Ata Sarajedini, dean of FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, said in a statement.

Designed to engage and react to his surroundings in real time, the intelligent machine will be able to navigate rough terrains and respond to dangerous situations.

As an information scout, Astro can assist police, the military, and security personnel in sniffing out guns and explosives. He is also capable of rapidly searching faces in a database, smelling the air for foreign substances, and hearing distress calls well outside a human’s audible range.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, the heartwarming hound may be programmed to work as a service dog for the visually impaired or provide medical diagnostic monitoring.

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Easily Assign Tasks With Google Assistant

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With less than four weeks left until our wedding, my fiance and I are in full productivity mode.

Planning the seating chart. Issuing responsibilities. Finalizing table decor. Trying to ensure nothing slips through the cracks while also enjoying the everyday activities of Edinburgh’s many August festivals.

We could certainly use an extra set of hands—or a digital helper.

Google Assistant now features assignable reminders to help families and housemates collaborate and stay organized at home or on the go.

“This means you can now create reminders for your partner or roommate to do things like pick up the groceries, pay a recurring bill, walk the dog,” Glenn Wilson, group product manager for Google Assistant, wrote in a blog post.

Or get the programs and table-name placards printed.

To assign a reminder, simply tell your Assistant, “Hey Google, remind Greg to take out the trash at 8 p.m.”

Greg will receive one notification on his Assistant-enabled smart display, speaker, and/or phone when the reminder is created, and a second at its set time.

Your absent-minded mate can even access all of his cues with a quick, “Hey Google, what are the reminders for Greg?”

The feature is rolling out to phones, speakers, and smart displays (via Google)

The feature also works for location-based prompts with a specific address or landmark.

Say you want to nudge Claire to pick up flowers but don’t know when she’ll be shopping. Just say, “Hey Google, remind Claire to pick up flowers when she gets to the San Francisco Ferry Building.”

Using her phone’s GPS, Assistant will alert Claire when it recognizes that she’s arrived at the Ferry Building.

Users can send and receive reminders only from people in their Google family group, or those whose accounts are linked to the same smart display or speaker and are voice matched.

The recipient must also be in a sender’s Google contacts.

“In addition, you have the control to block anyone from sending you reminders at any time through the new Assignable reminders section in Assistant Settings,” Wilson explained.

The feature is rolling out in English over the coming weeks to phones, speakers, and smart displays in the US, UK, and Australia. It will also work with Google Nest Hub Max upon release later this fall.

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