As wildfire season approaches, AI could pinpoint risky regions using satellite imagery – TechCrunch


The U.S. has suffered from devastating wildfires over the last few years as global temperatures rise and weather patterns change, making the otherwise natural phenomenon especially unpredictable and severe. To help out, Stanford researchers have found a way to track and predict dry, at-risk areas using machine learning and satellite imagery.

Currently the way forests and scrublands are tested for susceptibility to wildfires is by manually collecting branches and foliage and testing their water content. It’s accurate and reliable, but obviously also quite labor intensive and difficult to scale.

Fortunately, other sources of data have recently become available. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel and Landsat satellites have amassed a trove of imagery of the Earth’s surface that, when carefully analyzed, could provide a secondary source for assessing wildfire risk — and one no one has to risk getting splinters for.

This isn’t the first attempt to make this kind of observation from orbital imagery, but previous efforts relied heavily on visual measurements that are “extremely site-specific,” meaning the analysis method differs greatly depending on the location. No splinters, but still hard to scale. The advance leveraged by the Stanford team is the Sentinel satellites’ “synthetic aperture radar,” which can pierce the forest canopy and image the surface below.

“One of our big breakthroughs was to look at a newer set of satellites that are using much longer wavelengths, which allows the observations to be sensitive to water much deeper into the forest canopy and be directly representative of the fuel moisture content,” said senior author of the paper, Stanford ecoydrologist Alexandra Konings, in a news release.

The team fed this new imagery, collected regularly since 2016, to a machine learning model along with the manual measurements made by the U.S. Forest Service. This lets the model “learn” what particular features of the imagery correlate with the ground-truth measurements.

They then tested the resulting AI agent (the term is employed loosely) by having it make predictions based on old data for which they already knew the answers. It was accurate, but most so in scrublands, one of the most common biomes of the American west and also one of the most susceptible to wildfires.

You can see the results of the project in this interactive map showing the model’s prediction of dryness at different periods all over the western part of the country. That’s not so much for firefighters as a validation of the approach — but the same model, given up to date data, can make predictions about the upcoming wildfire season that could help the authorities make more informed decisions about controlled burns, danger areas and safety warnings.

The researchers’ work was published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

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This has been an incredibly tough week after a string of tough weeks. The killing of George Floyd showed yet again that…

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Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, May 29, 2020

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In a statement posted to Facebook late Friday afternoon, Mark Zuckerberg offered up an explanation of why his company did not contextualize or remove posts from the accounts associated with President Donald Trump that appeared to incite violence against American citizens. “We looked very closely at the post that discussed the protests in Minnesota to […]

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Jonathan is an editor at TechCrunch. Previously he worked as a senior reporter for Dow Jones & Co., covering venture capital and private equity investment from New York and Shanghai. He can be reached via email at shieber@techcrunch.com.

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Jonathan is an editor at TechCrunch. Previously he worked as a senior reporter for Dow Jones & Co., covering venture capital and private equity investment from New York and Shanghai. He can be reached via email at shieber@techcrunch.com.

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WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 21: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press on the South Lawn of the White House prior to departing on Marine One May 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump is scheduled to visit a Ford manufacturing plant that is currently producing ventilators in Michigan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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The global spread of COVID-19 and resulting orders to shelter in place have hit retailers hard.

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As the pandemic drags on, temporary halts are becoming permanent closures, whether itu2019s the coffee shop next door, a historic bar or a well-known lifestyle brand.

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But while the present is largely bleak, preparing for the future has retailers adopting technologies faster than ever. Their resilience and innovation means retail will look and fee different when the world reopens.

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We gathered four views on the future of retail from the TechCrunch team:

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  • Natasha Mascarenhas says retailers will need to find new ways to sell aspirational products u2014 and what was once cringe-worthy might now be considered innovative.
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  • Devin Coldewey sees businesses adopting a slew of creative digital services to prepare for the future and empower them without Amazonu2019s platform.
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  • Greg Kumparak thinks the delivery and curbside pickup trends will move from pandemic-essentials to everyday occurrences. He thinks that retailers will need to find new ways to appeal to consumers in a u201cshopping-by-proxyu201d world.
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  • Lucas Matney views a revitalized interest in technology around the checkout process, as retailers look for ways to make the purchasing experience more seamless (and less high-touch).
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Alexa, how do I look?

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Natasha Mascarenhas

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While the present is largely bleak, preparing for the future has retailers adopting technologies faster than ever. Their resilience and innovation means retail will look and fee different when the world reopens.

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Natasha Mascarenhas is a reporter at TechCrunch covering early stage startups and venture capital trends. She also tracks the different networks that play into founder success, from loneliness to immigration. Before TechCrunch, Natasha reported on the same beat for Crunchbase News. She also has bylines in the Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, BostInno, and is proudly from New Jersey.

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Reach Natasha via e-mail at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or through DM on Twitter @nmasc_.

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/x9fberhwpqwxusvvlxfj","twitter":"nmasc_","_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/133574362"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users"],"id":12084691,"name":"Devin Coldewey","url":"https://coldewey.cc","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/devin-coldewey/","slug":"devin-coldewey","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/69fae9a8a3933fa91e81c086b8eee14a?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/69fae9a8a3933fa91e81c086b8eee14a?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/69fae9a8a3933fa91e81c086b8eee14a?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"homepage":"http://techcrunch.com/author/tcdevin","twitter":"http://twitter.com/techcrunch","linkedin":"http://www.linkedin.com/company/techcrunch","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/devin-coldewey","position":"Writer & Photographer","cbDescription":"

Devin Coldewey is a Seattle-based writer and photographer. He first wrote for TechCrunch in 2007. He has also written for MSNBC.com, NBC News, DPReview, The Economist/GE's Look Ahead, and others.

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His personal website is coldewey.cc.

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/v1458774381/r4iwkrm6qsw3n2ximghe.jpg","twitter":"techcrunch","_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/12084691"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users"],"id":5188242,"name":"Greg Kumparak","url":"","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/greg-kumparak/","slug":"greg-kumparak","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9b107c9f9a43a21d8c93fcdefcc97dcd?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9b107c9f9a43a21d8c93fcdefcc97dcd?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9b107c9f9a43a21d8c93fcdefcc97dcd?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"homepage":"http://www.kumparak.com","twitter":"https://twitter.com/grg","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/greg-kumparak","position":"Editor","cbDescription":"

Greg Kumparak is an editor at TechCrunch.

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Greg started at TechCrunch in May of 2008. He led TechCrunch's sister site MobileCrunch as editor until AOL acquired the company in 2010, at which point the editors of TechCrunch's four main sites (TechCrunch, CrunchGear, MobileCrunch, TechCrunch UK) merged the sites under one domain.

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Best known for his gadget coverage, Kumparak has broken hundreds of stories within the space u2014 unearthing details on everything from abandoned Samsung smartphone prototypes to new Apple devices. He's also one of the Internet's most prolific "live bloggers", having reported from the scene at dozens of international events for live audiences in the hundreds of thousands.

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He was one of the earliest writers to highlight and report on a number of companies that have since become "unicorns" (reaching a valuation of $1B or more), including Zenefits and Twilio.

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Kumparak is a frequent guest on TechCrunch's Gadget, Apple, and Android podcasts, and often appears on stage as an interviewer or judge at TechCrunch's meetups and Disrupt conferences.

nn

In 2012, Greg was featured on the BBC, Wired, Mashable, Engadget and many other outlets for a side project he called the "tARdis", or the Augmented Reality TARDIS. By combining augmented reality with a handmade physical model, Greg was able to replicate the otherwise physically impossible "bigger on the inside" visual effect that commonly appears on television's Doctor Who series.

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/v1397184689/d45c9b9b954bcc0a697dae821253a36b.png","twitter":"grg","_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/5188242"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users"],"id":89192944,"name":"Lucas Matney","url":"","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/lucas-matney/","slug":"lucas-matney","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/ac0471089769c31246f411dc339104f8?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/ac0471089769c31246f411dc339104f8?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/ac0471089769c31246f411dc339104f8?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"twitter":"https://twitter.com/lucasmtny","linkedin":"https://www.linkedin.com/in/lucasmatney/","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/lucas-matney","position":"Writer","cbDescription":"

Lucas Matney is a reporter at TechCrunch and has been covering emerging technologies and startups since 2015. He lives in San Francisco and can be reached via email at lucas@techcrunch.com

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/h5eslbyb5f1hwstm1wrt","twitter":"lucasmtny","_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/89192944"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users"]],"author":["id":133574362,"name":"Natasha Mascarenhas","url":"","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/natasha-mascarenhas/","slug":"natasha-mascarenhas","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"twitter":"https://twitter.com/nmasc_","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/natasha-mascarenhas-734f","position":null,"cbDescription":"

Natasha Mascarenhas is a reporter at TechCrunch covering early stage startups and venture capital trends. She also tracks the different networks that play into founder success, from loneliness to immigration. Before TechCrunch, Natasha reported on the same beat for Crunchbase News. She also has bylines in the Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, BostInno, and is proudly from New Jersey.

nn

Reach Natasha via e-mail at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or through DM on Twitter @nmasc_.

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the credit card for startups, cuts staff amid restructuring","content":"rendered":"

Brex, last valued at $2.6 billion, is restructuring its credit card for startups business and cut 62 staff members, the co-founders Pedro Franceschi and Henrique Dubugras said in a blog post.

n

“Today we’re restructuring the company to better align our priorities with this new reality, while simultaneously accelerating our product vision. With that, I have some very sad news to share. 62 people will be leaving Brex today,” the post reads.

n

The cuts come as Brex’s customer base itself is struggling to stay afloat amid COVID-19: high-growth startups. The trickle-down to Brex’s core business, which depends on its customers spending money, was thus expected.

n

Brex has already cut some customer credit limits to mitigate some of the exposure risk,u00a0The Information reported, and Dubugras confirmed. Customers say the credit limit cuts came without warning or notice.

n

Additionally, the company, launched in Brazil and graduated from Y Combinator, raised $150 million recently.

n

When TechCrunch talked to Dubugras about the latest fundraise, the co-founder said the capital was offensive, rather than defensive.

n

u201cIu2019m glad this round came together, but if it hadnu2019t, we wouldu2019ve been fine,u201d he said last week. u201cThe capital is so we can play offensive while everyone else plays defensive.u201d

n

In the blog post, the co-founders wrote to former staffers.

n

“Please continue dreaming big and donu2019t lose the ambition that attracted you to Brex. Donu2019t let anything, not even a global pandemic, take that away from you. I wish we could give each one of you a hug, so instead Iu2019ll end this message like Iu2019d do it in Portuguese. Abrau00e7os, Pedro and Henrique.”

n

Those laid off will be provided with eight weeks of severance, their computer and equipment, and Brex will dedicate a part of its recruiting team to help find new opportunities for ex-staffers. Additionally, Brex is making adjustments to the equity cliff and has extended healthcare benefits through the end of 2020.

n

Brex has amassed $465 million in venture capital funding to date.

n","protected":false,"excerpt":"rendered":"

Brex, last valued at $2.6 billion, is restructuring its credit card for startups business and cut 62 staff members, the co-founders Pedro Franceschi and Henrique Dubugras said in a blog post. “Today we’re restructuring the company to better align our priorities with this new reality, while simultaneously accelerating our product vision. With that, I have […]

n","protected":false,"author":133574362,"featured_media":1834276,"comment_status":"open","ping_status":"closed","sticky":false,"template":"","format":"standard","meta":"outcome":"","status":"","crunchbase_tag":0,"amp_status":"","relegenceEntities":[],"relegenceSubjects":[],"carmot_uuid":"98793e8c-a4de-3246-a6e7-e96b5d09e7aa","categories":[15835174,17396],"tags":[576606174,26402],"crunchbase_tag":[],"tc_stories_tax":[],"tc_event":[],"jetpack_featured_media_url":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Henrique_Pedro-Press-Shot.jpg","shortlink":"https://tcrn.ch/2TQuoje","rapidData":"pt":"","pct":"","featured":false,"subtitle":"","fundingRound":false,"seoTitle":"","seoDescription":"","premiumContent":false,"premiumCutoffPercent":1,"tc_cb_mapping":["slug":"brex","cb_name":"Brex","cb_slug":"brex-organization","cb_link":"https://crunchbase.com/organization/brex"],"associatedEvent":null,"event":null,"authors":[133574362],"hideFeaturedImage":false,"_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts/1995923"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts"],"about":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/types/post"],"replies":["embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/comments?post=1995923"],"version-history":["count":4,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts/1995923/revisions"],"predecessor-version":["id":1995939,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts/1995923/revisions/1995939"],"authors":["embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/133574362"],"https://techcrunch.com/edit":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1995923&action=edit"],"author":["embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/133574362"],"wp:featuredmedia":["embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/media/1834276"],"wp:attachment":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/media?parent=1995923"],"wp:term":["taxonomy":"category","embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/categories?post=1995923","taxonomy":"post_tag","embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/tags?post=1995923","taxonomy":"_tc_cb_tag_taxonomy","embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/crunchbase_tag?post=1995923","taxonomy":"tc_stories_tax","embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/tc_stories_tax?post=1995923","taxonomy":"tc_event","embeddable":true,"href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/tc_event?post=1995923"],"curies":["name":"wp","href":"https://api.w.org/rel","templated":true],"_embedded":{"authors":["id":133574362,"name":"Natasha Mascarenhas","url":"","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/natasha-mascarenhas/","slug":"natasha-mascarenhas","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"twitter":"https://twitter.com/nmasc_","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/natasha-mascarenhas-734f","position":null,"cbDescription":"

Natasha Mascarenhas is a reporter at TechCrunch covering early stage startups and venture capital trends. She also tracks the different networks that play into founder success, from loneliness to immigration. Before TechCrunch, Natasha reported on the same beat for Crunchbase News. She also has bylines in the Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, BostInno, and is proudly from New Jersey.

nn

Reach Natasha via e-mail at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or through DM on Twitter @nmasc_.

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Natasha Mascarenhas is a reporter at TechCrunch covering early stage startups and venture capital trends. She also tracks the different networks that play into founder success, from loneliness to immigration. Before TechCrunch, Natasha reported on the same beat for Crunchbase News. She also has bylines in the Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, BostInno, and is proudly from New Jersey.

nn

Reach Natasha via e-mail at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or through DM on Twitter @nmasc_.

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screens Trump’s Minneapolis threat-tweet for glorifying violence","content":"rendered":"

After applying a fact-checking labelu00a0Tuesday to a misleading vote-by-mail tweet made by U.S. President Donald Trump, Twitter is on a roll and has labeled another of the president’s tweets — this time screening his words from casual view with what it calls a “public interest notice” that states the tweet violated its rules about glorifying violence.u00a0

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Here’s how the tweet appears without further interaction (second tweet in the below screengrab):

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The public interest notice replaces the substance of what Trump wrote, meaning a user has to actively click through to view the offending tweet.

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Engagement options are also limited as a result by this label, meaning users can only retweet the offending tweet with a comment; they cannot like it, reply to it or vanilla retweet it.

n

Twitter’s notice goes on to explain why it has not removed the offending tweet entirely — and this is where the public interest element of the policy kicks in — with the company writing: “Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”u00a0

n

Twitter appears to be shrugging off the president’s decision yesterday to sign an executive order targeting the legal shield that internet companies rely on to protect them from liability for user-created content — doubling down on displeasing Trump, who has accused social media platforms generally of deliberately suppressing conservative views despite plenty of evidence that ad-targeting platform algorithms actually boost outrage-fuelled content and views — which tends, conversely, to amplify conservative viewpoints.

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In the latest clash, Trump had tweeted in reference to violent demonstrations taking place in Minneapolis sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer — with the president claiming that “THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd” before threatening to send in the “Military.”

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“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Trump added — making a bald threat to use military force against civilians.

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Twitter has wrestled with the issue of how to handle world leaders who break its content rules for years. Most often as a result of Trump, who routinely uses its platform to bully all manner of targets — from rival politicians to hated journalists, disobedient business leaders and even actors who displease him — as well as to dispense direct and sometimes violent threats.

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Since being elected, Trump has also used Twitter’s global platform as a foreign policy weapon, firing military threats at the likes of North Korea and Iran in tweet form.

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Back in 2018, for example, he teased North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with button-pushing nuclear destruction (see below tweet) — before going on to “fall in love” with the dictator when he met him in person.

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Twitter’s go-to defence for not taking offending Trump tweets down in the past has been that, as U.S. president, the substance of what the man tweets — however mad, bad and dangerous — is inherently newsworthy.

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However, more recently, the company has created a policy tool that allows it to intervene — defining terms last summer around “public interest” content on Twitter.

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It warned then (almost a full year ago, in June 2019) that it might place a public interest notice on tweets that would otherwise violate its rules (and therefore merit a takedown) — in order to “to provide additional context and clarity,” rather than removing the offensive tweet.

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Fast forward a year and the tech giant has started applying labels to Trump’s tweets — beginning with a fact-check label earlier this week, related to the forthcoming U.S. election, and following up now with a public interest notice related to Trump glorifying violence.

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So, finally, the tech giant seems to be inching toward drawing a limit-line around Trump in near real time.

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Explaining its decision to badge the U.S. president’s threat to order the military to shoot looters in Minneapolis, the company writes: “This Tweet violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”

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“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” Twitter goes on.

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It also links to its policy against tweets that glorify violence — which states unequivocally [in bold]: “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.”

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Back in June, when Twitter announced the “abusive behavior” label, it also warned that tweets that get screened with a public interest notice will not benefit from any algorithmic acceleration, writing: “Weu2019ll also take steps to make sure the Tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability and reducing the potential harm caused by these Tweets.”

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However the newsworthiness of Twitter’s decision to finally apply its own rules vis-a-vis Trump will ensure there’s plenty of non-algorithmic amplification (and no little irony).

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We reached out to the company with questions about its decision to apply a public interest screen on Trump’s latest tweet but at the time of writing it had not responded.

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On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey, put out a series of tweets defending its decision to apply a fact-check label to Trump’s earlier misleading tweets about vote-by-mail.

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“This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth,'” wrote Dorsey. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

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Dorsey’s remarks followed pointed comments made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Fox News, seeking to contrast Facebook’s claimed “neutrality” when policing its platform with Twitteru2019s policy of taking a stance on issues such as political advertising (which Twitter does not allow).

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u201cI just believe strongly that Facebook shouldnu2019t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,u201d Zuckerberg told the conservative news station. u201cPrivate companies u2026 especially these platform companies, shouldnu2019t be in the position of doing that.u201d

n

It’s notable that Dorsey used Zuckerberg’s exact turn of phrase — u201carbiter of truthu201d — to reject Facebook’s attack on Twitter’s policy as a straw man argument.

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Update I, Trump reacts: In early reaction to Twitter’s move the Trump administration has now quote-retweeted the offending tweet from the official White House Twitter account — reamplifying the president’s violent threat.

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Trump has also reiterated his threat to regulate social media by revoking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in a new series of tweets this morning — accusing Twitter of ignoring “lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party.”

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Update II, Whack-a-mole: Twitter has now screened the quote-tweeted copy of Trump’s tweet that the administration sent from the White House Twitter account.

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Natasha is a senior reporter for TechCrunch, joining September 2012, based in Europe. She joined TC after a stint reviewing smartphones for CNET UK and, prior to that, more than five years covering business technology for silicon.com (now folded into TechRepublic), where she focused on mobile and wireless, telecoms & networking, and IT skills issues. She has also freelanced for organisations including The Guardian and the BBC. Natasha holds a First Class degree in English from Cambridge University, and an MA in journalism from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 30: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the beginning of a meeting with small business people in the Roosevelt Room at the White House January 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. During the meeting, Trump said he will announce his ‘unbelievably highly respected’ pick to replace the late Supreme Court Antonin Scalia on Tuesday evening. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Starship SN4 launch vehicle prototype explodes after static engine fire test","content":"rendered":"

SpaceX had just conducted yet another static fire test of the Raptor engine in its Starship SN4 prototype launch vehicle on Friday when the test vehicle exploded on the test stand in Boca Chica, Texas. This was the fourth static fire test of this engine on this prototype, so it’s unclear what went wrong versus other static fire attempts.

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This was a test in the development of Starship, a new spacecraft that SpaceX has been developing in Boca Chica. Eventually, the company hopes to use it to replace its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket, but Starship is still very early in its development phase, whereas those vehicles are flight-proven, multiple times over.

n

SpaceX had just secured FAA approval to fly its Starship prototype for short, suborbital test flights. The goal was to fly this SN4 prototype for short distances following static fire testing, but that clearly won’t be possible now, as the vehicle appears to have been completely destroyed in the explosion following Friday’s test, as you can see below in the stream from NASASpaceflight.com.

n

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The explosion occurred around 1:49 PM local time in Texas, roughly two minutes after it had completed its engine test fire. We’ve reached out to SpaceX to find out more about the cause of today’s incident, and whether anyone was hurt in the explosion. SpaceX typically takes plenty of safety precautions when running these tests, including ensuring the area is well clear of any personnel or other individuals.

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This isn’t the first time one of SpaceX’s Starship prototypes has met a catastrophic end; a couple of previous test vehicles succumbed to pressure testing while being put through their paces. This is why space companies test frequently and stress test vehicles during development — to ensure that the final operational vehicles are incredibly safe and reliable when they need to be.

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SpaceX is already working on additional prototypes, including assembling SN5 nearby in Boca Chica, so it’s likely to resume its testing program quickly once it can clear the test stand and move in the newest prototype. This is a completely separate endeavor from SpaceX’s work on the Commercial Crew program, so that historic first test launch with astronauts on board should proceed either Saturday or Sunday as planned, depending on weather.

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SpaceX had just conducted yet another static fire test of the Raptor engine in its Starship SN4 prototype launch vehicle on Friday when the test vehicle exploded on the test stand in Boca Chica, Texas. This was the fourth static fire test of this engine on this prototype, so it’s unclear what went wrong versus […]

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best investment every digital brand can make during the COVID-19 pandemic","content":"rendered":"

Intuitively, stores that sell online should be making a killing during the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, everyone is stuck at home u2014 and understandably more willing to shop online instead of at a traditional retailer to avoid putting themselves and others at medical risk. But the truth is, most smaller online stores have seen better days.

n

The primary challenge is that smaller shops often donu2019t have the logistics networks that companies like Amazon do. Consequently, theyu2019re seeing substantially delayed delivery timelines, especially if they ship internationally. Customers obviously arenu2019t thrilled about that reality. And in many cases, theyu2019re requesting refunds at a staggering rate.

n

I saw this play out firsthand in April. At that point, my stores were down 20% or in some cases even 30% in revenue. Needless to say, my team was freaking out. But thereu2019s one thing we did that helped us increase our revenue over 200% since the pandemic, decrease refund requests and even strengthen our existing customer relationships.

n

We implemented a 24-hour live chat in all of our stores. Hereu2019s why it worked for us and why every digital brand should be doing it too.

n

Avoid the common u2018unreachabilityu2019 frustration

n

When I started my first online store in 2006, challenges that bogged my team down often meant that my teamu2019s first priority became resolving those challenges so that we could serve our customers faster. But admittedly, when these challenges came up, it became more difficult to balance communicating with our customers and resolving the issues that prevented us from fulfilling their orders quickly.

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Customers donu2019t just forget about the companies that treated them well u2014 and post-crisis, theyu2019ll be more likely to return to the vendors who gave them a good experience.

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Due to COVID-19, business continuity has been put to the test for many companies in the manufacturing, agriculture, transport, hospitality, energy and retail sectors. Cost reduction is the primary focus of companies in these sectors due to massive losses in revenue caused by this pandemic. The other side of the crisis is, however, significantly different.

n

Companies in industries such as medical, government and financial services, as well as cloud-native tech startups that are providing essential services, have experienced a considerable increase in their operational demands — leading to rising operational costs. Irrespective of the industry your company belongs to, and whether your company is experiencing reduced or increased operations, cost optimization is a reality for all companies to ensure a sustained existence.

n

One of the most reliable measures for cost optimization at this stage is to leverage elastic services designed to grow or shrink according to demand, such as cloud and managed services. A modern product with a cloud-native architecture can auto-scale cloud consumption to mitigate lost operational demand. What may not have been obvious to startup leaders is a strategy often employed by incumbent, mature enterprises — achieving cost optimization by leveraging managed services providers (MSPs). MSPs enable organizations to repurpose full-time staff members from impacted operations to more strategic product lines or initiatives.

n

Why companies need cost optimization in the long run

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The landscape shifts quickly, but managed services providers enable organizations to repurpose full-time staff members from impacted operations to more strategic product lines or initiatives.

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is giving hardware new life","content":"rendered":"

Aluminum and iconography are no longer enough for a product to get noticed in the marketplace. Today, great products need to be useful and deliver an almost magical experience, something that becomes an extension of life. Tiny Machine Learning (TinyML) is the latest embedded software technology that moves hardware into that almost magical realm, where machines can automatically learn and grow through use, like a primitive human brain.

n

Until now building machine learning (ML) algorithms for hardware meant complex mathematical modesu00a0based on sample data, known as “training data,u201d in order to make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to do so. And if this sounds complex and expensive to build, it is. On top of that, traditionally ML-related tasks were translated to the cloud, creating latency, consuming scarce power and putting machines at the mercy of connection speeds. Combined, these constraints made computing at the edge slower, more expensive and less predictable.

n

But thanks to recent advances, companies are turning to TinyML as the latest trend in building product intelligence. Arduino, the company best known for open-source hardware is making TinyML available for millions of developers. Together with Edge Impulse, they are turning the ubiquitous Arduino board into a powerful embedded ML platform, like the Arduino Nano 33 BLE Sense and other 32-bit boards. With this partnership you can run powerful learning models based on artificial neural networks (ANN) reaching and sampling tiny sensors along with low-powered microcontrollers.

n

Over the past year great strides were made in making deep learning models smaller, faster and runnable on embedded hardware through projects like TensorFlow Lite for Microcontrollers, uTensor and Armu2019s CMSIS-NN. But building a quality dataset, extracting the right features, training and deploying these models is still complicated. TinyML was the missing link between edge hardware and device intelligence now coming to fruition.

n

Tiny devices with not-so-tiny brains

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Today and going forward, billions of tiny devices will act as an extension of our brains, feelings and emotions as a natural extension of everyday life.

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views on the future of retail and the shopping experience","content":"rendered":"

The global spread of COVID-19 and resulting orders to shelter in place have hit retailers hard.

n

As the pandemic drags on, temporary halts are becoming permanent closures, whether itu2019s the coffee shop next door, a historic bar or a well-known lifestyle brand.

n

But while the present is largely bleak, preparing for the future has retailers adopting technologies faster than ever. Their resilience and innovation means retail will look and fee different when the world reopens.

n

We gathered four views on the future of retail from the TechCrunch team:

n

    n

  • Natasha Mascarenhas says retailers will need to find new ways to sell aspirational products u2014 and what was once cringe-worthy might now be considered innovative.
  • n

  • Devin Coldewey sees businesses adopting a slew of creative digital services to prepare for the future and empower them without Amazonu2019s platform.
  • n

  • Greg Kumparak thinks the delivery and curbside pickup trends will move from pandemic-essentials to everyday occurrences. He thinks that retailers will need to find new ways to appeal to consumers in a u201cshopping-by-proxyu201d world.
  • n

  • Lucas Matney views a revitalized interest in technology around the checkout process, as retailers look for ways to make the purchasing experience more seamless (and less high-touch).
  • n

n

Alexa, how do I look?

n

Natasha Mascarenhas

n

","protected":false,"excerpt":"rendered":"

While the present is largely bleak, preparing for the future has retailers adopting technologies faster than ever. Their resilience and innovation means retail will look and fee different when the world reopens.

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Natasha Mascarenhas is a reporter at TechCrunch covering early stage startups and venture capital trends. She also tracks the different networks that play into founder success, from loneliness to immigration. Before TechCrunch, Natasha reported on the same beat for Crunchbase News. She also has bylines in the Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, BostInno, and is proudly from New Jersey.

nn

Reach Natasha via e-mail at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or through DM on Twitter @nmasc_.

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/x9fberhwpqwxusvvlxfj","twitter":"nmasc_","_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/133574362"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users"],"id":12084691,"name":"Devin Coldewey","url":"https://coldewey.cc","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/devin-coldewey/","slug":"devin-coldewey","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/69fae9a8a3933fa91e81c086b8eee14a?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/69fae9a8a3933fa91e81c086b8eee14a?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/69fae9a8a3933fa91e81c086b8eee14a?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"homepage":"http://techcrunch.com/author/tcdevin","twitter":"http://twitter.com/techcrunch","linkedin":"http://www.linkedin.com/company/techcrunch","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/devin-coldewey","position":"Writer & Photographer","cbDescription":"

Devin Coldewey is a Seattle-based writer and photographer. He first wrote for TechCrunch in 2007. He has also written for MSNBC.com, NBC News, DPReview, The Economist/GE's Look Ahead, and others.

nn

His personal website is coldewey.cc.

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/v1458774381/r4iwkrm6qsw3n2ximghe.jpg","twitter":"techcrunch","_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/12084691"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users"],"id":5188242,"name":"Greg Kumparak","url":"","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/greg-kumparak/","slug":"greg-kumparak","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9b107c9f9a43a21d8c93fcdefcc97dcd?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9b107c9f9a43a21d8c93fcdefcc97dcd?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9b107c9f9a43a21d8c93fcdefcc97dcd?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"homepage":"http://www.kumparak.com","twitter":"https://twitter.com/grg","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/greg-kumparak","position":"Editor","cbDescription":"

Greg Kumparak is an editor at TechCrunch.

nn

Greg started at TechCrunch in May of 2008. He led TechCrunch's sister site MobileCrunch as editor until AOL acquired the company in 2010, at which point the editors of TechCrunch's four main sites (TechCrunch, CrunchGear, MobileCrunch, TechCrunch UK) merged the sites under one domain.

nn

Best known for his gadget coverage, Kumparak has broken hundreds of stories within the space u2014 unearthing details on everything from abandoned Samsung smartphone prototypes to new Apple devices. He's also one of the Internet's most prolific "live bloggers", having reported from the scene at dozens of international events for live audiences in the hundreds of thousands.

nn

He was one of the earliest writers to highlight and report on a number of companies that have since become "unicorns" (reaching a valuation of $1B or more), including Zenefits and Twilio.

nn

Kumparak is a frequent guest on TechCrunch's Gadget, Apple, and Android podcasts, and often appears on stage as an interviewer or judge at TechCrunch's meetups and Disrupt conferences.

nn

In 2012, Greg was featured on the BBC, Wired, Mashable, Engadget and many other outlets for a side project he called the "tARdis", or the Augmented Reality TARDIS. By combining augmented reality with a handmade physical model, Greg was able to replicate the otherwise physically impossible "bigger on the inside" visual effect that commonly appears on television's Doctor Who series.

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/v1397184689/d45c9b9b954bcc0a697dae821253a36b.png","twitter":"grg","_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/5188242"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users"],"id":89192944,"name":"Lucas Matney","url":"","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/lucas-matney/","slug":"lucas-matney","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/ac0471089769c31246f411dc339104f8?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/ac0471089769c31246f411dc339104f8?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/ac0471089769c31246f411dc339104f8?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"twitter":"https://twitter.com/lucasmtny","linkedin":"https://www.linkedin.com/in/lucasmatney/","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/lucas-matney","position":"Writer","cbDescription":"

Lucas Matney is a reporter at TechCrunch and has been covering emerging technologies and startups since 2015. He lives in San Francisco and can be reached via email at lucas@techcrunch.com

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/h5eslbyb5f1hwstm1wrt","twitter":"lucasmtny","_links":"self":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/89192944"],"collection":["href":"https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users"]],"author":["id":133574362,"name":"Natasha Mascarenhas","url":"","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/natasha-mascarenhas/","slug":"natasha-mascarenhas","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/2f10add080685bb138750d850afec5b4?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"twitter":"https://twitter.com/nmasc_","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/natasha-mascarenhas-734f","position":null,"cbDescription":"

Natasha Mascarenhas is a reporter at TechCrunch covering early stage startups and venture capital trends. She also tracks the different networks that play into founder success, from loneliness to immigration. Before TechCrunch, Natasha reported on the same beat for Crunchbase News. She also has bylines in the Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, BostInno, and is proudly from New Jersey.

nn

Reach Natasha via e-mail at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or through DM on Twitter @nmasc_.

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Levie: ‘We have way too many manual processes in businesses’","content":"rendered":"

Box CEO Aaron Levie has been working to change the software world for 15 years, but the pandemic has accelerated the move to cloud services much faster than anyone imagined. As he pointed out yesterday in an Extra Crunch Live interview, who would have thought three months ago that businesses like yoga and cooking classes would have moved online u2014 but here we are.

n

Levie says we are just beginning to see the range of what’s possible because circumstances are forcing us to move to the cloud much faster than most businesses probably would have without the pandemic acting as a change agent.

n

“Overall, what we’re going to see is that anything that can become digital probably will be in a much more accelerated way than we’ve ever seen before,” Levie said.

n

Fellow TechCrunch reporter Jon Shieber and I spent an hour chatting with Levie about how digital transformation is accelerating in general, how Box is coping with that internally and externally, his advice for founders in an economic crisis and what life might be like when we return to our offices.

n

Our interview was broadcast on YouTube and we have included the embed below.

n


n

Just a note that Extra Crunch Live is our new virtual speaker series for Extra Crunch members. Folks can ask their own questions live during the chat, with past and future guests like Alexis Ohanian, Garry Tan, GGV’s Hans Tung and Jeff Richards, Eventbrite’s Julia Hartz and many, many more. You can check out the schedule here. If you’d like to submit a question during a live chat, please join Extra Crunch.

n

n


n

On digital transformation

n

The way that we think about digital transformation is that much of the world has a whole bunch of processes and ways of working — ways of communicating and ways of collaborating where if those business processes or that way we worked were able to be done in digital forms or in the cloud, you’d actually be more productive, more secure and you’d be able to serve your customers better. You’d be able to automate more business processes.

n

We think we’re [in] an environment that anything that can be digitized probably will be. Certainly as this pandemic has reinforced, we have way too many manual processes in businesses. We have way too slow ways of working together and collaborating. And we know that we’re going to move more and more of that to digital platforms.

n

In some cases, it’s simple, like moving to being able to do video conferences and being able to collaborate virtually. Some of it will become more advanced. How do I begin to automate things like client onboarding processes or doing research in a life sciences organization or delivering telemedicine digitally, but overall, what we’re going to see is that anything that can become digital probably will be in a much more accelerated way than we’ve ever seen before.

n

How the pandemic is driving change faster

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Box CEO Aaron Levie has been working to change the software world for 15 years, but the pandemic has accelerated the move to cloud services much faster than anyone imagined. As he pointed out yesterday in an Extra Crunch Live interview, who would have thought three months ago that businesses like yoga and cooking classes […]

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Ron Miller has been writing about the enterprise at TechCrunch since 2014.

nn

Previously, he was a long-time Contributing Editor at EContent Magazine. Past regular gigs included CITEworld, DaniWeb, TechTarget, Internet Evolution and FierceContentManagement.

nn

Disclosures:

nn

Ron is currently corporate blogger for Intronis where he writes once weekly on IT issues. He has contributed to various corporate blogs in the past including Ness, Novell and the IBM Mid-market Blogger Program.

","cbAvatar":"https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/diuuw7dfbczpdwmcpldm","twitter":"ron_miller"],"author":["id":521068,"name":"Ron Miller","url":"","description":"","link":"https://techcrunch.com/author/ron-miller/","slug":"ron-miller","avatar_urls":"24":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/0b82cfe9f0e15c08c5816481c9f383d9?s=24&d=identicon&r=g","48":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/0b82cfe9f0e15c08c5816481c9f383d9?s=48&d=identicon&r=g","96":"https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/0b82cfe9f0e15c08c5816481c9f383d9?s=96&d=identicon&r=g","links":"homepage":"https://techcrunch.com/author/ron-miller/","twitter":"https://twitter.com/ron_miller","linkedin":"http://www.linkedin.com/in/ronsmiller","crunchbase":"https://www.crunchbase.com/person/ron-miller","position":"Enterprise Reporter","cbDescription":"

Ron Miller has been writing about the enterprise at TechCrunch since 2014.

nn

Previously, he was a long-time Contributing Editor at EContent Magazine. Past regular gigs included CITEworld, DaniWeb, TechTarget, Internet Evolution and FierceContentManagement.

nn

Disclosures:

nn

Ron is currently corporate blogger for Intronis where he writes once weekly on IT issues. He has contributed to various corporate blogs in the past including Ness, Novell and the IBM Mid-market Blogger Program.

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The U.S. has suffered from devastating wildfires over the last few years as global temperatures rise and weather patterns change, making the otherwise natural phenomenon especially unpredictable and severe. To help out, Stanford researchers have found a way to track and predict dry, at-risk areas using machine learning and satellite imagery.

n

Currently the way forests and scrublands are tested for susceptibility to wildfires is by manually collecting branches and foliage and testing their water content. It’s accurate and reliable, but obviously also quite labor intensive and difficult to scale.

n

Fortunately, other sources of data have recently become available. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel and Landsat satellites have amassed a trove of imagery of the Earth’s surface that, when carefully analyzed, could provide a secondary source for assessing wildfire risk u2014 and one no one has to risk getting splinters for.

n

This isn’t the first attempt to make this kind of observation from orbital imagery, but previous efforts relied heavily on visual measurements that are “extremely site-specific,” meaning the analysis method differs greatly depending on the location. No splinters, but still hard to scale. The advance leveraged by the Stanford team is the Sentinel satellites’ “synthetic aperture radar,” which can pierce the forest canopy and image the surface below.

n

“One of our big breakthroughs was to look at a newer set of satellites that are using much longer wavelengths, which allows the observations to be sensitive to water much deeper into the forest canopy and be directly representative of the fuel moisture content,” said senior author of the paper, Stanford ecoydrologist Alexandra Konings, in a news release.

n

The team fed this new imagery, collected regularly since 2016, to a machine learning model along with the manual measurements made by the U.S. Forest Service. This lets the model “learn” what particular features of the imagery correlate with the ground-truth measurements.

n

n

They then tested the resulting AI agent (the term is employed loosely) by having it make predictions based on old data for which they already knew the answers. It was accurate, but most so in scrublands, one of the most common biomes of the American west and also one of the most susceptible to wildfires.

n

You can see the results of the project in this interactive map showing the model’s prediction of dryness at different periods all over the western part of the country. That’s not so much for firefighters as a validation of the approach u2014 but the same model, given up to date data, can make predictions about the upcoming wildfire season that could help the authorities make more informed decisions about controlled burns, danger areas and safety warnings.

n

The researchers’ work was published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

n","protected":false,"excerpt":"rendered":"

The U.S. has suffered from devastating wildfires over the last few years as global temperatures rise and weather patterns change, making the otherwise natural phenomenon especially unpredictable and severe. To help out, Stanford researchers have found a way to track and predict dry, at-risk areas using machine learning and satellite imagery. Currently the way forests […]

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nn

His personal website is coldewey.cc.

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His personal website is coldewey.cc.

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