A blockbuster video game director is working on a game where you don't shoot back. It puts the player inside the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and it's a financial and personal risk to the game makers.
Who wouldn't want something better than mammograms for breast cancer screening? But machines that extract breast fluid to look for abnormal cells aren't it, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Still, some doctors have been offering the test to patients.
Samantha West works for Premier Health Plans Inc., selling health insurance over the phone. Her voice is friendly, just like your typical telemarketer looking to get you a quote for a decent health insurance policy.
The other thing: she might be a robot.
TIME Magazine reporter Denver Nicks writes that he started getting suspicious when she couldn't answer some relatively simple questions.
"It sounds like a real woman, but she repeats herself over and over again," Nicks says. "Michael [his bureau chief] starts asking her questions like, 'What is the vegetable in tomato soup?' to which she doesn't know the answer."
When asked, point-blank, if she was a robot, "West" vehemently denies, saying that she's a real person and complains of a bad connection.
Nicks says they did manage to get a hold of a live body eventually, but they denied any use of robots and promptly hung up. But we may never know the true motive behind the strategy, as Premier Health Plans Inc. -- and Samantha West's phone line -- disappeared the day after Nicks's story was published.
Yesterday Twitter announced a change to its blocking policy. Under the old system, when you blocked someone, you vanished from their feed and they vanished from yours. But under the new policy, someone who had been blocked would still see the tweets of the person who blocked them -- the blocker could still be followed. The changes upset a whole lot of users, who made their opinions known all over social media. The backlash was big enough to cause Twitter to reverse its decision and go back to the old policy.
Never before have people been able to give feedback to a business so quickly and in such volume. Sometimes that feedback is positive. But when it's negative, it puts companies on the spot in a very public way. "Maybe that feedback signals to the company, we've got to explain this better and educate our customers and make them understand why this is for the best," says Dr. Andrew Stephen, a professor at the Katz School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.
In Twitter's case, it chose not to explain why it thought the new blocking policy was good for users. It just reversed the policy. Another example of this sort of reversal is when GAP unveiled its new logo. People hated it. They said so on the internet and poof! Gone was the new logo. Companies are now under pressure to respond to feedback as it comes in.
"I don't' know if that's always positive," says Stephen Walls, a senior lecturer at The McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas.
Fear over social media backlash can mean companies lose their ability to explain themselves. And it makes it difficult to do things like experiment with a new policy. "Certainly for companies it does create this amplification system, for better or for worse," says Walls.
It can mean free word of mouth advertising or a sudden crisis. This is the delicate balance that companies like Twitter have to maneuver, as they deal with issues of user security and privacy which added Wells, "is especially difficult since we're changing how we feel about that probably on a daily basis."
Unfortunately, even in the year 2013, there are still places in America where it’s newsworthy when someone hires a black woman. One of those places is Saturday Night Live. And it turns out, there are economic reasons for why the iconic sketch show has been so white and so male for so long, as conversations with a variety of black comics reveal.
The show has long faced criticism for its failings on diversity. It recently turned its problem into a joke, in an episode where guest host Kerry Washington had to play every black female role. An announcer apologized, promising producers will hire a black female cast member “unless of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.”
Now the show says it’ll add at least one black female cast member next year. Producers have been holding special auditions to find her. Over the years, executives have said they want to cast talented black females, but can’t find them.
“When they say there aren’t any women that they’ve seen, what’s really being said is we haven’t seen people that impressed us where we have normally been looking,” says comedian Chloe Hilliard.
The main places SNL producers look are the best-known improv comedy groups: UCB Theatre, Second City and The Groundlings. Many of SNL’s biggest stars got their starts on these stages. The groups on those stages can be as white or whiter than SNL casts are. The interplay of race and class helps explain why.
“With a lot of these places that have become sort of these comedy factories, it’s a pay to play scenario,” says comedian Cyrus McQueen.
Before young comics can perform at these influential stages, they typically have to pay for improv classes there. Even when they earn substantial stage time, performances rarely pay. That makes for a tilted playing field advantaging those who have sufficient funds (or sufficiently supportive parents) to pay for classes, perform for free and still be able to pay their bills. Many funny people of color get left out.
“As a young black person, when I first got out of college, I had to go get a job, a real job that would support me,” says comic Jina Johnson.
In the end, it seems the comedy scene doesn’t just favor white people. It favors rich white people, and will continue to, until producers in power look a little harder.
Mark Garrison: SNL turned its lack of black women into a joke, in a recent episode where guest host Kerry Washington had to play every black female role.
Clip: We agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future. Unless of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.
Producers say they wanna cast talented black females, but can’t find them. Comedian Chloe Hilliard says that’s not quite right.
Chloe Hilliard: When they say there aren’t any women that they’ve seen, what’s really being said is we haven’t seen people that impressed us where we have normally been looking.
The main places they look are the best-known improv comedy groups: UCB Theatre, Second City and the Groundlings. They’re as white or whiter than SNL. Part of the reason the stages SNL scouts aren’t diverse is economic.
Cyrus McQueen: With a lot of these places that have become sort of these comedy factories, it’s a pay to play scenario.
Comedian Cyrus McQueen points out that young comics have to pay for improv classes before they can get stage time. And even then, stage time usually doesn’t pay. That makes for a tilted playing field. Comic Jina Johnson says many funny people of color can’t afford to buy classes and then work for free.
Jina Johnson: As a young black person, when I first got out of college, I had to go get a job, a real job that would support me.
It seems the comedy scene doesn’t just favor white people. It favors rich white people, at least until powerful producers look a little harder. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.
The Obama administration reiterated its long-held position that Robert Levinson was not "a U.S. government employee when he went missing in Iran" in 2007. The assertion comes a day after The Associated Press reported that Levinson was on a rogue mission for the CIA.
Beyoncé’s eponymous album dropped at midnight, and one of the things that is remarkable about it is she didn’t give us a heads up. All of a sudden, it appeared in the iTunes Store. There was no multimillion dollar ad campaign. Top 40 stations didn’t get the chance to play a few singles to death before we could buy the album. And the thing is, none of that matters. Beyoncé is on top of the charts again.
“We wake up on Friday the Thirteenth, and we get a present,” says Stephanie Kellar, who teaches in the business and management program at the Berklee College of Music. “How fabulous is that?”
In this day and age, a surprise like this one is rare. Mikael Wood, who covers music for the Los Angeles Times, calls Queen B “a master of the nondisclosure agreement.”
“The one person you don’t want to cross is Beyoncé.”
You got that?
Wood says this album stands out when you compare it to releases by Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.
“These albums are the end point of a humungous multipronged campaign, with concerts and TV appearances., etc, etc.,” he explains.
Not so for “Beyoncé.” Wood says that, as great as this is for B, it is as great for iTunes – it is the only place to buy the album right now, and you can’t buy the songs a la carte.
So, is this upending anything? Should we expect a surprise album from another artist? John Rose, with the Boston Consulting Group, is skeptical. He used to be the head of strategy at EMI.
“To make something like that work, you have to have the kind of overarching followership and engagement that Beyoncé and only a handful of artists have,” he says.
Beyoncé announced this album on Instagram, where she has more than eight million followers. Beyoncé follows no one.
A Canadian woman says she was barred from entering the U.S. after a border agent cited her past mental illness. Some mental health advocates say she was a victim of profiling, but the situation appears more complicated than that.
Authorities have arrested a 58-year-old avionics technician whom they accuse of trying to blow up the Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita. The alleged plot was thwarted by undercover officials.
The storm dubbed Alexa has blown tents down in Syrian refugee camps and flooded parts of the Gaza Strip. It has also given Jerusalem its heaviest snowfall in 50 years, and Cairo its first snow in decades.
In this week's roundup of top tech conversations and stories: how tech giants are flexing their muscles against government, Twitter's abandoned blocking policy, and how the tech empire is striking back against creeping government surveillance.
The Internet is buzzing with news of "secret" Saturday Night Live auditions for black female cast members. We've collected YouTube clips from some of the rumored hopefuls.
The adults face charges related to the alleged cover-up of the notorious crime or their alleged failure to report child abuse. One school official also faces a charge related to an alleged second sexual assault of a young girl. That school principal is accused of failing to report the incident.
After being a problem in Africa and southern Asia for decades, chikungunya has made its way to the Caribbean. The mosquito-borne illness attacks the joints, causes fever, headaches and arthritis symptoms. There are no vaccines and treatments for the virus.
Today Bloomberg News is reporting that tech giant Google might be getting into the game of making chips. Not the kind that would go into your phone or personal computer, but the kind that help power the Google servers that store tons of our data. If the rumors are true, this could be a big a threat to the world's largest chip maker, Intel. Brian Womak reported the story for Bloomberg, and tells Marketplace Tech why.
The House of Representatives has passed a budget agreement aimed at avoiding another government shutdown. How will it affect the sequestration? The nitty-gritty details won’t be known until Jan. 18, but Stan Collender, budget columnist and former staffer on the House and Senate budget committees, says the deal should ease about half of the scheduled budget cuts.
This story about 55 tax breaks about to expire starts in an unlikely place: Barn 63 at the Belmont Race Track in Belmont, N.Y., at the stall of a pretty brown horse with a white star on her forehead.
Yes it’s Friday the 13th, but it might just be somebody’s lucky day today. The Mega Millions lottery jackpot is now at $400 million dollars. Of course if you do win, you won’t get anywhere near that.
A Texas teen escaped a jail sentence after being involved in a drunk-driving accident that killed four people. Defense attorneys say he suffered from 'affluenza' because his privileged parents never set limits for him. The Barbershop guys weigh in on the controversial ruling.
Thanks to films like 'Twelve Years A Slave,' 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' and 'Fruitvale Station,' it's been said that 2013 was the 'Year of the Black film.' But do the Golden Globe nominations support that? Host Michel Martin finds out more from Grantland's film critic Wesley Morris.
Host Michel Martin and editor Ammad Omar crack open the listener inbox for Backtalk. This week, listeners spar over parents and grandparents sending mixed messages.
Reverend Matthew Crebbin had to comfort shocked residents after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 28 people last year. A year later, he speaks with host Michel Martin about the role faith played in keeping the town together.