Listen

Laura Sydell

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.

Sydell's work focuses on the ways in which technology is transforming our culture and how we live. For example, she reported on robotic orchestras and independent musicians who find the Internet is a better friend than a record label as well as ways technology is changing human relationships.

Sydell has traveled through India and China to look at the impact of technology on developing nations. In China, she reported how American television programs like Lost broke past China's censors and found a devoted following among the emerging Chinese middle class. She found in India that cell phones are the computer of the masses.

Sydell teamed up with Alex Bloomberg of NPR's Planet Money team and reported on the impact of patent trolls on business and innovations particular to the tech world. The results were a series of pieces that appeared on This American Life and All Things Considered. The hour long program on This American Life "When Patents Attack! - Part 1," was honored with a Gerald Loeb Award and accolades from Investigative Reporters and Editors. A transcript of the entire show was included in The Best Business Writing of 2011 published by Columbia University Press.

Before joining NPR in 2003, Sydell served as a senior technology reporter for American Public Media's Marketplace, where her reporting focused on the human impact of new technologies and the personalities behind the Silicon Valley boom and bust.

Sydell is a proud native of New Jersey and prior to making a pilgrimage to California and taking up yoga she worked as a reporter for NPR Member Station WNYC in New York. Her reporting on race relations, city politics, and arts was honored with numerous awards from organizations such as The Newswomen's Club of New York, The New York Press Club, and The Society of Professional Journalists.

American Women in Radio and Television, The National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and Women in Communications have all honored Sydell for her long-form radio documentary work focused on individuals whose life experiences turned them into activists.

After finishing a one-year fellowship with the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University, Sydell came to San Francisco as a teaching fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at University of California, Berkeley.

Sydell graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree from William Smith College in Geneva, New York, and earned a J.D. from Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law.

A Texas nonprofit that works with families separated at the border has turned down a $250,000 contribution from Salesforce, a company under pressure for its work creating software for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Tech workers from Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon and Google have been putting pressure on their CEOs to cut ties and end contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, and other government agencies.

It's a rare occurrence for employees to tell their bosses to turn away business. But there is a growing concern among tech workers that the cutting-edge tools they create can be used in immoral ways.

Have you ever noticed something most virtual assistants have in common? They all started out female.

One of the most famous, Amazon's Alexa, got her name because of CEO Jeff Bezos' preference. "The idea was creating the Star Trek computer. The Star Trek computer was a woman," says Alex Spinelli, who ran the team that created the software for Alexa.

Spinelli is now the chief technology officer of LivePerson. His boss, CEO Robert LoCascio, is bothered by that story about Alexa.

"We've never been in the data business," Apple CEO Tim Cook told NPR on Monday, responding to a report that Facebook struck agreements giving Apple and other device makers access to Facebook users' personal information.

Information on users' relationship status, religion and political leaning is among the private data that became available under partnerships between Facebook and at least 60 device makers, The New York Times reported.

Updated at 6:39 p.m. ET

Apple on Monday announced a new app to allow users to get reports on how much their kids are using particular apps on their iPhones and iPads.

As Europe's sweeping new privacy law went into effect on Friday, California voters may get to decide on strict privacy laws for their state.

An initiative likely headed for November's ballot in California would be one of the broadest online privacy regulations in the U.S. and could impact standards throughout the country.

Updated at 12:52 p.m. ET

Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to find and target Americans to trigger paranoia and racial biases, a former employee of the data analytics company told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Netflix blew past Wall Street expectations this week and added 7.4 million new subscribers between January and March — giving it a total of 125 million paying subscribers worldwide. Its popularity is leaving rivals Amazon and Hulu in the dust as it continues to add new content.

But can the service that made binge watching popular keep it up as a big rival gears up to take it on?

The recent revelations that personal data from about 50 million Facebook users were used by a data analytics firm working for the Trump campaign are making a lot of the social network's users uneasy.

Some are wondering if there's a better way to limit who can access their personal information.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Mark Twain said that. Actually, it was Winston Churchill. Oh, wait! He didn't say it either. But you can find fairly credible looking sources that attribute those words to one of those two famous men.

Whoever said it, a study on how news travels on Twitter confirms the basic truth of the quote. But on Twitter, lies spread a lot faster.

Technology is threatening a lot of jobs — travel agents, truck drivers, factory workers. But here's one you might not expect: actors.

Technology in the entertainment business is on course to create digital actors who compete with live ones.

Artists and criminals are often the first to push the boundaries of technology. Barrett Brown is a criminal who has actually helped inspire art — the TV show Mr. Robot. Its protagonist is a hacktivist — a hacker who breaks into computer systems to promote a cause.

Brown was connected to Anonymous, a group that hacked a private security firm to reveal secrets. He is now out and living in a halfway house in Dallas.

We spend a lot of time talking to Alexa and Siri. Imagine if such artificial personalities were put inside a cute, adorable robot. That's what Alexander Reben has done. The artist created what he saw as the perfect interview machine to see how much he could get people to reveal to the robot.

There has been a lot of scary news about big data — about corporations or government invading your privacy. But imagine if we could use our data to make our lives better.

That is at the center of artist Laurie Frick's work — she wants to help create a future in which self-delusion is impossible. In fact, she thinks this shift is inevitable once people wake up to the transformational power of big data.

In 1984, two men were thinking a lot about the Internet. One of them invented it. The other is an artist who would see its impact on society with uncanny prescience.

First is the man often called "the father of the Internet," Vint Cerf. Between the early 1970s and early '80s, he led a team of scientists supported by research from the Defense Department.

Initially, Cerf was trying to create an Internet through which scientists and academics from all over the world could share data and research.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Apple made a big announcement today. It is going to invest a lot more money in the United States and create 20,000 jobs here over the next five years. NPR's Laura Sydell is with us to talk about what Apple is doing and why it is doing it now. Hey, Laura.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week, another big name in tech was toppled by accusations of sexual harassment — venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, an investor in Tesla and SpaceX who left his prominent Silicon Valley company.

The big-money world of Silicon Valley remains dominated by men and remains a hard place for women to speak out if they want to join the ranks of its richest. And some women think the best way to fight harassment is to tread carefully and get to the top.

Facebook, Google and Twitter head to Washington this week for their first public congressional hearings on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign via their social networks. In the runup, NPR is exploring the growing social media landscape, the spread of false information and the tech companies that build the platforms in our series: Tech Titans, Bots and the Information Complex.

Apple is about to close a deal with director Steven Spielberg to revive his Emmy award-winning series Amazing Stories for Apple TV. With it, Apple is entering a world in which Netflix has been a leader. But now, new competitors to Netflix are emerging at a surprising speed.

In the hours just after the massacre in Las Vegas, some fake news started showing up on Google and Facebook. A man was falsely accused of being the shooter. His name bubbled up on Facebook emergency sites and when you searched his name on Google, links of sites connecting him with the shooting topped the first page.

It appears to be another case of automation working so fast that humans can't keep pace. Unfortunately, these powerful tech companies continue to be a main destination for news and it's not clear how they can solve the problem.

Facebook is under increasing pressure to scrutinize its advertising content after it discovered that at least 3,000 ads on the site had been placed by a Russian agency to influence the 2016 presidential election. The revelations about the ads came after months of denial by CEO Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook played any role in influencing voters.

Tropical Storm Harvey disrupted at least 17 emergency call centers and 320 cellular sites, and it caused outages for more than 148,000 Internet, TV and phone customers, according to the Federal Communications Commission. It left many people unable to reach out for help or get in touch with family and friends to say they were alive.

It's likely that a similar scenario will occur with Irma, one of the most potentially devastating storms in the state's history, hitting Florida.

Following the violence in Charlottesville, Va., Silicon Valley tech firms removed far-right groups from search results, cut off their websites and choked their ability to raise money online.

The moves have leaders on the far-right calling for the government to step in and regulate these companies. They have some strange bedfellows in this — many liberals also are calling for more regulation of the same companies.

On the far-right is Richard Spencer. He is a white supremacist.

In the aftermath of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va., many civil rights activists took to Twitter and shared photos of people who allegedly were at the march. The idea was to identify who they were and shame them. But identifying someone from a photo can be tricky — and the activists managed to make at least one mistake.

The names and faces of individuals who were part of last weekend's white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., are being plastered all over the Internet by civil rights advocates. It's part of an effort to shame the people who participated. But it's a tactic that can also snare some innocent people in its net.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai cut his the vacation short and returned to the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters as criticism mounted over a senior engineer's controversial memo condemning Google's diversity initiatives. The engineer was subsequently fired.

The memo, which some inside Google jokingly called a "manifesto," was widely shared inside and outside the company.

Pages