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.

People from New Jersey are used to defending their state.

But, in fact, New Jersey has a history to brag about. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the phonograph and the movie camera there. Many decades later, Bell Labs invented the transistor in the state.

Geography favored New Jersey. On one end, it borders New York City, and on the other end is Philadelphia. That means easy access to Wall Street financing, transportation and industry headquarters.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the man who invented recorded sound — Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville. He beat the more well-known inventor Thomas Edison by 20 years, though his accomplishments were only recognized over the last decade.

While the uses of recorded sound seem obvious now — music, news, voice messages — none of it was obvious to Scott or Edison when they made the first recordings. It's a story that has some lessons for today's aspiring inventors.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Video of a murder uploaded to Facebook this week upset many users, especially since it took Facebook two hours to take it down. But the incident illustrates a dilemma for the company as it becomes an open platform for both recorded and livestreamed video.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was contrite about the incident when he appeared on stage at the company's F8 developer's conference.

It's daunting to think about the number of products Apple has created that have transformed how most people use technology: the original Mac with the first mass-produced mouse, the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.

But fast-forward to 2017, and it appears that a lot of innovation is coming from other companies. Amazon has a hit with its Echo, a speaker device that responds to voice commands. Reviewers say Microsoft's Surface competes with the Mac. And now, Samsung's Galaxy S8 smartphone is getting raves because of its battery life and high-end screen.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Donald Trump frequently boasts about starting a movement, and sociologists say they are seeing unprecedented grass-roots activism across the country. They credit Trump for inspiring people to become politically engaged on the right — and even more so on the left. And many of those activists are brand new to the scene.

There are renewed efforts at the state level to pass so-called religious freedom bills. LGBTQ rights advocates believe that's because local lawmakers are anticipating support from the Trump administration.

In Alabama, there's a bill that allows adoption agencies that are religiously affiliated to hold true to their faith if they don't think same-sex couples should be parents. The psychiatric community has found no evidence that having same-sex parents harms children.

The CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, has resigned from President Trump's economic council made up of U.S. business leaders. His resignation comes after a consumer campaign to boycott the ride hailing company because of Kalanick's association with the Trump administration.

In an email to staff, obtained by NPR, Kalanick said, "Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that."

It was a dramatic market entry for the iPhone 7 last year. Many Apple customers grumbled when Apple took away the headphone jack and gave everyone an adapter to plug earbuds into the Lightning, or charging, connector.

But everyone seems to have adjusted. Apple sold 78 million iPhones over the holiday season.

Media coverage of tragedy — terrorist attacks, homelessness, the refugee crisis — can be so overwhelming it's numbing. Charities say it can also make it harder to get support.

Some are hoping a new form of media will be more persuasive — virtual reality or VR, which they think makes people more empathetic.

For decades, one company has pretty much had the monopoly on TV ratings: Nielsen. But, the way people watch TV is changing. A lot of fans are streaming shows from the Internet — not watching on cable TV.

Old-fashioned Nielsen ratings wouldn't show the habits of a family like Kevin Seal's.

Silicon Valley is a politically liberal place — and that is reflected in where people are sending their money this election season. Ninety-five percent of contributions from tech employees to the presidential campaigns have gone to Hillary Clinton, according to Crowdpac, a group that tracks political donations.

But one well-known outlier has caused a lot of friction in the Valley.

What happens when two human political journalists compete against a computer over which can do the best job predicting the issues that will dominate the news in the presidential election? Well, you are about to find out.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly, the ethics surrounding it are not. We are talking about an increasingly normal feature of life. When you talk with your smartphone or use Google Translate, you're using AI.

Predictions are for psychics — and in this very unpredictable political season they might do a better job than the pundits. But what about a computer? I set out to see how well it could predict which controversies around the candidates were likely to re-emerge over the course of a month. And two human pundits have agreed to compete against the machine.

Meet the Contestants

The Computer

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Fans of Nintendo's Mario received a little joy yesterday because the company said it's releasing a Mario mobile game for the iPhone. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

Cisco Systems is cutting its workforce by 5,500 employees to keep up with a rapidly changing tech sector that has less demand for the routers and switches that brought the company to prominence over 30 years ago. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins is interested in making another kind of switch into different businesses such as security and online or cloud services.

Delta canceled about 530 flights on Tuesday in addition to about 1,000 canceled a day earlier after a power outage in Atlanta brought down the company's computers, grinding the airline's operation virtually to a halt.

Seth Kaplan, who follows the airline industry, asks the question on everyone's mind: "If every small business on the corner can manage to keep its website running through a cloud-based server and all those sorts of things, why can't Delta Air Lines with all its resources manage to do that?"

Congress is in the midst of a review of the copyright laws to make sure they're up to date. Some of the recording industry's biggest stars, among them Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Paul McCartney, recently signed a letter urging lawmakers to make reforms.

Two of the highest profile women in tech have had a tough year. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, saw her company sold to Verizon. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the experimental blood testing company Theranos, was banned from her own labs by regulators for two years.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The annual video game trade show E3 began this week in Los Angeles under the cloud of the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., the deadliest in America's recent history. The conference is expected to draw tens of thousands of industry professionals who want hands-on experience with games that turn virtual violence into entertainment.

There were signs that organizers were trying to bridge the contradictions.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Looking at art is the core museum experience. I remember, when I was a kid, seeing Van Gogh's Starry Night for the first time. I stood for what seemed like hours, staring at the thick paint and swirling colors in a quiet gallery at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to start this week's All Tech Considered with a trip to the museum.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Elizabeth Holmes fit into the Silicon Valley success mold. A young Stanford dropout who left school to pursue her entrepreneurial vision, she founded Theranos and said she would disrupt the world of medicine with easy and inexpensive blood tests.

Prince's sister says that when the musician died suddenly last week, he left no known will. On Tuesday, she asked a Minnesota court to appoint a special administrator to oversee the estate, which may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But no matter who the heirs turn out to be, they will be facing some tough choices.

Prince always had an aura of mystery. His death at 57 has only added to the puzzle.

Updated at 11:52 a.m. ET with a response from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Inventors and entrepreneurs have logged years of complaining about the patent system, and there are some good reasons. In 2015, patent litigation rose 13 percent from the previous year according to a study by Unified Patents, and two-thirds of those suits were brought by nonpracticing entities, or so-called "patent trolls."

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