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The Larry Page link to Google is broken

Saturday, 15 September, 2018

These are the best of times and the worst of times for the world’s predominant search engine. The best of times because the Alphabet money well continues to gush; the worst of times because the Google’s public image has been severely tarnished and its ethics have been questioned as never before. For example, this week saw the publication of that Breitbart video showing top executives gathering for a public grief session following the defeat of their US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Cultish and cringeworthy, this exercise in liberal groupthink should settle any remaining doubts about the bias that’s built into Google’s mindset.

That mindset also raises very disturbing questions about what Google is up to in China, where it’s said to be tinkering with a search engine that would comply with the Chinese authorities’ rigid censorship demands. Don’t be evil, and all that. Remember?

It’s in these contexts, then, that Google’s refusal to send one of its leaders to Washington earlier this month for Senate hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms” becomes serious. Twitter sent CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook sent COO Sheryl Sandberg, but the search engine turned down the Senate committee’s requests for Google CEO Sundar Pichai or Alphabet CEO Larry Page to appear. Instead, there was an empty chair.

“In Page’s absence at the Senate hearing, louder voices filled the void, from senators criticizing Google for its dealings with China to pundits decrying Page as unpatriotic. McNamee, the early investor who’s since advocated for the company’s breakup, says Page and Pichai shirked their civic duty by skipping the hearing. ‘This is Corporate Governance 101,’ he says. ‘You’ve been invited to speak in front of a Senate hearing to protect our democracy, and your response is, ‘We’re too important to go’?”

So write Mark Bergen and Austin Carr in Businessweek, and they ask Where in the World Is Larry Page? Answer:

“It’s not just Washington. Even in Silicon Valley, people have started wondering: Where’s Larry? Page has long been reclusive, a computer scientist who pondered technical problems away from the public eye, preferring to chase moonshots over magazine covers. Unlike founder-CEO peers (Mark Zuckerberg comes to mind), he hasn’t presented at product launches or on earnings calls since 2013, and he hasn’t done press since 2015. He leaves day-to-day decisions to Pichai and a handful of advisers. But a slew of interviews in recent months with colleagues and confidants, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were worried about retribution from Alphabet, describe Page as an executive who’s more withdrawn than ever, bordering on emeritus, invisible to wide swaths of the company. Supporters contend he’s still engaged, but his immersion in the technology solutions of tomorrow has distracted him from the problems Google faces today.”

Larry Page has checked out and that’s not good news for Google. This Businessweek cover brilliantly captures his 404 status.

Businessweek


Google: The duplicity of Duplex

Friday, 11 May, 2018 0 Comments

On Tuesday, Google announced an Artificial Intelligence product called Duplex, which is capable of having human-sounding conversations. “We hope that these technology advances will ultimately contribute to a meaningful improvement in people’s experience in day-to-day interactions with computers,” wrote Yaniv Leviathan, Principal Engineer, and Yossi Matias, Vice President, Engineering, Google. But that’s not good enough. They did not address the moral and ethical implications of Duplex. And these are enormous. For example: What will happen to the meaning of “trust” when the synthetic voice of synthetic intelligence is made to sound human? But before we go any further, let’s listen to Duplex phoning two different businesses to make appointments.

We’re racing towards a future where machines will be able to do anything humans can do. Duplex is an important signpost on the road but people should be thinking seriously about where we’re going. During Google I/O, which ended yesterday, tech journalist Bridget Carey posed some of the questions more of us should be asking:

I am genuinely bothered and disturbed at how morally wrong it is for the Google Assistant voice to act like a human and deceive other humans on the other line of a phone call, using upspeek and other quirks of language. “Hi um, do you have anything available on uh May 3?” #io18

If Google created a way for a machine to sound so much like a human that now we can’t tell what is real and what is fake, we need to have a talk about ethics and when it’s right for a human to know when they are speaking to a robot. #io18

In this age of disinformation, where people don’t know what’s fake news… how do you know what to believe if you can’t even trust your ears with now Google Assistant calling businesses and posing as a human? That means any dialogue can be spoofed by a machine and you can’t tell.

Speak now or forever hold your peace.


Google is being evil

Friday, 1 September, 2017 0 Comments

Just sent this letter to Google’s CEO:

Google’s attempts to shut down think tanks, journalists, and public interest advocates researching and writing about the dangers of concentrated private power must end. As an immense corporation, it’s wrong for Google to wield its vast financial and political power to try to silence the writers and researchers working to promote sensible antitrust enforcement. This kind of unethical behavior violates Google’s founding corporate code of conduct, “Don’t be evil.”

You can do the same at Citizens Against Monopoly.


Google: Neural Machine Translation

Wednesday, 23 November, 2016 1 Comment

Hello Google Essentially, Google’s “Neural Machine Translation” system converts whole sentences, rather than just word by word. It has been activated for eight language pairs to and from English and French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. “These represent the native languages of around one-third of the world’s population,” writes Barak Turovsky in a piece titled “Found in translation: More accurate, fluent sentences in Google Translate.”

Note: The system behind Neural Machine Translation is being made available for all businesses through the Google Cloud Translation API.


Allo, Allo, Allo: Productivity vs. Privacy vs. Pizza

Wednesday, 5 October, 2016 0 Comments

“The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives. But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first, a world where computing becomes universally available — be it at home, at work, in the car, or on the go —and interacting with all of these surfaces becomes much more natural and intuitive, and above all, more intelligent.” Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, yesterday.

The occasion was the announcement of the gorgeous new Pixel phone with its in-built artificial intelligence assistant. But there’s a price to be paid for the beauty and the smarts because AI will enable tech companies to gather even more information about us, and our data will be less protected than ever.

Allo, Allo, Allo

Google’s AI apprentice, which beavers busily inside the new messaging app Allo, will answer questions about sports, the weather, or for directions to the nearest café. Pichai pointed out yesterday that this is just the beginning. Google’s AI will learn about our preferences to better present personalized results and to answer more specific questions. It will get smarter, faster and more accurate every day. It will never rest.

Pixel To do this, it will gather data, endlessly. The places you visit, the foods you prefer, your thoughts about Trump will be collected. It can do this only by accessing all the information on everything stored on the phone, and it can also access “content on your screen”. To provide more accurate recommendations, the AI must gather and analyse our data, but for this to happen, our messages need to be unencrypted. Yes, Google offers best-of-breed encryption within Allo, but if you turn on encryption, you turn off the AI.

Here’s the reality: to stay competitive, the tech giants will have to provide AI-powered assistants. This is an arms race and the choice is fight or flight. Facebook’s Messenger also has opt-in encryption that’s regarded as the gold standard, but if users want to call an Uber from within the app, their messages have to be unencrypted.

AI is fun. But it’s also serious because it’s a potential revenue stream that will only flow if it’s filled with data. Investors in Google and Facebook know that an assistant that presents sponsored results when someone asks it to order that Pepperoni Feast could be huge for Alphabet and Domino’s. Yes, they offer people serious options to protect their data, but that means going without the sorcerer’s apprentice. Tech is betting that productivity and pizza, not privacy, will win.


Google Translate goes AI

Wednesday, 28 September, 2016 0 Comments

From now on, Google Translate will rely more on AI (artificial intelligence) when it translates languages. Alphabet, the parent company, claims that its brand new Google Neural Machine Translation system will reduce errors by 80 percent compared to its current method.

Google Translate Until today, Google has used what is called “phrase-based translation,” which is standard for the industry. With this method, a hand-coded algorithm breaks down a sentence into words or phrases and tries to match them a vast dictionary. The new system will use that same large dictionary to train two neural networks, one of which will deconstruct the original sentence to figure out what it means, while the other generates text in the output language.

Because AI algorithms don’t rely on human logic, they can often find better ways to do the job compared to the hand-coded algorithms, say the engineers. And as the network learns how to translate, no longer spending time dividing sentences into words or phrases, it discards the rules that humans thought were best and concentrates fully on the outcome. Such is the nature of AI. As Alan Turing wrote in 1950: “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.” (Computing machinery and intelligence). We’re getting there.

Google is releasing its new translation system for Mandarin Chinese first, and then adding new languages over coming months.


Glossolalia: Parsey McParseface

Thursday, 19 May, 2016 1 Comment

It’s the week of Pentecost, which is associated (Biblically) with “speaking in tongues,” a phenomenon linguists call glossolalia. So, in honour of all things syntactical, we’re devoting this week’s posts to language. We began with Singlish, followed up with decacorns, continued with Euro English and today we’re venturing into open-sourced language parsing, which is central to creating better voice recognition technologies for our mobile devices.

Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference, began yesterday and the focus is on machine learning and VR, and how these technologies are being used in its core products. For example, Allo is a new app that merges text messaging with a virtual assistant. When it launches this summer, Allo will “monitor” your conversations and offer relevant information. So, if a friend in Manchester invites you out for an Indian meal, Allo would suggest a nearby Balti house. Useful, innit?

In the build up to I/O, Google released SyntaxNet, its open-source neural network framework, which includes Parsey McParseface, an English language plug-in. SyntaxNet provides a foundation for Google’s Natural Language Understanding systems, such as the voice recognition capabilities of the Google Now intelligent personal assistant. Parsey McParseface is based on machine learning algorithms that analyse sentence structure to understand the role of every word and grammatical element.

parsing

“One of the main problems that makes parsing so challenging is that human languages show remarkable levels of ambiguity,” Google explained in a blog post. “It is not uncommon for moderate length sentences — say 20 or 30 words in length — to have hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of possible syntactic structures. A natural language parser must somehow search through all of these alternatives, and find the most plausible structure given the context.”

Google claims Parsey McParseface has achieved 94 percent accuracy interpreting English language news articles. Although not perfect, that’s good enough to be useful in a range of applications, it says.

Note: Despite its popularity, Boaty McBoatface did not became the name of the British government’s new polar research vessel. But it lives on, kind of, in Parsey McParseface, Google’s wry name of its English language parser. Where there’s humour, there’s hope.


AlphaGo was yesterday, Boston Dynamics is today

Friday, 18 March, 2016 0 Comments

How fickle these times are. How quickly glory fades and how rapidly doubt steps into its shoes. For example: Google was being deluged with praise last week after AlphaGo won the DeepMind Challenge against the champion Lee Sedol. Suddenly, the scary concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was, well, less scary and Google got lots of love. How short our attention span is, however.

Yesterday, Bloomberg rattled the rosy future with the headline, “Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat.” The talk on the street was of the inability of Boston Dynamics to produce marketable robots anytime soon. Hence the reported “For Sale” sign. But there’s another aspect to the story, one which relates to the scary AI scenario. Boston Dynamics posted a humanoid robotics video on YouTube last month that made many people uneasy and the mother company, Alphabet, sensing another Google Glass moment, perhaps, began to count the negative publicity cost. Bloomberg quoted from e-mails published on an internal online forum that were visible to all Google employees:

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X. Hohne asked her colleagues to “distance X from this video,” and wrote, “we don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google.”

After the match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, the scoreline read: Machines, 4, Humanity, 1. With Google’s retreat from robots, some would says it’s now Machines, 4, Humanity, 2. But that will probably change next week. This is a fast-paced game and the job-eating robots are advancing, despite the headlines.


Paging Mr Page

Thursday, 28 January, 2016 0 Comments

In total, I have encountered Mr. Page three times for a total of five minutes or so. Once was at an off-the-record gathering where nothing interesting happened, and another was at a press event where he politely shook my hand before heading in another direction.

The other time, I was at Google’s Mountain View campus, talking to an executive, when Mr. Page rode up on his bike to say hello to his employee. I introduced myself as a New York Times reporter and he immediately pedaled away.

“That went well,” the executive said.

So writes Conor Dougherty, who covers Google for the New York Times. He’s been seeking an interview with Larry Page since August 2014 and the result is “Try to Interview Google’s Co-Founder. It’s Emasculating.” And it’s revealing.


Alphabet: abc.xyz

Tuesday, 11 August, 2015 0 Comments

“We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search!” Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet, the new Google “Operating Structure”.

The domain name abc.xyz is clever as it indicates that Alphabet will cover everything from A to Z. And the alphabet offers endless food for Alphabet wordplay as Jean-Marie G. Le Clézio illustrates in Mondo et autres histoires. Snippet:

“At the same time, he spoke to Mondo about everything there was in the letters, about everything you could see in them when you looked and when you listened. He spoke about A, which is like a big fly with its wings pulled back; about B, which is funny, with its two tummies; or C and D, which are like the moon, a crescent moon or a half-full moon; and then there was O, which was the full moon in the black sky. H is high, a ladder to climb up trees or to reach the roofs of houses; E and F look like a rake and a shovel; and G is like a fat man sitting in an armchair. I dances on tiptoes, with a little head popping up each time it bounces, whereas J likes to swing. K is broken like an old man, R takes big strides like a soldier, and Y stands tall, its arms up in the air, and it shouts: help! L is a tree on the river’s edge, M is a mountain, N is for names, and people waving their hands, P is asleep on one paw, and Q is sitting on its tail; S is always a snake, Z is always a bolt of lightning, T is beautiful, like the mast on a ship, U is like a vase, V and W are birds, birds in flight; and X is a cross to help you remember.”


Google’s toothbrush test in Brazil

Tuesday, 17 June, 2014 0 Comments

When Larry Page returned to being Google’s CEO in 2011, he said he wanted to develop more services that people would use at least twice a day, like a toothbrush. Now that football is in the air, so to speak, the search engine giant has launched its Project Loon balloons in Northeast Brazil to connect an isolated school, Linoca Gayoso, to the internet for the first time. Interestingly, the Loon trial is using LTE technologies, which allow Google’s stratospheric balloons to link directly to smartphones and tablets.

It’s all to play for.