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Tag: Amazon

The amazing Amazon jobs and money machine

Monday, 30 October, 2017 0 Comments

Hear this: Amazon now employs 542,000 people, up 77 percent on a year ago.

And this: The company announced third quarter sales were up 34 percent to $43.7 billion. But there’s more. Consider this:

“Amazon launched Amazon Wind Farm Texas, its largest windfarm yet, which generates more than 1,000,000 megawatt hours of clean energy annually from over 100 turbines. Amazon now has 18 solar and wind projects live across the U.S. with more than 35 on the way. Together, Amazon’s renewable energy projects now produce enough clean energy to power over 330,000 homes annually.”

Those stats, and many, many more can be found in the retailer’s press release from last Thursday, which makes for thought-provoking reading.

As Jeff Bezos once said: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second.”


Amazon is the retail train that never stops running

Friday, 28 April, 2017 0 Comments

Profits at Amazon surged more than 40 percent, to $724 million, in the first three months of the year, Reuters reported last night. The growth was driven by web services and subscriptions, such as Amazon Prime, and the company highlighted its international expansion in India, Mexico and the UK.

Talking of the UK, Amazon will increase its British headcount to 24,000 when it adds 1,200 new jobs at warehouses equipped with advanced robotics. “The introduction of Amazon robotics in Warrington and Tilbury is the latest example of our commitment to invention in logistics on behalf of our employees and our customers,” Stefano Perego, director of UK customer fulfilment at Amazon UK, told The Guardian.

Talking of robots, Christian Schürch is a Swiss student of mechanical engineering and he had to make a toy train go in a circle as part of a project. He used a FANUC M-2iA/3S, which he says is “controlled by two languages Fanuc developed for themselves. The main language is called Teach Pendant and the other one, which I only used for a few programs, is called Karel.” The Luga Trade Fair opens today in Lucerne and Christian Schürch’s train will run and run and run there. A bit like Amazon, it is, really.


Mobile is eating the world: 2016

Monday, 12 December, 2016 0 Comments

“As we pass 2.5 billion smartphones on earth and head towards 5 billion , and mobile moves from creation to deployment, the questions change,” say Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm behind lots of successful Silicon Valley startups. He assesses the state of the smartphone, machine learning and GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) in his annual presentation.


The human-robot workplace

Wednesday, 30 November, 2016 0 Comments

During the vital November + December sales season, Amazon expands its workforce by almost 40 percent. This means adding 120,000 temporary workers to its US warehouses alone. So how does it train them? Touch screens and robots, mainly. That’s what Laura Stevens of the Wall Street Journal says in “How Amazon Gets Its Holiday Hires Up to Speed in Two Days.”

“After taking an item off a robot-carried shelf at one of Amazon’s new warehouses, the worker scans it, and a light flashes to show which container to place it in to get it ready for shipping,” writes Stevens, and for those who claim that automation means the end of work, she adds this observation: “The newest warehouses, filled with robots, require a higher head count than older sites because the greater efficiency allows them to process even more orders, a task that still requires humans.”


Speech II: Tom Wolfe vs. Noam Chomsky

Wednesday, 17 August, 2016 1 Comment

Tom Wolfe’s new book, The Kingdom of Speech, looks at the work of four major figures in the history of evolution and language: Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Everett. A 15-page excerpt appeared in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine titled “The Origins of Speech: In the beginning was Chomsky” and it focused on rise of Chomsky and Everett’s challenge to Chomskyism within the world of linguistics. The story begins in 1957, when Chomsky was 28. He wrote a book “with the opaque title” Syntactic Structures that turned the world of linguistics “upside down,” writes Wolfe. Snippet:

Language was not something you learned. You were born with a built-in “language organ.” It is functioning the moment you come into the world, just the way your heart and your kidneys are already pumping and filtering and excreting away.

To Chomsky, it didn’t matter what a child’s first language was. Whatever it was, every child’s language organ could use the “deep structure, ” “universal grammar, ” and “language acquisition device” he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese. That was why — as Chomsky said repeatedly — children started speaking so early in life… and so correctly in terms of grammar. They were born with the language organ in place and the power ON. By the age of two, usually, they could speak in whole sentences and generate completely original ones. The “organ”… the “deep structure”… the “universal grammar’… the “device” — as Chomsky explained it, the system was physical, empirical, organic, biological. The power of the language organ sent the universal grammar coursing through the deep structure’s lingual ducts to provide nutrition for the LAD, which everybody in the field now knew referred to the “language acquisition device” Chomsky had discovered.

Harpers Along with Chomsky’s linguistics, Tom Wolfe devotes a great deal of space to Chomsky’s politics, which have grown increasingly bizarre over the years, to the point where he ascribes almost all evils in the world to the USA. Despite, or possibly because of, such derangement, he remains a darling of the left-liberal media and nothing he says, no matter how absurd, is taken seriously by his credulous disciples.

Then, OOOF!

Typically Wolfe, the capital letters are introduced to make a big point and the biggest one concerns a 13,000-word article that appeared the August–October 2005 issue of Current Anthropology entitled “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã” by Daniel Everett. Pirahã is a language spoken by several hundred members of a hunter-gatherer tribe in the vast Amazon basin and it does not contain any recursion, which is central to Chomsky’s theories, and “it was the Pirahã’s own distinctive culture, their unique ways of living, that shaped the language — not any ‘language organ,’ not any ‘universal grammar’ or ‘deep structure’ or ‘language acquisition device’ that Chomsky said all languages had in common,” declares Wolfe.

Piraha

The Pirahã sentence ‘There is a paca there’ uses just two words: káixihíxao-xaagá, meaning, paca exist there

Tom Wolfe is very enjoyable on the academic skulduggery used by the Chomskyians to denigrate Everett’s work and destroy his career, and one is left with the impression that the professorial class is filled with characters similar to the consigliere and caporegime of the Mafia. Filled with loathing for Chomskyism, Wolfe concludes thus:

“In three decades nobody had turned up any hard evidence to support Chomsky’s conviction that every person is born with an innate, gene-driven power of speech with the motor running. But so what? Chomsky had made the most ambitious attempt since Aristotle’s in 350 B.C. to explain what exactly language is. And no one else in human history had come even close. It was dazzling in its own flailing way — this age old, unending, utter, ultimate, universal display of ignorance concerning man’s most important single gift.”

OOOF!


Yahoo and the end of Web 1.0

Thursday, 28 July, 2016 1 Comment

More than a billion people now check Facebook on their phones every single day. The social network revealed this new milestone last night when it released its impressive second-quarter earnings. What’s that got to do with Yahoo and the headline on this post? Well, context is important. Consider these stats:

Facebook now owns a $17-billion-a-year mobile ad business. In the second quarter, mobile sales made up 84 percent of its $6.24 billion in advertising revenue. Overall, the social network reported $2.05 billion in profit, up 186 percent year-over-year, on $6.43 billion in total revenue, which rose 59 percent compared to the same period last year. And Facebook ended the second quarter with 1.71 billion monthly active users.

Which brings us to Yahoo, which was was acquired on Monday by an American telephone company, Verizon, which paid $4.8 billion for the brand and its internet properties. The cause of this ignominious end was simple: Yahoo became irrelevant for adults quite some time ago, and young people don’t use it at all. They spend their time now on Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Spotify and Facebook.

Yahoo’s major missed opportunity was the rise of the mobile web. That failure had a lot to do with the short stint as CEO of Scott Thompson, who departed in a cloud of controversy. Distracted by its internal troubles, the company took its eye off the ball, as it were, at a critical moment. Thompson was replaced in July 2012 by Marissa Mayer, who bought Tumblr for a billion dollars in an attempt to attract younger internet users. A blogging platform is not what the yoof wanted, though.

Note: Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 million and Facebook for $1 billion.

The new benchmark is that more than a billion people check Facebook on their phones every day. The old benchmark was Yahoo’s directory of websites and this week began with the purchase of the gravestone. Yahoo belongs, with the rotary phone, to another era, and its departure marks the end of Web 1.0. Those riding high on the Web 2.0 wave now should remember, however, that “the bubble fame” does burst and voice-based interfaces on devices such as Amazon’s Alexa are moving the web beyond browsers and smartphones. Blink, and you miss it. Yahoo fell asleep and its legacy includes happy memories of the “Site of the Day” feature. The web was young then. It’s mobile now.


Buongiorno! Amazon’s wake words in Italy

Wednesday, 27 July, 2016 0 Comments

Amazon apre un nuovo centro di sviluppo per l’intelligenza artificiale e il Machine Learning a Torino. That was the welcome news for Italy’s battered economy earlier this week. Translation: “Amazon to open a new artificial intelligence and machine learning development centre in Turin.” The charming capital of Piedmont will soon be home to a batch of software engineers and linguists developing machine learning capabilities for Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based data and analytics service. This sentence in the press release stood out:

“Alexa usa l’apprendimento automatico in campi come il rilevamento delle parole di attivazione, il riconoscimento vocale basato sul cloud e la comprensione del linguaggio naturale.”

Question: How does one translate parole di attivazione? The available online Italian-English dictionaries are not up to the job and Google Translate offers “words activation” as its best shot. Close, but no cigar. In fact, parole di attivazione are “wake words”. Eh?

Amazon Echo To understand the function of wake words, get an Amazon Echo. This hands-free speaker connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide news, sports scores and weather forecasts. When you want to use your Echo, speak the word “Alexa” and the device comes to life instantly. That’s the “wake word”. If you have more than one Echo, you can set a different wake word for each. You can pick “Amazon” or “Echo” as the wake word. And that’s it. Why the paucity of wake words? Well, according to Veton Kepuska, author of Wake-Up-Word Speech Recognition, the challenge is to:

“Detect a single word or phrase when spoken in an alerting context, while rejecting all other words, phrases, sounds, noises and other acoustic events with virtually 100% accuracy including the same word or phrase of interest spoken in a non-alerting (i.e. referential) context.”

See the problem? In its search for usable wake words, Alexa needs ones that are not only easy to pronounce and remember, but are also rare enough that they’re not even used at the start of sentences. Very tricky. As things stand, it’s doubtful Echo owners will be able to choose their own wake word for a long, long time to come. The best hope of the Turin project is that the team there will create an expanded list of words that are unlikely to lead to too many false wakes. No false dawns. No hurry, in other words.

Turin is an ideal location for this venture. It’s the home of the slow food movement.


The Amazon Picking Challenge approaches

Friday, 10 June, 2016 0 Comments

Before we turn our attention to France and Euro 2016, it should be noted that when the quarter-finals kick off on 30 June in Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille and Paris, the Amazon Picking Challenge will be in full swing in Leipzig. This year’s event features two parallel competitions: the Pick Task and the Stow Task. It’s much more difficult than it sounds because although robots are developing a better feel for our world, they’re still terrible at physically handling it. Robots will need to be much more agile if they’re going to play a useful role in everyday life. In last year’s Amazon challenge, the bots had to grab loose objects — a package of cookies, a book, a rubber duck — and put them in a container. The winner took 20 minutes to deal with 10 items. Way to go, bots.

Footnote: If you’re thinking of putting a few quid on Belgium to win Euro 2016, it might do no harm to place a side bet on the neighbours to win this year’s Amazon Picking Challenge. Word is that the equipe from the largest and oldest Dutch public technological university are the real deal. Team Delft for the win.


The drone wars have begun

Monday, 14 December, 2015 0 Comments

TOKYO — “The Metropolitan Police Department is set to launch a drone squad as new regulations have come into force to ban unmanned aerial vehicles from flying over crowded residential areas, MPD officials said…

…When drones are spotted in no-fly zones, the squad will search for the operators and order them to ground the drones. If they fail to comply, the squad will scramble large drones equipped with cameras and nets measuring 2 to 3 meters in length.”

On the face of it, this is an understandable law-and-order reaction to a new technology that might contravene municipal regulations, but the Yamaguchi-gumi will be watching with interest, no doubt. Kenichi Shinoda, its current oyabun, is said to favour “an expansionist policy” and one can imagine him ordering gang members to form a “drone squad” complete with nets. Could be a nice little earner, that, pirating drones laden with tomorrow’s equivalent of pieces of eight. Take note, Amazon Prime Air.


Kindle pre-highlighters suit Microsoft science fiction

Thursday, 10 December, 2015 0 Comments

Here’s what Andrei Codrescu said when he found that passages in a book he’d downloaded onto his Kindle arrived pre-highlighted: “It is surely a mistake, I think. This is a new book. I don’t know about you, but I always hated underlined passages in used books… And then I discovered that the horror doesn’t stop with the unwelcomed presence of another reader who’s defaced my new book. But it deepens with something called view popular highlights, which will tell you how many morons have underlined before so that not only you do not own the new book you paid for, the entire experience of reading is shattered by the presence of a mob that agitates inside your text like strangers in a train station…”

These “pre-highlighters” are a love-hate (mostly hate) thing and the Amazon Kindle Forum thread on the subject is filled with all kinds of erudite comments: “But if you turn off Annotations Backup you won’t get any synching between multiple devices, and if you archive a book, and then bring it back to your Kindle all your notes, highlights, bookmarks, and last place read will all be gone,” Fool for Books says.

Anyway, all of this was brought on by reading the Kindle Edition of “Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft.” The opening story in the collection is “Hello, Hello” by Seanan McGuire and in it she explores the world of machine learning. The pre-highlighters that prompt the New Oxford American Dictionary are uncannily appropriate in this context. Just like the “precogs” of Minority Report with their abilities to see into the future, digital format sci-fi about computers that communicate is an ideal place for predictive popups. The Singularity is getting nearer by the day.

Kindle reading


Amazon and the mobile shopper

Monday, 29 December, 2014 0 Comments

Two big little sentences in the Friday, 26 December, press release from Amazon: “Nearly 60 percent of Amazon.com customers shopped using a mobile device this holiday. Mobile shopping accelerated as customers got later into the shopping season.”