Tag: Google

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.


You should not believe that the night sky is BLU

Sunday, 4 December, 2016 0 Comments

In June last year, the South Florida Business Journal noted that Samuel Ohev-Zion, CEO of “rapidly growing mobile firm” BLU Products, had paid $11 million for a mansion in Golden Beach, just north of Miami Beach. Because it’s one of the few places in Miami-Dade County where people can buy mansions directly on the ocean, Golden Beach is appropriately named. The seller was Sergey A. Solonin, and he was described as CEO and president of Cyprus-based Qiwi Plc, an international online payments firm, and chairman of the Investment Banking Group Russian Investment Club.

BLU Clearly there’s a lot of money in the “rapidly growing mobile” business, especially if one makes budget Android phones as Samuel Ohev-Zion does.

But “budget” isn’t always inexpensive or a synonym for integrity. Fast forward to now and Blu says it’s replacing the Chinese software that stole user data with Google-approved software. The scandal, which was unveiled two weeks ago by security firm Kryptowire, involved a firmware-updating app that monitored user communications and sent back text messages to a keyword-searchable archive on a Chinese server. Shanghai Adups Technology Co., Ltd, the Chinese app maker, claims its data collection tool was not designed for US phones, and that the data has since been deleted. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Reportedly, a seemingly contrite Sammy Ohev-Zion, now says BLU will “not install third-party applications where we don’t have the source code and don’t understand the behavior.” And if you believe that, you’ll believe everything.


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.


Google AR and VR: Tango and Daydream

Monday, 7 November, 2016 0 Comments

November is going to be big for Google’s AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) initiatives. Daydream is being promoted as “Simple, high quality virtual reality” and the accompanying headset is made with “lightweight fabric, inspired by what you wear.” The AR system, Tango, which uses computer vision to enable smartphones to detect their position relative to the world around them without using GPS, is now available on Lenovo’s Phab2 Pro phone. With Tango, app developers can create experiences that include indoor navigation, 3D mapping and physical space measurement.

Example: iStaging for Tango. Blurb: “Use augmented reality to combine your favorite home furnishings. Create the decoration of your dreams for your home. And get social — take pictures of your own interior designs and share them with your friends.”


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.


Is machine learning magic?

Saturday, 30 July, 2016 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by Adam Geitgey, a “guy who does @programminglanguage at @company.” What is machine learning? Adam Geitgey defines it thus:

Machine learning is the idea that there are generic algorithms that can tell you something interesting about a set of data without you having to write any custom code specific to the problem. Instead of writing code, you feed data to the generic algorithm and it builds its own logic based on the data.

“Machine Learning is Fun!” says Adam Geitgey in what he describes as “The world’s easiest introduction to Machine Learning.”

How is this stuff related to the real world? Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai devoted much of Thursday’s second-quarter earnings call to the two “Ms” — the mobility that is Alphabet’s present and the machine learning that is its future. Quote:

“Machine learning is the engine that will drive our future, but it is already making our products better, and we use it every day. In fact, more than 100 teams are currently using machine learning, from StreetView to Gmail to voice search and more.”

Make that three Ms: magic, mobility, machine learning.


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.


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.


The memory hole in Europe and China

Wednesday, 16 March, 2016 0 Comments

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the “memory hole” is a slot into which government officials deposit politically incorrect documents to be incinerated. Thoughts of Orwell’s warning were awakened by two recent occurrences, one minor, one major. Let’s start with the minor. A Google search of this blog for references to Steve Jobs produces a results page that ends with the notification: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.” This is a consequence of the EU’s “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling, which is Orwellian in its implications.

Now, the major matter. A week ago, the Hong Kong Free Press reported that “All traces of Hong Kong English language newspaper the South China Morning Post have been wiped from social media platforms in China.” The writer, Karen Cheung, added the Orwellian aspect with this ominous sentence: “The paper’s disappearance from Chinese social media came weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to tighten control over the news in China, saying that ‘state media must be surnamed Party.'”

As an ex-English teacher, Alibaba’s Jack Ma must be familiar with the works of Orwell. If his bid for the South China Morning Post goes through, he may be tempted to complete its descent into the memory hole. Why would Ma want to buy the paper? “Maybe he’s been told to,” speculates Big Lychee. Orwellian.

Censor


AlphaGo wins again

Thursday, 10 March, 2016 0 Comments

Hacker News: “It’s both exciting and eerie. It’s like another intelligent species opening up a new way of looking at the world (at least for this very specific domain). and much to our surprise, it’s a new way that’s more powerful than ours.” The second round of the man vs. machine Go game between the South Korean champion Lee Sedol and AlphaGo amazed even the most enthusiastic artificial intelligence (AI) enthusiasts. “Hard for us to believe. AlphaGo played some beautiful creative moves in this game,” tweeted Demis Hassabis, founder and CEO of Deep Mind, which is now part of Google. After four hours, Lee Sedol conceded, much to the dismay of those who had assumed Go is too complicated to be played expertly by a computer. AI is getting better, faster.

Hacker News: “When I was learning to play Go as a teenager in China, I followed a fairly standard, classical learning path. First I learned the rules, then progressively I learn the more abstract theories and tactics. Many of these theories, as I see them now, draw analogies from the physical world, and are used as tools to hide the underlying complexity (chunking), and enable the players to think at a higher level.

For example, we’re taught of considering connected stones as one unit, and give this one unit attributes like dead, alive, strong, weak, projecting influence in the surrounding areas. In other words, much like a standalone army unit.

These abstractions all made a lot of sense, and feels natural, and certainly helps game play — no player can consider the dozens (sometimes over 100) stones all as individuals and come up with a coherent game play. Chunking is such a natural and useful way of thinking.

But watching AlphaGo, I am not sure that’s how it thinks of the game. Maybe it simply doesn’t do chunking at all, or maybe it does chunking its own way, not influenced by the physical world as we humans invariably do. AlphaGo’s moves are sometimes strange, and couldn’t be explained by the way humans chunk the game.
It’s both exciting and eerie. It’s like another intelligent species opening up a new way of looking at the world (at least for this very specific domain). and much to our surprise, it’s a new way that’s more powerful than ours.”

Background: With more variations than chess, Go is a strategic game that can be played only by pairs of players. It originated in China in the 4th century BC and is said to foster discipline and concentration. It is especially popular in Korean and Japan, where an estimated 10 million Go players take part in competitions.