Tag: Google

Oscar ex machina

Monday, 29 February, 2016 0 Comments

Congratulations to the Ex Machina team for bagging the 2016 Oscar for Best Visual Effects. A relatively low-key film about AI (Artificial Intelligence), it was overshadowed at the Academy Awards by Star Wars, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and The Revenant, but the bigger budgets and more spectacular visuals of the more famous names came up short.

The cliché rules when it comes to AI, so we should be grateful that Alex Garland’s film is more imaginative and less lazy about the subject. In the movie, Google becomes Bluebook, a nod to Wittgenstein’s notes on language games. Bluebook was founded by a tech genius called Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who retreats from Silicon Valley to create Ava (Alicia Vikander), a consciously erotic humanoid robot. The drama begins when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young Bluebook programmer, arrives after having won a company lottery, and it’s his job to subject Ava to the Turing test. Thanks to the hot London visual effects company, Double Negative, Garland’s humanoids are irresistible and it’s only a matter of time before love and hate and murder are in the air. But there’s humour, too. This is one of our favourite scenes.

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander was superb in Ex Machina and her acting was rewarded last night when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Tom Hooper’s transgender drama The Danish Girl.


The Google IoT Technology Research Award Pilot

Monday, 15 February, 2016 0 Comments

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Google is interested in the Internet of Things (IoT). With experts estimating that the IoT will consist of 50 billion objects by 2020, Google cannot afford to miss the Next Big Thing. The 1,2 and 3 of the Google Internet of Things (IoT) Technology Research Award Pilot are:

(1) explore interesting use cases and innovative user interfaces
(2) address technical challenges as well as interoperability between devices and applications
(3) experiment with new approaches to privacy, safety and security

The Google mission statment: “To connect our physical world to the Internet is a broad and long-term challenge, one we hope to address by working with researchers across many disciplines and work practices.”

Commentator Mike Downes: “for anyone even vaguely interested in the stuff in their home or around a shopping mall, a car or walking down the street — this is fascinating.”

Google can expect stiff competition in this space from Microsoft, which recently announced the general availability of its Azure IoT Hub suite: “This service provides capabilities for securely connecting, provisioning, updating and sending commands to devices,” wrote Nayana Singh last Monday. “IoT Hub enables companies to jumpstart their IoT projects by controlling millions of IoT assets running on a broad set of operating systems and protocols.”

IoT


Open web digital counterinsurgency against ISIS

Friday, 12 February, 2016 0 Comments

“Trolls, Hackers and Extremists — The Fight for a Safe and Open Web” was the title of a discussion yesterday evening at the Munich Security Conference. So far this week, we’ve looked at the trolls and the hackers, and now it’s the turn of the open web. On 18 January, during a discussion at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London, Jared Cohen, Director, Google Ideas, said the key to stopping ISIS from prospering online is to drive them out of the traditional web, the open, web, which can be indexed by search engines. It will be impossible to stop terrorists from using Tor and the dark web, however, he said.

According to Cohen, ISIS is “not a tech savvy organisation” and it stoops to tactics associated with fraud or spam. Still, there have been reports that it’s started using encrypted chat apps, such as Telegram, and that it has developed its own messaging app that “features news and videos showing executions and battlefield victories.”

Some will argue that there are enough laws on the books already about hate speech, and others would say that Google, which owns YouTube, the preferred platform of ISIS, could do a lot more to withdraw the oxygen of publicity, so there’s no shortage of views. 


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.


The digital dividends and divides of 2016

Friday, 15 January, 2016 0 Comments

The internet. What’s it good for? Lots. It can help boost trade, improve economies, distribute knowledge and create jobs for the marginalized. Who says? The World Bank says. That’s why it called the document it released yesterday “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.” The key word there is “dividends”. But we don’t live in a perfect world so the report notes that “better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits — circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.” Not everyone has collected those digital dividends, in other words.

Still, it’s quite a leap to portray the the report as an indictment of the internet, but that’s exactly what the Guardian did in a story hilariously titled “Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns.” This is so comical that one can imagine Evgeny Morozov writing it. Instead, Danny Yadron “in San Francisco” is responsible. Anyway, back to the World Bank report. It presents a picture of a divided world in which 60 percent of people are still offline, four billion don’t have internet access, some two billion do not use a mobile phone and and almost half a billion live outside areas with a mobile signal. And what happens when the internet impacts?

“Many advanced economies face increasingly polarized labor markets and rising inequality — in part because technology augments higher skills while replacing routine jobs, forcing many workers to compete for low-paying jobs. Public sector investments in digital technologies, in the absence of accountable institutions, amplify the voice of elites, which can result in policy capture and greater state control. And because the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms.”

To counter this, the World Bank recommends that governments lower barriers to internet adoption with rules that encourage competition and innovation, and investing in “analog complements,” such as basic education. Quote: “Many poor lack the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to use the internet. In Mali and Uganda, about three-quarters of third-grade children cannot read. In Afghanistan and Niger, 7 of 10 adults are illiterate.” Those divides need to be closed before those dividends become real.

Note: Those tech companies castigated by the Guardian are committed to bringing internet access to the four corners of the world. Google’s Project Loon is set to float over Indonesia and Facebook’s Internet.org will offer mobile web access to people in India and Egypt. And both are experimenting with providing internet access using solar-powered, high-altitude drones. Yes, we need to ensure that these companies don’t become synonymous with the internet, but neither should we resort to paranoia about their innovations. Those digital dividends depend on closing those divides.


Word of the Year

Wednesday, 16 December, 2015 0 Comments

It’s time for the annual Rainy Day Awards and we’re launching this year’s series of seven with our Word of the Year. First, however, and to avoid confusion, a brief note on what the word is not. Although it resembles iota, which means “a very small amount”, and is related to the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, it’s not iota. And while it looks a bit like jot, which is related to iota, and means to write down something briefly and quickly, it’s not jot, either.

The Rainy Day Word of the Year award goes to… IoT. The acronym means the Internet of Things, which is the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in objects, empowering them to send and receive data. This is going to be huge and the International Data Corporation predicts that the IoT will include more than 200 billion things globally connected by the end of 2020.

The key driver of the Internet of Things is the ease with which we can wirelessly connect mobile items to the Internet using WiFi, Bluetooth or proprietary wireless communications protocols. Farewell, then, forever to the days when Internet devices had to be wired to a fixed location.

But what does it mean for me, for you? Well, IoT devices coming our way include home automation like Google’s Nest, the Vessyl intelligent cup that monitors what you are drinking, the Beam tooth brush that reports on your dental hygiene history and the HAPIfork that records one’s eating habits. Added to all that, we have wearables: fitness trackers, smart watches, clever clothes and healthcare embeds such as pacemakers and glucose monitors. Automated cars will also have lots of IoT capabilities.

Beam toothbrush

Perhaps the most disruptive thing about the IoT is its ability to unbundle products and systems. Unbundling? Think of the MP3 audio format, which unbundled individual tracks from albums. That upended the music business. Airbnb has revolutionized the concept of renting homes and rooms and the iOT will enable all kinds of devices and services and products to be leased on demand.

The tsunami of data generated by the IoT will pose enormous privacy and moral questions that are only starting to be addressed. Who owns the health-related data streaming from your wrist? Should cars that monitor driving habits report road behaviour to employers and insurers?

While that’s being debated, the IoT will be creating job opportunities for people with the right (Big Data) skills. These include data analysis, network design and security management certification. The research companies have been predicting tech job growth in the order of millions for years now so a good IoT Christmas present for someone you love (?) might be Getting a Big Data Job For Dummies.

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Drink of the Year award.


Own the robots, rule the world

Wednesday, 9 December, 2015 0 Comments

According to Marx, it’s simple. Ownership of the Means of Production is in the wrong hands and this has led to the class differences that bedevil the planet. Individual ability, religious or cultural factors are irrelevant to the Marxists — all that’s needed is to wrest the machines from the capitalists, give them to the proletariat and the world will be as one. The disciples of Karl Marx have been preaching this “gospel” since the mid-19th century with spectacular calamity for the masses, most recently in Venezuela.

Is there a better way? And if so, who should own the modern Means of Production? The question is increasingly urgent in a world where Google is replacing librarians and professors are being eliminated by massive online courses. As computers and robots eat up the tasks being done by humans, workers need to do something or they’ll end up doing nothing. One solution would see governments taxing the Zuckerbergs and the Musks punitively and redistributing the “take” to the workers, but that’s the Venezuela way. Better: workers own shares in tech firms, have stock options in the AI start-ups and be paid in part from the profits generated by the robotics companies.

Who says? Richard B. Freeman, who holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University does. Recently, Germany’s Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH, better known as the Institute for the Study of Labor and abbreviated as IZA, asked Freeman for his thoughts on technology, work and capital. For the Bonn-based non-profit, Freeman wrote “Who owns the robots rules the world” and in it he argues that the best model is an American one in the form of the Employee Stock Ownership Plans introduced in 1974 and which have since energized a sector that now employs some 11 million workers.

“The EU has endorsed such schemes in its various Pepper Reports and encouraged these forms of organization, though with, at best, modest success,” notes Freeman, ruefully. The continent of Marx is not too fond of worker ownership, unless the state is the proprietor, that is. On the other side of the Atlantic, which remains Marx resistant, despite the best efforts of the elites, Freeman points out that “enough firms in the US have extended some form of ownership stake to their workers that on the order of half of American employees get some part of their pay through profit-sharing, options, or stock ownership.” This is the way forward because, “In the US, at least, people with widely different ideological and economic views find attractive the notion of spreading ownership. One can imagine governments giving preferential treatment in procurement to firms that meet some basic ’employee ownership’ financial standard.”

As we enter the age of Industry 4.0, a priority of every developed economy should be encouraging worker ownership of capital to provide income streams from the technologies changing the world of work. Otherwise, Richard B. Freeman warns: “If we don’t succeed in spreading the ownership of capital more widely, many of us will become serfs working on behalf of the owners. Who owns the robots rules the world! Let us own the robots.” Aye!

Robots at work


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.”


Dei ex machina

Thursday, 14 May, 2015 0 Comments

Speaking at the Zeitgeist 2015 conference in London on Tuesday, the famed physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking had this to say: “Computers will overtake humans with AI at some within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.” In its report, Geek.com illustrated Hawking’s prediction with a terrifying Terminator image. As the world knows, Hawking signed an open letter alongside Elon Musk earlier this year warning that Artificial Intelligence (AI) development should not go on uncontrolled, and guess which image The Independent uses today to highlight a story about Musk and his AI concerns? That’s right, the Terminator.

The cliché rules when it comes to AI it seems. We should be grateful, then, that Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is more imaginative and less lazy about the subject. The
film takes an adult approach to AI (full frontal nudity included) and explores ethics, consciousness, sexuality and search engines in its quest for answers.

In the film, Google becomes Bluebook, a nod to Wittgenstein’s notes on language games. Bluebook was founded by a tech genius called Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who retreats from Silicon Valley to create Ava (Alicia Vikander), a consciously erotic humanoid robot. The fun begins when a young Bluebook programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) arrives after having won a company lottery and it’s his job to subject Ava to the Turing test. Thanks to the hot London visual effects company, Double Negative, Alex Garland’s humanoids are irresistible and it’s only a matter of time before love and hate and murder are in the air. But there’s humour, too. This is one of our favourite scenes.


Dune day

Tuesday, 21 October, 2014 0 Comments

What could be nicer on a dull, drizzly day than to wander through the dunes around the Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi with the help of Google Maps? Very little, actually.


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.