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Tag: Microsoft

One channel to rule them all

Monday, 4 December, 2017 0 Comments

As J.R.R. Tolkien fans know, the One Ring is the central plot element in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. It’s got a malevolent power, this ring, which is not surprising as it was created by Sauron as part of his plan to conquer Middle-earth. The words inscribed on the Ring were uttered by the Dark Lord himself as he forged it:

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”

There is no parallel to be drawn between YouTube and the One Ring, of course, but it has turned into the internet for video content from Middle-earth. All the big players publish on Google’s channel: Amazon is there, so is Microsoft, so is Twitter, so is Facebook and Apple has now bowed to reality.

“Someone else always has to carry on the story.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


USAFacts

Wednesday, 19 April, 2017 0 Comments

What percentage of Americans has been diagnosed with depression and how much does Washington spend on treating the disease? How much money is collected from parking tickets in Chicago and how much does it cost to collect it? How many police officers are employed across the US and how do their numbers compare to the crime rates? The USAFacts public database is the first nonpartisan attempt to create a fully integrated overview of revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments in America and it’s impressive in its ability and ambition.

USAFacts was developed thanks to the generosity and vision of Steve Ballmer. The ex-Microsoft boss has deep pockets and he has spent more than $10 million so far on the project. With boundless energy and budget, he assembled a crowd of programmers, economists and academics that extended from Seattle to the University of Pennsylvania and together they built the start-up in stealth mode over the last three years. “Let’s say it costs three, four, five million a year,” he told Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing for DealBook. “I’m happy to fund the damn thing.” Way to go, Steve.

The websites EU Facts and Civitas EU Facts that Google returns in response to a search query are not quite Ballmer.


Microsoft could make a phone with LinkedIn

Tuesday, 14 June, 2016 0 Comments

Last year, LinkedIn’s revenues were almost $3 billion, but it recorded a net loss of $166 million. Most of its income comes from the “talent solutions” division, which charges recruiters to advertise jobs and use the company’s data, but the rest of the network is loss making. So why is Microsoft paying $26 billion for it, then? And what will it do with this new acquisition? Paul Ford has come up with a list of 9 Things Microsoft Could Do With LinkedIn. Example:

4. Microsoft could make a phone with LinkedIn.

What? No. What? Stop. The Facebook phone was a disaster (remember? I remember.) But there’s still probably some bizarre and monstrous Blackberry-esque WindowsLinkedPhone that could happen — something that jams all the messaging through LinkedIn accounts. It could even work with SharePoint. Can you imagine?

Who will be bought up/out next? Twitter shares are rising and the talk is that Google could snap it up by the year end. Vanity Fair: Why Microsoft’s $26.2 Billion Linkedin Acquisition Is Good News For Twitter. The same Vanity Fair has a portrait of Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO, in the current issue. Snippet: “…he wistfully talked about the group of people, mostly friends, who helped hatch Twitter in that rodent-infested basement. Some of them became billionaires, others ended up with nothing, but most no longer speak to one another. ‘It was such a good team. It just became so screwy, and confusing. I don’t know what happened. I don’t regret it. I feel sad about it,’ he said, his voice trailing off into the night.”

All of this is good preparation for the day when Jack has to write the kind of email that LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, wrote to employees yesterday:

“No matter what you’re feeling now, give yourself some time to process the news. You might feel a sense of excitement, fear, sadness, or some combination of all of those emotions. Every member of the exec team has experienced the same, but we’ve had months to process. Regardless of the ups and downs, we’ve come out the other side knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the best thing for our company.”


How Rembrandt is this?

Monday, 11 April, 2016 0 Comments

Combine the resources of ING Group, Microsoft, the Rembrandthuis, the Mauritshuis and the Delft University of Technology and you get, well, lots of things, but in this particular case the result is The Next Rembrandt.

“We examined the entire collection of Rembrandt’s work, studying the contents of his paintings pixel by pixel. To get this data, we analyzed a broad range of materials like high resolution 3D scans and digital files, which were upscaled by deep learning algorithms to maximize resolution and quality. This extensive database was then used as the foundation for creating The Next Rembrandt.”

Ron Augustus, Microsoft Services Directeur Nederland

Doubters will, no doubt, say that Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn could paint thousands of variations of his subjects and that the program which “painted” The Next Rembrandt is limited in its creative ability. True, but IBM’s Watson and Google’s AlphaGO were greeted with scepticism, initially. Data is not to be laughed at anymore, and it can be, in the case of The Next Rembrandt, rather beautiful.

The Next Rembrandt


A week in AI: Tay goes rogue and HAL revives

Saturday, 26 March, 2016 1 Comment

Less than a day after she joined Twitter, Tay, Microsoft’s colourful Artificial Intelligence bot, was taken down this week for becoming a Hitler-loving, feminist-bashing, racist monster. Machine learning software, clearly, is not ready for prime time.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, at the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, Helen Bear, a computer scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and her colleague Richard Harvey, presented a lip-reading algorithm that improves a computer’s ability to differentiate between sounds — such as p, b and m — that all look similar on lips. Machine learning software that reliably reads lips could be used to solve crime; it could help people who go deaf later in life, and it could also be used for better film dubbing. What’s not to like? Wait, did someone say HAL?

In Stanley Kubrick’s superb 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL 9000 is an artificial general intelligence computer that manages the Discovery One spacecraft mission, but when astronauts Bowman and Poole realize that it has made a mistake they go into a pod to discuss what to do. They turn off the communications systems and test that HAL doesn’t follow their orders to make sure it isn’t listening to them. HAL is watching through the pod window, however, and reads their lips. The results are fatal and some have come to interpret this as a warning about the potential of AI to go rogue. Like Tay did.


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


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


Behold the HoloLens

Friday, 23 January, 2015 0 Comments

“Holograms are the next evolution in computing. Microsoft HoloLens, together with Windows 10, introduces a powerful new holographic platform. The era of holographic computing is here.” Finally, Microsoft is promising something different. Regardless of how HoloLens turns out, there’s one thing it won’t be — Google Glass. HoloLens will be worn in private, for work and for play and, given the projected size, it should be a more powerful, more useful device than the one envisaged by Sergey Brin. Unlike his predecessor, Steve Ballmer, it looks like Satya Nadella has got the vision thing.


The economy: Everyone’s talking about it…

Thursday, 30 October, 2014 0 Comments

… buy who can explain it? Maybe a philanthropist and a filmmaker. Combine the wealth of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, with the creativity of Morgan Spurlock, director of Super Size Me, and you get We The Economy, a series of 20 videos that seeks to explain key economic concepts. Topics covered and questions asked include, “Why is the law of supply and demand so powerful?”, “What causes a recession?”, “Why do we have budget deficits and a national debt?”, “What happens when jobs disappear?” and “Is inequality growing?”

Here’s THE STREET by Joe Berlinger. The clip comes with a range of resources curated to deepen one’s understanding of how the stock market works.


As cities get smarter

Friday, 11 October, 2013 0 Comments

There will be nine billion people on this planet by 2050 and the number of mega cities — defined as those with more than 10 million residents — is set to rise from 24 at the moment to 100 by the middle of this century. As a result, IT that helps cities better manage their resources will be big business. Intel, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, GE, BMW, Siemens and many others are looking to use software and sensors to guide urban development by analyzing and visualizing the big data sets that will be amassed daily in cities. The goal is the “smart city,” where sustainability, technology, security and economic opportunity integrate, and the idea is to use water, power, transportation systems and communication networks much more efficiently.

To get to there from here, new thinking is needed and IBM’s “People for Smarter Cities” initiative is encouraging urban dwellers to think laterally. Take billboards. They’re ubiquitous, so why not have them do something practical along with selling stuff? How about adding a simple curve to the top or bottom of a billboard to create shelter or seating for passers by?

Enabling the future city with its smart grids, smart transport, smart waste management and smart building systems is going to be one of the major 21st century challenges, but the benefits will be enormous for the players — telcos, IT companies, utilities providers and property developers — who successfully harness the technologies needed to for the task. We’re still a long way from living in the data-driven cities that many have been envisioning, but the conversation has started.


Apple ate the BlackBerry

Wednesday, 14 August, 2013 0 Comments

In the New Yorker, Vauhini Vara muses upon “How BlackBerry Fell“. She mentions the real reason early in the piece. (Hint: It’s a five-letter word beginning with “A”):

“Shares in the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones peaked in August of 2007, at two hundred and thirty-six dollars. In retrospect, the company was facing an inflection point and was completely unaware. Seven months earlier, in January, Apple had introduced the iPhone at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Executives at BlackBerry, then called Research in Motion, decided to let Apple focus on the general-use smartphone market, while it would continue selling BlackBerry products to business and government customers that bought the devices for employees. ‘In terms of a sort of a sea change for BlackBerry,’ the company’s co-C.E.O Jim Balsillie said at the time, referring to the iPhone’s impact on the industry, ‘I would think that’s overstating it.'”

Yummy! Blackberries Vara adds: “BlackBerry, of course, wasn’t the only company that made the mistake of ignoring the iPhone and the revolution it portended: engineers at Nokia, which, years earlier, had introduced a one-pound smartphone, dismissed the iPhone because, among other reasons, it failed to pass a test in which phones were dropped five feet onto concrete over and over again, the Wall Street Journal reported last year. Microsoft C.E.O. Steve Ballmer actually laughed at the iPhone. ‘It doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard,’ he said. Nokia and Microsoft, which are now building smartphones in partnership with each other, have, like BlackBerry, seen their share of the market shrink.”

Long before Vauhini Vara came to this conclusion, John Gruber identified the rot at the heart of RIM. On 9 May 2008, he wrote “BlackBerry vs. iPhone” and nailed it beautifully here: “RIM doesn’t really have any lock-in other than user habits. The BlackBerry gimmick is that it works with the email system your company bought from Microsoft. Replace a BlackBerry with an iPhone (2.0) and the messages, contacts, and calendar events that sync over the network will be the same as the ones on the BlackBerry you just tossed into a desk drawer.”

RIP RIM.