Online Translation Becomes a Joke

April 26, 2017

I am not much of a TV buff. I noted the article “Anne Hathaway Sang the Most Awkward Google Translations Beautifully on Jimmy Fallon.” I noted that I will survive was allegedly translated as “I will be punctual.” Close, right. The image below shows the original lyric and Google Translate’s version:


Online translation definitely loses none of the nuance and emotional impact. Ooops ooops. When that artificial intelligence controls autonomous drones, what could go wrong? Answer: Nothing. Perfect.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2017

Amazon Aims to Ace the Chatbots

April 26, 2017

Amazon aims to insert itself into every aspect of daily life and the newest way it does is with the digital assistant Alexa.  Reuters reports that, “Amazon Rolls Out Chatbot Tools In Race To Dominate Voice-Powered Tech,” explaining how Amazon plans to expand Alexa’s development.  The retail giant recently released the technology behind Alexa to developers, so they can build chat features into apps.

Amazon is eager to gain dominance in voice-controlled technology.  Apple and Google both reign supreme when it comes to talking computers, chatbots, and natural language processing.  Amazon has a huge reach, perhaps even greater than Apple and Google, because people have come to rely on it for shopping.  Chatbots have a notorious history for being useless and Microsoft’s Tay even turned into a racist, chauvinist program.

The new Alexa development tool is called Alexa Lex, which is hosted on the cloud.  Alexa is already deployed in millions of homes and it is fed a continuous data stream that is crucial to the AI’s learning:

Processing vast quantities of data is key to artificial intelligence, which lets voice assistants decode speech. Amazon will take the text and recordings people send to apps to train Lex – as well as Alexa – to understand more queries.

That could help Amazon catch up in data collection. As popular as Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices are, such as Echo speakers, the company has sold an estimated 10 million or more.

Amazon Alexa is a competent digital assistant, able to respond to vocal commands and even offers voice-only shop via Amazon.  As noted, Alexa’s power rests in its data collection and ability to learn natural language processing.  Bitext uses a similar method but instead uses trained linguists to build its analytics platform.

Whitney Grace, April 26, 2017

Google Search Quality: Heading South?

April 25, 2017

Forbes, the capitalists tool, ran this article or sponsored content on April 17, 2017: “Is Google’s Search Quality Starting to Decline?” My first reaction was the question, “Compared to what? Precision and recall scores? Other free, ad supported Web search systems? Looking up information in a commercial database?

My questions were just off base or from another dimension.

The capitalist tool does not fool around when it comes to explaining why something is good or bad. The capitalist tool walks like Commodore Vanderbilt; that is, somewhat unsteadily in his dotage.

I learned from the capitalist tool:

Individual users, companies and organizations, and even governments have stepped up to blame Google for not providing quality results.

The “quality” idea comes from Search Engine Land, a publication which embraces Web search and search engine optimization. That orientation is okay with me, but it has very little to do with relevance. There is that annoying precision calculation. Plus, there is the equally annoying recall calculation. Some die hards actually create a statistically valid sample and attempt to determine if results from queries delivered the information the person running the query expected. There are library schools and researchers who worry about these silly methods. Not so much with the SEO crowd.

Back to the argument in the capitalist tool. I highlighted this passage:

users have always had the ability to report offensive auto complete suggestions, but now, Google has made the process more visible and immediate. In an even bigger push, Google has employed more than 10,000 independent contractors to serve as “quality raters,” responsible for identifying and flagging inaccurate and offensive material including fake news, for various search queries.

Ah, Google’s quality scores determined by Google’s smart software and its well crafted algorithms are no longer enough? Well, that’s a surprise. I thought the fake news, the mismatched ads, and the relaxation of queries to make that ad inventory shrink more rapidly were not much of an issue. Well, there is that push back from outfits like AT&T, but what’s a few cancelled ads from a minnow like AT&T.

The capitalist tool knows where it’s next Whopper is coming from. I circled this statement:

It’s important to realize just how sophisticated Google is, and how far it’s come from its early stages, as well as the impossibility of having a “perfect” search platform. Humans are flawed creatures, and our actions are what are dictating the shape of search. We can patchwork some of these problems, but the Google search quality crisis won’t disappear overnight, and can’t be blamed for being anything more than the byproduct of a sufficiently sophisticated machine designed to serve us.

Interesting idea—blame.

My takeaway from this scintillating analysis is that the capitalist tool needs to do a few queries about “quality”. Just a thought. By the way, the databases to use will not be part of the result set. Google partitions its indexes so that a research has to run queries across different Google silos. Also, commercial databases are likely to provide more comprehensive results from sources Google does not index. Hey, who cares about this precision and recall stuff when writing about offensive answers to queries, Google’s auto complete mechanism, rich snippets, and popularity?

Not too many at Forbes I surmise. Maybe SEO is search to these smart people who can demystify SEO and mystify information retrieval.

Stephen E Arnold, April 25, 2017

Search Pinterest Pictures Without Pinterest

April 25, 2017

Pinterest is the beloved social media network, where users can post pictures, make comments, get decorating ideas, and recipes.  However, Recode tells us about a new implausible Google Chrome extension: “Pinterest Will Now Let You Search For Products Using Any Image You Find Online-Without Visiting Pinterest.”  Pinterest just launched a new Google Chrome extension that allows users to save images seen online as they browse.  The extension will work like this:

The new tool lets you select an item in any photograph online, and ask Pinterest to surface similar items using its image recognition software.  For example: If you see an image of sunglasses you like on, you could use the extension to browse similar glasses from Pinterest without ever leaving Nordstrom’s website.  If you click on one of the search results, you’ll then be taken to Pinterest.

Pinterest wants to leverage itself as an image search engine for all images, in real life and on the Internet.  Evan Sharp, Pinterest co-founder, said that users, should not “..have to put their thoughts into words to find great ideas.”  Visual search technology already exists, but only on Pinterest’s Web site.

Whitney Grace, April 25, 2017

Mother Google to Fix the Ad Problem

April 24, 2017

I read “Google Faces Competition Scrutiny over Plans to Build Ad Blocker into Chrome.” My recollection is that there has been some chatter about how Google displays ads in videos. I have also heard that some folks are wondering why certain ads appear in certain result sets. I enjoy no display videos which contain links to Web sites selling teen fashion; for example:


I am not sure what’s an ad and what’s a misfire.

The write up raises a different issue; namely,

Google introducing ad blocking, however, would have massive implications. The browser has a 58.6pc worldwide market share, according to NetMarketShare, against 19pc for Internet Explorer, the second-most popular. It could well attract interest from regulators given Google’s huge online advertising business. Google made $22.4bn (£17.5bn) in advertising revenue in the final quarter of last year, up 17pc annually, and undermining other adverts may be seen as an attempt to boost its own business.

What an unusual idea? Google possibly trying to “boost its own business.”

How could Google or any other Silicon Valley be viewed as acting in a way that is not fair, objective, and beneficial for customers?

We love Google and find the suggestion that Google would behave in an untoward manner unseemly.

Stephen E Arnold, April 24, 2017

A Peek at the DeepMind Research Process

April 14, 2017

Here we have an example of Alphabet Google’s organizational prowess. Business Insider describes how “DeepMind Organises Its AO Researchers Into ‘Strike Teams’ and ‘Frontiers’.” Writer Sam Shead cites a report by Madhumita Murgia as described in the Financial Times. He writes:

Exactly how DeepMind’s researchers work together has been something of a mystery but the FT story sheds new light on the matter. Researchers at DeepMind are divided into four main groups, including a ‘neuroscience’ group and a ‘frontiers’ group, according to the report. The frontiers group is said to be full of physicists and mathematicians who are tasked with testing some of the most futuristic AI theories. ‘We’ve hired 250 of the world’s best scientists, so obviously they’re here to let their creativity run riot, and we try and create an environment that’s perfect for that,’ DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis told the FT. […]

DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014 for £400 million, also has a number of ‘strike teams’ that are set up for a limited time period to work on particular tasks. Hassabis explained that this is what DeepMind did with the AlphaGo team, who developed an algorithm that was able to learn how to play Chinese board game Go and defeat the best human player in the world, Lee Se-dol.

Here’s a write-up we did about that significant AlphaGo project, in case you are curious. The creative-riot approach Shead describes is in keeping with Google’s standard philosophy on product development—throw every new idea at the wall and see what sticks. We learn that researchers report on their progress every two months, and team leaders allocate resources based on those reports. Current DeepMind projects include algorithms for healthcare and energy scenarios.

Hassabis launched DeepMind in London in 2010, where offices remain after Google’s 2014 acquisition of the company.

Cynthia Murrell, April 14, 2017

Google Management: The Book Search Thing

April 13, 2017

I read “How Google Book Search Got Lost.” The write up in Backchannel was interesting to me for two reasons. First, the essay continues the revelations about Google as a balloon with a pinprick. After inflation, the pressure seeps out and one has a deflated balloon. What’s a deflated balloon good for? I suppose I could Ask Heloise, but I don’t care. Second, the analysis ignores the obvious; that is, Alphabet Google is not managed in the sense that GM is managing to develop an electric car or Boeing to use 3D titanium printing to get rid of pesky humans. Google, from its inception, wobbles. Few business schools teach students how to wobble. Bright folks discover this skill on their own, particularly when careening around with money readily available and Silicon Valley vapors in their nostrils.

I highlighted this passage from the analysis/essay:

Google Books has settled into a quiet middle age of sourcing quotes and serving up snippets of text from the 25 million-plus tomes in its database.

The reason is that time and legal hassles turned down the thermostat for Googlers. Who wants to work on a project which lacks the zip of inventing a self driving car or solving death? Not me for sure.

The write up includes a quote from a Googler. I circled this statement as well:

“We’re not focused on shiny features and things that are very visible to users,” says Stephane Jaskiewicz, a Google engineer who has worked on Books for a decade and now leads its team. “It’s more like behind the scenes work and perfecting the technology — acquiring content, processing it properly so that we can view the entire book online, and adjusting the search algorithm.”

Interesting, but I was mildly curious about how this Googler perceives promotion opportunities and compensation as part of the Books deflating balloon. Alas, no light shines on these issues.

I found this statement somewhat reassuring. Google does not evidence sticktoativity:

Maybe the quest to digitize all books was bound to end in disappointment, with no grand epiphany.

The epiphany at Google, as I understand the company’s business focus, is about revenue. Who at Google wants to pump big dough into dealing with figuring out how to deliver Google Book results in a way that sells ads? Who wants to crack the problem of Google’s formidable array of silo indexes? I am not sure a Googler wants to tackle this job because the cost of allow a person to search for a patent, a blog post with possibly relevant prior art, the book thing, and the general Google Web index is going to make Loon balloons and the self driving car guy’s bonus look like a really smart investment.

To put the Google into context, I think about these questions:

  1. Where did Google’s business model come from? What was the legal dust up with Yahoo about prior to the Google IPO?
  2. What manager at Google provided oversight and guidance to Google Books? How many leadership changes took place in the last 15 years?
  3. What was the issue with Kirtas scanners which triggered Google’s own research effort into high speed book scanning and the consequent patents such as US7,508,978? Was this a distraction? A business decision? An example of a science club project? What happened to the scanner whiz Wayne Rosling, Google’s one time vice president of engineering?
  4. How does the management of Google Books mesh with other Google decisions to orphan, abandon, or slow investment in other “interesting” projects; for example, Knol, Web Accelerator, etc.?

I have formulated my own answers to these questions. My thought is that sharper minds than mind may want to dig into these questions.

Google or more accurately Alphabet Google is interesting, and it has left a legacy for other Silicon Valley aspirants to follow. Is this legacy positive or negative? I suppose one could find some information to help answer this question as Google works its way through allegations about its behavior set forth by legal eagles in Europe, the way Google managed Anthony Levandowski, and the interesting search results Google search generates.

I am not sure if a series of searches across Google’s many indexes will be an easy task. There might not be too much information in Google Books or Google Scholar either. That’s too bad. Google’s bid to become the new University Microfilms seems to be a very long shot.

Stephen E Arnold, April 13, 2017

Google: Management Advice

April 12, 2017

I read “Google Co-Founder: Take Chances, Pursue Your Dreams and Silence the Voices.” The headline caught my attention. “Silence the voices” seemed to be an interesting way to approach opportunity. The passage in the write up I highlighted is:

There are a lot of affordances that are such conveniences today that make it easy. But there’s also a global stage that makes it hard,” Brin said. “I would encourage young folks to take chances and pursue their dreams and try to silence out the voices that say, ‘Actually, there are 1,000 start-ups trying to do self-riding bicycles.’”

The “silence the voices” seem to be the voices of dissent. I suppose the statement refers to inner demons, critics, employees who offer ideas conflicting with the top dogs, or the silence of an extreme action.

Yep, management advice from the outfit shaping the business savvy of Marissa Mayer and other bright folks.

Stephen E Arnold, April 12, 2017

The Algorithm to Failure

April 12, 2017

Algorithms have practically changed the way the world works. However, this nifty code also has its limitations that lead to failures.

In a whitepaper published by Cornell University, authored by Shai Shalev-ShwartzOhad ShamirShaked Shammah and titled Failures of Deep Learning, the authors say:

It is important, for both theoreticians and practitioners, to gain a deeper understanding of the difficulties and limitations associated with common approaches and algorithms.

The whitepaper touches four pain points of Deep Learning, which is based on algorithms. The authors propose remedial measures that possibly could overcome these impediments and lead to better AI.

Eminent personalities like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk have however warned against advancing AIs. Google in the past had abandoned robotics as the machines were becoming too intelligent. What now needs to be seen is who will win in the end? Commercial interests or unfounded fear?

Vishal Ingole, April 12, 2017

Google: The Male Female Thing

April 10, 2017

I have fond memories of my high school’s science club. My hunch is that some Google-type companies do too.

I look back and remember the days of Donald Jackson, who with his brother Bernard, published an article in a peer reviewed astronomy journal. Those guys were fixated on the moon. Go figure.

There was a canny lad named Phil Herbst, who shifted to fuzzy science with his interest in anthropology. Misguided. Anthropology. Who cares about that?

There was Steve Connett, who was into electrical engineering and the goodies which that required his parents to provide.

And the others?Males. Every one of them.

I don’t recall any females in the science club. Super smart Hope Davis, one of the females in my advanced physics class, had perfect pitch, a knack for mathematics, and a well founded disdain for the males in the science club.

My experience with her as a lab partner is that she was smarter than most of the fellows who gathered a couple of times a month to discuss explosives, corrosive chemical compounds, circuits which could terminate certain creatures with a zap, and the other nifty things the dozen or so regulars found fascinating.

Why was science club in the rust belt in 1958 a no go zone for really smart people like Hope Davis?

Image result for nerds

My favorite line from the motion picture “Revenge of the Nerds” is, “Nerds.” Poetic.

My answer is that the males in my science club were not exactly hot social items. Although I was the dumbest person in the club, I shared three qualities with the real brainiacs in the group:

  1. Zero awareness of females and their abilities. I was an only child, had zero exposure to females outside of class, and lived within my own weird little world of books and model airplanes
  2. My notion of conversation was my ability to repeat almost anything I read verbatim. (Alas, as I age, that wonderful automatic function does not work as well as it did. But when it was in high gear, absolutely no female in any of my classes wanted to speak with me. Who wanted a fat, nearsighted meatware audio book for a friend?)
  3. I was deeply uncomfortable around anyone not in the odd ball special classes my high school offered for students who seemed to get A grades and did not participate in [a] sports, [b] school governance, [c] social activities like parties and dances, and [d] activities understood by the high school administrators.

I thought of my high school science club when I read “Google Accused of ‘Extreme’ Gender Pay Discrimination by US Labor Department.” I quite like the word “extreme.” Quite charged and suggestive. I learned:

Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”.

Making a leap from the particular allegation against Google to a fuzzy swath of California, the real journalists who are struggling with their own demons, states:

The explosive allegation against one of the largest and most powerful companies in Silicon Valley comes at a time when the male-dominated tech industry is facing increased scrutiny over gender discrimination, pay disparities and sexual harassment.

Does the word “extreme” up the ante?

Read more

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