Alphabet Google: AI Wins at Go; Loses in Other Contests

May 25, 2017

I learned that Google has “bet the farm” on smart software. When I read this statement, I wondered if ads were now going to be 100 percent artificially intelligence-ized. Humans would not be needed for conference presentations about organic search is wonderful but Adwords make everything better. Humans would not be needed to visit ad broker and ad agency people to explain that Google Adwords work much better than Facebook’s offering. Humans would not be needed to take or dodge voice calls from advertisers whose online accounts seemed to be shrinking at the same time leads from those ads were drying up. Humans. Unnecessary but for the task of figuring out what to do with fake news and other assorted online depravities.

I also learned that Google’s smart software defeated a mere human in Go. One of the photos I saw of the alleged numero uno in the life and death world of old fashioned board games showed a fairly unhappy human. “Google’s A.I. Program Rattles Chinese Go Master as It Wins Match” explains that I am using the wrong word. The now disgraced Ke Jie was rattled. Nah, I will stick with disgraced.

But the really big news about Google’s smart software appeared in “Why AI Gets the Language of Games but Sucks at Translating Languages.” The main idea is that Google’s acquisition DeepMind has algorithms which can win at Go. The rest of Alphabet Google cannot do very good translations.

The criticism of Alphabet Google’s translation system seems harsh. The write up asserts:

Neural machine translation (NMT) is Google’s response to the quest for more accurate translations. NMT technologies focus on the whole sentence instead of its components (word, phrases) in isolation by combining those components in the most naturally used manner. When AI technologies are applied to this process, NMT is also able to learn from other completed translations by analyzing their structure and how they change over time to pick up on subtleties and nuances.

I like the NMT acronym. But the write up explains that the reality of Google’s system is a bit less slick. Here’s a passage I highlighted in True Blue (a color reserved for the most informed technical statements backed by diligent research and verified data). The “diligent” part was a contest between Google’s smart software and some human translators. The “verified” part is that humans decided who translated  text better. The result? Here you go:

The reviewers stated that about 90 percent of the NMT-translated text was “grammatically awkward,” or perhaps not obviously wrong but definitely never the kind of translation produced by any educated native speaker. Many linguists and translators will be relieved by the resounding success of the humans in this latest battle against the machines. It’s inevitable that, as NMT develops further, technical content — which follows strict content guidelines and terminology — may soon be near perfectly translated without requiring much human post-editing, if any.

For now, Alphabet Google is in the game. Alphabet Google has not won the game. Just like IBM Watson, winning a “game” is different from doing real things in the real world for real people. Footsteps, but the human prey has not be killed… yet.

Stephen E Arnold, May 25, 2017

Google: Fateful Advertising Decision

May 19, 2017

Has Google AdWords become indispensable for business? It is beginning to look that way, we learn from the StarTribune’s article, “How Google Decided to Take Ads on the Most Prominent Real Estate on the Web.” New York Times writer Daisuke Wakabayashi describes the company’s incorporation of search-based advertising:

In the 17 years since Google introduced text-based advertising above search results, the company has allocated more space to ads and created new forms of them. The ad creep on Google has pushed ‘organic’ (unpaid) search results farther down the screen, an effect even more pronounced on the smaller displays of smartphones. The changes are profound for retailers and brands that rely on leads from Google searches to drive online sales. With limited space available near the top of search results, not advertising on search terms associated with your brand or displaying images of your products is tantamount to telling potential customers to spend their money elsewhere. The biggest development with search ads is the proliferation of product listing ads, or PLAs. In a departure from its text-based ads, Google started allowing retailers to post pictures, descriptions and prices of products at the top of search results in 2009.

Another change is the ability for advertisers to link to more general search terms; for example, users see ads for a specific Nike design when they search for “running shoes.” The company has also put resources into optimizing ad placement on both computers and mobile devices. It has gotten to the point that many companies accept a Google AdWords initiative as a necessary expense. Can anyone topple Google from this unique marketing tower?

Cynthia Murrell, May 19, 2017

Google: We May Say We Are Sorry. Very, Very Sorry

May 18, 2017

I remember the wonderful scene in a “Fish Called Wanda.” John Cleese was apologizing to the addled US government professional. Now the US government professional held John Cleese upside down out of a window. The implication for me was that threatening death elicited a prompt, sincere apology.


I’m sorry. No, really.

The write up “Google’s Controversial DeepMind Deal for 1.6 Million NHS Patients’ Data Called Legally Inappropriate” is going to elicit something that Alphabet may spell this way:

We’re sorry. We’re really, really sorry.

The words are best rendered with the painful chords of Brenda Lee’s hit “I’m Sorry” playing on one’s Pixel phone.

The Independent wants to be digital and has a keen interest in Google or at least its referrals to the newspaper’s Web site. I learned from the “real” journalism source that:

In February last year [2016], Google said Streams would help hospital staff monitor patients with kidney disease, but a document obtained by New Scientist caused further concern when it revealed that DeepMind was receiving historical medical data, records of the location and status of patients, and even details about visitors.

Hmm. A leaked document from another “real” news outfit. Sounds pretty typical for a fake news world. My hunch is that those engaging with the Google made assumptions about what Google’s content intake system would intake.

Where are we? From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, the situation looks like this: Barn burned. Horses made into glue. Amazon storefront built on the site.

The write up points out the legal loophole through which one could float a Loon balloon:

Patient data and confidentiality are protected by strict rules, but patients are “implied” to have given their consent for data-sharing if it’s shared for the purpose of “direct care”.

Ah, ha. Fire up that Loon balloon, folks. She’s floating into patient dataspace.

If that balloon knocks off a chimney pot, the Silicon Valley datanauts will wave and sing:

You tell me mistakes
Are part of being young
But that don’t right
The wrong that’s been done

Stephen E Arnold, May 18, 2017

Alphabet Google Ad Placement: Unfair Analysis?

May 15, 2017

Let’s ignore the mobile phone click farm which seems to be undetectable. (I know. If it were undetectable, the article “The Bizarre Click Farm of 10,000 Phones That Give Fake Likes to Our Most Beloved Apps.”) My thought is that if the clicks work for likes, perhaps the method works for grinding through Adwords’ messages too.

Let’s ignore the cyber attack how to write ups posted to YouTube. For more information, navigate to “Cyber Attack Guides Promoted on YouTube.”

What’s interesting to me this fine day is the article “Look What Happens When You Type Donald Trump Office into Google.” The notion of delivering information which answers a question seems to be a challenge for Google. I learned:

Vladimir Putin appears as the first name when typing in Donald Trump office into the search engine. He also appears alongside Melania Trump and Kellyanne Conway, neither of whom can count themselves as being in the president’s office either.

Alphabet Google faces some interesting challenges. My view is that Google search seems to be fraying. The loose threads are not at the edges. The unravelings are evident in a number of basic functions; for example, objectivity, precision, and recall.

Maybe I am incorrect? On the other hand, maybe not?

Stephen E Arnold, May 15, 2017


Russia Compels Google to Relinquish Default Search-Engine Status on Android

May 11, 2017

Russia has successfully pushed Google into playing fair (on one matter, anyway), we learn from “Google Agrees to Open Android to Other Search Engines in Russia” at the Verge. Writer Jacob Kastrenakes reveals:

In addition to paying a $7.8 million fine, Google has agreed to stop preventing phone manufacturers from changing the default search engine to anything but Google. Google won’t be allowed to require any app exclusivity on new phones, nor will it be allowed to prevent other companies’ apps from coming preinstalled.

While Android is an open platform, core parts of the operating system aren’t, including Google’s app store. That’s allowed Google to set strict conditions for any phone manufacturer that wants to build a phone with access to the Play Store’s millions of apps. Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service said this counted as an abuse of Google’s dominant market position, and for the past two years, it’s been investigating and suing over the company’s restrictive terms.

Naturally, Russian search giant Yandex stands to gain from the concession. We can expect that company to negotiate with Android-phone manufacturers to have their search engine preinstalled within Russia. In fact, Yandex’s founder and CEO  issued a statement celebrating the settlement, noting that “competition breeds innovation.” Indeed.

Russian Android users will soon be empowered to reject Google Search, too. The company promises a to implement a widget for Chrome that will enable users to set a non-Google search engine as their default. The caveat— prospective engines must sign a commercial agreement with Google. After all, that global near-monopoly will not relinquish any more control than it must.

Cynthia Murrell, May 11, 2017

Swiftype Launches SaaS Enterprise Search Platform

May 10, 2017

While AI is a hot commodity, enterprise search has been more of a disappointment. That is why we are surprised by one company’s confidence in the search market—KMWorld shares, “Swiftype Launches AI-Powered Content Discovery Engine for Enterprise Users.” This integration of AI into enterprise search is the firm’s first (formal) venture into cloud services. Writer Joyce Wells tells us:

With a single search, the company says, a user can locate information across accounts in Salesforce, files on Dropbox, documents in Google G Suite or Office 365, information from internal databases, and conversation threads on Gmail. Swiftype also integrates directly into apps such as Salesforce and Confluence to allow users to search and find content across all of these services without disturbing their existing workflows.

According to the vendor, the platform provides Swiftype AI-powered search applications built natively for mobile, desktop, and web browsers, as well as additional workflow integrations that allow users to search all their data from the applications they already use. There is also a Connector Framework to help quickly connect cloud-based platforms.

So far, Swiftype has integrated the platforms of Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Atlassian, and Zendesk into their product. We also learn the company’s AI platform, dubbed Enterprise Knowledge Graph, will take into account calendar events, email content, and user behavior as crafts analyses. Launched in 2012, the Swiftype is based in San Francisco.

Cynthia Murrell, May 10, 2017

US Still Most Profitable for Alphabet

May 8, 2017

Alphabet, Inc., the parent company of Google generates maximum revenue from the US market. Europe Middle East and Africa combined come at second and Asia Pacific occupying the third slot.

Recode in its earnings report titled Here’s Where Alphabet Makes Its Money says:

U.S. revenue increased 25 percent from last year to $11.8 billion. Sales from the Asia-Pacific region rose 29 percent to $3.6 billion. Revenue from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa was up 13 percent to $8.1 billion.

Despite the fact that around 61% of world population is in Asia Pacific region, Google garnering most of the revenues from a mere 322 million people is surprising. It can be attributed to the fact that China, which forms the bulk of Asia’s population does not have access to Google or its services. India, another emerging market though is open, is yet to embrace digital economy fully.

While chances of Chinese market opening up for Google are slim, India seems to be high on the radar of not only Google but also for other tech majors like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook.

Vishol Ingole, May 8, 2017

Microsoft Offers Android Users a (Weak) Bing Incentive

May 4, 2017

It looks like Microsoft has stooped to buying traffic for Bing; that cannot bode well.  OnMSFT reports, “Set Bing as Your Search Engine on iPhone or Android, Get a Microsoft Rewards $5 Gift Card.”  Paradoxically, they don’t seem terribly anxious to spread the word. Reporter Kareem Anderson writes:

Sleuthers over in the Reddit forums have dug up a neat little nugget of savings for iPhone and Android users. According to a thread at the Xbox One subreddit, iPhone and Android users who set their default search engine to Bing can receive a Microsoft Rewards $5 gift card. The details were originally pulled from a Microsoft site instructing users on how to make the change from Google to Bing on smartphone devices. We should note that the redemption process hasn’t been without its issues as several Android users have mentioned that it has not worked or appears delayed in confirming the release of gift cards.

So, they’ve created an incentive, but are not promoting it or, apparently, fulfilling it effectively—talk about mixed messages! Still, if you use an Android device and are inclined toward Bing, but haven’t yet set it as your default browser, you may be able to profit a little by doing so.  Anderson shares a link to the Microsoft Rewards page for our convenience.

Cynthia Murrell, May 4, 2017

Google Science Club: The Montgolfiere May Rise

May 3, 2017

The French have some nifty words for balloons. There is the mundane ballon. I much prefer dirigible. But the gem is gonfler or “to inflate.” This wonderful word has a number of variants; for example, se gonfler (to inflate oneself) and gonflage (inflating). I am buoyed by vocabulary.


These words floated through my mind when I read “Sergey Brin’s Secret Zeppelin.” The main idea is that Mr. Brin may be pumping up a big floating balloon. I noted this passage:

Dirigibles became a go-to metaphor for futurism, occupying a space in the popular imagination that would eventually make way for flying cars, jet packs, space elevators, and driverless vehicles. In the late 19th century, zeppelins appeared in newspaper headlines and artists’ renderings of the future like dreamy industrial clouds.

Steam punk? Hot air punk? An aerial sprite?

I also highlighted this altocumulitic passage:

Which brings us back to Brin and his secret zeppelin, apparently taking form somewhere in the shade of a massive hangar under the California sky. The mystery of Brin’s motivations only highlights the parallel to the golden era of dirigibles, when the intrepidity of the aeronaut was seen as equal parts heroic and insane. Their balloons may have been mere scientific toys. Perhaps that’s all Brin is after. Either way, the promise of what the airship might have become has kept generations of great minds transfixed by the skies.

If the Googler floats a dirigible, I wonder if an idea emerging from a bistro on La rue des Écoles would trail this banner, “Une idée se gonfle.” Does this mean AdWords?

Oh, how is that solving death work coming along?

Rising above the clouds?

Stephen E Arnold, May 3, 2017

Revealing the Google Relevance Sins

May 2, 2017

I was surprised to read “Google’s Project Owl”. Talk about unintended consequences. An SEO centric publication reported that Google was going to get on the stick and smite fake news and “problematic content.” (I am not sure what “problematic content” is because I think a person’s point of view influences this determination.”

The write up states in real journalistic rhetoric:

Project Owl is Google’s internal name for its endeavor to fight back on problematic searches. The owl name was picked for no specific reason, Google said. However, the idea of an owl as a symbol for wisdom is appropriate. Google’s effort seeks to bring some wisdom back into areas where it is sorely needed.

Right, wisdom. From a vendor of content wrapped in pay to play advertising and “black box” algorithms which mysteriously have magical powers on sites like Foundem and the poor folks who were trying to make French tax forms findable.

My view of the initiative and the real journalistic write up is typical of what folks in Harrod’s Creek think about Left Coast types:

  1. The write up underscores the fact that Google’s quality function, which I wrote about in my three Google monographs, does not work. What determines the clever PageRank method? Well, a clever way to determine a signal of quality. Heh heh. Doesn’t work.
  2. Google is now on the hook to figure out what content is problematic and then find a way to remove that content from the Google indexes. Yep, not one index, but dozens. Google Local (crooked shops, anyone), YouTube (the oodles of porn which is easily findable by an enterprising 12 year old using the Yandex video search function), news (why are there no ads on Google News? Hmmm.), and other fave services from the GOOG.
  3. Relevance is essentially non existent for most queries. I like the idea of using “authoritative sources” for obscure queries. Yep, those Lady Gaga hits keep on rocking when a person searches for animal abuse and meat dresses.

Let me boil this down.

If a person relies on a free, ad supported Web search system for information, you may be getting a jolt from which your gray matter will not recover.

What’s the fix? I know the write up champions search engine optimization and explaining how to erode relevance for a user’s online query. But I am old fashioned. Multiple sources, interviews, reading of primary sources, and analytical thinking.

Hey, boring. Precision and recall are sure less fun than relaxing queries to amp up the irrelevance output.


Stephen E Arnold, May 2, 2017

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