Trust the Search Black Box and Only the Black Box

September 21, 2017

This article reads like an infomercial for a kitchen appliance.  It asks the same, old question, “How much time do you waste searching for relevant content?”  Then it leads into a pitch for Microsoft and some other companies.  BA Insights wrote, “The Increasingly Intelligence Search Experience” to be an original article, but frankly it sounds like every spiel to sell a new search algorithm.

After the “hook,” the article runs down the history of Microsoft and faceted search along with refiners and how it was so revolutionary at the time.  Do not get me wrong, this was a revolution move, but it sounds like Microsoft invented the entire tool rather than just using it as a strategy.  There is also a brief mention on faceted navigation, then they throw “intelligence search” at us:

Microsoft’s definition of “intelligence” may still be vague, but it’s clear that the company believes its work in machine-learning, when combined with its cloud platform, can give it a leg up over its competitors. The Microsoft Graph and these new intelligent machine-learning capabilities provide personalized insights based on a user’s personal network, project assignments, meeting schedule, and other search and collaboration activities. These features make it possible not only to search using traditional methods and take action based on those results, but for the tools and systems to proactively provide intelligent, personalized, and timely information before you ask for it – based on your profile, permissions, and activity history.

Oh!  Microsoft is so smart that they have come up with something brand new that companies which specialize in search have never thought of before.  Come on, how many times have we seen and read claims like this before?  Microsoft is doing revolutionary things, but not so much in the field of search technology.  They have contributed to its improvement over the years, but if this was such a revolutionary piece of black box software why has not anyone else picked it up?

Little black box software has their uses, but mostly for enterprise and closed systems-not the bigger Web.

Whitney Grace, September 21, 2015

Google Invests Hefty Sums in Lobbying Efforts

September 19, 2017

Since Microsoft was caught flat-footed by antitrust charges in 1992, the tech industry has steadily increased its lobbying efforts. Now, The Guardian asks, “Why is Google Spending Record Sums on Lobbying Washington?” Writer Johathan Taplin describes some reasons today’s political climate prompts such spending and points out that Google is the “largest monopoly in America,” though the company does its best to downplay that trait. He also notes that Google is libertarian in nature, and staunchly advocates against regulation. Looking forward, Taplin posits:

Much of Google’s lobbying may be directed toward its future business. That will be running artificial intelligence networks that control the transportation, medical, legal and educational businesses of the future. In a speech last Saturday to the National Governor’s Conference, the tech entrepreneur Elon Musk stated: ‘AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive.’ Coming from a Silicon Valley libertarian, this was a rare admission, but Musk went on to say: ‘There certainly will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us … I mean all of us.’ Both Google and Facebook pushed back hard against Musk’s remarks, because they have achieved their extraordinary success by working in an unregulated business environment. But now, for the first time in their histories, the possibility of regulation may be on the horizon. Google’s response will be to spend more of its $90 bn in cash on politicians. K Street is lining up to help.

We are reminded that, for many industries, lobbying Congress has long been considered a routine cost of doing business. The tech industry is now firmly in that category and is beginning to outspend the rest. See the article for more details.

Cynthia Murrell, September 19, 2017

Product Search: Hard Numbers or Flights of Fancy?

September 16, 2017

I read “Amazon Shakes Up Search, Again.” I was not aware of Amazon’s shaking up search because there are numerous ways to define the term. The write up narrows “search” to people in three countries who buy products or look for product information online. Ah, good, I think.

My hunch is that the “shake up” is related to the data that suggests Amazon has three times as many product searches than Google. The assertion did not “shake” me up because Google’s product search is not particularly useful. I thought that Froogle had a shot at becoming a daughter-of-Amazon, but the GOOG lost interest. Sure, I can search for a product using Google, but the results are often not what I want. Your mileage may vary.

But back to the write up. I noted some factoids which may be useful to those who are giving talks about product search, those who work for a consulting firm and must appear super smart, or folks like me who collect data, no matter how wild or crazy.

Here we go with the “shake up” from 3,100 consumers in the US, Germany, and the UK:

  • 72 percent use Amazon to research a product before buying the product
  • 51 percent use Amazon as a way to get “alternative ideas”
  • 26 percent use Amazon to get information and price when they plan on visiting a real store
  • 84 percent of “searchers” in the US use Google
  • 71 percent of “searchers” in the US use Amazon
  • 36 percent use Facebook in the US use Amazon
  • 24 percent use Pinterest in the US use Amazon
  • 31 percent use eBay in the US use Amazon
  • 80 percent in the UK use Google
  • 73 percent use Amazon in the UK
  • 9 percent use Bing in France
  • 6 percent us Bing in the UK
  • 6 percent use Bing in Germany
  • 20 percent of searchers use Bing
  • Amazon stocks or “carries” 353 million products. Put aside the idea that percentages usually work on a scale of zero to 100, please:
    • 59 percent are “health and beauty”
    • 57 percent are “music, movies, or games”
    • 55 percent are “books”
    • 52 percent fashion or clothing
    • 46 percent are home appliances
    • 40 percent are furniture and home furnishings
    • 39 percent are toys
    • 34 percent are sports equipment and clothing
    • 26 percent are garden equipment and furniture (?)
    • 26 percent are food and grocery
    • 9 percent are beer, wine and spirits.

So if there are 353 million products and the percentage data are correct, the total percentage of products is 443 percent. I did not the duplicate furniture entry but counted the percentage anyway. Also, there was no value for garden equipment and furniture so I used “26 percent”. Close enough for millennials steeped in new math.

My math teacher (Verna Blackburn) in my freshman year of high school in 1958 had an dunce cap. I think I can suggest one research report author who might have been invited to wear the 24 inch tall cap. The 443 percent would shake up deal Miss Blackburn. She also threw chalk at students when they made errors when solving on the blackboards which were on three walls of her classroom. The fourth wall looked out over asphalt to the smokestacks of the former RG Letourneau mortar factory. Getting math wrong at that outfit could indeed shake up some things.

Stephen E Arnold, September 16, 2017

Bing and Google: The News Battle

September 15, 2017

I read “Bing Battles Google News with Its Own Make-Over.” I noted the alliteration: Bing battle. I immediately thought, “Google Gropes.” Both of these companies are trying to reinvent the newspaper using zeros and ones, not dead trees. Let’s look at some of the points I highlighted:

I noted this statement everyone’s most lovable online ad vendor:

Google redesigned their desktop Google News website. Their [sic] new UI has a clean and uncluttered look.

Microsoft responded. I circled this statement:

Microsoft recently updated their Bing News experience that will help users in finding the most up to date and well-rounded information.

Note that the pivot of both sentences is a subjective assertion: “Clean and uncluttered” for the GOOG, and “most up to date and well rounded.”

Some facts would be useful. I am not sure what “clean” or “uncluttered” means. My recollection is that Einstein’s desk like most “dead tree” newspapers are organized in an eclectic manner. Facts supporting these assertions might be difficult to conjure.

The “most up to date” statement should be easy to back up. What’s the latency of the system? The superlative “most” means that Bing is the top dog in news. Hmmm. I don’t buy this.

My point is that the write up provides a useful idea: Neither Bing nor Google has figured out how to present “news” to each system’s online users. The implicit idea is that “dead tree” methods are of little use. Inspiration comes from each system’s response to what the other system does.

Cold War methods applied to online “news”? That’s what the write signals me.

Let’s step back.

Online users have different reasons for wanting news. Some folks chase sports, which as I recall was the most read section of the “dead tree” newspaper company at which I once worked. Other people have quite different reasons for scanning the news; for example, there are some who read the obituaries, others seek cartoons, and others want the latest on the real housewives.

Bing and Google have to figure out how to meet these diverse needs because the “dead tree” crowd has fallen in the forest.

The write up tells me one thing: Neither Google nor Microsoft has any idea about reinventing what “dead tree” newspapers used to do.

Now what? Shape the news to fit what each company’s filters “decide” is “real news”?

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2017

Microsoft and Open Source Software: Cost Cutting Tactic or a RedHat Type Play

September 1, 2017

Short honk: We were delighted to read “Windows 10: New Feature Sees Microsoft Blur the Line between Windows and Linux.” The write up explains that Windows allows a person to move outputs to a Linux distribution.

Few have covered Microsoft’s dalliance with Solr and the increased interest in using open source software to reduce development costs at Microsoft.

I suppose that’s understandable. The new president is not giving talks about following in the footsteps of IBM which has based dear old Watson on Lucene, home brew code, and technology from acquisitions.

Open source is an easy way to reduce development costs, keep pace with the innovations from the “community,” and free up time for marketing and sales.

Microsoft is becoming a close cousin to IBM, complete with major league strike outs like the Windows phone adventure.

A more significant misperception appears in the write up. I noted this passage:

The Free Software Foundation Europe, has previously said Microsoft’s gradual acceptance of Linux is a compliment, and a net gain for the Free Software movement.

Microsoft’s enthusiasm for some open source technology may be a precursor of Microsoft’s getting in the open source software business, emulating or duplicating the business models of RedHat and Elastic (the Elasticsearch folks).

Worth watching.

Stephen E Arnold, September 1, 2017

Time to Ditch PowerPoint?

August 23, 2017

For decades, Microsoft PowerPoint has been used for making presentations. That is all set to change as a recent study indicates that PowerPoint presentations are ineffective.

According to an article published by Quartz and titled The Scientific Reason No One Wants to See Your PowerPoint Presentation, the publisher says:

Because the human brain process information both visually (using shapes and colors) and spatially (using location and distance, the researchers said, ZUI helps audiences by locating the information in a place, allowing them to mentally retrieve it later.

The problem with the study is that it appears to be too promotional. For instance, the article says tools like Prezi are better for making presentations because it offers a lot of animated options. Why not then use Gifographics or stock videos then?

The effectiveness of a presentation mostly depends on the person presenting it. Many speakers completely do away with any type of tools so that their audience can concentrate on what the speaker says. Moreover, the presentation can be made effective if the slides are designed professionally. Don’t be surprised if, in the near future, all presentations are made using VR headsets for that truly immersive experience.

Vishal Ingole, August 23, 2017

AI Will Be Your New Best Friend

August 15, 2017

Technology is an important component of functioning in developed countries.  Despite large segments of the people adopting technology, there is still a huge gap with certain demographic groups based on socioeconomic and age factors.  Senior citizens cannot wrap their head around new technology, while other people cannot afford to buy expensive computers and mobile devices.  Other people are just fearful of what technology can do.  The Verge article, “Google Wants To Make Sure AI Advances Don’t Leave Anyone Behind” explains Google’s endeavors to reach all types of people despite their hesitancies.

Google launched the AI initiative PAIR (People and AI Research) that will study and redesign ways people from all levels of society interact with artificial intelligence.

It’s a broad remit, and an ambitious one. Google says PAIR will look at a number of different issues affecting everyone in the AI supply chain — from the researchers who code algorithms, to the professionals like doctors and farmers who are (or soon will be) using specialized AI tools. The tech giant says it wants to make AI user-friendly, and that means not only making the technology easy to understand (getting AI to explain itself is a known and challenging problem) but also ensuring that it treats its users equally.

One problem with AI is the type of data it is fed.  There is a reason Microsoft’s chatbot modeled after a teenage girl became a cursing racist and anti-Semitic chatbot after one day: users fed it data of this nature.  Google’s PAIR wants to fight prejudice data by using Facets Dive and Facets Overview-two new open-source tools that will allow programmers to see faults in their data.  Facets Dive is being used for facial recognition software and it is sorting testers by country origin and comparing errors with successful identification.

Artificial intelligence is not intentionally biased, human data makes it so.  Do not forget, people, that humans build machines and they reflect their creators.

Whitney Grace, August 15, 2017

Google and Microsoft AI Missteps

August 14, 2017

I read an interesting article called “Former Microsoft Exec Reveals Why Amazon’s Alexa Voice Assistant Beat Cortana.” The passage I noted as thought provoking was this one:

Qi Lu, formerly a Microsoft wizard and now a guru at Baidu allegedly said in this passage from the Verge’s article:

Lu believes Microsoft and Google “made the same mistake” of focusing on the phone and PC for voice assistants, instead of a dedicated device. “The phone, in my view, is going to be, for the foreseeable future, a finger-first, mobile-first device,” explains Lu. “You need an AI-first device to solidify an emerging base of ecosystems.”

Apparently Lu repeated what I think is a key point:

“The phone, in my view, is going to be, for the foreseeable future, a finger-first, mobile-first device,” explains Lu. “You need an AI-first device to solidify an emerging base of ecosystems.”

Several questions occurred to me:

  1. Do Google and Microsoft share a similar context for evaluating high value technologies? Perhaps these two companies are more alike in how they see the world than Amazon?
  2. Are Google and Microsoft reactive; that is, the companies act in a reflexive manner with regard to figuring out how to apply a magnetic technology?
  3. Is Amazon’s competitive advantage an ability to think about an interesting technology in terms of the technology’s ability to augment an existing revenue stream and open new revenue streams?

I don’t have the answer to these questions. If Lu is correct, Amazon has done an end run around Google and Microsoft in terms of talking to gizmos. Can Amazon sustain its technological momentum? With Microsoft floundering with Windows 10 and hardware reliability, it is possible that its applied research is mired in the Microsoft management morass. Google, on the other hand, has its hands full with Amazon taking more product search traffic at a time when Google has to figure out how to solve emotional, political, and ideological issues. Need I say “damore”?

Stephen E Arnold, August 14, 2017

Bing Expands Rewards Incentives to UK Users

August 2, 2017

We learn from the Verge that Microsoft is expanding its bribery, I mean, rewards program to the UK in, “Microsoft Is Now Paying People to Use Bing in the UK with its Rewards Scheme.” Referring to points a user accrues by using Bing, writer Tom Warren details:

The points can then be transferred to a number of different rewards, including Xbox digital gift cards, Groove Music passes, and Skype credit. Microsoft is also partnering with a number of UK charities so you can donate points to these organizations instead. Microsoft Rewards works almost identically in the UK as it does in the US. You’ll get 3 points per Bing search, and this is doubled (until August 15th) if you’re using Microsoft Edge. You can obtain a maximum of 30 points per day (60 points using Edge) through searches, or participate in quizzes to gain more. Microsoft also gives out 1 point for every pound spend at the UK online Microsoft Store. If you manage to hit 500 points in a month, there’s a second level with better rewards and the ability to earn a maximum of 150 points a day.

Is this program enough to pull a significant number of Google users Bing’s way? Perhaps the expansion overseas is an indication that it has been a success in the US. Either way, it is too bad Bing must stoop to buying traffic and click love.

Cynthia Murrell, August 2, 2017

Banks Learn Sentiment Analysis Equals Money

July 26, 2017

The International Business Times reported on the Unicorn conference “AI, Machine Learning and Sentiment Analysis Applied To Finance” that discussed how sentiment analysis and other data are changing the financing industry in the article: “AI And Machine Learning On Social Media Data Is Giving Hedge Funds A Competitive Edge.”  The article discusses the new approach to understanding social media and other Internet data.

The old and popular method of extracting data relies on a “bag of words” approach.  Basically, this means that an algorithm matches up a word with its intended meaning in a lexicon.  However, machine learning and artificial intelligence are adding more brains to the data extraction.  AI and machine learning algorithms are actually able to understand the context of the data.

An example of this in action could be the sentence: “IBM surpasses Microsoft”. A simple bag of words approach would give IBM and Microsoft the same sentiment score. DePalma’s news analytics engine recognises “IBM” is the subject, “Microsoft” is the object and “surpasses” as the verb and the positive/negative relationships between subject and the object, which the sentiment scores reflect: IBM positive, Microsoft, negative.

This technology is used for sentiment analytics to understand how consumers feel about brands.  In turn, that data can determine a brand’s worth and even volatility of stocks.  This translates to that sentiment analytics will shape financial leanings in the future and it is an industry to invest in

Whitney Grace, July 26, 2017

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