Gunning for Google AI

December 19, 2018

With DeepMind teaching itself, can other vendors of smart software catch up to the online advertising giant?

Google is on top of many tech mountains, that’s for certain. However, none may be as big as its far-reaching artificial intelligence sector. That future doesn’t look as solid as it once did, thought, because of some hard charging competition, as we discovered in a recent Eyerys article, “With Google Dominating AI, Microsoft and Facebook Want to ‘Defrag Some of the Complexity.’”

According to the story:

“Microsoft is showing that it would rather help others rather than purely focusing on its own projects. There are reasons behind the partnership…. First of all, Microsoft’s AI has its own strengths. For example, it’s particularly great for building speech recognition systems. Second, Facebook’s PyTorch has gained popularity and has some interesting technical capabilities on its own.”

This is intriguing news, considering a three-horse race between these giants would likely result in some incredible advances. Beyond Search wonders if a closer relationship with Facebook will help or hurt Microsoft’s brand image and AI progress?

But, if you ask Google, you shouldn’t expect the world to change overnight. In fact, the leader in AI actually says artificial intelligence is “very stupid” compared to humans. Is this for real or a misdirection? It’s hard to say, but there’s no doubt that this rivalry is heating up, we predict AI will not be dumb for much longer.

Artificial intelligence appears to be the “go to” buzzword for 2019. Beyond Search thinks it would be helpful if Microsoft could tighten the nuts and bolts on here and now technology like Windows Updates before delivering the future with the likes of Facebook.

Patrick Roland, December 19, 2018

Microsoft Cortana and Search: About Face, Go in Circles, At Ease

December 16, 2018

Tom’s Hardware reports that Microsoft may be divorcing the odd couple, Cortana and search. “Microsoft May Split Cortana From Search in Windows 10” reports the supposed move this way:

Some Insiders testing the new build observe that Search and Cortana actions, once intertwined to enable search with voice activation, are now separated on the taskbar. This is being interpreted as a signal away from Cortana as an integral part of Windows 10.

Here in Harrod’s Creek, we type to our computers. When we ride in our mule drawn wagon to go to the big city, we don’t talk to our mobile phone. We text and scan headlines.

Is it possible that Microsoft has realized that voice as the interface of the future may be going in different directions. Can Cortana say, “Alexa, what’s Microsoft doing?”

Stephen E Arnold, December 16, 2018

Microsoft and Its Alleged Dark Patterns Aiding User Data Collection

December 15, 2018

We have a couple of Windows 10 machines. One is in the factory default mode, which means, “Take me, your lovable beast you.” The other computer is locked down reasonably well.

If you have not looked into the wild and crazy services and functions of Windows 10, you may want to read “Microsoft Accused of Collecting Data Even When You Opt Out in Windows 10.” We are not sure if the information is accurate. The source appears to be a potato, but we try to keep an open mind.

The argument is that certain privacy controls do not turn off the phone home mechanism for Timeline, for example.

We noted this statement:

On the one hand, one shouldn’t confuse incompetence with malice, and UI design has never been Microsoft’s forte. Given the fact that Windows 10’s basic control systems are still stretched between the XP-era Control Panel and the Fluent Settings panel, with some controls overlapping in both areas and some unique to one menu or the other, it’s not exactly surprising that the company would struggle to refine and centralize its UI. On the other hand, Microsoft is no stranger to the use of so-called dark patterns — patterns of behavior that mislead the user by implying that they are taking one kind of action when they actually aren’t. The wording under AH1 implies that disabling this stops such information from flowing to Microsoft. It doesn’t.

Microsoft cares about its customer experience. I am not sure I buy this particular line of fuzzy speak sophistry, but to each his or her own.

Stephen E Arnold, December 15, 2018

Microsoft and Facial Recognition: An Attempt to Parry Amazon?

December 7, 2018

Image recognition is widely used in many products, applications, and software systems. Most people don’t think too much about how a camera can read a license plate, figure out who has entered a building, or what “sign” indicates a potential problem like a gang attack.

Why would the average bear?

Microsoft is becoming more vocal about facial recognition. On the surface, the concern seems reasonable, almost a public service.

I read “Microsoft Sounds an Alarm over Facial Recognition Technology.” The write up seems okay, almost a good Samaritan effort. I noted this statement:

The AI Now researchers are particularly concerned about what’s called “affect recognition” — and attempt to identify people’s emotions, and possibly manipulate them, using machine learning.

Emotion analysis is interesting. But is the concern over facial recognition more of a business initiative, not a push to create awareness for a technology which has been around for decades. Sure facial recognition is getting better, faster, and cheaper. Like other technologies, facial recognition diffuses into other products, including those used by Ecuador, ZTE, and US analysts trying to make sense of imagery from a warzone.

Microsoft used the AI Now information to express concern for a race to the bottom. That’s interesting. A company which has facial recognition technology and a penchant for creating problems via a routine update to individual users’ computers is looking out for me. Yeah, right.

Imagine. The USSS wants to use facial recognition near the White House. Why not just hire another 200 agents to walk around or sit in surveillance suites looking for potential problems? Advanced technology is often useful to law enforcement and intelligence professionals. Expanding the use of that technology to safeguard those who work in certain US government facilities makes sense to me.

What’s really pushing Microsoft to become the champion for facial recognition controls?

In my view, Amazon is. Check out Amazon’s patents for facial recognition. These are examples of what I call “policeware” and the innovations have other applications as well. A good place to begin is with US9465994B1.

My view is that Microsoft’s concern about facial recognition has more to do with adding friction to Amazon’s progress than it does with a concern for me and my beloved Beyond Search goose here in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. For more about Amazon’s policeware technologies, navigate to and search for DarkCyber Amazon.

Stephen E Arnold, December 7, 2018

Microsoft and Credibility: Updates and Amazon

December 4, 2018

Perhaps you are like the millions of others who are unhappy with Windows and its updates lately. And if you are like many of those folks, you have recently discovered Microsoft is trying to fix its problems in a strange new way, as we discovered in a recent OnMSFT story, “Microsoft is Now Inviting Select Windows Insiders to Share Their Feedback Via Skype Interviews.”

According to the story:

“Following the botched release of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, Microsoft promised that it would pay more attention to user feedback going forward. Last month, the company added new impact and severity indicators for new Feedback Hub items, hoping to better surface critical bugs like the deleted files issue that initially shipped with the October 2018 Update.”

Their solution: listen to customers more…via Skype. Sorry, Microsoft, but that’s a case of too little too late. Perhaps, you could have avoided this catastrophe by, we don’t know, talking to users before the launch of these disastrous updates?

Plus as Amazon was rolling out enhancement after enhancement to its cloud services, Microsoft announced new icons. That’s the way to demonstrate technical excellence and strategic thinking to give Amazon pause.

Patrick Roland, December 4, 2018

Amazon Opens a New Front in the Cloud Wars

November 30, 2018

A Microsoft “expert” has explained why Azure, the Microsoft cloud service, why the Azure cloud failed Thanksgiving week. Like the explanation for the neutralizing of some customers’ Windows 10 machines, three problems arose. You can work through the explanation at this link, but you may, like me, remain skeptical about Microsoft’s ability to keep its cloud sunny. Key point: Microsoft apologizes for its mistakes. Yada yada yada.

At about the same time, Amazon announced that its cloud service uses its own custom designed Arm server processors. How will Microsoft compete with a service that is not without flaws but promises lower costs? The GeekWire write up states:

Vice president of infrastructure Peter DeSantis introduced the AWS Graviton Processor Monday night, adding a third chip option for cloud customers alongside instances that use processors from Intel and AMD. The company did not provide a lot of details about the processor itself, but DeSantis said that it was designed for scale-out workloads that benefit from a lot of servers chipping away at a problem.

From our vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, the Amazon approach seems useful for certain types of data mining and data analytics tasks. Could these be the type of tasks which are common when using systems like Palantir Gotham’s?

The key point, however, is “low cost.”

But the important strategic move is that Amazon is now in the chip business. What other hardware are the folks at the ecommerce site exploring? Amazon network hardware?

Microsoft makes fuzzy tablet-laptops, right?

Stephen E Arnold, November 30, 2018

Amazon: Making the Fuzzy Laptop Maker Look Silly

November 29, 2018

In an upcoming DarkCyber and in my new series of lectures for LE and intel professionals, I will be exploring the implications of Amazon’s public admissions that the company is the beastie in the policeware kennel. The “few words are better” Jeff Barr  has summarized some of the more public announcements in “AWS launches, Previews, and Pre-Announcements” which is a useful, if incomplete, checklist of what’s happening at the Zon. (Where is that policeware info by the way?)

But for Beyond Search and its handful of very gentle readers I want to point out that Microsoft’s furry laptop, Azure outages, and the ineptitude of updating Windows 10 looks bad.

Consider what Amazon has been doing for the past five years or so: Developing not one but two different custom chips, building a range of machine learning tools including free for now training programs, and rolling out features and function to keep the often creaky Amazon Web Services engine chugging along.

Microsoft has the furry laptop thing. Oh, I almost forgot. Microsoft brought back the Microsoft “IntelliMouse Explorer.” Plus Microsoft continues to play more nicely with Amazon Alexa as it tries to make sure it can be Number Two in the big cloud game. Google, HP, IBM, and a number of companies whose names I struggle to remember want to knock of the big dog. The breed is a Bezos I believe.

Net net: Amazon seems to be taking bits and pieces from the Google, Palantir, and IBM playbook. Chef Bezos mixes the ingredients and rolls out a mind boggling array of new stuff.

But which company looks a little behind the times? Here in Harrod’s Creek we see Microsoft and its fuzzy laptop tablet thing. By the way, how does one keep fuzzy stuff free from dirt, bacteria, and burrito juice?

Amazon probably sells some type of cleaner. Why not do a product search on Amazon. Product searches account for a hefty chuck of online search action. Perhaps there is an Amazon Basics to clean the furry gizmo? Better yet, there are ads on Amazon. Ads which once were the exclusive domain of the Google.

Google. That’s another story one can research on a furry Microsoft device using an “old is new mouse” too.

Stephen E Arnold, November 29, 2018

Dongles, Security, and Keys: A New but Familiar Tune

November 22, 2018

Part of Google’s new product lineup is the Titan Security Key, selling for only $50. The Hacker News shares more information on the Titan Security Key in the article, “Google ‘Titan Security Key’ Is Now On Sale For $50.” Google first announced the security key at the Google Cloud Next 2018 convention.

The Titan Security Key is similar to Yubico’s YubiKey. It offers hardware-based two factor authentication for online accounts with the highest level of protection from phishing. The full kit offers a USB security key, Bluetooth security key, USB-C to USB-A adapter, and USB-C to USB-A connecting cable. The Titan Security Key is based on the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance, U2F protocol and uses Google developed secure element and firmware. It adds another security level on top of passwords, an idea similar to the Tor browser. It is compliant with many popular browsers, email services, social media, and cloud services.

As more aspects of people’s lives migrate online, security is more important than ever. Tools like the Titan Security Key provide an extra level of security at a nominal price:

“According to Google, the FIDO-compatible hardware-based security keys are thought to be more safe and efficient at preventing phishing, man-in-the-middle (MITM) and other types of account-takeover attacks than other 2FA methods requiring SMS, for example. This is because even if an attacker manages to compromise your online account credentials, log into your account is impossible without the physical key. Last month, Google said it started requiring its 85,000 employees to use Titan Security Keys internally for months last year, and the company said since then none of them had fallen victim to any phishing attack.”

The Google Titan Security Key appears to be a simple and cheap way to ensure more security for individuals. One of the problems people face with online security is the lack of understanding, cost, and finding an effective product. Google appears to have created a great solution, but the one problem is that China made the Titan Security Key. China has all the schematics for the device and China is a hotbed for phishing attacks.

Microsoft, another me too outfit, has jumped on the bandwagon for dongles. Microsoft now offers native FIDO key login for Windows 10. What about losing a dongle?

Back to square one?

Whitney Grace, November 22, 2018

Microsoft: Nibbling at Crime Fighting

November 20, 2018

Every year cyber crime is one the rise and digital security experts are always trying to stay one click ahead of their assailants. Microsoft is not the world’s leading expert in cyber security, but the company is investing in it. Fortune’s article, “Microsoft Pours Millions Into Startup That Nails Cybercriminals” explains more about the investment.

Microsoft invested $6.2 million in Hyas, a startup that specializes in identifying and taking down cybercriminals. Hyas’s CEO described his company’s mission as tracking down bad actors to their exact location so law enforcement can arrest them.

“In 2014, Davis founded Hyas, his third startup, out of his basement on Vancouver Island, Canada. The firm sells subscriptions to digital forensics software—called “Comox” after a town in the company’s home region of British Columbia—that helps security analysts investigate breaches.

We noted this statement:

‘Hyas is going beyond threat detection and providing the attribution tools required to actually identify and prosecute cybercriminals,’ said Matthew Goldstein, a partner at Microsoft’s M12, in a statement. He said that Hyas’s tech ‘will help take bad actors off the Internet, and lead to an overall decrease in cybercrime globally.’”

Hyas works based on its relationships with infrastructure providers and combining the insights it receives from the infrastructure providers with malware analysis, threat intelligence, and mobile data. Davis plans to use Microsoft’s investment to increase its new products and offer Hyas services to a more diverse clientele.

Whitney Grace, November 20, 2018

Microsoft: Is the Master of Windows 10 Updates Really Beating Amazon in the Cloud?

November 7, 2018

How about that October 2018 Windows update? Does that give you confidence in Microsoft’s technical acumen? What? You are telling me that it is apples and oranges. Okay. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

After reading a former Oracle executive’s analysis of Microsoft and Amazon cloud revenue, I suppose one could make that argument. I am not sure I buy the Forbes argument in “#1 Microsoft Beats Amazon In 12-Month Cloud Revenue, $26.7 Billion To $23.4 Billion; IBM Third.” The write up makes clear that the analyst is an award winning PR type at SAP and then a “communications officer” at Oracle before finding his true calling at Evans Strategic Communications LLC.

Is Microsoft #1?

From my point of view in lovely Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, there are several items of information omitted from the Forbes’ analysis; for example:

How does Microsoft calculate its cloud revenue? Does the number include enforced cloud services?

What part of Microsoft’s cloud revenue is generated by accounting methods such as reallocating revenue and thinking really hard about attributing certain revenue to the cloud line items?

Using these accounting methods, how has Microsoft’s cloud revenue tracked over the last 12 quarters?

Analyses require more than accepting the rolled figure. But that’s in rural Kentucky, the rules may be different for PR experts in a real technology hotbed.

Now Amazon is no Mr. Clean when it comes to reporting its financial data. For years, AWS revenue was expressed as weird stuff like the number of things a complex network of computers does to complete work. Now Amazon generally reveals some numbers, and I assume these can be tweaked by figuring in some of the Amazon ecommerce magic into the cloud.

The larger question for me is:

Why is a former Oracle guy writing a pro Microsoft and pro IBM story about the cloud race among three firms?

The write up included this bit of “let’s not talk about the October update” offered up by Microsoft’s big dog:

CEO Satya Nadella offered this perspective on the centerpiece of the Microsoft cloud: “Azure is the only hyperscale cloud that extends to the edge across identity, data, application platform and security and management. We introduced 100 new Azure capabilities this quarter alone, focused on both existing workloads like security and new workloads like IoT and Edge AI.”

Yep, I believe this. Every. Word.

Perhaps nailing down the inclusions in the gross cloud revenue numbers would be a useful first step? Would it be helpful to learn why an Oracle PR pro is dissing Amazon?

The capitalist tool’s presentation of this analysis might have caused Malcolm Forbes to crash his motorcycle on the way to brunch in Manhattan on Sunday morning.

Quite an “analysis.”

Stephen E. Arnold, November  7, 2018

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