Will Mobile Be Microsoft Downfall in AI Field?

January 12, 2018

We are startled to see Computerworld levy such a blow to Microsoft, but here we go— see their article, “The Missing Link in Microsoft’s AI Strategy.” Writer Preston Gralla insists that the company’s weakness lies in mobile tech—and it could prove to be a real problem as Microsoft competes against the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon in the growing field of AI. Galla acknowledges Microsoft’s advantages here—its vast quantities of valuable data and its AI system, Cortana, already built into Windows. However, she writes:

Microsoft is missing something very big in A.I. as well: a significant mobile presence. Google and Apple, via Android and iOS, gather tremendous amounts of useful data for their A.I. work. And gathering the data is just the starting point. Hundreds of millions of people around the world use the A.I.-powered Siri, Google Assistant and Google Now on their mobile devices. So Google and Apple can continue to improve their A.I. work, based on how people use their devices. Given that the future (and to a great extent, the present) is mobile, all this means serious problems for Microsoft in A.I. A.I. is likely a big part of the reason that Microsoft kept Windows Phone on life support for so many years, spending billions of dollars while it died a slow, ugly, public death.

The article outlines a few things Microsoft has been doing to try to catch up to its rivals, like developing (little-used) versions of Cortana for iOS and Android, working with hardware makers on Cortana-powered speakers, and partnering with Amazon’s Alexa for any tasks Cortana is not quite up to (yet). Will this need to play catch-up seriously hamper Microsoft’s AI prominence? We shall see.

Cynthia Murrell, January 12, 2018

Law Enforcement Do Not Like Smartphones

December 26, 2017

Smartphones and privacy concerns are always hot topics after mass shootings and terroristic acts.  The killers and terrorists always use their smartphones to communicate with allies, buy supplies, and even publicize their actions.  Thanks to these criminals, law enforcement officials want tech companies to build backdoors into phones so they can always can the information.  The remainder of the public does not like this.  One apple spoils the entire batch.  KPTV explains why smartphones are a problem in “Why Smartphones Are Giving Police Fits.”

After the recent mass shooting in Texas, police were unable to hack into the killer’s phone because of all the privacy software in place.  Law enforcement do not like this because they are unable to retrieve data from suspects’ phones.  Software developers insist that the encryption software is necessary for digital privacy, but police do not like that.  It holds up their investigations.

…it could take specialists weeks to unlock the phone and access material that may reveal the killer’s motive and other information.

 

The FBI’s first option is likely to pressure the device-maker to help access the phone, but if that won’t work they could try breaking into it. Sometimes “brute force” attacks aimed at methodically guessing a user’s passcode can open a device, though that won’t work with all phones.

Arora said the difficulty of breaking into the phone would depend on numerous factors, including the strength of the gunman’s passcode and the make and model of the phone. Police may have more options if it’s an Android phone, since security practices can vary across different manufacturers.

The tech companies, though, are out to protect the average person, especially after the Edward Snowden incident.  The worry is that if all smartphones have a backdoor, then it will be used for more harm than good.  It establishes a dangerous precedent.

Law enforcement, however, needs to do their jobs.  This is similar to how the Internet is viewed.  It is a revolutionary tool, but a few bad apples using it for sex trafficking, selling illegal goods, and child porn ruins it for the rest of us.

Whitney Grace, December 26, 2017

Is the End of Google Web Search Coming?

December 20, 2017

I read “Google to Use Mobile Version of a Site to Determine Mobile Rankings.” The info, if on the money, makes clear that the Google cares about mobile, not desktop anchor Web search. No surprise. The article reported:

[The write up quoted a Googler as stating:] “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.” These changes probably won’t affect end users too much, but it does highlight how Google’s efforts are starting to focus more on mobile.

I think the word for this modest step is “deprecate.” Flash forward a year or so and what have we got? Less “deep” Google indexing of non mobile Web sites. Fewer PowerPoints indexed. Fewer PDFs indexed. In short, the lack of rigor in indexing the Railway Retirement Board comes to boat anchor Web sites.

Web indexing is expensive and likely to be facing “friction” from the net neutrality change. This means mobile is money for the GOOG.

Just a thought from Harrod’s Creek.

Stephen E Arnold, December 20, 2017

Compare Two Devices Within Google Search Results

December 18, 2017

Is Google chasing Consumer Reports now?  A very brief write-up at Android Police reveals, “Google Search Can Now Compare Specifications Between Devices and Highlight Differences.” Reporter Corbin Davenport writes:

Google occasionally adds new features to its web search or makes design changes, sometimes without a public announcement. Most recently, Google began rolling out a rounded interface to the mobile search. Now, the company appears to be testing a new comparison feature. For some users, searching for two devices with ‘vs’ in the middle (for example, ‘Pixel 2 vs Pixel 2 XL’) brings up a new comparison chart. A few rows are visible on the main results, and tapping the blue button expands it to show every detail. There’s even a mode to highlight differences between the two. It doesn’t seem to work with three or more devices, only two.

I cannot say whether the feature has been rolled out across the board as of this writing, but it did work on my Android phone. What else does Google have up its sleeve?

Cynthia Murrell, December 18, 2017

 

Knowledge Supposedly the Best Investment

December 13, 2017

Read, read, read, read!  You are told it is good for you, but, much like eating vegetables, no one wants to do it.  School children loath their primers, adults say they do not have the time, and senior citizens explain it puts them to sleep.  Reading, however, is the single best investment an individual can make.  This is not new, but the Observer treats reading like some epiphany in the article, “If You’re Not Spending Five Hours Per Week Learning, You’re Being Irresponsible.”

The article opens with snippets about famous smart people and how they take the time to read at least an hour a day.  The stories are followed by these wise words:

The answer is simple: Learning is the single best investment of our time that we can make. Or as Benjamin Franklin said, ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.’  This insight is fundamental to succeeding in our knowledge economy, yet few people realize it. Luckily, once you do understand the value of knowledge, it’s simple to get more of it. Just dedicate yourself to constant learning.

The standard excuse follows that in today’s modern world we are too busy making money in order to survive to learn new things, then we are slugged with the dire downer that demonetization is making previously expensive technology cheaper or even free.  Examples are provided such as video conferencing, video game consoles, cameras, encyclopedias, and anything digital.  All of these are found on a smartphone.

Technology that was once gold is now cheap, making knowledge more valuable.  Then we are told that technology will make certain jobs obsolete and the only way to survive in the future will be to gain more knowledge and apply, because this can never be taken from you. The bottom line is to read, learn, apply knowledge, and then make that a daily ritual.  The message is not anything new, but does learning via filtered and censored online search results count?

Whitney Grace, December 13, 2017

Twitter Changes API Offerings and Invites Trouble

December 8, 2017

Twitter has beefed up its API offerings to users, but it comes with an increasing price tag. While that is not a huge issue for many people, it will invite some problem if not played properly. We discovered this interesting change in a recent Venture Beat piece, “Twitter’s New Premium APIs Give Developers Access to More Tweets, Higher Rate Limits.”

According to the story:

Twitter is offering a solution for developers who are angry about limitations imposed on their apps when they use the service’s free APIs. The company has now introduced premium APIs to bridge the gap between the free service and the enterprise-level tools it provides through Gnip.

 

Developers will likely welcome this solution, though many will also say it’s long overdue. After the company’s mea culpa at its Flight conference in 2015, Twitter has made efforts to understand developers’ needs and has reallocated resources, including selling its Fabric mobile developer platform to Google.

Time will tell if this uptick in API accessibility will help Twitter financially. The company has long been seeking a financial home run since going public. While there are several ways APIs can solve outside problems and bring stability to a company, this can also fall flat on its face. Especially if developers don’t want to pay the fees or if the APIs don’t live up to the hype. Fingers crossed.

Patrick Roland, December 8, 2017

Google: Headphones and Voice Magic

November 23, 2017

I read two interesting articles. Each provides some insight into Google’s effort to put the NLP and chatbot doggies in an Alphabet corral.

The first article is “Google SLING: An Open Source Natural Language Parser.” To refresh your memory, “SLING is a combination of recurrent neural networks and frame based parsing.”

The second article is “Google Introduces Dialogflow Enterprise Edition, a Conversational Apps Building Platform.” The idea is to provide “a platform for building voice and text conversational applications.”

Both are interesting because each seems to be “free.” I won’t drag you, gentle reader, through the consequences of building a solution around a “free” Google service. One Xoogler watches me like a hawk to remind me that Google doesn’t treat people in a will of the wisp way. Okay. Let’s move on, shall we?

Both of these systems advance Google’s quest to become the Big Dog of where the world is heading for computer interaction. Both are germane to the wireless headphones Google introduced. These headphones, unlike other wireless alternatives, can translate. Hence, the largesse for free NLP and voice freebies.

I read “Trying Out Google’s Translating Headphones” informed me that:

The most important thing you should know about Pixel Buds is that their full features only work with Google’s newest smartphone, the Pixel 2.

Is this vendor lock in?

I learned from the write up:

To be honest, it’s not exactly real-time. You call up the feature by tapping on your right earbud and asking Google Assistant to “help me speak” one of 40 languages. The phone will then open the Google Translate app. From there, the phone will translate what it hears into the language of your choice, and you’ll hear it in your ear.

Not quite like Star Trek’s universal translator, suggests the article. I noted this statement:

it’s worth realizing that the Pixel Buds are more than just a pair of headphones. They’re an early illustration of what we can expect from Google, which will try to make products that stand out from the pack with unusual artificial intelligence services such as translation.

A demo. I suppose doing the lock in tactic with a demo is better than basing lock in on vaporware.

Then there are the free APIs. These, of course, will never go away or cost too much money. The headphones are $159. The phone adds another $649.

Almost free.

Stephen E Arnold, November 23, 2017

Mobile Technology Dad Still Waiting for Dream to Become Reality

November 2, 2017

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the poster children for modern technology, but more people helped bring about the revolution.  One such person is Alan Kay, often referred to as the father of mobile computing.  He directed a research team at Xerox PARC, developed the SmallTalk programming language, and also worked the Xerox Alto personal computer.  He also advocated that computers could be used as tools for creativity and learning.  Kay sat down for an interview with Fast Company, printed in the article, “The Father Of Mobile Computing Is Not Impressed.”

Kay began the interview that Jobs was not the kind of person to befriend and animation studio Pixar was the most honest money Jobs made.  He mentioned that Jobs was also trying to talk the government into giving tax breaks for companies that put computers in schools.  Back in the twentieth century, Kay designed a mobile device that was the predecessor to a tablet.  Called the Dynabook, it had physical buttons implanted in it and was never released for the consumer market.  However, the Dynabook exists in some form today as the iPad.  Kay complained that there is not a place to put a pen on the iPad, however.

After a brief explanation about human society and the desire to learn, he begins to talk about his idea of mobile computing.  One of the things he liked about the earliest Mac computers was that they allowed people to undo their learning and explore how to use a computer, but the iPhone is stupid:

So, this is like less than what people got with Mac in 1984. Mac had a really good undo. It allowed you to explore things. Mac had multitasking. The iPhone is basically giving one little keyhole and if you do something wrong, you actually go back out and start the app over again.

 

Think about this. How stupid is this? It’s about as stupid as you can get. But how successful is the iPhone? It’s about as successful as you can get, so that matches you up with something that is the logical equivalent of television in our time.

Kay spends most of the interview speaking about how people learn, how education has changed, and some philosophical stuff.  It is more about how to improve ourselves than an interview about mobile computing.

Whitney Grace, November 2, 2017

Google Now Searches the Digital Shelves of a Library

October 27, 2017

Google can search the Internet in mere seconds and locate nearly every single bit of information on the planet.  Except for ebooks you can rent for free from your local library…oh wait!  According to the Digital Reader, that is now possible-read the news in the article, “Google Added Local Library eBook Listings To Search Results.”

Google has undertaken the challenge to add library catalogs to its search results, at least the digital collection holdings.  Can you imagine visiting Google to search your library’s catalog?  It will now be a thing, so go ahead and search your local library holdings through Google.

Google, however, cannot access all of a public library’s holdings, the physical items are left out.  There are also some bugs in the new feature, such as an item’s availability status:

I did run into some inconsistency with this new feature. While some books would bring up the Borrow ebook card without any problem, other titles just wouldn’t trigger it. While Cixin Liu’s “Three-Body Problem” had the extra field in results, searches for N. K. Jemisin’s recent Hugo Award winner “The Obelisk Gate” didn’t trigger the same behavior.

I first thought it might have to do with availability, but the card appeared for titles with universally long waiting lists, too. Behavior was the same for search on both desktop and mobile, and I’m at a loss to explain why.

It is not perfect, but this is an excellent way for Google to connect people not only with a library’s digital collection but the physical collection as well.  Searching a library’s catalog on their website, however, still remains the best way to locate the material.

Whitney Grace, October 27, 2017

Google and Android Are Fragmented

October 25, 2017

Google and Android are usually linked in arm and arm proving that the latter is the superior phone.  There might be problems, however, with Google’s newest augmented reality program ARCore.  The news comes from Venture Beat’s story, “Android’s Fragmentation Will Give Google’s ARCore Problems.”  Google released the ARCore to compete with Apple’s ARKit, but problems occur with fragmentation.

One of the reasons is that there are 24,000 smartphones that use the Android OS.  This would not be an issue, except all of these devices use one of seven different versions of the Android software.  It is difficult, nay, impossible for all of the smartphone developers to agree on a set of standards.  Apple has the benefit of being a singular company without that issue.

The ARCore will only run on high end smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Pixel, that do not have the fragmentation problem.  Google also does not have a happy developer community, because they are forced to make multiple copies of the same app for the different Android versions.

Ultimately, if you don’t have happy developers, you won’t have great content, which means you won’t have users. Just look at Microsoft’s Windows Smartphone: it failed to attract developers to build its mobile ecosystem, which former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer blamed for the demise of the company’s smartphone unit.

Android has fragmentation issues with the ARCore as well as a fragmented developer community.  Things could and probably will change in who dominates the phone market, but for now, Apple remains on top.

Whitney Grace, October 25, 2017

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