AI

Google Has Made It Simple For Anyone To Tap Into Its Image Recognition AI (gizmodo.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Google released a new AI tool on Wednesday designed to let anyone train its machine learning systems on a photo dataset of their choosing. The software is called Cloud AutoML Vision. In an accompanying blog post, the chief scientist of Google's Cloud AI division explains how the software can help users without machine learning backgrounds harness artificial intelligence. All hype aside, training the AI does appear to be surprisingly simple. First, you'll need a ton of tagged images. The minimum is 20, but the software supports up to 10,000. Using a meteorologist as an example for their promotional video was an apt choice by Google -- not many people have thousands of tagged HD images bundled together and ready to upload. A lot of image recognition is about identifying patterns. Once Google's AI thinks it has a good understanding of what links together the images you've uploaded, it can be used to look for that pattern in new uploads, spitting out a number for how well it thinks the new images match it. So our meteorologist would eventually be able to upload images as the weather changes, identifying clouds while continuing to train and improve the software.
Crime

Facebook Is a 'Living, Breathing Crime Scene,' Says Former Tech Insider (nbcnews.com) 124

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: With more than 2 billion users, Facebook's reach now rivals that of Christianity and exceeds that of Islam. However, the network's laser focus on profits and user growth has come at the expense of its users, according to one former Facebook manager who is now speaking out against the social platform. "One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," the ex-manager, Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months, starting in 2011, told NBC News. During his tenure at Facebook, Parakilas led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance on Facebook's app platform. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election -- and only they have full access to what happened," said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. His work centers on how technology can ethically steer the thoughts and actions of the masses on social media and he's been called "the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience" by The Atlantic magazine.

In response to the comments, Facebook issued a statement saying it is a "vastly different company" from when it was founded. "We are taking many steps to protect and improve people's experience on the platform," the statement said. "In the past year, we've worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we're heads down on getting it done."

Google

Project Fi Creates Its Own Version of An Unlimited Plan (theverge.com) 55

Google's Project Fi mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) has launched a new feature called Bill Protection that will cap your $10 per GB data bill at $60 a month, while still allowing you to use as much data as you want, essentially creating its own version of an unlimited data plan. The Verge reports: Prior to today, Project Fi users were charged $10 per GB no matter how much data they used, which could become quite costly for heavy users. Bill Protection should help alleviate those worries for most users. Google says those who use up to 15GB of data in a month won't experience any throttling, but if they cross that threshold -- Google says less than 1 percent of its users pass that mark -- they will "experience slower data" with speeds going down to 256kbps. If you don't want to be throttled when you pass 15GB in a month, Google says you can pay the usual $10 per GB to opt out of the slower speeds. It also noted that Bill Protection for Project Fi users on group plans will kick in at different usage levels, depending on the size of your group.
Google

Google Search Will Start Ranking Faster Mobile Pages Higher In July (venturebeat.com) 71

An anonymous reader writes: Google today announced a new project to improve its mobile search results: Factoring page speed into its search ranking. As the company notes, page speed "has been used in ranking for some time" but that was largely for desktop searches. Starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches on Google as well. In November 2014, Google started labeling sites as "mobile-friendly" to denote pages optimized for phones. The company then spend the next few years experimenting with using the label as a ranking factor, ultimately pushing those changes in April 2015 and increasing the effect in May 2016. The label was removed in August 2016 as the company noted that most pages had become "mobile-friendly." Google now plans to wield that power again to make mobile pages load faster.
Youtube

YouTube Toughens Advert Payment Rules (bbc.com) 129

YouTube is introducing tougher requirements for video publishers who want to make money from its platform. From a report: In addition, it has said staff will manually review all clips before they are added to a premium service that pairs big brand advertisers with popular content. The moves follow a series of advertiser boycotts and a controversial vlog that featured an apparent suicide victim. One expert said that the Google-owned service had been slow to react. "Google presents the impression of acting reactively rather than proactively," said Mark Mulligan, from the consultancy Midia Research.

[...] The first part of the new strategy involves a stricter requirement that publishers must fulfil before they can make money from their uploads. Clips will no longer have adverts attached unless the publisher meets two criteria -- that they have: at least 1,000 subscribers; and more than 4,000 hours of their content viewed by others within the past 12 months.

Businesses

Within Next Five Years Your Pizzas Will Probably Be Delivered by Autonomous Cars, Domino's Pizza CEO Says (thestreet.com) 204

In an interview with The Street, Domino's Pizza outgoing CEO Patrick Doyle said in three to five years at the earliest he expects driverless cars and voice orders to shift the way the world orders pizza. From the report: "We have been investing in natural voice for ordering for a few years. We rolled that out in our own apps before Amazon launched Alexa and Alphabet launched Google Home...[and] we are making investments...to understand how consumers will want to interact with autonomous vehicles and pizza delivery," Doyle said.
Wireless Networking

Google Home and Chromecast Could Be Overloading Your Home Wi-Fi (theverge.com) 126

Google Cast products could be to blame for your wonky internet connection. According to TP-Link, "The Cast feature normally sends packets of information at regular intervals to keep a live connection with products like Google Home," reports The Verge. "However, if the device is awakened from a 'sleep' mode, it will sometimes send a burst of information at once, which can overwhelm a router. The longer a Cast device has been in 'sleep' mode, the more information it might send at once." The engineer says that could exceed over 100,000 packets, an amount that "may eventually cause some of [the] router's primary features to shut down -- including wireless connectivity."

TP-Link has reportedly fixed the issue in its C1200 router, but a broader fix from Google's end has not been found.
Google

Google Starts Certificate Program To Fill Empty IT Jobs (axios.com) 215

An anonymous reader shares a report: There are 150,000 open IT jobs in the U.S., and Google wants to make it easier to fill them. Today the company is announcing a certificate program on the Coursera platform to help give people with no prior IT experience the basic skills they need to get an entry-level IT support job in 8 to 12 months. Why it matters: Entry-level IT jobs are are typically higher-paying than similar roles in other fields. But they're harder to fill because, while IT support roles don't require a college degree, they do require prior experience. The median annual wage for a computer network support specialist was $62,670 in May 2016 The median annual wage for a computer user support specialist was $52,160 in May 2016. The impetus: Natalie Van Kleef Conley, head recruiter of Google's tech support program, was having trouble finding IT support specialists so she helped spearhead the certificate program. It's also part of Google's initiative to help Americans get skills needed to get a new job in a changing economy, the company told us.
Google

Google's Museum App Finds Your Fine Art Doppelganger (engadget.com) 66

The latest update to the Google Arts & Culture app now lets you take a selfie, and using image recognition, finds someone in its vast art collection that most resembles you. It will then present you and your fine art twin side-by-side, along with a percentage match, and let you share the results on social media. Engadget reports: The app, which appears to be unfortunately geo-restricted to the United States, is like an automated version of an article that circulated recently showing folks standing in front of portraits at museums. In many cases, the old-timey people in the paintings resemble them uncannily, but, other than in rare cases, that's not the case at all with Google's app. Google matched me with someone who doesn't look like me in the slightest, a certain Sir Peter Francois Bourgeois, based on a painting hanging in Dulwich Picture Gallery. Taking a buzz around the internet, other folks were satisfied with their matches, some took them as a personal insult, and many were just plain baffled, in that order.
Google

Google Brings Map Service Back To China (nikkei.com) 19

Google has relaunched its map service in China after an eight-year absence, signaling a new era of cooperation between the American internet giant and local partners in fields such as artificial intelligence, reports Nikkei. From the report: Chinese netizens hailed the revival of Google Maps on Monday as the American company's great return to China, where its trademark search and other services have been unavailable since 2010. While Google began offering a translation app for Chinese smartphones in March 2017, the map service reaches far more users as one of Google's best-known offerings. The company has set up a China-specific version of the Google Maps website and introduced a map app for Chinese iPhones. But when users of the app attempt to use its navigation features, they are automatically transferred to an app from AutoNavi, a mapping company owned by Chinese internet leader Alibaba Group Holding.
Google

Why Uber Can Find You but 911 Can't (wsj.com) 199

Accurate location data is on smartphones, so why don't more wireless carriers use it to locate emergency callers? From a report, shared by a reader: Software on Apple's iPhones and Google's Android smartphones help mobile apps like Uber and Facebook to pinpoint a user's location, making it possible to order a car, check in at a local restaurant or receive targeted advertising. But 911, with a far more pressing purpose, is stuck in the past. U.S. regulators estimate as many as 10,000 lives could be saved each year if the 911 emergency dispatching system were able to get to callers one minute faster. Better technology would be especially helpful, regulators say, when a caller can't speak or identify his or her location. After years of pressure, wireless carriers and Silicon Valley companies are finally starting to work together to solve the problem. But progress has been slow. Roughly 80% of the 240 million calls to 911 each year are made using cellphones, according to a trade group that represents first responders. For landlines, the system shows a telephone's exact address. But it can register only an estimated location, sometimes hundreds of yards wide, from a cellphone call. That frustration is now a frequent source of tension during 911 calls, said Colleen Eyman, who oversees 911 services in Arvada, Colo., just outside Denver.
Programming

Which JavaScript Framework is the Most Popular? (infoworld.com) 157

An anonymous reader quotes InfoWorld's report on which JavaScript frameworks are the most widely-used: In a study of 28-day download cycles for front-end JavaScript frameworks, NPM, which oversees the popular JavaScript package registry, found that React has been on a steady upward trajectory; it now accounts for about 0.05 percent of the registry's 13 billion downloads per month as of the fourth quarter of 2017. Web developers as well as desktop and mobile developers are adopting the library and it has spawned an ecosystem of related packages. Preact, a lightweight alternative to React, also has seen growth and could become a force in the future.

On the down side, Backbone, which accounted for almost 0.1 percent of all downloads in 2013, now comprises only about 0.005 percent of downloads (about 750,000 per month). Backbone has declined steeply but is kept afloat by the long shelf life of projects using it, NPM reasoned. The jQuery JavaScript library also remains popular but has experienced decreasing interest. Angular, the Google-developed JavaScript framework, was the second-most-popular framework behind React, when combining the original Angular 1.x with the rewritten Angular 2.x. Version 1.x was at about 0.0125 percent of downloads last month while version 2.x was at about 0.02 percent. Still, Angular as a whole is showing just modest growth.

They also report that the four JavaScript frameworks with the fastest growth rates for 2017 were Preact, Vue, React, and Ember.

But for back end services written in JavaScript, npm reports that Express "is the overwhelmingly dominant solution... The next four biggest frameworks are so small relative to Express that it's hard to even see them."
Open Source

20 Years Later, Has Open Source Changed the World? (infoworld.com) 214

"Most code remains closed and proprietary, even though open source now dominates enterprise platforms," notes Matt Asay, former COO at Canonical (and an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative). "How can that be?" he asks, in an essay noting it's been almost 20 years since the launch of the Open Source Initiative, arguing that so far open source "hasn't changed the world as promised." [T]he reason most software remains locked up within the four walls of enterprise firewalls is that it's too costly with too small of an ROI to justify open-sourcing it. At least, that's the perception. Such a perception is impossible to break without walking the open source path, which companies are unwilling to walk without upfront proof. See the problem? This chicken-and-egg conundrum is starting to resolve itself, thanks to the forward-looking efforts of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other web giants that are demonstrating the value of open-sourcing code.

Although it's unlikely that a State Farm or Chevron will ever participate in the same way as a Microsoft, we are starting to see companies like Bloomberg and Capital One get involved in open source in ways they never would have considered back when the term "open source" was coined in 1997, much less in 2007. It's a start. Let's also not forget that although we have seen companies use more open source code over the past 20 years, the biggest win for open source since its inception is how it has changed the narrative of how innovation happens in software. We're starting to believe, and for good reason, that the best, most innovative software is open source.

The article strikes a hopeful note. "We're now comfortable with the idea that software can, and maybe should, be open source without the world ending. The actual opening of that source, however, is something to tackle in the next 20 years.
Books

'Science Fiction Writers of America' Accuse Internet Archive of Piracy (sfwa.org) 116

An anonymous reader writes: The "Open Library" project of the nonprofit Internet Archive has been scanning books and offering "loans" of DRM-protected versions for e-readers (which expire after the loan period expires). This week the Legal Affairs Committe of the Science Fiction Writers of America issued a new "Infringement Alert" on the practice, complaining that "an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users' devices...and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection."

The objection, argues SFWA President Cat Rambo, is that "writers' work is being scanned in and put up for access without notifying them... it is up to the individual writer whether or not their work should be made available in this way." But the infringement alert takes the criticism even further. "We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books."

The Digital Reader blog points out one great irony. "The program initially launched in 2007. It has been running for ten years, and the SFWA only just now noticed." They add that SFWA's tardiness "leaves critical legal issues unresolved."

"Remember, Google won the Google Books case, and had its scanning activities legalized as fair use ex post facto... [I]n fact the Internet Archive has a stronger case than Google did; the latter had a commercial interest in its scans, while the Internet Archive is a non-profit out to serve the public good."
Intel

Researcher Finds Another Security Flaw In Intel Management Firmware (arstechnica.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Meltdown and Spectre are not the only security problems Intel is facing these days. Today, researchers at F-Secure have revealed another weakness in Intel's management firmware that could allow an attacker with brief physical access to PCs to gain persistent remote access to the system, thanks to weak security in Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT) firmware -- remote "out of band" device management technology installed on 100 million systems over the last decade, according to Intel. [T]he latest vulnerability -- discovered in July of 2017 by F-Secure security consultant Harry Sintonen and revealed by the company today in a blog post -- is more of a feature than a bug. Notebook and desktop PCs with Intel AMT can be compromised in moments by someone with physical access to the computer -- even bypassing BIOS passwords, Trusted Platform Module personal identification numbers, and Bitlocker disk encryption passwords -- by rebooting the computer, entering its BIOS boot menu, and selecting configuration for Intel's Management Engine BIOS Extension (MEBx).

If MEBx hasn't been configured by the user or by their organization's IT department, the attacker can log into the configuration settings using Intel's default password of "admin." The attacker can then change the password, enable remote access, and set the firmware to not give the computer's user an "opt-in" message at boot time. "Now the attacker can gain access to the system remotely," F-Secure's release noted, "as long as they're able to insert themselves onto the same network segment with the victim (enabling wireless access requires a few extra steps)."

Android

Google Pulls 60 Apps From Play Store After Malware Exposes Kids To Porn (gizmodo.com) 49

Cyberthreat intelligence firm Check Point on Friday disclosed the existence of malicious code buried inside dozens of apps that displays pornographic images to users. Many of the apps are games reportedly geared toward young children. As a result, Google quickly removed the roughly 60 apps said to be affected from its Play Store. Gizmodo reports: While they appeared as such, the pornographic images displayed were not actually Google ads. Google supposedly maintains tight controls on all ads that appear in what it calls "Designed for Family" apps. The company also maintains a white-list of advertisers deemed safe for children under the ages of 13. None of the affected apps were part of Google's "Family Link" program, which is the category of recognized kid-friendly apps available across Google's platforms. The malware, dubbed AdultSwine, is said to have displayed the highly inappropriate images while also attempting to trick users into installing a fake-security app, or "scareware." After the fake "ads" were delivered, users would've received a "Remove Virus Now" notification, or something similar, designed to provoke users into downloading the scareware. The affected gaming apps included at least one which may have had up to 5,000,000 downloads -- Five Nights Survival Craft -- as well as many others which had between 50,000 and 500,000 downloads.
Businesses

Apple's Indirect Presence Fades from CES (techpinions.com) 119

Analyst Ben Bajarin writes: We would go to CES and remark at how Apple's dominance loomed over the show. Vendors of all shapes and sizes were rushing to be a part of the Apple ecosystem. Apple's ecosystem was front and center with everything from iOS apps, to accessories galore for iPhone and iPad, and even companies looking to copy Apple in many ways. The last year or so, things have dramatically changed, and that change is further evident at this year's CES. Gone are the days of Apple's presence, or observably "winning" of CES, even though they are not present. It was impossible to walk the show floor and not see a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem in some way. Now it is almost impossible to walk the floor and see any products that touch the Apple ecosystem in any way except for an app on the iOS App Store. The Apple ecosystem is no longer the star of CES but instead things like Amazon's Alexa voice platform, and now Google's assistant voice platform is the clear ecosystem winners of CES.
Google

Ex-Google Employee's Memo Says Executives Shut Down Pro-Diversity Discussions (gizmodo.com) 393

An anonymous reader shares a report: A memo written by a former Google engineer claims that the company's human resources department and a senior vice president pressured him to stop discussing diversity initiatives on company forums, interactions that ultimately motivated him to leave the company. The document, which was written in 2016 and shared publicly this week, provides a striking counterpoint to allegations made by former Google employees James Damore and David Gudeman in a discrimination lawsuit filed against their former employer. Cory Altheide, the former employee who wrote the memo, began work as a security engineer at Google in 2010 and departed the company in January 2016. He recently published his account in a public Google document. Altheide posted several articles and comments to internal discussion groups that promoted diversity in the workplace and was chastised for doing so, he wrote.
Security

Hackers Could Blow Up Factories Using Smartphone Apps (technologyreview.com) 125

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Two security researchers, Alexander Bolshev of IOActive and Ivan Yushkevich of Embedi, spent last year examining 34 apps from companies including Siemens and Schneider Electric. They found a total of 147 security holes in the apps, which were chosen at random from the Google Play Store. Bolshev declined to say which companies were the worst offenders or reveal the flaws in specific apps, but he said only two of the 34 had none at all. Some of the vulnerabilities the researchers discovered would allow hackers to interfere with data flowing between an app and the machine or process it's linked to. So an engineer could be tricked into thinking that, say, a machine is running at a safe temperature when in fact it's overheating. Another flaw would let attackers insert malicious code on a mobile device so that it issues rogue commands to servers controlling many machines. It's not hard to imagine this causing mayhem on an assembly line or explosions in an oil refinery. The researchers say they haven't looked at whether any of the flaws has actually been exploited. Before publishing their findings, they contacted the companies whose apps had flaws in them. Some have already fixed the holes; many have yet to respond.
Google

When It Comes to Gorillas, Google Photos Remains Blind (wired.com) 306

Tom Simonite, writing for Wired: In 2015, a black software developer embarrassed Google by tweeting that the company's Photos service had labeled photos of him with a black friend as "gorillas." Google declared itself "appalled and genuinely sorry." An engineer who became the public face of the clean-up operation said the label gorilla would no longer be applied to groups of images, and that Google was "working on longer-term fixes." More than two years later, one of those fixes is erasing gorillas, and some other primates, from the service's lexicon. The awkward workaround illustrates the difficulties Google and other tech companies face in advancing image-recognition technology, which the companies hope to use in self-driving cars, personal assistants, and other products. WIRED tested Google Photos using a collection of 40,000 images well-stocked with animals. It performed impressively at finding many creatures, including pandas and poodles. But the service reported "no results" for the search terms "gorilla," "chimp," "chimpanzee," and "monkey."

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