Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

PTJ 182 News: Tales from the Encrypt

What’s up, WhatsApp?  As The New York Times reported last weekend, government officials are said to be privately debating about what to do in their similar ongoing squabble with WhatsApp. The program’s encryption is mucking up the Justice Department’s ability to peek at messages, even though it has a judge’s wiretap order to investigate. In a related story, The Guardian of London reports that Facebook, Google and Snapchat plan to step up their encryption to protect the data of their customers.

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Apple is due to appear in a federal court in Riverside, California, on March 22 to fight the order that started this most recent squabble over privacy vs. security. Perhaps not so incidentally, the company has confirmed its next Apple Event to Reveal New Products to be on March 21st, just as the Apple-watching blogs predicted. But as the legal battles rage, Adam Segal and Alex Grigsby of the Council on Foreign Relations have an essay in The Los Angeles Times that lays out what they call three realistic solutions to prevent further fights over encryption. Will anybody try them out?

The South By Southwest festival has been going on the past week, but some outlets like CNBC are reporting a diminished interest in the interactive side of the event, which could explain the relatively low-key media coverage. Or perhaps the media is just preoccupied with a certain 2016 Presidential election.

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In happier news, Microsoft announced this week that the Xbox One will soon support cross-network gameplay, meaning people using Xbox Live with their Xboxes or Windows 10 hardware could, in theory, be able to frag players using other hardware like the Sony PlayStation 4. Microsoft has also just updated the web version of Skype. and if you’re not paying attention, the company will update your Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computer to Windows 10.

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Adobe’s Experience Design CC is now out in preview for Mac users. The program was specifically created for user-experience designers who make mock-ups for interfaces and whatnot. The preview has that nice price of free.

Amazon has filed a patent that lets people pay by selfie. Smile for the cashier, please.

Google is inviting interested parties to hack its Chromebooks. Few have shown interest in doing so, but to sweeten the pot, they’ve upped the top reward for major bug discovery to $100,000.

Could robots replace salespeople in retail stores? Researchers as Osaka University in Japan have been studying and testing real-life jobs for robots and found that people react  well when the robots are used for things like foreign-language practice, or as retail associates because they don’t nag the human to do more — or buy more .

And finally, speaking of artificial intelligence, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo computer, which we mentioned a few weeks ago on the show, has defeated the Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol in a best-of-five series of the ancient game of Go. Artificial intelligence has already kicked human butt in chess and on Jeopardy, but how will AI do at Cards Against Humanity?

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PTJ 175 News: In the Air

Several Twitter peeps have flown the coop recently, as the company attempts  to jump-start its growth by making the service easier to use and more appealing to Everyday People. Jack Dorsey, the company chief, did a few layoffs when he took the top spot last fall, but the revolving door continues to spin into the new year. (The bird-themed microblogging service has also gotten dinged inside and out for its lack of diversity and has been trying to improve things, although it got mixed reactions for hiring a white dude as its VP of diversity and inclusion — albeit one that was a founding member of a global LGBT leadership organization.) Twitter also busted a move this week and hired former American Express exec Leslie Berland as its chief marketing officer. Old School, meet New Media.

The Re/Code site is among those reporting that Twitter seems to be trying to keep its big famous users happy by majorly reducing the amount of ads those celebrities and notable figures see in their feeds. One site that seems to be showing more ads than before is Instagram. Facebook’s photo service did announce last year on its blog that it would be stepping up the ad game, and advertising statistics show the company has boosted ad impressions quite a bit the last five months of 2015.

vrSony and Samsung are doing a little corporate remodeling of their own. Sony announced it’ll be merging the hardware and software parts PlayStation game console business into one big company called Sony Interactive Entertainment. Out at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Samsung executives said the company has plans to open a production studio here in New York to create virtual reality films. Samsung, as you know, makes the Gear VR headset for those emerging immersive experiences.

Spotify launched a video channel this week in its Android and iOS apps. The video channel features clips from the BBC, VICE news, ESPN, Comedy Central and others, if you’re tired of merely listening to Spotify.

Security blogger Brian Krebs recently explained how his PayPal account was hacked with the help of PayPal itself — and now Australian developer Eric Springer has a frighteningly similar story on the Medium and Ars Technica sites. This time, though, it’s Amazon’s customer service department inadvertently cooperating with an imposter and compromising account security.

fireAlso in Amazon Land, the übermega everything store apparently hasn’t given up on its mobile dreams, even though its own Fire Phone was a gargantuan FAIL. As a site called The Information reports, Amazon has been talking to Android handset hardware manufacturers about weaving Amazon apps and surfaces deep into the phone system. However, it may want to be careful, as Google has bounced Amazon products out of the Google Play store before when it felt Amazon was getting too pushy.

Google has had some less-than-saintly moments itself, but the company is donating millions of dollars to help refugees from the conflict-torn Middle East. Google’s philanthropic division is partnering with a non-profit group called NetHope on Project Reconnect, an initiative to provide 25,000 Chromebooks loaded with educational and language-learning software, which will then be distributed to groups working with refugees who made it to Germany.

Microsoft’s Cortana would also like to help you out, but it does involve getting into more of your data. In a blog post earlier this week, Microsoft announced that an upcoming update to Cortana will allow the virtual assistant to root around in your email to help you keep your promises. You WILL KEEP THEM, says Cortana.

Apple has some recent software updates of its own: The company’s tvOS 9.1.1 update for the fourth-generation Apple TV box adds the Podcasts app  to the home Screen. While Apple released a version of the Remote app that works with the 4th gen box last month, the upcoming 9.2 update for tvOS is expected to restore Bluetooth keyboard support to the latest model and add new features like app folders .

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Even though iPhone sales have dipped, rumors about a new model coming soon are floating in the breeze. The 9 to 5 Mac site reports that Apple is readying a model called the iPhone 5se that basically takes the old iPhone 5s form factor with the 4-inch screen and adds in the faster A9 and M9 processors. (It may possibly be revealed the week of March 14th, when several Mac blogs also seem to think an updated version of the Apple Watch may also arrive.) And beware the prank link going around that exploits a known text message bug that when opened in Apple’s Safari browser, crashes the iPhone or Mac and forces a reboot.

Periscope announced this week that it can take feeds from a GoPro Hero 4 action camera and stream it over Wi-Fi to the Periscope app on the iPhone. Get ready for some wacky ski and snowboarding live channels to hit the Web soon…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and conventions are popping up all over. In addition to the Creation company’s official and (officially massive) fan events around the country, ReedPop, the organizer behind New York Comic Con, is celebrating the show too — and right in New York City, the home of the first-ever full-on Star Trek convention back in 1972. ReedPop’s 2016 convention, called Star Trek: Mission New York, will be held September 2-4 at the Javits Center in Manhattan; more information and ticket sales dates will be announced soon. (Yes, that is Labor Day weekend and will compete with the Dragon Con science fiction and fantasy expo down in Atlanta the same weekend. Tough choices here, geeks.)

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And finally, two passings of note this week. Marvin Minsky, a founding member of the MIT Media Lab and a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, died in Boston on January 24th. And actor Abe Vigoda, whose incorrectly reported death by People magazine in 1982, actually passed away January 26th at the age of 94. Mr. Vigoda, a celebrated actor, became an Internet meme later thanks to the confusion over his status; updates to the sites abevigoda.com and isabevigodadead.com have been sadly updated.
Rest in peace, gentlemen.

PTJ 126 News: Dawn of a New Day

draftbillThe Federal Communications Commission’s new rules for Net Neutrality are scheduled for a vote on February 26th, but that has not stopped Congress from doing something in the meantime. Republican leaders put out draft legislation this week that prohibits the FCC from reclassifying broadband service as regulated public utility like radio, television and telephone, as President Obama proposed last year. The proposed bill does ban throttling or blocking, but has a “network management” loophole for the telecom companies. Several Internet activists like Free Press have already taken up the call to protest, so this issue certainly isn’t going to fade into the background anytime soon.

Remember when the United States government blamed North Korea for the massive hack on Sony Pictures last year and some security experts questioned how officials could be so sure North Korea did the deed? As reported in The New York Times, it turns out that the National Security Agency itself had totally pwned, er, infiltrated North Korea’s networks back in 2010 so they were familiar with some of that territory.

zombiesCloser to home, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a list of apps and services that do and do not protect you from Verizon Wireless’s user-tracking perma-cookie that was discovered by researchers last fall. The ProPublica site published a story last week about how the online ad company Turn was using Verizon’s tracking numbers to regenerate deleted cookies and keep tabs on the users who thought they deleted them. Once busted by ProPublica, Turn said it would suspend its use of these back-from-the-dead Zombie Cookie IDs — pending further evaluation.

Bloomberg News reports that like everybody else, Taiwanese electronics maker HTC is working on its own smartwatch, as well as a new flagship smartphone with a 20-megapixel rear camera and Dolby 5.1 audio. Both products are expected to be announced at the Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona the first week of March.

Google Glass, which made a couple year-end lists of Biggest Flops of 2014, is getting discontinued (the original version, anyway). Microsoft, however, has Project HoloLens in the works, so people who want to compute while wearing strips of see-through plastic on their faces have a fresh new option. The company’s holographic goggles will arrive around the same time as its new Windows 10 system; both got some event love this week.

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One little wearables flop isn’t slowing down Google, though. The company, which took out a lease from NASA last year for the historic Hangar One in California, is doing business with other space firms as well. The Big G (and Fidelity) are making a billion-dollar investment in SpaceX for a project that would use about 700 small satellites to provide Internet access to parts of the world that don’t have it.

We have yet another NASA mission to follow this year. This March, the space agency’s Dawn spacecraft will arrive for its assignment at Ceres, a 600-mile wide asteroid in the belt of flying space rocks between between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn, which launched in 2007, has previously orbited Vesta. The Dawn spacecraft combines state-of-the-art technologies tested by other recent space experiments with off-the-shelf components and spare parts and instrumentation left over from previous missions. The spacecraft will make a study of Ceres, which NASA considers to be a dwarf planet, and has already beamed back some images from about 238,000 miles away.

And one more NASA item of note: the agency says the Earth is due to get buzzed by an asteroid later this month.  The big rock should be visible to those in the Americas, Africa and Europe the night of January 26th  and the Virtual Telescope site also plans to track the asteroid starting at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time that day for those who pref to stargaze from inside the house.

Facebook wants to help you further cut down on the amount of floating garbage on your News Feed. In a company blog post this week, two Facebook staffers described an update to the News Feed mix that reduces the distribution of posted stories that have been reported as hoaxes or deleted by other users. (While this could help declutter News Feeds around Facebook, the tool does have the potential for abuse from organized campaigns to discredit, say, an environmental issue. Let’s hope Facebook has thought of this, too.)

Amazon announced this week that it has plans to develop its own original theatrical films that will also be available quite early on its Amazon Prime Instant Video service. This move comes a few months after Netflix announced it was producing a sequel to the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for both IMAX theaters and its own streaming customers that will premiere this August 28th.

The new movie Blackhat opened in theaters this past weekend, and although the hacking action thrilled starring Chris Hemsworth got blown away at the box office by American Sniper, it did get a little cred from the Ars Technica site for not having completely illogical, implausible and just plain stupid technology scenes. The film’s creators hired not one, but two hacking consultants. Judging by the movie’s poor reception from critics, perhaps the producers should have sprung for a script consultant or two as well.

mariogoombaAnd finally,  over at the University of Tübingen in Germany, a group of researchers in the area of cognitive modeling have developed an artificial intelligence system that allows the videogame character Mario the plumber to  experience emotions and respond to voice commands. Mario AI is also aware of his environment, makes decisions in the game on gathered data or “learning.” Yes, there’s a video demonstrating the experiment. Maybe for the next experiment, the researchers can get the Angry Birds to talk through their feelings so they’re not quite so outraged all the time.

PTJ 97: Descent Into Casual Gaming and Tips for Better Throwback Photos

El Kaiser makes a difficult confession: he’s traded in his first person shooters for crushing candy and fuming feathered friends.

Throwback Thursdays on Twitter and Facebook have people digging through their old photo albums but if your old snapshots haven’t held up too well over the years J.D. has tips for how to spruce them up.

In the news the onslaught of the Electronic Entertainment Expo gets underway in Los Angeles; Apple unveils a new headphone standard;  Sony debuts its new PlayStation TV; Amazon integrates Audible audiobook lineup into the Kindle ebook app; Google gets into the satellite game by acquiring of Skybox Imaging; Netflix and Verizon continue their corporate slapfight; and Wired magazine dredges up old Star Trek misfires.

PTJ 97 News: All Ears

If it’s June and the WWDC is over, it must be time for the Electronic Entertainment Expo! The show opened in Los Angeles earlier this week to show off this year’s offerings for the gaming crowd; sites like GameSpot and Kotaku have the latest news. Some early announcements included Sony’s new PlayStation TV, formerly the PlayStation Vita TV, a $99 set-top box for streaming PS4 games to other TV sets around the house.  Sony presented its new console game lineup for this year, as did Microsoft, which formerly put the new lower-priced Xbox One Without the Kinect Controller on sale for $399.

ligthingApple’s Worldwide Developers Conference wrapped up last week, but not before revealing a new standard that uses the company’s own Lighting connector (right) for headphones. The new Lightning module is supposed to provide more bandwidth and control for services like iTunes Radio. By drawing power from the iPhone through the Lightning port, for example, headphone accessory makers could do things like design noise-canceling headphones without the need for an external battery. No announcements have been made concerning the demise of the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack on iOS devices, but some people point out that Apple did just buy Beats Electronics, maker of headphones, so hello, new standards. Others, like the gang over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog argue strongly that Apple will keep the traditional headphone jack because of the massive mount of gear out there that uses the 3.5 mm plug.

The World Cup tournament kicks off this week, and Facebook and Twitter are jumping in with their own social-media fútbol features. Facebool will host a special Trending World Cup section on the Newsfeed page. Meanwhile, Twitter is promoting the official #WorldCup hashtag and encouraging fans to keep up with the news by following the official Twitter accounts like @FIFAWorld Cup and @ussoccer. (Perhaps in all the excitement of the looming soccerpalooza, Facebook accidentally released its new Slingshot messenger app to the public for a short time. Whoops!)

amazonAmazon announced the integration of its Audible audiobook lineup into the Kindle ebook app for Android and iOS. Book lovers can now listen to their audiobooks without having to use a separate app; that Kindle app upgrade is available now. Even if you don’t own the audio version of an ebook, Amazon is also offering “Whispersync for Voice,” for more than 45,000 of its Kindle titles so you can read and listen to a book at the same time. You can find out if one of your ebooks as a companion audio track with Amazon’s Matchmaker tool and then add in an audio-track upgrade for less than four bucks. (Amazon is also muscling in on Paypal’s territory with the launch of a new online payments system.)

Meanwhile, Google, which purchased a drone company in April, has confirmed its acquisition of Skybox Imaging for the low, low price of $500 million dollars in cash. Skybox is a company that makes small, high-resolution imaging satellites.

Netflix and Verizon have been having a corporate slapfight about poor-quality video streaming and who’s to blame for it. Each side has been bashing the other and Netflix went so far as to send messages to its subscribers sticking Verizon for the problems. Verizon fired back with a cease-and-desist letter telling Netflix to knock it off and accused the video company of pulling a PR stunt. On its monthly ISP Speed Index blog post, Netflix notes that Verizon FiOS and DSL service have actually gotten a bit slower in the first month of their very special friendship. Money can’t buy love, Netflix, but maybe you can get a better rental price.

amtComputer scientists have been arguing for the past few days whether a computer program has actually beaten the Turing Test. The Turing Test was introduced by computer pioneer and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing (left) in a 1950 academic paper called “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” The test challenges a computer’s ability to show intelligent behavior equivalent or indistinguishable from that of a human being. In the recent Turing Test 2014 competition over at the Royal Society in London, a computer program named Eugene Goostman convinced 10 out of 30 judges that it was a real live person. To pass the test, the computer must fool human judges 30 percent of the time, which led some to say the program had passed. Other said the computer flunked the test by using advantageous factors like claiming to be a teenage non-native English speaker — which could account for some odd responses to questions.

stVAnd finally, Wired points out that this week marks the 25th anniversary of what’s arguably the worst film in the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. For those who have blocked it out after years of therapy, the film was directed by Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. It featured a storyline in which Kirk and crew up against Spock’s half-brother Sybock, who jacks the Enterprise to go find God. The film currently averages a one-star rating on the Rotten Tomatoes site, but thankfully, the franchise’s shields were strong enough to deflect the damage and move on. To be fair, just about every long-term series has an enormous clunker or two back down the road, Case in point: A  certain galaxy far, far away suffered not only The Phantom Menace, but The Star Wars Holiday Special as well.

PTJ 80 News: Time Flies

As the week winds down, the State of the Union address is history and cloud service provider Akamai has popped out its latest quarterly  State of the Internet report. Once again, South Korea leads the world in average global connection speed; the United States ranks 8th. As if to rub it in, the South Korean government is dropping $1.5 billion into upgrading its mobile communications network by 2020, and says this will make it a thousand times faster than it is now. In theory, you could download an entire movie in one second on this mythical 5G network. Think of it, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in less time than it takes to sneeze and find a tissue.

But wait, this week had more reports to report. The Android operating system was tops in Europe in 2013, according to new numbers from research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. The little green robot snagged a 68.6 percent share of the European smartphone market, compared to Apple’s 18.5 percent. Windows Phone, showing some moxie, was able to claim 10.3 percent of the market. All three operating systems placed in the same order Stateside, but don’t even ask about BlackBerry (although BlackBerry OS 10 did get another update recently to make loading Android apps even easier).

Now, while Apple did set a record in the last quarter with 51 million iPhones sold, investors were hoping for 55 million iPhones out the door, so the company’s stock fell 8 percent. The tech press will now be filled with stories about how Apple needs to innovate again, although the company recently filed a patent for a solar-powered MacBook and seems to have new plans in the works for its Apple TV set-top streamer. Just last week, the tech press was filled with stories about the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer, which made its debut on January 24th, 1984, and had a very memorable Super Bowl commercial that can still be found online.

Google is still on its January shopping spree, buying up DeepMind, a privately held artificial intelligence company based in the United Kingdom. While replicants don’t seem to be in the near future, a DeepMind investor told the Re/Code website, “If anyone builds something remotely resembling artificial general intelligence, this will be the team. Think Manhattan Project for AI.”

Google Glass may be getting a little more affordable for some, particularly those with optical health insurance. The provider VSP has made a deal with Google to subsidize prescription lenses and frames for the Internet-connected spendy spectacles. However, Google Glass may not be the only wearable face computers strutting around town. The Korea Times is reporting that Samsung and Sony may be getting into the game. Samsung is rumored to be showing off its version this September at the annual IFA trade show in Berlin.

Shifting gears to Gears of War, Microsoft has purchased the shoot ‘em up franchise from Epic Games, which means future installments will likely be Xbox-only. And in other Microsoft news, the company announced that it was renaming its cloud storage service. The formerly known Hawaii Five-0 Approved Microsoft SkyDrive will now be known as OneDrive. Microsoft was forced into the name change after losing a trademark tussle to British Sky Broadcasting.

Government security groups have allegedly been harvesting player info from mobile games. Do people at the top of the leaderboards have anything to worry about? Angry Hackers, by the way, have already smacked up the Angry Birds website.

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The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be on the lookout for mysterious charges $9.84 on their credit-card bills. Those charges, often from unfamiliar sounding websites, are part of a scam. Call your bank and request a new debit or credit card, as this one’s been compromised.

The Chrome browser for iOS just got an update from Google that brings more speed and security to the app. And speaking of apps, a couple hotels in the Starwood chain are trying out new room door locks that can be opened by a smartphone with a Bluetooth connection and an Android or iOS app. (Here’s an idea: put this system in a few Vegas hotels during the annual DEF CON gathering and see how it holds up.)

And finally, Facebook marks its 10th birthday next week. The site was founded as TheFaceBook.com back on February 4th, 2004, and was intended as a resource for Harvard students. Flash forward a decade past a big-budget origin movie, a wobbly IPO and about 1.2 billion users around the world and you have the current social network. Now, if you’ve been wondering how much of your life in the past 10 years you’ve spent on the site, the folks at Time magazine’s website have created a handy tool called “How Much Time Have You Wasted on Facebook?” If the thought of letting an app trip merrily through your Facebook history disturbs you (it’ll probably meet up for drinks with the NSA bots in there), you can probably ballpark it yourself, especially if you’re a daily user. Just calculate the average amount of time you spend per day on the site, look up the date on your Timeline when you joined Facebook to see how many days it’s been, and factor those numbers together. Remember, there are 1440 minutes in a day