31 March, 2017

Microsoft brings Cortana to the Android lock screen

Following a series of beta trials, Microsoft officially announced this morning that it’s bringing its virtual assistant Cortana to the lock screen of Android devices. Initially, Microsoft had tested putting an overview of your day on the lock screen – offering information like the day’s weather, commute times, flight or meeting information, and more – where it could be seen at a glance.

The feature was designed to compete with Google’s own Assistant technology, which also offers similar information.

During the beta, users could head into the Cortana’s Setting menu to switch on lock screen integration. This would place a floating Cortana circle logo with “Swipe to Open” on the screen. If you swiped it, you’d be shown your personalized feed, schedule and the other information Cortana offered.

The Cortana lock screen integration was rolled out earlier this month, Microsoft confirms, but it’s now widely available. Today, you’re also able to interact with Cortana above the lock, the company says. That means you can ask questions to their virtual assistant, as you could with Siri or Google Assistant, for example, as well as perform various tasks like setting reminders.This functionality could further challenge Google on its own platform. As Google’s only entry in the PC space is Chrome OS, it may be more useful for Windows users to add Cortana to their phones, given its interoperability across desktop, laptop, and mobile – including iOS and Android, not just Windows 10.

Microsoft says it has also improved the Cortana home on Android, making the information easier to read, along with other improvements like the ability to quickly add reminders and new calendar items, plus easier access to viewing, editing and adding items to lists.
Cortana in December rolled out an updated design on iOS and Android, Microsoft reminded users in today’s announcement. This upgrade had been focused on making it easier to get things done by putting the most important tasks more towards the center of the experience. The default experience is very purple, instead of the blue-and-black of the earlier Cortana look and feel. However, Microsoft added more color options in the weeks after the upgrade, including blue, green, and black.
In addition to its U.S. and U.K. availability, Cortana for iOS and Android is also launched in Australia this week.

30 March, 2017

Elon Musk invested early in DeepMind just to keep tabs on the progress of AI

Elon Musk is a well-known harbinger of the potential for ill held by artificial intelligence. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO also helped start OpenAI, a group with a broad mandate that focuses on developing AI out (as the name implies) in the open, rather than behind closed doors as the exclusive province of high-powered governments and secretive private contractors. Musk, it turns out, was in on the AI train early with an investment in DeepMind, which was later acquired by Google.

Musk wasn’t in DeepMind for a return, as is the case with most investments; he wanted access to greater insight regarding DeepMind’s progress, and the progress of AI in general, according to a new feature in Vanity Fair. The enterprising CEO wanted to be able to see how fast AI was improving, and what he found was a rate of gains that he hadn’t expected, and that he thought most people would not possibly expect.

This was the insight that Musk needed to begin a campaign warning against the potential dangers of AI, and to develop his own efforts to responsibility develop the tech via OpenAI. It’s informed a lot of his thinking on the matter, including around his Mars plans, which, according to the Vanity Fair piece, is one reason why he thinks Mars is a worthwhile goal for human colonization: as a planet-sized doomsday bunker for what happens when AI on Earth goes rogue.

In the piece, Musk also reiterated some of his thoughts around the limitations of current human-computer interaction methods, noting that a neural lace with direct input access to the brain could speed things up. Reports indicate a company dedicated to exploring the creation of this tech for practical use are actually already underway.

Musk’s anxieties around AI are considered extreme by some of his Silicon Valley peers, but the man definitely seems to have a knack for long-term preparedness planning. Also a good lesson here: If you want to keep an eye on potential doomsday scenarios, cough up for an early-stage investment in one of the movers and shakers that could contribute to the end of days.

16 March, 2017

The Pope’s Social Media Guru Tells All

Though resistant at first, the Vatican now has a savvy social media strategy that draws inspiration from The Onion, among other sources.

Paul Tighe isn’t your typical South by Southwest speaker. He’s not a tech CEO or a famous politician–he’s a Catholic bishop. Not just any Catholic bishop. Tighe is the Adjunct Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture. In layman’s terms, this means that Bishop Tighe runs the Pope’s Twitter account, sharing the pontiff’s thoughts with 10.5 million followers around the world.

It may seem strange for a 2,000-year-old institution that prides itself on its adherence to tradition, but in 2017 it’s essential for the Pope to be active on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp. In an era of declining attendance at many churches, the Vatican can’t afford to ignore social media—it’s where the Pope’s flock meets and hangs out.

“As Church leaders, we had an older generation which saw digital and ‘real life’ as two separate worlds, and digital was for kids,” Tighe said in his onstage appearance. “But the two are existential realities which feed into each other. There’s a crossing between them and an understanding that digital forms the environment in which many people–especially the young–live.”

As a member of the Catholic Church, an institution with a deeply entrenched bureaucracy, it wasn’t easy for Tighe to navigate the world of new media for outreach, public relations, and evangelism.
At SXSW, Tighe repeatedly emphasized the experiences of his 15 nieces and nephews, and how they primarily navigate information through smartphones and tablets.
“The potential they have to express themselves is radically different, and they now get information in very different ways,” Tighe says. “Growing up in Ireland, at 9 p.m. each evening everything stopped. We watched the evening news, and that was our conversation for the following day. Things have changed.”
The bishop adds that the Church uses social media for three different tasks: Delivering Jesus’ message and the idea of God’s love online, interacting with what he calls “negative online environments” to show the Church’s perspective, and to serve their flock of billions online.
“The language of digital is conversation,” Tighe adds. “On one level, digital seemed great because we could put everything online and not rely on broadcasters. However, the only way to get traction was to engage the curious and to be willing to engage with those who are furious with us for some reason. Unless we could take them seriously, they would not take us seriously.”
In his appearance, Tighe repeatedly stressed the Vatican’s long view on technology and using new media platforms. Compared to learning new cultures and new languages to spread the Church’s messages on new continents, he says, acclimating to online media is a piece of cake.

And, essentially, a big part of the Vatican’s digital strategy is reminding its audience that they’re still here, ready to guide and serve. Michael Hertl of the Catholic TV Office Germany gave one example of an innovative social media project: Putting the Easter story on WhatsApp.
The Diocese of Essen, a small German city, worked on a project to send WhatsApp messages on a regular basis to congregants to remind them of the holiday in the weeks leading up to Easter.
“When you get a WhatsApp message that Peter just denied Jesus when you are in the grocery store, what does that do for you?,” Hertl asks. “In that moment, you are part of an experience that people have shared for centuries. You share experiences and friendship, you think about dying, and you think about community. The job of the Church is to remind people that there is more than the day-to-day.”

The Catholic Church has believers in every country in the world and a massive institutional presence to match. In digital terms, this means that while Bishop Tighe’s office manages communications for the Pope himself, there are also a wide array of official and quasi-official Catholic entities with their own digital strategies.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for instance, has its own social media guidelines. And during Pope Francis’s visit to the United States in 2015, Catholic media companies hired social media agencies to track social metrics and work on engagement strategies. And in a possible nod to the SXSW audience, Tighe said that his Vatican office used The Onion as one of its design inspirations for merging text articles and video on a single website.

But in the end, to the Vatican, the communication methods that matter are decidedly more simple.
“In the Vatican, our biggest communications moment is delivered by smoke,” Tighe notes. “We have 5,000 media companies from around the world coming to watch our chimney, and that’s magic.”

15 March, 2017

Intel's $15 billion purchase of Mobileye shakes up driverless car sector

If some of you saw the movie Logan and remember the scene when horse van veers down a highway and horses going Helter skelter on the road and just getting past a mercilessly speeding truck. Well the Truck was not merciless. It was just driverless and was maybe not able to sense the horses on the road. Mobileye helps in just that. It's advanced sensors help detect obstacles on the road and this is an important acquisition for Intel in its journey to make driverless cars. Let's pray for a safe driverless world as the next decade unfolds.
Intel buying mobileye for $15 billion in biggest israeli hi-tech deal ever

Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich said the acquisition, which unites Intel's processors with Mobileye's computer vision, was akin to merging the "eyes of the autonomous car with the intelligent brain that actually drives the car."
Mobileye accounts for 70 percent of the global market for driver-assistance and anti-collision systems. It employs 660 people and had adjusted net income of $173.3 million last year.

Last October, Qualcomm announced a $47 billion deal to acquire the Netherlands' NXP, the largest automotive chip supplier, putting pressure on other chipmakers seeking to make inroads into the market for autonomous driving components, including Intel, Mobileye and rival NVIDIA.
The Qualcomm-NXP deal, which will create the industry's largest portfolio of sensors, networking and other elements vital to autonomous driving, is expected to close later in 2017, subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals.

09 March, 2017

Google confirms its acquisition of data science community Kaggle

Google today said it is acquiring Kaggle, an online service that hosts data science and machine learning competitions, confirming what sources told us when we reported the acquisition yesterday.
The company made the announcement at its Google Cloud Next conference this morning in San Francisco, while not disclosing the terms of the acquisition. But it’s not all that surprising that Google would want to snap it up. With hundreds of thousands of data scientists on the platform, it would give Google the immediate ability to broaden its reach within the AI community. As it increasingly goes head-to-head with Amazon on the cloud computing front, it’s going to need as much of an edge as it can get.

This, too, will help Google get its brand more entrenched within the data science community — though it’s already a staple thanks to its projects like TensorFlow. Google is facing increasing competition as the AI space breaks into verticals, like autonomous driving and deep learning, opening up holes that smaller and larger companies can exploit. That could theoretically remove Google from the conversation as the company with the best AI operations, which is known for watershed AI moments like beating the Goworld champion.
Buying Kaggle, and its mindshare within the community, will also probably help with recruiting. Google needs to ensure it keeps snapping up the best talent that specializes in deep learning, competing with other companies like Pinterest (which focuses on visual search). Even if this isn’t a more specialized tech acquisition, it means that Google is broadening its focus to explore more perpendicular approaches to ensure its dominance in AI.

IBM built an atomic hard drive

While the rush to keep pace with Moore's Law is getting rather "chaotic", researchers at IBM announced on Wednesday that they have drastically reduced the space required to store a bit of information down to that of a single atom.
This tiny advancement in storage technology, is a big deal. Given that modern hard drives need about 100,000 atoms to store a single bit, this development could shrink the size of future storage mediums by an order of magnitude. IBM figures that it can store the entire iTunes catalog (all 35 million tracks) onto a disk the size of a credit card by using this technique.
The system uses atoms of holmium seated atop a magnesium oxide surface, which keeps the atom's magnetic poles stable -- even in the presence of other magnets. The orientation of these poles determines whether the atom constitutes a 1 or a 0. To write to this storage system, a microscopic needle induces a current to flip the atom's orientation. Reading the information, conversely, is simply a matter of measuring the magnetic current passing through each atom, which varies depending on which pole is facing up.

But don't expect this technology to show up in the next iPhone, mind you. It currently requires a liquid nitrogen-cooled tunnelling electron microscope operating in a vacuum to work. The study was published today in the journal Nature and do check out the Video


Is there a benefit for Media Brands by Investing in Snapchat?

NBC Universal invested $500 million in Snap Inc. during its IPO last week. The move not only highlights the media company’s plans to attract a younger audience, but signals a shift to digital content consumption on social platforms.

Over the past year, NBC has teamed up with Snap frequently. From featuring Rio Olympics content to creating versions of some of its most popular franchises—including “Saturday Night Live” and “The Voice”—NBC has consistently turned to Snapchat to reach its massive and dedicated young audience.

“With the Snap investment, we have invested over $1.5 billion in promising digital businesses in the last 18 months,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said in a statement. “We will continue to be aggressive as digital content consumption increases. Investing in Snap is a key step in that direction.”

NBC isn’t the only media brand teaming up with the popular mobile messaging company. In February, Snapchat and A+E Networks struck a deal to bring a short-form show to Snapchat’s Discover platform. Snapchat also joined forces with BBC to bring extra content from its “Planet Earth II” show.

While more marketers have been investing in social platforms like Snapchat, TV remains the largest component of an average US adult’s media day, according to eMarketer estimates.

Still, time spent with digital—including social networks—exceeded time spent with TV by 95 minutes per day in 2016. That’s why an equity deal in Snap is a further sign of confidence in this emerging model of video programming, said eMarketer analyst Paul Verna.

“As more teens and young adults continue to choose digital and mobile platforms over linear TV, it becomes increasingly imperative to reach them where they are,” he said.

Snapchat usage among adults of all ages is growing. eMarketer increased its US usage projections for 2017 by more than 5%, predicting 70.4 million people in the US will use the platform.

What’s more, many people are turning to Snapchat’s Live Stories to watch live streaming video. Data from UBS Evidence Lab found that Snapchat held on as the third most popular channel for live video consumption. YouTube and Facebook Live took the top spots, respectively.

The UBS study found that a majority of US social media users watch video on Snapchat. Fully 84% of respondents said they did, though younger people were more likely than their older peers to do so.

Snapchat has been taking strides to make its ad features more appealing to advertisers. Earlier this year, the popular mobile messaging app tested two new ad units, one of which can help advertisers deep link within ads.

Features like this can help media brands like NBC not only promote content, but add a social commerce element to it.