"As with past waves of new technology, such as the rise of personal computers and mobile telephony, AI has the potential to shake up the businesses of the tech giants by helping them overhaul existing operations and dream up new enterprises. But it also comes with a sense of menace. “If you’re a tech company and you’re not building AI as a core competence, then you’re setting yourself up for an invention from the outside,” says Jeff Wilke, chief executive of “worldwide consumer” at Amazon, and adjutant to Jeff Bezos.Google leads in the race to dominate artificial intelligence - Battle of the brains
Fuelled by rivalry, high hopes and hype, the AI boom can feel like the first California gold rush. Although Chinese firms such as Baidu and Alibaba are also investing in AI, and deploying it in their home market, the most visible prospectors are Western tech firms. Alphabet is widely perceived to be in the lead. It has been making sizeable profits from AI for years and has many of the best-known researchers. But it is early days and the race is far from over. Over the next several years, large tech firms are going to go head-to-head in three ways. They will continue to compete for talent to help train their corporate “brains”; they will try to apply machine learning to their existing businesses more effectively than rivals; and they will try to create new profit centres with the help of AI."
Monday, December 11, 2017
From an AI market dynamics review
Later in the article: "He later adds, though, that he believes the company “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”"
"Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media.Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society - The Verge
Palihapitiya’s criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”"
From an employment + automation reality check
"As a matter of professional survival, I would like to assure my children that journalism is immune, but that is clearly a delusion. The Associated Press already has used a software program from a company called Automated Insights to churn out passable copy covering Wall Street earnings and some college sports, and last year awarded the bots the minor league baseball beat.Can Parents ‘Robot-Proof’ Their Child’s Job Future? - The New York Times
What about other glamour jobs, like airline pilot? Well, last spring, a robotic co-pilot developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as Darpa, flew and landed a simulated 737. I hardly count that as surprising, given that pilots of commercial Boeing 777s, according to one 2015 survey, only spend seven minutes during an average flight actually flying the thing. As we move into the era of driverless cars, can pilotless planes be far behind?"
What could possibly go wrong?... Also see Bitcoin Futures Start With a Bang as 26% Rally Triggers Halts (Bloomberg) and A quarter trillion dollars is at risk when bitcoin crashes — and that’s just for starters (Axios)
"The first-ever bitcoin future jumped after it began trading Sunday as the increasingly popular virtual currency made its debut on a major U.S. exchange.Bitcoin futures rise as virtual currency hits major exchange - The Washington Post
The futures contract that expires in January surged more than $3,000 to $18,580 eight hours after trading launched on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The contract opened at $15,000, according to data from the CBOE.
The CBOE futures don’t involve actual bitcoin. They’re securities that will track the price of bitcoin on Gemini, one of the larger bitcoin exchanges."
Friday, December 08, 2017
An excerpt from this week's Bloomberg Businessweek cover story
"Even in the U.S., where Facebook has been hauled before Congress to explain its role in a Russian disinformation campaign designed to influence the U.S. presidential election, the company doesn’t have a clear answer for how it will stem abuse. It says it will add 10,000 workers worldwide to handle security issues, increase its use of third-party fact-checkers to identify fake news, and coordinate more closely with governments to find sources of misinformation and abuse. But the most challenging questions—such as what happens when the government itself is a bad actor and where to draw the line between free speech and a credible threat of violence—are beyond the scope of these fixes. What stays and what goes from the site is still decided subjectively, often by third-party contractors—many of them stationed, as it happens, in the Philippines, a long-standing outsourcing hub.How Duterte Turned Facebook Into a Weapon—With Help From Facebook - Bloomberg
Facebook is inherently conflicted. It promises advertisers it will deliver interested and engaged users—and often what is interesting and engaging is salacious, aggressive, or simply false. “I don’t think you can underestimate how much of a role they play in societal discourse,” says Carly Nyst, a London-based consultant on technology and human rights who has studied patriotic trolling around the world. “This is a real moment that they have to take some responsibility. These tools they’ve promised as tools of communication and connection are being abused.”"
On a related note, see How Trump Did the Impossible: Getting Solar and Oil Lobbyists to Unite (Bloomberg)
"The Republican tax bills moving through Congress could significantly hobble the United States’ renewable energy industry because of a series of provisions that scale back incentives for wind and solar power while bolstering older energy sources like oil and gas production.Renewable Energy Is Surging. The G.O.P. Tax Bill Could Curtail That. - The New York Times
The possibility highlights the degree to which the nation’s recent surge in renewable electricity generation is still sustained by favorable tax treatment, which has lowered the cost of solar and wind production while provoking the ire of fossil-fuel competitors seeking to weaken those tax preferences."
Check the full article for his views on Alexa and other topics
"Q: How do you think “fake news” can be tackled?Q&A: Tim Berners-Lee on net neutrality and why he won’t have Alexa in the house – Wikitribune
A: I think the label “fake news” covers a really complicated, interesting space of many different dysfunctional mechanisms…I think the power of fake news is the ability of humanity to divide itself into different pools, where you have one group, which are scientific and … the other group, they live off conspiracy theories, they’ll believe anything they hear from an authority or science, and who will have a completely inconsistent view of the world but not consistent with reality. [They are] quite consistent with themselves and where they’re in an echo chamber…
[Berners-Lee said it was important to do more research on how Twitter and Facebook, as examples of social media, might drive the creation of those echo chambers.]: Maybe we shouldn’t really blame those people so much as the people who engineered the software they use, because the software they use is encouraging them. It’s built to feed them more of what they had before, and connect them to more people who like the same stuff. If the software has been deliberately built to make the echo chambers and thought bubbles, then the responsibility is with the people who built them…You as a journalist, I as a member of the web, should be holding these people and these web properties to account and say, “Oh, you need to do better. You need to reprogram these things so we get a less polarised world.”"
Closer to $14K again as I type this, per Coindesk; also see Why Has Bitcoin’s Price Gone Up So Fast? (NYT), which notes "And on Thursday, less than two weeks later, the price of a single Bitcoin rose above $20,000 on some exchanges" and Wall Street can't wait to short bitcoin (Axios) [Update: back above $15K less than an hour after the original post]
"Bitcoin has sustained its phenomenal rise and already surpassed the $18,000 per token level as of Dec. 7, 2017.Bitcoin’s Price Surpasses $18,000 Level, Market Cap Now Higher Than Visa’s
Because of this, the leading virtual currency’s market capitalization (cap) has also swelled to a new record high of $305 bln, surpassing that of payments technology firm Visa, whose market cap is currently pegged at $254.74 bln.
In his tweet, Pension Partners Director of Research Charlie Bilello said that Bitcoin’s cap has already surpassed that of Visa’s. Visa is currently the biggest electronic payment processor in the world with a revenue of $8.9 tln and 141 bln transactions annually."
Thursday, December 07, 2017
Not a bad day for bitcoin investors, so far...
"Bitcoin soared past the $17,000 mark on Thursday, a dizzying run for a digital currency that was worth less than $1,000 at the start of the year and was once largely the preoccupation of technologists or those looking to avoid scrutiny to launder money or buy drugs and weapons online.Bitcoin soars above $17,000, boosting worries and a worldwide frenzy - The Washington Post
The fast rise — it has gone up more than 40 percent this week alone — is creating a buying frenzy among eager speculators around the world and helping push bitcoin into the mainstream. But it is also forcing U.S. regulators to grapple with whether to legitimize a product that operates outside the control of any government or financial institution.
The run-up in price comes as bitcoin enthusiasts prepare to reach a new landmark. On Sunday, a bitcoin product will trade for the first time on a U.S. financial market, making it almost as easy to bet on the virtual currency as oil, corn or the euro."
From a timely PC reality check
"If you have seen the latest iPad commercial and can relate to it, you might have already bought into the promise of an always connected computing experience. It is ironic that Apple is helping sell the vision that Microsoft, Qualcomm and their partners want to deliver. Except, of course, Apple is also telling you that your always connected life does not require a PC.The Always Connected PC will need more than Connectivity to be a Hit – Tech.pinions
And here is the heart of the matter. For consumers, the desire to be connected has little to do with being productive and a lot to do with getting “stuff” done whenever we want. That stuff can range from streaming music, to upload to social media, to playing online games, to shopping online…. basically being able to do the same things we do on our smartphones but with the advantage of having a larger screen and a keyboard. Forty-three percent of the consumers we interviewed who have a connected iPad said they do a little bit of everything. This does not mean we will carry our smartphones less or rely on them any less. It simply means we will have the option to choose the best tool for the job without having to compromise on connectivity and battery life."
Pivot to the cloud: intelligent features in Google Sheets help businesses uncover insights (Google blog)
Tbd when AlphaZero will be integrated with Google Sheets, learn the rules of your business domain in a few minutes, and tell you if you should just give up...
"When it comes to data in spreadsheets, deciphering meaningful insights can be a challenge whether you’re a spreadsheet guru or data analytics pro. But thanks to advances in the cloud and artificial intelligence, you can instantly uncover insights and empower everyone in your organization—not just those with technical or analytics backgrounds—to make more informed decisions.Pivot to the cloud: intelligent features in Google Sheets help businesses uncover insights
We launched "Explore" in Sheets to help you decipher your data easily using the power of machine intelligence, and since then we’ve added even more ways for you to intelligently visualize and share your company data. Today, we’re announcing additional features to Google Sheets to help businesses make better use of their data, from pivot tables and formula suggestions powered by machine intelligence, to even more flexible ways to help you analyze your data."
Entire human chess knowledge learned and surpassed by DeepMind's AlphaZero in four hours (The Telegraph)
Later in the article: "The DeepMind team eventually want to use the algorithm to solve big health problems. They believe that the programme could come up with cures for major illness in a matter of days or weeks, which would have taken humans hundreds of years to find."
"Hundreds of years of chess knowledge was learned and then surpassed by Google DeepMind’s artificial intelligence algorithm in just four hours, it has emerged.Entire human chess knowledge learned and surpassed by DeepMind's AlphaZero in four hours
The astonishing programme AlphaZero quickly mastered the ancient game, before coming up with completely new strategies, which are now being analysed by grandmasters.
The algorithm is so extraordinary because it learns from scratch. It has only been programmed with the rules of chess and must work out how to win simply from playing multiple games against itself."
Bitcoin is losing Steam...
"Steam is no longer accepting bitcoin as a payment method, game company and distributor Valve announced today. The company is attributing its decision to cryptocurrency’s “high fees and volatility.” In a blog post, Valve explained that bitcoin transaction fees have gone up to nearly $20 per transaction last week, “compared to roughly $0.20 when we initially enabled Bitcoin.” Those fees then have to be shouldered by gamers making purchases on Steam, and the total cost to consumers could be even higher if the value of bitcoin dips in the meantime.Steam no longer accepting bitcoin due to ‘high fees and volatility’ - The Verge
Even if the value of bitcoin were to go up while the user completes the transaction, and Steam has to refund the difference to the user, the transaction fee must be paid by the user again for the refund. “This year, we’ve seen increasing number[s] of customers get into this state,” the post states. There’s even the scenario, Valve explains, that as the user or Steam tries to cover the difference in value, the value of bitcoin then changes again, causing more problems."
And this is before Google Cloud Spanner gains mainstream momentum and performs a cashectomy on the Oracle Database business...
"For the past year, the software and cloud computing giant has mounted a cloak-and-dagger, take-no-prisoners lobbying campaign against Google, perhaps hoping to cause the company intense political and financial pain at a time when the two tech giants are also warring in federal court over allegations of stolen computer code.Inside Oracle’s cloak-and-dagger political war with Google - Recode
Since 2010, Oracle has accused Google of copying Java and using key portions of it in the making of Android. Google, for its part, has fought those claims vigorously. More recently, though, their standoff has intensified. And as a sign of the worsening rift between them, this summer Oracle tried to sell reporters on a story about the privacy pitfalls of Android, two sources confirmed to Recode."
$15,624.50 as I type this (per Google; Coindesk says a mere $14,338.65); for another *coin reality check, see Coinbase: The Heart of the Bitcoin Frenzy (NYT)
"When Bitcoin first entered the public consciousness a few years back, a handful of large companies like Dell and Expedia announced that they would begin accepting the virtual currency. But there weren’t many takers.Bitcoin Hasn’t Replaced Cash, but Investors Don’t Care - The New York Times
This failure hasn’t bothered many of the people buying up Bitcoins in recent months, pushing the price to new highs — above $13,000 for one Bitcoin on Wednesday.
These investors aren’t using their tokens to buy computers or to book trips. Instead, they are hoarding Bitcoins as if it were virtual gold, a new way to store money outside the control of any government or company."
Wednesday, December 06, 2017
For more details, see Always Connected PCs enable a new culture of work (Windows Blog)
"The obvious question is why do these devices even exist? Microsoft has worked with Qualcomm to create these “always-on” PCs so that they’re always connected to LTE connections, and work more like an iPad than a traditional Windows laptop. That means you open the laptop up and it should instantly resume, or you close the lid and never have to worry about the battery draining. These devices should have battery benefits and the type of LTE connectivity that we haven’t seen regularly in Windows laptops.
HP and Asus’ devices will include Windows 10 S, designed to only run apps from the Windows Store, but users will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro free of charge (for now) to get access to the full desktop apps. Microsoft has natively compiled Windows 10 to run on ARM chipsets, so all Windows processes, Edge, and the shell all run natively without emulation. Microsoft has also looked at the top third-party desktop applications and natively recompiled a set of system DLLs that they rely on to ensure performance is solid."Microsoft launches ARM-powered Windows 10 PCs with ‘all-day’ battery life - The Verge:
"Mozilla switched to Yahoo from Google after Mayer offered a much more lucrative deal that included an unprecedented term to protect Mozilla in a change-of-control scenario. It was a scenario that Mayer never thought would happen, which is why she apparently pushed through the problematic deal point.Oath and Mozilla are in a legal battle over a Yahoo search deal - Recode
According to the change-of-control term, 9.1 in the agreement, Mozilla had the right to leave the partnership if — under its sole discretion and in a certain time period — it did not deem the new partner acceptable. And if it did that, even if it struck another search deal, Yahoo was still obligated to pay out annual revenue guarantees of $375 million."
On a related note, see How brands secretly buy their way into Forbes, Fast Company, and HuffPost stories (The Outline; Mashable and Business Insider are also on the list)
"Mashable, once a fast-growing digital publisher with big ambitions, has been sold at a fire sale price.
Ziff Davis, a digital media subsidiary of tech company J2, is buying Mashable for less than $50 million, according to people familiar with the transaction. In the spring of 2016, Time Warner’s Turner led a $15 million investment round that valued the company at $250 million."Ziff Davis has bought Mashable at a fire sale price and plans to lay off 50 people - Recode
In other competitive confrontation customer consequences, see Where is Amazon’s Prime Video app for Apple TV? (The Verge) [Update: Amazon Prime Video comes to Apple TV, finally (The Verge)]
"Alphabet Inc.’s Google pulled support for its YouTube video service from Amazon.com Inc.’s streaming-media devices, citing the internet retailer’s failure to make Amazon Prime Video available through Google’s gadgets and the recent halt of the sale of some Nest products on its website.Google Blocks YouTube Access From Amazon's Streaming Devices - Bloomberg
Google blocked YouTube access via the Echo Show, Amazon’s smart speaker with a touchscreen, on Tuesday and will stop supporting YouTube on Amazon’s Fire TV set-top box on Jan. 1. In a statement, a Google representative said it’s taking the action because the YouTube apps on Amazon products aren’t made by Google, like the YouTube app on the iPhone is, and the retail giant doesn’t sell some Google products, such as Chromecast and Google Home."
Google wants more humans to help solve the problem of child exploitation on YouTube - The Washington Post
Following Facebook's announcement in late October: Facebook pledges to double its 10,000-person safety and security staff by end of 2018 (CNBC)
"In announcing plans to hire many more human moderators to flag disturbing and extremist content this week, YouTube has become the latest Silicon Valley giant to acknowledge that software alone won’t solve many of the problems plaguing the industry.Google wants more humans to help solve the problem of child exploitation on YouTube - The Washington Post
YouTube, which is owned by Google, said in a blog post Monday night that it would significantly increase the number of people monitoring such content across the company next year. By 2018, Google will employ roughly 10,000 content moderators and other professionals tasked with addressing violations of its content policies. The search giant would not disclose the number of employees currently performing such jobs, but a person familiar with the company’s operations said the hiring represents a 25 percent increase from where Google is now."
$12,825.24 as I type this; later in the article: "'Individuals should not invest any capital that they cannot afford to lose tomorrow,' Catalini said."
"Bitcoin has been giving the Republican tax plan a run for its money when it comes to who has been dominating the news over the past week.Bitcoin: What you need to know - The Washington Post
As of Jan. 1, the cryptocurrency was trading at $960.79 per coin. Around 4 p.m. Monday, it was selling in the $11,500 range, an increase of more than 10 times in less than a year.
The cryptocurrency joined the financial world’s mainstream last week when Chicago-based CME Group and the Chicago Board Options Exchange received approval from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to begin trading bitcoin."
A timely Amazon-and-friends reality check
"That future? We’re going to get better products for ludicrously low prices, and big brands across a range of categories — the Nests and Netgears of the world — are going to find it harder than ever to get us to shell out big money for their wares.
There’s a hidden hero in this story — or, if you’re a major brand, a shadowy villain. It’s Amazon.
To understand Amazon’s role, let’s take a closer look at how Wyze piggybacked off Amazon. Nest’s and Netgear’s comparable indoor cameras sell for around $200 each, while Wyze’s device goes for $20 plus shipping if you buy directly from the company’s website. The only other place to purchase the WyzeCam is on Amazon, where members of the company’s Prime service can get it for $30 including two-day shipping."The Hidden Player Spurring a Wave of Cheap Consumer Devices: Amazon - The New York Times
Tuesday, December 05, 2017
Another "if you're not paying, you are the product" case study
"“Marketers typically have to make trade-offs between reaching engaged audiences on social platforms with massive reach and using tools that give them control and access to granular targeting capabilities,” said Zeta Global CEO, chairman and co-founder David A. Steinberg. “Disqus strengthens Zeta’s ability to offer the best of both worlds with the scale, visibility and performance marketers have been asking for.”Zeta Global acquires commenting service Disqus | TechCrunch
Disqus gives these marketers the ability to target users based on their interests. You can infer quite a bit about people simply based on which sites they comment on, after all. At the same time, though, most of the online commenting has now moved to social media and the number of comments on most sites is in a steady decline. So while Zeta is acquired a large hoard of data, it remains to be seen how long that data will stay current."
Something to watch
"We’ve been headed here for a while. But this was the year it actually happened: Advertisers spent more on digital than traditional TV.2017 was the year digital ad spending finally beat TV - Recode
To be specific: Digital ad spending reached $209 billion worldwide — 41 percent of the market — in 2017, while TV brought in $178 billion — 35 percent of the market — in 2017. That’s according to Magna, the research arm of media buying firm IPG Mediabrands.
Bear in mind that this isn’t because TV ads are cratering — TV ad spending is still flat or slowly growing, depending on the year. And in most cases big TV advertisers have yet to move much of their budget over to digital, even though Facebook and Google are working hard to make that happen."
A 2020 vision update
""This means that the most expensive key enabling technology in the AR glasses teardown will now be affordably priced, effectively bringing down the overall cost of consumer AR glasses," Grobman said in an interview. "Quanta has suggested that full AR headsets would be priced for less than the cost of a high-end cell phone. That’s a big deal.”Apple Manufacturer Quanta Reaches Deal to Build AR Displays - Bloomberg
Apple is developing an AR headset that would integrate with digital assistant Siri, and display maps and text messages to the wearer, Bloomberg News reported last month. The Cupertino, California-based company plans to have its AR technology ready by 2019 for a release as early as 2020. Lumus expects headsets with its technology to reach the market within 12 to 18 months. Grobman wouldn’t say whether Lumus and Quanta are working on Apple’s glasses."
Beanie Babies, c2017?
"Since its 2015 debut, digital evangelists have preached how the ethereum network will be perfect for applications such as managing supply chains and securities sales. What it’s actually used for is buying kittens.CryptoKitties Mania Overwhelms Ethereum Network's Processing - Bloomberg
CryptoKitties, an online game that debuted on Nov. 28, is now the most popular smart contract -- essentially, an application that runs itself -- on ethereum, accounting for 11 percent of all transactions on the network, according to ETH Gas Station. That’s up from 4 percent on Dec. 2 for the network, which uses the distributed-ledger technology known as blockchain.
The game is actually clogging the ethereum network, leading to slower transaction times for all users of the blockchain, which is a digital ledger for recording transactions."
For more details, see the FAQ at https://messengerkids.com/
"Analysts say that messaging apps give Facebook a chance to tap into a younger generation that they have been losing; earlier this year, the company bought the popular teen messaging app tbh. When Facebook asked parents about launching a kids' app, many told the company that they did not want a full social network, but had more interest in a communications tool, the company said.Facebook’s new messaging app deepens debate over kids’ social-media use - The Washington Post
Facebook said that Messenger Kids will have no ads. It will also not use data from Messenger Kids for Facebook ads. (Parents shouldn't, for example, see an ad for a toy on Facebook because their child talked about it on Messenger Kids.) The firm said no data from Messenger Kids will be fed to the main social network, nor will their information automatically port to other Facebook products when they turn 13, the company said."
In other "frightful five" global news, see Amazon’s Australian Launch Brings Excitement, Dread and Defiance (NYT)
"Google, which missed out on the rise of the internet in China, is determined not to make the same mistake in India. It has marshaled some of its best developers, designers and researchers to figure out how to adapt or completely rethink products like YouTube to serve the needs of mobile internet users with smaller budgets but big aspirations.Google Missed Out on China. Can It Flourish in India? - The New York Times
Many of the world’s biggest tech companies — Facebook, Google and Amazon from the United States, and Alibaba and Tencent from China — are competing with local businesses like Reliance, Flipkart and Paytm to win their loyalties. With 1.3 billion people, only one-third of whom are currently online, India has huge moneymaking potential for the services that secure a foothold."