Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Common Sense AI

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Microsoft announced that it is acquiring conversational AI and bot development software vendor XOXCO, Inc., an Austin-based firm, for an undisclosed amount.

According to a report from ZDNet, XOXCO was founded in 2008, and has been working on conversational AI since 2013.

One of its products, Howdy.ai, has been described as one of the first commercially available bots for Slack that helps schedule meetings.

Though it may be great for scheduling meetings, a new article in WIRED suggests that artificial intelligence and deep learning could stand to gain some common sense:

Deep learning is the reigning monarch of AI. In the six years since it exploded into the mainstream, it has become the dominant way to help machines sense and perceive the world around them. It powers Alexa’s speech recognition, Waymo’s self-driving cars, and Google’s on-the-fly translations. Uber is in some respects a giant optimization problem, using machine learning to figure out where riders will need cars. Baidu, the Chinese tech giant, has more than 2,000 engineers cranking away on neural net AI. For years, it seemed as though deep learning would only keep getting better, leading inexorably to a machine with the fluid, supple intelligence of a person.

But some heretics argue that deep learning is hitting a wall. They say that, on its own, it’ll never produce generalized intelligence, because truly humanlike intelligence isn’t just pattern recognition. We need to start figuring out how to imbue AI with everyday common sense, the stuff of human smarts. If we don’t, they warn, we’ll keep bumping up against the limits of deep learning, like visual-recognition systems that can be easily fooled by changing a few inputs, making a deep-learning model think a turtle is a gun. But if we succeed, they say, we’ll witness an explosion of safer, more useful devices—health care robots that navigate a cluttered home, fraud detection systems that don’t trip on false positives, medical breakthroughs powered by machines that ponder cause and effect in disease.

I look forward to having an argument with a bot…someday.

Written by turbotodd

November 14, 2018 at 11:05 am

Posted in 2018, AI, microsoft, Uncategorized

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A Foldable Phone

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Happy Monday.

We have ourselves another weekend-announced tech deal, this time SAP announcing that it would purchase survey-software provider Qualtrics for $8 billion in cash.

Axios reports that "this would be the largest-ever purchase of a VC-backed enterprise software company" and "the third-largest sale of any SaaS company (behind Oracle buying NetSuite for $9.3B, and SAP buying Concur for $8.3B).

AP CEO Bill McDermott said in a conference call that the Qualtrics IPO was already over-subscribed, and that this deal will be as transformative for SAP as buying Instagram was for Facebook — with SAP being able to merge its massive trove of operational data with Qualtrics’ collection of user experience data.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been keeping an eye on that nifty-looking foldable Galaxy F smartphone, Yonhap News Agency is reporting that it will launch in March, "along with a fifth-generation (5G) network-powered Galaxy S10."

Yonhap reports that the eagerly anticipated foldable smartphone is expected to launch at the Mobile World Congress in February, but that it is not expected to support 5G. So all that folding will have to transpire on existing 4G networks.

Hey, a slower folding phone is better than no folding phone, right?

And if you’ve already started that Christmas shopping binge, looking for the latest and greatest gaming console, you might want to hit "pause" just long enough to read this effort from The Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Needleman.

She writes that tech giants are "trying to bring videogames the same streaming capabilities that gave rise to Netflix and Spotify," which could potentially do an end around traditional gaming consoles.

I wouldn’t short the X-Box or Playstation just yet, but there is the possibility those consoles will have to reinvent themselves to stay up to speed with the Jones’s…errr, I meant to say, the Streamers.

Written by turbotodd

November 12, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Facebook’s Portal Doublethink

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CNET is reporting that Facebook’s new home smart video assistants, Portal and Portal Plus, are now available for sale on the Portal online store, Amazon and Best Buy.

Facebook Portal Plus is selling for $349, and has 1080p HD res and a 15.6-inch screen. The $199 Portal has a 720p, 10.1-inch screen. Both serve as Alexa speakers as well as offer Facebook’s “Hey, Portal” (so original!) voice service.

Yes, Facebook’s Portal product uses Alexa service because, well, why reinvent the home assistant and copying is the sincerest form of flattery.

As for a Facebook video product being unleashed into the privacy of your home??  Well, I would have used to say read Facebook’s privacy policy with care…

A post from Facebook on privacy and security for Portal alleges the following:

  • Facebook does not listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. This means nothing you say on a Portal video call is accessed by Facebook or used for advertising.
  • Portal video calls are encrypted, so your calls are secure.
  • Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t identify who you are.

And as to how they use information from Portal:

  • Portal is integrated with some of your Messenger and Facebook experiences. When you use Portal, we process the same kinds of information as when you use Facebook products on your other devices. Some of this information, including the fact that you logged into your account or how often you use a feature or app, may be used to inform the ads you see across Facebook.
  • While we don’t listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls, or use this information to target ads, we do process some device usage information to understand how Portal is being used and to improve the product.

Read the full post for more details here.

At least one technology journalist, The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern, isn’t having any of it. She wrote:

I just couldn’t bring myself to set up Facebook’s camera-embedded screen in the privacy of my family’s home. Can you blame me when you look at the last 16 months?

The personal data of millions of users was accessed for political purposes without consent. Whoops. False news articles were deliberately spread across our feeds to hoax us. Whoops again. Hackers gained access to nearly 50 million accounts, the largest-ever security breach at the social network. Giant whoopsies.

However, she did go on to write that “The Portal+, with its 15.6-inch giant rotatable screen, is one of the most immersive video-chatting experiences I’ve ever had.”

Doublethink?

Written by turbotodd

November 8, 2018 at 9:33 am

Posted in 2018, privacy, video

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Midterm Election Cyber Shenanigans

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Happy Election Day for those of you here in the U.S.!

I hope you all got out to vote, either in advance in early voting or in what, I’m sure, are probably long lines today on actual election day.

I was waiting for any stories to break about any social media shenanigans going on today or leading up to election day.

I wasn’t disappointed (well, I was, but you know what I mean).

CNBC reports that Facebook felt compelled to block 115 accounts ahead of the midterms, with U.S. law enforcement having notified Facebook on Sunday of the accounts’ online activity, saying they believed the accounts “may be linked to foreign entities.”

From Facebook’s blog post:

Given that we are only one day away from important elections in the U.S., we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today.

Our very early-stage investigation has so far identified around 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that may be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior. We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail. Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate.

Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly. But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today.

Once we know more — including whether these accounts are linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency or other foreign entities — we will update this post.

Facebook appears to have learned a lesson from 2016 — a strong offense can prevent later necessary defense. 

Meanwhile, a joint statement from DHS, the Justice Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the FBI said the following:

Foreign actors — and Russia in particular — continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord.

[These attacks can come in the form of] spreading false information about political processes and candidates, lying about their own interference activities, disseminating propaganda on social media and through other tactics [and that Americans should be aware of such efforts].

Uh, wasn’t that kind of a given?!

I guess everybody’s vote counts in the 2018 midterms — including Vlad’s!

Written by turbotodd

November 6, 2018 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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The Amazon Runoff

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Happy Monday.

If you’ve been wondering where Amazon HQ2 might land, The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the company is in late-stage talks with cities that included Crystal City, Virginia; Dallas, Texas; and New York City.

Apparently the talks with local officials in some of the other 20 cities on the shortlist, including Denver, Toronto, Atlanta, Nashville, and Raleigh “have cooled.”

You can just hear the mayors, chamber of commerce heads, and real estate developers screaming in the jaws of potential victory and the agony of possible Amazonian defeat (depending on their respective locales, of course).

The story also hints that an announcement could be made as soon as this month, and cites an interview Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos did recently with author Walter Isaacson about how the company was going about making its decision:

For a decision like that, as far as I know, the best way to make it is you collect as much data as you can, you immerse yourself in that data, but then make the decision with your heart.

LATE-BREAKING UPDATE! The Journal is now reporting that Amazon plans to split its second HQ evenly between two locations rather than picking one city for HQ2. 

The driving force behind the decision to build two equal offices in addition to the company’s headquarters in Seattle is recruiting enough tech talent, according to the person familiar with the company’s plans. The move will also ease potential issues with housing, transit and other areas where adding tens of thousands of workers could cause problems.

Under the new plan, Amazon would split the workforce with 25,000 employees in each city, the person said.

Written by turbotodd

November 5, 2018 at 9:41 am

Posted in 2018

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Another Facebook Breach

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Happy Friday!

Well, depending on who you ask.

The BBC, Gizmodo, and others are reporting a new Facebook data breach, this time of private Facebook messages of at least 81,000 unfortunate souls.

It’s being reported the culprit was a Chrome Extension exploit, and is apparently not related to the more widespread September breach previously reported of 120 million Facebook accounts.

Some details:

The hackers, who may be Russian since they reached out to the BBC Russian Service, appear to have the Facebook messages of at least 81,000 people, mostly of Russians and Ukrainians, but also from people in the U.S., UK, and Brazil, according to the BBC.

“Browsers like Chrome can be very secure, but browser extensions can introduce serious gaps in their armor. The addition of browser extensions increases what is otherwise a small attack surface. Malicious extensions can be used to intercept and manipulate the data passing through the browser,” said Rick Holland, CISO of Digital Shadows, which helped the BBC analyze the breach.

As to the content of those messages:

Many of the messages are relatively benign and include simple chats about going on vacation and attending concerts. But as you’d expect, there are also more sensitive discussions, including “intimate correspondence between two lovers,” as the BBC describes it.

Hoped all 81K Facebook users whose private messages were sold!

Written by turbotodd

November 2, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Apple’s Price Hike, China’s DRAM Scam

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This week’s was the first Apple event I haven’t watched in quite some time.  Maybe years.

Is my love affair with Apple products over?

No, if anything, quite the opposite.

I use quite a number of Apple products.  

I just tend to hang on to them.

My 2011 Apple MacBook Air still works fine, albeit a little more slowly.

I love my AirPods (how’d we ever live without those!?)

And a few months ago I bought a used iPhone 7 Plus on Gazelle, and that was a big upgrade in terms of screen size and storage from my SE.

No, I just don’t need any more Apple stuff (new or otherwise), and I’m not the only one.

People aren’t upgrading as much as they used to, and that’s been particularly the case for the iPhone.

Which is likely why as part of this week’s announcement, the prices rose for both the new MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air (to $1,299 and $1,199 respectively).

Not outrageous hikes, and considering that a high-end iPhone can now cost as much or more as the MacBook Air…I guess it all depends on how you view it and what you need. Apple reports its latest earnings today after market close.

Meanwhile, there’s another story that appeared on the horizon, which was that a Chinese state-owned company was charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets of U.S. chipmaker Micron Technology Inc. 

According a report from Bloomberg, Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. and Taiwan’s United Microelectronics Corp. were indicted in California along with three individuals.

These indictments come just as Attorney General Jeff Sessions apparently “plans to announce Thursday a new initiative to respond to Chinese efforts to obtain American technology and trade secrets.”

Bloomberg writes that Micron is the only U.S.-based company that manufactures dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, and that China didn’t possess DRAM technology before the alleged theft.

Written by turbotodd

November 1, 2018 at 1:13 pm

Posted in 2018, china

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