Turbotodd

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

Oculus Went, Atlas Shrugged

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This has been some couple of weeks in technology. 

First, Facebook’s F8 conference last week, then Microsoft Build and Google I/O this week.

Coupla things stand out.

First, Facebook’s introduction of Oculus Go, the company’s new “everyperson’s” more friendly and accessible VR.  Looking back, I think the announcement was almost understated (and yes, there was a lot of other new news).

Like I always do when I’m considering a new tech purchase, I started searching for early reviews, and clearly Oculus/Facebook had done a good job getting devices into the hands of valued reviewers and sources. Almost to a one had mostly good things to say.

How often does that happen?  So I bit, and received my device one day ago this week.

For me, getting the Oculus Go was kind of like one of those moments you won’t forget: The first time I used the Netscape browser, the first time I used instant messaging, the first Tweet…Oculus Go was that moment for me where VR is concerned.

At SXSW two years ago I got to handle several of the leading VR goggles, and wasn’t really blown away by any of them — maybe it was all the umbilical cords and overweighted goggles. And maybe it was also the experiences themselves.

But when I got the Oculus Go last Friday, it just went. From the moment I turned it on to the quick setup to immediately blowing another $40 on a bundle of VR games and experiences, it was all easy peasy and sense surround.

Saturday morning, I downloaded a single shooter space game called “End Space.” It was so immersive that it had my brain thinking I was traveling through 360 degrees of space, requiring a spinning chair and, later, the spinning brain and dizziness to prove it. 

Now THAT was the kind of VR experience I’d been waiting for. Like I said when I first got it, finally good enough is more than good enough. Sure, you can complain if you’d like about the resolution not being where we’d like it and the fact that it’s really only 180 degrees, but those are minor roadblocks.

And these are still early days.

No, if nothing else, Oculus Go opens one’s imagination as to all the possibilities of full VR immersion, from education to virtual travel to gaming (already a strong suit in VR) to remote work and collaboration and beyond.  You can’t smell it yet, but you sure can touch it and feel it, and it feels pretty cool.

The second thing was experiencing yet another of those AI aha moments.

My first was back in the Web’s early Dark Ages, in 1997 in the auditorium of the Equitable Center in NYC where IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in chess — for those who saw it either there or online, it was an unmistakable leap forward — the machine beat the man. The next were IBM’s Watson beating the world’s best in Jeopardy!, and Google’s AlphaGo beating the world’s best humans in Go.

This week, watching the Google I/O webcast, I saw the Google Duplex technology in action, one where a disembodied Google Assistant voice was “smart” enough to call a hair salon and make an appointment…over the phone, and using her voice. The hair salon attendant seemed none the wiser.

I don’t know if that comes close to passing the Turing Test, but it’s pretty damned close.

And yet the very next day, I was attending a social media seminar given by our friends at Fleishman Hillard where I was introduced to “Lil Miquela” an Instagram influencer with over 1.1 million followers. 

Lil Miquela supports Black Lives Matter and seems to have a keen fashion sense. Lil Miquela is also not real. “She” was invented by an influencer marketing company called Brud, which Crunchbase says is “a group of problem solvers specializing in robotics, AI, and their applications to media businesses.”

Brud is in the business of selling access to brands to made-up influencers like Lil Miquela, and is backed by the likes of Sequoia Capital. And if you think about it, such a venture makes sense. As our Fleishman friends explained, “You don’t have to worry about Lil Miquela and her friends doing something in Vegas they shouldn’t be doing.” A, because Lil Miquela isn’t real, and B, because she has no “real” friends.

In other words, Lil Miquela and her ilk are “brand safe,” so why wouldn’t having a big brand associate themselves with her/it??

As I said in a room filled with actual real people, “We’re entering a wild wild “Westworld” where there are no rules and the boundaries aren’t clear…which makes for a nice petri dish in which just about anything and everything can by manipulated by digital, social and, now, AI and VR media. One day you’re talking to a Google Assistant to make your hair appointment, the next day you’re talking to a fake virtual IRS agent who’s taking control of your tax refund for you.

On October 30, 1938, renowned actor Orson Welles aired a radio broadcast on CBS based on H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. 

Because the program was hosted on a “sustaining” show without commercial interruptions, “Mercury Theatre on the Air,” the program went on for 30 minutes and people across the country mistook the science fiction for an actual new broadcast. It caused panic across the country and people took to the streets. The Martians had arrived at Grover’s Mill!

That was 56 years before we saw the advent of the commercial Internet, and 80 years before we witnessed the Google Duplex phone call.

The saying used to go “Truth is stranger than fiction.”  Now, VR goggles and AI algorithms in tow, truth is increasingly turning into fiction, and that may be the slippery-est slope of all.

Written by turbotodd

May 11, 2018 at 10:21 am

Google’s Freaky Deaky

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Happy Hump Day.

First, it’s been a while since I wrote much about golf, and The Player’s Championship starts tomorrow at TPC Sawgrass, so I thought I would start with my list of likely winners (and in no particular order): Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth. 

Now watch none of those win because *I* called it! 

Now, back on the tech front, Facebook has announced a sweeping new reorganization, according to Recode, appointing Chief Product Officer Chris Cox to now lead Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, and Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer to oversee AR/VR, AI, and Facebook’s foray into the blockchain.

Back over on the subcontinent, Walmart has agreed to a $16 billion deal to buy a majority stake in India’s Flipkart. Flipkart is an Indian e-commerce company based out of Bengaluru, 

According to a report from CNBC, Wallmart said it would acquire an initial stake of roughly 77 percent in Flipkart, while the remainder of the business would be held by existing investors.

More details:

Walmart said in a statement that its long-term aim would be to support Flipkart’s transition into a publicly-listed subsidiary. The retailer said it expects India’s e-commerce market to grow at four times the rate of the overall retail industry.

Walmart’s president and chief executive, Doug McMillon, said the investment in Flipkart was part of the company’s aim to invest in India’s fast-growing economy.

“India is one of the most attractive retail markets in the world, given its size and growth rate, and our investment is an opportunity to partner with the company that is leading transformation of e-commerce in the market,” McMillon said in a statement.

As for Google’s announcements at the first day of Google’s developer confab, Google I/O, yesterday, get ready to take some notes.

Google announced: Android P; AD-2, an Android TV streaming HDMI stick (for developers only, for now); App Bundles (lets Android devs define which parts of an app to download on a specific device); Android Jetpack (set of components to speed up app development); ML Kit (an SDK for devs to add AI smarts to iOS and Android apps).

That’s just some of what was announced. 

The most impressive demo at Day 1 was of Google Duplex, where the company demoed the Google Assistant calling another human to make reservations for a hair cut appointment. If watching that demo didn’t completely freak you out and, at the same time, be excited about watching as our robot overlords prepare to take over, I don’t know what will.

You can read more about how it works here.

Written by turbotodd

May 9, 2018 at 9:08 am

Posted in 2018, facebook

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Google Input/Output

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Google I/O, the company’s annual developer confab, kicks off tomorrow (Tuesday, May 9th) in Mountain View.

The Verge provided a preview, and indicated there would be new news across the Google and Alphabet board, including information about its new wearable platform, Wear OS; Google Assistant to Android TV; Google Home; Google Play; and Search.

On the Android front, The Verge reports the new version will be called simply, “P,” and is “focused on making room for the now pervasive display notch on full-screen smartphones, giving users more granular privacy settings, and unifying and simplifying the design language and usability of menus, docks, and settings screens.”

On the AI front, The Verge says to expect more details on Google Lens, and the TensorFlow platform and Tensor Processing Unit chips (which are at the core of Google’s specially designed AI training systems).

And for Google Wear (rebranded from Android Wear), the Wear OS has been in developer preview and is expected to have improvements to battery life and more inclusion of Google Assistant features.

Also expect some new news about Google Assistant more broadly, and the accompanying Google Home hardware family, as well as info on Google Photos, News, Play and the company’s new gaming startup, Arcade.

You can check out the full Google I/O schedule here.

Written by turbotodd

May 7, 2018 at 9:27 am

Posted in 2018, android, developers

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Bring in the Robots

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China’s Shenzhen-based AI and humanoid robotic company Ubtech has raised a Series C worth some $820 million according to TechNode China, a sum that sets a new financing record for the largest investment raised in a single round by an AI firm.

Ubtech’s self-proclaimed mission is to “bring the robot into every home, and truly integrate intelligent robots into the daily lives of everyone creating a more intelligent way of life.”

Yes, but can Ubtech’s robots do my laundry and take out my trash?

The new funding round was led by none other than Tencent, but also included a host of other investors ranging from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to Telstra. 

Ubtech founder and CEO Zhou Jian said the new round of funding has brought in invaluable investors and the investment will be dedicated to facilitating Ubtech’s future commercialization plans. Zhou said the investment will be used in three main areas including R&D, market expansion/branding, and recruitment.

The company said it will devote more resources to developing adult-sized humanoid robots and will focus particularly on the R&D of servo systems used in robotics, movement control algorithms for walking, and computer vision.

The company is already offering a $299.99 “StormTrooper” Robot that allows one to use voice commands and facial recognition to…well, it seems you get to define the mission.

May the robotic force be with them….oh, and Happy Star Wars Day!

Written by turbotodd

May 4, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Posted in 2018

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Facebook’s a Go on VR

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Facebook’s F8 conference kicked off yesterday in San Jose, CA.

There’s SO much info and new releases that was announced on the first day one could hardly keep up.

The ones that caught my eye:

Ability to clear your Facebook history.  This new feature will allow users to see the websites and apps that send FB info when you use them, and be able to both delete this info from your account and turn off FB’s ability to store it associated with your account going forward. Score one for privacy.

Facebooks New Dating Tool.  Facebook is building a feature for dating and relationships within the Facebook app. People will be able to create a dating profile that is separate from their Facebook profile, and potential matches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common, and mutual friends. IAC (Match.com’s holding company) stock plummeted 22% of this news. One likely step back on privacy.

Video Chat. Yeah, MeToo, but video chat will be available in Instagram Direct and will “empower one-on-one and group conversations.” That way, you can chat with your new friend from Facebook Dating before you meet them in meatspace.

Oculus Go. Oculus’ first standalone VR headset and already available globally starting at $199 for the 32 GB version, and $250 for the 64 GB version. At release, it has more than 1,000 apps, games and experiences, and after scanning review after review after review (from a variety of media) I’m diving in. Virtually speaking. The read is that this is the first real VR tool available to the masses at an aggressive price point that doesn’t put the majority of the load on either a smartphone or a computer.  This could well be the most important announcement at F8.

We’ll see what they have in store for day 2.

Written by turbotodd

May 2, 2018 at 10:27 am

Posted in 2018

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Cloud Revs Up

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Cloud revenues have grown 51 percent over the past year to nearly $15 billion, according to new research by Synergy Research Group.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, that number outpaces full-year revenue growth of 44 percent in 2017, and 50 percent in 2016.

The results are based on an analysis of quarterly earnings reported by Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet, IBM, and Alibaba in recent weeks.

The analysis includes reported revenue data from Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service and hosted private cloud services.

It shows AWS, Amazon’s cloud unit, extending a 12-quarter lead in the cloud-services market, with a 33% share of the global market. Amazon was among the first tech firms to rent computer power and storage, launching AWS over a decade ago.

Currently its closest rival is Microsoft, with 13% market share, followed by IBM at 8%, Google at 6% and Alibaba at 4%, according to Synergy.

Also:

Gains among big cloud vendors have mostly come at the expense of small-to-medium sized operators, who are being outspent by the bigger providers and have seen their market shares diminish, Synergy said.

Written by turbotodd

May 1, 2018 at 9:26 am

Posted in 2018, cloud computing

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The Sprint to T-Mobile

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Can you hear that pin drop?

That’s the sound of two telecommunications giants attempting to become one.

Over the weekend, T-Mobile US Inc. agreed to acquire Sprint Corp. for $26.5 billion in stock, according to a report from Bloomberg.

This mashup would reduce the U.S. wireless industry to three major competitors from four, writes Bloomberg, which it said ensures “heavy scrutiny from regulators.”

T-Mobile CEO John Legere explained “We’re going to have an impact on America…We are going to drag the rest of the players kicking and screaming to the prize, which is American leadership in fifth-generation (5G) networks.”

Some details:

Operating as T-Mobile, the company would have about $74 billion in annual revenue and 70 million wireless subscribers. Verizon is the largest U.S. carrier with $88 billion in 2017 wireless revenue and 111 million subscribers, and AT&T would be No. 2 with $71 billion in wireless revenue and have 78 million regular subscribers.

Fascinating to see the “America First” spin geared towards both regulators and the Trump Administration (obviously to help them navigate and get the blessing of regulators).

Axios picks it up there:

  • Executives stressed the deal would help America outpace China and others in 5G wireless development. “The combination of the 600 megahertz [in wireless spectrum] and other assets that we have are critical building blocks of what America needs to deploy to take its rightful place,” said T-Mobile CEO John Legere.
  • Many in D.C. worry about China outpacing America in 5G development. Earlier this year, a now-departed senior official in the National Security Council circulated a planto nationalize a 5G network.
  • The company’s project job growth in retail and customer service operations, with an emphasis on rural areas.

So, to recap: This deal helps us beat China to the 5G punch (National security!), is GREAT for consumers (even though there will now be one less player on the U.S. telecom chessboard), and it will create new jobs in rural ‘Merica.

Written by turbotodd

April 30, 2018 at 9:35 am

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