Turbotodd

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

Posts Tagged ‘2018

Happy Thanksgiving Black Friday

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Well, it’s that time of year here in the U.S.

Time for giving thanks…briefly…before the real fun begins, shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and all points in between.

I’m only partially joking. For many retailers, this several day period can also be a time for giving thanks and making up for other soft periods throughout the year.

The good news, consumer confidence is high, the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, and the Walmarts and Targets and Amazons and Apples and all the other retailers are ready to rock n roll for the full stop start of this year’s holiday shopping season.

My predictions for this year: I’ve learned not to get too far out over my skis on predictions, but I will say I believe mobile shopping (via tablets and smartphones) will continue to grow, more omnichannel opportunities will be taken advantage of so consumers don’t have to fight their way through crowded stores (i.e., buy online only to pick up at the store later), and based on my own personal experience these past few days, Roku and Amazon Fire streaming devices are in high demand.

As for my own shopping proclivities, I don’t have anything tech-related that’s trying to burn a hole in my pocket. I bought a used iPhone 7 Plus off Gazelle earlier this year, and a Google Pixelbook earlier in the year which I really, really like (yes, you can consider that an endorsement). And I’ve had my Air Pods for over a year now, and don’t know how I lived without them (another endorsement).

But if YOU are looking for some help with the holiday shopping onslaught, particularly as it relates to tech, I found the Wall Street Journal “Best Tech Gifts 2018” list helpful. I’ve also become a big fan of The New York Times Wirecutter reviews, and they, too, have a helpful shopping list for electronics and a whole host of other retail categories.

But for today, let us give thanks. For good friends, for family, for great food and abundance, and for each other. Sure, all this stuff can bring some joy to our lives, and I’m also thankful for the benefits technology provides.

Yet as we’ve surely witnessed over the past few years, any technology — including digital technology and social media — can be used for both good and ill.

On this day, the day of giving thanks, I’m going to choose to celebrate the good of those technologies and be thankful for how they keep me closer to my friends and family and enrich my life and theirs.

For despite all the negativity and division, we should step back and realize we live in amazing and wondrous times, with great possibilities and promise ahead, technologically and otherwise.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. And try not to stampede your fellow shoppers at the Walmart this year!

 

Written by turbotodd

November 22, 2018 at 10:51 am

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

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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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

The Google Walkout

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What’s going on on this fine Thursday?

Quite a lot, actually.

But speficially, Google is finding itself in the middle of a significant employee walkout (mostly by women), one that started in its Tokyo offices and has been working its way around the world.

The New York Times has a detailed run down of the specific grievances here.

For one, they’ve asked Google to end its use of private arbitration in cases of alleged sexual assault and harassment.

They’ve also demanded the publication of a transparency report on instances of sexual harassment, further disclosures of salaries and compensation, an employee representative on the company board, and a chief diversity officer who can speak directly to the Alphabet board.

The seven employees who organized the walkout had this to say:

Today at 11:10 a.m. in every time zone in which the protest is taking place, employees at nearly two thirds of Google’s global offices are walking out of their offices. We, the seven core organizers of today’s Google Walkout, represent thousands of Google employees in our call to demand change.

All employees and contract workers across the company deserve to be safe. Sadly, the executive team has demonstrated through their lack of meaningful action that our safety is not a priority. We’ve waited for leadership to fix these problems, but have come to this conclusion: no one is going to do it for us. So we are here, standing together, protecting and supporting each other. We demand an end to the sexual harassment, discrimination, and the systemic racism that fuel this destructive culture.

We are building on the work of others. Many at Google have been advocating for structural change for years. It’s their legacy and leadership that made this moment possible. We are a small part of a massive movement that has been growing for a long time. We are inspired by everyone from the women in fast food who led an action against sexual harassment to the thousands of women in the #metoo movement who have been the beginning of the end for this type of abuse.

So today, over 60 percent of all Google offices, and thousands of Google employees will walk out, around the world.

You can read their full post on The Cut here. 

The times they are a changin’.

Written by turbotodd

November 1, 2018 at 12:19 pm

And the Winner of the Call for Code Is…

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When IBM and its partners announced the Call for Code global developer initiative in May, I quickly surmised I was going to be part of a team working on an effort that would be a highlight of my career at Big Blue.

Little did I know the ripple effect that effort would have around the globe.

The rallying cry was an important one: Asking developers everywhere to team up and use their skills and mastery of the latest and greatest technologies to drive positive and long-lasting chance across the world with their code.

Specifically, for the 2018 effort (Call for Code is a multi-year initiative), to create solutions that significantly improve preparedness for natural disasters and relief when they hit in order to safeguard the health and well-being of communities.

The Call officially began in June, and the deadline for contributions was towards the end of September.

Then, last night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, the winner was announced: Project OWL.

Project OWL’s stated disaster preparedness problem was an important one: To help avoid the chaos and uncertainty a disaster can bring, first responders need to make critical decisions with limited evidence and execute with confidence.

Their solution was brilliant: To use a set of APIs and open data sets from a variety of sources (The Weather Company, the American Red Cross, FEMA) to help build an ad-hoc mobile “Clusterduck” network.

The network would be an offline communications infrastructure created by physical, Wi-Fi-enabled devices dispersed in clusters which would help first responders and relief workers to share information about their specific situation, location and needs.

While the Project OWL team was the winner of the $200K grand prize, the other finalists also offered quite compelling solutions, and I would encourage you to read more about them in this blog post.

As for Project OWL, they took their moment in the spotlight last night in San Francisco and have already turned their attention back to improving upon their initial effort, with the goal of focusing on regions where annual weather patterns consistently impact communities negative, including India, China, the Philippines, and parts of the U.S.

They’ll also receive support from the IBM Corporate Service Corps (think of it as IBM’s Peace Corps), and will have the opportunity to pitch OWL to venture capitalist firm NEA for potential funding.

In the end, over 100k developers from 156 nations participated in this year’s challenge, and built some 2,500 disaster preparedness apps, demonstrating once again the power software developers around the globe have to change the world for the better!

Written by turbotodd

October 30, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Posted in 2018, call for code, developers

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