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Are the dictionary’s days numbered?

The Oxford English Dictionary

Nigel Portwood, the Chief Executive of Oxford University Press, which prints the Oxford English Dictionary, has observed that thanks to the ease of googling for dictionary definitions or searching online on oed.com, demand for printed dictionaries is falling rapidly, “by tens of percent each year”. He speculates there may be no printed dictionary market left by 2020.

Will the dictionary go the way of the phone bookRead more at ABC News.


Computers make better decisions than humans because they aren’t weighed down by biases, ego, and the need to rationalize decisions after the fact. An economically rational player would make more money on Deal Or No Deal than a stupid human. We can’t help it: it’s the way we evolved. Everything from shopping, to teamwork, to the way we elect our leaders is tainted with the stupidity of how we make decisions.

Just as external storage can become a form of prosthetic memory, so computers can become prosthetic decision-makers. If we were to make them understand the dilemmas before us, computer assistants could advise us on the economically rational thing to do.

Would we be able to deal with being told we’re wrong so much of the time?

Read more »


Google’s recently launched learning engine tries to predict the future. The prediction engine takes data and tries to guess at outcomes. It’s not quite that simple: you have to supply the engine with a set of training data, and it will then try to predict new data based on what it’s learned, using a supervised learning algorithm.

By offering this as a cloud service, Google has removed an obstacle for many startups. Learning engines can predict everything from future purchases to suspicious behavior, but growing them as the data set expands can be difficult. The prediction engine can be built into applications running in Google’s App Engine, for example, making it easy to experiment with machine learning at scale. While the data is anonymous, Google does benefit from improved algorithms as it learns what works and what doesn’t.

Following on the heels of Google’s investment in Recorded Future, it’s clear the company’s mission goes far beyond putting the world’s information at our disposal. But even if Google can show the world the future, will we change what we do?


Is voice control a reality?

The new Android software from Google, Voice Actions lets you send a text, write an email, bring up information or call a business whose number you don’t have to hand using just your voice. The demonstration is impressive (though from real world tests it does not seem to be as speedy as the demo suggests).
If it works, this could be a great feature for hands-free drivers who want to access information on the move.. but will we use it in public? So far, voice technologies have not gained mainstream adoption – some people think it is because we feel silly talking to our electronics. Perhaps, as voice recognition technology improves, the biggest barrier is no longer technological but psychological…

Find out more at TechCrunch


Is photography a human right?

Today we photograph more than ever before – and thanks to the negligible cost, we film situations that would never have been captured before. But police and other authority figures do not want to be recorded, and all over the world a battle is playing out between officials pushing current laws to extremes to prevent such recordings, and citizens who fight back with equal vigour to protect their freedom to photograph.

Should photography be criminalized and recording devices banished from any situation where that recording might be used for ill? Or should we assert our right to capture anything we experience as a fundamental right?

Read more »


Real-time game stats, together with Twitter updates and other sports scores, are overlayed on the device running MetaMirror. (Credit: Notion)

More and more pop-outs, banners and information scrollers are starting to appear on our television sets, particularly during news and sports coverage. And many of us really don’t like that clutter on the screen – though the information is useful. A new concept software interface, MetaMirror, offers a solution – the use of an iPad or tablet to show the same view as your TV, but with all the statistics, scores and replays overlaid on top of it.

It will be interesting as iPads and tablets become more mainstream to see if we see this idea take off.

Read more at CNET.


Visa's payWave contactless payment system, soon to be challenged by AT&T and Verizon

The two biggest mobile companies in the US, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, are teaming up to launch a new financial venture, which will allow consumers to pay for goods with a swipe of their smartphone – in effect forming a new banking entity and putting them in direct competition with the likes of Mastercard and Visa (who already have contactless payment methods called “payPass” and “payWave”).

What’s interesting about this development is that it uses something most of us already have – a smartphone – so the barrier to entry will be much lower. And as one expert put it, “The mobile carriers are the biggest recurring billers in every market. They are experts at processing payments.”

Perhaps in the future our banks won’t be banks, but phone companies.

Read more at Bloomberg, or Mobile Beat.


In The Shockwave Rider, his 1970s vision of a future that’s arriving faster than we can deal with it, John Brunner talks about Delphi Pools. These public, crowdsourced lotteries let citizens bet on predictions. The government uses this data to decide what’s most important to the population.

Break out your tinfoil hats: now Google and the CIA may be up to the same thing, having invested in a “temporal analytics” startup called Recorded Future last year.

According to Wired:

The CIA and Google are both backing a company that monitors the web in real time — and says it uses that information to predict the future.

The company is called Recorded Future, and it scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come. In a white paper, the company says its temporal analytics engine “goes beyond search” by “looking at the ‘invisible links’ between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events.”

Sentiment analysis is nothing new; what’s different here seems to be the visualization and extrapolation of past trends into the future.

Like Brunner’s Delphi, this helps guess what might happen, but rather than soliciting our input directly the way prediction markets do, this uses the trails we leave online — links, comments, retweets, and so on. The predictions can include competitive intelligence, brand monitoring, and personal investigation.

Incidentally, in Brunner’s novel, the government uses the Delphi pools to placate an otherwise implacable citizenry, and often alters the results before publishing them to sway public opinion.


Mapping the human brain

GigaOm has a great piece on IBM’s efforts to map the brain. It’s a long way from downloading ourselves into a computer, but this interview shows just how far we’ve come — and how much more there is to do.

Go visit GigaOm for Stacey’s take on the discussion. Mapping the brain has tremendous potential for both good and bad. We can tackle diseases and cure trauma; but we can also understand when someone is lying, or manipulate them below their conscious defenses. IBM’s efforts center around simulating the way brains work within computer systems, and mapping real brains is key to that effort.

(Hat tip to Duncan Hill for the pointer)


Via @lennysan, this is a great piece on how public, prosthetic memories will change us forever. Humans forget things with good reason: forgetting lets us discard old ideas in favor of new ones, and pain recedes so we can try things like childbirth again. Not so digital memory.

There’s a growing movement to put a statute of limitations on public digital data, even as Google reveals that it’s stored every search since its launch and the Library of Congress is archiving every Tweet.

As this Ars Technica piece points out, “in an age of ever-cheaper storage, the data committed to machine memory requires an act of will to delete.”

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