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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.

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Google introduces AI-as-a-service

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?

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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

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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.

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Apps without Programming

The new App Inventor takes Google’s “do what you like with your gadgets” approach one step further, by enabling anyone – even those who have never programmed before – to create their own apps with drag and drop ease.

App Inventor is a simple user interface for creating applications for the Android mobile platform, working in a similar way to Visual Basic – you drag buttons onto your screen and attach actions to them.

It’s interesting because in an age where there is fierce debate over whether you have the right to reprogram your device and customize it for your own use (consider Apple’s iOS vs Google’s Android), this presents a third option – by equipping ordinary people to develop exactly the functionality they need, without having to go outside the bounds of a controlled environment. Might we see Apple offer something similar for iPhones soon?

It’s also interesting to consider that if MySpace, Facebook and blogs took the idea of people creating websites and web content into the mainstream, what could happen if the capability to create software became equally mainstream? It would be sure to spark a total revolution in the way we think about computers…

Read more at CNET.

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The social graph land grab

The map of how humans know one another will be a tremendously valuable thing. Internet giants like Facebook and Google know how valuable the data will be — it will govern everything from how we advertise to how we give people security clearances. We’re in the middle of the biggest social graph land grab in history.

In the absence of clear guidelines or legislation with teeth, however, the industry is taking an ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission approach to social mapping.

Google has had to pivot quickly in recent months from mapping the web to mapping its users. At least it’s transparent about what it knows: the company publishes its social network mapping, showing who it knows you relate to and how.

Others aren’t so up-front. A Facebook gaffe installed applications when you visited other sites. As this piece points out, when apps install themselves it’s called malware; but on Facebook it’s a feature.

There’s little to discourage Internet giants from building this map, and if you’re online in any way, you probably can’t hide. On today’s Internet, everybody knows you’re a dog.

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Welcome, Human 2.0.

We may not realize it, but the Internet has given us superhuman abilities. We acquire new capabilities each year, and technology lets us to do things that would have seemed impossible 30 years ago.

Here are ten superpowers that you and I have today:

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rogersfail-wIn an effort to force users of its HTC Dream to do a software update that fixes a 911 call bug, Rogers has disconnected Internet from all its Android customers. Here’s the full text I just received on my phone:

Rogers/Fido Safety Message: URGENT Reminder 911 Calls HTC Dream software update: Mandatory software update is now available to help ensure 911 calls are completed from your phone. Please go immediately to rogers.com/dreamsoftwareupdate on your PC to download.

In order to help ensure 911 calls are completed internet access was temporarily disabled on your phone at 01/24/10 6:00AM EST. To reactivate internet service, please complete your software update immediately. Upon completion, internet access will be re enabled within 24 hours.

For users of Macintosh and Windows 7, please call 1- 888-764-3771(1-888-ROGERS1) for update instructions.

We apologize for the inconvenience but we prioritize customer safety above all.

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Is Apple the new Sony?

Walkman and iPod

Apple’s increasingly restricting what consumers can do with their devices. Now those policies put the company in a battle for openness against the likes of Google.

It’s a competitive dilemma that comes from being in both the platform and the content business. And it’s one Apple should have handled better, because it’s the same mistake another company made that let Apple dominate the portable music market: Sony.

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Does Big Search change science?

Matthew Ingram at the Globe and Mail takes Wired to task over a recent article that implies Big Search will save the world and change the way we solve problems. I think Matthew’s right, and that the way we can now mine vast amounts of data isn’t a substitute for science — merely an accelerant.

I think this for two reasons. First, Google can’t solve the problems with machines; and second, correlation is not causality.

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