How Google Software Won 2018
Posted by News Fetcher on December 25 '18 at 07:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Google is relatively new to the hardware game -- at least compared to rivals Apple and Samsung. But it's not just what's outside that matters. An analysis, by Engadget : The Pixel 3 is the best example. Physically, the phone is a more premium version of the Pixel 2. But aside from that, nothing about the Pixel 3's design makes me yearn for the phone. In fact, the 3 XL even has one of the biggest screen notches in the market, which some people find hideous. And yet, the Pixel 3s were still one of our favorite phones of the year, and ended up on our best gadgets list. But if you can stomach the notch, or don't mind using the smaller phone, then boy, will you be blown away by Google's software. Let's start with my favorite -- Call Screening.
On the Pixels, you can have Assistant field calls for you without having to answer the phone or even say a single word. It's easy to dismiss this feature as simply a glorified voice messaging system, but it's so much more than that. Assistant will ask your caller what they want, transcribe what they're saying in real time and suggest actions for you. Say you realize it's your doctor calling. You could ask them more questions, dictate a real time reply, or use a preset action like hang up or promise to call back. Can your voicemail do that? I don't think so.
[...] Nowhere is the importance of software exemplified as effectively as it is in Google's imaging algorithms, which are so powerful they helped the Pixel 3 nab the smartphone camera crown in our tests. Not only can the phones capture clear, colorful pictures with just a single rear camera, but the Pixels produced the nicest Portrait mode effects using pure software alone. And with the magical Night Sight mode, Google easily kicked Apple and Samsung's butts in low light photography, turning dark, noisy pictures into shots that look like they were taken in daytime. [...]
Counter-point: DxOMark's Pixel 3 camera score shows AI isn't enough.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's interesting-perspective department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Epic Games managed to produce a hit, sure, but the genius of it is how it's rewritten the idea of what hanging out online can be. Fortnite is a game, but it's also a global living room for millions of people, and a kind of codex for where culture has gone this year -- it's a cultural omnibus that's absorbed everything from Blocboy JB's shoot dance to John Wick. It got Ted Danson to learn how to floss. This thing is here to stay, as a new kind of social network.
Fortnite has achieved such a massive scale partially because of those network effects -- if all of your friends are hanging out there, you will be too. The game is both free to play and available on every device -- consoles, computers, even phones. That's created a kind of lingua franca, a base level of understanding among a large group of people about the experience of playing the game. And even though it's hugely popular, the experience of playing is extremely specific -- not so many people outside your peer group are going to know what you mean if you reference a "chug jug" in casual conversation. There's an in group thing going on here.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
For most of us, using up the Christmas leftovers means endless rounds of turkey sandwiches and lashings of Brussel sprout curry in the days leading up to New Year. So, to help inject some creativity into this year's leftover eat-up, BBC turned to artificial intelligence for some culinary assistance. From a report: A number of research teams around the world have been developing AI systems that are capable of learning from existing recipes and then coming up with some of their own. We asked researchers behind two innovative algorithms to see what their AI's take would be on Christmas food. One, developed by computer scientists at Stanford University, can turn whatever food is left in your fridge into a unique recipe based on those ingredients. The other, created by AI researchers at the University of Illinois, puts a cultural twist on a meal by creating dishes from one country in the style of another cuisine.
The first algorithm, called Forage, uses a type of AI known as deep neural networks, which attempts to replicate the way the human brain works. Networks like these are able to handle problems involving complex data and are increasingly being used to tackle tasks as diverse as controlling self-driving cars and recognising the early signs of cancer in health scans. [...] The second algorithm we used was developed by Lav Varshney and his team at the University of Illinois. It was trained on nearly 40,000 recipes from 20 different countries using a system that can apply semantic reasoning to replace certain ingredients with those it considers to be equivalent from a different cuisine.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's upon-further-reflection department
Mark Wilson, writing for FastCompany magazine: That little Prime logo used to mean something. Now it feels like a ruse that lulls shoppers into a false sense of security, until they go to checkout and see a shipping arrival date far later than anticipated. This cuts through the greatest promise of Prime. It's not just the free, two-day shipping. It's that it's so reliable, you never have to think for more than a second about buying something. In this sense, Prime was constructed to be great for the consumer (so efficient) and great for businesses (mindless impulse shopping!). I've been a Prime member myself for over a decade, so I've come to expect that the rush of the holiday season will clog the arteries of Amazon's fulfillment centers and delivery services alike and make shipping less than reliable. But anecdotally, to me and many of the people I know and work with, this year, it feels worse than ever.
It doesn't help that we've seen a slow dilution of Prime itself over time, with the rise of Prime Pantry and Add-on Items. They force you to buy a minimum number of items to get the best deal, adding back the very psychic burden Prime had eliminated from the equation of online shopping in the first place. As a result, it can be hard to find true, two-day Prime items that aren't marked up to insane prices by third-party sellers. But Prime was still Prime. This holiday, I've noticed things that are in stock and labeled "Prime" have nonsensical shipping dates. I'm not alone in experiencing Shipping Shock. Complaints about slow Prime shipping abound across the internet. Quora literally has a thread asking, "Has Amazon slowed down their free shipping speed intentionally?" The "top answer" with 22,000 views is a customer rant about late shipments. Many others chime in to confirm the slowdowns, and offer conspiracy theories as to what could be going on.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's unintended-repercussions department
An underwater landslide caused by activity from the Anak Krakatau volcano is being blamed for a tsunami that struck Indonesia late Saturday, killing at least 222 people and injuring more than 800 others. Normally, the U.S. Geological Survey would report on such events and provide any necessary data it had to the public. But it can't due to America's partial government shutdown, which began Saturday after President Donald Trump refused to sign legislation that didn't include funding for his southern border wall. From a report: The USGS website is dormant as of Sunday, except for a notice at the top. "Due to a lapse in appropriations, the majority of USGS websites may not be up to date and may not reflect current conditions," the note reads. "Websites displaying real-time data, such as Earthquake and Water and information needed for public health and safety will be updated with limited support." According to the government shutdown contingency plan, the USGS will retain just 75 of its estimated 8,032 employees, or 0.9 percent. "The USGS will suspend the majority of its activities with the exception of those functions to protect life and property," the plan states. The document also claims that 450 employees will be "on call" for natural disasters, but it's unclear if that process has been enacted, as the USGS website says the agency is not "able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
The U.S. has added 10,000 of these budget retail outlets since 2001. But some towns and cities are trying to push back. From a report: A recent research brief [PDF] by the Institute of Local Self Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit supporting local economies, sheds light on the massive growth of this budget enterprise. Since 2001, outlets of Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which bought Family Dollar in 2015) have grown from 20,000 to 30,000 in number. Though these "small-box" retailers carry only a limited stock of prepared foods, they're now feeding more people than grocery chains like Whole Foods, which has around 400-plus outlets in the country. In fact, the number of dollar-store outlets nationwide exceeds that of Walmart and McDonalds put together -- and they're still growing at a breakneck pace. That, ILSR says, is bad news. "While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress," the authors of the brief write. "They're a cause of it."
Dollar stores have succeeded in part by capitalizing on a series of powerful economic and social forces -- white flight, the recent recession, the so-called "retail apocalypse" -- all of which have opened up gaping holes in food access. But while dollar store might not be causing these inequalities per se, they appear to be perpetuating them. The savings they claim to offer shoppers in the communities they move to makes them, in some ways, a little poorer. Using code made public by Jerry Shannon, a geographer at University of Georgia, CityLab made a map showing the spread of dollar stores since the recession.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Stephen Follows, a writer and producer who also researches data and statistics on the film industry, writes: Today we're going to use data to answer the question "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" Along the way, we're going to test Die Hard's Christmas bona fides against all movies in US cinemas for the past thirty years, using a variety of methods. I have put details of my sources and methodology at the end of the article. The short story is that unless I say otherwise, the data for 'all movies' relates to all movies shown in US cinemas between 1988 (ie the year of our Lord John McClane) and 2017.
Part 1 - Creative: Let's start by assessing the artistic work of Die Hard (as opposed to the commercial product or cultural icon). We'll do this by measuring the Christmas references in the script, on-screen and in the soundtrack. By going back to the film's script we are able to see what the screenwriters saw as part of their vision. The word "Christmas" appears 18 times in the script, which is more than the words "explode" (4), "die" (5), "hard" (11), "shoot" (12), "kill" (13) and "blood" (13), although far fewer times than "gun" (73), "terrorist" (51) and "suddenly" (45). [...] There are a total of 21 distinct Christmassy elements in the movie, ranging from Santa hats and Christmas Trees to festive treats and a pivotal piece of "Christmas Greetings" tape.
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By msmash from Slashdot's pushing-humanity-forward department
No one told them to look for the Earth. It was Christmas Eve 1968 and the first manned mission to the moon had reached its destination. As Apollo 8 slipped into lunar orbit the crew prepared to read passages of Genesis for a TV broadcast to the world. But as the command module came around on its fourth lap, there it was visible through the window -- a bright blue and white bauble suspended in the black above the relentless grey of the moon. The Guardian: Before that moment 50 years ago, no one had seen an earthrise. The sight sent Bill Anders, the mission photographer, scrambling for his camera. He slapped a 70mm colour roll into the Hasselblad, set the focus to infinity, and started shooting though the telephoto lens. What he captured became one of the most influential images in history. A driving force of the environmental movement, the picture, which became known as Earthrise, showed the world as a singular, fragile, oasis.
On previous laps Anders had snapped the far side of the moon for the geologists and the near side of it for Apollo's landing site planners. "It didn't take long for the moon to become boring. It was like dirty beach sand," Anders told the Guardian. "Then we suddenly saw this object called Earth. It was the only colour in the universe." Apollo 8 launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on 21 December 1968. The enormous Saturn V rocket, more than 110 metres tall, had flown only twice before and never with a crew. But on that day the rocket performed. Tucked inside the command module, Anders, Frank Borman and James Lovell looped the planet twice before the third stage blasted them onwards to the moon. They arrived nearly three days later, completed 10 lunar orbits, and headed home for a splashdown in the north Pacific.
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By msmash from Slashdot's holding-accountable department
The Higher Regional Court of Saarbrucken (a city in Germany) concluded Key-Systems, a German-based registrar, can be held secondarily liable for the infringing actions of a customer if it fails to take action if rightsholders point out "obvious" copyright infringing activity online. From a report: This means that, if a site owner is unresponsive to takedown requests, Key-Systems and other registrars can be required to take a domain name offline, even when the infringing activity is limited to a single page. The local music group BVMI is happy with the outcome of the case. They believe it will help copyright holders to take action against infringing activity. "This is a further important clarification in the legal space of the internet, helping it to become clearer and fairer for creatives and their partners," says Rene Houareau, BVMI's Managing Director Legal & Political Affairs. "The [court] affirms, with clearly outlined criteria, the responsibility of so-called registrars and thus gives affected rightsholders an important legal tool to defend themselves against the unlawful use of their content on the internet."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Free online courses -- also called Massive Open Online Courses -- have quite a year. An anonymous reader shares a blog post: It's been seven years since these courses rose to prominence, when a few Stanford professors decided to offer their courses online free. Since then over over 900 universities have launched over 11,000 courses. And in its seven years these Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have achieved new milestone: 100 million plus learners. [...] At the end of every year, I do an extensive analysis of the MOOC space. To help me with analysis, I send the top MOOC providers a set of questions, one of them being the top enrolled courses of 2018.
The list below contains the top enrolled courses from the major MOOC providers: Coursera, edX, Udacity, and FutureLearn. Combined, these providers represent a big chunk of the MOOC learners (70 million plus). Without further ado, here are the most popular free online university courses of 2018:
Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects from University of California, San Diego.
Machine Learning from Stanford University.
The Science of Well-Being from Yale University.
Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
CS50's Introduction to Computer Science from Harvard University.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's marching-forward department
President Donald Trump last week signed legislation ramping up quantum computing research and development. From a report: The National Quantum Initiative Act (H.R. 6227) authorizes $1.2 billion over five years for federal activities aimed at boosting investment in quantum information science, or QIS, and supporting a quantum-smart workforce. The law also establishes a National Quantum Coordination Office, calls for the development of a five-year strategic plan and establishes an advisory committee to advise the White House on issues relating to quantum computing. "This next great technological revolution has far-reaching implications for job creation, economic growth and national security," Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a White House statement. "We look forward to building upon efforts to support the quantum-smart workforce of the future and engage with government, academic and private-sector leaders to advance QIS."
[...] Earlier this month, a report from the National Academies of Science said there is an urgent need to develop "post-quantum" encryption protocols in order to protect commerce and national security. QIS research could also produce new types of quantum processors, sensors, navigation tools and security systems. The challenges could bring about "new approaches to understanding materials, chemistry and even gravity through quantum information theory," according to a White House strategy paper issued in September.Read Replies (0)