Monthly Archives: October 2016

Gigabit Wireless and the Anti iPhone Set

One of the biggest disappointments at this year’s Mobile World Congress, which opened Monday, is that the Samsung Galaxy 8 phone won’t make it. The phone’s official launch is scheduled for March 29.

The Galaxy line has been the ultimate iPhone fighter. Rumors around the anniversary edition of the iPhone suggest that it will do amazing, magical things, like 3D selfies. (OK, I’m really missing Steve Jobs at the moment — who the hell wants 3D selfies?!?)

Missing the biggest historical alternative is keeping a lot of us home this week. Still LG, Motorola, Lenovo and Qualcomm are expected to make huge announcements that could result in the iPhone 8 looking a tad out of date when it finally launches later in the year.

I’ll share some observations on what they have in store and close with my product of the week: a new PC camera from Logitech that enables Microsoft Hello on laptops and desktop PCs that otherwise wouldn’t support it. (When it works, Microsoft Hello is actually pretty cool.)

Gigabit Wireless

Some of this stuff we can anticipate just from Qualcomm launches. Perhaps the biggest of late is the Qualcomm X20 Modem. This part is likely to dominate the high-end phones announced at MWC and for good reason. It isn’t that it provides a maximum throughput of 1.2 gigabits — while impressive, that would just blow out our data plans — but that it uses carrier aggregation that increases overall data speeds by 2x or better.

This means you’ll have a far better chance of syncing your mail or downloading a book, movie or big file during the last minutes before the flight attendant forces you to put hour phone in airplane mode. It also means that cloud-based services likely will work much better on your phones, which will open up the door for things like…

 

Cloud-Based Artificial Intelligence

Let’s not kid ourselves — services like Siri suck. We’ve been waiting for some time for Apple’s partnership with IBM to result in a far better, Watson-like personal assistant. However, the richer the service, the less likelihood it can run on the phone, and the more it needs significant battery life.

If you really want a powerful artificial intelligence experience on the phone, you need both a powerful cloud-based AI and enough bandwidth to make the thing work, so expect some interesting, and far more powerful, cloud-based services announced this week.

Watson may be a stretch — though I doubt it — but the vastly improved Google Assistant is expected to be displayed on a far wider number of phones this year. So, one way or another, the new smartphones are likely to become a ton smarter.

 

LG Steps Into Samsung’s Space

With the Galaxy 8 delayed, LG is expected to step into Samsung’s space with a stunning new phone that is mostly hardened glass. I expect Corning, which makes Gorilla Glass, will be especially pleased.

This phone is expected to have mostly screen (tiny metal borders), the most advanced camera system to date, and a ton of performance-based features, and it could well be the phone to lust after. Leaked images suggest it may be one of the most beautiful phones ever created. Apple will not be pleased

 

BlackBerry’s Move

BlackBerry is expected to showcase its Project Mercury at the show (the company teased it at CES this year). It’s the last BlackBerry-designed phone, and the company is going out with a bang.

I’ve seen pictures of it floated on the Web, and it appears to be the best blend of a keyboard and screen phone yet. As BlackBerry phones have been for some time, it is Android-based, but it’s hardened and surprisingly pretty.

Digital VP Beena Ammanath

Ammanath also serves on the Cal Poly Computer Engineering ProgramIndustrial Advisory Board, helping to shape the future generation of computer scientists with her expertise. She recently was named one of the top female analytics experts in the Fortune 500 by Forbescontributor Meta S. Brown.

In this exclusive interview, Ammanath speaks to TechNewsWorld about AI, analytics, and diversity in tech.

TechNewsWorld: You are one of the thought leaders on artificial intelligence. How do you think AI will impact businesses and jobs?

Beena Ammanath: I have worked in a number of industries — e-commerce, financial, marketing, telecom, retail, software products and industrial — over the past two decades. I have seen how the growth of data from OLTP systems to data warehouses to big data and data science has impacted businesses.

I believe we are just at the tip of the iceberg with AI today. AI is not by itself an industry — more of a technology that is positioned to transform businesses across a number of sectors. AI will be so intertwined and pervasive within business operations in the future that it may be impossible to do business without AI. Fundamental business models of today are going to change, as AI evolves.

Tesla’s driverless car is still in its early AI stage, but it won’t be that long before drivers put their cars completely on autopilot. In a few years from now, Uber may not need drivers; just idle cars will be needed. But even more broadly, the whole transportation ecosystem is going to change.

The Palm Jumeirah Monorail in Dubai is a fully automatic driverless train that can shuttle up to 6,000 passengers an hour. The locomotive industry is poised for a revolution — not only passenger trains, but also long-haul goods transportation.

There will be an impact on jobs, but I see it more as job roles changing and not necessarily as job reduction. The jobs most at risk are those that are routine-intensive and are strictly defined with limited tasks. If you think of the transportation example, in a few years we may not need as many drivers, but we will need more programmers and support personnel.

The Reason Linux Desktop Does Better

First and foremost, Linux is literally free. Neither the operating system nor any of the programs you run will cost you a dime. Beyond the obvious financial benefit of getting software for free, Linux allows users to be free by affording access to the basic tools of modern computer use — such as word processing and photo editing — which otherwise might be unavailable due to the cost barrier.

Microsoft Office, which sets the de facto standard formats for documents of nearly every kind, demands a US$70 per year subscription. However, you can run LibreOffice for free while still handling documents in all the same formats with ease.

Free software also gives you the chance to try new programs, and with them new ways of pursuing business and leisure, without their prospective costs forcing you to make a commitment.

Instead of painstakingly weighing the merits of Mac or Windows and then taking a leap of faith, you can consider a vast spectrum of choices offered by hundreds of distributions — basically, different flavors of Linux — by trying each in turn until you find the one that’s right for you.

Linux can even save money on hardware, as some manufacturers — notably Dell — offer a discount for buying a computer with Linux preinstalled. They can charge less because they don’t have to pass on the cost of licensing Windows from Microsoft.

 

You Can Make It Your Own

There is practically nothing in Linux that can’t be customized. Among the projects central to the Linux ecosystem are desktop environments — that is, collections of basic user programs and visual elements, like status bars and launchers, that make up the user interface.

Some Linux distributions come bundled with a desktop environment. Ubuntu is paired with the Unity desktop, for example. Others, such as with Debian, give you a choice at installation. In either case, users are free to change to any one they like.

Most distributions officially support (i.e., vouch for compatibility) dozens of the most popular desktops, which makes finding the one you like best that much simpler. Within the pantheon of desktops, you can find anything from glossy modern interfaces like KDE Plasma or Gnome, to simple and lightweight ones like Xfce and MATE. Within each of these, you can personalize your setup further by changing the themes, system trays and menus, choosing from galleries of other users’ screens for inspiration.

The customization possibilities go well beyond aesthetics. If you prize system stability, you can run a distribution like Mint, which offers dependable hardware support and ensures smooth updates.

On the other hand, if you want to live on the cutting edge, you can install an OS like Arch Linux, which gives you the latest update to each program as soon as developers release it.

Thwarting API

A new tool is available to check the persistent harassment of online trolls. Google’s Jigsaw think tank last week launched Perspective, an early stage technology that uses machine learning to help neutralize trolls.

Perspective reviews comments and scores them based on their similarity to comments people have labeled as toxic, or that are likely to result in someone leaving a conversation.

Publishers can select what they want to do with the information Perspective provides to them. Their options include the following:

  • Flagging comments for their own moderators to review;
  • Providing tools to help users understand the potential toxicity of comments as they write them; and
  • Letting readers sort comments based on their likely toxicity.

Forty-seven percent of 3,000 Americans aged 15 or older reported experiencing online harassment or abuse, according to a survey Data & Society conducted last year. More 70 percent said they had witnessed online harassment or abuse.

Perspective got its training through an examination of hundreds of thousands of comments labeled by human reviewers who were asked to rate online comments on a scale from “very toxic” to “very healthy.”

Like all machine learning applications, Perspective improves as it’s used.

Partners and Future Plans

A number of partners have signed on to work with Jigsaw in this endeavor:

  • The Wikimedia Foundation is researching ways to detect personal attacks against volunteer editors on Wikipedia;
  • The New York Times is building an open source moderation tool to expand community discussion
  • The Economist is reworking its comments platform; and
  • The Guardian is researching how best to moderate comment forums, and host online discussions between readers and journalists.

Jigsaw has been testing a version of this technology with The New York Times, which has a team sifting through and moderating 11 thousand comments daily before they are posted.

Jigsaw is working to train models that let moderators sort through comments more quickly.

The company is looking for more partners. It wants to deliver models that work in languages other than English, as well as models that can identify other characteristics, such as when comments are unsubstantial or off-topic.