LOS GATOS, Cali. — As Netflix continues to produce billions of dollars’ worth of original content, it’s easy to forget that the company’s business model is firmly rooted in the delivery of digital content, served with as little friction as possible.

For Los Gatos, California-based Netflix Inc., frequent improvements to how all of its content is delivered — both original and licensed — is not just for subscriber convenience or benefit.

Retaining the company’s 94 million paid subscribers is crucial, but growth is the name of the game and — when reading between the lines of its latest technology improvements — the company has its sights set on emerging markets.

Netflix uploads multiple versions of shows or movies to its cloud servers, encoded in different file sizes. When a subscriber starts watching content, Netflix will know which file to serve, based on the device being used.

A big screen TV on fast home internet service will be served a higher bitrate — the number of bits transmitted per second — more information makes the picture quality better, while someone watching on a cellphone will get a lower bitrate to reduce the amount of bandwidth being used.

Netflix has been trying to refine the way they encode their videos to push significantly better quality video at a lower bitrate, so as more people move to mobile devices, the video they consume won’t take up as much of their bandwidth limits.

But, more importantly, it also means the company can grow its subscriber base in emerging markets where smartphones and data plans are more common than home Internet service. 

“I’m originally from the Philippines, where the main access to the Internet is actually people’s cell phones,” Anne Aaron, Netflix’s director of video algorithms, told a small group of journalists at the company’s headquarters. 

“Every bit counts. So the role of my team is to make sure every bit actually adds to the video quality of what people watch, and our main goal is to have a great viewing experience where you enjoy the TV show or movie at any bit rate.”

Part of the way this is achieved is through efficiency. Netflix’s encoding process was once done on a per-title basis, meaning its algorithms would look at scenes with the most action and use that as a basis for how much to compress the quality of the video.

But Aaron’s team has moved the encoder algorithms to a “per chunk” basis, which would look at one-to-three minute segments at a time, which means they can compress higher quality into smaller bitrate because action moments often aren’t as frequent and the threshold is lower. 

“But why stop there? Let’s go even further and optimize per shot of the video,” Aaron said, adding that Netflix has brought in experts from around the world, including two professors that specialize in encoding, to help make their algorithms even more efficient. 

So now video looks equally as good at half the bitrate — and in some cases, it’s even lower. That drives down the bandwidth costs for subscribers, and potential new users in emerging markets are more likely to be attracted to video that looks good on any device, even at slower speeds.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

“Every bit counts”

Language accuracy

Quality video that doesn’t take up a lot of bandwidth is half the battle. Netflix is also innovating when it comes to localization — the subtitles and dubbing done in other languages.

“In 2012, we launched Lilyhammer… in seven languages and 96 language assets,” said Denny Sheehan, Netflix’s director of content localization and quality control. “Cut to (this year) where we’ve launched Iron Fist in 20 languages and we have 572 language assets. And by language assets, I mean subtitles, audio dubs and audio description.” 

For Netflix and Sheehan’s team, the way to nail localization is by focusing on context. In some cases, the company bypasses local companies that offer people for hire and hires translators directly, in case there are questions on things like cultural jokes, voice inflection and other contextual elements that might be missed in a straight translation.

Netflix also uses style guides and glossaries of terminologies or key phrases to make sure there is consistency across shows or movies as well as in the marketing materials and elsewhere in the company. All departments can access an internal Wiki with the up to date style guide.

“To achieve the highest quality we also have to have really high bar for quality control, and so for our originals this is a very through and rigorous approach,” said Sheehan.

“Every subtitle event is gone through by the same quality control evaluator that has done every episode of every season of a series, so the person working on House of Cards season five for Japanese also worked on season one and that way we know that nothing is going to be lost season-to-season.”

To expand into more languages and markets with a high level of accuracy, Netflix launched its own translator program in March called Hermes. Anyone can register and choose a language they speak, then take a quick test.

Those who score in the highest percentiles will be contacted by Netflix and interviewed to become a paid translator. If eventually accepted, they’ll get a unique ID in the system and their history (including accuracy) can be seen both by Netflix or exported to show other companies if someone is looking for a full-time position in the field. 

“Everybody in the process (including quality control) is measured,” said Chris Fetner, Netflix’s director of media engineering partnerships. “If we start to see a trend where we feel like that person is not performing we’ll either coach them up to a new level, up to the level that we expect or we’ll discontinue using them.”

With Netflix’s eyes on new markets to keep its subscriber base growing, these kinds of technological innovations and focus on localization will already be in place during expansion to help bring new countries on board.

“Even if you think about India and places in Latin American, there are places that either the fixed line bandwidth is quite constrained,” said Ken Florance, Netflix’s vice president of content delivery.

“In Africa, India, parts of Asia, parts of Latin America where there wasn’t this huge build out of fixed lines to people’s homes, in a lot of cases some cellular networks are substituting for the last mile. So any of the benefits from a 200 kilobits stream looking great on a cell network in New York City will also be seen and look fantastic on an old copper DSL in Bogota (Colombia).”

Author: Josh McConnell
Source: business.financialpost.com

Categorized in Internet Technology

When it comes to smartphones, there are so many key areas that are important to users. Design, software, apps, battery life, price, and performance are all key factors, as is speed. And when it comes to speed, Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are the two fastest Android phones that have been released to date. They utilize new 10nm octa-core processors, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 in the US and Samsung’s Exynos 8895 elsewhere. They also sport the most optimized version yet of the Samsung Experience, formerly known as TouchWiz.

But there’s another factor that contributes to smartphone speed, and a new report suggests Samsung’s just-released Galaxy S8 will smoke the iPhone 8 when it’s released later this year.

There’s plenty we think we know about Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8, which is expected to be announced this September alongside new iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus models.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the original iPhone’s release, Apple will reportedly give the iPhone a complete design overhaul. The home button will be removed from the phone’s face, and the screen-to-body ratio is expected to be even more impressive than the 83% achieved by Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+. We can also likely look forward to a new Touch ID scanner embedded in the display, new cameras on the front and back, nifty new augmented reality features, 3D scanning features, and a lightning-fast A11 processor.

But where speed is concerned, it appears as though there’s one thing we shouldn’t expect: Gigabit LTE.

In a speculative piece published this week, CNET noted that Apple’s upcoming new iPhones may not support the new faster wireless standard carriers are currently working to roll out. Dubbed “Gigabit LTE” because of its theoretical 1Gbps top data transfer speed, the new standard is already being tested by wireless carriers in the United States.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ include support for the new faster wireless standard, and several other Android phones that launch in 2017 will also be compatible with Gigabit LTE. Apple’s iPhone 8, however, may not support the faster download and upload speeds offered by Gigabit LTE.

As CNET pointed out, Apple uses modems built by both Qualcomm and Intel in its current iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models. Should Apple continue to utilize both suppliers, only one of the iPhone 8’s modems — the Qualcomm model — will support Gigabit LTE. As a result, Apple may intentionally slow the Qualcomm model to match the performance of the Intel model, as it has allegedly done with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

“This is not an area where Apple should want to cede competitive ground to Google and Samsung,” GlobalData analyst Avi Greengart told CNET.

Operating on the assumption that this speculation turns out to be accurate, does it really matter? Does it matter if Apple decides to “cede competitive ground” to it Android rivals in 2017? Probably not

Smartphone data connections aren’t like home internet connections, where capacity is important because multiple devices are utilizing available bandwidth. If you run a speed test on your smartphone right now, you might see speeds of 30Mbps, 40Mbps or even more. Those are blazing-fast speeds, but it’s only important to a degree.

First, there aren’t very many mobile services that are even capable of using speeds that fast — just like how large file downloads on your home computer might only hit 5Mbps even though you have a 100Mbps connection. Beyond that, any service that actually does utilize faster Gigabit LTE speeds would devour data caps in no time. What about unlimited plans? Sorry, but they’re all capped as well. The amount of full-speed data varies from one carrier to the next, but all unlimited plans include soft-caps of less than 30GB per billing period. After that, data speeds are likely to be throttled.

Down the road, next-gen technologies like Gigabit LTE and 5G will be crucial because more data-hungry services like live-streamed VR will roll out, and soft caps on “unlimited” data plans will be adjusted to accommodate them. But we’re not there yet, and we won’t get there anytime this year. Keep that in mind when Apple unveils the iPhone 8 (or iPhone Edition, or iPhone Pro, or whatever Apple decides to call it) this coming September.

Author: Zach Epstein
Source: bgr.com

Categorized in Others

The last couple months have seen a welcome change in the wireless industry. Instead of massively confusing bills and data caps, we’ve had prices slashed across the board and unlimited data plans for all. But thanks to the unending drive for consolidation and profits, the good times aren’t going to last.

During the recent 600MHz spectrum auction, which ran from the end of 2016 all the way to last week, the government imposed a “quiet rule” on carriers. They couldn’t talk about the auction, their plans with any spectrum, and they couldn’t talk with anyone about merging. But now that quiet time is over, it’s just a matter of time until some blockbuster deals happen.

Rumors suggest that T-Mobile, Sprint, and Dish are all in talks for partnerships, acquisitions, or mergers. For Sprint, it’s a fight for survival: recent financial results have been dire, and since the company didn’t buy any new spectrum in the FCC’s auction, the network won’t see substantial improvements in the near future. SoftBank, the Japanese company that owns Sprint, has been looking for a chance to unload Sprint for years.

The most-talked-about target is Deutsche Telekom, the majority owner of T-Mobile. The idea would be to merge T-Mobile and Sprint, the third-largest and fourth-largest networks in America, to form one super-network.

Although that might lead to slightly improved coverage, it would be terrible for consumers in general. The fight between T-Mobile and Sprint for customers has led to lower prices, the ending of multi-year-contracts, and a host of other consumer-friendly moves in recent years. Losing Sprint, which offers the cheapest contracts of any of the big networks, would mean losing the one company that applies downwards pressure to prices.

The alternatives aren’t much better. One of the few other companies with the money and desire to build out a US-wide cell network could be Amazon. Owning a wireless network would give Amazon direct control over delivering some of its services, like Prime Video, straight to consumers without having to go through an existing internet service provider. A wireless network could also be invaluable in the future for Amazon’s drone delivery service, which would need some kind of national command-and-control network.

It’s not just T-Mobile and Sprint that are rumored in merger deals, either. Dish Network, the satellite TV provider that also owns Sling TV, bought up $6 billion of spectrum at the FCC’s recent auction, and now sits on one of the largest spectrum holdings in the US. It’s possible that it could be bought out by a company like Comcast to build out a brand-new wireless network, or merge with an existing wireless network for further expansion. Any of those options would involve losing the country’s biggest independent TV provider to a major cable company, which would be more bad news for consumers.

Analyst Tim Farrar sees a combination of all these scenarios being the logical option: a three-way deal between T-Mobile, Amazon and Dish to build out a new network, using T-Mobile’s new spectrum and Dish’s spectrum holdings. Using Amazon’s capital, they could quickly build out a fast and wide-reaching network with brand-new technology, which could be used by T-Mobile for cell service, by Dish for internet TV, and by Amazon for world domination/any of Jeff Bezos’s pet projects.

The bottom line is that the status quo isn’t here to stay. Between Sprint’s financial woes, T-Mobile’s desire to build a giant new network at speed, and Dish’s unused spectrum, it seems that a deal is likely. The only questions are when, and how badly it will affect wireless customers.

Author: Chris Mills
Source: bgr.com

Categorized in Internet Technology

At this week's Facebook F8 conference in San Jose, Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on his crazy ambitious 10-year plan for the company, first revealed in April 2016.

Here's the current version of that roadmap, revealed by Zuckerberg this week: 

Basically, Zuckerberg's uses this roadmap to demonstrate Facebook's three-stage game plan in action: First, you take the time to develop a neat cutting-edge technology. Then you build a product based on it. Then you turn it into an ecosystem where developers and outside companies can use that technology to build their own businesses.

When Zuckerberg first announced this plan last year, it was big on vision, but short on specifics.

On Facebook's planet of 2026, the entire world has internet access — with many people likely getting it through Internet.org, Facebook's connectivity arm. Zuckerberg reiterated this week that the company is working on smart glasses that look like your normal everyday Warby Parkers. And underpinning all of this, Facebook is promising artificial intelligence good enough that we can talk to computers as easily as chatting with humans.

A world without screens

For science-fiction lovers, the world Facebook is starting to build is very cool and insanely ambitious. Instead of smartphones, tablets, TVs, or anything else with a screen, all our computing is projected straight into our eyes as we type with our brains.

A mixed-reality world is exciting for society and for Facebook shareholders. But it also opens the door to some crazy future scenarios, where Facebook, or some other tech company, intermediates everything you see, hear, and, maybe even, think. And as we ponder the implications of that kind of future, consider how fast we've already progressed on Zuckerberg's timeline.

facebook mark zuckerberg smart glasses
(Mark Zuckerberg promises that, oneGetty) 

We're now one year closer to Facebook's vision for 2026. And things are slowly, but surely, starting to come together, as the social network's plans for virtual and augmented reality, universal internet connectivity, and artificial intelligence start to slowly move from fantasy into reality.

In fact, Michael Abrash, the chief scientist of Facebook-owned Oculus Research, said this week that we could be just 5 years away from a point where augmented reality glasses become good enough to go mainstream. And Facebook is now developing technology that lets you "type" with your brain, meaning you'd type, point, and click by literally thinking at your smart glasses. Facebook is giving us a glimpse of this with the Camera Effects platform, making your phone into an AR device.

Fries with that?

The potential here is tremendous. Remember that Facebook's mission is all about sharing, and this kind of virtual, ubiquitous "teleportation" and interaction is an immensely powerful means to that end.

This week, Oculus unveiled "Facebook Spaces," a "social VR" app that lets denizens of virtual reality hang out with each other, even if some people are in the real world and some people have a headset strapped on. It's slightly creepy, but it's a sign of the way that Facebook sees you and your friends spending time together in the future. (Facebook Spaces, which lets you hang out with your friends virtually.Facebook) 

Facebook Spaces
And if you're wearing those glasses, there's no guarantee that the person who's taking your McDonald's order is a human, after all. Imagine a virtual avatar sitting at the cash register, projected straight into your eyeballs, and taking your order. With Facebook announcing its plans to revamp its Messenger platform with AI features that also make it more business-friendly, the virtual fast-food cashier is not such a far-fetched scenario.
Sure, Facebook Messenger chatbots have struggled to gain widespread acceptance since they were introduced a year ago. But as demonstrated with Microsoft's Xiaoice and even the Tay disaster, we're inching towards more human-like systems that you can just talk to. And if Facebook's crazy plan to let you "hear" with your skin plays out, they can talk to you while you're wearing those glasses. And again, you'll be able to reply with just a thought.
Regina Dugan F8
(Regina Dugan unveiled Facebook's mind reading ambitions on Wednesday.Facebook)
If we're all living in this kind of semi-virtual world, it makes Facebook key to every interaction, and crucially, every financial transaction we conduct in that sphere. It could make the company a lot of money, certainly.
So yes, while it's still at least a decade off, this is all happening, little bit by little bit. But with Facebook facing fresh questions every day for its role in our personal lives and our political elections, it's also important to remember that much of this gives the social network — as well as companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft which all pursuing the same ends — unprecedented control over our conceptions of reality. It's time to ask these questions now, and not later.
This article was published in  finance.yahoo.com by Matt Weinberger
Categorized in Others

Over the years, we have become incredibly streetwise when protecting ourselves from crime. Our homes are often fitted with specialist alarms and locks to keep the bad guys away. A combination of our natural instincts and general self-awareness also ensures that we are careful to display any form of wealth in public or share our PINs with anyone.

After taking these many precautions, many will pat themselves on the back safe in the knowledge that homicide, burglary, and robbery figures are dropping. The good guys won. But, these crime figures are failing to tell the whole story when even serious crime faces disruption by technology.

While the headlines have been busy concentrating on how all businesses need to disrupt or be disrupted, we have failed to see how the common criminal has taken their crime spree online. Meanwhile, the common sense that we possess in the physical world seems strangely absent when we are faced with a shiny device and an internet connection.

study by Europe's police agency recently warned that technology is now at the "root" of all serious criminality and represents the "greatest challenge" to police forces. Forget smart homes; we seriously need to start thinking about the smart burglar who could be tracking your publically visible social media posts or vulnerabilities on your home network.

Even when locked behind bars, prisoners have been using drones to smuggle drugs and mobile phones over the prison walls. There is no doubting that technology brings more good than harm to our world and

It is not uncommon for home networks to now have over 25 devices connected, but how many people understand the importance or regular software updates that close security loopholes? Alternatively, the weakest device connected to your network could hand over the keys to your life and lifestyle habits. Recent reports that the CIA had hacked TV sets illustrates the vulnerabilities hidden under the hood of the always-online devices.

Analysts believe there are currently between six and twelve billion IoT devices in the world increasingly hogging our bandwidth. Considering that this number is expected to grow beyond 20 billion by 2020, this cautious IT guy has a few reservations around filling your home with smart products without understanding the implications.

Those wanting to add automation to their kitchen can now purchase a smart refrigerator, cooker, dishwasher, microwave, washing machine or toaster that is given a unique IP address on their home network. Many of these devices might last for 5-10 years, and yet worryingly there is no mention of software updates or lifecycle information on Samsung's Smart Fridge warranty page.

When making a purchase of any smart home product, nobody stops to think about what could happen in three years time when the manufacturer has moved on and stopped releasing security patches. How many people can safely identify exactly how many items are connected online and when they were last updated?

Hacking a home network could quickly enable a burglar to build an overview of your lifestyle habits and when you are home. If your heating is off or your refrigerator and cooker have been out of use for a few days, it would be relatively easy to assume that you are on holiday.

Manufacturers often seem to tag on IoT security to their product range as an afterthought. But, as we keep adding devices to home networks, many are starting to question if the industry has created a ticking time bomb that we will all have to face in the very near future.

However, this is not always the case. Tesla is an excellent example of how to do things right and clearly state their latest software releases. Nobody is saying we should turn our back on this technology or live in fear of their devices. As a global community, we just need to use take our streetwise vigilance with us when we go online too.

We now manage nearly every aspect of our life online, but our attitude towards securing the virtual playground is often boarding on negligent. Getting cyber streetwise with our digital lifestyle in an always connected world will probably be your best chance of ensuring that you are not a victim of crime.

The next time you find yourself shopping for a new smart home product, will you be checking for a software release schedule or how long the product will be supported for?Are you the kind of person that

Let me know your thoughts, experiences, and insights by commenting below.

Source : linkedin.com 

Categorized in Internet Technology

A communications test was performed in 1975 between Stanford and University College London for what was to become arguably the most important communication innovation of the 20th century: The Internet Protocol (IP). At its core, IP was focused on speed and simplicity. This required decentralization of ownership of the “web” and resulted in no one owning the Internet, nor the controls and routes used to transmit it.

While there are 75 million servers running the global Internet, there are 1.2 billion cars driving global transportation, with 253 million in the United States alone (the highest per capita rate of any large country). Personal vehicle ownership is grossly inefficient: Cars are estimated to be parked 95 percent of the time. And even with all of the advancement in logistics software, there’s still plenty of unused cargo capacity being moved around on land, sea and air.

There’s a reason the leading global Internet companies are looking at automated driving; they understand the key issue underlying the next web of transportation technology protocol is based on the same decentralization of ownership that created the Internet decades ago.

According to a 2015 McKinsey study, by 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, up from about 50 percent today. Some automotive analysts have gone as far as predicting that on the existing trajectory, there will be 2.4 billion cars by 2030. Traffic and population growth will demand more transportation infrastructure, but many jurisdictions don’t have the funding, or the space, to build additional roads and rail. Connected and autonomous vehicle technologies offer a wiser solution, intended to optimize roadway and resource utilization, potentially saving billions in future infrastructure expansion.

These new modes of transit will be able to route cars via the Internet, reducing overall vehicle ownership, altering urban development patterns, limiting car crashes, increasing fossil fuel efficiency and saving consumers time and money.

Make your investments in smart transportation now, and big returns will come along for the ride.

Leading the charge is Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) which recently claimed that its fleet of self-driving vehicles logs about 3 million simulated miles every day. Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) Autopilot service propelled the company past others in the industry, leading Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, to claim his company will have self-driving cars in two years (plus a few years for the approval process).

The combination of increased urbanization (where car ownership is drastically lower per capita) and innovations in car sharing and autonomous driving will have a powerful impact on the way Americans look at car ownership. A recent study from KPMG predicts that in about 25 years, fewer than half of U.S. households will own more than one vehicle, a drop of around 15 percent. The report further claims that for each car-sharing vehicle in use, there are around 10 fewer cars on the road as drivers sell a car or postpone buying one.

And households using car-sharing services reduce emissions by up to 41 percent a year, according to a UC Berkeley study. While these services appear to only be disrupting the traditional taxi model, their true aim is exactly the same as the original goal of the Internet protocol: increased productivity through speed and simplicity. The kicker is that the current crop of drivers won’t be necessary, as they are simply mimicking the eventual autonomous car fleets that these companies will be deploying.

As one of the largest corporate operating costs is moving things cheaply and efficiently from point A to point B, cargo transportation is another arena about to be disrupted by autonomous vehicles. On land, freight trucks dwarf all other modes of transportation in terms of both value and total weight of goods transported. Although versatile, freight trucks come with many problems, including labor shortages and frequent accidents. Plus, many trucks are carrying little to no product as they move across the country.

However, with an Uber-style delivery network, mimicking Internet protocol, all of these problems could be history when each box or container is merely a packet moving along a cable. Companies will be able to place a shipping order online to a delivery service, schedule a driverless truck, fill it with their product and track it as it makes its way to its final destination while making perfectly calculated pick-ups and drop-offs in conjunction with the rest of the fleet.

Individuals in the future will no longer need to own a car; instead, they’ll just micro-rent shared driverless vehicles; and companies will enjoy the same convenience. In a driverless world, corporations will seamlessly and optimally share transport resources with other companies.

Moreover, the fatal and financial costs of human error will be noticeably diminished, if not entirely removed. The invention and implementation of autonomous mass transport protocol will have the same impact on transportation that the Internet protocol has had on communication.

This technology will fundamentally redesign our urban environment in ways we cannot yet imagine, change the way we use raw materials and share finite resources and enable a more efficient future. Make your investments in smart transportation now, and big returns will come along for the ride.

Source : techcrunch.com

Categorized in Internet Technology
One smartphone has more computing power than NASA used to put men on the moon in 1969.

If you own a smartphone, you have more computing power at your fingertips than NASA scientists had when they put people on the moon in 1969! And it’s in a small device, unlike the massive hardware the space agency used.

Technology moves in leaps and bounds. As someone who grew up before home computers, transoceanic phone lines, jet planes, satellites, organ transplants, birth control pills, photocopiers, hand-held calculators or cellphones, I’m amazed at how quickly technological innovation is occurring and by its profound effects on society. Every day, products are becoming smaller, faster, more efficient and accessible to a greater number of people.

Despite the phenomenal advances in everything from communications technology to transportation to energy systems, many people still believe the only way to get energy is to burn fossil fuels, as we’ve been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Age almost 300 years ago! In fact, evidence suggests people have been burning coal for heat as far back as 3490 BC in China.

Naysayers have always been with us. At various times, people have argued that humans would never be able to travel the oceans in steam-powered ships or fly in airplanes, let alone send spacecraft beyond the solar system. Street lights were controversial in the early 19th century. Some saw them as impossible. Others argued they would lead to increased illness, declining morals and rejection of God’s plan for periods of light and dark. At one time or another, people have claimed telephones, trains, automobiles, computers, nuclear power and radios were impossible or impractical. Many technological leaps stoked fears, often valid, that new inventions would put people out of work. The growing automobile industry in the early 20th century killed jobs in the horse-and-buggy business.

We’ve long been using coal, oil and gas for heat and energy for good reasons. They’re incredibly powerful and valuable resources that both provide and store energy. And they’re inexpensive — if you don’t take into account the costs of environmental damage and pollution-related health care. Millions of years ago, plants and microscopic organisms captured and transformed energy from the sun through photosynthesis, storing it in carbon and hydrogen bonds. As those plants and microorganisms died and were buried under layers of sediment, heat and pressure compressed the energy.

Despite their efficiency and cost, fossil fuels aren’t better energy sources than solar, wind and tide, even though renewables require separate storage for large-scale deployment. Fossil fuels pollute the environment, cause illness and death, accelerate global warming and damage or destroy ecosystems. They’ll also eventually run out. They’re already more difficult and expensive to obtain. Easily accessible sources are becoming depleted, spurring increased reliance on damaging and dangerous unconventional sources and methods such as oilsands, deep-sea drilling and fracking.

Fossil fuels are useful for many purposes beyond generating energy — some of which we have, no doubt, yet to discover. They’re used for medicines, plastic products and lubricants — another reason inefficiently burning through our limited supplies makes no sense.

Fortunately, clean energy technologies are improving daily. Just as many people are surprised at the rapid development of computing technologies used in smartphones and other devices, we’ll continue to see amazing developments in renewable energy. Wind and solar are improving and coming down in cost, as are energy storage systems. Electrical grid management systems are changing with advances in computer science. Innovative ideas like biomimicry are showing great promise in the energy field with research into areas like artificial photosynthesis.

Embracing science, innovation and progressive ideas gives us hope for a healthier future. It’s unfortunate that so many people, including government leaders in the U.S. and parts of Canada, are rejecting brilliant new ideas in favour of outdated and destructive ways of generating energy.

We’re well into the 21st century. If humans want to make it to the 22nd, we must change course. Science offers great tools for understanding and innovating. We owe it to ourselves to at least understand how science acquires and integrates knowledge and what that means. We can’t just keep digging up and burning non-renewable resources, polluting air, water and land and putting human health and survival at risk. Nor do we have to. We have better options.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Source : castlegarsource.com

Categorized in Others

Missing links are typically more the purview of paleoanthropologists or fire and brimstone preachers in the pulpit, but as voice technology becomes more prevalent, it is becoming increasingly clear that voice is a missing link in its own way – and one that will help search evolve into much more than search – as well as a means for search engines themselves to maintain relevance.

That’s because as unnatural as it may have seemed to talk to our devices when Siri was introduced in 2011, voice is indeed a natural interface – particularly for younger generations – and it will maintain a connection between consumers and platforms in the ecosystems of tomorrow.

How Voice has Already Changed Search – and Diminished the Power of the SERP

The search landscape is already a far cry from ten blue links – and will continue to evolve as more consumers gravitate toward voice technology.

That’s in part because, as Michael Bonfils, Managing Director at global digital marketing agency SEM International, noted, when consumers use voice search, it’s also typically while they are doing something else, like driving or cooking. And these users have more immediate needs, like local “near me” queries. And that, in turn, not only opens opportunities for brands to optimize for local SEO, it also means potentially less interest from consumers is going to the search engine itself.

Indeed, David Lau, vice president and head of paid search and programmatic media at digital marketing agency iCrossing, pointed out the rise of apps mean app stores are arguably the new primary portals for content discovery, and we’ll see less reliance on search engines and browsers because consumers will have pre-selected curated content that they subscribe to, like Reddit, and they visit those sites directly instead of using Google.

In other words, it’s not unthinkable that we could lose the search engine as a destination and someday tell our grandchildren bedtime stories about visiting Google.com. And that means Google, Bing, etc. better have a few more tricks up their sleeves.

Purna Virji, senior Bing Ads client development and training manager at Microsoft, however, said she thinks this is not so much a threat to search engines themselves, but rather SERPs – and that’s because SERPs interrupt consumers.

“If you are watching TV and see something and you stop and go to the SERP to find it, it’s such a disruptive task and we’ll see less and less of that,” Virji said. “It’s like, now I’m driving and I want to know, ‘How do I get there?’ and these queries will be more integrated into tasks.”

Jarvis and Samantha are (Fictional) Textbook Examples

Search will also evolve to include even more predictive thinking.

“I would love it if search was like Jarvis [in Iron Man],” Lau said. “I can talk to this computer in a way I would talk to a person and it understands me and spits out what I need. If we can get to the level of AI that can simulate something like that…with witty banter on the side like Siri offers, [I’d be thrilled]. You know the movie Her? He’s like, ‘Oh, pull up my files’ and it’s done or [she says], ‘I see you have bill due tomorrow, so I paid it.’ It’s that predictive level of thinking that is not search-esque as we define it, but it’s where the industry is moving toward.”

And This, of Course, Requires the Integration of Commerce

2014 Google study found 45 percent of teenagers wished they could order pizza with their voices and this has since become a reality via Dominos’ Dom and Amazon Echo.

“This suggests that the e-commerce potential for voice search will be significant,” said Scott Litvack, director of organic search at digital marketing agency Prime Visibility. “Any brand where there is a direct action to take, such as Dominos, or even a site like Amazon where your order preferences might be already uploaded and you just ask your phone to order more of something, will be a great opportunity for voice search.”

Lau, too, pointed to shoppable media and the integration of voice and bots for a more seamless user experience in which, say, a consumer follows Kim Kardashian on a social network, sees a dress they like, asks for more information and then tells their phone to buy it. In this scenario, an e-commerce bot is able to facilitate and place an order wherever the consumer has an account set up.

Conversational Interfaces Bring Everything Together

In other words, voice search could propel the collapse of the funnel entirely and prompt a new trend in which consumers conduct their searches, browsing, and purchases within the same interface, said Tom Anthony, head of research and development at digital marketing agency Distilled.

And this is actually already happening, as Amazon Echo allows consumers with Prime and a 1-click payment method on file to purchase physical products with Alexa, Anthony added.

Or, as Virji put it in a recent Q&A, as search assistants become gateways to other apps, like a refrigerator that knows you are running out of milk and adds an alert to your calendar. We live our lives more in more in ecosystems like the one Apple has created in which it’s easy to buy everything in one place. And voice will make our lives more like this, too, she added.

“I think, again, personally, conversational interfaces bring everything together…like Alexa is in my home, I can talk to it and change my [restaurant] reservation by an hour,” Virji said in the Q&A. “It will bring together multiple things and there will be really fierce competition with Amazon, Apple, and Facebook, which have lots of users in their ecosystems. Voice can keep people in an ecosystem.”

And as car manufacturers start to integrate voice technology, it becomes easier to see how these burgeoning ecosystems could follow us around everywhere and facilitate our every move, making Google.com seem quite antiquated, indeed.

Voice Assistants Today Might as Well be Homo Habilis

In other words, next-generation interfaces that combine voice, gestures, and screens everywhere have the potential to become so much more than just assistants.

“Voice is not good for feedback. But combine it with things like Magic Leap [which is developing a platform it says will enable consumers to “seamlessly combine and experience your digital and physical lives”] and [holographic computer Microsoft] HoloLens and Google’s Soli project [which Google says is a new sensing technology that uses miniature radar to detect touchless gesture interactions] and Glissando [which is trying to combine voice and gesture interfaces] and you begin to [see] a next-generation interface,” Anthony said. “This is going to be important as we’re going to have interfaces in hundreds of devices and we can’t be expected to learn [them all].”

Indeed, natural language could easily be the common thread – with the added bonus that it is an interface users don’t have to learn, Anthony said.

Virji agreed conversation is the platform “that sits there and pops into action when you need it to make your life easier, and it’s all about actions and intent.”

She used the example of a consumer looking for a good pizzeria in London. Siri could pull up a recommendation and then ask if said consumer wants to book a table and then do so, cutting out a middleman like OpenTable.

And, funny enough, in another pizza example, Chris Hart, head of US client development at SEO platform Linkdex, agreed.

“Sooner or later, you’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, I want pizza,’ and [your voice assistant will say], ‘the best sausage meatball pizza is over here and this other place had a bad review,’” he said. “This is the kind of thing you’ll get to. It’s not just a result, but it’s going to give you an interaction to some degree to allow the thing to be more lifelike, conversational and results-based based on your needs.”

Voice as the Means to Perform Groups of Actions

But that’s really the tip of the iceberg. A little further along, it will be all about grouping actions together with AI and voice to, as Larry the Cable Guy says, Git-R-Done.

So when a consumer tells Siri he or she is hungry, Siri will know the consumer tends to like pizza, but has eaten it the last few days and is likely to be more in the mood for, say, Greek food and can then ask if said consumer wants to book a table, Virji said.

Travel site Kayak is another good example.

“You need a ticket, so: ‘Where are you going? When do you need to go? And how much are you willing to pay?’” Virji asked. “It’s taking groupings of actions and making that happen; that is where voice is going.”

And this will only accelerate as consumers demand more convenience and search engines and other platforms evolve to attempt to enhance user experience on a broader scale.

And that’s in part because there’s an escalating war for consumer attention, Virji noted.

“Think about it: If I’m on my phone and I see a cute pair of shoes on TV and want to buy them, it is easy for me to go to the Zappos app,” Virji said. “But if I’m Google or Bing, I want [consumers] to do a search so I can benefit from the ad revenue. Search engines will have to compete for attention versus apps, but they’ll still exist [in the future]. I don’t think they’ll go away – they’ll just have a different function ultimately.”

An Added Bonus: The Power to Transform Lives on an Unprecedented Scale

And while harnessing the power of AI and voice to act as all-encompassing personal assistants is perhaps indulgent in one sense, there will also be use cases that enrich lives, like Microsoft’s Seeing AI project, which uses intelligence APIs from Microsoft Cognitive Services to help people who are visually impaired or blind better understand what is around them.

In a video, the developer behind the project demonstrates how he can take a photo of what’s in front of him while wearing a pair of special glasses and then hear descriptions of the images, such as the ages and genders of the people within, as well as their emotions and what they’re doing. The program can even read menus.

“It’s pretty cool that AI is about inclusion,” Virji said.

Google V. Bing/Microsoft V. Amazon V. ? : Place Your Bets

So it seems whatever player creates the conversational ecosystem more consumers use is the one that will be dominant in this brave new world.

In the Q&A, internet marketing consultant and SEO expert Ammon Johns pointed out that Microsoft is in a great position in voice because it has data from Connect, as well as gaming platforms and it has years of experience in which voice is built into its OS, so it is actually ahead of Google in this respect, not to mention when it comes to research into gestures and body position.

But, that’s not to say Microsoft/Bing is necessarily poised to dominate the future of search.

Indeed, for his part, Duane Forrester, Vice President of organic search operations at digital marketing optimization company Bruce Clay, said Bing won’t necessarily unseat Google with voice because Google is “In there just as deep.”

And SEO and Internet marketing expert Alan Bleiweiss, too, noted the future of search domination is still up for grabs.

“Google isn’t dead in the water at this point, since they have such a strong share foothold with Android,” Bleiweiss added. “If we’re looking worldwide, they still dominate market share exponentially over iOS.”

Further, while Bing provides results for Siri, Cortana, and Alexa, Bleiweiss noted Apple works with additional partners like Wikipedia, Twitter, Wolfram Alpha, Shazam, Yahoo Stocks and even Rotten Tomatoes as sources for Siri results.

“So Bing doesn’t get all of the result real estate,” Bleiweiss added. “Bottom line? The industry is now in a fierce race to dominate voice search and AI. Who comes out on top down the road? Give me $1,000 to bet, and I’ll split my bet evenly across each of the players, setting aside $250 for an as-yet-not-known new party.”

Virji, too, said the future is still up for grabs with all major digital players – including Microsoft and Google, but also Amazon – racing toward monetization.

Further, she pointed to products at Microsoft’s recent annual developers’ conference that she said are bigger than just voice search and personal assistants and encapsulate conversation as a platform that tie in artificial intelligence. For example, Siri can help business owners determine if, say, they need to bake more cupcakes simply by asking, “Do I need to bake more cupcakes?” which the AI then calculates.

“You can still talk to Cortana or whoever, but the task will be bigger than ‘show me pictures of red shoes’ and ‘book a restaurant,’” Virji said.

Per Virji, it’s in part about search engines figuring out how to continue to serve ads to consumers, which could be via the SERPs or via interfaces such as Google Home, a voice-activated home product similar to Amazon Echo that says it allows consumers to get answers from Google, stream music and manage everyday tasks, or Cortana partnering with players like OpenTable. As long as consumers continue to look for things, search engines can keep serving ads to them, she said.

But Forrester noted what could really unseat Google as we know it is the coming shift by a new generation.

“As desktops die off, mobile becomes our primary means. With decreased real estate, organic results will fight against paid ad space for exposure,” Forrester said. “This will force a trust conversation within that generation — do we trust organic rankings only, or does Google do a good job of showing me paid ads that answer all my questions? This is the pivot that’ll challenge Google. Well, all engines really.”

At the same time, Lau pointed to Microsoft getting Surface tablets in front of young consumers.

“Bing has done a great job of putting more devices in classrooms. [They’re] changing the behavior of the next generation to use Windows products and…the default search engine is Bing, so their first interaction with a search engine is Bing. We joke with some of our partners they’re farming the next generation of searchers so [Microsoft] can harvest [them] when they become the next generation of primary spenders 15 to 20 years from now,” Lau said. “Maybe it’s a conspiracy theory about the long con over there, but it looks like Microsoft is going to make a play for search later on and Google needs to come up with something innovative today. If you see what Google is working on – it’s self-driving cars, it’s not search-related anymore.”

For his part, Aaron Levy, Manager of Client Strategy at digital marketing agency Elite SEM, said the story is indeed in those tablets and Bing building voice into more than just mobile devices.

“It’s essentially a part of Windows 10, but that’s not really just desktops. If you think about it, they’ve built a tablet that 100 percent replaces laptops,” he said. “What they’re doing better than anyone else is making things more mobile and crafting a seamless experience across devices. It’s kind of brutal on mobile…but on desktop/laptop/tablet, it’s phenomenal. Once people adopt the Cortana experience, they stand to make a big play. That’s where they really have a dominant position and where they stand to take some lunch from Google.”

Further, Levy noted the Chrome OS is light years away from being anything meaningful and there is a million different iterations of Android.

“The vast majority of the world is most comfortable with Windows for their main machines. If Bing[/Microsoft] can find a way to make a mobile platform that sticks, then they’d have a real shot,” Levy said. “The not-so-quiet elephant in the room is Amazon/Alexa, but that’s a whole different dialogue that’s potentially outside of search. At least for now.”


As search engines face the not-so-distant future, they must evolve beyond search. And voice is the missing link that will help them — and other platforms — develop and nurture the ecosystems necessary to retain consumer loyalty. And while Google may dominate search as it stands in 2016, a new leader could easily emerge as this space evolves.

Source : searchenginejournal.com

Categorized in Search Engine

The common JPEG could be about to get a lot smaller thanks to Google’s new software. This could lead not only to a faster Web, but also to direct savings on storage costs for everyone from hosting services to hobbyist photographers and especially smartphone users on metered connections.

20x24 pixel zoomed areas from a picture of a cat’s eye. Uncompressed original on the left. Guetzli (on the right)
shows less ringing artefacts than libjpeg (middle) without requiring a larger file size.

Back in 2014, I wrote about BGP, a new file format purported to deliver equivalent quality to JPEG but with much smaller file sizes. The purposes of BPG is ‘to replace the JPEG image format when quality or file size is an issue’.

Fast forward to 2017 and BGP has obviously failed to achieve its stated purpose, with the humble JPEG still firmly entrenched as the file format of choice for the vast majority of users.

However a new, and free to use, compression technology from Google now hopes to revolutionise the JPEG where BGP has failed. Announced earlier this month, Guetzli is a new open source algorithm which creates JPEG files 35% smaller than typical current methods.

What sets Guetzli apart

The crucial difference between Guetzli and BGP is that the latter requires new code to be written before it can be read. Standard browsers and image software would simply fail to read the files without specific support for the format.

Guetzli, on the other hand, continues to use the established JPEG format. So, all software which can currently read standard JPEGs will also be able to read Guetzli JPEGs without modification.

There’s some crossover, in terms of the final outcome at least, with Google’s RAISR technology, announced at the end of last year, which can blow up small images into much larger versions with significantly higher quality than was previously possible.

Both Geutzli and RAISR can cut down significantly on the required size of image files, albeit in rather different ways. There’s also no reason why the two technologies can’t be used together.

How does it work?

The Guetzli encoder works by increasing the level of compression while creating the JPEGs, leaving the standard decompression algorithms for reading and displaying the images unchanged. The increase in compression comes from a new and more sophisticated model of human colour perception than is used by current JPEG encoders.

This results in higher quality images at a reduced file size, but also comes with a tradeoff in speed. Google’s engineers say that Guetzli is currently significantly slower than a standard JPEG encoder. Users of the current Windows version are reporting conversion times of several minutes for a single large JPEG.

Guetzli is potentially great news for anyone who stores or displays JPEG images as the time taken to download and the space needed to store them is significantly reduced. However, there are other options for those who want to create smaller JPEGs.

One such option is JPEGmini which claims even bigger file size reductions than Guetzli, up to 80%, with no loss in perceived quality. The big difference here though is that JPEGmini is a commercial product with prices ranging from $29 for the basic Home User option, up to $199 per month for those wishing to use it on Web servers and large photo repositories.

At the moment, JPEGmini is still a good option for everyday use as it is a polished end-user product, complete with plugins for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. However, a free algorithm such as Guetzli, once the speed issues are addressed, will most definitely pose threat to paid-for products like JPEGmini which hope to charge for exactly the same final result.

Source : forbes.com

Categorized in Internet Technology

It seems that every day we see stories of companies that have been hacked and frequently millions of passwords, credit card numbers or other key pieces of information make their way out of the computers where they are stored.

It’s clear that the more information we have outside of our homes and on computers that are connected to the Internet, we run the risk of the information getting into the hands of people we don’t want to have it.

We also try to create secure connections between our applications so that prying eyes can’t see our communications.

I can’t say I believe this is working very well. Recent postings by WikiLeaks indicates tour intelligence services may have ways to read encrypted information we believed to be unreadable.

And our government isn’t the only group who has the interest and means to read things we don’t intend them to read.

For my communications, I take the perspective that everything I create digitally is probably readable by someone I don’t want to read it.

When it comes to things I may generally write, it helps me ensure I stay factual and true. This is a good thing.

When it comes to items such as passwords, account numbers and bank information, I try to use things like two-factor authentication to ensure that even if someone has my password, they can’t log in unless they enter a code sent to my mobile phone.

Luckily, the companies that are the biggest targets for these sorts of breaches have very sharp people working to secure their systems and our laws and their policies provide instant relief for things like unauthorized bank withdrawals.

Still, situations like identity theft, where someone pretends to be someone they’re not can be problematic for those affected. Even if someone who has been affected by identity theft loses no money, the time to repair the damage can be daunting and take years to correct.

So how can you protect yourself?

In most cases, try to keep your computers and mobile phones up to the most recent standards. Because this field is changing rapidly, staying current is a very good defense.

When companies offer features such as two-factor authentication, use them.

If you are concerned about communications being private, consider whether it should be sent digitally or perhaps in person. While this is not always possible, it is fair to assume that if your recipient can read something, so can someone else.

Privacy and security are legitimate concerns in today’s world. They have been for generations. We now have more and different ways to communicate and, therefore, need to be cognizant of the risks the new technologies bring.

Stay vigilant, stay honest and stay safe. A little care can go a long way to protecting you.

Mark Mathias is a 35+ year information technology executive, a resident of Westport, Connecticut. His columns can be read on the Internet at blog.mathias.org. He can be contacted at livingwith.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Author : Mark Mathias

Source : http://www.newcanaannewsonline.com/news/article/Living-With-Technology-How-good-is-online-11009880.php 

Categorized in Internet Privacy


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