OPLIN 4cast #371: Google of the future

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

DeepMind logoA couple of weeks ago, Google confirmed that it had purchased DeepMind, a London artificial intelligence company. This set off a flurry of speculation in the technology press: What is Google planning now? Nobody but Google knows for sure, but some of the best technology journalists think they have it figured out, though they don’t completely agree. We will probably know soon enough what the Google of the future will be, but it seems certain that this latest acquisition has something to do with Google’s core objective to make all of the world’s knowledge accessible.

  • Google’s game of Moneyball in the age of artificial intelligence (ReadWrite/Dan Rowinski)  “This is exactly what Google is doing: exploiting market inefficiency to land undervalued talent. Google determined that intelligent systems and automation will eventually be served by robotics and has gone out of its way to acquire all of the pieces that will serve that transformation before any of its competitors could even identify it as a trend. By scooping up the cream of the crop in the emerging realm of robotics and intelligent systems, Google is cornering the market on talented engineers ready to create the next generation of human-computer interaction.”
  • Google acquires human-like AI company for $500 million, Skynet is now a real possibility (ExtremeTech/Sebastian Anthony)  “…DeepMind appears to be in the business of creating artificial general intelligence (AGI). The co-founder and apparent brains of the operation, Demis Hassabis, has published some papers on AGI. AGI (sometimes referred to as strong AI) is different from conventional AI (weak AI) in the sense that it is capable of performing (and learning from) very general tasks. Most AI (weak AI) is programmed to perform a very specific task…. AGI, on the other hand, is programmed so that it solves problems in a much more human way. Where weak AI is usually characterized by speed and accuracy, strong AI is more closely linked to reasoning, planning, self-awareness, consciousness, and communicating in natural language. In other words, if you want to build useful, human-like robots, you need a really good AGI.”
  • Google buys A.I. company for search, not robots (New York Times/Nick Bilton)  “People who work with Google but could not be named because they were not allowed to speak publicly for the company, said the acquisition of the artificial intelligence software had nothing to do with robots, but everything to do with semantic technology and the ability to understand what people were asking for online and answer in a very human way.”
  • More on DeepMind: AI startup to work directly with Google’s search team (Re/code /Liz Gannes and James Temple)  “So what will Google do with DeepMind? Artificial intelligence is core to many teams at Google, from the self-driving car to the search results page. Jeff Dean (the Google executive running the team that DeepMind is joining) was the lead author on a paper in 2012 that boasted of training a deep network ‘30 times larger than previously reported in the literature’ for the purposes of large visual object recognition tasks and speedy speech recognition. He also worked on a somewhat famous project where a neural network of 16,000 computers presented with stills from 10 million YouTube videos taught itself to recognize cats.”

Purchasing fact:
In addition to DeepMind, Google has recently purchased at least six robotics companies.

OPLIN 4cast #356: Will cookies be replaced?

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

broken cookieTwo years ago, we wrote about zombie cookies (the web kind) that won’t die and continue to track Internet users despite efforts to kill them. Last Friday, the Washington Post ran an article about the probable collapse of the working group affiliated with the World Wide Web Consortium that was supposed to set up Do Not Track standards. And rumors also began to surface last month about new technologies that would replace the cookie and track users in new ways for which there would be no immediate remedy. If this makes you uncomfortable, you’ll be really thrilled to learn that the companies pushing the efforts to replace cookies are some of the giants of the Internet.

  • A Google cookie replacement could upend online advertising (Ad Age/Tim Peterson)  “Third-party cookies are already endangered. First-party cookies come directly from the sites you visit, but third-party cookies are placed by others. The “Do Not Track” movement now causing so much conflict is predicated on making it harder for companies to use third-party cookies to follow consumers around the web and serve ads based on their behavior.”
  • Replacement for tracking cookies could have big impact (San Jose Mercury News/Larry Magid)  “Web operators that use cookies will not only deny that they can identify actual users, but will also fire back that the ability to target ads is essential for them to make the money they need to offer the services we want. And they have a point. We all love being able to read news, conduct searches and do our research, without having to fork over a credit card. Collectively, companies spend billions of dollars to offer these free services and they have to recoup that investment.”
  • Microsoft joins the anti-cookie movement, working on its own replacement (Marketing Land/Ginny Marvin)  “Microsoft and Google both have said their efforts in this area are in early stages. Still, the move toward proprietary technology by a handful of behemoths — Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft among them — gives pause to many in the industry. Not only would these companies have insight into the data generated from their tracking technologies, there is the potential these companies could hoard advertiser data.”
  • Google may ditch ‘cookies’ as online ad tracker (USA Today/Alistair Barr)  “The Interactive Advertising Bureau, which represents the industry, at least wants some type of tracking technology available for advertisers, whether third-party cookies or something else, said Mike Zaneis, the group’s general counsel. However, leaving such ad identifiers in the hands of a few large companies is not ideal, he added. ‘They could deprecate the use of that ID on a whim, basically, and severely undermine billions of dollars in digital ad spending,’ Zaneis said.”

Mobile fact:
These big companies are not replacing their tracking technology just because they don’t like cookies. They’re looking for something different because third-party cookies don’t work on mobile devices, and mobile devices currently account for about a fifth of all web traffic.

OPLIN 4cast #339: Smart(phone) websites

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

google mobileGoogle has a lot of power to control which websites receive web traffic and which don’t, simply by altering the way they present search results. In the past month or so, it has become clear that Google wants to advance the development of websites that efficiently handle traffic from mobile devices. One way they intend to do this is by lowering the search rankings of websites that improperly redirect mobile users to special web pages or error pages, rather than using something like “responsive web design” (RWD), which automatically adapts the layout of a page depending on the type of device accessing it. Does your library’s website handle mobile users properly?

  • Now Google wants to kill the mobile web (ReadWrite/Owen Thomas) “You know those clunky, stripped-down versions of sites with addresses that tack an ‘m.’ onto the beginning, and serve up a dumbed-down, limited version of their content? If Google has its way, those sites are headed for the dustbin of history. At I/O, Google’s developer conference held this week in San Francisco, executives Sundar Pichai and Linus Upson showed off examples of websites that traveled smoothly from desktops to tablets to smartphones.”
  • Thank you, Google overlords (TechCrunch/Sarah Perez) “If you’ve at all used the web on your smartphone, then you’re all too familiar with this frustrating experience – you do a search, tap on a result for an article you want to read, then end up staring confusingly at the site’s mobile-web optimized homepage. Where is the content you wanted? Who knows! It’s a huge waste of time and bandwidth to have to deal with pages like this when surfing on a smartphone, and Google is now going to make sure that sites like that no longer get top placement.”
  • Changes in rankings of smartphone search results (Google Webmaster Central Blog) “Avoiding these mistakes helps your smartphone users engage with your site fully and helps searchers find what they’re looking for faster. To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.”
  • Mobile site speed to be a Google ranking factor? (WebProNews/Chris Crum) “Google is making it so you have no excuse to treat your mobile content with less regard than your desktop content. Frankly, sites should be optimizing for mobile anyway, simply for the benefit of their users, but if ignoring the mobile experience is going to cost sites search rankings, perhaps this will light a fire under their butts to do something about poor mobile site performance.”

OPLIN fact (and sneaky promotion?):
If your library uses an OPLIN Dynamic Website Kit, no worries. All new sites are built with responsive web design, and all existing sites should be upgraded within the next year or so.

OPLIN 4cast #335: Shushing the computer users

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

male silhouetteIf you get really annoyed by people talking on their cellphones while they are in the library, then you are certainly going to love this bit of news. Google is about to make it possible to verbally ask your desktop computer questions instead of typing them into a Google search box. At this point, the technology would require that the computer have a microphone and be running the Chrome browser, so libraries that want to stay quiet can simply make sure that at least one of these pieces is missing from their public computers. But you know the day will come when someone gets angry because they cannot talk to a public computer in the library.

  • Google introduces conversational search for the desktop with “hotwording,” prompting it with “OK Google” (TechCrunch/Drew Olanoff) “Until now, you could search for things using your voice…but you couldn’t ask questions. Now, you’ll be able to keep your mic open without clicking a button, by waking Google up with the prompt ‘OK Google.’ This is similar to the prompt that wakes up Google Glass. You can say things like ‘Show me things to do in Santa Cruz’ and get results quickly, and with the context that you need to take an action.”
  • Google shows off hands-free, conversational search (PC Magazine/Chloe Albanesius) “Forget about typing your request; Google wants to bring voice-activated search to the desktop. Mobile users can already use the microphones on their iOS and Android mobile devices to speak search commands. Today, Google previewed hands-free voice search for the PC via Chrome.”
  • Google’s new conversational search makes Star Trek-style search real (Lifehacker/Alan Henry) “You start a search by saying ‘Okay, Google…,’ speak your query, whether it’s ‘when does my flight leave’ or trivia like ‘what’s the population of my town.’ Google responds, both by voice and with text results. Conversational Search uses the data that Google has about you and your activities to power search results with information that’s actually relevant to your interests.”
  • “OK, Google”: Forget web search, now you can hold a conversation with your computer (Slate/Will Oremus) “The features are the next steps in Google’s long-term progression from a search-engine website to a ubiquitous artificial-intelligence machine that can answer any question you have on whatever device you happen to be using at the time. For now that includes your smartphone, your tablet, and your computer. In the future it might include your smart watch or smart glasses, your self-driving car, and who knows what else.”

Déjà vu fact:
We mentioned conversational search in a previous 4cast, but the “hotwording” development was just announced in San Francisco last week during Google I/O 2013.