2017: Year of the podcast

The year 2017 will likely be remembered for many things across the technology spectrum, from major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and milestone moments in autonomous vehicles to Amazon conceding that a major offline presence in groceries was needed to compete in retail.

But buried within the big headline-grabbing stories of the year were microtrends that sprang up almost by surprise. And one of those relates to the humble podcast. Continue reading “2017: Year of the podcast”

Germany: Facebook abuses dominance in the way it harvests and monetizes user data

(Reuters) — Germany’s cartel office has found that Facebook abused its dominant market position, in a ruling that questioned the U.S. social network’s model of monetizing the personal data of its 2 billion users through targeted advertising. Presenting preliminary findings of its 20-month-old probe, the Federal Cartel Office said Facebook held a dominant position among social networks – a characterization that Facebook repudiated as “inaccurate”. Continue reading “Germany: Facebook abuses dominance in the way it harvests and monetizes user data”

Accenture predicts the top tech stories of CES 2018

Each year, tech consulting giant Accenture makes predictions about the kind of technology we’ll see at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. I interviewed Greg Roberts, managing director for Accenture’s North American high-tech industry practice, about the predictions for CES 2018, the big tech trade show that will take place in Las Vegas in the second week of January. Continue reading “Accenture predicts the top tech stories of CES 2018”

Chrome for Windows will start blocking third-party software injections in 2018

Next year is going to be big for Chrome, if you believe everything Google has announced so far: going to war against low-quality ads, autoplaying content with sound, and unwanted redirects. The company today added a smaller, but still significant, initiative to its to-do list: reducing Chrome crashes caused by third-party software on Windows.

Continue reading “Chrome for Windows will start blocking third-party software injections in 2018”

FCC gutting net neutrality would reverse over a decade of work trying to protect internet users

In a new proposal issued last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set out a plan to eliminate net neutrality protections, ignoring the voices of millions of Internet users who weighed in to support those protections. The new rule would reclassify high-speed broadband as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service” (remember, the FCC is forbidden from imposing neutrality obligations on information services). It would then eliminate the bright-line rules against blocking, throttling, and pay-to-play (as well as the more nebulous general conduct standard) in favor of a simplistic transparency requirement. In other words, your ISP would be free to set itself up as an Internet gatekeeper, as long as it is honest about it.

This is a bad idea for many, many reasons. Here are a few. Continue reading “FCC gutting net neutrality would reverse over a decade of work trying to protect internet users”

Nvidia and Nuance team up on AI for radiology

Nvidia and Nuance announced a partnership today that’s aimed at helping healthcare institutions tap into artificial intelligence. The Nuance AI Marketplace for Diagnostic Imaging is, as the name suggests, designed to provide a hub for medical professionals to pick up new tools for analyzing the results of x-ray imaging and other radiology tools.

AI developers will be able to release the models that they’ve trained through Nuance’s PowerShare network, which will then allow participating medical institutions and radiology groups to subscribe. After subscribing, Nuance’s PowerScribe software will automatically apply the AI algorithm in relevant situations.

Nvidia’s Digits developer tool will be updated to provide developers with a way to publish their algorithms directly to Nuance PowerShare, so it’s easier for people to get their applications into the marketplace.

The deal is designed to make it easier for medical institutions to benefit from the rise of machine learning by offering access to trained models. What’s more, the institutions developing these models can benefit from sharing them with other radiologists to drive the overall state of the field forward.

Medical imaging is a tough field to tackle with machine learning, since it encompasses multiple different sections of the body, along with different machines that output different results. (A static x-ray film is quite different than a video of an ultrasound, for example.) On top of that, radiologists are often looking for different objects on the resulting images or videos, depending on what they’re looking for.

With that in mind, Kimberly Powell, the vice president for healthcare at Nvidia, said that she expects multiple algorithms working in concert will be necessary to provide even a single diagnosis through a single test. The marketplace is supposed to support that vision by making it easier for medical professionals to orchestrate the use of multiple systems.

The news comes alongside another partnership between Nvidia and GE Healthcare to use the chipmaker’s hardware to help power improved hardware for CT scans and ultrasounds, as well as an analytics platform.

AR and VR are coming — let’s make sure everyone reaps the benefits

As we prepare to open this new floodgate of information and engage with complex data in the context of the world around us, it’s worth pausing to look at what the potential impact of augmented and virtual reality might be in our everyday lives. While much of this impact is positive, we will have to work to make sure those effects are evenly distributed.

Disconnected versus connected

Screeds about the malignant impact of technology on society are, for the most part, somewhat misguided. But as AR/VR moves closer to the mainstream, it’s certainly fair to wonder: if people are already exceedingly glued to their phones, how much worse will our collective situational awareness become when everyone can disappear completely into their own virtual universe?

Actually, there are several reasons to be optimistic on this front. AR/VR has the potential to give us a deeper understanding of our surroundings by enabling us to merge with and better understand the information around us.

Let’s look first at how this could impact us in workplaces. Consider a worker in a car factory. As an engine block comes their way, an augmented overlay highlights the exact places where various components need to be installed before it can be passed along the assembly line. The display also flashes red if it senses that a component is out of alignment or has otherwise been improperly installed.

Meanwhile, a maintenance & operations worker strolls the factory floor, making a comprehensive check of all the equipment. With the benefit of AR, the worker has a stream of speeds and feeds popping up in their field of vision every time they look at a particular machine. They can better understand exactly how the production line is running or when something will go wrong before it happens. This type of information immersion is much more sophisticated and actionable compared to reviewing on a clipboard or scrolling through a tablet to access.

While the automotive industry provides a fruitful example, the benefits of AR/VR can be extrapolated out to any variety of industries and settings: the lifeguard at the beach with an augmented display of tides and temperatures; the construction worker viewing building plans that are overlaid onto the construction site; the surgeon receiving ultra-realistic training on how to remove an appendix; and so on.

Let’s turn now, from the workplace, to a pedestrian walking down a crowded street. Can we expect similar benefits when out on the town?

We have every reason to be hopeful that technologies like AR will in fact provide an enhanced layer of awareness that will improve our fluency with our surroundings in everyday settings. Say you’re out shopping for a new shirt or a cleaning product or a gaming console – what if simply by looking at competing items we could see beyond just cost and aesthetics, but also understand and compare their relative environmental impacts?

In this way, AR has the potential to be additive rather than subtractive, making people more connected to their surroundings than they are today.

Power and responsibility

We’ve all heard the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility.” There is a responsibility on the people who are developing AR and VR technologies to make sure that it is done in a thoughtful and well-considered way.

It’d be all too easy for developers to unwittingly create a deeper digital divide in society by accidentally limiting who has access to these new technologies and who can benefit from them. Do we want a world where only the wealthy or the tech-savvy are able to enjoy the benefits of a virtual or augmented environment?

Of course not.

AR and VR are only going to become more commonplace in the years ahead. Those who adopt and embrace these new tools will have an information fluency that those who don’t have access to it will be lacking as the 21st century marches forward. If we want to prevent people from being left behind, we need to make sure this technology is accessible—meaning, both affordable and user friendly.

It’s still early and we don’t have it all figured out, but I’d like to propose three guiding principles for AR/VR hardware and software developers:

  1. Think outside the Silicon Valley bubble and create experiences that benefit people of different ethnicities, genders, nationalities and ages. Focus beyond the 22 to 38-year-old male cohort that tech so often caters to. The augmented information that a 25-year-old single male is interested in viewing might be different from the information that would be useful for a 40-year-old mother. There is a need here for Silicon Valley to make sure it’s taking a very inclusive approach to design—and that starts with having a diverse team of people imagining what AR/VR can be asked to do and how best to do it.
  2. As we’re imagining what AR and VR can accomplish, we also need to be careful about how much we let these technologies guide our behavior or influence our decisions. We live in a world where Google knows what we want to search for before we search it, Amazon knows what we want to buy before we buy it, and Facebook knows what kind of news or stories we want to read before we do. While largely positive, we’re only recently starting to understand the potential downsides of this reach. We need to approach AR/VR’s ability to influence our decision-making with prudence.
  3. Stay humble. Personal computers and mobile phones were around for decades before their full potential was unlocked, helping revolutionize the way we consume, process, and manage information. AR/VR is poised to unleash its own data revolution, and we need to recognize what we don’t yet know and maintain a willingness to learn, so we can hopefully avoid potential pitfalls around societal impact and make sure AR/VR develops and propagates throughout society in a beneficial manner.

The truth is, we’ll need to learn as we go. And that’s okay. But be sure to prepare yourself for the ride because our augmented future will be here before you know it.

Brian Pene is Director of Emerging Technology for the Office of the CTO at Autodesk, Inc.


Google and Salesforce sign massive strategic partnership

Google and Salesforce announced a massive strategic partnership today that’s aimed at driving value across their mutual customers. As part of the deal, Salesforce plans to use Google Cloud Platform infrastructure as a preferred partner to power the tech titan’s international expansion. Google, for its part, will use Salesforce as its preferred CRM provider for selling its cloud services.

Continue reading “Google and Salesforce sign massive strategic partnership”

Everything Microsoft announced at Build 2017

So Microsoft’s annual Build developer conference came and went, and the computing giant unveiled a number of initiatives aimed at the software engineers and web developers of the world.

From Windows 10 to Cortana and bots, here’s a quick recap of everything announced at Build 2017.

Embracing the competition

A core theme to emerge from Build 2017 was Microsoft’s tacit acknowledgement that it needs to embrace competing platforms if it’s to thrive as a software and services company.

Though iTunes has been available on Windows for more than a decade, Microsoft revealed that Apple’s media-focused software would be landing in the Windows Store later this year, a key launch given the impending arrival of Windows 10 S which can only use apps available in the Windows Store.

Elsewhere, Microsoft also announced that its cloud storage service, OneDrive, would soon work with Apple’s iMessage, letting users share documents and photos with friends without leaving their iMessage chat. As part of the same announcement, Microsoft revealed that it was opening offline access to folders within OneDrive on Android, with support for iOS users coming later this year.

Microsoft also unveiled Xamarin Live Player in preview, which is effectively a “live coding environment” for developers to debug Android and iOS apps without SDKs or emulators.

Additionally, Microsoft’s integrated development environment (IDE), Visual Studio, was also launched out of preview for Mac. And as another swift reminder that Microsoft has been increasingly prioritizing the “big 2” mobile operating systems over its own, the company finally revealed that Visual Studio Mobile Center was finally getting Windows support — seven months after debuting with support only for Android and iOS.

In a show of support for developers and fans of Linux, Microsoft also revealed that Ubuntu, Suse Linux, and Fedora are all coming to the Windows Store, making it easier to run Linux apps on Windows 10 devices.

Bots, Cortana, & AI

A little more than a year after launching its Bot Framework, Microsoft revealed that it’s now used by over 130,000 developers. With that in mind, the company used Build 2017 to announce that Bing search results now include Skype bots, in addition to myriad chat apps including Slack, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. Bots will also soon be able to join video conversations in Skype, with developers able to use the BotBuilder RealTimeMediaCalling extension on Github, which just entered preview.

Microsoft also revealed that Cognitive Services, a conduit for third-parties to access its AI algorithms for “vision, speech, language, and knowledge,” was arriving on a bot-to-bot communication platform Interbot, a product from Gupshup. Related to this, Microsoft announced it was releasing four new customizable artificial intelligence services via Cognitive Services, allowing developers to build even more AI into their own products.

A number of announcements were also made relating to Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-enabled digital assistant. The company announced a public preview of its Cortana Skills Kit that enables developers to create voice apps for Cortana, and more than 20 such apps made their debut at Build. The software giant also revealed that it was working with both Intel and HP to bring more Cortana-powered devices to market.

Microsoft’s bread and butter

Microsoft announced some interesting tidbits about its core bread and butter services, in addition to making a few surprise announcements.

The company gave a glimpse into how it wants to tie its various apps, products, and platforms together with the Microsoft Fluent Design System, which is effectively guidelines to enable Microsoft to evolve its Metro/Modern UI design language, replete with rules for developers creating software to run on Windows 10.

Microsoft also demonstrated Windows 10 running on devices with ARM processors, with full support for existing Win32 apps. And it also revealed that Windows 10 is now installed on more than 500 million devices, a feat that took around 21 months to achieve.

Looking to the future, Microsoft announced a new Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, which is coming later this year, with the company teasing a new creative app called Windows Story Remix that uses the Microsoft Graph to transform and combine your photos and videos.

As part of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Microsoft also outlined plans to launch OneDrive files on-demand, a feature that lets users access their files online without having to download them and consume valuable storage space on their devices.

Elsewhere, Microsoft had a little news to share around its cloud computer service Azure. With Azure Cosmos DB, Microsoft is offering a globally distributed database with five consistency choices, rather than forcing developers to choose between strong and eventual consistency.

Other notable announcements to emerge from Build include: developers can now publish Microsoft Teams apps to the Office Store, while Microsoft unveiled its first Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers, alongside a mixed reality developer kit.

Finally, one of the more interesting early-stage products to emerge at Build was the Emma Watch, a wearable that counters Parkinson’s tremors through using vibrations.

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