Google Maps is replacing a satellite image that shows the body of Kevin Barrera, a 14-year-old who was killed in 2009 in Richmond, California. The body is lying prone by train tracks. A police car and several people are nearby. The boy's father, Jose Barrera, apparently found out about the picture just a few days ago, commenting "When I see this image, that’s still like that happened yesterday." The police investigation remains open. Google says it will take eight days to swap out the satellite picture.
"Google has never accelerated the replacement of updated satellite imagery from our maps before, but given the circumstances we wanted to make an exception in this case," Google Maps VP Brian McClendon told the San Francisco Chronicle.
I don't care to reproduce the sad image here, but the San Francisco Chronicle did.
"Google to fix map image showing slain boy" (SF Chronicle)
It's completely functional; better than the real thing, even.
There's a mysterious barge docked at Treasure Island, the former Navy base in the San Francisco Bay. The barge contains a structure built from shipping containers. According to CNET, whatever is inside those containers is related to a secret project underway inside Hangar 3 on the island, a former military base. CNET managed to trace the project back to Google. It seems likely that Google is either reverse-engineering a crashed alien spacecraft or prototyping a floating data center. CNET suggests the latter but my bets (and hopes) are on the former.
Anna Kuperberg / Google, via TIME.com
Today, Google announced the launch of Calico, a new company that will "focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases."
Former Genentech CEO Arthur D. Levinson, who is Chairman of the Board at both Genentech and Apple, is CEO and a founding investor of the new Google spinoff venture.
Noted Google+ user Larry Page posts this morning:
OK … so you’re probably thinking wow! That’s a lot different from what Google does today. And you’re right. But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives. So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses. And please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business. Art and I are excited about tackling aging and illness. These issues affect us all—from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families. And while this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people.
Hey, none of this health and wellness stuff should come as a surprise to internet old-timers who recall when the "web crawler"
was named "BackRub."
Time has an exclusive, in this week's cover story at the magazine. The short version: "the company behind YouTube and Google+ is gearing up to seriously attempt to extend human lifespan."
Read the rest
"The Justice Department recently won a court battle to keep an Internet company from talking about federal demands for user data, arguing that even disclosing the company’s name would damage national security," write Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Danny Yadron at the WSJ Digits blog
. "But then, after months of arguments, the department appears to have been foiled by its own redaction process, which left the name 'Google' on one page that was posted Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York."
For years, Google has intervened in regulatory and court proceedings on the side of net neutrality (except for its embarrassing and inexcusable joint filing with Verizon on mobile rules). But now that Google is running its own gigabit broadband service, it has told the FCC that it's perfectly reasonable to discriminate on the basis of which packets are flowing and how they were generated -- justifying its own terms-of-service that block running "servers." Without this policy, it would be harder for Google to sell a "business" service that was distinct from the gigabit home service.
Read the rest
Dr. Joseph Bonneau, an engineer at Google, is the first-ever winner of the NSA's new Science of Security (SoS) Competition, a prize for excellence in cyber-security research. On learning that he had won the first prize, he published a scorching blog-post excoriating the NSA for its dragnet surveillance and opining "I don’t think a free society is compatible with an organisation like the NSA in its current form."
Read the rest
Fast, Accurate Detection of 100,000 Object Classes on a Single Machine a prizewinning paper by Google Research scientists, describes a breakthrough in machine vision that can distinguish between a huge class of objects 20,000 times faster than before.
This so-called convolution operator is one of the key operations used in computer vision and, more broadly, all of signal processing. Unfortunately, it is computationally expensive and hence researchers use it sparingly or employ exotic SIMD hardware like GPUs and FPGAs to mitigate the computational cost. We turn things on their head by showing how one can use fast table lookup — a method called hashing — to trade time for space, replacing the computationally-expensive inner loop of the convolution operator — a sequence of multiplications and additions — required for performing millions of convolutions with a single table lookup.
We demonstrate the advantages of our approach by scaling object detection from the current state of the art involving several hundred or at most a few thousand of object categories to 100,000 categories requiring what would amount to more than a million convolutions. Moreover, our demonstration was carried out on a single commodity computer requiring only a few seconds for each image. The basic technology is used in several pieces of Google infrastructure and can be applied to problems outside of computer vision such as auditory signal processing.
Fast, Accurate Detection of 100,000 Object Classes on a Single Machine
(Image: Clutter, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from neofob's photostream)
CNet's Declan McCullagh reports on a rumor that Google is testing a system for encrypting its users' files on Google Drive; they are reportedly considering the move as a means of making it harder for government spies to harvest user-data. There are lots of things this could mean: if Google encrypts the files but retains the keys, it would mean that any government spying would be more visible within the company, since it would require the government requesting access to the keys before it could snoop on users. On the other hand, it might mean that Google would encrypt its files in a way that even it can't encrypt it -- called "zero-knowledge encryption" -- which would be much more robust against spying. McCullagh talks about companies that do similar things:
Some smaller companies already provide encrypted cloud storage, a concept that's sometimes called "host-proof hosting." SpiderOak says its software, available for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, and Nokia N900 platforms, uses "zero-knowledge" encryption techniques that allow it to store data that's "readable to you alone." SpiderOak also offers a Web access option because of "overwhelming customer demand," but suggests the client application is more secure.
Wuala is an application for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, and Android created by Zurich-based LaCie AG that also uses client-side encryption. "LaCie employees have very limited access to your data," the company says. "They can only see how many files you have stored and how much storage space they occupy."
Google tests encryption to protect users' Drive files against government demands
Peter Biddle, who helped invent trusted computing when he was at Microsoft, discusses the serious Android security bug
that was just reported. It's a good, short read, and most alarming is the news that Google's had information on this critical bug since February: "The entire value of a chain of trust is that you are limiting the surface area of vulnerability to the code-signing and hashing itself. This bug, if it’s as described, destroys the chain."
Here's Fred von Lohmann, one of the senior copyright attorneys at Google -- and formerly head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's copyright practice -- describing how YouTube takedowns and fair use claims work, with generous use of excitable puppets. It's the role he was born to play!
Copyright on YouTube
Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, co-authors of the excellent book Big Data write in the MIT Tech Review with a good, skeptical look at the risks of relying on data to the exclusion of other factors in decisionmaking. They use Robert McNamara, the hyper-rational architect of the Vietnam War, as their posterchild for data-blindness, and discuss how modern firms have repeated his mistakes in other domains:
The dictatorship of data ensnares even the best of them. Google runs everything according to data. That strategy has led to much of its success. But it also trips up the company from time to time. Its cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, long insisted on knowing all job candidates’ SAT scores and their grade point averages when they graduated from college. In their thinking, the first number measured potential and the second measured achievement. Accomplished managers in their 40s were hounded for the scores, to their outright bafflement. The company even continued to demand the numbers long after its internal studies showed no correlation between the scores and job performance.
Google ought to know better, to resist being seduced by data’s false charms. The measure leaves little room for change in a person’s life. It counts book smarts at the expense of knowledge. And it may not reflect the qualifications of people from the humanities, where know-how may be less quantifiable than in science and engineering. Google’s obsession with such data for HR purposes is especially queer considering that the company’s founders are products of Montessori schools, which emphasize learning, not grades. By Google’s standards, neither Bill Gates nor Mark Zuckerberg nor Steve Jobs would have been hired, since they lack college degrees.
The Dictatorship of Data
(via O'Reilly Radar)
Google has sent the US Attorney General a letter asking for permission to publish aggregate statistics on the number of gag-ordered-FISA requests it gets. These requests are secret and not included in Google's "Transparency Report" of government requests.
We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.
Google appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters. There have been no adverse consequences arising from their publication, and in fact more companies are receiving your approval to do so as a result of Google’s initiative. Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security.
Asking the U.S. government to allow Google to publish more national security request data
It's not the work of aliens. Instead, you can chalk these crop circles up to humans + money + time. And, with the help of satellite imaging, you can watch as humans use money to change the desert over the course of almost 30 years.
Landsat is a United States satellite program that's been in operation since 1972. Eight different satellites (three of them still up there and functioning) have gathered images from all over the world for decades. This data is used to help scientists studying agriculture, geology, and forestry. It's also been used for surveillance and disaster relief.
Now, at Google, you can look at images taken from eight different sites between 1984 and 2012 and and watch as people change the face of the planet. In one set of images, you can watch agriculture emerge from the deserts of Saudi Arabia — little green polka-dots of irrigation popping up against a vast swath of tan. In another se, you'll see the deforestation of the Amazon. A third, the growth of Las Vegas. It's a fascinating view of how we shape the world around us, in massive ways, over a relatively short period of time.