Our friends at pioneering machine performance group Survival Research Laboratories respectfully request the opportunity to bring their delightful robotic presentations to the Google campus. Now that's an offer you can't refuse.
Here's On the Road for 17,527 Miles, a 45 page ebook of driving directions for recreating the journey of Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac's 1957 classic On the Road. Its author, German college student Gregor Weichbrodt, is selling it as a print-on-demand title via Lulu, in case you want a hardcopy to take with on your trip.
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Google admits that Youtube/Google Plus integration increased ASCII porn, spam and trolling - UPDATED
Earlier this month, mathematics vlogger Vi Hart posted a ringing denunciation of the new integration of Youtube comments with Google Plus, arguing that the ham-fisted change had brought Youtube comments to an even lower low. Hart said that the new system gave precedence to people who were able to provoke lots of replies with trollish and insulting behavior, crowding out good commenters.
It's part of a wider program through which Google is attempting to drive all its users into Google Plus (largely because advertisers are willing to pay higher rates for "social" ads, this being the latest industry mania).
Googlers' annual bonuses are being paid out based on Google Plus's success, meaning that across the business, Google Plus is being crammed into every possible corner . The latest Android system, KitKat, tries to force users into Google Plus accounts for sending and receiving SMSes, and makes you opt out of Google Plus about six times during setup.
When Google Plus came in, its company proponents insisted that forcing people to use their real names would improve civility. As is often the case when doctrine fails to line up with reality, they have now doubled down on their folly. If Google Plus hasn't made the Internet "civil," the problem can't be that Real Names don't work -- the problem must be that Google Plus hasn't been wedged into enough corners of the Internet.
It's hard to believe that Google managed to make Youtube comments worse, but there you have it. It turns out that if you provide Google engineers and product designers with sufficient motivation, there's no limit to how bad things can get.
Update: Thanks to David Otaguro for clarifying that the Google bonuses for Google Plus success was a one-year only affair to coincide with the service's launch, and that the bonus was only partially based on Google Plus's success.
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"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)
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.
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."
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.
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Researcher wins NSA cyber-security prize, says freedom is incompatible with the NSA "in its current form"
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."
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.
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."
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 (Thanks, Fred!)
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.
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.