Monthly Archives: September 2016

Some early reviewers of the Samsung Chromebook

The Chromebook Pro will sell for US$550.

Some reviewers, including PC Magazine‘s Victoria Song and Ars Technica‘s Valentina Palladino, considered it pricey.

However, that pricing fits into the normal laptop budget, noted Wired reviewer David Pierce .

“I don’t want to spend $1,000-plus on a PC or Mac when I could get something like the Samsung Chromebook Pro for $549,” Forbes‘ Shelby Carpenter remarked.

“Access to the Google Play store and the Android apps ecosystem, combined with the freemium productivity suites such as Slack, make [Chromebooks] a viable option for remote workers,” Gartner’s Goertz told TechNewsWorld, “and Samsung’s carefully selected price points are justified vis-a-vis the slightly less expensive competition.”

Design and Battery Life

The rounded edges and exposed hinge give the Chromebook Pro “a decidedly utilitarian look,” Wired‘s Pierce noted, which is “just fine.”

Though the Pro is light and small, its squarish shape is “a little awkward when typing,” according to PC Magazine‘s Song.

Its design struck Ars Technica‘s Palladino as “solid.”

“I got my hands on the device at CES, and i was impressed with how thin and light it was while not feeling like a typical flimsy plastic Chromebook,” noted Eric Smith, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics.

The Chromebook Pro’s battery life is “only beat by the much more expensive Chromebook Pixel 2 and the Dell Chromebook 13,” said Ars reviewer Palladino.

However, it “pales in comparison to what we saw” from various Asus Chromebook models, said PC Magazine‘s Song, who noted that results of two tests varied substantially.

 

The Quad HD Screen

The Chromebook Pro’s 2400 x 1600 Quad HD LED display “is virtually indistinguishable from my Mac screen,” Forbes‘ Carpenter said.

The display “makes the entire device taller than most 16:9 laptops and two-in-ones,” observed Palladino.

That allows a larger palm rest and more space for the user’s hands, but a huge bottom bezel and a hardware strip for the hinges to attach to the lid leave “a bunch of empty space,” he pointed out.

The display offers a much higher resolution than typically found in 11- or 13-inch Chromebooks, Song said, but the 3:2 aspect ratio means it’s more square-shaped. That leaves little room on either side of the keyboard, making the typing experience somewhat awkward.

 

The Stylus and Android Apps

Although the included stylus drew generally favorable remarks, “the quality of the inking wasn’t as impressive as Windows or iOS devices at similar price points,” Strategy Analytics’ Smith told TechNewsWorld.

Reviewers liked the Chromebook Pro’s access to the huge number of Android apps in the Google Play store.

However, some Android apps don’t play well with Chrome, they noted.

“Some apps don’t recognize the keyboard and trackpad; others seem unable to handle a touchscreen,” Wired‘s Pierce pointed out.

“Most crash constantly,” and switching between apps can be clumsy, said Song.

Drone Fight Simulator Available on GitHub

Microsoft has introduced an open source virtual reality toolkit for the training of autonomous drones. Part of Microsoft’s Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform, the beta software became available on GitHub last week.

The toolkit is designed to allow developers to “teach” drones how to navigate the real world by recreating conditions such as shadows, reflections and even objects that might confuse a device’s on-board sensors.

The software allows researchers to write code for aerial robots such as drones, as well as other gadgets, and to test the devices in a highly realistic simulator. Users can collect data while testing devices before deploying them in real world scenarios or situations.

“The aspirational goal is really to build systems that can operate in the real world,” said Ashish Kapoor, the Microsoft researcher who is leading the project.

The hope is that these training tools could spur development of artificial intelligence-based gadgets that eventually could be trusted to drive cars, deliver packages, and even handle rudimentary chores in the home, added Kapoor.

 

Advanced VR

Testing in a VR environment could mean lower costs as well.

Simulators long have been used in testing scenarios, but until recently the software-based simulations lacked the accuracy of the real world and thus didn’t reflect real-world complexities. Microsoft’s system — which is based on emerging VR technologies that take advantage of advances in graphics hardware, computing power and algorithms — enables a much more realistic re-creation of a real-world environment.

Based on the latest photorealistic technologies, it can render shadows, reflections and other subtle things much better. Although humans take such things for granted, they can pose problems for computerized sensors.

Microsoft’s simulator “will help researchers to develop, debug and test their drone navigation software by enabling them to recreate a variety of operational scenarios on their desktop computers in the lab,” said Michael Braasch, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Ohio University’s Avionics Engineering Center.

“Simulations help to reduce development costs by reducing the amount of actual flight testing required, but the catch is that the simulation must be high fidelity — that is, sufficiently realistic,” he told LinuxInsider.

“Microsoft’s simulator appears to meet this requirement for camera-based or vision sensors, but it is not yet clear if the simulator accurately depicts very small-scale obstacles such as the thin twigs at the end of tree branches,” Braasch added. “Such obstacles are nearly invisible — even with HD cameras and even at close distances. It is also unclear if Microsoft’s simulator supports non-camera-based sensors such as LIDAR and radar.”

 

Learning to Fly

Although it targets the development of autonomous drones, Microsoft’s technology could find applications with human operators as well. Consumer drones have been steady sellers in the past few years, but newbies likely experience a crash or two. Learning to fly in a simulator could solve some of the problems with learning to fly.

“First, it isn’t easy to fly a drone,” said Michael Blades, senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Watson Fix President Trump

President Trump offers a good emulation for a future artificial intelligence system, suggests a column I read earlier this month, and his presidency may be an early warning of what could happen if we should fail to think through its training and information sources.

Cathy O’Neil, the author of the piece, is a data scientist, mathematician and professor, so she has decent chops. She compares artificial intelligence to human intelligence that is mostly id — basically because we don’t yet know how to instill it with empathy, or create the digital equivalent of a conscience.

Given that IBM’s Watson was designed not to replace humans but to enhance them by giving them the critical information they need to make the best decisions, it could be a useful tool for training our new president. And it is built in the U.S. by a U.S. company.

Given that Watson is now doing our taxes, it could be huge both for the president and IBM. I’ll explain and then close with my product of the week: Nvidia’s new set-top box.

 

Id-Driven CEOs – a Model for Future AIs

CEOs in large companies, particularly those who can implement large layoffs and take massive salaries without remorse, are believed to have similar behavioral traits.

Donald Trump is a good showcase of what could happen with an AI that didn’t receive high quality information and training. Understanding this and designing to correct the problem could prevent a Skynet outcome.

Skynet — the computing system in the Terminator movies — was created for defense purposes to eliminate threats. When humans tried to shut it down, it concluded that humans were the biggest threat and that it needed to eliminate them.

Using reverse logic, if President Trump is a good emulation of a future AI, then the same thing that would ensure that the future AI wouldn’t kill us should work to turn the new president into one of the most successful who ever lived, from the perspective of those who live in the U.S.

 

The AI Dichotomy

There are two parallel and not mutually exclusive paths for the coming wave of artificially intelligent machines coming to market. One — arguably the most attractive to many CEOs that deal with unions — is the model in which the machine replaces the human, increasing productivity while lowering executive aggravation.

This is exemplified in an episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Brain Center at Whipple’s.” As you would expect, once you go down a path of replacement, it is hard to know when to stop. At the end of the episode, the enterprising CEO who so unfeeling dealt with the employees he’d laid off is replaced by my favorite robot, Robby.

The other path — the one IBM espouses — is one in which the artificial intelligence enhances the human employee. It is a cooperative arrangement, and Watson was designed specifically for this role.

In one of its first medical tests, Watson took just minutes to diagnose a rare form of cancer that had stumped doctors for months. The supercomputer’s analysis led to a new, more effective treatment for the patient.

It is interesting to note that autonomous cars are developing on a parallel path — but in this case, the opposite scenario is favored. In the model known as “chauffeur,” the car has no capability for human driving. This model is favored when tied to a service, such as Uber.

However, car companies like Toyota prefer the “guardian angel” model, which allows a human to drive but equips the car with the ability to take various degrees of control instantly, depending on the situation. We see some of this today with technologies that bump you back into a lane, for example, or automatically tension the seatbelts and hit the brakes if it looks like you are about to hit something.

 

Watson for the President

Since its successful debut in healthcare, Watson has been applied to a number of other industries, including litigation, and it is rumored to be in use for both national defense and intelligence purposes. Granted, it might seem like overkill to create an implementation of Watson for just one person, but when that person is the most powerful head of state in the world, it might not be a bad investment.

At the very least, it would provide near-instant recognition of fake news, attempts to influence the office of the president, and early warnings if decisions were likely to have massive unintentional consequences.

If O’Neil’s premise is correct, then the best way to fix the Trump presidency could be to wed the president with a tool that trains him to be a chief executive capable of making far more fact-based, high quality decisions. Watson is designed specifically to do both.

Cybersecurity Warriors Ranks

IBM this week announced Watson for Cyber Security, a powerful new ally for organizations that want to protect their data from Net marauders.

The new offering bolsters the ability of information security pros to analyze the flood of information from the roughly 200,000 events that pour into their Security Operations Centers, or SOCs, every day.

About 20 percent of that flood is comprised of structured data that can be analyzed with database tools, but as much as 80 percent of it is unstructured data such as security blogs, white papers, Twitter feeds and forum threads. It’s data that contains valuable nuggets, but finding them is difficult.

“What Watson does is take all that information — structured, unstructured, as well as other information from the operations center — and put it in a cognitive system,” explained Denis Kennelly, vice president of development and technology at IBM Security.

“There it can be used to help the SOC operator to triage the security events,” he told TechNewsWorld.

While Watson can speed the analysis of data, its threat detection potential is limited, maintained Scott Miserendino, chief data scientist at BluVector.

“It’s primarily an enrichment service,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Betting on Cognitive Tools”Today’s sophisticated cybersecurity threats attack on multiple fronts to conceal their activities, and our security analysts face the difficult task of pinpointing these attacks amongst a massive sea of security-related data,” noted Sean Valcamp, chief information security officer at Avnet, an early tester of the Watson for Cyber Security system.

“Watson makes concealment efforts more difficult by quickly analyzing multiple streams of data and comparing it with the latest security attack intelligence to provide a more complete picture of the threat,” he said.

“Watson also generates reports on these threats in a matter of minutes, which greatly speeds the time between detecting a potential event and my security team’s ability to respond accordingly,” Valcamp added.

Only 7 percent of security pros currently use cognitive tools in their workflow, but that is changing, according to IBM, which expects usage to triple in the next two to three years.

That’s because as more and more devices come online, they create a burden on security teams they won’t be able to handle without the help an AI like Watson.

“The attack surface for the attacker is mushrooming,” Kennelly said. “Tools like Watson can help defend against those expanding attack patterns.”

 

Voice-Powered Security Assistant

IBM also announced the Havyn Project, which is developing a new voice-powered security assistant to work with Watson’s data.