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Google teams with Oxford to teach machines to think

Posted by pakin On October - 24 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

SAN FRANCISCO – Google on Thursday announced a partnership with artificial intelligence teams at Oxford University to teach machines to think like people.

Oxford professors behind spinoff startups Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory will work with DeepMind, a London-based startup that Google bought early this year.

Financial terms of the alliance were not disclosed, but DeepMind co-founder and Google vice president of engineering Demis Hassabis said in a blog post that it involves a “substantial contribution” to set up a partnership that will include student internships, joint lectures, and workshops.

The artificial intelligence effort will be aimed at getting machines to better understand what they hear and see, potentially powering services such as intuitive virtual assistants and online search tools.

Google earlier this week was among a group of investors participating in a $542 million funding of Magic Leap, which produces software for augmented reality, calling the effort a new “visual computing platform.”

Rumors of a YouTube music subscription service have been knocking around for months now, and until this week the last we heard was that design issues back in April had caused its launch to be delayed.

We now hear – courtesy of Android Police – that the Google-owned video streaming giant will call its service ‘YouTube Music Key,’ contradicting reports toward the end of last year suggesting it’d be called ‘Music Pass.’

According to Android Police’s unnamed source, YouTube Music Key will comprise ad-free music for $9.99 a month, a fee that will also offer access to Google Play Music All Access, set to be rebranded as Google Play Music Key.

Related: Music streaming services must evolve to survive, report says

Offline playback of music videos and songs will also form part of YouTube’s expected service, with an audio-only option for background and screen-off listening.

More than 20 million music tracks will be offered to members, with the service hoping to tempt users with additional content such as concert footage, covers and remixes. Complete albums and artist discographies will, of course, also form part of the service.

YouTube Music Key is expected to recommend new tracks for users based on their YouTube viewing habits, according to Monday’s report.

A free trial month will be offered in a bid to get music fans hooked.

There’s still no word on a launch date, with Google apparently having issues negotiating contracts with independent record labels to bring content to its upcoming service.

It was reported back in April that Google executives were keen to have the paid-for YouTube music service working perfectly from day one – ie. no beta version that’s knocked into shape over time.

With YouTube already bursting with music of every genre imaginable – and all free to watch – one of Google’s biggest challenges will be to convince users Music Key is worth $9.99 a month. In addition, it needs to offer enough unique features to tempt users away from established music streaming services such as Spotify and Rdio.

Hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer to see what the Mountain View company comes up with.

San Francisco – Google is expanding its empire to cars, watches, businesses and televisions.

The technology titan laid out a sweeping vision at the opening of a sold-out developers conference in a keynote presentation streamed online to millions of people across the world.

“We are beginning to evolve our platforms beyond mobile,” Android and Chrome teams chief Sundar Pichai said of how Google’s twin operating systems are being adapted to work with one another and with new types of computing hardware.

Google’s goal, according to Pichai, is to have its software be a foundation for applications, services or digital content delivered seamlessly across the increasingly diverse array of Internet-linked screens in people’s lives.

A new LG G smartwatch and a freshly-announced Gear Live smartwatch by Samsung that both work with the “Android Wear” platform debuted Wednesday at the online shop Google Play.

On-stage demonstrations included ordering a pizza in seconds, fielding reminders and messages, and using voice commands on smartwatches.

An eagerly awaited Moto 360 smartwatch is due to join the Android Wear lineup later this year.

“These are the first three watches, but there are more on the way,” Pichai said.

– Android on the road –

Android Auto software for cars, synching smartphones with in-dashboard screens and controls, is being shared with automakers, and vehicles are set to be equipped by the end of this year.

Android Auto brings apps like Google Maps and Spotify music service to an “interface built for driving,” according to a freshly formed coalition of technology and car companies called the Open Automotive Alliance.

Google also announced another shot at smart televisions with Android TV software for what are typically the biggest screens in homes.

Google is giving televisions “the same level of attention that phones and tablets have enjoyed,” according to Android engineering director Dave Burke.

Android smartphones, complete with voice command features, could be used to direct searches and more on television screens, an on-stage demonstration showed.

Games from the Google Play shop could also be played on televisions.

– Expanding Google empire –

“The Google empire is trying to grow,” Gartner consumer technology research director Brian Blau told AFP on the sidelines of the San Francisco keynote presentation.

“Google is trying to be more like Apple; create more consistent experiences with devices that work together.”

Handset or tablet makers are free to customize free Android software to suit hardware and set themselves apart from rivals, but this has resulted in popular applications working on some gadgets and not others in a situation referred to as “fragmentation.”

Apple, on the other hand, so tightly controls software powering iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices that developers can more easily target broad audiences.

Improving how well popular services or applications work across Android devices should also entice users to “lock in” to the platform the way Apple devotees remain loyal to the Cupertino, California company’s gear, according to Blau.

“Lots of variations of Android make developers work harder to support all those devices,” the analyst said.

“A consistent experience will help Google in the long run.”

Google also showed off steps it is taking to make Android devices along with its services offered in the Internet “cloud” amenable to workplaces.

Improvements include tools for separating personal and company uses of mobile devices, as well as better handling of files made using Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint programs.

Outside the convention center, protesters dressed as “Star Wars” film bad guy Darth Vader to remind Google of its founding vow not to be evil.

Protests did not disrupt on-stage presentations, and Pichai made a point of addressing criticism that women engineers are scarce in Silicon Valley firms.

Among those watching the conference online was a group of female developers in Nigeria, said Pichai, who noted that more than a fifth of those taking part in the conference are women.

“We are working hard to elevate women in computer sciences,” Pichai said.

Google and Microsoft will follow in the footsteps of rivals Apple and Samsung and introduce a ‘killswitch’ to their smartphones that deactivate them if stolen.

Killswitches gives users the power to completely disable a smartphone remotely after it has been stolen, as well as increasing security on the phone by adding more password layers, making it more difficult to wipe and then be sold on by thieves.

A report by the New York State attorney general has found that the theft of iPhones has fallen significantly in the six months since the Activation Lock feature was added to Apple’s iOS 7.

According to the report, since then the number of iPhone related robberies has fallen in major cities around the world, including by more than 20 per cent in London and 17 per cent in New York. The feature requires the entry of a passcode in order to disable location services on the device.

In April, Samsung introduced a similar feature called Reactivation Lock to some of their Galaxy smartphones that allows users to lock their phone remotely should it go missing or be stolen.

The report confirmed that following an initiative launched last year called Secure our Smartphones (SOS) – supported by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Microsoft and Google will be improving the security on their mobile devices.

“With the release of this report the SOS Initiative achieves two major milestones: Microsoft confirms it will incorporate a kill switch-type theft-deterrence solution in the next release of its Windows Phone operating system, which will run on all Nokia smartphones; and, Google confirms it will incorporate a kill switch-type theft-deterrence solution in its next version of the Android operating system, the most popular mobile operating system worldwide,” said the report.

In a blog post on the company’s official website, Microsoft’s vice president of US Government Affairs Fred Humphries said: “Over recent months, Microsoft has been working with others in the wireless industry to develop voluntary principles for implementing more robust theft-deterrent technologies in smartphones.

“The new theft deterrent features will be offered as an update for all phones running Windows Phone 8.0 and newer, though availability is subject to mobile operator and phone manufacturer approval.

“Additional details on functionality and availability will be provided closer to the official release. With these additional features, we’re hopeful that technology – as part of a broader strategy – can help to further reduce incentives for criminals to steal smartphones in the first place.”

Experts still want firmer killswitches to be introduced that permanently disable smartphones. Those used at the moment by Apple on Samsung rely on a signal being sent to the phone to lock it, or a password to keep out unwanted users, and experts have warned that turning a phone off or placing it in airline mode can block signal from reaching it.

According to the most recent report into smartphone theft in the UK, more than 800,000 devices are stolen each year.