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AI

Microsoft Forms New AI Research Group Led By Harry Shum (techcrunch.com) 31

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A day after announcing a new artificial intelligence partnership with IBM, Google, Facebook and Amazon, Microsoft is upping the ante within its own walls. The tech giant announced that it is creating a new AI business unit, the Microsoft AI and Research Group, which will be led by Microsoft Research EVP Harry Shum. Shum will oversee 5,000 computer scientists, engineers and others who will all be "focused on the company's AI product efforts," the company said in an announcement. The unit will be working on all aspects of AI and how it will be applied at the company, covering agents, apps, services and infrastructure. Shum has been involved in some of Microsoft's biggest product efforts at the ground level of research, including the development of its Bing search engine, as well as in its efforts in computer vision and graphics: that is a mark of where Microsoft is placing its own priority for AI in the years to come. Important to note that Microsoft Research unit will no longer be its on discrete unit -- it will be combined with this new AI effort. Research had 1,000 people in it also working on areas like quantum computing, and that will now be rolled into the bigger research and development efforts being announced today. Products that will fall under the new unit will include Information Platform, Cortana and Bing, and Ambient Computing and Robotics teams led by David Ku, Derrick Connell and Vijay Mital, respectively. The Microsoft AI and Research Group will encompass AI product engineering, basic and applied research labs, and New Experiences and Technologies (NExT), Microsoft said.
AI

Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft Come Together To Create Historic Partnership On AI (techcrunch.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: In an act of self-governance, Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM, and Microsoft came together today to announce the launch the new Partnership on AI. The group is tasked with conducting research and promoting best practices. Practically, this means that the group of tech companies will come together frequently to discuss advancements in artificial intelligence. The group also opens up a formal structure for communication across company lines. It's important to remember that on a day to day basis, these teams are in constant competition with each other to develop the best products and services powered by machine intelligence. Financial support will be coming from the initial tech companies who are members of the group, but in the future membership and involvement is expected to increase. User activists, non-profits, ethicists, and other stakeholders will be joining the discussion in the coming weeks. The organizational structure has been designed to allow non-corporate groups to have equal leadership side-by-side with large tech companies. As of today's launch, companies like Apple, Twitter, Intel and Baidu are missing from the group. Though Apple is said to be enthusiastic about the project, their absence is still notable because the company has fallen behind in artificial intelligence when compared to its rivals -- many of whom are part of this new group. The new organization really seems to be about promoting change by example. Rather than preach to the tech world, it wants to use a standard open license to publish research on topics including ethics, inclusivity, and privacy.
Businesses

Amazon Looking To Abandon UPS, FedEx In Favor of Its Own Delivery Service (arstechnica.com) 230

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A report by The Wall Street Journal claims that Amazon is building its own shipping service to replace FedEx and UPS, giving it more control over its packages and possibly allowing it to ship packages from other retailers. Amazon has said its own delivery services would be meant to increase its capacity during busier times of the year, like the upcoming holiday season. However, "current and former Amazon managers and business partners" claim that the company's plans are bigger than that. The initiative dubbed "Consume the City" will eventually let Amazon "haul and deliver" its own packages and those of other retailers and consumers. That delivery network would also directly compete with the likes of UPS and FedEx. It makes sense that Amazon would want to sell, ship, and deliver orders on its own. The report estimates that the company spent $11.5 billion on shipping just last year, amounting to 10.8 percent of sales. The shipping process is currently a bit convoluted: packages from Amazon warehouses get sent to one of two shipping routes, either FedEx or UPS, or to a sorting facility that lumps all packages with similar zip codes together. FedEx and UPS handle its shipments and deliver them to customers, while the packages at the sorting facilities either get delivered via USPS or by Amazon employees themselves. If Amazon were to have control over its shipments over longer distances, it's estimated that the company could save about $3 per package -- about $1.1 billion annually.
Businesses

55 Percent Of Online Shoppers Start Their Product Searches On Amazon (recode.net) 141

Another year, another data point showing Amazon has surpassed Google as the default search engine for shopping, a report on Recode reads. Fifty-five percent of people in the U.S. now start their online shopping trips on Amazon.com, according to results from a 2,000-person survey commissioned by the e-commerce startup BloomReach. That stat marks a 25 percent increase from the same survey last year, when 44 percent of online shoppers said they turned to Amazon first. From the report: Over the same time, the percentage of shoppers who start product searches on search engines like Google dropped from 34 percent to 28 percent. The number of online shoppers who check out a retailer's website (other than Amazon) first also shrunk, from 21 percent to 16 percent.
Communications

Anti-Defamation League Declares Pepe the Frog a Hate Symbol (time.com) 391

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TIME: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has declared a popular internet meme depicting a cartoon frog to be a hate symbol. Pepe the Frog's beginnings were unoffensive: he is the creation of comic book creator Matt Furie, who featured the frog as a character in the series Boy's Club beginning in 2005. The character subsequently became a beloved meme, often called the "sad frog meme" and shared with a speech bubble reading "Feels good man" or "Feels bad man." But recently, as the Daily Beast reported in May, the character has been co-opted by a faction of Internet denizens who decided to reclaim it from the mainstream, and began sharing it in anti-Semitic contexts. "Images of the frog, variously portrayed with a Hitler-like mustache, wearing a yarmulke or a Klan hood, have proliferated in recent weeks in hateful messages aimed at Jewish and other users on Twitter," the ADL wrote in a statement. "Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users," wrote ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt.
The Almighty Buck

Revealed: How One Amazon Kindle Scam Made Millions of Dollars (zdnet.com) 40

An anonymous Slashdot reader shares an excerpt with us from a report via ZDNet that summarizes a catfishing scheme designed to deceive Amazon users into buy low-quality ebooks: Emma Moore is just one of hundreds of pseudonyms employed in a sophisticated "catfishing" scheme run by Valeriy Shershnyov, whose Vancouver-based business hoodwinks Amazon customers into buying low-quality ebooks, which have been boosted on the online marketplace by an unscrupulous system of bots, scripts, and virtual servers. Catfishing isn't new -- it's been well documented. Some scammers buy fake reviews, while others will try other ways to game the system. Until now, nobody has been able to look inside at how one of these scams work -- especially one that's been so prolific, generating millions of dollars in royalties by cashing in on unwitting buyers who are tricked into thinking these ebooks have some substance. Shershnyov was able to stay in Amazon's shadows for two years by using his scam server conservatively so as to not raise any red flags. What eventually gave him away weren't customer complaints or even getting caught. It was good old-fashioned carelessness. He forgot to put a password on his server.
AI

Why Data Is the New Coal (theguardian.com) 75

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Guardian: "Is data the new oil?" asked proponents of big data back in 2012 in Forbes magazine. By 2016, and the rise of big data's turbo-powered cousin deep learning, we had become more certain: "Data is the new oil," stated Fortune. Amazon's Neil Lawrence has a slightly different analogy: Data, he says, is coal. Not coal today, though, but coal in the early days of the 18th century, when Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine. A Devonian ironmonger, Newcomen built his device to pump water out of the south west's prolific tin mines. The problem, as Lawrence told the Re-Work conference on Deep Learning in London, was that the pump was rather more useful to those who had a lot of coal than those who didn't: it was good, but not good enough to buy coal in to run it. That was so true that the first of Newcomen's steam engines wasn't built in a tin mine, but in coal works near Dudley. So why is data coal? The problem is similar: there are a lot of Newcomens in the world of deep learning. Startups like London's Magic Pony and SwiftKey are coming up with revolutionary new ways to train machines to do impressive feats of cognition, from reconstructing facial data from grainy images to learning the writing style of an individual user to better predict which word they are going to type in a sentence.
Entertainment

Plex Cloud Means Saying Goodbye To the Always-On PC (theverge.com) 164

Finally, you don't need an always-on PC or any other network-attached storage device if you want to use Plex's media player. The company has announced that it now allows you to stream TV shows and movies from your own collection via a new online option called Plex Cloud. From a report on The Verge: Plex is giving the world another reason to subscribe to Plex Pass subscriptions today with the launch of Plex Cloud. As the name suggests, Plex Cloud eliminates the need to run the Plex Media Server on a computer or Networked Attached Storage (NAS) in your house. It does, however, require a subscription to Amazon Drive ($59.99 per year for unlimited storage) and the aforementioned Plex Pass ($4.99 per month or $39.99 per year). Plex Cloud functions just like a regular Plex Media Server giving you access to your media -- no matter how you acquire it -- from an incredibly broad range of devices. Most, but not all Plex features are available in today's beta.
Cloud

Adobe To Run Some Of Its Creative Cloud Services On Azure (zdnet.com) 17

Adobe will offer its Adobe Creative Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Document Cloud hosted on Microsoft's Azure, the company said today, as part of a deal with Microsoft. ZDNet adds: Some of Adobe's subscription services for creative professionals currently are hosted on Amazon's AWS. It's not clear from Microsoft's announcement of its new Adobe deal whether Adobe's Creative Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Document Cloud will run on any other cloud backbones, with Azure as a secondary option or choice. I've asked Microsoft, and heard back from a spokesperson that today's deal is not exclusive, but that's all I know at this point. Work is underway to move these services to the Azure cloud, a spokesperson confirmed, with more information on this coming in the next few months.
Power

Amazon Pursues More Renewable Energy, Following Google, Apple, And Facebook (fortune.com) 85

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Amazon will open a 100-turbine, 253-megawatt wind farm in Texas by the end of next year -- generating enough energy to power almost 90,000 U.S. homes. Amazon already has wind farms in Indiana, North Carolina, and Ohio (plus a solar farm in Virginia), and 40% of the power for AWS already comes from renewable sources, but Amazon's long-term plan is to raise that to 100%.

But several of the world's largest tech companies are already pursuing their own aggressive renewable energy programs, according to Fortune. Google "has said it's the largest non-utility purchaser of renewable energy in the world. Apple claims that in 2015, 93% of its energy came from renewable sources, and its data centers are already 100% run on renewables (though that claim does rely on carbon trading). Facebook, which also uses Texas wind facilities, is aiming for 50% of its data center power to come from renewables by 2018. Even slightly smaller companies like Salesforce have made big commitments to renewable energy."

Last year for the first time utilities actually bought less than half the power produced by wind farms -- because tech companies, universities, and cities had already locked it down with long-term contracts.
Open Source

Ask Slashdot: Who's Building The Open Source Version of Siri? (upon2020.com) 190

We're moving to a world of voice interactions processed by AI. Now Long-time Slashdot reader jernst asks, "Will we ever be able to do that without going through somebody's proprietary silo like Amazon's or Apple's?" A decade ago, we in the free and open-source community could build our own versions of pretty much any proprietary software system out there, and we did... But is this still true...? Where are the free and/or open-source versions of Siri, Alexa and so forth?

The trouble, of course, is not so much the code, but in the training. The best speech recognition code isn't going to be competitive unless it has been trained with about as many millions of hours of example speech as the closed engines from Apple, Google and so forth have been. How can we do that? The same problem exists with AI. There's plenty of open-source AI code, but how good is it unless it gets training and retraining with gigantic data sets?

And even with that data, Siri gets trained with a massive farm of GPUs running 24/7 -- but how can the open source community replicate that? "Who has a plan, and where can I sign up to it?" asks jernst. So leave your best answers in the comments. Who's building the open source version of Siri?
Google

Google To Introduce Google Wifi, Google Home and 4K Chromecast Ultra Devices On October 4th (androidpolice.com) 51

Android Police has learned of a new Google device that will launch alongside the Google Pixel smartphones, Google Home, and 4K 'Chromecast Ultra' dongle on October 4th. Called Google Wifi, the Wi-Fi router will cost $129 and contain several "smart" features. Android Police reports: [The] source additionally claims that Google will advertise the router as having "smart" features -- probably similar to OnHub in some respects -- and that Google will claim it provides enhanced range over typical Wi-Fi routers (a claim we see basically every router make, to be fair). But the one thing that will make it an insta-buy for many over OnHub? Our source claims multiple Google Wifi access points (two or more) can be linked together to create one large wireless network. We don't have any details on how this works, unfortunately. But one source claims that Google Wifi device will essentially be like a little white Amazon Echo Dot. So, relatively small and inconspicuous. In a separate report, Android Police details Google's upcoming smart speaker called Google Home, along with their upcoming 4K 'Chromecast Ultra' devices. Specifically, they will be priced at $129 and $69 respectively: Google Home was announced at Google I/O in May. Our sources also confirmed that the personalized base covers Google showed at I/O will be a feature of the final device. $129 also undercuts Amazon's Echo by a full $40, and though matches the price of the portable Amazon Tap, it's clear Google has Amazon's flagship smart home product in its sights with Home. Chromecast Ultra, which we are now all but certain is the name of Google's upcoming 4K version of Chromecast, will come in at $69 retail. As for what it brings beyond 4K, one of our sources claims that HDR is indeed on the list of bullet points.
Data Storage

Amazon Is Killing Off Its $12/Year Plan For Unlimited Photo Storage (petapixel.com) 50

To many's surprise, Amazon introduced a consumer-focused storage option -- unlimited photo backup for only $12 per year. This was Amazon's attempt to lure customers away from Google, Dropbox, and iCloud. But it seems, even for Amazon, $12 per year for so much storage space is not feasible. The company has reportedly started to inform the customers that the plan is being discontinued. PetaPixel reports: Subscribers of the plan, which was launched in March 2015, are taking to the web to report receiving an email from Amazon informing them of the change. Amazon is offering customers free months of the Unlimited Storage plan, which costs $60 per year. It seems that some people are being offered a standard 3-month free trial of the service, while others are being offered a 12-month free period.
AI

Apple Is Getting Ready To Take On Google and Amazon In a Battle For The Living Room (qz.com) 114

An anonymous reader writes: Siri may soon be making the jump from your pocket to your end table. Apple has been working on a standalone product to control internet-of-things devices for a while, but a new report from Bloomberg suggests that the company has moved the project from a research phase to prototyping. It would theoretically be pitted against other smart-home devices, including Amazon's sleeper hit, the Echo, and Google's forthcoming Home Hub. According to the report, Apple's device would be controlled using its Siri voice assistant technology. It would be able to perform the same functions that it can complete now on iPhones, Macs, and other Apple products, such as being able to tell you when the San Francisco Giants are next playing, or possibly send a poorly transcribed text message. The device would also be able to control other internet-connected devices in the home, such as lights, door locks, and web-enabled appliances, as Google and Amazon's products can. It would also have the same ability to play music through built-in speakers.
Transportation

Amazon UK Found Guilty Of Airmailing Dangerous Goods (theguardian.com) 56

Amazon UK has been found guilty and fined 65,000 euro for breaking aviation safety laws after repeatedly trying to send dangerous goods by airmail, reports The Guardian. From the article: A judge at Southwark crown court in London said on Friday that Amazon knew the rules, had been warned repeatedly, but had failed to take reasonable care. Although the risks from the goods sent for shipment by air were low, he blamed the breaches on "systemic failure" at the online retailer. As well as the fine, Amazon was ordered to pay 60,000 euro towards prosecution costs. Earlier in the week, the jury found Amazon guilty of breaching rules for shipping dangerous goods by airmail on four counts between November 2013 and May 2015. The prosecution was brought by the Civil Aviation Authority, after a complaint from Royal Mail. Some offences took place after Amazon knew it was under investigation. In each case, the items -- two packages containing laptop lithium batteries and two containing aerosols that used flammable gas propellant -- had been flagged up by Amazon's computer systems as possibly dangerous goods, and subject to restricted shipping rules.
Businesses

Amazon Says It Puts Customers First - But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn't (propublica.org) 110

ProPublica has a report today in which it warns Amazon shoppers about the results that they see on the shopping portal. It notes that people often hope that the results that come up first after a search are the best deals, and that's what Amazon will have you believe, but its algorithm doesn't work that way. In what may surprise many, in more than 80 percent of cases, Amazon ranks its own products, or those of its affiliate partners higher. From the report: Amazon does give customers a chance to comparison shop, with a listing that ranks all vendors of the same item by "price + shipping." It appears to be the epitome of Amazon's customer-centric approach. But there, too, the company gives itself an oft-decisive advantage. Its rankings omit shipping costs only for its own products and those sold by companies that pay Amazon for its services. Erik Fairleigh, a spokesman for Amazon, said the algorithm that selects which product goes into the "buy box" accounts for a range of factors beyond price. "Customers trust Amazon to have great prices, but that's not all -- vast selection, world-class customer service and fast, free delivery are critically important," he said in an e-mailed statement. "These components, and more, determine our product listings."
Oracle

Larry Ellison Says 'Amazon's Lead is Over' As Oracle Unveils New Cloud Infrastructure (venturebeat.com) 156

Oracle has unveiled its second generation of cloud infrastructure for third-party developers to run their applications in Oracle data centers. What is interesting about the announcement is that Oracle co-founder and chief technology officer Larry Ellison claiming that "Amazon's lead is over. Amazon's going to have serious competition going forward." From a VentureBeat report: One particular instance, or virtual-machine (VM) type, that Oracle is making available in this second-generation offering -- the Dense IO Shape -- offers 28.8TB, 512GB, and 36 cores, at a price of $5.40 per hour. This product offers more than 10 times the input-output capacity of Amazon Web Services (AWS), specifically the i2.8xlarge instance, said Ellison. Currently, AWS leads the cloud infrastructure market, with Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and IBM trailing behind. Oracle's public cloud was not included in the most recent version of Gartner's highly regarded cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) Magic Quadrant, which was released last month. "Oracle also does not have enough market share to qualify for inclusion," the authors of the report wrote.
Open Source

Netflix Releases 'Meridian' Test Footage To All Including Competitors, Open Sources Some Tools (variety.com) 40

Netflix has released 'Meridian' to not just all its 83 million subscribers, but to everyone. The company produced the title as test footage to evaluate anything from the performance of video codecs to the way Netflix streams look like on 4K TVs. But the company decided to make it to open to all -- be it hardware manufacturers, codec developers, or even competitors like Amazon and Hulu. From a report on Variety:Netflix is using a Creative Commons license for the release of "Meridian," which is new for an industry that isn't used to sharing a lot of resources. "They are in the business of exploiting content, not of giving it away," Chris Fetner, the company's director for content partner operations said. But for Netflix, it's just par of the course. Thanks to its Silicon Valley DNA, Netflix has long collaborated with other companies on cloud computing-focused open source projects. Now, it wants to nudge Hollywood to do the same -- and "Meridian" is only the beginning. This week, Netflix is also open-sourcing a set of tools tackling a common problem for studios and video services.
The Almighty Buck

Religion In US 'Worth More Than Google and Apple Combined' (theguardian.com) 539

A new study says religion in the United States is worth $1.2 trillion per year. Not only is that equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, but it's more than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the U.S., including Apple, Amazon and Google. The study, "The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion To American Society: An Empirical Analysis," was conducted by Brian J. Grim from Georgetown University and Melissa E. Grim from Newseum Institute. The Guardian reports: The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis calculated the $1.2 trillion figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programs; and staff and overheads for congregations. Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate. More than 344,000 congregations across the U.S. collectively employ hundreds of thousands of staff and buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services. More than 150 million Americans, almost half the population, are members of faith congregations, according to the report. Although numbers are declining, the sums spent by religious organizations on social programs have tripled in the past 15 years, to $9 billion. The report points to analysis by the Pew Research Center which shows that two-thirds of highly religious adults had donated money, time or goods to the poor in the previous week, compared with 41% of adults who said they were not highly religious. The analysis didn't account for the value of financial or physical assets held by religious groups, or for "the negative impacts that occur in some religious communities, including [...] such things as the abuse of children by some clergy, cases of fraud, and the possibility of being recruitment sites for violent extremism."
Books

Amazon Adds Audiobooks and Podcasts To Prime Membership (fortune.com) 60

If you're one of the 63 million Amazon Prime members out there, you may be happy to hear that Amazon will now grant you unlimited access to podcasts and audiobooks from Audible. Fortune reports: With Tuesday's news, Prime members will now be able to stream a rotating selection of more than 50 audiobooks. Prime members will also have free access to Amazon's newly launched on-demand audio service from Audible Channels, which provides ad-free podcasts and other audio content. Audible released the service in July, and is charging non-Prime members $4.95 each month to access the selection of podcasts. In addition to podcasts, Channels also includes access to audio versions of articles from major publications, comedy shows, short fiction, and more. Fingers crossed they have some engaging technology books in their rotating selection...

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