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Banning digital political ads gives extremists a distinct advantage

22:16 | 8 November

Jessica Alter Contributor
Jessica Alter is co-founder and chairman of Tech for Campaigns, an organization building the lasting tech and digital arm for Democrats and has helped over 200 campaigns on this front since 2017.

Jack Dorsey’s announcement that Twitter will no longer run political ads because “political messages reach should be earned, not bought” has been welcomed as a thoughtful and statesmanlike contrast to Mark Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s greedy acceptance of “political ads that lie.” While the 240-character policy sounds compelling, it’s both flawed in principle and, I fear, counterproductive in practice. 

First: like it or hate it, the U.S. political system is drowning in money. In 2018, a non-presidential year, it is estimated that over $9B was spent on the U.S. elections. And unless laws change, more will continue to flow. Banning digital ads will not reduce the amount of money in politics, and will simply shift it to less transparent channels. In an ideal world, it would be great if all “political messages were earned and not bought,”  but that is not how our system works. Candidates, Super PACs, C4s and others already allow the majority of their budgets to be swallowed up by other, less visible, accountable and cost-effective, channels — including television, mail, telephone, and radio.

More likely, at least some of the money will end up with even less transparent organizations that aren’t deemed “political,” but very much are. 

Second, banning digital political ads will not only hurt the very candidates people should want to help, it will also damage our democratic process. Analog mediums are significantly more expensive and inefficient than digital ones, so candidates who have a lot of money and/or have spent time cultivating their followings will continue to dominate. In other words, incumbent candidates, rich people and reality TV stars enjoy an outsized advantage when digital advertising is denied. 

A recent Stanford study found that, at the state house level, more than 10 times as many candidates advertise on Facebook than advertise on television. The research found that digital ads lowers advertising costs, which expands the set of candidates for whom advertising — and thus the potential to reach voters and seriously contest an election — is a real possibility. 

Lesser well-known, but often highly-qualified candidates at the state, local and federal level are precisely the people who have been celebrated for their new perspectives, creative ideas and commitment to shake up the system. People who put their heads down, do good work in their communities and decide to run because they want to make a difference will be the ones that are disadvantaged. 

You know who gets plenty of earned media opportunities? Donald Trump. He will be fine. In fact, he will be better than fine because we’ve just handed him and more extremist candidates like him a distinct advantage.

Democracy is about the combination of free speech and transparency. As the old adage goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant, so here are a few ideas that would be more effective than a ban:

  • Adding a “nutrition label” to political ads offers a more accessible, understandable and consistent way to identify the identities of the funder, their location, their budget and their target audience. This should be easily accessed, in any political ad via one click, just like we know where to find nutrition information on food we buy. 
  • Enhance “consumer beware” acknowledgments so that if digital political ads remain exempt from fact-checking (as they mostly are on television), platforms have a duty to make that clear with visual signals and user education.

Ultimately, decisions about what is permissible political speech and appropriate distribution and targeting is too important to be left to technology platforms and their conceptions of the public interest.

Do we want Google, Facebook and Twitter making the rules for all political ads and being responsible for enforcing them? What we need is a true oversight body — one with teeth. If non-political advertisers make false claims about their own products or those of their competitors, they can be fined by the FTC. This is an acknowledgment, not only that consumers need accurate facts, but also that companies can not police themselves. This is far too much power for them. 

This isn’t a way to let technology companies off the hook, as there is plenty more they can do as noted above. But we need a truly independent organization overseeing political ads — the rules that govern them and holding organizations accountable to following those rules. Is this the FEC? I’m not sure.

As I write this today, I worry that no agency truly has the capacity or the expertise to create these rules and challenge bad campaign practices. We should remedy this post-haste and get to finding true solutions. The alternative seems easier and even principled to fight for, but the unintended consequences will be swift — a government full of the types of people who we say we don’t want. 

 


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The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite

01:45 | 5 November

It’s Microsoft Ignite this week, the company’s premier event for IT professionals and decision-makers. But it’s not just about new tools for role-based access. Ignite is also very much a forward-looking conference that keeps the changing role of IT in mind. And while there isn’t a lot of consumer news at the event, the company does tend to make a few announcements for developers, as well.

This year’s Ignite was especially news-heavy. Ahead of the event, the company provided journalists and analysts with an 87-page document that lists all of the news items. If I counted correctly, there were about 175 separate announcements. Here are the top seven you really need to know about.

Azure Arc: you can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

What was announced: Microsoft was among the first of the big cloud vendors to bet big on hybrid deployments. With Arc, the company is taking this a step further. It will let enterprises use Azure to manage their resources across clouds — including those of competitors like AWS and Google Cloud. It’ll work for Windows and Linux Servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters, and also allows users to take some limited Azure data services with them to these platforms.

Why it matters: With Azure Stack, Microsoft already allowed businesses to bring many of Azure’s capabilities into their own data centers. But because it’s basically a local version of Azure, it only worked on a limited set of hardware. Arc doesn’t bring all of the Azure Services, but it gives enterprises a single platform to manage all of their resources across the large clouds and their own data centers. Virtually every major enterprise uses multiple clouds. Managing those environments is hard. So if that’s the case, Microsoft is essentially saying, let’s give them a tool to do so — and keep them in the Azure ecosystem. In many ways, that’s similar to Google’s Anthos, yet with an obvious Microsoft flavor, less reliance on Kubernetes and without the managed services piece.

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

What was announced: Project Cortex creates a knowledge network for your company. It uses machine learning to analyze all of the documents and contracts in your various repositories — including those of third-party partners — and then surfaces them in Microsoft apps like Outlook, Teams and its Office apps when appropriate. It’s the company’s first new commercial service since the launch of Teams.

Why it matters: Enterprises these days generate tons of documents and data, but it’s often spread across numerous repositories and is hard to find. With this new knowledge network, the company aims to surface this information proactively, but it also looks at who the people are who work on them and tries to help you find the subject matter experts when you’re working on a document about a given subject, for example.

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Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

What was announced: Microsoft is combining its ConfigMgr and Intune services that allow enterprises to manage the PCs, laptops, phones and tablets they issue to their employees under the Endpoint Manager brand. With that, it’s also launching a number of tools and recommendations to help companies modernize their deployment strategies. ConfigMgr users will now also get a license to Intune to allow them to move to cloud-based management.

Why it matters: In this world of BYOD, where every employee uses multiple devices, as well as constant attacks against employee machines, effectively managing these devices has become challenging for most IT departments. They often use a mix of different tools (ConfigMgr for PCs, for example, and Intune for cloud-based management of phones). Now, they can get a single view of their deployments with the Endpoint Manager, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as one of the most important announcements of the event, and ConfigMgr users will get an easy path to move to cloud-based device management thanks to the Intune license they now have access to.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

What was announced: Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge will be generally available on January 15. The release candidate is available now. That’s the culmination of a lot of work from the Edge team, and, with today’s release, the company is also adding a number of new privacy features to Edge that, in combination with Bing, offers some capabilities that some of Microsoft’s rivals can’t yet match, thanks to its newly enhanced InPrivate browsing mode.

Why it matters: Browsers are interesting again. After years of focusing on speed, the new focus is now privacy, and that’s giving Microsoft a chance to gain users back from Chrome (though maybe not Firefox). At Ignite, Microsoft also stressed that Edge’s business users will get to benefit from a deep integration with its updated Bing engine, which can now surface business documents, too.

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You can now try Microsoft’s web-based version of Visual Studio

What was announced: At Build earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would soon launch a web-based version of its Visual Studio development environment, based on the work it did on the free Visual Studio Code editor. This experience, with deep integrations into the Microsoft-owned GitHub, is now live in a preview.

Why it matters: Microsoft has long said that it wants to meet developers where they are. While Visual Studio Online isn’t likely to replace the desktop-based IDE for most developers, it’s an easy way for them to make quick changes to code that lives in GitHub, for example, without having to set up their IDE locally. As long as they have a browser, developers will be able to get their work done..

Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

What was announced: Power Virtual Agents is Microsoft’s new no-code/low-code tool for building chatbots. It leverages a lot of Azure’s machine learning smarts to let you create a chatbot with the help of a visual interface. In case you outgrow that and want to get to the actual code, you can always do so, too.

Why it matters: Chatbots aren’t exactly at the top of the hype cycle, but they do have lots of legitimate uses. Microsoft argues that a lot of early efforts were hampered by the fact that the developers were far removed from the user. With a visual too, though, anybody can come in and build a chatbot — and a lot of those builders will have a far better understanding of what their users are looking for than a developer who is far removed from that business group.

Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

What was announced: Cortana lives — and it now also has a male voice. But more importantly, Microsoft launched a few new focused Cortana-based experiences that show how the company is focusing on its voice assistant as a tool for productivity. In Outlook on iOS (with Android coming later), Cortana can now read you a summary of what’s in your inbox — and you can have a chat with it to flag emails, delete them or dictate answers. Cortana can now also send you a daily summary of your calendar appointments, important emails that need answers and suggest focus time for you to get actual work done that’s not email.

Why it matters: In this world of competing assistants, Microsoft is very much betting on productivity. Cortana didn’t work out as a consumer product, but the company believes there is a large (and lucrative) niche for an assistant that helps you get work done. Because Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of consumer data, but does have lots of data about your work, that’s probably a smart move.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 02: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the new Cortana logo as he delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bonus: Microsoft agrees with you and thinks meetings are broken — and often it’s the broken meeting room that makes meetings even harder. To battle this, the company today launched Managed Meeting Rooms, which for $50 per room/month lets you delegate to Microsoft the monitoring and management of the technical infrastructure of your meeting rooms.

 


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Where VCs are looking for voice startup investments

00:30 | 5 November

Led by Amazon’s Alexa, smart speakers’ install base is expected to reach 200 million units worldwide by 2020. A quarter of Americans over the age of 12 own a smart speaker, and the majority of those users have more than one device in their home. Moreover, Apple could sell 50 million of its Airpods this year (generating $8 billion in sales) as Bluetooth earpieces explode in popularity.

For the market penetration of this hardware, the app ecosystem remains limited in terms of mainstream adoption. Podcast production and consumption has exploded, but they don’t take advantage of smart speakers and headphones as interactive devices. Even though there were 57,000 Alexa skills available at the end of last year, most people are using smart speakers mainly to check the weather, check the news, ask simple questions and play music.

If voice is a new operating system, where are the opportunities to build giant companies on top of it?

To get a better sense of how the smart money views this market, I asked five VCs who have spent the most time in this space to share which types of startups have captured their attention:

  • Matt Hartman, Partner at Betaworks Ventures
  • Nicole Quinn, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners
  • Paul Bernard, Director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon
  • Ann Miura-Ko, Partner at Floodgate
  • Jordan Cooper, Partner at Pace Capital

Here are their responses:

Matt Hartman, Partner at Betaworks Ventures

The most recent wave of audio was about constant connectivity and streaming, and we invested in Anchor, Gimlet, and other audio-first businesses that would thrive in the podcast renaissance. For the next wave of audio, we’re focused [on] three broad categories: personalization, new behaviors/new interfaces, and monetization. Personalization means both utilizing location, Apple Watch, and other data to create magical audio experiences and customized audio content, but also advances in generative content like Resemble.ai and Descript that can create custom audio. 

In terms of new behaviors/new interfaces, people are leaving their Airpods in longer, which means there may be an opportunity for “Airpod-first” product design. Finally, as audio becomes an industry, monetization will be improved and also re-thought: subscription products such as Shine and Headspace are interesting in the context that if they don’t really work as ad-supported podcasts, and they are packaged in such a way that people are willing to pay a monthly or annual subscription.

Nicole Quinn, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners

We are in between platforms and it’s not clear what the next platform will be. VR and AR are options, but I believe voice will be the next major platform with mass adoption. The biggest hurdle right now is discoverability which in turn leads to engagement and retention issues. This was the same for mobile before the App Store allowed us to discover new apps. We need the same for voice.

We will then see voice move from a music and list creation tool to one which quickly becomes part of popular culture around shopping, games, travel, meditation, etc. Leading audio apps such as Calm, the meditation and sleep app, are already set up to take advantage of the move to voice.

Paul Bernard, Director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon

Alexa got its start in the home, but we knew early on that bringing this experience to customers outside the home would become important. Our investments in companies like North (smart glasses), Vesper (power-efficient microphones) and Syntiant (power-efficient AI chip) were inspired by this vision, and reflect the idea that ambient computing is becoming part of daily life.

These companies are also helping create the surface area for interactive entertainment and information services, such as Drivetime’s trivia games (we are an investor there too), and social ones like TTYL, which enables friends wearing earbuds to maintain “audio-presence” with each other throughout their day while they multi-task. We also expect to see innovation in how voice can help seniors aging in place — our recent investment in Labrador Systems, which builds assistive robots, is a good example of this trend.

 


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The Google News mobile app now supports bilingual users

20:06 | 4 November

Google News is going bilingual. The company announced this morning a new feature that will allow users to update their Google News settings to support two languages instead of one, in an effort to better serve the more than 60% of people worldwide who speak and read news across two more languages.

The change means you won’t have to constantly toggle between two languages in order to keep up with news that’s being covered elsewhere. This is particularly important for those who have moved to a different country, but want to keep up with their news from back home, as well as in places where it’s common for people to speak multiple languages.

Google cites the ability to read both English and Hindi news at the same time as a key example.

The update won’t impact your other personalization preferences, Google notes — it will just pull in more stories that match the topics and interests you care about.

The changes follow a larger revamp of the Google News product and destination website that’s been underway for over a year. At Google’s developer conference in 2018, the company announced its plans to leverage A.I. technology to help select which stories were shown first and how the news selection would be customized to each user, while not trapping them in so-called “filter bubbles” where they don’t have access to fact checks or the other side’s opinion.

That A.I.-powered version of the Google News app rolled out last spring. 

More recently, Google revamped the Google News tab on the desktop to organize articles in a card-style layout, which was meant to improve readability and better highlight the publisher sources.

Today’s new bilingual feature, however, is aimed at the Google News mobile app user base.

Google says the feature is available now across 141 countries and 41 languages on the Google News app for both iOS and Android. (On the desktop, you still have to pick just one language, we found.)

The company notes that being able to read news in other languages can also help people widen their perspective on issues.

“There’s still lots more to do to help connect people with quality and trustworthy news on the issues they care about, but we hope today’s update will make it easier to connect with different cultures and perspectives from the comfort of your device,” Google says.

 

 


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Government is a technology, so fix it like one

21:22 | 30 October

Eliot Peper Contributor
Eliot Peper is a critically acclaimed novelist who writes speculative thrillers that explore the intersection of technology and culture.
More posts by this contributor

Just as as tangible as airplanes, computers and contraception, The Roman Empire, the Iroquois Confederacy and the United States of America are also human inventions.

Technology is how we do things, and political institutions are how we collaborate at scale. Government is an immensely powerful innovation through which we take collective action.

Just like any other technology, governments open up new realms of opportunity. These opportunities are morally neutral: humans have leveraged political institutions to provide public education and murder ethnic minorities. Specific features like explicit protections for human rights and civil liberties are designed to help mitigate certain downside risks.

Like any tool, systems of governance require maintenance to keep working. We expect regular software updates, but forget that governance is also in constant flux, and begins to fail when it falls out of sync with the culture. Without preventative maintenance, pressure builds like tectonic forces along a fault line until a new order snaps into place, often violently. Malka Older points out that “democracy is not a unitary state that can be achieved, but a continuous process. We need to keep reinventing and refining government, to keep up with changes in society and technology and to keep it from being too easy for elites with resources to exploit.”

What might the future of governance actually look like?

 


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Google launches TensorFlow Enterprise with long-term support and managed services

20:00 | 30 October

Google open-sourced its TensorFlow machine learning framework back in 2015 and it quickly became one of the most popular platforms of its kind. Enterprises that wanted to use it, however, had to either work with third parties or do it themselves. To help these companies — and capture some of this lucrative market itself — Google is launching TensorFlow Enterprise, which includes hands-on, enterprise-grade support and optimized managed services on Google Cloud.

One of the most important features of TensorFlow Enterprise is that it will offer long-term support. For some versions of the framework, Google will offer patches for up to three years. For what looks to be an additional fee, Google will also offer engineering assistance from its Google Cloud and TensorFlow teams to companies that are building AI models.

All of this, of course, is deeply integrated with Google’s own cloud services. “Because Google created and open-sourced TensorFlow, Google Cloud is uniquely positioned to offer support and insights directly from the TensorFlow team itself,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “Combined with our deep expertise in AI and machine learning, this makes TensorFlow Enterprise the best way to run TensorFlow.”

Google also includes Deep Learning VMs and Deep Learning Containers to make getting started with TensorFlow easier and the company has optimized the enterprise version for Nvidia GPUs and Google’s own Cloud TPUs.

Today’s launch is yet another example of Google Cloud’s focus on enterprises, a move the company accelerated when it hired Thomas Kurian to run the Cloud businesses. After years of mostly ignoring the enterprise, the company is now clearly looking at what enterprises are struggling with and how it can adapt its products for them.

 


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SiriusXM picks up voice control support on Google/Nest devices

16:01 | 30 October

Good news, satellite radio fans: SiriusXM is getting a bit easier to control on your various Google Home and Nest Mini speakers.

The streaming radio network is at long last getting support for Google Assistant, allowing you to say things like “Hey Google, play 90s on 9” and have the station start right up.

While SiriusXM has technically been compatible with these speakers for a while, getting it to play meant poking around the mobile app and sending your desired station over via Chromecast. With this update, all it takes is a voice command.

Google says the SiriusXM functionality should start rolling out this week. It’ll roll out in the US and Canada first, initially supporting English and later supporting Canadian French.

Getting any of this to work, of course, means having a SiriusXM subscription. As such, Google says that all Nest speakers and smart displays will include a three-month SiriusXM trial out of the box. (Just don’t forget to set that calendar reminder in case you want to cancel.)

 


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Big 3 cloud infrastructure earnings reach almost $22B this quarter

00:14 | 30 October

Amazon, Microsoft and Google are often referred to as the Big 3 in the cloud infrastructure market, and if you had any doubt about the growth potential of the cloud, take a look at this quarter’s eye-popping revenue numbers from these three companies, which reached almost $22 billion this earnings’s season.

Before we get into each company’s specific numbers, it’s important to note that it’s difficult to get a firm grip on what the cloud numbers actually mean and what each company includes in that cloud revenue category. What’s more, this quarter Google didn’t even report specific cloud revenue, so we are left to rely on comments from July.

It’s also important to note that we are talking about the cloud infrastructure, not SaaS revenue, so Microsoft earned additional money from their SaaS business, but Google combines SaaS and infrastructure into a single number.

That said, we have a rough idea and we know the market is growing. Consider that based on last year’s earnings reports that revenue has grown from around $16 billion to around $22 billion in just one year for these Big 3. In fact, Synergy Research reports that the entire market is on $100 billion run rate for the first time this month.

AWS

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Photo: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Let’s start with AWS. They have the purest numbers when it comes to the cloud market, and they have the largest chunk of marketshare by far. Most analysts peg them at around 33 percent or so, well ahead of any other player on the market.

Amazon reported revenue of almost $9 billion this month, putting it on a run rate of almost $36 billion. Not bad for a side business for the main Amazon e-commerce site. Amazon’s overall growth rate dropped from around 45% to around 35%, but as John Dinsdale from Synergy Research points out, that’s still a good rate, and it becomes much harder to sustain large growth numbers, the bigger you get.

Microsoft

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Photo: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Microsoft had a good week. It reported Intelligent Cloud earnings of around $11 billion, and it was awarded the Pentagon’s $10 billion, decade long JEDI cloud contract. The company is in second place in terms of marketshare with around 16%.

Like Amazon, Microsoft saw its cloud growth slow a bit, down to 59% compared with 76% a year ago, but it faces a similar challenge to Amazon, even though it has half the market share. It’s scaling so quickly that it can’t really maintain that growth pace it’s been on, according to Dinsdale. “To be at the scale that Azure has achieved and to be still growing at around 60% per year is impressive. Sure the growth rate is nudging down but that is entirely to be expected for a business that has rapidly grown,” he told TechCrunch.

It’s important to point out that Intelligent Cloud includes much more than Azure including SQL Server, Windows Server, Visual Studio, consulting and support.

Google

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Photo: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Finally we have Google. It has far less marketshare than Amazon or Microsoft, somewhere around 8%, still in the single digits, but growing fast. The company brought on former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian to replace Diane Greene at the end of last year to help drive growth at the cloud division.

In July, at the company’s earnings report, Google CEO Sundar Pichai reported that the company was on an $8 billion run rate, or $2 billion a quarter. To put that into perspective, the company’s cloud revenue had doubled in 18 months. It’s important to note however that figure includes both Google’s infrastructure services and its SaaS tools like GMail and Google Docs. It probably ticked up this week, but Google wasn’t sharing specific numbers this time.

While it’s always been difficult to compare cloud numbers, we have a good sense of how each of the Big 3 is doing overall. One thing is clear this is not a fixed pie. The cloud market is still growing rapidly, and all three companies are taking advantage.

 


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Will the quantum economy change your business?

02:26 | 29 October

Google and NASA have demonstrated that quantum computing isn’t just a fancy trick, but almost certainly something actually useful — and they’re already working on commercial applications. What does that mean for existing startups and businesses? Simply put: nothing. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore it forever.

There are three main points that anyone concerned with the possibility of quantum computing affecting their work should understand.

1. It’ll be a long time before anything really practical comes out of quantum computing.

Google showed that quantum computers are not only functional, but apparently scalable. But that doesn’t mean they’re scaling right now. And if they were, it doesn’t mean there’s anything useful you can do with them.

What makes quantum computing effective is that it’s completely different from classical computing — and that also makes creating the software and algorithms that run on it essentially a completely unexplored space.

There are theories, of course, and some elementary work on how to use these things to accomplish practical goals. But we are only just now arriving at the time when such theories can be tested at the most basic levels. The work that needs to happen isn’t so much “bringing to market” as “fundamental understanding.”

Although it’s tempting to equate the beginning of quantum computing to the beginning of digital computing, in reality they are very different. Classical computing, with its 1s and 0s and symbolic logic, actually maps readily on to human thought processes and ways of thinking about information — with a little abstraction, of course.

Quantum computing, on the other hand, is very different from how humans think about and interact with data. It doesn’t make intuitive sense, and not only because we haven’t developed the language for it. Our minds really just don’t work that way!

So although even I can now claim to have operated a quantum computer (technically true), there are remarkably few people in the world who can say they can do so deliberately in pursuit of a specific problem. That means progress will be slow (by tech industry standards) and very limited for years to come as the basics of this science are established and the ideas of code and data that we have held for decades are loosened.

2. Early applications will be incredibly domain-specific and not generalizable.

A common misunderstanding of quantum computing is that it amounts to extremely fast parallel processing. Now, if someone had invented a device that performed supercomputer-like operations faster than any actual supercomputer, that would be an entirely different development and, frankly, a much more useful one. But that isn’t the case.

As an engineer explained to me at Google’s lab, not only are quantum computers good at completely different things, they’re incredibly bad at the things classical computers do well. If you wanted to do arithmetical logic like addition and multiplication, it would be much better and faster to use an abacus.

Part of the excitement around quantum computing is learning which tasks a qubit-based system is actually good at. There are theories, but as mentioned before, they’re untested. It remains to be seen whether a given optimization problem or probability space navigation is really suitable for this type of computer at all.

What they are pretty sure about so far is that there are certain very specific tasks that quantum computers will trivialize — but it isn’t something general like “compression and decompression” or “sorting databases.” It’s things like evaluating a galaxy of molecules in all possible configurations and conformations to isolate high-probability interactions.

As you can imagine, that isn’t very useful for an enterprise security company. On the other hand, it could be utterly transformative for a pharmacology or materials company. Do you run one of those? Then in all likelihood, you are already investing in this kind of research and are well aware of the possibilities quantum brings to the table.

But the point is these applications will not only be very few in number, but difficult to conceptualize, prove, and execute. Unlike something like a machine learning agent, this isn’t a new approach that can easily be tested and iterated — it’s an entirely new discipline which people can only now truly begin to learn.

 


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Google brings in BERT to improve its search results

20:07 | 25 October

Google today announced one of the biggest updates to its search algorithm in recent years. By using new neural networking techniques to better understand the intentions behind queries, Google says it can now offer more relevant results for about one in ten searches in the U.S. in English (with support for other languages and locales coming later). For featured snippets, the update is already live globally.

In the world of search updates, where algorithm changes are often far more subtle, an update that affects 10 percent of searches is a pretty big deal (and will surely keep the world’s SEO experts up at night).

Google notes that this update will work best for longer, more conversational queries — and in many ways, that’s how Google would really like you to search these days because it’s easier to interpret a full sentence than a sequence of keywords.

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The technology behind this new neural network is called “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers,” or BERT. Google first talked about BERT last year and open-sourced the code for its implementation and pre-trained models. Transformers are one of the more recent developments in machine learning. They work especially well for data where the sequents of elements is important, which obviously makes them a useful tool for working with natural language and, hence, search queries.

This BERT update also marks the first time Google is using its latest Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) chips to serve search results.

Ideally, this means that Google Search is now better able to understand exactly what you are looking for and provide more relevant search results and featured snippets. The update started rolling out this week, so chances are you are already seeing some of its effects in your search results.

 

 


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