Google opens up its experimental AI chatbot for public testing

Google opens up LaMDA to the public, but it’s launching with guardrails that aim to prevent it generating offensive responses.

By Liam Tung

Google has opened up its AI Test Kitchen mobile app to give everyone some constrained hands-on experience with its latest advances in AI, like its conversational model LaMDA.

Google announced AI Test Kitchen in May, along with the second version of LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications), and is now letting the public test parts of what it believes is the future of human-computer interaction.

AI Test Kitchen is “meant to give you a sense of what it might be like to have LaMDA in your hands,” Google CEO Sunday Pichai said at the time.

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Google has bought Raxium, a firm building 3D displays without the need for eyewear

By Paul Hill

Google has announced that it has bought Raxium, a company that has been developing single panel MicroLED display technologies for the last 5 years. According to the search giant, the technologies that Raxium has developed will be used in next-gen technology and offers “miniaturized, cost-effective and energy efficient high-resolution displays”.

Raxium is based in Fremont, California and will now be joining Google’s Devices & Services team where it will carry on its work and integrate products into future Google hardware. The announcement put out by Google was very brief and didn’t share any more details regarding what the Raxium team would now be working on.

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Google Launches Voice Payment for Gas and Reveals Honda Integration Deal in Flurry of Upgrades

By ERIC HAL SCHWARTZ

Drivers using Android Auto can ask Google Assistant to pay for the fuel at tens of thousands of gas stations around the United States. The voice payment option is one of a swath of new features and updates to Google’s vehicular AI. The upgrades came with the news that Honda will build Google into its cars starting in 2022 as part of a new partnership.

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Google Hopes AI Can Turn Search Into a Conversation

The tech giant wants its core product to infer meaning from human language, answer multipart questions—and look more like Google Assistant sounds.

GOOGLE OFTEN USES its annual developer conference, I/O, to showcase artificial intelligence with a wow factor. In 2016, it introduced the Google Home smart speaker with Google Assistant. In 2018, Duplex debuted to answer calls and schedule appointments for businesses. In keeping with that tradition, last month CEO Sundar Pichai introduced LaMDA, AI “designed to have a conversation on any topic.”

In an onstage demo, Pichai demonstrated what it’s like to converse with a paper airplane and the celestial body Pluto. For each query, LaMDA responded with three or four sentences meant to resemble a natural conversation between two people. Over time, Pichai said, LaMDA could be incorporated into Google products including Assistant, Workspace, and most crucially, search.

“We believe LaMDA’s natural conversation capabilities have the potential to make information and computing radically more accessible and easier to use,” Pichai said.

The LaMDA demonstration offers a window into Google’s vision for search that goes beyond a list of links and could change how billions of people search the web. That vision centers on AI that can infer meaning from human language, engage in conversation, and answer multifaceted questions like an expert.

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Alphabet will use beams of light to deliver internet in Kenya

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The moonshot project has a new name, too.

 It’s been a while since we’ve heard about Alphabet’s Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC) project. If you’ve forgotten all about it, we don’t blame you: the acronym doesn’t stick in the mind quite like Google Fiber or Project Loon. To solve the problem, Alphabet’s ‘X’ division has renamed the initiative Project Taara. (I like it, though Project Tidal already starts with the letter ’T.’ If both moonshots ’graduate’ and become fully-fledged companies, one will have to rebrand or ruin Alphabet’s otherwise immaculate naming scheme.) It suggests that Google’s parent company now sees the technology, which uses laser-beaming boxes to deliver connectivity, as something that can eventually become a real business.

In a blog post, Taara general manager Mahesh Krishnaswamy announced that the team is formally working with telecoms giant Econet in Africa. It’s not clear, however, if any money is changing hands. Initially, Taara’s hardware will support Econet subsidiary Liquid Telecom in Kenya. It’s an obvious move given that the moonshot has already trialed its technology in the country, which followed pilots in Andhra Pradesh, a state in India.

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The 10 highest-paying IT certifications of 2020

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COVID-19 isolation might be a good time to add to your IT skill set, as we’re seeing several new entries on our annual list of the 10 highest-paying IT certifications. Cloud technology, information security, and project management certs are on the rise this year.

IT is one profession where the optimal skill set is a constantly moving target. We keep track of the ten highest-paying IT certifications on a running bases, and for 2020, we’re seeing some of the highest-paid certifications challenged yet again by new entrants while average salaries are on the rise across the board.

Fortunately, if you’re trapped in your home during the coronavirus pandemic, you’re far from helpless if you want to learn new skills. Many certifications are fully optimized for remote learners with most of the guided lessons, practice sandboxes, and even the certification exam itself being fully available online and on demand. This preparing for and achieving a new certification com pletely viable for people that are working from home.

Hot specializations range from information systems management, networking, cloud computing, project management, and security. Eighty percent of IT professionals say that certifications are useful for their careers, the challenge is determining which area to focus on.

We looked at data provided by professional development solutions and course provider Global Knowledge to determine the highest-paying IT certifications in the world right now. The data is based on what Global Knowledge’s customers are studying as well as the jobs they find after they graduate. We’ve broken down the top choices based on a description of the specialization as well as a corresponding pay range. Cloud and project management certifications currently dominate the top five spots.

Kindly note that these figures change from year to year, so we update this piece whenever Global Knowledge releases new data. Be sure to return to this list to check out which certification tops the rankings the next time you’re thinking of changing career gears. Let’s look at the most in-demand certifications for 2020 and their corresponding salaries.

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Physna aims to be Google of 3D search with geometry-based AI

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Physna, a midwestern U.S. startup founded in 2015, is trying to do for physical object (3D model) search what Google did for text and image search. Using geometric deep-learning technology and proprietary algorithms, Physna is able to understand, map and compare 3D models and index them based on their geometry. While it has been possible to search for 3D models using text, images, tags and more, this is the first time that searching for physical objects based on their fundamental geometry, their physical ‘DNA’ (hence the name PHYSNA according to its founder Paul Powers), has been made possible and available, with the launch of Thangs.com.

“We live in a 3D world, but digital technology is two-dimensional,” said Paul Powers, CEO of Physna. “Over 70% of the economy is centered around physical goods, but less than 1% of software is capable of handling 3D data. Physna was founded on the principle that computers should be taught to “think” in 3D, and accurately describe the real, 3D world around us. By enabling 3D models to be treated and analyzed like other code, Physna’s technology bridges the gap between the physical world and digital world of software. By democratizing the ability to design, interact with and analyze 3D models of the world around them, more people will have the ability to create and drive innovation in product design, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, gaming, healthcare and beyond.”

By identifying specific geometry ‘clusters’, the proprietary algorithms characterize and categorize 3D models in a unique way – and directly use this to search for other models that may be similar, different, or exact matches. With this approach of decomposing and linking 3D models by their geometry, Physna is able to capture 10,000 times more data points than a traditional scanned model, by codifying 3D model data for use in software applications. It essentially provides a platform for 3D designers and engineers similar to what software engineers have.

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Busting up big tech is popular, but here’s what the US may lose

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.

Lawmakers don’t like them, but what they bring to the competition with China may be too valuable to break up.

The heads of Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon appeared before angry lawmakers Wednesday as Congress prepares to weigh new anti-monopoly regulations, including possibly breaking them up. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg turned to a familiar argument, saying that breaking up the big tech companies would hurt U.S. competitiveness against China in developing new technologies and America’s ability to curb Chinese influence globally.

So are U.S tech giants an asset to the U.S. in its competition with China or a hindrance?

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Google will pay publishers to license content for ‘new news experience’

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Google announced it will begin paying news publishers for “high-quality content” with the launch of a “new news experience” later this year. The move marks a major departure for Google, which has until now steadfastly refused to compensate news publishers for content. As news organizations’ digital advertising revenues have plunged, critics in the media, and even many politicians, have been pressuring Google to pay to license content.

Many details of the new program remain unclear. But with the news industry further weakened by economic fallout from the coronavirus, any potential revenue will likely be welcomed.

“A vibrant news industry matters — perhaps now more than ever, as people look for information they can count on amid a global pandemic and growing concerns about racial injustice around the world,” Google vice president for news Brad Bender wrote in a blog post. “But these events are happening at a time when the news industry is also being challenged financially. We care deeply about providing access to information and supporting the publishers who report on these important topics.”

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Facebook wants to make thought-hearing glasses

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Plus smart glasses from Google, transforming drones, AR clothing and other patents from Big Tech.

It’s the weekend! Time to switch my digital avatar’s outfit from a suit to lounge pants. I don’t actually live in VR yet (though I did try working in it this week), but a new patent from Amazon might make that a reality sooner rather than later. The company’s also working on drones that could get deliveries to me even quicker than its other drones, and Facebook is working on making immersive videos work on any screen in my house. Who needs to go outside when I can bring the entire world to my couch? Big Tech’s patents this week seem very on board with me staying at home as long as I want to.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Internet giants to staff: Plan to work from home for 2020

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Google exec says science drives decision to return to offices

Elon Musk wants people to return to work. Google and Facebook Inc. have another message for their staff: get ready to stay home for all of 2020.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google and its parent, Alphabet Inc., told employees on Thursday to prepare to work remotely through October and possibly to the end of the year, according to people familiar with the decision. A spokeswoman confirmed that the majority of staff is expected to work from home until 2021.

Two weeks ago, Pichai wrote an email to his workforce that said some offices would open as soon as June. On Friday, Pichai told employees only about 10% to 15% of the workers would be on-site in June, with more returns varying by division and location, according to an internal memo. About 5% of employees now are working in Google offices, Pichai said. CNBC reported earlier on the memo. Most of the workforce won’t return until at least the end of October, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

On Thursday, Facebook told employees that they can work remotely through 2020 if they like. The social media company doesn’t expect to open most offices until July 6 at the earliest.

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Coronavirus: Google reveals travel habits during the pandemic

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Google is to publicly track people’s movements over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

The tech firm will publish details of the different types of places people are going to on a county-by-county basis in the UK, as well as similar data for 130 other countries.

The plan is to issue a regular updates with the figures referring back to activity from two or three days prior.

The company has promised that individuals’ privacy will be preserved.

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