Current and Future Trends Archive

USB to improve on charging of smartphones and laptops

Article

A sure-fire logo-driven certification program to come from USB to permit safe fast charging of laptops and smartphones with USB-C connectors

USB about to get better at charging laptops and phones fast | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

USB Implementers Forum

Press Release via BusinessWire

My Comments

The USB Implementers Forum are working on a project to achieve a reference design for USB battery chargers and power supplies in order to support fast charging or stronger power output.

USB-Certified Fast Charger logo courtesy of USB Implementers Forum

The logo to look for

It is an extension of the initial USB Battery Charger specifications used for just about every smartphone charger but is extended to encompass USB Power Delivery which is being used to provide power to laptops. The goal is to be able to use USB PD chargers on all USB-C devices that support this power-intake path thus reducing e-waste and creating room for innovation when it comes to designing USB-based charging devices.

Here, it is based on the USB Power Delivery 3.0 standard but makes heavy use of the Programmable Power Supply function that is part of that standard. It allows for backward compatibility with existing USB devices that honour prior versions of that standard.

The idea of a Certified USB Fast Battery Charger as a logo-based certification program has been brought about due to the existence of poor-quality USB chargers and cables sold online or through a myriad of stories that are placing our devices at risk of being damaged. Here, it also allows customers to quickly identify power-source devices that will properly and safely provide the high current throughput in a vendor-independent manner, in a similar approach to how the Dolby symbol allowed us to identify the fact that a cassette player was able to play pre-recorded cassette tapes at the best quality or our favourite film was prepared with surround sound.

One of the desires also being raised in this certification process is the ability for host devices to implement authentication of cables and other devices and use this as a machine-level manner for verifying devices.  The device-authentication feature is a goal that the USB Implementers Forum are intending to implement by this year’s end and is also appealing towards verifying that USB devices are what they say they are so as to protect against USB-borne computer attacks.

What is being achieved by the USB Implementers Forum is that there is a goal to permit fast charging of smartphones and laptops in a safe manner without having to be tied to a particular vendor’s accessories.

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At CES 2018, Google is answering Amazon’s Echo Show with smart displays

Articles

JBL Link View smart display press picture courtesy of Harman International

JBL Link View – one of the smart displays that is Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo Show (Press picture courtesy of Harman International)

Google takes on Echo Show with four new smart displays | CNet

Google’s routines look ready for prime time at CES | CNet

Google unleashes ‘smart displays’ loaded with Google Assistant | PC World

Lenovo Smart Display makes Google Assistant a smart home sidekick | PC World

Lenovo announces Google Assistant-powered Smart Display | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Google

New devices and more: what’s in store for the Google Assistant this year (Blog Post)

Lenovo

Seeing is Believing on the New Lenovo™ Smart Display – with the Google Assistant™ Built In (Blog Post)

JBL

JBL® Announces LINK View, A Smart Display Speaker with The Google Assistant (Press Release)

My Comments

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Google is now giving the Amazon Echo Show something to worry about

Amazon has become the first company to integrate visual support in their voice-driven home assistant platform. This is in the form of the Echn Show and Echo Spot being “smart displays” with the ability to show text or other visual information to augment Alexa’s replies.

Now Google is answering Amazon by having a few other companies launch smart-display devices that work on their Google Home (Assistant) platform. The Consumer Electronics Show 2018 has effectively become the time for a showdown between both voice-driven home-assistant platforms.

These devices have the ability to work as a videophone thanks to integrated cameras and will have improved powerful speakers and microphone arrays. But they will miss out on the ability to show up Web pages. Rather they will provide visual feedback for Google Assistant replies or show videos at your command.

Lenovo has announced two of these smart displays – one with an 8” screen and grey back panel and one with a 10” screen and a bamboo back panel. Both of these units, equipped with the mono speaker and a touch screen can be positioned in a horizontal or vertical manner. They also have a switch to turn off the microphones along with a privacy shutter for their cameras.

JBL also premiered the Link View which has an 8” display but has stereo speakers and a rear-mounted passive radiator for that extra bass kick in the sound. LG and Sony are to release similar smart displays through the coming year thus building up Google Assistant’s position in this space.

But Google is integrating their Assistant (Home) platform in more smart speakers and TVs with some extant Android TVs from TCL, AirTV, Xiaomi and Skyworth having this function provided through a software update. Funai, Haier, Hisense, Westinghouse, Changhong and Element will roll this functionality in newer Android TVs that will be released this year. Of course, LG is integrating this functionality in their 4K UHD TVs.

You can’t escape Google Assistant when you get in to your car because it will be part of the Android Auto platform which a significant number of vehicle builders and aftermarket infotainment manufacturers are implementing.

What I see of this is that it will lead to a showdown between Google and Amazon regarding the voice-driven home assistant platforms that they offer. Who knows what else they could be lining up to answer each other with?

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Intel premieres the CPU/GPU chip at CES 2018

Articles

Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

Intel’s Vega-Powered SoC Debuts In VR-Capable ‘Hades Canyon’ NUC | Tom’s Hardware

Intel launches Coffee Lake CPUs with onboard AMD Radeon RX Vega M GPUs | bit-tech

Intel and AMD Join Forces on Tiny New Chip | Gizmodo

Intel and AMD ally to shrink your next gaming laptop. A lot. |CNet

Intel launches five Core chips with Radeon graphics from rival AMD | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Intel

8th Generation Intel Core with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics (Product Overview – PDF)

Press Release

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Intel have used the Consumer Electronics Show 2018 to premiere a system-on-chip that is to affect how portable and small-form-factor computers will perform.

This chip, part of the 8th generation of Intel CPUs contains an 8th Generation Core i5 or i7 CPU along with an AMD Radeon RX Vega M discrete graphics processor and an Intel HD 630 integrated graphics processor.

It is positioned in the Intel 8th Generation processor lineup which is like this:

  • U-Series processors that are only equipped with an Intel UHD integrated graphics processor. One of these is installed in the latest iteration of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 which I reviewed for this site. Here this family of processors is pitched towards what most people will want for their personal and business computing needs.
  • G-Series processors that are also equipped with the above-mentioned Radeon RX Vega M graphics processors. These are pitched as a performance option which would appeal to most gamers, virtual-reality / augmented-reality enthusiasts and content creators who want a machine with that bit of “pep” when it comes to graphics.
  • H-Series processors which are pitched towards those who want the highest performance and would rely on a dedicated graphics processor. Here, they would apply to the gaming rigs and workstations where the goal is for full-on performance.

What is special about these Intel processors

These Intel processors place the Core CPU and the AMD GPU on the same die along with a stack of dedicated graphics RAM and they are linked using the EMIB (Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge). This arrangement provides a short link between each component to provide for quick data transfer. There is also a power-optimised design to allow for efficient power use by all the components on the chip.

There are two variants of the graphics subsystem available for the chipset known as the GL and the GH. The GL (Graphics Low) variant is optimised with less than 65 watts power draw and is pitched towards “thin-and-light” laptops and the like. The GH (Graphics High) variant is a higher-performance variant that draws less than 100 watts of power and only comes with the Core i7 CPU. Here, it is pitched towards the small-form-factor desktops, all-in-ones and similar computers that normally work from a constant power supply.

All that horsepower in those dies can allow the computer to paint an image across nine display devices at once. The fact that there is an integrated graphics processor on board can allow these “system-on-chip” setups to engage in “performance / economy” switching to maximise power efficiency.

Where are they being premiered in?

The first two variants are the Core i7-8809G CPU with Radeon RX Vega M GH for performance and the Core i7-8705G CPU with Radeon RX Vega M GL as the value option.

These are being released to go with the the Hades Canyon series of “Next Unit Of Computing” small-form-factor computers. Both of these computers are available as a kit which can support 32Gb (2 x 16Gb) DDR4 RAM and 2 M2-compliant solid-state drives. These have plenty of USB connections including 2 Thunderbolt-3 sockets and can connect to your home network via one of two Gigabit Ethernet sockets or 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

What kind of impact do I see these Intel chips have on computer design?

One class of computer that will definitely benefit will be the portable computers that most of us will consider purchasing. The computing press see a benefit when it comes to “enthusiast-class” laptops where they will benefit from a slimmer chassis along with the ability to run in a quiet and cool manner yet deliver the performance they are known for. It will also lead to longer battery runtimes like nine hours even while engaging in high-performance work.

But I see computer manufacturers deploying these CPU/GPU chipsets as the standard expectation for the mainstream 13”-15” home or business laptops that are their “bread and butter” products. Typically these machines have a larger chassis than the ultraportables and are valued by most users for factors like durability, connectivity and ability to choose different configuration options. Here, the manufacturers can design in larger battery packs or extra peripherals like multiple storage devices or optical drives or even improve how these computers sound by using larger speakers.

Let’s not forget that the computer manufacturers could also offer in their ultraportable lineup a run of computer products that are thin and light yet powerful.

As far as sessile computers are concerned, I would see that ultra-small “next unit of computing” units benefit along with the all-in-ones that have the computing electronics part of the screen. Other traditional desktop computers that could also benefit include those that are the same size and shape as typical consumer-electronics devices.

Conclusion

I would see Intel’s 8th-generation “Coffee Lake” G-series CPU/GPU hybrid chip being something that offers greater potential for how the personal computer is designed without losing the desire for more computing power.

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NETGEAR releases the first weatherproof distributed-WiFi module

Articles

NETGEAR RBS-50Y Orbi Outdoor Satellite Module - press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi RBS-50Y – the first weatherproof satellite module for a distributed-Wi-Fi system ever

NETGEAR Moves Orbi Outside | SmallNetBuilder

I Live in the Woods, and Netgear’s Orbi Outdoor Satellite Sounds Like a Dream | Gizmodo

Netgear’s Orbi Satellite takes mesh WiFi networks outdoors | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

Orbi Outdoor Satellite RBS50Y (Product Page)

Press Release

My Comments

NETGEAR has continued to invest in their Orbi distributed WiFi system which was initially based on the “router + extender” or star-based setup.

This is one of the few systems of this kind that implement a separate 5GHz wireless backhaul along with Web-based system management rather than cloud-based Internet-dependent system management. A recent firmware upgrade added the ability for a NETGEAR Orbi system to implement a wired backhaul thanks to the Gigabit Ethernet switch integrated in most of the Orbi indoor device.

Initially, they offered different router and satellite modules that answer different needs, either as systems or additional client modules that people can add to extant Orbi systems to shape their system’s coverage.

But they have showcased the Orbi RBS50Y weatherproof satellite module which is the first first module for a distributed-WiFi system to be designed for outdoor use. This module, which is weatherproof to IP56 standards, connects to any NETGEAR Orbi or Orbi Pro routers wirelessly using that same dedicated backhaul.

Client devices connect to the network via an AC1300 dual-band dual-stream Wi-Fi radio which can allow an extra coverage of 2500 square feet (232.3 square metres). There is also the ability to have the unit’s main LEDs work as a night-light and work to scheduled on-off times.

The RBS50Y is powered through an AC adaptor so you would need to have an electrician install a power outlet near where you want to install the satellite module. You may get away with snaking the power cable from outside to inside the building through a small hole that you drill for this purpose. The computer press expressed that it could be desirable to implement 802.3af/802.3at-compliant Power Over Ethernet so you could use Cat5 cabling and a power injector which can make the installation process easier for this device. I would add to this that such a connector could be used as a way to exploit the recently-supported Ethernet backbone functionality offered to the Orbi distributed-WiFi system.

At the moment, this device is to be sold for a suggested retail price of US$329.99 ex tax with the computer press grumbling that it costs more than an Orbi setup or standard router. But I see this more as something intended to be added on to an existing Orbi setup to take it further and this NETGEAR Orbi RBK50Y outdoor satellite module has been honoured with a CES 2018 Innovation Award.

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TVs to work with Google Home and Amazon Alexa

Articles

LG’s 2018 TVs get faster and smarter with Google Assistant, Alexa | Engadget

LG 2018 TVs tap Google Assistant, Alexa for voice control | CNet

NVIDIA Shield to support Google Assistant | CNet (Video – Click or tap to play)

My Comments

A trend that is appearing for this year is to see Smart TVs equipped with the ability to work with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. In this case, there will be a microphone integrated in the remote control or the TV set and Google Assistant will reply through the TV’s speakers. The Amazon Alexa Skill that some manufacturers will offer will have access to some but not all of the TV’s functionality through your Amazon Echo or Alexa-compatible device.

Initially Sony had rolled out an Android TV software update to enable Google Assistant to work on their Android-based Smart TVs, while they have an Amazon Alexa Skill in beta-testing.

Now LG are building in Google Assistant in to their webOS Smart TVs which will have access to the EPG as well as functions essential to watching TV. It will also have the same control path as Google Home when it comes to controlling your smart-home devices and if you run a Google Home smart speaker, you could ask Google Assistant to do things like turn on the TV or change channels without needing the TV’s remote. They are also offering an Amazon Alexa Skill for those of you using Amazon Echo but this will provide a limited level of control over your LG TV.

NVIDIA has answered the TV-ownership reality that TV sets aren’t necessarily disposable by rolling out the Google Assistant to their Shield Android TV games console. Here, you can add Google Home control to your existing TV along with the ability to ask questions of Google Assistant. This is facilitated with integral microphones in its game controllers and remote control and Google Assistant replies through the connected TV’s speakers.

This highlights the market reality that TVs and video peripherals will be required to work with one or more of the voice-driven home assistants whether as an endpoint or as a function set added on to the home-assistant platform.

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Trends to expect for 2018

2018 will be a very interesting year for personal and small-business computing directions. There will be a few key trends such as heavy use of voice-driven assistants, the rise of the smart home, network-based multiroom audio becoming mainstream amongst other trends. Online entertainment will also face certain trends like the rise of niche-focused online video services, 4K being the norm for TV resolution, virtual-reality and mixed reality being part of gaming amongst other things.

Voice-driven home assistants

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon Echo and friends – the device of 2018

4 different voice-driven home assistants to be on the market – Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant (Home), Microsoft Cortana and Apple Siri

A vibrant development ecosystem for each of the voice-driven home assistants. These may include entertainment ideas that integrate one or more devices based on these assistant platforms.

An increasing number of consumer-electronics manufacturers to integrate at least one voice-driven home-assistant in their products. It may encompass devices beyond network-capable smart speakers such as music or home-theatre systems or TV sets. Some vehicle builders are also integrating one of these assistants in the infotainment systems in some of their vehicle models without the need to implement Google Auto or Apple CarPlay.

Video display to be a product differentiator amongst voice-driven home-assistant platforms and products. It would be facilitated through a display integrated in or directly connected to the device, or through a display that is connected to a Chromecast or similar network media device that works with the system. This will augment replies from the assistant in a visual manner, most likely with still images, logos or videos, but can be a path for using the voice assistant to bring up image or video content.

An increased acceptance of “smart speakers” and devices based on voice-driven home-assistant platforms amongst consumers with at least one of these devices appearing in most households. It can also include households using multiple devices in their home, whether on the same or different platforms. This has been demonstrated through the last Christmas shopping season where many Amazon Echo devices were sold during that season.

It will take through a year for the app stores associated with “skills” and functionalities for these voice-driven home-assistant platforms to mature. There will be market requirements that the app stores will identify and enforce in order to assure that users of one of these platforms have a safe and pleasant experience with these devices.A similar situation has had to take place for smartphone and desktop app stores including identifying and removing rubbish from these stores.

Home automation and the smart home

More households to start installing or building out home-automation subsystems in their homes. This may happen with the assistance of telcos, ISPs and monitored-alarm security services offering “connected-home” packages and subscriptions.

Support for multiple smart-home technology platforms to be par for the course for smart-home devices. This may be in the form of Internet-based “home automation hubs” supporting multiple standards or “smart-home” devices being able to work across multiple platforms whether through inherent support or the use of replaceable modules.

Support for at least one voice-driven home-assistant platform to be “de rigueur” for any home-automation subsystem.

Businesses involved with central-heating / air-conditioning and home security to contribute to the “smart-home” scene. This will come about through the supply, installation and maintenance of upgrades and add-ons for extant building HVAC or security infrastructure focused towards integrating it with the “smart home”. As well,businesses supplying and installing new HVAC or security infrastructure will sell equipment that works with the “smart home” at affordable prices.

Bluetooth 5 to become a strong contender as a wireless medium for the smart home. This includes support for “mesh” operation with devices acting as radio repeaters for multiple devices which will be considered a key feature.

There will be an industry expectation for the “smart home” and “Internet Of Things” industry to improve their stance on data security and software robustness. It will be in the form of a software-update cycle being required for devices along with consumers being notified of any bugs or software deficiencies that affect their home network’s data security. This will be underscored by government regulation, insurance-company expectations or industry-driven logo-based certification programs addressing this issue.

Another trend to expect for the smart home is to have this technology work cohesively through large multiple-occupancy buildings. This could range from integrating Amazon Alexa with the entry-door intercom used int these buildings so you can speak to visitors through your Amazon Echo or ask Alexa to “release” the common entry door, to “smart home” systems that regulate heating and lighting in the common areas for consistent comfort, amongst other things/

Network-based multiroom audio

More classes of consumer audio/video equipment to be enabled for network-based multiroom audio. This means that TVs, stereo/home-theatre systems and the like will be offered with multiroom audio functionality, with more of these products in a manufacturer’s range at price points affordable for most people.

DTS Play-Fi and Qualcomn AllPlay to be seen as the “go-to” platforms for network-based multiroom audio where an AV brand hasn’t invested in their own multiroom technology. It can open up paths for multiple brands to invest in their own network-based multiroom product lines without “reinventing the wheel”.

Support for streaming integrated and connected local audio sources to be the norm for multiroom audio. This means that broadcast radio or CDs from integral radio tuners or CD players, or vinyl records played on connected turntables and TV soundtracks emanating from connected TVs can be streamed around a network-capable music system.

Multiroom audio to support multichannel speaker clusters in a group. This could allow a pair of like multiroom speakers to serve as a stereo speaker pair, to the creation of a surround-sound arrangement based around multiple multiroom speakers used in one room.

Online entertainment

The rise of streaming video services focused towards particular entertainment niches and genres. It will include studios with large respected content catalogues adopting a “direct-to-consumer” approach for making their content wares available to consumers via an online path.

Traditional TV channels and radio stations will be relying on online components like video-on-demand services and podcast outlets to keep themselves relevant. This is because of the fact that most of us are listening to or viewing content at our own convenience rather than making an appointment to hear or view it as it is broadcast.

Video-on-demand services will be offering video content at 4K UHDTV resolution with High Dynamic Range pictures for best-case picture quality. The sound will be delivered using Dolby Atmos or similar object-based surround sound as a best-case option.

Virtual, augmented and mixed reality will be seen as an important part of the gaming experience, thus requiring powerful but portable computer equipment. This will increase interest in gaming laptops and small-form-factor gaming rigs of the Intel Skull Canyon kind.

This will cause questions to be asked about the quality of residential Internet services offered by the popular telcos and ISPs. Here, issues will be brought out about latency during video playback or even how long it takes for an online video service to be “ready to play” once you select what you want to view.

Questions are being raised and industry codes-of-practice being looked in to in relation to treasure chests, loot boxes and other elements associated with gambling included in computer and video games either to offer extra gameplay elements like customisations or valuable options. It may also be investigated by various governments under the context of gambling laws, perhaps with a view to regulation of this practice. Similarly app stores may also be looking at ways to make consumers aware of games integrating gambling elements in their gameplay.

Hardware and Software Design

Convergence between desktop and mobile computing

There will be a strong convergence between “regular” desktop / laptop computers that run desktop operating systems, and “mobile” smartphone / tablet computing devices. This will take place in the form of desktop operating systems written to work with ARM microarchitecture used in mobile devices along with mainstream “regular” computers pitched for everyday computing needs being built around the same electronics as a high-end smartphone or mobile-platform tablet.

It will also affect how computer software is developed and sold. Software development tools will allow “one-touch” packaging of executable software forms for traditional Intel CISC and ARM RISC microarchitectures. Similarly, software-development tools will allow for “write once run anywhere” across desktop and mobile usage environments. There will even be the Holy Grail of one being able to write the same piece of software and have it run on all the major desktop and mobile operating systems while having an expedited software-development path.

Highly-powerful yet compact computers

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook

Expect the rise of highly powerful compact computers this year.

This trend is leading towards computers that will become increasingly powerful but compact. This goal is not just facilitated through laptop computers being equipped with the same electronics as a high-end smartphone but there will also be another option where a single piece of silicon will house a CPU along with a discrete graphics processor being the performance option thanks to Intel’s latest processor offering.

For laptops, 2-in-1s and tablets; both options can lead towards the integration of larger batteries which permit longer running time before the battery goes flat. For computers that aren’t portable by nature, the “performance” option with the discrete GPU on the same silicon as the CPU could lead towards small-form-factor desktop and “all-in-one” computers being more powerful.

New Connections

The USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 connectors will become more ubiquitous on computing devices. This includes seeing it as a power / data / digital-audio / video output for highly-portable devices like smartphones, tablets and ultraportable laptops. The number of external-graphics modules will increase especially with highly-portable integrated-chipset designs pitched towards ultraportable laptops.

As mobile devices move away from the 3.5mm phone jack towards USB-C or Lightning sockets for connecting audio accessories, these audio accessories will have their own digital-audio circuitry. It could lead to the availability of wired headsets with highly-strung digital-analogue conversion circuitry for high-quality sound along with microphone arrays, something that was only available with Bluetooth headsets.

The increase in Silicon Valley’s power base

Silicon Valley to become the “new Hollywood” with companies like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Google creating more of their own video content and providing it through their own video-on-demand services. It can also manifest in the Silicon-Valley multinationals taking over film studios, music labels and other similar names in the entertainment industry.

The Silicon-Valley behemoths, especially Google and Facebook, are being seen as influential as, if not more influential than, traditional media companies. It is called out in relation to the power of these companies to summarily deny information services like social-network presence to individuals or business entities; “turn off the money tap” when it comes to serving advertising on Websites or apps; or “bury” Internet resources unapproved by Silicon Valley so they are hard to find for the average user.

It encompasses home much proper debate there actually is in issue important to civil society and whether Silicon Valley has been manipulating this debate. As well, the data commodity that the Silicon Valley behemoths are trading in is being used as a means to control this debate.

There is also questions raised about online advertising especially in context to brand safety, impact on user experience or true viewership of Websites with end-users, advertisers and publishers wanting to see an environment similar to what is expected for traditional media.

It is leading governments and industry authorities to place questions on how much influence the Silicon Valley behemoths should have compared to traditional media which is regulated by broadcasting or antitrust laws. In this same context, it also highlights whether competing or niche services have access to a potential customer base.

It is also extending to other industries like personal point-to-point transportation along with accommodation where Uber and Airbnb are being questioned about their effect on the traditional service providers and local communities. It is leading to questions being raised by governments and stakeholders in the affected industries about how to assure competition between the Silicon-Valley service providers and traditional businesses.

Conclusion

Each year show up some very interesting trends for personal and small-business IT and our online lives and 2018 will be no exception/

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Microsoft’s Bing search to have the same intelligence as Google

Articles

Microsoft Bing Search screenshot

Now has the same intelligent-search abilities as Google

Microsoft is giving Bing more intelligence—and a dash of Reddit | Fast Company

Microsoft announces new AI-powered search features for Bing | The Verge

My Comments

Microsoft’s Bing search engine is inching closer to be on an equal footing to Google Search by implementing a host of new features that will be of benefit to users, metasearch providers and voice-driven assistants.

Recently, they provided support for fact-check tags so that users can know whether a news story is for real or not. This has been enhanced with the ability to show the fact-check results as supplied by the fact-checking organisation in the search-results list so you don’t need to visit the link to verify a claim.

Now they are interlinking with Reddit to bring forth results that have been drafted out through that forum. There is also object recognition for image-based searches along with machine reading to parse text and extract the meaning from it.

Bing will also support conversational search functionality, an effort based on Microsoft’s previous chatbot projects. It will also include aggregating resources about news events from multiple sources and with multiple perspectives, most likely from a list of news sources trusted by Microsoft.

This effort associated with Bing is also based on information search and analysis features that are being baked in to Microsoft’s Office 365 “software-as-a-service” functionality for their established Office desktop productivity suite. It is also in conjunction to the Insight functionality that Microsoft has just baked in to Excel.

What I see of this is a strong effort for Microsoft to become a viable competitor to Google in the “intelligent search” competition as far as full search engines (those who run their own search robots and build their own indexes) are concerned. I see this in response to Apple switching away from Bing to Google as the “driver” search engine for the Siri voice-driven assistant and Spotlight, the integrated search functionality baked in to MacOS.

But I also see this benefiting a range of Internet actors such as metasearch engines which aggregate results from established search-engine indexes, companies who want to integrate Web search in their product’s or service’s functionality as well as voice-driven assistants of the Alexa or Cortana kind. In this context, it is capitalising on a stronger partnership that Microsoft recently struck with Amazon so they can work together and share knowledge to improve the Cortana and Alexa voice-driven assistants.

It is a step in the right direction to provide a competitive intelligent-search function for the Web rather than having Google own the marketplace for this level of search functionality.

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Politics creeps in to the world of the voice-driven assistant

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Is Amazon Alexa and similar voice-driven assistants becoming a new point of political influence in our lives?

Amazon’s Alexa under fire for voicing gender and racial views | The Times via The Australian

Alexa, are you a liberal? Users accuse Amazon’s smart assistant of having a political bias after she reveals she is a feminist who supports Black Lives Matter | Daily Mail

Amazon’s Alexa is a feminist and supports Black Lives Matter | Salon

My Comments

An issue that has started to come on board lately is how Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana respond to highly-polarising political questions especially in context to hot-button topics.

This talking point has come up just lately in the USA which has over the last year become highly polarised. It has been driven by the rise of the alt-right who have been using social media to spread their vitriol, the fake news scandals, along with Donald Trump’s rise to the White House. Even people from other countries who meet up with Americans or have dealings with any organisation that has strong American bloodlines may experience this.

Could this even apply to Apple’s Siri assistant or Google Assistant that you have in your smartphone?

What had been discovered was that Amazon’s Alexa voice-driven assistant was being programmed to give progressive-tinted answers to issues seen to be controversial in the USA like feminism, Black Lives Matter, LGBTI rights, etc. This was causing various levels of angst amongst the alt-right who were worried about the Silicon-Valley / West-Coast influence on the social media and tech-based information resources.

But this has not played off with the UK’s hot-button topics with Alexa taking a neutral stance on questions regarding Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and similar lssues. She was even challenged about what a “Corbynista” (someone who defends Jeremy Corbyn and his policies) is. This is due to not enough talent being available in the UK or Europe to program Alexa to achieve answers  to UK hot topics in a manner that pleases Silicon Valley.

The key issue here is that voice-driven assistants can be and are being programmed to answer politically-testing questions in a hyper-polarised manner. How can this be done?

Could it also apply to Cortana on your Windows 10 computer?

The baseline approach, taken by Apple, Google and Microsoft, can be to give the assistant access to these resources that matches the software company’s or industry’s politics. This can be pointing to a full-tier or meta-tier search engine that ranks favourably resources aligned to the desired beliefs. It can also be about pointing also to non-search-engine resources like media sites that run news with that preferred slant.

The advanced approach would be for a company with enough programming staff and knowledge on board could programmatically control that assistant to give particular responses in response to particular questions. This could be to create responses worded in a way to effectively “preach” the desired agenda to the user. This method is infact how Amazon is training Alexa to respond to those topics that are seen as hot-button issues in the USA.

Government regulators in various jurisdictions may start to raise questions regarding how Alexa and co are programmed and their influence on society. This is with a view to seeing search engines, social media, voice-driven assistants and the like as media companies similar to newspaper publishers or radio / TV broadcasters and other traditional media outlets, with a similar kind of regulatory oversight. It is more so where a voice-driven assistant is baked in to hardware like a smart speaker or software like an operating system to work as the only option available to users for this purpose, or one or more of these voice-driven assistants benefits from market dominance.

At the moment, there is nothing you can really do about this issue except to be aware of it and see it as something that can happen when a company or a cartel of companies who have clout in the consumer IT industry are given the power to influence society.

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GM creates a marketplace from your dashboard

Articles

GM Marketplace lets your car buy donuts and coffee | CNet

GM thinks you’ll buy stuff through your car’s dashboard | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

GM (USA)

Press Release

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

General Motors is bringing a new trend that will affect the connected car. This is to create a “marketplace” on the dashboard’s touchscreen-based user interface to sell goods and services to the driver and passengers. The technology that is used will be the 4G LTE mobile broadband link but will most likely be facilitated through GM.

Typically, the kind of goods and services that will be pitched initially are fuel from Shell and ExxonMobil; food and drinks from Starbucks, TGIF and a few other vemdors; parking; along with data service, OnStar subscriptions and servicing from GM.

There will be the ability to bind the accounts, loyalty programs and payment cards you use with these merchants to this system so that you can pay for the goods and services through the dashboard including accruing or redeeming loyalty points.

The GM Marketplace will be available with 2017-2018 GM North-American-nameplate (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC) vehicles that are equipped with the correct advanced infotainment setup. As well, there will be the limited

Let’s not forget that other vehicle builders and aftermarket infotainment manufacturers would be showing interest in creating their own “in-dash” marketplace for selling goods and services through their advanced infotainment systems. In some cases, an alliance of vehicle builders or infotainment manufacturers could set up a marketplace that appears on all of their

But this can lead to fragmentation if partner businesses have to associate with the multiple “in-dash” marketplaces. Similarly there is the issue of independent suppliers like standalone motels and restaurants or independent fuel brands finding it difficult to come on board typically due to lack of bargaining power. This may be facilitated through alliances who can represent these businesses in order to bring them on board.

Other issues that will also need to be raised include the ability to maintain accounts particular to individual drivers as well as to a vehicle. It will also have to include support for “guest” operation where a person could purchase goods or services through an in-dash marketplace without needing to register with that marketplace; along with the ability to support split ordering for things like drive-through food.

At the moment, GM is proving the concept of the in-dash marketplace and could encourage other companies to build up this concept.

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What is the eSIM all about for mobile broadband

Articles

SIM card

These SIM cards will be embedded in subsequent generations of mobile devices including Always Connected PCs

It’s time to embrace the eSIM | Engadget

What Is an eSIM, and How Is It Different From a SIM Card? | How-To Geek

‘Telstra One Number’ Is Telstra’s New eSIM Tech | Gizmodo

eSIM feature to arrive with Windows 10 Version 1803 for always connected PCs | WinCentral

My Comments

A trend that will have an impact on devices that use cellular-based wireless broadband technology is for them to implement eSIM authentication.

What is the eSIM technology?

It is effectively an embedded SIM which is a hardwired equivalent of the SIM card that authenticates you to a mobile-telephony / wireless-broadband service as a customer.

One of the key advantages to this approach over the traditional user-replaceable SIM card is that there isn’t a need to design a large user-accessible space in a mobile device to accommodate one of these cards. Instead, the customer’s wireless-broadband service is provisioned to their device “over the air” rather than having to encode a SIM card to hand over to the customer to be installed in the device. It is similar to the online provisioning and service activation process implemented for some prepaid mobile-telephony / wireless-broadband services sold through ordinary retailers in some markets.

What devices will this appeal to?

This approach appeals to the wearables market where size does certainly matter but is also appealing towards the connected car where there isn’t a desire to create a cavity for a SIM to be installed. Just lately, the eSIM technology is also appealing to the “always-connected” ultraportable laptops thanks to the next major functionality iteration of Windows 10 having software support for this functionality baked in.

Let’s not forget that newer smartphones, USB modems and MiFi routers including multiple-WAN routers will become equipped with eSIM support, especially where multiple-service functionality is to be part of the feature set. It could allow one to design, for example,  an Android smartphone with a classic SIM slot and an eSIM along with a microSD card slot. Here, a user could then benefit from the advantages of multiple services while using a microSD card to provide “infinite” storage for music, photos and videos.

The main disadvantage that the eSIM will offer to some people will be that they can’t switch SIM cards around quickly, which may be of concern with people using a “decoy” number associated with a prepaid service or people who are troubleshooting mobile devices.

What does this allow?

It was brought on board in 2013 but recent improvements to the eSIM standard allowed for a customer to maintain multiple eSIM services from the same or different carriers in the one device. It is similar to how users are switching SIM cards around to maintain multiple service accounts, such as to maintain separate “business” and “private” services, to sign up with “destination-local” mobile-telephony services with a “destination-local” number and payment options, amongst other reasons.

This provides simplification for these users by providing “over-the-air” provisioning for additional services including varying these services or re-instigating dormant services. The user-experience that may be offered is to choose the network that provides the service you want to use then enter an activation code of some sort to “turn on” that particular service. Typically this would be something you receive in an email if you are enrolling online or receive from a staff member at a “bricks-and-mortar” store.

Some carriers and service providers are exploiting eSIM by offering a “one number one account multiple devices” option for their mobile services such as Telstra’s “One Number” service. But there are other ways that mobile-telephony service providers can exploit the emerging eSIM setup. But the carriers can look at exploiting the eSIM further such as tying it in with BYOD business setups, mobile services that can be “parked” when not needed amongst other things.

In some business environments, it could allow a single shared device to be associated with multiple service accounts with the accounts in operation dependent on who is logging in to the device. This could tie in with the “portable desktop” approach towards business telecommunications where one’s computing and telecommunications setup is moved amongst multiple devices but your boss or clients call you at the same extension number.

Conclusion

The eSIM approach for authenticating mobile-telephony and broadband service can open up a wide range of approaches both for device design and for service delivery.

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