Books

Google's New Book Search Deals in Ideas, Not Keywords (axios.com) 16

A new Google project called called "Talk to Books" provides answers to questions by drawing on a library of more than 100,000 books. From a report: Tech pioneer Ray Kurzweil debuted the project at the TED conference in Vancouver, and explained that it differs from traditional search by relying on semantics rather than keywords. Keyword search is great when you're hunting down a specific piece of information, but Google -- and digital technology in general -- still has a long way to go when it comes to connecting ideas and answering questions with complete thoughts.
AI

Google Works Out a Fascinating, Slightly Scary Way For AI To Isolate Voices In a Crowd (arstechnica.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google researchers have developed a deep-learning system designed to help computers better identify and isolate individual voices within a noisy environment. As noted in a post on the company's Google Research Blog this week, a team within the tech giant attempted to replicate the cocktail party effect, or the human brain's ability to focus on one source of audio while filtering out others -- just as you would while talking to a friend at a party. Google's method uses an audio-visual model, so it is primarily focused on isolating voices in videos. The company posted a number of YouTube videos showing the tech in action.

The company says this tech works on videos with a single audio track and can isolate voices in a video algorithmically, depending on who's talking, or by having a user manually select the face of the person whose voice they want to hear. Google says the visual component here is key, as the tech watches for when a person's mouth is moving to better identify which voices to focus on at a given point and to create more accurate individual speech tracks for the length of a video. According to the blog post, the researchers developed this model by gathering 100,000 videos of "lectures and talks" on YouTube, extracting nearly 2,000 hours worth of segments from those videos featuring unobstructed speech, then mixing that audio to create a "synthetic cocktail party" with artificial background noise added. Google then trained the tech to split that mixed audio by reading the "face thumbnails" of people speaking in each video frame and a spectrogram of that video's soundtrack. The system is able to sort out which audio source belongs to which face at a given time and create separate speech tracks for each speaker. Whew.

Robotics

Tesla Relied On Too Many Robots To Build the Model 3, Elon Musk Says (theverge.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Elon Musk says Tesla relied on too many robots to build the Model 3, which is partly to blame for the delays in manufacturing the crucial mass-market electric car. In an interview with CBS Good Morning, Musk agreed with Tesla's critics that there was over-reliance on automation and too few human assembly line workers building the Model 3. Earlier this month, Tesla announced that it had officially missed its goal of making 2,500 Model 3 vehicles a week by the end of the first financial quarter of this year. It will start the second quarter making just 2,000 Model 3s per week, but the company says it still believes it can get to a rate of 5,000 Model 3s per week at the midway point of 2018. Previously, Tesla has blamed bottlenecks in the production of the Model 3's batteries at the company's Gigafactory for the delays. But in a wide-ranging (and largely positive) interview with CBS's Gayle King, Musk also admits it was Tesla's over-reliance on robots in the production. Musk then said the company needs more people working in the factory and that automation slowed the Model 3 production process. He alluded to a "crazy, complex network of conveyor belts" the company had previously used and said the company eliminated it after it became clear it wasn't working.
China

Trade War Or Not, China is Closing the Gap on US in Technology IP Race (reuters.com) 149

China's rising investment in research and expansion of its higher education system mean that it is fast closing the gap with the United States in intellectual property and the struggle to be the No.1 global technology power, according to patent experts. From a report: While U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of punitive tariffs on high-tech U.S. exports could slow Beijing's momentum, it won't turn back the tide, they say. Washington's allegation that the Chinese have engaged in intellectual property theft over many years -- which is denied by Beijing -- is a central reason for the worsening trade conflict between the U.S. and China. Forecasts for how long it will take for Beijing to close the technological gap vary -- though several patent specialists say it could happen in the next decade.

And China is already leapfrogging ahead in a couple of areas. "With the number of scientists China is training every year it will eventually catch up, regardless of what the U.S. does," said David Shen, head of IP for China at global law firm Allen & Overy. Indeed, IP lawyers now see President Xi Jinping's pledge earlier this week to protect foreign IP rights as projecting confidence in China's position as a leading innovator in sectors such as telecommunications and online payments, as well as its ability to catch up in other areas.

Bitcoin

A Coal Power Plant is Being Reopened For Blockchain Mining (cnet.com) 225

An anonymous reader shares a report: Sure, you could mine bitcoin on that old PC in your garage, or you could use a whole power station to do it. That's the idea behind the Blockchain Application Centre -- an Aussie tech initiative that will see one of the country's now-shuttered coal-fired power plants reopened to provide cheap power for blockchain applications. It's the work of Australian tech company IOT Group, which has partnered with local power company Hunter Energy on the project. According to The Age, Hunter Energy will recommission the Redbank power station in the Hunter Valley, two hours drive north of Sydney. Once the power plant is reopened (expected to be completed within 12 months), it will offer wholesale or "pre-grid" power prices to blockchain companies, allowing them to do things like mining cryptocurrencies, without having to pay retail power prices.
Google

Google is Testing Self-Destructing Emails in New Gmail (techcrunch.com) 171

The upcoming update to Gmail might include a feature which would allow users to send emails that expire after a user-defined period of time. From a report: Working on an email service is hard as you have to be compatible with all sorts of email providers and email clients. But it doesn't seem to be stopping Google as the company is now evolving beyond the simple POP3/IMAP/SMTP protocols. Based on those screenshots, expiring emails work pretty much like expiring emails in ProtonMail. After some time, the email becomes unreadable. In the compose screen, there's a tiny lock icon called "confidential mode." It says that the recipient won't be able to forward email content, copy and paste, download or print the email.

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