Autodesk, Amazon Tweak Digital Assistants to Be More Natural

Autodesk is rolling out a new version of its Autodesk Virtual Agent (AVA) to replace its text-only chatbot in mid-May. AVA features an animated face and a New Zealand accent, with emotional responses that the company hopes will help customers engage. For example, if a customer says he’s having trouble, AVA will frown, say she’s sorry and ask how she can help, explains Autodesk manager of digital support channels Rachael Rekart. In doing so, Autodesk is following a trend of companies installing virtual assistants that are more helpful and personable. Amazon, for example, is updating Alexa to be smarter and more conversational. Continue reading Autodesk, Amazon Tweak Digital Assistants to Be More Natural

Google Upgrades Gmail With New Look and Security Features

Google just introduced upgrades to its Gmail service, which includes a new look to the web app and a variety of new features. G Suite, its business-centric paid productivity service that includes Gmail, is the main focus of the upgrades, but many features will also be included in the free Gmail service. Gmail product manager Jacob Bank said the overhaul is intended to make “Gmail the most secure, the smartest, and the easiest to use email client” with “a ground-up rewrite” of the flagship Gmail product. Continue reading Google Upgrades Gmail With New Look and Security Features

Amazon Will Raise the Price of Prime Membership Next Month

Amazon announced that it plans to raise the price of its annual Prime membership from $99 to $119 in the U.S. The move marks the first increase since 2014 when the shipping and entertainment membership program cost $79 per year. New subscribers will pay $119 a year starting May 11, while the new fee will apply to current members beginning with renewals on June 16. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently revealed that Prime has more than 100 million global members. The company surprised investors this week with news that it had more than doubled its quarterly profits to $1.6 billion. Continue reading Amazon Will Raise the Price of Prime Membership Next Month

YouTube Launches Parental Control Features for Kids Service

Since YouTube debuted YouTube Kids three years ago, parents have complained about their ability to control the content. Now, the company is adding three features to respond to those concerns. A white-list feature parents requested allows them to handpick the content for their children. The company also introduced pre-screened content with partners, including, initially, Sesame Workshop and PBS Kids. Third is an option to set search settings to only permit channels “verified by the YouTube Kids team.” Continue reading YouTube Launches Parental Control Features for Kids Service

Supreme Court Ruling Confirms Internal U.S. Patent Reviews

In a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an inter partes review (IPR) at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office does not violate a defendant’s constitutional right to have a case determined by a federal court and jury. Congress created the process in 2011 to handle the large number of flimsy patent applications. The Houston-based Oil States International brought the case; pharmaceutical companies also called the IPR process “a threat to innovation.” Justices John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch were the dissenting votes. Continue reading Supreme Court Ruling Confirms Internal U.S. Patent Reviews

YouTube, Facebook Use AI Tools to Curb Unwanted Content

Google reports that AI-powered machines, not humans, detected about 80 percent of the 8.28 million videos taken off of YouTube in Q4 2017. This revelation underscores the importance of AI-enabled computers in removing unwanted content — and just how aggressively YouTube is pursuing their removal. At Stanford University’s Global Digital Policy Incubator, executive director Eileen Donahoe noted that balancing free speech with the removal of undesirable videos will be YouTube’s major challenge going forward. Continue reading YouTube, Facebook Use AI Tools to Curb Unwanted Content

Spotify Expands Free Offerings, Looks to Extend Market Lead

Spotify is offering more free music in an effort to ultimately increase its number of paid subscribers. The popular streaming service has introduced an updated version of its free mobile app that offers non-paying users more on-demand tracks from 15 pre-populated playlists. Some of the playlists — such as “Discover Weekly” — are personalized for individual users. Spotify, already the world’s largest paid music service (and now a public company), is expanding its freemium model with the goal of one day reaching billions of users, while maintaining its lead over #2 subscription service Apple Music and other competitors. Continue reading Spotify Expands Free Offerings, Looks to Extend Market Lead

SmugMug Acquires Photo Service Flickr From Verizon’s Oath

Pioneering online photo-sharing community Flickr, created in 2004 and sold to Yahoo in 2005, has now been sold again. As first reported by USA Today, Verizon’s Oath, Flickr’s owner since 2017, just sold the company to SmugMug, a Silicon Valley photo-sharing and image-hosting service. Chief executive Don MacAskill, who founded the company with Chris MacAskill in 2002, has vowed to “move heaven and earth to thrill … photographers everywhere.” Flickr reportedly has more than 100 million unique users. Continue reading SmugMug Acquires Photo Service Flickr From Verizon’s Oath

Google Aims to Replace SMS with an Android Messaging App

Google is at work creating consensus among every major global cellphone carrier to replace SMS with “Chat,” based on a standard dubbed the Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services. Chat is the consumer name for RCS (Rich Communication Services) and is not actually a new texting app but rather a new set of features inside an app (Android Messages) already installed on most Android phones. Google is leading development to ensure interoperability of Chat on every carrier’s service. Continue reading Google Aims to Replace SMS with an Android Messaging App

Consumers Are Using Phones to Control Smart Home Devices

Smartphones could be on their way toward becoming the new remote, as a recent GfK survey of 1,000 Internet users 18 and older found that 89 percent use their phones to control connected home products and services (an increase of 19 percent since 2015). The same respondents indicated that they are now using their phones more than other devices in the home: 83 percent use their smartphones at home, 75 percent use their laptops, 54 percent use PCs, and 34 percent use game consoles. The figures represent increases across all categories when compared to 2015. Continue reading Consumers Are Using Phones to Control Smart Home Devices

Facebook Said to Be in Early Stages of Developing Own Chips

As part of the company’s recent push to develop new hardware, Facebook is reportedly working toward designing its own custom chips to be used in its consumer devices, data centers and AI software. The social media giant is currently developing devices such as smart speakers and VR headsets, and building its own chips could provide more control over design and development of these projects. Facebook’s strategy follows similar approaches by other tech giants, including Google and Apple. Continue reading Facebook Said to Be in Early Stages of Developing Own Chips

Netflix Marks Strong Q1 Subscriber Growth, Beating Forecasts

Netflix’s latest quarter showed subscriber growth exceeding its own forecast and Wall Street expectations. Wall Street analysts predicted Netflix would add 6.5 million new subscribers in Q1; in fact, it added 7.41 million subscribers in that quarter, of which 5.46 were international. In response to the news, shares rose 4.9 percent to $322.85 in after-hours trading. This follows a 1.2 percent decline during regular hours on Monday, representing shareholder concern over the imminent announcement of stalled growth. Continue reading Netflix Marks Strong Q1 Subscriber Growth, Beating Forecasts

Southern California’s Silicon Beach Expanding into Playa Vista

The recently developed Playa Vista neighborhood on Los Angeles’ Westside near Marina del Rey is now home to numerous technology companies including Electronic Arts, Facebook, IMAX, Microsoft, Yahoo and YouTube. In fall 2018, Alphabet’s Google will move into a 319,000-square foot office space, adjacent to 12 acres of land the company bought in 2014. Playa Vista is also adjacent to the 600-acre Ballona Wetlands, home to hundreds of bird species, and against the Westchester Bluffs. Currently 5,000 to 6,000 people work there. Continue reading Southern California’s Silicon Beach Expanding into Playa Vista

Silicon Valley Pioneers Question Today’s Dysfunctional Internet

Testifying before Congress, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg listed all the ways his company has erred, from fake news to hate speech and data privacy — and then apologized for not taking “a broad enough view of our responsibility.” He isn’t the only Silicon Valley leader to take stock of the state of the Internet and worry about its future. Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, has warned about what social media is “doing to our children’s brains,” calling it a “dangerous form of psychological manipulation.” Continue reading Silicon Valley Pioneers Question Today’s Dysfunctional Internet

JPEG Debuts Streaming Video Format for 5G, Wi-Fi Networks

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group), known for its photo standard, released a new video compression standard, JPEG XS, designed to work on next-gen 5G cellular or Wi-Fi networks. The new standard, says JPEG, will work on current computers via a software upgrade and is aimed at streaming lossless video, VR content and games over wireless networks, with lower latency and better energy efficiency. Devices smaller than computers, however, will require a hardware upgrade to support JPEG XS. Continue reading JPEG Debuts Streaming Video Format for 5G, Wi-Fi Networks

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