Toronto Has Become a Magnet For Major Tech Companies

Toronto has become an attractive locale for Silicon Valley companies to set up shop. Intel plans to build a graphics-chip design lab there, Uber Technologies will open an engineering hub, and Google’s parent, Alphabet, aims to build a new Toronto campus as part of its “smart city” on Lake Ontario. Microsoft also said it will increase its Canadian workforce by 20+ percent. All that activity has led Silicon Valley Bank, which funds startups and venture capital firms, to open an office in what is the largest Canadian city. Continue reading Toronto Has Become a Magnet For Major Tech Companies

Google Assistant Wins Top Spot in Loup Ventures IQ Test

In Loup Ventures’ 2019 Digital Assistant IQ Test, comprised of 800 questions, Google Assistant came in first, understanding 100 percent of the questions and answering 92.9 percent of them accurately. Last year, Google Assistant, also top-ranked, answered 85.5 percent correctly. Apple’s Siri also improved, understanding 99.8 percent of the questions (versus 2018’s 99 percent) and correctly answering 83.1 percent of the time (versus 2018’s 78.5 percent). Amazon’s Alexa came in third. Continue reading Google Assistant Wins Top Spot in Loup Ventures IQ Test

Congress Calls For End to Tech Firms’ Audio Transcriptions

A bipartisan group of Congress members castigated Facebook for hiring contractors to transcribe audio clips and urged regulation to prevent it in the future. The transcriptions were made to help Facebook improve its artificial intelligence-enabled speech recognition, and are part of a move to improve the capabilities of voice assistants (Amazon, Apple and Google are among companies that have taken similar approaches). Last year, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) circulated a draft law that would impose steep fines and even prison for executives who failed to protect users’ personal data. Continue reading Congress Calls For End to Tech Firms’ Audio Transcriptions

Game Industry Takes Steps to Address Loot Box Concerns

In a Federal Trade Commission workshop, Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony, the biggest game console manufacturers, have vowed to self-impose regulations requiring video game developers to disclose the odds for loot boxes. The FTC is looking at loot boxes, a system in which players buy “random” packages of in-game items without knowing the odds of getting items they actually want. The trade group Entertainment Software Association (ESA) plans to add warning labels and other policies related to loot boxes. Continue reading Game Industry Takes Steps to Address Loot Box Concerns

Companies Support the Khronos Group’s OpenXR Standard

After launching an experimental version of the OpenXR specification several months ago, the Khronos Group consortium debuted the official version of the standard aimed at enabling cross-platform AR and VR applications. The Group said it will continue to improve the spec and maintain “full backwards compatibility.” Microsoft quickly embraced OpenXR, releasing it in its store before the official version was introduced. Any user of Windows Mixed Reality or HoloLens can install it to run any OpenXR-based app. Continue reading Companies Support the Khronos Group’s OpenXR Standard

SoftBank Debuts Vision Fund 2, Focused on AI Investment

SoftBank Group changed technology venture capital when it launched the Vision Fund in May 2017, by setting $100 million as the minimum investment. Since then, the Vision Fund, which raised almost $100 billion, has invested in Uber Technologies, Didi Chuxing Technology and other startups. Now, the Japanese company is debuting Vision Fund 2 and jumpstarting it with its own $38 billion investment. The fund, which will focus on artificial intelligence, has already drawn investment commitments from Apple and Microsoft. Continue reading SoftBank Debuts Vision Fund 2, Focused on AI Investment

Amazon Revenue Strong, Record Profitability Streak Ends

After posting its best profits over the previous four quarters, Amazon broke its streak; its Q2 profit rose 3.6 percent from a year ago, to $2.63 billion, missing analysts’ predictions. Profitability got a hit from the increased costs of shipping, as Amazon struggled to make one-day shipping the standard for all its Prime members. Chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky said that “when the dust settles, we will regain our cost efficiency over time.” Revenue was a bright spot, however, with performance above analysts’ expectations. Continue reading Amazon Revenue Strong, Record Profitability Streak Ends

Tech Companies Join Forces to Ask FCC For Faster Wi-Fi

Apple, Broadcom, Facebook, Google, HP, Intel, Marvell, Microsoft and Qualcomm are all petitioning the FCC to approve a Very Low Power (VLP) category of Wi-Fi, which would allow them to take advantage of the FCC’s recent opening up of the 6GHz band for unlicensed activity. VLP would enable short-range, point-to-point connections between two devices that travel below a specific power threshold (14 dBm EIRP); they say they can deliver 2Gbps at a distance of three meters — and that VLP is necessary for the proliferation of 5G. Continue reading Tech Companies Join Forces to Ask FCC For Faster Wi-Fi

Microsoft Invests in OpenAI to Pursue Challenging AI Goal

With Sam Altman as chief executive, OpenAI, the nonprofit artificial intelligence lab he founded with Elon Musk, has become a for-profit company pursuing investments. In fact, Altman, who stepped down as head of Y Combinator, just inked an impressive $1 billion contract with Microsoft. With Microsoft as a marquee investor, OpenAI will now pursue its lofty goal of creating artificial general intelligence (AGI), a system that can mimic the human brain. Alphabet’s DeepMind lab is also pursuing the creation of AGI. Continue reading Microsoft Invests in OpenAI to Pursue Challenging AI Goal

Microsoft Experiences Robust Growth With Intelligent Cloud

Much of the focus has been on Amazon, Facebook and Google in recent weeks, obscuring the fact that Microsoft is in fact the largest tech company and the largest publicly traded company, with a market capitalization if $1+ trillion. Its quiet success continued with the company’s latest quarterly report indicating sales grew 12 percent to $33.7 billion. The company also enjoyed $13.2 billion in profits in the same quarter, in part due to $2.6 billion in one-time tax benefits and inked its “largest commercial deal ever” with AT&T. Continue reading Microsoft Experiences Robust Growth With Intelligent Cloud

Privacy Concerns Grow Over Facial Recognition Data Sets

Social networks, dating services, photo websites and surveillance cameras are just some of the sources of a growing number of databases compiling people’s faces. According to privacy advocates, Microsoft and Stanford University are among the many groups gathering images, with one such repository holding two million images. All these photos will be used to allow neural networks to build pattern recognition, in the quest to create cutting edge facial recognition platforms. Some companies have collected images for 10+ years. Continue reading Privacy Concerns Grow Over Facial Recognition Data Sets

Firms Pursue Frontline Workers, Walmart Expands VR Use

Microsoft, Google and Salesforce are now targeting the use of their technologies to an estimated two billion workers who don’t sit behind a desk. Microsoft, with its HoloLens, has been the most aggressive in pursuing so-called frontline or firstline workers who do production, sales and service work. Its chief executive Satya Nadella noted the potential growth in this sector. Walmart now uses virtual reality to assess the skills of an employee and determine if she is ready to move up to middle management. Continue reading Firms Pursue Frontline Workers, Walmart Expands VR Use

IBM to Take on Competitors With Its Hybrid Cloud Strategy

IBM has a new strategy to compete with Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Alibaba in cloud computing: it spent $34 billion to acquire Red Hat, which specializes in open source software tools to write cloud computing applications. Red Hat already has partnerships with all the major cloud providers. IBM, a latecomer to this highly competitive sector, is presenting itself as a neutral party to those concerned about becoming too dependent on a single player. For this reason, Germany also has plans to build its own cloud infrastructure. Continue reading IBM to Take on Competitors With Its Hybrid Cloud Strategy

Researchers Identify Bugs in Microsoft Excel, Apple macOS

Threat intelligence firm Mimecast revealed that hackers are exploiting a Microsoft Excel feature called Power Query to facilitate Office 365 attacks. This feature lets legitimate users combine data from various sources by linking to those components in a spreadsheet. Hackers replace a link with another that leads to a site infected with malware. The hacked Excel spreadsheets then allow attackers to install backdoors, using the software program’s own tools. Meanwhile, Apple has yet to fix a macOS bug first identified by a cybersecurity researcher in February. Continue reading Researchers Identify Bugs in Microsoft Excel, Apple macOS

Hollywood Technology Execs Gather at Annual ETC Dinner

The Entertainment Technology Center @ the University of Southern California (ETC) held its 8th annual Studio Technology Leaders Dinner this week, which coincided with the 26th anniversary of ETC’s founding. Executive director & CEO Ken Williams noted that the event, which was underwritten by supporting sponsor Equinix and contributing sponsor WekaIO, would honor industry leader Leon Silverman with the Bob Lambert Technology Leadership Award and feature a panel to examine some of the industry’s most pressing issues in “Media Fundamentals in Flex: Conflict, Chaos or Collaboration.” Continue reading Hollywood Technology Execs Gather at Annual ETC Dinner