Like most high-tech companies, Google is highly secretive—one of the reasons Brad Stone’s glimpse at the company’s secret lab for Bloomberg makes for great reading. Here’s a taste:
Since its creation in 2010, Google has kept X largely hidden from view. Over the past month, Bloomberg Businessweek spoke to many of X’s managers and project leaders, who work with abundant resources and few of the constraints that smothered similar corporate research efforts in the past. “Anything which is a huge problem for humanity we’ll sign up for, if we can find a way to fix it,” Teller says.
Google X seeks to be an heir to the classic research labs, such as the Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bomb, and Bletchley Park, where code breakers cracked German ciphers and gave birth to modern cryptography. After the war, the spirit of these efforts was captured in pastoral corporate settings: AT&T’s (T) Bell Labs and Xerox (XRX) PARC, for example, became synonymous with breakthroughs (the transistor and the personal computer among them) and the inability of each company to capitalize on them.
Stone’s full piece is definitely worth checking out.
Here’s some good news in the world of education. IIA member AT&T has announced it is partnering with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Massive Open Online Courses provider Udacity to launch the first online-only Master of Science degree in computer science. From the press release:
Workers with skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are increasingly important to our business – and to nearly every business – because STEM drives innovation and innovation drives our economy.
During the next six years, 2.8 million STEM openings are predicted. But, today, many STEM jobs are going unfilled as candidates lack the necessary skills, training or degrees.
Through this new program, Georgia Tech will be able to offer employers like AT&T a larger and more diverse pool of highly qualified, STEM-trained workers and help the U.S. retain its global competitive edge.
Cool stuff. And on a related note, check out our recent infographic on the benefits of broadband access in eduction.
Google believes the future is in wearable computing, and that their innovative glasses Google Glass is going to lead the way. But as Brendan Sasso of The Hillreports, at least some members of Congress aren’t too keen on where Google is attempting to go:
Eight members of Congress raised privacy fears about Google’s wearable computer, Google Glass, expressing concern the device could allow users to identify people on the street and look up personal information about them.
The lawmakers, members of the congressional Privacy Caucus, said they are concerned users could access individuals’ addresses, marital status, work history and hobbies.
“As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page.
In response, Google has reassured the members of Congress that privacy concerns are very much on their radar:
“We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology — and we’re excited to hear the feedback.”
4G LTE is just starting to be widely adopted here in the States, but as Jon Russell of The Next Web reports, Samsung is already working toward the next big leap in mobile broadband:
The Korean tech giant says its 5G wireless technology will be capable of providing users with data speeds of “up to several tens of Gbps per base station”. That, it says, is “several hundred times faster” than even yet-to-be-released 4G LTE technology.
In practical terms, Samsung’s estimated speeds would allow a movie to be downloaded in under one second, and it could enable a host of new services that feed off the ability to transfer large files quickly.
Over at CNN, Andrew Keen has a great story about innovation, mobile apps, and helping those with autism live better lives:
With $20,000 in prize money, the mobile app “Autism Speaks” hackathon , organized by AT&T and by the advocacy group Autism Speaks, attracted more than 25 teams of developers and was judged by panel of technology and autism experts (including myself).
The goal was to design apps to improve the lives of the one in every 88 children who, according to the American Center for Disease, are on the autism spectrum.
Via Dan Graziano of Boy Genius Reports, the New York City Police Department has embraced mobility in an effort to crack down on crime:
oughly 400 Android smartphones have been distributed to officers since last summer as part of a pilot program taking place in New York City, The New York Timesreported. The phones are unable to make or receive calls and instead use a data connection to gain access to an individual’s arrest files. An application on the device can look up a person’s criminal history, verify his or her identity with a police photograph and even display information from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
At The Huffington Post, Tarun Wadhwa offers a glimpse of what security on smartphones may be like in a few years:
For years now, consumers have been demanding a better way, something more convenient and less time-consuming. As it turns out, they may have had the answer all along without even knowing it - their body parts can serve as their next password. Biometric identification, which works by using the unique characteristics of your body to prove who you are, may be the key to a much more effective system.
In fact, it is an almost certainty that within the next few years, three biometric options will become standard features in every new phone: a fingerprint scanner built into the screen, facial recognition powered by high-definition cameras, and voice recognition based off a large collection of your vocal samples.
As Wadhwa points out, given how much personal data is now stored on our tiny devices — and how easy it is for thieves to pluck those devices from our hands — biometric is a matter of when, not if.
Sebastian Anthony of Extreme Tech reports on a big breakthrough in the ongoing mission to speed up how data travels:
Researchers at the University of Southampton in England have produced optical fibers that can transfer data at 99.7% of the universe’s speed limit: The speed of light. The researchers have used these new optical fibers to transfer data at 73.7 terabits per second — roughly 10 terabytes per second, and some 1,000 times faster than today’s state-of-the-art 40-gigabit fiber optic links, and at much lower latency.
How would this translate in the real world? Well, if your average HD movie download is 4 gigabytes, then data moving at the speed of light would basically amount to 25,310 HD movies per second.
And speaking of Apple, Peter Burrows and Olga Kharif of Bloomberg check in a long-rumored project for the company:
While Tim Cook has dropped hints that Apple Inc. (AAPL) is hard at work on a television to drive the next era of growth, the company’s wristwatch-style device, still in development, may prove more profitable.
The global watch industry will generate more than $60 billion in sales in 2013, said Citigroup Inc. analyst Oliver Chen. While that’s smaller than the pool of revenue that comes from TVs, gross margins on watches are about 60 percent, he said. That’s four times bigger than for televisions, according to Anand Srinivasan, a Bloomberg Industries analyst.
So far, the iWatch is nothing more than a rumor — but then, that’s not surprising from a secretive company like Apple.
Google Glass, the company’s innovative eyewear computer, is currently garnering a lot of attention. Christina Chaey of Fast Companylooks at a recent contest asking people for ideas the high-tech glasses could be used for:
A daily calorie tracker. A lifeline to a 911 operator. A real-time sign language translator. These are just a few of the thousands of entries submitted to Google’s If I Had Glass competition, which ended on Wednesday. The competition was an open call in search of early-access testers, or Glass Explorers, for the highly anticipated augmented reality headset the company says will be on sale by the end of 2013.
While Google Glass has many techies excited, Mark Hurst of Creative Good fires a warning flare about the device (italics his):
Yes, the glasses look dorky – Google will fix that. And sure, Glass forces users to be permanently plugged-in to Google’s digital world – that’s hardly a concern for the company or, for that matter, most users out there. No. The real issue raised by Google Glass, which will either cause the project to fail or create certain outcomes you may not want (which I’ll describe), has to do with the lifebits. Once again, it’s an issue of experience.
The Google Glass feature that (almost) no one is talking about is the experience – not of the user, but of everyone other than the user.
Here’s something interesting for your Friday. At GigaOm, Laura Hazard Owen writes about a research project aimed at predicting the future:
Researchers at Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are creating software that analyzes 22 years of New York Times archives, Wikipedia and about 90 other web resources to predict future disease outbreaks, riots and deaths — and hopefully prevent them.
The new research is the latest in a number of similar initiatives that seek to mine web data to predict all kinds of events. Recorded Future, for instance, analyzes news, blogs and social media to “help identify predictive signals” for a variety of industries, including financial services and defense. Researchers are also using Twitter and Google to track flu outbreaks.
In this day and age, passwords for the various online services and devices can be hard to manage. Now, Robert McMillan of Wiredreports, Google is aiming to revolutionize how we protect ourselves online:
[Google is] experimenting with new ways to replace the password, including a tiny Yubico cryptographic card that — when slid into a USB (Universal Serial Bus) reader — can automatically log a web surfer into Google. They’ve had to modify Google’s web browser to work with these cards, but there’s no software download and once the browser support is there, they’re easy to use. You log into the website, plug in the USB stick and then register it with a single mouse click.
They see a future where you authenticate one device — your smartphone or something like a Yubico key — and then use that almost like a car key, to fire up your web mail and online accounts.
In the future, they’d like things to get even easier, perhaps connecting to the computer via wireless technology.
“We’d like your smartphone or smartcard-embedded finger ring to authorize a new computer via a tap on the computer, even in situations in which your phone might be without cellular connectivity,” the Googlers write.
The New York Times’ Brian X. Chen attended CES in Las Vegas last week and came away with an interesting take on how mobility is changing our lives:
For several years, technology companies have promised the dream of the connected home, the connected body and the connected car. Those connections have proved illusory. But in the last year app-powered accessories have provided the mechanism to actually make the connections. That is partly because smartphones have become the device people never put down. But it is also because wireless sensors have become smaller, cheaper and ubiquitous.
With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the east coast, safety is on everyone’s mind. And a key to safety during times of crisis is communication.
Back in June, Gregg Riddle, President of the Daytona Beach-based Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International, penned a helpful op-ed for the Daytona Beach News-Journal with tips on how you — with the help of your smartphone — can play a role in helping protect yourself and your family during natural disasters:
• Keep your phone fully charged, and keep it dry by placing it in a sealable plastic bag if you will be in an area where you may be exposed to water.
• Forward your home number to your wireless phone, so you are able to receive all calls regardless of your location.
• Learn community hurricane-evacuation routes and how to find shelter on higher ground. Location-based mapping on your smartphone can help with this.
• Make a family communications plan. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, you should identify a contact out-of-state who can take calls from household members. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members. Also, be sure every member of your family knows the phone number and has a cellphone, coins or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact. If you have a cellphone, program that contact person as “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) in your phone. If you are in an accident, emergency personnel will often check your ICE listings in order to contact someone you know. Make sure to tell your family and friends that you’ve listed them as emergency contacts.
Riddle also highlighted the role app developers now play by creating useful storm-tracking tools, and how wireless providers — via investment and innovation — work overtime to help affected areas stay connected:
As part of a commitment to emergency preparedness, wireless carriers are also taking numerous steps to be ready for emergencies, such as adding capacity to their wireless networks to support increased call volume, including emergency 9-1-1 calls and setting up portable generators. After a storm, carrier-driven response efforts include deploying mobile cell sites and command centers, emergency-communications vehicles, and even a self-sufficient “base camp” for communications-recovery workers.
Riddle’s full op-ed is definitely worth checking out. Stay safe everyone!
Speaking of Apple — and its iPads — John Paul Titlow of Read Write examines how the company is quietly overhauling education:
When Apple made its first official foray into digital textbooks earlier this year, I was skeptical. It seemed clear that iBooks 2, iBooks Author and the new “textbooks” section of the iBookstore would not revolutionize the education market anytime soon, even if the longterm potential was obvious. Tuesday, Apple shared some early results from those efforts and revealed the next phase of its overhaul of education. It’s definitely onto something.
Most of the 100 million iPads sold worldwide were purchased by consumers and businesses, but a growing number of those buyers are school districts. In the last nine months, 2,500 classrooms have started using iBooks textbooks, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced. Their content now covers 80% of the core high school curriculum in the United States. It’s not a bad start, but Apple has a long way to go before iBooks makes an iTunes-like impact.
In a piece for the Huffington Post, Colin J. Parris of IBM raises a flag over America’s dwindling tech resources:
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 60 percent of the new jobs that will be created in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20 percent of the current workforce. Experts predict that 123 million high-skill, high-paying jobs will exist in 10 years, but just 50 million Americans will be qualified to take them.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that computer and information technology occupations in the U.S. are projected to grow by 22 percent, adding 758,800 new jobs by 2020. Where will the workers come from to fill those jobs?
As an engineer and executive within the industry, it worries me to see the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals within the U.S. has drastically declined. Four decades ago, about 40 percent of the world’s scientists and engineers resided in the U.S. Today, that number has declined to 15 percent.
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