Real virtuality: In Cuba, app stores pay rent

Print section Print Rubric:  On the communist island, app stores pay rent Print Headline:  Real virtuality Print Fly Title:  Technology in Cuba UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  An insurgent in the White House Fly Title:  Real virtuality Location:  HAVANA Main image:  20170204_amp503.jpg CUBANS, like citizens of most countries in the digital age, are familiar with app stores. But theirs have actual doors, windows and counters. Los Doctores del Celular, a mobile-phone repair shop a few blocks from Havana’s Malecón seaside promenade, is one example. Inside, a Super Mario effigy, kitted out with lab coat and stethoscope, keeps vigil while technicians transfer apps to customers’ smartphones via USB cables attached to the shop’s computers. Although the United States’ embargo on Cuba makes it hard ...

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Augmented reality: Why augmented reality will be big in business first

Print section Print Rubric:  The technology is coming, even if it takes time for consumers to embrace AR Print Headline:  Say AR Print Fly Title:  Augmented reality UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  An insurgent in the White House Fly Title:  Augmented reality Main image:  20170204_LDP001_0.jpg THE history of computers is one of increasing intimacy. At first users rented time on mainframe machines they did not own. Next came the “personal computer”. Although PCs were confined to desks, ordinary people could afford to buy them, and filled them with all manner of personal information. These days smartphones go everywhere in their owners’ pockets, serving as everything from a diary to a camera to a voice-activated personal assistant. The next step, according to many technologists, is to move the computer from the pocket to the body itself. The idea is to ...

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Reality, only better: The promise of augmented reality

Print section Print Rubric:  Replacing the actual world with a virtual one is a neat trick. Combining the two could be more useful Print Headline:  Better than real Print Fly Title:  Augmented reality UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  An insurgent in the White House Fly Title:  Reality, only better Main image:  20170204_STD001_0.jpg SCIENCE fiction both predicts the future and influences the scientists and technologists who work to bring that future about. Mobile phones, to take a famous example, are essentially real-life versions of the hand-held communicators wielded by Captain Kirk and his crewmates in the original series of “Star Trek”. The clamshell models of the mid-2000s even take design cues directly from those fictional devices.  If companies ranging from giants like Microsoft and Google to newcomers like Magic Leap and Meta have their way, ...

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Podcast: Babbage: Adding to reality

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Podcast: Babbage Main image:  20170204_mma903.jpg Rubric:  Augmented reality technology blends the virtual with the real world, so how might this alter the way humans interact with computers, and each other? Also, we explore how artificial intelligence can enhance selling techniques Published:  20170201 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Difference Engine: The woes of Windows 10

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Difference Engine Location:  LOS ANGELES Main image:  20170204_stp501.jpg DESPITE its having been available for 18 months, three out of four PC owners have not bothered to upgrade their computers to the latest version of Microsoft's operating system, Windows 10. More than 700m of the world's 1.5bn or so computers continue to run on Windows 7, a piece of software three generations old. A further 300m users have stuck with other versions—half of them stubbornly (and rashly) clinging to 16-year-old Windows XP that Microsoft pensioned off three years ago. The business world has been even more recalcitrant. In a recent study by Softchoice, an info-tech consultancy, corporate computers were found to be running a whole gamut of legacy versions of Windows. Fewer than 1% of them had been upgraded to Windows 10.That said, some 400m or so copies of Windows 10 are now thought to be in circulation. Normally, such a market penetration, after only 18 months, would be considered a huge success. It is what the warmly ...

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Forever present: Digital immortality for the Holocaust’s last survivors

Main image:  STEVEN FRANK’S face is calm, his dark eyes sunken and flickering slightly. At 81, he is one of a dwindling number of survivors of the Holocaust who dedicate their lives to speaking with children about their experience. Seated in a red leather armchair, he perks up when the schoolgirl from Nottingham asks the inevitable question: “Are you related to Anne Frank?” There is a slight pause as Mr Frank shifts; his face becomes animated. “Frank is a name as common in Holland as Smith in England,” he answers, smiling. 20170126 13:32:49 Comment Expiry Date:  Fri, 2017-02-10

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Gas puzzlers: American regulators investigate Fiat Chrysler for emissions cheating

Print section Print Rubric:  The Italian-American carmaker is in regulators’ headlights over emissions Print Headline:  Gas puzzlers Print Fly Title:  Fiat Chrysler UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Gas puzzlers Main image:  An exhausting process An exhausting process THE priorities of America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will doubtless change under Donald Trump. Mr Trump may well relax emissions rules for carmakers in return for concessions, such as keeping production in America rather than relocating to Mexico or other lower-cost countries. So it is perhaps no coincidence that on January 12th, before conditions change, the agency took action against Fiat Chrysler Automobile. It accused FCA (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using software in 104,000 Dodge ...

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Road outrage: To stop carmakers bending the rules on emissions, Europe must get much tougher

Print section Print Rubric:  To stop carmakers bending the rules, Europe must get much tougher Print Headline:  Road outrage Print Fly Title:  Regulating car emissions UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Road outrage Main image:  20170121_LDD002_0.jpg AMERICA’S system of corporate justice has many flaws. The size of the fines it slaps on firms is arbitrary. Its habitual use of deferred-prosecution agreements (a practice that is spreading to Britain; this week Rolls-Royce, an engineering firm, was fined for bribery—see article) means that too many cases are settled rather than thrashed out in court. But even crude justice can be better than none. To see why, look at Europe’s flaccid approach to the emissions scandal that engulfed Volkswagen (VW) in 2015 and now threatens others. Diesel-engined vehicles belch out poisonous ...

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Daily chart: Toxic emissions from cars may be several times higher than the legal limit

Main image:  CARMAKERS are again in regulators’ headlights over emissions, on both sides of the Atlantic. On January 13th French prosecutors announced they were investigating Renault for “suspected cheating” on diesel emissions. A day earlier, America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused Fiat Chrysler (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using undeclared software in 104,000 diesel-engined Jeeps and Dodge Ram pick-ups. The EPA says that the software increases emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the vehicles in normal use, and was not declared or justified by the carmaker. It is illegal to fail to inform the EPA of software that might affect emissions, although the agency stopped short of saying it was a "defeat device". In 2015 Volkswagen (VW) admitted installing “defeat devices” in several models that were designed to hide the true level of emissions from vehicles during the testing process. VW has coughed up more than $20bn so far in fines and compensation for the 600,000 American vehicles in question. America has much tougher laws on toxic NOx emission than Europe, with a limit of 40 mg per kilometre—half of the maximum allowed from European diesel models sold since September 2014. The United States also has far fewer diesel ...

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Something nasty from the tail pipe: American regulators accuse Fiat Chrysler of emissions cheating

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Something nasty from the tail pipe Main image:  20170114_wbp503.jpg FOR each of the past three years, Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) 3 litre V6 turbodiesel has made it to a list of the industry’s top ten engines compiled by Ward’s, a distinguished American car-industry trade publication. Its place on the shortlist for 2017 must now be in doubt. On January 12th America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused FCA (whose chairman, John Elkann, sits on the board of The Economist’s parent company) of using illegal software in conjunction with the engines. This, it says, allowed 104,000 vehicles—mostly Dodge pickups and some Jeeps, fitted with the 3 litre V6 turbodiesel—to exceed legal limits of toxic emissions. The news sent the firm’s shares plummeting by 17%, before recovering somewhat. Nervous investors feared a repeat of the huge penalty imposed on Germany’s Volkswagen (VW) for cheating American emissions laws. A day earlier VW had agreed to pay a criminal fine of $4.3bn for selling around 500,000 cars fitted with so-called “defeat devices” that are designed to ...

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The Economist explains: How machines learned to speak human language

Main image:  THIS past Christmas, millions of people will have opened boxes containing gadgets with a rapidly improving ability to use human language. Amazon’s Echo device, featuring a digital assistant called Alexa, is now present in over 5m homes. The Echo is a cylindrical desktop computer with no interface apart from voice. Ask Alexa for the weather, to play music, to order a taxi, to tell you about your commute or to tell a corny joke, and she will comply. The voice-driven digital assistants from America’s computer giants (Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri) have also vastly improved. How did computers tackle the problems of human language?Once, the idea was to teach machines rules—for example, in translation, a set of grammar rules for breaking down the meaning of the source language, and another set for reproducing the meaning in the target language. But after a burst of optimism in the 1950s, such systems could not be made to work on complex new sentences; the rules-based approach would not scale up. Funding for human-language technologies went into hibernation for decades, until a renaissance in the 1980s.In effect, language technologies teach themselves, via a form of pattern-matching. For speech recognition, computers are fed sound files on the one hand, and human-written ...

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Where humans still beat computers: Brain scan: Terry Winograd

Print section Print Rubric:  The Winograd Schema tests computers’ “understanding” of the real world Print Headline:  Terry Winograd Print Fly Title:  Brain scan UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  Where humans still beat computers Main image:  20161210_TQP046_0.jpg THE Turing Test was conceived as a way to judge whether true artificial intelligence has been achieved. If a computer can fool humans into thinking it is human, there is no reason, say its fans, to say the machine is not truly intelligent. Few giants in computing stand with Turing in fame, but one has given his name to a similar challenge: Terry Winograd, a computer scientist at Stanford. In his doctoral dissertation Mr Winograd posed a riddle for computers: “The city councilmen refused the demonstrators a permit because they feared violence. ...

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I hear you: Speech recognition

Print section Print Rubric:  Computers have made huge strides in recognising human speech Print Headline:  I hear you Print Fly Title:  Speech recognition UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  I hear you Main image:  20161210_TQD002_0.jpg WHEN a person speaks, air is forced out through the lungs, making the vocal chords vibrate, which sends out characteristic wave patterns through the air. The features of the sounds depend on the arrangement of the vocal organs, especially the tongue and the lips, and the characteristic nature of the sounds comes from peaks of energy in certain frequencies. The vowels have frequencies called “formants”, two of which are usually enough to differentiate one vowel from another. For example, the vowel in the English word “fleece” has its first two formants at around 300Hz and ...

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For my next trick: Coming to grips with voice technology

Print section Print Rubric:  Talking machines are the new must-haves Print Headline:  For my next trick Print Fly Title:  Looking ahead UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  For my next trick Main image:  20161210_TQD005_0.jpg IN “WALL-E”, an animated children’s film set in the future, all humankind lives on a spaceship after the Earth’s environment has been trashed. The humans are whisked around in intelligent hovering chairs; machines take care of their every need, so they are all morbidly obese. Even the ship’s captain is not really in charge; the actual pilot is an intelligent and malevolent talking robot, Auto, and like so many talking machines in science fiction, he eventually makes a grab for power. Speech is quintessentially human, so it is hard to imagine machines that can truly speak ...

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Finding a voice: What language technology can and can’t do

Print section Print Rubric:  Computers have got much better at translation, voice recognition and speech synthesis, says Lane Greene. But they still don’t understand the meaning of language Print Headline:  Finding a voice UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  Finding a voice Main image:  20161210_TQD001_0.jpg I’M SORRY, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” With chilling calm, HAL 9000, the on-board computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, refuses to open the doors to Dave Bowman, an astronaut who had ventured outside the ship. HAL’s decision to turn on his human companion reflected a wave of fear about intelligent computers. When the film came out in 1968, computers that could have proper conversations with humans seemed nearly as far away as manned flight to Jupiter. Since then, humankind has progressed quite a lot farther with building machines that it can talk to, and that ...

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Beyond Babel: The limits of computer translations

Print section Print Rubric:  Computer translations have got strikingly better, but still need human input Print Headline:  Beyond Babel Print Fly Title:  Machine translation UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  What language technology can and can’t do Fly Title:  Beyond Babel Main image:  20161210_TQD003_0.jpg IN “STAR TREK” it was a hand-held Universal Translator; in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” it was the Babel Fish popped conveniently into the ear. In science fiction, the meeting of distant civilisations generally requires some kind of device to allow them to talk. High-quality automated translation seems even more magical than other kinds of language technology because many humans struggle to speak more than one language, let alone translate from one to another. The idea has been around since the 1950s, and computerised translation is still ...

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Health care: Will artificial intelligence help to crack biology?

Print section Print Rubric:  Artificial intelligence may help unpick the complexity of biology Print Headline:  The shoulders of gAInts Print Fly Title:  Medicine and computing UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The indecisive prime minister Fly Title:  Health care Main image:  20170107_STD001_0.jpg IN A former leatherworks just off Euston Road in London, a hopeful firm is starting up. BenevolentAI’s main room is large and open-plan. In it, scientists and coders sit busily on benches, plying their various trades. The firm’s star, though, has a private, temperature-controlled office. That star is a powerful computer that runs the software which sits at the heart of BenevolentAI’s business. This software is an artificial-intelligence system.  AI, as it is known for short, comes in several guises. But BenevolentAI’s version of it is a form of machine ...

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Podcast: Babbage: War of the words

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Podcast: Babbage Main image:  20170107_mma901.jpg Rubric:  We explore a clutch of new words from 2016 and how technology contributes to the evolution of language. Vishal Sikka, the CEO of a technology services company explains how artificial intelligence can enhance the labour force. Also, science correspondent Matt Kaplan on a new device to sniff out disease Published:  20170104 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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The Economist explains: What is the point of spam e-mail?

Main image:  To mark the publication of "Go Figure", a collection of The Economist’s explainers and daily charts, the editors of this blog solicited ideas on Facebook and Twitter. This week we publish five explainers suggested by our readers, who will each receive a copy of the book.   ACCORDING to internet folklore, the very first spam e-mail was sent in 1978, to around 400 recipients. The sender was given a ticking-off, and told not to do it again. Alas for that golden age. These days, a torrent of poorly spelled e-mails promising to cure wrinkles, enlarge penises, banish fat or wire millions in unclaimed offshore wealth is the fate of almost everyone with an e-mail address. Other e-mails aim to harvest usernames and passwords, or contain obfuscated links to malicious software designed to capture a user's computer. According to one estimate from SecureList, a cyber-security firm, roughly 60% of all e-mail is spam. But why? What is the point of the avalanche of spam?In a word, money. Spam is the digital cousin of ordinary, paper-based junk mail. Firms send this out because they think it will drum up business. By reducing the cost of communication, the internet turbocharges that business model. Real-world junk mail might be profitable if only one recipient in a thousand decides she needs ...

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Podcast: Babbage: Year end review and preview of 2017

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Podcast: Babbage Main image:  20161224_mma904.jpg Rubric:  How artificial intelligence moved from the research lab into the real world, plus the challenges facing cyber security. And we explore the development of data donorship in the year ahead. Kenneth Cukier hosts Published:  20161228 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Breaching-point: Incentives need to change for firms to take cyber-security more seriously

Print section Print Rubric:  Incentives need to change for firms to take cyber-security more seriously Print Headline:  Breaching-point Print Fly Title:  Internet security UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How to make sense of 2016 Fly Title:  Breaching-point Main image:  20161224_LDD002_0.jpg IT HAS been a cracking year for hacking. Barack Obama and the CIA accused Russia of electronic meddling in an attempt to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Details emerged of two enormous data breaches at Yahoo, one of the world’s biggest internet companies; one, in 2013, affected more than a billion people. Other highlights include the hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency; the theft of $81m from the central bank of Bangladesh (only a typo prevented the hackers from making off with much more); and the release of personal details of around 20,000 employees of the ...

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Google’s hippocampus: What DeepMind brings to Alphabet

Print section Print Rubric:  Alphabet has plenty of AI expertise, so why does it need DeepMind? Print Headline:  Google’s hippocampus Print Fly Title:  Artificial intelligence UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The lessons from Aleppo’s tragic fate Fly Title:  Google’s hippocampus Main image:  20161217_WBP001_1.jpg DEEPMIND’S office is tucked away in a nondescript building next to London’s Kings Cross train station. From the outside, it doesn’t look like something that two of the world’s most powerful technology companies, Facebook and Google, would have fought to acquire. Google won, buying DeepMind for £400m ($660m) in January 2014. But why did it want to own a British artificial-intelligence (AI) company in the first place? Google was already on the cutting edge of machine learning and AI, its newly trendy cousin. What value could DeepMind ...

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Podcast: Babbage: Thinking deeply

Print section UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Podcast: Babbage Main image:  20161217_mma903.jpg Rubric:  Alphabet's artificial intelligence company DeepMind doesn't make a profit, so why it is arousing long-term interest? Dr Pedro Alonso from the World Health Organisation explores advances in the fight against malaria. And the amateur enthusiast who found meteorite dust in the gutter Published:  20161214 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Winning laughter: “Software is eating the world”—including art, too?

IT IS easy to dismiss the latest project by Eyal Gever, an Israeli artist, as a joke, not least because it involves laughs. It also ticks all the boxes for buzzwords in the world of geeks: apps, the cloud, crowdsourcing, 3D printing, space travel (only “big data” and the “blockchain”—don’t ask—are mysteriously missing). Even so, starting on December 1st, “viewers” of Mr Gever’s new work will be able to download an app on their smartphones and use their own laughter to create a digital sculpture which is uploaded into the cloud. Participants worldwide will vote on the best piece, to be announced in January and printed a month later on the International Space Station (ISS). 20161202 11:06:34 Comment Expiry Date:  Sat, 2016-12-17

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Hack work: Insurers grapple with cyber-attacks that spill over into physical damage

Print section Print Rubric:  Insurers grapple with hacking that goes beyond data breaches Print Headline:  Hack work Print Fly Title:  Cyber-insurance UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Why a strengthening dollar is bad for the world economy Fly Title:  Hack work Location:  NEW YORK Main image:  20161203_FND002_0.jpg AS HACKERS wreak havoc with depressing regularity, the insurance industry finds itself forced to contemplate a whole new set of risks. They range from the theft of millions of credit-card numbers from American retailers to the disabling of the power grid, as happened in Ukraine last December. The dedicated “cyber-insurance” policies that companies offer against data breaches have become relatively routine. But the risks they insure under other policies are also affected by ...

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