The device, which costs about $40,000, is called a spectrum analyzer. And for years Dooley, a consultant and self-appointed expert who left college after a year, has been measuring and recording wireless data traffic—the billions of transmissions that travel back and forth from smartphones and laptops to cell towers, routers, and other Internet connections. If you’re checking Facebook on your iPhone and Dooley is nearby, his machine will see it and light up. And if hordes of people are posting pictures to Instagram and streaming Netflix videos all around him, the display on Dooley’s machine will turn bright red. Dooley takes the readings to track which parts of the electromagnetic spectrum—the frequencies that carry everything from radio signals to X-rays—are degrading from overuse. He likes to think of himself as a “21st-century version of a land surveyor.” ... What Dooley’s machine is telling him now is this: Wi-Fi is headed for a collapse. The preferred Internet connection for most users is quickly becoming overcrowded, he argues, and could soon be overwhelmed. ... According to Cisco, the amount of data transmitted via Wi-Fi is projected to nearly triple in the next four years. The problem, says Dooley, is that the signals from all our wired devices are increasingly beginning to bump into one another, causing performance to suffer. ... a growing chorus of critics say that Globalstar’s warnings about a Wi-Fi apocalypse are completely unfounded—and that its plan, rather than fixing spectrum congestion, would actually make the situation much worse.
Ten years ago, high tech observers complained that the nation didn’t have enough bold innovators. There were, of course, wildly profitable high tech firms, but they rarely took creative risks and mostly just mimicked Silicon Valley: Baidu was a replica of Google, Tencent a copy of Yahoo, JD a version of Amazon. Young Chinese coders had programming chops that were second to none, but they lacked the drive of a Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. The West Coast mantra—fail fast, fail often, the better to find a hit product—seemed alien, even dangerous, to youths schooled in an educational system that focused on rote memorization and punished mistakes. Graduates craved jobs at big, solid firms. The goal was stability: Urban China had only recently emerged from decades of poverty, and much of the countryside was still waiting its turn to do so. Better to keep your head down and stay safe. ... That attitude is vanishing now. It’s been swept aside by a surge in prosperity, bringing with it a new level of confidence and boldness in the country’s young urban techies. ... higher education soared sevenfold: 7 million graduated college this year. The result is a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking. ... Anyone with a promising idea and some experience can find money. Venture capitalists pumped a record $15.5 billion into Chinese startups last year, so entrepreneurs are being showered in funding, as well as crucial advice and mentoring from millionaire angels. ... Even the Chinese government—which has a wary attitude toward online expression and runs a vast digital censorship apparatus—has launched a $6.5 billion fund for startups.
He bounces from smart locks, to smart lights, to a smart shower, to smart shoe insoles. It almost backfires when a Samsung representative demonstrating a smart refrigerator reaches out and flips his badge back over, asking, “What are you, press?” But his name doesn’t mean anything to her, and Pichai just casts an amused sideways glance and dives in with questions. “So, what can I ask the fridge?” he wants to know. Various versions of this same scene play out again and again. ... With $74.5 billion in annual revenue last year, Google is by far the largest (and only profitable) business under Alphabet. Indeed, Google has seven different products that more than a billion people use: Search, Gmail, YouTube, Android, Chrome, Maps, and its app and media vending machine, the Google Play Store. ... Google is sprinting to attract its “next billion” users. For the most part, these are people in the developing world; people who will go online, for the very first time, using one of Google’s Android-powered handsets. Which puts Google in the position of being seen as both a corporate NSA and modern East India Company. ... Android was, very literally, made for this moment. Its entire point is to be customized, reconfigured, and personalized for a world full of people across a range of sizes, shapes, configurations, and price points. Sure, signs for the $550 Nexus abound, but you can also score a cheap Android phone in Delhi, like a Lava Atom X, for less than $40 — and that’s without a contract. It will, Pichai thinks, change the status quo not just in India, but the entire world.
The reaction was understandable given the lofty goals outlined in the Echo's original plan: It envisioned an intelligent, voice-controlled household appliance that could play music, read the news aloud and order groceries — all by simply letting users talk to it from anywhere in the house. ... the Echo's path into consumers' homes was hardly a sure thing. The gadget was stuck in Amazon's in-house labs for years, subject to the perfectionist demands of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and lengthy internal debates about its market appeal. And in the wake of the high-profile failure of Amazon's smartphone, the industry rumors that circulated for years about a speaker product languishing within Amazon's labs seemed like more confirmation that the ecommerce giant lacked the chops to create a game-changing hardware device. ... The story of the Echo's origins, recounted by several insiders, reflects the ambitions and challenges within Amazon as it quietly set its sights on the tech industry's next big battleground. ... The key to getting latency down was to collect as much data as possible and constantly apply them to improve the product. The team did thousands of internal tests and weekly data analysis with speech scientists. Eventually, the team was able to bring latency down to below 1.5 seconds, far exceeding the speed of its competitors.
- Also: Bloomberg - Google Embeds AI in New Products to Make Search Ubiquitous < 5min
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2015 was, by all accounts, not a great year for GoPro. The company, famous for wearable cameras targeted toward surfers, mountain climbers, and anyone else living on the edge, shipped more cameras than ever, but its revenue dropped 31 percent between the fourth quarters of 2014 and 2015. ... Over the last three years, GoPro has been building a software team from scratch, cobbling together acquisitions and a few key hires into what is now a 100-plus employee division that makes up about one-tenth of the company. Woodman acknowledges that the trend of middling sales figures will likely hold until GoPro releases a set of new devices at the end of this year, including the Hero 5, GoPro’s first drone, and a spherical camera made for general consumers. Meanwhile the new software team, and what it’s building, will herald in a new era at the company, inspire investors, and eventually attract new customers. ... In the last four months, GoPro bought, rebranded, and relaunched two powerful mobile editing apps called Replay and Splice — opening up GoPro to users who don’t own any of its cameras. And in the second half of 2016, GoPro will release a desktop editing experience that will rival iMovie and a cloud backend that will tie everything — devices, files, and the overall GoPro experience — together into a single ecosystem. ... Woodman is clear-eyed on the fact that the hardware-first chapter of GoPro is coming to an end. Cameras will still be important, because Woodman believes that vertical integration gives GoPro an advantage over software-focused competitors. ... "We’ve sold a great promise to people but we haven’t followed through on it…. We solved the capture side of it, but then we sort of left them hanging with the whole hassle of the post-production."
Xiaomi’s tale may sound like merely another iteration of that now familiar headline, tech unicorn gallops into wall. But Xiaomi (pronounced “SHAO-me,” with the first syllable sounding like the “show” in “shower”) isn’t just any privately held, multibillion-dollar startup. It’s a rising power in a nation eager to prove that its consumer-oriented companies can compete globally. ... The company didn’t attain that valuation on the strength of its phones, though those get raves in the tech press (and have even made Xiaomi modestly profitable) while selling for half the price of an iPhone. No, private investors judged Xiaomi to be more valuable than FedEx or Caterpillar or Delta Air Lines because of the promise that it could build a network of products, services, and recurring revenues—an ecosystem like Apple’s—not just in China but around the world. ... If anything, Xiaomi’s idea of an ecosystem is more ambitious than Apple’s. Apple focuses on services like iTunes and a tightly focused suite of tablets, computers, and smartphones. Xiaomi envisions a sprawling Internet of things. The company hopes you will someday control your Xiaomi water purifier, Xiaomi air filter, and Xiaomi mood lighting—an entire Xiaomi smart home, essentially—with a few taps on your phone. ... as Xiaomi’s progress slows, there’s growing skepticism that a startup without innovative technology of its own or much success outside of smartphone sales can produce an ecosystem anywhere nearly as big or “sticky” as Apple’s and Google’s. ... Xiaomi’s team works primarily with outside companies. The company partners with hardware startups (and often creates new ones), providing seed money for ecosystem products. Xiaomi avoids taking full control, encouraging the founders to act like risk-taking entrepreneurs. The company gets an exclusive deal to sell most of the startups’ products, and in turn the startups, now numbering 55, get access to Xiaomi’s supply chain, marketing, and even its industrial engineers.
Comcast has installed tens of millions of cable boxes, Wi-Fi routers, and other hardware in American homes over the years. These devices have been forgettable at best. Stirling hopes that’s about to change. Later this year, the company will begin rolling out a family of slimmed-down internet, TV, and home-security gadgets. The devices are designed according to a radical concept that’s largely gone untested in more than a half-century of cable-TV history—that hardware doesn’t have to be hideous. ... The new devices are designed to work in concert with X1—the software at the heart of Comcast’s strategy to keep its 22.4 million cable subscribers from cutting the cord and defecting to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Think of X1 as the company’s own Android or iOS—a technological platform upon which an empire of software, hardware, and services can be built. ... Instead of just throwing every channel into a linear grid accessed by clicking up and down with a remote, X1 aggregates programming from hundreds of TV networks and online sources and arranges everything by genre. ... Unlike most cable companies, Comcast has actually been gaining TV subscribers.
The most remarkable thing about neural nets is that no human being has programmed a computer to perform any of the stunts described above. In fact, no human could. Programmers have, rather, fed the computer a learning algorithm, exposed it to terabytes of data—hundreds of thousands of images or years’ worth of speech samples—to train it, and have then allowed the computer to figure out for itself how to recognize the desired objects, words, or sentences. ... Neural nets aren’t new. The concept dates back to the 1950s, and many of the key algorithmic breakthroughs occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. What’s changed is that today computer scientists have finally harnessed both the vast computational power and the enormous storehouses of data—images, video, audio, and text files strewn across the Internet—that, it turns out, are essential to making neural nets work well. ... That dramatic progress has sparked a burst of activity. Equity funding of AI-focused startups reached an all-time high last quarter of more than $1 billion, according to the CB Insights research firm. There were 121 funding rounds for such startups in the second quarter of 2016, compared with 21 in the equivalent quarter of 2011, that group says. More than $7.5 billion in total investments have been made during that stretch—with more than $6 billion of that coming since 2014. ... The hardware world is feeling the tremors. The increased computational power that is making all this possible derives not only from Moore’s law but also from the realization in the late 2000s that graphics processing units (GPUs) made by Nvidia—the powerful chips that were first designed to give gamers rich, 3D visual experiences—were 20 to 50 times more efficient than traditional central processing units (CPUs) for deep-learning computations. ... Think of deep learning as a subset of a subset. “Artificial intelligence” encompasses a vast range of technologies—like traditional logic and rules-based systems—that enable computers and robots to solve problems in ways that at least superficially resemble thinking. Within that realm is a smaller category called machine learning, which is the name for a whole toolbox of arcane but important mathematical techniques that enable computers to improve at performing tasks with experience. Finally, within machine learning is the smaller subcategory called deep learning.
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But a disastrous 2015—including the flubbed launch of a new camera—punctured that enthusiasm. Revenue for the first quarter of 2016 was down year over year, and a much-anticipated drone release was delayed. When Woodman arrives at the GoPro Games, the company’s stock is flirting with all-time lows, down almost 90% from its peak. ... It’s a ride that could make even the most seasoned extreme-sports enthusiast dizzy. Woodman takes a seat on an off-duty ski lift, the high Rocky Mountain sun behind him. And then he dives into his plan for reviving the company he loves. He says that a trio of new products being released this fall—including that delayed drone, called the Karma—will help win over a swarm of fresh consumers. New software will make video editing easier and content even more shareable. He is relentlessly optimistic. ... Woodman sees GoPro as a sort of mini Apple, a hardware company that is evolving into a software platform with social networking features. Its business model will even include monthly subscription fees alongside steady hardware upgrades.
The difference between the 4004 and the Skylake is the difference between computer behemoths that occupy whole basements and stylish little slabs 100,000 times more powerful that slip into a pocket. It is the difference between telephone systems operated circuit by circuit with bulky electromechanical switches and an internet that ceaselessly shuttles data packets around the world in their countless trillions. It is a difference that has changed everything from metal-bashing to foreign policy, from the booking of holidays to the designing of H-bombs. ... Moore’s law is not a law in the sense of, say, Newton’s laws of motion. But Intel, which has for decades been the leading maker of microprocessors, and the rest of the industry turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. ... That fulfilment was made possible largely because transistors have the unusual quality of getting better as they get smaller; a small transistor can be turned on and off with less power and at greater speeds than a larger one. ... “There’s a law about Moore’s law,” jokes Peter Lee, a vice-president at Microsoft Research: “The number of people predicting the death of Moore’s law doubles every two years.” ... making transistors smaller has no longer been making them more energy-efficient; as a result, the operating speed of high-end chips has been on a plateau since the mid-2000s ... while the benefits of making things smaller have been decreasing, the costs have been rising. This is in large part because the components are approaching a fundamental limit of smallness: the atom. ... One idea is to harness quantum mechanics to perform certain calculations much faster than any classical computer could ever hope to do. Another is to emulate biological brains, which perform impressive feats using very little energy. Yet another is to diffuse computer power rather than concentrating it, spreading the ability to calculate and communicate across an ever greater range of everyday objects in the nascent internet of things. ... in 2012 the record for maintaining a quantum superposition without the use of silicon stood at two seconds; by last year it had risen to six hours. ... For a quantum algorithm to work, the machine must be manipulated in such a way that the probability of obtaining the right answer is continually reinforced while the chances of getting a wrong answer are suppressed.
Smash an old TV, and you risk spewing lead into the air. Crack open an LCD flatscreen, and you can release mercury vapor. Mobile phones and computers can contain dangerous heavy metals such as cadmium and toxic flame retardants. Mexican workplace regulations, like those in the U.S., require e-waste shops to provide such safety equipment as goggles, hard hats, and masks. There’s little of that in Renovación. ... In much of the world, a place like Renovación couldn’t exist, and not only because business owners wouldn’t be allowed to employ people in those conditions. Twenty-five U.S. states and Washington, D.C., home to 210 million Americans, have laws establishing what’s known as extended producer responsibility, or EPR. That means electronics makers must collect, recycle, and dispose of discarded equipment rather than allow it to enter the waste stream. Parts of Europe also have this system. ... Manufacturers don’t do this work themselves. Typically, a state, county, or town establishes an e-waste collection program. Then recycling companies come to haul away the junk. The manufacturers pay some or all of the bill. The e-waste can be of any provenance. ... The lack of a formal, regulated recycling industry is one of many reasons Mexico has become a magnet for spent electronics. ... A ton of mobile phone circuit boards can produce 30 ounces of gold, worth about $39,000 at current prices.
In the industries where there’s rapid productivity growth, everybody is freaked out, because what are people going to do after everything gets automated? In the other part of the economy, that second part, health care and education, people are freaked out about, "Oh my God, it’s going to eat the entire budget! It’s going to eat my personal budget. Health care and education is going to be every dollar I make as income, and it’s going to eat the national budget and drive the United States bankrupt!" And everybody in the economy is going to become either a nurse or teacher. It’s really funny, both sides of the economy get polar opposite emotional reactions. ... We are very much not present, in what we would consider to be a healthy way, in education, health care, construction, childcare, senior care. The great twist on that is that second category — that’s most of the GDP. Most of the spending is most of the GDP, and these are the areas where we have not yet been able to crack the code. ... How audacious or insane is it to think that you could bring tech to health care or education? It’s probably 50/50. ... What’s interesting is there are probably more new computer companies in the valley today than there were probably since 1982 — it’s just that the products are all these different shapes, sizes, and descriptions. ... Basically, the entire way we live today is a consequence of the invention of the automobile. Because, before that, people just never went anywhere. Therefore, everything that you travel to is a consequence of the automobile.
Deng Xiaoping created the city from bucolic nothing in 1980 as the pilot of his special economic zone project. These zones were meant to create safe places for Western companies to do business—and they worked. Even though China is not the boom-country it was two years ago, favorable trade policies and cheap skilled labor lure companies and entrepreneurs from across the globe to Shenzhen’s nimble factories. Before the SEZ, there were some 30,000 people in the area. Today, Shenzhen’s population is north of 10 million, and its port is one of the busiest in China. You already know this: Your iPhone is made here. Everything is made here. ... As of 2013, there were 22,000 permanent foreign nationals living in the city, and nearly 8 million others visiting every year. The expats range from the manufacturing-industry vet with a house and a spouse to the fresh-off-the-plane Kickstarter romantic with a pocketful of pledge cash to the English teacher who can’t tell a diode from a dinner plate.
Then, last June, the renovation team discovered Ketra, an LED lighting startup from Austin that promised some pretty big things. ... The first was what Ketra calls “natural light”: white light sources that imperceptibly change their color and intensity throughout the day to mimic the lighting conditions outside. The second was an extreme degree of control. Ketra lights could be wirelessly grouped into zones of any number of lights that could all be separately adjusted via custom software on a wall panel, computer, or phone. The third was precision. Each Ketra bulb contained a patented sensor that measured its own color 360 times a minute to make sure the light being produced was the light being requested. Ketra was selling precisely measured, nature-approximating light, accessible throughout the massive office at the press of a button. ... who really needs them? Being all things to all people doesn’t come cheap. A single Ketra bulb costs about $100. ... before you can sell millions of dollars of high-tech lighting to some of the world’s biggest companies, you have to convince them that there is a very big problem with their light. ... At the heart of Ketra’s tech is an LED chip capable of temperature-optical feedback, which senses heat and color output in real time and adjusts itself according to that data.
Everyone knows that modern computers are better than old ones. But it is hard to convey just how much better, for no other consumer technology has improved at anything approaching a similar pace. The standard analogy is with cars: if the car from 1971 had improved at the same rate as computer chips, then by 2015 new models would have had top speeds of about 420 million miles per hour. ... There have been roughly 22 ticks of Moore’s law since the launch of the 4004 in 1971 through to mid-2016. For the law to hold until 2050 means there will have to be 17 more, in which case those engineers would have to figure out how to build computers from components smaller than an atom of hydrogen, the smallest element there is. ... a consensus among Silicon Valley’s experts that Moore’s law is near its end.