Thursday, October 30, 2014

Spain OKs 'Google Tax' demanded by news publishers
Associated Press
9 hours ago

MADRID (AP) — Spain's parliament has approved new intellectual property laws that allow news publishers to charge aggregators each time they display news content in search results.

The law goes into effect Jan. 1 but does not specify how much aggregators like Google News could be charged. Spain's AEDE group of news publishers had lobbied for what is known as the "Google Tax" but has not provided specifics.

Google Inc.'s Spanish division said Thursday it was disappointed with the outcome and will work with Spanish news publishers to help them increase income.

Google last year agreed to help French news organizations increase online advertising revenue and fund digital publishing innovations to settle a dispute there over whether it should pay for news content in its search results.

Brain decoder can eavesdrop on your inner voice

Brain decoder can eavesdrop on your inner voice

29 October 2014 by Helen Thomson

As you read this, your neurons are firing – that brain activity can now be decoded to reveal the silent words in your head

TALKING to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That's no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot physically speak communicate with the outside world.

"If you're reading text in a newspaper or a book, you hear a voice in your own head," says Brian Pasley at the University of California, Berkeley. "We're trying to decode the brain activity related to that voice to create a medical prosthesis that can allow someone who is paralysed or locked in to speak."

When you hear someone speak, sound waves activate sensory neurons in your inner ear. These neurons pass information to areas of the brain where different aspects of the sound are extracted and interpreted as words.

In a previous study, Pasley and his colleagues recorded brain activity in people who already had electrodes implanted in their brain to treat epilepsy, while they listened to speech. The team found that certain neurons in the brain's temporal lobe were only active in response to certain aspects of sound, such as a specific frequency. One set of neurons might only react to sound waves that had a frequency of 1000 hertz, for example, while another set only cares about those at 2000 hertz. Armed with this knowledge, the team built an algorithm that could decode the words heard based on neural activity aloneMovie Camera (PLoS Biology,

The team hypothesised that hearing speech and thinking to oneself might spark some of the same neural signatures in the brain. They supposed that an algorithm trained to identify speech heard out loud might also be able to identify words that are thought.


To test the idea, they recorded brain activity in another seven people undergoing epilepsy surgery, while they looked at a screen that displayed text from either the Gettysburg Address, John F. Kennedy's inaugural address or the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

Each participant was asked to read the text aloud, read it silently in their head and then do nothing. While they read the text out loud, the team worked out which neurons were reacting to what aspects of speech and generated a personalised decoder to interpret this information. The decoder was used to create a spectrogram – a visual representation of the different frequencies of sound waves heard over time. As each frequency correlates to specific sounds in each word spoken, the spectrogram can be used to recreate what had been said. They then applied the decoder to the brain activity that occurred while the participants read the passages silently to themselves.

Despite the neural activity from imagined or actual speech differing slightly, the decoder was able to reconstruct which words several of the volunteers were thinking, using neural activity alone (Frontiers in Neuroengineering,

The algorithm isn't perfect, says Stephanie Martin, who worked on the study with Pasley. "We got significant results but it's not good enough yet to build a device."

In practice, if the decoder is to be used by people who are unable to speak it would have to be trained on what they hear rather than their own speech. "We don't think it would be an issue to train the decoder on heard speech because they share overlapping brain areas," says Martin.

The team is now fine-tuning their algorithms, by looking at the neural activity associated with speaking rate and different pronunciations of the same word, for example. "The bar is very high," says Pasley. "Its preliminary data, and we're still working on making it better."

The team have also turned their hand to predicting what songs a person is listening to by playing lots of Pink Floyd to volunteers, and then working out which neurons respond to what aspects of the music. "Sound is sound," says Pasley. "It all helps us understand different aspects of how the brain processes it."

"Ultimately, if we understand covert speech well enough, we'll be able to create a medical prosthesis that could help someone who is paralysed, or locked in and can't speak," he says.

Several other researchers are also investigating ways to read the human mind. Some can tell what pictures a person is looking at, others have worked out what neural activity represents certain concepts in the brain, and one team has even produced crude reproductions of movie clips that someone is watching just by analysing their brain activity. So is it possible to put it all together to create one multisensory mind-reading device?

In theory, yes, says Martin, but it would be extraordinarily complicated. She says you would need a huge amount of data for each thing you are trying to predict. "It would be really interesting to look into. It would allow us to predict what people are doing or thinking," she says. "But we need individual decoders that work really well before combining different senses."

This article appeared in print under the headline "Hearing our inner voice"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Apple vs Walmart: Mobile Payments Reveal A Clash Of Titans

RETAIL 10/28/2014 @ 3:00PM

Apple vs Walmart: Mobile Payments Reveal A Clash Of Titans

There’s a battle shaping up in the retail world that pits two of the largest and most powerful players — Apple and Walmart — directly against each other, thanks to Apple’s new payment platform. It’s an interesting example of an internal industry struggle spilling out into a public street.

The core of the matter is Apple Pay, Apple’s new mobile payment system that launched Monday. Simple, elegant and safe mobile payment options have long eluded retailers and technology companies, and Apple Pay promises to bring us a lot closer to a solution that both works, and works for consumers.

Apple Pay works with point of sale terminals equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. It lets users tap to pay, assuming they own an iPhone 6 and have uploaded a credit card to work with the program.

Not all retailers have NFC terminals and even a couple who do — namely CVS and Rite Aid —  have opted to turn off Apple Pay functionality. That’s because a competitive payment platform called CurrentC is forcing retailers to make a choice to accept one or the other.

Essentially, CurrentC is the product of the Walmart-led Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX). A group of big retailers and merchants that spent years trying to develop a system that would ease the burden of paying swipe fees to credit card companies. These businesses got together, built a platform and rolled it out, and then came head to head with Apple’s.

But MCX required participating merchants to pay an upfront fee and commit to three-year exclusivity, with some leeway within the first year of joining the exchange. CVS and Rite Aid are on this list.

So now we have an epic battle, a clash of titans. Apple, often viewed as the “good” guy in white, against big, bad Walmart. There’s even a boycott of MCX-supported retailers being discussed on Reddit.

But consider a few facts:

Retailers have been fighting so-called “swipe-fees” for years. Lobbying government to step in a reduce how much retailers must pay to credit card companies for the convenience of accepting their cards.

For the un-initiated, swipe fees ring up roughly $30 billion annually, according to the National Retail Federation. There have been a series of legal rulings attempting to cap fees, but the dance goes on with retailers actively seeking ways to reduce this burden and Walmart being the most active agitator.

CurrentC is the brain child of Walmart VP and Assistant Treasurer Mike Cook, one participant jokingly said MCX stood for the “Mike Cook Exchange.” CurrentC doesn’t work with credit cards, but rather links to shopper’s bank accounts and deducts funds much like a debit card, allowing retailers to avoid paying swipe fees.

Is Apple Pay a better system than CurrentC? By most early accounts, yes. It’s easy to use, more secure than the old magnetic swipe cards and terminals, and works rather seamlessly at checkout. Since it’s only available for use with the latest model iPhones — the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus — it is being tested by early adopters. This is the ideal group to try  out new technology. They are willing to pay a premium for a new device; are eager to try new technology, often simply for fun; and very forgiving of start-up glitches and hiccups. On this, Apple really knew what it was doing.

It’s pretty premature to think that this is really a battle between Apple and Walmart, Apple Pay and CurrentC. Mobile payments are in their infancy and there will likely be room for several, including Google Wallet available to Android users. The winner will be the one that works best for the consumer, not just the retailer or technology developer.

In China, high demand for robots but too many robot manufacturers

In China, high demand for robots but too many robot manufacturers
By Pete Sweeney
8 hours ago

By Pete Sweeney

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China wants domestic companies to buy more locally made robots to lift productivity, but industry insiders have warned its policies are over-stimulating the market and that robot manufacturers were "coming up like mushrooms."

Government officials, worried that productivity growth may have turned negative since 2009, see the promotion of automation as a policy that will increase efficiency.
Chinese manufacturers, struggling with increasing costs of labor, also favor more use of robots where possible.

The confluence of policy support and market demand made China the world's biggest buyer of robots in 2013, overtaking Japan.

At the same time, both central and local governments are encouraging new domestic players to capture market share from established foreign brands. In its five-year economic plan for 2011-2015, Beijing specifically targeted robotics as a key sector for development, hoping to create four or five domestic robotics "champion" firms to meet an annual production target of about 13,000 robots.

But Stefan Sack, CEO of robot manufacturer Comau Shanghai Engineering, warned that the government policies carried a risk.

"Government intervention can help industry to grow but it can also create bubbles," he said at a robotics industry conference, adding that small manufacturers in the sector were "coming up like mushrooms".

"Everybody wants to become a robot manufacturer now because it's sexy," Sack said.

The official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday that China now has 420 robot companies, adding that more than 30 industrial parks devoted to robotics were being built or were already functioning around the country.

Beijing's industrial policies have a history of going astray, most recently in renewable energy, where official endorsement of what was seen as a cutting edge technology resulted in duplicated investment around the country, ending in a wave of bad debt as profit margins were wiped out.


Although analysts said the robotics industry is not at that stage, there are already early warning signs.

"China's market is totally fragmented; you've basically got 31 provincial markets," said Andrew Polk, resident economist at the Conference Board research house in Beijing. "You get a directive on the central front to build robots or whatever, and everyone moves to create their own local champions."

"They are doing this at a point where wages are rising, but their comparative advantage is still relatively cheap labor," he added. "They could be pushing this too hard too early."

According to the China Robot Industry Alliance, about 37,000 robots were sold in China in 2013, almost three-fourths of them manufactured overseas.

The number of domestically produced industrial robots tripled to about 10,000 units, on track to meet Beijing's goal of having domestic brands account for a third of sales by 2015.

Official media said that by mid-summer, 54 listed Chinese companies had invested in robotics firms, of which 80 percent were first-time investors, causing the number of robot stocks to nearly triple since July 2012.

The mergers have been welcomed by mainland investors: when JS Corrugating Machinery Co Ltd said it would acquire a robotics firm in June, its stock spiked by 60 percent in a few trading days.

Established players are also doing well. Shanghai Siasun Robotics & Automation, one of China's best-known robot makers, is up over 50 percent this year and pricing at around 84 times earnings, far outperforming benchmarks.


Few economists dispute that the export powerhouse provinces of Zhejiang and Guangdong, China's main manufacturing hubs, are facing a genuine problem.

"Zhejiang province is facing a worker shortage. We have new constraints on resources, input factors, and the environment; we need to adjust our economy's structure," said Zhou Tufa, division chief at the province's industrial investment department.

"We hope to substitute machines for laborers doing heavy physical work," he said in an interview in the provincial capital Hangzhou.

Local governments have adopted a variety of different stimulus tactics in robotics. Dongguan, a manufacturing center in Guangdong, has been particularly aggressive, creating a 200 million yuan ($33 million) investment fund to subsidize robotics investments by local firms.

Wang Dayong, president of Zhejiang Sanhua Automotive Components, told Reuters that his major challenge is attracting and retaining workers, a problem he hopes robots can solve.

"We are automating for long-term competitiveness," he said.

But customers warned that demand for more robots does not equate to demand for more robot suppliers.

Frank Chuang, assistant director of manufacturing operations at Ford Greater China, said that since most robot manufacturers use customized operating systems and components, his company is conservative regarding suppliers.

"If we don't carefully select the robots, then in the near future we will generate not just programming language issues but also maintenance issues."

It is also possible that firm owners are over-estimating the potential benefits of automation.

For example Foxconn, a major supplier for Apple, said in 2011 that it aimed to have one million robotic arms in operation by 2014. It subsequently scaled back its plans, with managers saying the robots were not able to replace humans as effectively as expected.

Even automation enthusiasts like Wang of Zhejiang Sanhua are careful.

"There are still areas where robots aren't as good as people," he said. "Excessive automation carries its own risks."

($1 = 6.1385 yuan)

(Additional reporting by the Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

FBI created fake Seattle Times Web page to nab bomb-threat suspect

Originally published October 27, 2014 at 7:43 PM | Page modified October 28, 2014 at 5:03 PM

FBI created fake Seattle Times Web page to nab bomb-threat suspect

The FBI created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times Web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect in a series of bomb threats to Timberline High School in 2007, documents reveal.

By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter

The FBI in Seattle created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect in a series of bomb threats to Lacey’s Timberline High School in 2007, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco.

The deception was publicized Monday when Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., revealed it on Twitter.

In an interview, Soghoian called the incident “outrageous” and said the practice could result in “significant collateral damage to the public trust” if law enforcement begins co-opting the media for its purposes.

The EFF documents reveal that the FBI dummied up a story with an Associated Press byline about the Thurston County bomb threats with an email link “in the style of The Seattle Times,” including details about subscriber and advertiser information.

The link was sent to the suspect’s MySpace account. When the suspect clicked on the link, the hidden FBI software sent his location and Internet Protocol information to the agents. A juvenile suspect was identified and arrested June 14.

The revelation brought a sharp response from the newspaper.

“We are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect,” said Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best.

“Not only does that cross a line, it erases it,” she said.

“Our reputation and our ability to do our job as a government watchdog are based on trust. Nothing is more fundamental to that trust than our independence — from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests,” Best said. “The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”

An AP spokesman also criticized the tactic.

“We are extremely concerned and find it unacceptable that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Associated Press and published a false story attributed to AP,” Paul Colford, director of AP media relations. “This ploy violated AP’s name and undermined AP’s credibility.”

Frank Montoya Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI in Seattle, defended the investigation and the technique, which court records show led to the arrest and conviction of a 15-year-old student.

“Every effort we made in this investigation had the goal of preventing a tragic event like what happened at Marysville and Seattle Pacific University,” Montoya said. “We identified a specific subject of an investigation and used a technique that we deemed would be effective in preventing a possible act of violence in a school setting.

“Use of that type of technique happens in very rare circumstances and only when there is sufficient reason to believe it could be successful in resolving a threat,” he said.

Ayn Dietrich-Williams, the spokeswoman for the FBI-Seattle, pointed out that the bureau did not use a “real Seattle Times article, but material generated by the FBI in styles common in reporting and online media.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman, chief of the office’s criminal division, was reviewing the EFF documents provided to her by The Times and had no immediate comment. Kathryn Warma, the prosecutor who oversaw the case, has since retired.

The EFF posted 172 pages of documents concerning the FBI’s use of a software tool called a “Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier” (CIPAV) in two cases — one involving the Timberline High School bomb threats and the other involving an extortion attempt against a cruise line in Florida. More than half of the documents relate to the Seattle case.

According to the documents, CIPAV lets the FBI “geophysically” locate a computer and its Internet Protocol address.

Soghoian said the software is activated when someone clicks on the bogus link. The technique apparently exploits the same computer-security vulnerabilities used by hackers.

Police in Lacey, Thurston County, contacted the Northwest Cyber-Crime Task Force after the school began receiving a series of bomb threats beginning in late May 2007 and continuing into early June. The school was forced to evacuate students at least twice, and police were unable to identify a suspect.

The documents indicate the FBI in Seattle obtained a search warrant to “deploy” the CIPAV software after the task force, which is run by the FBI, received a public tip about a suspect. Special Agent Norman Sanders, in seeking the warrant, said the bureau would send a “communication” to the suspect’s computer that would make the computer identify itself for the agent.

The case was taken up by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which helped draft and approve the warrant. The warrant does not say that “communication” would be a bogus news story that appeared to be published online by The Seattle Times.

Mike Carter: or 206-464-3706

People trust NSA more than Google, survey says

People trust NSA more than Google, survey says

In a result consistent with previous polling, a new poll has respondents claiming they're more concerned about Google seeing all their private data than the government.

by Chris Matyszczyk October 28, 2014 4:49 PM PDT

People claim to trust Google less than they trust the NSA. Are they telling the truth?

People don't always say what they think. Especially in business and love.

Please, therefore, consider this question: whom would you trust more with your private data: the NSA, a company like Google, or your mom?

I ask because I'm looking at the results of a survey, conducted between October 9 and 12, that asked just that. It asked simple questions, to which its sponsors hoped to get simple answers.

The results went like this. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being "I am shivering uncontrollably with fear") the idea of Google or a similar concern having access to all your private data got a concerned score of 7.39.

The idea of the NSA having its eyes and hands all over you? 7.06. What about your boss snooping? That merited a mere 6.85. While the notion of your parents knowing it all got a 5.93.

Of the options open to the respondents, they were most relaxed about their spouse or significant other seeing their everyday warts. This idea scored a mere 4.55.

The survey was created by Survata, a company whose purpose is to interrupt content by asking people to complete a survey before they get the whole content. Survata claims in its methodological explanation that it carefully vets those it thinks might offer insincerity.

I wonder, however. If these results are to be believed, then humanity is rife with those who speak out of several sides of their mouth. On the one hand, we claim to fear Google most, yet we allow it, Facebook and the like to crawl over our daily routines and information like summer flies enjoying a rancid grapefruit.

Yet the results are rather consistent with a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll of last year. It revealed that the majority of Americans are perfectly accepting of the NSA tracking their phone records. In that survey, 45 percent even said they thought the NSA's intrusions should go further.

What's interesting about the Survata poll is that those surveyed were predominantly young. Well, ish. There were 2,566 respondents, all from the US, aged between 13 and 44. Some 59.8 percent were female, 40.2 percent were male. Just over half were aged between 13 and 24.

How odd that those who appear to be most comfortable sharing everything with everyone claim that they distrust the likes of Google more than anyone.

I asked Survata's co-founder, Chris Kelly, what he thought were the reasons. He told me: "Survata was surprised to see respondents said they'd be more upset with a company like Google seeing their personal data than the NSA. We did not ask respondents for the reasons or motivations behind their answers; so we can only conjecture based on our previous research. One guess is that respondents assume the NSA is only looking for 'guilty' persons when scouring personal data, whereas a company like Google would use personal data to serve ads or improve their own products."

Could it be that on some subliminal level we know what's going on and we just can't help ourselves? Could it be that we want to care more about privacy, but the sheer free ease offered by the likes of Google and Facebook is too much to resist?

It's not as if these companies are excessively shy about what they do. Who could forget these sturdy words offered by Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer: "We want to be really, really clear that whenever you give us information, we're going to take it."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted that after Edward Snowden's revelations, his company and Google suffered a diminution of trust.

Perhaps they never really had that much. And perhaps people are just too self-regarding to care.

Google’s New Computer With Human-Like Learning Abilities Will Program Itself

Google’s New Computer With Human-Like Learning Abilities Will Program Itself
The new hybrid device might not need humans at all.

By Sage Lazzaro 10/29 3:22pm

In college, it wasn’t rare to hear a verbal battle regarding artificial intelligence erupt between my friends studying neuroscience and my friends studying computer science.

One rather outrageous fellow would mention the possibility of a computer takeover, and off they went. The neuroscience-savvy would awe at the potential of such hybrid technology as the CS majors argued we have nothing to fear, as computers will always need a programmer to tell them what to do.

Today’s news brings us to the Neural Turing Machine, a computer that will combine the way ordinary computers work with the way the human brain learns, enabling it to actually program itself. Perhaps my CS friends should reevaluate their position?

The computer is currently being developed by the London-based DeepMind Technologies, an artificial intelligence firm that was acquired by Google earlier this year. Neural networks — which will enable the computer to invent programs for situations it has not seen before — will make up half of the computer’s architecture. Experts at the firm hope this will equip the machine with the means to create like a human, but still with the number-crunching power of a computer, New Scientist reports.

In two different tests, the NTM was asked to 1) learn to copy blocks of binary data and 2) learn to remember and sort lists of data. The results were compared with a more basic neural network, and it was found that the computer learned faster and produced longer blocks of data with fewer errors. Additionally, the computer’s methods were found to be very similar to the code a human programmer would’ve written to make the computer complete such a task.

These are extremely simple tasks for a computer to accomplish when being told to do so, but computers’ abilities to learn them on their own could mean a lot for the future of AI.