Tencent Steps Up AI Push With Research Lab in Seattle

Tencent Steps Up AI Push With Research Lab in Seattle

Chinese social media and gaming giant Tencent Holdings said on Tuesday it will open an artificial intelligence (AI) research facility in Seattle in the United States, to be led by former Microsoft scientist Yu Dong.

Yu, who has been appointed as deputy head of Tencent’s AI Lab division, will run the new lab as well as spearhead research in speech recognition and natural language understanding, the company said.

Tencent, which owns the popular WeChat messaging app, is Asia’s most valuable company with a market capitalisation of nearly $300 billion (roughly Rs. 19,25,936 crores).

Shenzhen-headquartered Tencent is one of a number of Chinese technology juggernauts that are stepping up efforts in AI research. Tencent’s WeChat has more than 889 million monthly active users.

Tencent has more than 50 researchers and more than 200 engineers at its AI Lab in Shenzhen, which was established in April 2016, according to the company.
China’s “Big Three” tech firms – Tencent, Baidu Inc and Alibaba – have been competing to attract top-notch talent.

Yu, a speech recognition and deep learning expert, was the principal researcher at Microsoft Research Institute’s Speech and Dialog Group before joining Tencent.

Baidu suffered a setback to its AI ambitions after its chief scientist Andrew Ng resigned in March, shortly before Tencent announced it has poached Baidu’s former big data director Zhang Tong to head up its AI Lab.

Yu is looking to build a team of around 20 for the Seattle lab, according to Tencent.

 

 

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Microsoft’s new education push plays to its strengths, the cheap and familiar

 

Microsoft never mentioned Chromebook by name, but it’s clear that Google’s browser-based hardware offering was at the front of everyone’s mind at today’s education event in New York City. The company has managed to control much of the market internally, but the Chromebook has swiftly eroded marketshare here in the States.

Microsoft’s solution is playing into the company’s strengths of low cost hardware running familiar software. That’s precisely what Windows 10 S is all about. Unlike recentl education plays from the company that centered around the Surface, Microsoft has returned to its roots, focusing on what made it a hit during the rise of netbooks: the low barrier of entry.

The company’s focus on Surface in education was a rejection of that appeal. Microsoft clearly learned from the rise of the iPad in education that the best solution was a premium one, hoping the highest end experience would be a lasting one that students would take with them as they graduated and entered the real world.

That focus allowed Google to sneak in. Much maligned at launch, Chromebooks have ultimately proven a hit in education due in no small part to their extremely low barrier of entry, coupled with software features focused at the IT departments that make many of the purchasing decisions for schools and districts.

When the company announced Intune for Education paired with hardware systems starting at $189 back in January, it was clear that the company had learned its from its missteps. The percentage of schools that can afford a truly premium one-to-one hardware solution is limited to small private schools and the like. And those school often opt for the iPad for its premium hardware/software solution.

 

For everyone else, cost is paramount. Windows 10 S is an acknowledgement of this fact. Due out this summer on a slew of systems from hardware partners like Dell and HP, the streamlined OS plays into this, and by delivering a familiar software experience, it may well maintain some of the market abroad, as it delivers familiar productivity solutions like Office, coupled with new additions like mixed reality and 3D content creation.

And, of course, the company will be able to maintain a fuller offline experience than many Chromebooks, which are still largely browser based. With more complete offline functionality, these devices can help the company stay ahead in other parts of the world where school WiFi is a luxury, rather than a given.

Sure, Surface will continue to be part of the company’s solution in education. The company even used today’s event to announce a new device in that space. But if that system has success in education, it will be of the higher variety – high school, perhaps, but even more likely college.

If the company is really going to retain and regain classroom desk space, it’s going to do so with the simple, the familiar and the affordable.

 
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Microsoft’s Windows 10 Push Comes to Shove for Some Users

Microsoft's Windows 10 Push Comes to Shove for Some Users

Microsoft really, REALLY wants you to upgrade to Windows 10.Since last summer, the tech giant has pushed and prodded PC owners to upgrade their machines to its latest Windows version. While the upgrade is currently free for most consumers with Windows PCs, critics say the company’s heavy-handed nudging amounts to an “offer you can’t refuse.”

Microsoft initially offered Windows 10 as an optional upgrade – that is, one that users had to choose themselves. Then, earlier this year, the company reclassified it as a “recommended” update. Some Windows 10 holdouts cried foul, since many PCs are set up to automatically install recommended updates, which are usually important security fixes. Suddenly those machines would automatically install Windows 10 as well.

At one point, some PC owners complained, Microsoft began sending on-screen messages prompting them to download and install Windows 10. The catch: Where most such pop-up windows have buttons marked “OK” and “Cancel,” this message displayed two buttons that both led to an upgrade (“Upgrade Now” and “Upgrade Tonight”). To avoid the upgrade, diehard resisters had to click a red “X” in the upper-right corner that closed the window.Microsoft then revised the notifications, citing customer feedback. A new version tells PC owners they are scheduled for a “recommended” upgrade to Windows 10 at a specific time in the near future, and bears a prominent “OK” button. To reject or reschedule the change, users have to find and click a less conspicuous link in small type. But clicking the “X” no longer blocks the upgrade.

Some PC users reacted as though Microsoft had left a horse’s head in their bed.

“Deceptive” and “a nasty trick” is how Brad Chacos, an editor at PCWorld, put it in a column after his wife unwittingly clicked the “X” and later found her machine was no longer running Windows 7, which she had wanted to keep.

“Deploying these dirty tricks only frustrates long-time Windows users who have very valid reasons to stick with operating systems they already know and love,” wrote Chacos, who added that he uses and likes Windows 10 personally. His wife, though, is now shopping for a Mac.

Microsoft says it isn’t trying to be sneaky. In blog posts and official statements, the company says it shows users at least two notifications before it activates Windows 10. It also allows any PC owner to reverse the installation and go back to their old software if they do so within 31 days.

“We understand you care deeply about what happens with your device. This is why – regardless of your upgrade path – you can choose to upgrade or decline the offer,” Microsoft executive vice president Terry Myerson wrote in a blog post.

Even so, Microsoft clearly wants to get as many PCs and other devices running Windows 10 as it possibly can. The company says it wants users to have the latest security features and other improvements. Microsoft also makes more money from Windows 10 features that increase usage of Bing, the company’s ad-supported search engine. And it wants to convince programmers there’s a big audience for software apps that are compatible with Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, smartphones and other gadgets.

Microsoft announced earlier this month that 300 million devices are running Windows 10 – a faster adoption rate than either of the two previous Windows versions.

Most buyers of new PCs will find Windows 10 already installed. But Microsoft says its offer of a free upgrade for old machines is ending July 29 – and that means more notices and prompts are likely.

Tags: Cortana, Laptops, Microsoft, PC, Windows, Windows 10, Windows 10 Update, Windows Update
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Push for US Encryption Law Falters Despite Apple Case Spotlight

Push for US Encryption Law Falters Despite Apple Case Spotlight

After a rampage that left 14 people dead in San Bernardino, key US lawmakers pledged to seek a law requiring technology companies to give law enforcement agencies a “back door” to encrypted communications and electronic devices, such as the iPhone used by one of the shooters.Now, only months later, much of the support is gone, and the push for legislation dead, according to sources in congressional offices, the administration and the tech sector.

Draft legislation that Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Intelligence Committee, had circulated weeks ago likely will not be introduced this year and, even if it were, would stand no chance of advancing, the sources said.

Key among the problems was the lack of White House support for legislation in spite of a high-profile court showdown between the Justice Department and Apple Inc over the suspect iPhone, according to Congressional and Obama Administration officials and outside observers.

“They’ve dropped anchor and taken down the sail,” former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden said.For years, the Justice Department lobbied unsuccessfully for a way to unmask suspects who “go dark,” or evade detection through coded communications in locked devices.

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation took Apple to court in February to try to open the iPhone in its investigation of the San Bernardino slayings, the cause gained traction in Washington. The political landscape had shifted – or so it seemed.

The short life of the push for legislation illustrates the intractable nature of the debate over digital surveillance and encryption, which has been raging in one form or another since the 1990s.

Tech companies, backed by civil liberties groups, insist that building law enforcement access into phones and other devices would undermine security for everyone-including the U.S. government itself.

Law enforcement agencies maintain they need a way to monitor phone calls, emails and text messages, along with access to encrypted data. Polls show the public is split on whether the government should have access to all digital data.

The legal battle between the FBI and Apple briefly united many around the idea that Congress – not the courts – should decide the issue. But the consensus was fleeting.

Feinstein’s Democratic colleagues on the Intelligence Committee – along with some key Republicans – backed away. The House never got on board.

The CIA and NSA were ambivalent, according to several current and former intelligence officials, in part because officials in the agencies feared any new law would interfere with their own encryption efforts.

Even supporters worried that if a bill were introduced but failed, it would give Apple and other tech companies another weapon to use in future court battles.

Burr had said repeatedly that legislation was imminent.

But last week, he and Feinstein told Reuters there was no timeline for the bill. Feinstein said she planned to talk to more tech stakeholders, and Burr said, “be patient.”

In the meantime, tech companies have accelerated encryption efforts in the wake of the Apple case. The court showdown ended with a whimper when the FBI said it had found a way to get into the phone, and subsequently conceded privately it had found nothing of value.

The FBI goes to battle
A week after the San Bernardino attack, Burr told Reuters passing encryption legislation was urgent because “if we don’t, we will be reading about terrorist attacks on a more frequent basis.”

FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee soon after that encryption was “overwhelmingly affecting” the investigation of murders, drug trafficking and child pornography.

A week later, the Justice Department persuaded a judge to issue a sweeping order demanding Apple write software to open an iPhone used by San Bernardino suspect Sayeed Farook, who died in a shootout with law enforcement.

Apple fought back, arguing, among other things, that only Congressional legislation could authorize what the court was demanding. Many saw the Justice Department’s move as a way to bring pressure on Congress to act.

President Obama appeared to tacitly support Comey’s court fight and the idea that there should be limits on criminal suspects’ ability to hide behind encryption. But even as the drive for legislation seemed to be gaining momentum, consensus was dissipating.

Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican, withdrew support in a sudden about-face.

“I was all with you until I actually started getting briefed by the people in the intel community,” Graham told Attorney General Loretta Lynch during a hearing in March. “I’m a person that’s been moved by the arguments of the precedent we set and the damage we may be doing to our own national security.”

On the Democratic side, Senator Ron Wyden vowed to filibuster what he called a “dangerous proposal,” that “would leave Americans more vulnerable to stalkers, identity thieves, foreign hackers and criminals.”

Senator Mark Warner advanced a competing bill to form a commission to study the issue.

A half dozen people familiar with the White House deliberations said they were hamstrung by a long-standing split within the Obama Administration, pitting Comey and the DOJ against technology advisors and other agencies including the Commerce and State Departments.

They also said there was reluctance to take on the tech industry in an election year.

© Thomson Reuters 2016

Tags: Apple, Apple vs FBI, Encryption, FBI, Mobiles, Tablets, iPhones
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