SoftBank CEO Sees Massive Data, AI as Key to ‘Information Revolution’

Masayoshi Son, chief executive of SoftBank Group Corp., says artificial intelligence combined with data gathered by billions of sensors will bring on an "information revolution," that will benefit people more than the 19th Century Industrial Revolution.

Son [pictured above], Japan's richest person, told Softbank customers and partners gathered at a Tokyo hotel on Thursday that he believes massive data will help treat cancer, deliver accident-free driving and grow safer food.

SoftBank has bought leading British semiconductor company ARM, and its acquisition of U.S. robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics, announced last month, is undergoing regulatory approval. Its investments have included Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba and Yahoo Japan.

SoftBank, the first carrier to offer the Apple iPhone in Japan, set up a private fund last year for global investments in the technology sector, called the Vision Fund, with the potential to grow to as much as $100 billion. He has won praise from President Donald Trump for promising to invest $50 billion in U.S. startups and create 50,000 jobs.

This week Softbank announced it will invest in Encored, a U.S. company specializing in IoT technology in the energy sector.

During a nearly three hour presentation, Son, introduced some of the ventures he is partnering, including OneWeb, whose founder and chairman Greg Wyler wants to offer affordable internet access for everyone using satellites instead of underground cables.

Son also brought on stage Spot, a four-legged robot that can climb steps and dance. Other robots will be able to carry heavy loads, said Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics chief executive.

"Marc, we are going to change the world together," Son said on stage.

SoftBank already offers one of the most sophisticated companion robots on the market, the chatty, childlike Pepper. Son seemed a bit protective of his flagship robot, saying those who have criticized it as "not too smart" haven't seen what he has...

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Microsoft Scrambles To Play in New Game of Sports Analytics

The Seattle Reign's win early this month was the product of conditioning. And the singular talent of Megan Rapinoe. The U.S. women's national soccer team star struck first with a 30-yard sprint that caught a Portland Thorns center back off guard, intercepting a lazy pass for a tap in goal.

In the second half, Rapinoe, who just turned 32, outran a younger defender to get on the end of a long pass and launch a strike from the corner of the penalty box.

The tallies extended her scoring lead in the National Women's Soccer League, a remarkable feat for a player a year and a half after major knee surgery.

The team in charge of keeping her fit and on the field has a new tool at its disposal: data-tracking software built by Microsoft. The Reign is among the dozen teams piloting Microsoft's Sports Performance Platform, which officially launched last month.

The software is part analytics display tool, part web-based data repository.

The Reign players take a brief wellness survey daily, rating sleep, soreness and hydration. GPS and heart-rate trackers that they wear during training sessions and games feed in data about how much ground players cover and how hard they're working.

The result is dashboards for individual players and the team that aim to score readiness, and, using Microsoft's machine-learning algorithms, flag at what point the stress of a season could be leading to an injury and time away from the field.

"The reason we do it is to prevent injury," coach Laura Harvey said. "So far, so good."

Of course, the Reign also uses the tool because Microsoft pays it to do so, part of the sponsorship that placed the company's name and logo on the front of the team's jerseys.

The Redmond company's influence is felt primarily in the corporate workplace. But Microsoft has spent big...

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Intel Movidius: What Is a Neural Compute Stick and Why Would You Want One?

Building on technology acquired through its purchase of Movidius last year, Intel has launched a USB tool and software developer kit designed to help developers add deep-learning capabilities to a wide range of "edge" devices.

The Movidius Neural Compute Stick uses deep neural network processing and machine vision technology to "reduce barriers to developing, tuning and deploying AI [artificial intelligence] applications," Intel said in a statement yesterday. It called the device "the world's first USB-based deep learning inference kit and self-contained artificial intelligence accelerator."

Available through Intel Movidius distributor partners RS Components and Mouser, the Neural Compute Stick is priced at $79. Intel said it's "designed to help democratize the machine intelligence space, and accelerate an age of ubiquitous intelligence devices and systems."

Enabling Offline AI

The Neural Compute Stick is built with vision processing unit (VPU) technology developed by Movidius that's already being used in devices ranging from drones to video surveillance cameras. The Myriad 2 VPU combines large computing capabilities with lower power demands, more than 100 gigaflops of performance at a power consumption level of one watt, according to Remi El-Ouazzane, vice president and general manager of Movidius. "This enables a wide range of AI applications to be deployed offline," El-Ouazzane said in the statement.

Prior to its acquisition by Intel for a reported $400 million in September, Movidius had released its own Fathom Neural Compute Stick, to help developers deploy trained neural networks to a range of devices equipped with Myriad 2 VPUs.

"It's going to mean that very soon, consumers are going to be introduced to surprisingly smart applications and products," El-Ouazzane said in a statement at the time. "It means the same level of surprise and delight we saw at the beginning of the smartphone revolution; we're going to see again with the machine intelligence revolution."...

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Facebook Placing Ads in Growing Number of Places

Facebook has a cash cow. It's called News Feed, and for the past five years, it has been the company's core moneymaker and source of revenue growth. But there is a problem looming: Facebook has been saying for the past year that it is running out of places to put ads in News Feed.

The company has determined that it can't put more ads into users' feeds without harming their experience. The industry term for this ratio of ads to other content is called "ad load," and Facebook says News Feed's ad load is all maxed out.

Facebook says its revenue growth will slow down "meaningfully" this year as a result.

This doesn't mean Facebook's business won't continue to grow. It added 76 million new users last quarter. That's a lot of fresh eyeballs. But at two billion total users, Facebook can't keep up that pace forever, especially because 731 million of the world's remaining 1.5 billion internet users who are not on Facebook are in China, where Facebook is blocked.

So if Facebook can't show people more ads in News Feed and can't get unblocked in China, it needs to show them ads somewhere else. And that explains why, in the past six months, we've seen Facebook start to put ads in a lot more places.

* It started selling mid-roll video ads, and more importantly, it started funding video projects that could host those ads. It's even paying video publishers to make TV shows for Facebook, a chance for more video ad inventory.

* It started selling ads inside Instagram Stories. It's tough to tell how popular Stories have been on other Facebook platforms like Messenger, WhatsApp and Facebook itself, but presumably those Story ads will show up on other platforms, too.

* It started selling ads inside Facebook Messenger, and was in Cannes to...

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Cloud Milestone: Microsoft’s Office 365 Beats Out Traditional Office

Six years later, new Office has dethroned the old Office. Revenue from business sales of the Office 365 productivity suite topped traditional corporate Office sales for the first time last quarter, Microsoft said, a milestone in the Redmond company's transition from selling packaged software to cloud-computing products.

Microsoft first started selling its iconic collection of Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and other workplace software through online subscriptions under the Office 365 name in 2011.

At the time, Google's Docs and other productivity software were making inroads in a realm then dominated by Microsoft, threatening what had been the company's most profitable line of business.

Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said in a quarterly earnings call Thursday that during the three months ended in June, sales of Office 365 to businesses surpassed sales of the traditional packaged version that entitled the user to the software in perpetuity.

The company didn't break out the scale of each, but sales of Office products of all sorts to businesses totaled $5.8 billion during the final quarter of Microsoft's fiscal year.

Office 365, analysts say, makes up most of Microsoft's "commercial cloud," the line of business-focused subscription products the company has staked its future on. Sales of that group of products stood at $4.75 billion in the most recent quarter, helping to propel Microsoft shares to a record high as investors bet the company is positioned to thrive in the emerging world of web-delivered software.

Consumers, on the other hand, still spend more on Office licenses than the subscription edition. Those lines of businesses notched about $850 million in sales during the last quarter.

Office 365 commercial sales grew 43 percent during the quarter from the previous year. Traditional Office license sales fell 17 percent, a decline Microsoft attributes to companies opting to buy into the cloud version instead.

Microsoft has said that it...

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Lyft Dives Into Autonomous Vehicles with Level 5

Lyft said Friday that it is setting up its own unit to develop autonomous vehicle technology, but its approach will be different from other companies and partnerships working on self-driving cars.

The San Francisco-based ride-hailing service says it will open its network, inviting automakers and tech companies to use it to haul passengers and gather data. It may even share computer software and sensor technology.

Raj Kapoor, the company's chief strategy officer, says Lyft is pursuing the open strategy as a way to lead and bring the environmental and safety benefits of autonomous vehicles to market faster. Lyft brings network expertise to the table, he said. "We believe this is inevitable where the world is going. We need to be playing this role," he said.

Like other tech companies and automakers, Lyft has established partnerships with companies like Google's Waymo autonomous vehicle operation and with General Motors. It does not want to produce cars, but wants to make a standardized system for use on its network.

Just how it would make money off the system is yet to be determined, but it likely would take a cut of passenger fares from everyone who uses its network or shares its system. For example, General Motors, which has invested $500 million in Lyft, would be invited to run its own autonomous vehicles on Lyft's network. Data gathered by GM and vehicles from other companies would be used to help build high-definition maps that are needed for the vehicles to navigate streets across the world. The data also would be used to develop computers that would make decisions to run the autonomous vehicles.

Lyft is calling its unit "Level Five," the industry term for fully-autonomous vehicles. It expects to have 200 employees working on the vehicles in Palo Alto, California, by the end of the year.

The company, which...

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Inside AlphaBay’s World of Drugs, Guns and Hacking Tools

Two so-called "dark Web" sites dedicated to illegal drug and arms sales have been seized in an audacious sting operation, and the suspected ringleader has committed suicide, U.S. Justice Department officials said Thursday.

Canadian Alexandre Cazes, 25, who was suspected of creating an illegal online marketplace called AlphaBay, was arrested by Thai authorities earlier this month.

He committed suicide by hanging while in custody July 12, said Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office Eastern District of California.

Cazes had been charged in connection with running the black market site that Horwood called "much bigger" than Silk Road, a notorious dark Web marketplace seized by law enforcement in 2013.

European and American law enforcement authorities conducted an elaborate operation designed to fool AlphaBay users into revealing themselves.

The investigators shut down AlphaBay in a manner deliberately crafted to look like a heist. They hoped users would think that the site's administrator had absconded with their money and disappeared -- a common hazard on the dark Web -- and that they would take their business elsewhere.

In particular, investigators hoped that as news of the shutdown filtered through hacker sites and Web news sources, AlphaBay customers would switch to using another large and notorious black-market site called Hansa -- now in the secret control of Dutch National Police.

When AlphaBay's contraband business started turning up on Hansa, Dutch police were lying in wait. They used Hansa as a front for collecting evidence for a couple of weeks before it too was shut down.

"When I first heard about this, I thought, 'Oh, you guys have read too many novels,'" said Horwood. "But then it worked."

Cazes had been indicted on racketeering, narcotics and identity-theft related charges. Federal prosecutors Wednesday filed a civil forfeiture complaint against Cazes and his wife's assets.

These include a BMW motorcycle, a Lamborghini Aventador sportscar, condos...

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Update Your iPhone, iPad To Squash Dangerous Wi-Fi Bug

Apple yesterday made a number of security updates to its iOS mobile operating system, including a fix for a Wi-Fi chip vulnerability that could let hackers gain wireless access to iPhones and iPads.

The iOS 10.3.3 update addresses nearly four dozen security flaws, one of which, called "Broadpwn," lies in the Broadcom Wi-Fi chip used in many iPhones and Android devices. Google announced an Android fix for Broadpwn earlier this month. Apple's patch is available for the iPhone 5 and later, 4th-generation and later iPads, and the 6th-generation iPod touch.

The vulnerability could allow a remote actor to trigger a memory corruption error via Wi-Fi on a user's mobile device, according to details on Broadpwn from Security Tracker. That error could then enable the hacker to execute arbitrary code on the device without any actions by the user.

Chip Vulnerability on 'Millions' of Devices

Apple credits discovery of the Wi-Fi vulnerability to Nitay Artenstein, a security researcher with Exodus Intelligence. Artenstein is scheduled to discuss his findings later this month during a briefing at the Black Hat information security conference in Las Vegas.

"Remote exploits that compromise Android and iOS devices without user interaction have become an endangered species in recent years," Artenstein said in a description of his coming Black Hat presentation. "Such exploits present a unique challenge: Without access to the rich scripting environment of the browser, exploit developers have been having a hard time bypassing mitigations such as DEP and ASLR."

Rather than targeting a mobile device's operating system, though, Broadpwn takes aim at the Wi-Fi system on chip (SoC) that's used to handle a device's wireless connectivity. The vulnerability exists on "millions" of Android and iOS devices featuring the Broadcom SoC, Artenstein said.

"The Broadcom BCM43xx family of Wi-Fi chips is found in an extraordinarily wide range...

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Is the Future of the Contact Center in the Cloud?

DMG Consulting conducted a worldwide benchmark study regarding cloud-based applications, channels, and satisfaction in Q3 2013. This study of 169 enterprise, contact center, IT, operations, and sales and marketing executives, managers, and leaders in organizations of all sizes found that 62 percent of the respondents' organizations were already using one or more cloud-based contact center systems or applications. Moreover, nearly 46 percent of the responding companies not yet using a cloud-based contact center solution planned to do so in the next 18 months.

Top Uses for Cloud-Based Solutions

Contact centers were slow to get on board with cloud-based solutions, but the pace of adoption has picked up dramatically. Sixty percent of the benchmark study respondents are using cloud-based automatic call distributors, and more than 32 percent are using cloud-based dialers. Greater than half (52 percent) of the respondents are using cloud-based recorders, which aligns with market direction, where users of cloud-based contact center infrastructure typically utilize recording solutions provided by these vendors. Nearly 39 percent of the respondents are using CRM solutions in the cloud and almost 36 percent are using a cloud-based Web chat solution. Only 20 percent of respondents said that they were using a cloud-based workforce management (WFM) solution.

There are many takeaways from these findings, but an obvious one is that enterprises are increasingly using a hybrid approach, combining both on-premises and cloud-based solutions. DMG believes that this is the future direction for the contact center technology market, although we are already seeing companies asking their cloud-based infrastructure vendors to broaden their suites by providing more of the traditional add-on modules, such as WFM, quality assurance, surveying, and more.

Leading Concerns About Cloud-Based Contact Centers

Adoption of cloud-based contact center systems and applications is growing, but there are still many concerns from users and companies considering these solutions. Security continues to...

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Amazon Quietly Buys a Startup To Make Alexa Smarter

Amazon.com Inc. acquired a Santa Barbara data analysis and search engine start-up in May to help improve its Alexa virtual assistant and other services, according to four sources familiar with the deal but unauthorized to discuss it.

The previously unreported acquisition of Graphiq Inc. and its more than 100 employees has given Amazon a new Southern California outpost. It recently began looking to hire additional software developers and data associates in Santa Barbara to work on Alexa.

Investors in Graphiq made out with more than they put in, according to a source, suggesting the deal was worth at least tens of millions of dollars. Another source estimated the deal's value at $50 million. Amazon and Graphiq declined to comment.

Founded in 2009 as FindTheBest, the company sought to collect and organize details about products, places and people to simplify online research.

Graphiq Chief Executive Kevin O'Connor has said he came to the idea after struggling to find a reliable way to compare ski resorts while he planned a vacation and colleges as his son eyed further education. He wanted to see key information such as prices, hours and ratings in one online spreadsheet. Data came from public sources, employees and users. The company started generating revenue by selling ads alongside its tables.

The company later introduced features to tailor comparisons around individual preferences. And it launched websites and apps focused on specific topics such as technology, genealogy, real estate and government data. They draw millions of monthly readers.

Graphiq not only created a large, internal content development team, but also developed graph and chart tools so that news partners such as the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and the Associated Press could provide interactive visualizations in their articles.

Last month, Graphiq announced that features for news publishers would no longer be available after Friday. A company spokesperson last...

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