Amazon wants help improving Alexa

Online book seller Amazon.com has launched a new programme to help students build capabilities into its voice controlled assistant Alexa.

The e-commerce company said it is paying for a year long doctoral fellowship at four universities.

Working with professors, the Alexa Fund Fellows will help students tackle complex technology problems in class on Alexa, like how to convert text to speech or process conversation.

Amazon and Google is locked in a race to develop and make cash from artificial intelligence. Amazon has made it easy for third party developers to create skills for Alexa so it can get better faster – a tactic it now is extending to the classroom.

The other idea is that Amazon might be able to recruit sought after engineers whose studies will make them more familiar with Alexa than with other voice controlled assistants.

Schools signed up for the programme include Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, the University of Southern California and Canada’s University of Waterloo.

Doug Booms, vice president of worldwide corporate development at Amazon, said that the fellowship’s goal is to excite the next generation of scholars about natural language understanding and other voice technologies, not to produce research for Amazon.

Students’ projects will remain their own intellectual property.

For example at the University of Waterloo, students are improving Alexa’s interaction with air conditioners so it understands requests to cool a room to its normal temperature, without requiring the user to specify a number in Celsius.

ZTE cuts a deal with US prosecutors over Iran

ZTE is close to cutting a deal with US prosecutors over its Iran dealings.

Apparently ZTE will plead guilty to US criminal charges and pay hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties over allegations it violated US laws that restrict sale of US technology to Iran. We guess the upside of the deal is that the US will not shut the company down and prevent it using US tech in its products,

The company has not yet signed a deal with the US Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Justice and the US Department of Treasury, but it is pretty likely. ZTE really wants the incident to go away.

The only thing that can really go wrong is if Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump takes an interest. Trump is very much against Iran because his chum Bibi Netanyahu wants a world war against the country.  Trump also does not like Chinese companies coming into the US either so might take the opportunity to scuttle any deal.

ZTE is expected to plead guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, among other charges, the source said, and pay penalties in the hundreds of millions.

The Commerce Department investigation followed reports by Reuters in 2012 that the company had signed contracts to ship millions of dollars worth of hardware and software from some of America’s best-known technology companies to Iran’s largest telecoms carrier.

Jim Mackey leaves Blackberry

Blackberry head of corporate development and strategy,Jim Mackey has quietly cleaned out his desk and snuck out of the building without anyone noticing.

Mackey left the company in the middle of February and it appears that no-one has thought to alert the media. The move does dump Blackberry in it somewhat as it lacks leadership as it tried to move from smartphone hardware to software.

Mackey, who was executive vice president, executive operations, made his own announcement on social notworking site Linkedin. He did not give a reason and became unavailable for comment.

Blackberry, which in late 2013 issued a press release on the hiring of Mackey, did not announce his exit. Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard refused to answer any questions either.

Mackey worked directly with Blackberry Chief Executive John Chen, navigating the purchase and integration of a string of acquisitions and the signing of major partnership agreements.

Beard said in the interview that the company had largely completed its software portfolio and needed to push hard to win more customers, including by adding partners.

“The biggest issue we have is not getting invited to the table because the customer doesn’t know that BlackBerry is doing that. That’s the challenge.”

Grab popcorn for South Korea’s trial of the century

Samsung Group supreme dalek Jay Y. Lee will go on trial for bribery and embezzlement next week a court ruled in what will be the latest episode in a corruption scandal that has rocked South Korea and led to the impeachment of the president.

Lee, the 48 year old third generation leader of the country’s top conglomerate, was indicted on Tuesday on charges including pledging $37.24 million in payments to a confidant of President Park Geun-hye.

The trial is important on many levels. If Lee is found guilty there will be a question as to whether he will get away with it because he is the head of a very large corporation.

South Korea is rather soft on corporate leaders who can more or less do what they like. The country is not that happy about jailing people who are believed to be good for the economy.

Lee has been charged with bribery and embezzlement in a case that has dealt a blow to the standard bearer for Asia’s fourth largest economy.

Among the charges against Lee are pledging bribes to a company and organisations tied to Park’s confidant, Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the centre of the scandal, to cement his control of the business empire.

The funding also included Samsung’s sponsorship of the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter, prosecutors say. So it looked like Samsung literally backed the wrong horse.

Legislation appointing the special prosecutor states that the trial should be finished in three months.

President Parl was the daughter of a former military strongman, and has had her powers suspended since her impeachment by parliament in December.

Appeals court backs Apple against Texas troll

US court in deep in the heart of Texas

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided to save the fruity tax-dodging cargo cult from the clutches of a patent troll.

The court decided to throw out the verdict of a two-year old legal case against Apple based on data storage patents.

The original verdict reached by a Texas jury stuck Apple with $533 million in damages.  It had been hoping for a hanging but settled for the next best thing.

Smartflash mostly targeted game developers who largely all settled out of court in 2014, but Apple defended its use of data storage management and payment processing technology in court.

The trial judge vacated the large damages award a few months after a Texas federal jury imposed it in February 2015, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said on Wednesday the judge should have ruled Smartflash’s patents invalid and set aside the verdict entirely.

A unanimous three-judge appeals panel said Smartflash’s patents were too “abstract” and did not go far enough in describing an actual invention to warrant protection.

It is unlikely that Smartflash will rise again to hit other companies.

 

New drivers using smartphones could lose their licence

Under tough new rules in England, Scotland and Wales, drivers caught using a phone within two years of passing their test will have their licence revoked.

The tough new penalties for using a phone at the wheel double from March 1 to six points and a £200 fine. New drivers who get six points or more must retake their practical and theory.

More experienced drivers can be banned if they get 12 points in three years. This means that checking your social media or texts when queuing in traffic or stopped at traffic lights could cost you your licence.

This is only the tip of the iceberg for what you can be charged with too. In the UK coppers could charge people with shedloads of other offences if they are seen being on their mobile phones.

You can use your phones sat nav as long as the phone is mounted in a hands-free holder.

It appears that Blighty coppers have had enough of accidents caused by people using their mobile phones. Cognitive testing shows that smartphone use when driving is about the same as being over the drinking and driving limit. Goodness knows what would happen if you are drink driving and checking your emails.

IBM owns out of hours emails

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is furious that IBM has managed to score a patent on out of hours emails.

The EFF said it is bringing light to what it calls a “stupefyingly mundane” patent on e-mail technology which turns Biggish Blue into a spectacular troll.

For years IBM lawyers has argued with the US Patent and Trademark Office over a bizarre and alarming alternative history, in which IBM invented out of office e-mail—in 2010.

US Patent No. 9,547,842, “Out-of-office electronic mail messaging system” was filed in 2010 and granted about six weeks ago.

EFF lawyer Daniel Nazer described the case as the “Stupid Patent of the Month” blog post and cites a Microsoft publicity page that talks about quirky out of office e-mail culture dating back to the 1980s, when Microsoft marketed its Xenix e-mail system.

To be fair an IBM spokesperson said that “IBM has decided to dedicate the patent to the public”. The company notified USPTO today that it will forego its rights to the patent.

But the patent should never have been awarded.

IBM offers one feature that’s even arguably not decades old –  the ability to notify those writing to the out of office user some days before the set vacation dates begin.

It is a  feature, similar to “sending a postcard, not from a vacation, but to let someone know you will go on a vacation,” is a “trivial change to existing systems,” Nazer points out.

Nazer said that here were some major mistakes made during the examination process. The examiner never considered whether the software claims were eligible after the Supreme Court’s Alice v. CLS Bank decision, which came in 2014, and in Nazer’s view, the office “did an abysmal job” of looking at the prior art.

Nazer said the office “never considered any of the many, many, existing real-world systems that pre-dated IBM’s application”.

Needless to say, IBM is not one of those companies who likes the Alice judgement much.  It is lobbying Congress to roll back Alice and allow more types of software patents.

Rather than making trolls go away, it will mean that even more bizarre ones could get the nod by the Patent Office. After all IBM once applied to patent shorter meetings, it did not get anywhere with it, but it is the sort of thing it wants to be paid for.

Marissa Mayer gives her bonus to staff

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced today via her Tumblr page that she will be redistributing her annual bonus and equity stock grant to Yahoo employees to make up for two security hacks which thumped the company.

An independent committee Yahoo brought on to investigate the hacks found the company to be at fault for not sufficiently responding to the security incidents.

The committee said that while significant additional security measures were implemented in response to those incidents, it appears certain senior executives did not properly comprehend or investigate, or act on information provided internally by the company’s information security team. Because of the hacks, Yahoo’s top lawyer, Ron Bell, was fired.

Mayer has accumulated about $162 million during the five years she’s spent as the company’s CEO in both salary and stock awards. She’s also due about $55 million in severance if she decides to leave the company following its acquisition by Verizon.

While it is nice that Mayer is giving her cash to the employees, most of the victims of the security fiasco were customers and users, who are no doubt organising a class action as we write.

Trump’s FCC boss calls Net Neutrality a mistake

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said today that net neutrality was “a mistake” and the Commission was taking steps to turn it into a telco’s wet dream.

Pai said that net neutrality injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market and uncertainty was the enemy of growth.

To be fair Pai has always been opposed to net neutrality and voted against the proposal when it came up in 2015. He had been widely expected to dismantle net neutrality to allow telos to charge people what they like. Basically, Pai’s thinks that internet providers were doing just fine under the old rules and that the new ones have hurt investment.

Both of those points have been discounted. There’s little competition in the wired broadband market, and Consumerist investigated the investment claims in early 2016 and found that internet providers were estimated to spend more in the coming year.

“Today, the torch at the FCC has been passed to a new generation, dedicated to renewal as well as change. We are confident in the decades-long, cross-party consensus on light-touch internet regulation … and we are on track to returning to that successful approach,” Pai said.

He cites the commission’s approval of zero-rating schemes — this, he says, is exactly why all four carriers are now offering unlimited data plans.

This is also rubbish as zero rating isn’t involved in these plans at all. Telcos offer highly competitive unlimited data plans because the last FCC chairman kept them in a competitive environment, leaving four nationwide wireless providers and a clear set of rules for them to follow.

Pai seems to think that the FCC should do nothing unless there’s a huge market failure and that competition can preserve an open internet even without rules.

The fact that the US telcos are hardly in competition and well just use their quasi-monopoly powers to double charge heavy web users is no part of Pai’s reality.

Nvidia shows off GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

Nvida just lifted its kimono on the long-rumoured GeForce GTX 1080 Ti during the San Francisco Games Developers Conference.

The card will sit at the top of Nvidia’s  GeForce offerings snuggled alongside the Titan X and GeForce GTX 1080. According to Nvidia’s marketing material the GTX 1080 Ti, promising significant performance gains over the GTX 1080 and faster than Titan X performance, for a much lower price of $699.

The 12 billion Nvidia GP102 transistors on the card have 3,584 CUDA cores, which is the same as Nvidia’s Titan X.

However, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti will have fewer ROP units at 88, versus 96 in the Titan X.

The 1080 Ti will also, however, come equipped with 11GB of premium GDDR5X memory from Micron clocked at 11,000 MHz for an effective 11Gbps data rate.

Peak compute throughput of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is slightly higher than the Titan X due to the Ti’s higher boost clock.

Memory bandwidth over its narrower 352-bit GDDR5 memory interface is 484GB/s, which is also slightly higher than a Titan X as well. Nvidia’s also noted that peak overclocks on the core should hit 2GHz or higher if the wind is in the right direction.

This means that the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti will be faster than the Titan X out of the box, faster still when overclocked.

Nvidia is having to compete with cheaper and just as effective offerings coming out from AMD so the card had to be pretty good.