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Google’s ambitious plans to change every device on the planet

(BUSINESS NEWS) Google has been quietly, patiently waiting to launch their next big thing in technology and it has the potential to take over every device on the planet, if it catches on.

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Google on a whole nutha level

Google CEO, Sundar Pichai has plans to take Google to the next level. In an effort to stay ahead of the technology pack, running against Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and other competitors, Google is looking to the future to maintain their position.

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Pinchai sees the future of technology with endless possibilities, but for now they want to focus their development in one critical area: AI (Artificial Intelligence). While Forbes covered Pinchai’s career and plans to innovate Google’s vision even further, I feel it’s important to summarize their main points so we can get to the heart of the matter: the race of AI technology.

Why AI technology?

Miguel Helft at Forbes writes, “computing is already moving to multiple screens and in some instances-such as Amazon’s surprise hit Echo smart speaker- no screens. Interactions with devices and apps are quickly becoming two-way conversations, sometimes employing smart ‘bots’ promoted by Microsoft, Facebook, and others (remember we covered Yahoo’s launch of bots on Kik?).”

The desire to interact more with technology and less face-to-face with another human being is becoming glaringly obvious. The desire for advanced AI technology is already here; now, it’s merely a race to see who can launch the biggest, best, most engaging piece of AI technology quickest.

If others are already developing AI, what’s Google thinking?

Again, I turn to the Forbes article by Helft, “artificial intelligence has been in Google’s wheelhouse for years. [They] invested in fundamental building blocks such as voice recognition, language understading, and machine translation long before most of their rivals.”

And after years of preparation, Pichai says, the company is ready to bring all that work together in compelling products that will keep the company ahead of the competition.

Pinchai told Forbes, “we have this vision of a shift from mobile-first to an AI-first world over many years.”

At the annual Google I/O conference, Pinchai revealed the first prototype to fully use Google’s AI efforts: a smart speaker called Google Home. Sound familiar? This device seems to be a direct answer to Amazon’s Echo. Google Home isn’t the only product set to launch, however. They also plan to launch a messaging app called Allo. This is likely a direct response to WhatsApp, Kik, and other popular messaging platforms. Gmail is widely popular (with over 1 billion users), but what it lacks is a messenger to appeal to the younger crowed. Google may be hoping Allo is the answer for what this particular platform is lacking. Allo and Google Home will both be powered by  a “Google assistant” (a bit like Siri), but in their eyes, more engaging.

The Google assistant will offer users a way to interact with Google itself. You can play music, reply to messages, order flowers, ask Google to take notes for you and more. It will be there, in every aspect of your life, to help you get things done. Pinchai states, “You are trying to go about your day, and in an ambient way, things are there to help you.” Getting the assistant just right, however, is going to take a bit of time, and Amazon has already launched Echo; thus, Google’s energetic desire to press forward.

How does Google plan to push past Amazon and other competitors?

Four years ago, Google formed a break-away company appropriately called Google Brain to develop much of the intelligence that will push Google into the AI running. This team, according to Forbes, will conduct research and experiment with AI programming techniques like deep learning and neutral networks. Google had this technology is their arsenal before, but were unable to fully test it due to the massive amounts of computing power required. One of their recent improvements, Google Photos, was released about a year ago and used a bit of AI technology they’d been developing.

Google Photos has the ability to recognize and search images and then automatically organize them. The same method that worked for these photos, Google found, could be applied to voice recognition, translation, and other similar tasks. Also, this same technology used for Google Photos, is able to power StreetView’s ability to distinguish and “read” signs, as well as, Project Sunroof’s ability to identify rooftops using aerial photography to determine whether or not a roof can support solar panels. According to Forbes, “it’s also enabling a small experimental team to effectively detect diabetic retinopathy” by looking at retina scans.

Pinchai is convinced a few smart features like Photos along with the Chrome browser will help them gain a following; and with the launch of Allo (available late this summer), will help them gain an even greater following. Smart Reply will be integrated and automatically suggest three different prewritten answers to a message based on its content. According to Forbes, “Google developed Smart Reply in less than a year and first tested it in Inbox, a mobile e-mail app. It allows users on the go to select one of the answers and reply with a single tap.”  With Allo, Google took this one step further, “blending Smart Reply with image recognition, so it can suggest responses to photos via message.”  This will help users reply faster, spending less time typing an answer. In Allo, the Google assistant might also pop up in the middle of a conversation, depending on the subject matter, to help you book a restaurant, or plan a trip. Much like Siri does if you mention a time or date within your conversation.

The takeaway

Pinchai is conviced Google is further along than their competitors, citing AlphaGo. AlphaGo is a computer program that plays the board game Go. It’s the first computer Go program to beat a professional human player. The same algorithms used to create AlphaGo, could be developed further and applied to more practical problems according to Pinchai. He stated, “When you look at machine learning and AI, there are things you can do now, some in two to three years and some that are deeper and will take more time to do.”  Many technology enthusiasts, like Harvard professor Yoffie, believe Google is well-positioned to lead the transition to an AI-powered world if they continue to  make the same types of “good” decisions.

I think Google certainly has the research, assets, and  determination to get things done in terms of AI, but it seems like Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon, already have a head start on them as they’ve already launches their products. What do you think? Is Google poised to dominate the AI-world, or will someone else push ahead and get things done?

#googleAI

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Business News

Plastic bags are making a comeback, thanks to COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Plastic bags are back, whether you like it or not – at least for now.

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Plastic bags

Single use plastic bags are rising like a phoenix from the ashes of illegality all over the country, from California to New York. Reusable bags are falling out of favor in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It’s a logical step: the less something is handled, generally, the safer it is going to be. And porous paper bags are thought to have a higher potential to spread the virus through contact.

It’s worth mentioning that single use plastic bags are considerably more
environmentally efficient to manufacture compared to paper, cloth, and reusable plastic bags. Per unit, they require very little material to make and are easily mass produced. It also goes without saying that they have a very short lifespan, after which they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, or drifting through oceans.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to deny that single use plastics have the potential to be as dangerous to humans as COVID-19. Coronavirus is a very immediate existential threat to us in the United States, but the scale of the global crises that stem from the irresponsible consumption of cheap disposable goods, also cannot be overstated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t going anywhere. (And did you know that it’s just one of many huge garbage patches around the world?)

So… what exactly are we going to do about the comeback of plastic bags? Because to be honest, I used to work in grocery retail, and it is difficult and often unrewarding. So, I wouldn’t exactly love handling potentially contaminated tote bags all day in the midst of a pandemic if I were still a supermarket employee. You couldn’t pay me enough to feel comfortable with that – forget minimum wage!

I used to have a plastic bag stuffed full of other plastic bags sitting in my kitchen, like American nesting dolls, before disposable plastics fell from grace. (I’m sure some of y’all know exactly what I’m talking about.) This bag of bags was never a point of pride. It got really annoying because it just kept growing. There are only so many practical home uses for the standard throw-away plastic shopping bag. Very small trash can liners; holding snarls of unused cables, another thing I accumulate for no reason; extremely low-budget packing material; one could get crafty and somehow weave them into a horrible sweater, I guess.

I don’t miss my bag of bags. I don’t want to have to deal with another. Hey, Silicon Valley? Got any disruptive ideas for this one?

Even if we concede that disposable plastics are a necessary evil in the fight against COVID-19, the fact remains that they stick around long after you’re done with them. That’s true whether you throw them out or not.

I’m not trying to direct blame anywhere. Of course businesses should do their best to keep their customers and staff safe, and if that means using plastic bags, so be it. Without clear guidance from our federal government, every part of society has been fumbling and figuring out how to keep one another healthy with the tools they’ve got at hand. (…Well, almost every part.)

The changes to the state bag bans have been cautious and temporary so far, which is a small relief. But nobody really knows how much longer the pandemic will rage on and necessitate the relaxations.

I won’t pretend that I have a sure solution. All I can really ask is that we all be extra mindful of our usage of these disposable plastic products. Let’s think creatively about what we might otherwise throw away. We must not trade one apocalypse for another.

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Business News

Scammers are taking advantage of the unemployed

(BUSINESS NEWS) In a country that’s been stricken by higher-than-ever levels of unemployment, scammers have found a unique way to target this vulnerable demographic.

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With unemployment rates reaching unprecedented levels in recent months, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that there’s something that many of us currently have in common: we need a job. While these levels are slowly starting to decline, already down to 11.1 percent in June from an all-time high of 14.7 percent in April, the need for steady gainful employment is still great for many Americans. That’s what makes the newest scam making its rounds particularly vile.

There’s a common misconception that people who get scammed largely deserved their misfortune. Whether it’s presumed that they got greedy, they fell for something that was too good to be true, or they were looking for an easy way out, it’s both unfair and unkind to make these snap judgements of victims of scammers. When it comes to scammers, there’s only one party to blame for these wrongful actions — the scammers themselves.

And with literally millions of people looking for a job right now, these scammers have found a new round of susceptible people to target. It’s a fairly well documented fact that scammers have a knack for knowing who will be easy prey, and this latest scam is no different. According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers have ramped up their efforts to separate desperate job seekers from what’s left of their meager funds.

This scam is nothing new, but it has surged in popularity with the sheer number of people looking for jobs in today’s economy. Dubbed the “employment scam,” it can take on many forms, but the end result remains the same. At the end of the day, if a person is bilked out of their money, then the scammer has won.

What does this scam look like, and how can you safeguard yourself from falling prey to it? Please note that anyone — from all walks of life, no matter your age, your sex, your race, or any other factor — can become a victim of a scam. The only way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scam and recognize the signs of it. If a potential employer asks any of the following of you, then there’s a good chance they’re a scammer:

  • You are required to pay the so-called employer for your own training up front.
  • You are expected to give up your banking/personal info for a credit check.
  • You are overpaid by a fraudulent check and told to wire back the difference.
  • You are told that you need to pay for expensive equipment to work from home.

Please note that these scammers can spoof legitimate companies. They may try to pass themselves off as real-deal businesses; they’ve even tried to emulate the BBB itself. And when you refuse to follow through with their demands, they will double down and might even become hostile and aggressive, resorting to threats and cajoling. It’s important to not cave in; once they start bullying you, they know the gig is up.

The BBB also notes that coronavirus has created a “perfect storm” for scammers, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. They advise that you avoid social isolation, as that can make you more vulnerable to scammers. When in doubt, seek out a friend’s feedback. Sometimes a reality check can make all the difference in whether or not you become a mark. Do a little bit of digging online before you accept an “offer” or share personal information. And finally, be prudent. No matter how many warnings the BBB puts out each year about scams, the only person who can really protect you from getting scammed is just one person…yourself.

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Business News

American Express’ cash back program helps members support small businesses

(BUSINESS NEWS) Between now and September 20th, AMEX is providing $50 in credits to their cardholders to support local businesses.

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cashback program

It’s no secret that coronavirus has been nothing short of devastating for small businesses. Even with the Small Business Administration (SBA) offering financial relief in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), many small businesses are still struggling to keep their doors open. So far, the numbers have been astronomical — to the tune of some 100,000 small businesses closing down permanently, according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research — and they’re expected to continue to rise as the pandemic drags on.

With that in mind, American Express has come forward with their own disaster relief program of sorts. Between now and the 20th of September, the credit card company will be offering a cash back rewards incentive for their cardholders. The program is fairly simple and straightforward: for every $10 (or more) that you spend at a small business, Amex will give you a $5 statement credit on your account. This can be repeated up to ten times, for a total of $50 in rewards. Not bad, huh? But the question remains: what’s a mere $50 in the grand scheme of things, and will it actually help out small businesses in the long run?

Well, first and foremost, $50 is no small chunk of change. For most of us, it’s a fairly decent perk, especially since it requires us to do what we would have done anyway (shop at local businesses). Whether you feel like getting takeout from your local mom-and-pop restaurant, you’re going to pick up a few groceries for dinner tonight at your corner market, or you need to take Fido in for a checkup at your neighborhood veterinary clinic, these activities all count toward the reward program. You’re literally getting paid for shopping locally. Easy peasy.

And secondly, historic data does prove that these incentives do work. Amex rolled out their first small business reward program back in 2010, called Small Business Saturday®, as a response to the mass consumerism of Black Friday. In 2015, the SBA decided to get in on the fun and joined forces with Amex, sponsoring the program. Even better, a study from 2019 revealed that a whopping $19.6 billion was funneled back into local economies thanks to the initiative. So while “just” $50 may not seem like much, it adds up to impressive numbers when seen from a more macroscopic perspective.

This isn’t the only program that has Amex’s name standing behind it, either. The company is also the driving force behind the Stand for Small program, which unifies larger businesses who are offering their own helping hand to smaller businesses. Whether you’re looking for assistance in managing your expenses, or you’re in need of help in growing your online presence, the Stand for Small program was designed to help make this possible. Large names like Amazon and eBay are included in the ranks that have rallied behind Stand for Small, lending clout to this program.

So what’s a little extra $50? Is it worth it to you? Sure, the intentions of some of these companies may be somewhat less than magnanimous — there’s no arguing that there’s something in it for them, as well — it doesn’t change the fact that in an economy that’s been crippled by COVID-19, they’re actually doing something instead of just sitting there idly and waiting for someone else to take action.

That, at least, has to be worth something. And if you’re wanting to get your hands on a share of the cool fifty bucks courtesy of Amex, they’d like to remind you that you do need to enroll in the rewards program no later than July 26. If you don’t, you may miss out on your opportunity to help keep small businesses afloat (while also enjoying an extra $5 in your pocket here or there), courtesy of American Express.

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