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Google Translate accuracy instantly improved with neural learning

(TECH NEWS) Google Translate announced they will use neural learning to improve their accuracy – what does it all mean?!

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google translate

Ten years of translation

Google announced they will use neural learning to improve their translation services. Google translate has been around for ten years, and has grown considerably in that time from translation a few languages to 103.

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Although it wasn’t perfect, it put mostly functional translation at the public’s fingertips, which was a game changer for many personal and professional interactions that take place online and across borders.

What have they been using?

Until now, Google Translate has been powered by statistical machine translation , a paradigm in which translations are made by using statistical models that are formed by large pieces of bilingual texts.

This was a new way to use machine learning but could only take Google so far in their ambitious universal translation goals.

Where no dictionary has gone before

Barak Turovsky, the lead of Google Translate, explained in a blog post that the future lies in Neural Machine Translation.

The technique involves translating at a higher level of understanding, for example, looking at an entire sentence instead of each individual word. This lets it use more context to determine the best, rather than most literal, translation.

It also will produce translations that have already been rearranged and adjusted to the more natural, instead of delivering a scramble of individually translated words.

This will be especially useful when translating longer passages, where grammar and continuity become crucial for understanding.

What’s the dealio, yo?

Turovsky didn’t get into the nitty gritty, but explained that this “end-to-end” approach to translation is made possible because the translation system will learn over time to create better more human-like translations.

“With this update, Google translate is improving more in a single leap than we’ve seen in the last ten years combined.”

The new system will be implemented first with the most commonly requested languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Turkish.

Along with the new system, which will eventually be expanded to include all 103 languages, they released Google Cloud Translation API which makes the Neural Machine Translation engine available for business to use. Google also gave a shout out to the Translate Community, where multi-linguistic users can help contribute and review translations to help the hive mind talk more like a real boy.

Although this is exciting news that might lead to more unity in our digitally-global society, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad that it might herald an end to the funny Google Translate videos like this one.

#NeuralLearning

Felix is a writer, online-dating consultant, professor, and BBQ enthusiast. She lives in Austin with two warrior-princess-ninja-superheros and some other wild animals. You can read more of her musings, emo poetry, and weird fiction on her website.

Tech News

Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)

(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.

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Open laptop on desk, open to map privacy options

It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.

Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.

One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.

In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.

Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.

It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.

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Google added Driving Mode, and they need your help to fill in the blanks

(TECH NEWS) Google wants you to help build out their driving mode, and all you have to do is annoy every last person around you.

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Google Maps releases a Driving Mode, held in hand.

Google is trying to map the planet and everything on it. An ever-hungry juggernaut dragon, there is some noble utility to having every mappable atom cataloged by their Sauron gaze. They’ve got goofy cars with oversized eyeball cameras gleefully running along every last street in existence, and their dance of taking photos is going to last until the end of time. It’s not even like they are shy about announcing it – HEY THIS IS A GOOGLE CAR AND WE’RE TAAAAAAKING PICTUUUUUURES.

These efforts are a bit hampered at the moment between various travel bans, which – while understandable – means that the beast can’t be sated. But Google is resourceful and full of smart people, and they know that most people are probably pretty bored and need excuses to move around. Bonus – it’s pretty safe to do so in your car (at least in terms of COVID-19 exposure), and everyone needs a change of scenery here and there.

First spotted by users at Reddit last week, Google has opened up a new “Driving Mode” option for their mobile navigation app. It lets users upload photos to their Street View service, which in turn can then be shared out to the internet at large. As a bonus, it blurs out faces and license plates to protect privacy. I guess the paranoid part of me wonders if the app secretly saves data in an  unblurred state, but that means there would have to be a nefarious reason to amass that kind of data.

For the time being, let’s ignore that potentially troubling thought and focus on the positive that Google is providing here – a way to more quickly clear out all the dead gray space their maps might still be riddled with. I’m that friend who doesn’t trust that the address painted on your curb, so I’m totally down for knowing what you meant by “the one with the red door and the big blue thing.”

It’s crowdsourcing at its most genuine and distilled – an army of free freelancers working to collect data on a gargantuan project that might bankrupt even the largest tech giants of the world. If we focused the entirety of Instagram to a specific task, and a willing audience rose up and immediately contributed, we could get enough data to solve practically anything. Google is more or less taking Uber’s model and applying it to data aggregation and collection, and I can’t really fault them for that.

You may be wondering how useful this is, or even if it carries any utility at all. I think the answer there hinges on 2 things to consider. The first is simple – Google hasn’t fully mapped everything out. This includes rural areas in developed countries, to vast expanses in several others. If the thought is that we can better visualize the world in an effort to benefit humanity at large, then this endeavor is highly worthwhile.

The second thing to think about is just how usable the uploaded photos are, and this will rely on the devices themselves. Google could mitigate this by controlling software and hardware version minimums, with requirements that a camera must be able to provide images at a high bit quality. This would cut down on bad data or unusable pictures. Surely there’s a review process for final approval on top of that. In the end, this should ensure pictures that clearly convey visual data properly. (Of course, sometimes you’ll still get weird or funny stuff.)

If there’s one downside to any of this, it is that nagging feeling of another minor intrusion on privacy. When Google drives their cars around, it’s hard to miss their mechanical extremities and brightly colored paint jobs. When some rando down the road loads up a camera in their ‘96 Sonata and starts snapping pics, I could see that making some people upset. At the worst, you could say Google is encouraging unscrupulous behavior (or at least very annoying behavior), but I see enough Facebook updates from people telling me what coffee they drank for the day, so maybe no one is too worried. I guess you could worry about someone keeping any compromising photos, but Google can’t be held responsible for that.

For now, the rollout appears to be controlled at this time, as it’s not widely available to everyone, and there’s no clear indication on when and how it will be publicly released everywhere. Hit the road everyone.

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Tech News

Microsoft engineer *almost* gets away with $10 million

(TECH NEWS) It was almost the perfect scheme, but this Microsoft engineer messed up and is heading for prison instead.

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The front of the Microsoft office with large Microsoft logo.

Volodymyr Kvashuk, a former Microsoft engineer from Ukraine, is facing 9 years in prison for attempting to steal $10 million from his employer. He has been ordered to pay over $8 million in restitution fees, and may even face deportation after his prison term is complete.

Here’s how it all went down:

Kvashuk’s position as a program tester for the Microsoft Online store gave him access to a “whitelisted” store account, which automatically bypassed fraud detection protocols, to test store functionality. Purchases through whitelisted accounts were supposed to be void, but Kvashuk discovered that he was able to use the account to purchase legitimate store gift cards.

At first, he only used the credit to make small unauthorized purchases, like software and graphics cards. But nobody seemed to notice, because the purchases were linked to fake payment devices, and so Kvashuk got bolder.

He went on to make larger and larger transactions, selling his stolen Microsoft store credit for bitcoin online and spending the money on a new house and car.

As the stakes escalated, he eventually started taking more measures to conceal his tracks- like sending his largest sums through a “mixing” service to conceal their origins before he deposited them into his proper bank account. The funds were even properly reported to the IRS, but he claimed they were a gift from his dad.

Yet Kvashuk made a few damning mistakes that allowed investigators to track him down.

Most egregiously, despite being wise enough to use a VPN for this activity, he regularly reused the same connection (and therefore the same IP address). This acted like a trail of breadcrumbs that linked his known accounts and the ones directly involved with his scheme.

Investigators also highlighted the uncanny timing of the transactions in question, stating “The value of the bitcoin deposits to Kvashuk’s Coinbase account generally correlated with the value of the purchased and redeemed [Microsoft credit].”

“Stealing from your employer is bad enough,” US Attorney Brian Moran stated, “but stealing and making it appear that your colleagues are to blame widens the damage beyond dollars and cents.”

In the end, Krashuk got justice. He was found guilty of “five counts of wire fraud, six counts of money laundering, two counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of filing false tax returns, and one count each of mail fraud, access device fraud, and access to a protected computer in furtherance of fraud,” according to court documents.

That’s quite the laundry list of offenses, but it can all be boiled down to a few simple words: “You really messed up, man.”

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