Tag: Google

The Real Problem with Driverless Cars

By Veronique Greenwood | April 28, 2012 8:08 am

When Nevada made driverless cars legal in the state last year, we armchair futurists sat up a little straighter. All of a sudden a number of meandering philosophical questions about how our society would have to change to embrace such technology seemed quite a bit more urgent. This question seemed especially pressing: Driverless cars are safer than those piloted by humans, but how would we feel about deaths caused by machines rather than people?

In our post on the topic we considered the ethics of the situation, but we think this recent short piece from Popular Science nails the liability angle on the issue: the real question, as far as car manufacturers are concerned, is not whether the cars are fundamentally safer, but who will should take legal responsibility for the accidents:

When a company sells a car that truly drives itself, the responsibility will fall on its maker. “It’s accepted in our world that there will be a shift,” says Bryant Walker Smith, a legal fellow at Stanford University’s law school and engineering school who studies autonomous-vehicle law. “If there’s not a driver, there can’t be driver negligence. The result is a greater share of liability moving to manufacturers.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Google's Augmented Reality Glasses Could Be On Your Face This Year

By Veronique Greenwood | February 22, 2012 5:27 am

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Like this…only on your face.

Wearing glasses that superimpose a layer of information—nearby pizza places, the local bus line, or, if you’re the Terminator, the amount of ammo left in your weapon—over reality is a long-held techie fantasy. Fighter pilots already use such “heads-up” displays to keep track of vital info while keeping their eyes ahead of them, but despite the constant low buzz about such augmented reality glasses for the rest of us, actual products have been few and far between. Now, though, Google employees speaking to the NYT’s Bits blog have confirmed that Google’s experimental lab is indeed building such a device. Due to come out at the end of the year, these “Google Goggles” are said to function basically as a smartphone you can wear on your face.

According the the Bits blog, users will be able to scroll around on the glasses’ tiny screen using small head motions. The glasses will also feature a low-res camera that monitor the world in front of the user and take pictures, but there are obviously privacy issues at stake with such a feature: apparently the team is currently discussing how to make it obvious to a bystander if the camera is on. The Google employees say that the glasses will not be released as a serious commercial product with a business plan, per se. At first, they will simply be an experiment that users can join. And if the glasses take off, well, then we’ll see about the money side of things.

Image courtesy of plantronicsgermany / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Why Google Thinks You Are (a) Male and (b) Old

By Veronique Greenwood | January 30, 2012 12:54 pm

google

A funny thing happened after Google’s new privacy policy was announced last week. When people started checking what Google knows about them on Ad Preferences Manager—that’s the profile of you they build by watching your movements on the Web, so they can tailor ads accordingly—young women began reporting that actually, Google had aged them quite a bit. And had thought they were dudes. One young lady of our acquaintance is believed by the Ad Preferences genie to be a “65+” male. Why?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

Google's Facebook-Like Anti-Facebook Aims for Privacy & Freedom

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | June 29, 2011 4:40 pm

What’s the News: To much fanfare, Google has released a preview version of Google+, their long-anticipated move into the social-networking space dominated in the U.S. by Facebook, whose meteoric growth challenges Google’s dominance over the Web itself. The new service lets users send messages and pictures to each other, like Facebook, but puts more emphasis on grouping and communicating with different groups of people, as with email or in meatspace (i.e., the real world).

The two consensus early reactions (from the small group of people who have access) are that the service is mostly smooth and functional, a welcome change after Google’s social flops Buzz and Wave; and that it sure looks a heck of a lot like Facebook. Will that be enough to challenge Facebook, whose enormous base of users have uploaded much of their lives to one social network and may not want to invest time in another?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

You Can Turn Your Phone into a Credit Card with Google Wallet. Will You?

By Veronique Greenwood | May 27, 2011 4:57 pm

wallet

What’s the News: Your phone can now be a credit card, thanks to Google Wallet, announced yesterday with great fanfare. With this system, when you swipe your phone over a sensor, a near-field communication (NFC) chip gives the merchant your credit card information. You punch in your PIN, and: cha-ching.

Google has partnered with 20,000 companies who will take payments this way, including Macy’s, American Eagle, and Subway.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Google Tries to Jump-Start the Driverless Car, But Big Questions Loom

By Veronique Greenwood | May 23, 2011 4:17 pm

What’s the News: Google’s self-driving cars have been generating buzz lately, with the news that the company has been lobbying Nevada to allow the autonomous vehicles to be operated on public roads. But it remains to be seen whether hordes of self-driving cars really going to work in the real world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

The Best (Cambridge, London) and Worst (Moscow, Taipei) Cities for Science

By Patrick Morgan | March 22, 2011 1:59 pm

What’s the News: Many evaluations of scientific excellence singling out specific universities or departments, but two European researchers have taken a different approach: They rated the top scientific cities by looking at what proportion of published science articles are highly cited. Cambridge, Massachusetts, came out as the winner in physics and chemistry (no surprise there—MIT and Harvard) for having lots of influential papers; London was tops in psychology; Moscow was the chemistry and physics loser; and Taipei, Taiwan was the low achiever in psychology.



How the Heck:

  • Researchers used a science database called Web of Science to count the number of total papers and influential papers produced in cities around the world in 2008. (In chemistry, for example, a total of 10,460 papers were published that year.)
  • The expectation was that 10% of each city’s papers would appear in the top 10% of the most-cited papers. Researchers tallied up the number of actually influential papers from each city and compared that with the expected figure.
  • The under-performing cities are plotted on Google Maps as red dots, while the over-performing are green. For example, on the chemistry-cities map, Moscow’s circle is the largest because it’s publishing the most chemistry papers, but it’s red because only 5 of its papers were in the top 10% of most-cited chemistry papers, far below the expected figure of 47.7 (10% of its output).

What’s the Context:

  • The northernmost city with more than expected highly cited papers was Tromso, Norway, proving that science can prosper even in the icy, inhospitable stretches of the Norwegian Sea.
  • While fewer in number than North America, Europe, and China, there is still some thriving science cities in countries in the Middle East, including Oman and Iran—though Iraq is noticeably blank.
  • Compared to the maps of physics and chemistry, there are far more successful psychology cities.

Not So Fast: As the researchers note, the study fuzzes over any distinctions that emerge on a smaller scale than a city—for instance, the maps don’t show any difference between a city with one superstar who publishes 10 influential papers and another city with a group of 10 researchers who each publish 1. And since the scoring is based on citations, it’s subject to biases based on renown, language, and resources; the same paper published by a famous researcher at Oxford will get more notice than if it were published in Nigeria.

Reference: arxiv.org/abs/1103.3216: Lutz Bornmann and Loet Leydesdorff, Which Cities Produce Worldwide More Excellent Papers Than Can Be Expected? A New Mapping Approach—Using Google Maps—Based On Statistical Significance Testing

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

News Roundup: Why the Sun Lost Its Spots

By Andrew Moseman | March 3, 2011 12:27 pm

  • While modeling plasma flows deep inside the sun, scientists may have found an explanation for why some sunspots cycles (like the most recent one) are weaker than others. “It’s the flow speed during the cycle before that seems to dictate the number of sunspots. Having a fast flow from the poles while a cycle is ramping up, followed by a slow flow during its decline, results in a very deep minimum.”
  • Risky business: In defending President Obama’s vision for space exploration that relies upon commercial space companies, NASA administrator Charles Bolden says the country must “become unafraid of exploration. We need to become unafraid of risks.”
  • Bad timing: Just as Apple unveils its new iPad—and Steve Jobs uses the opportunity to gloat about his company’s superiority in apps compared to Google’s Android system—Google had to take 21 apps off the Android Market because they were infected with malware.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Journal Roundup, Physics & Math, Space

News Roundup: Gmail Crashes, Fire Ant Invasions, & Scientists in Space

By Andrew Moseman | February 28, 2011 3:41 pm

  • Who needs a vomit comet? The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Colorado reached a deal with Virgin Galactic to send some of its scientists up on SpaceShipTwo’s suborbital flights, allowing them to conducts tests in weightlessness.
  • Fire ants may have originated in South America, but their home base for invading the world at large is right here in the United States. So says a new study of more than 2,000 fire ant colonies spread around the globe.
  • Gone in a flash: About 150,000 Gmail users woke up to find their mailboxes wiped clean—messages, folders, and all. Google is racing to recover the lost correspondences. In the meantime, this is a reminder of two things. First, you should back up your email. And second, Google is really, really big. Those 150,000 people represent just .08 percent of Gmail users.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Journal Roundup, Space, Technology

Google Street View Runs Into Controversies in Switzerland and Israel

By Patrick Morgan | February 24, 2011 4:51 pm

Last year, Google raised the ire of many when it confessed that its city-mapping Street View vehicles unintentionally gathered unencrypted Wi-Fi data as they rolled past people’s abodes. To fix its image and to fend off lawsuits, the company soon tightened its privacy policies and ensured that its Street View cars stopped collecting that information. But the controversies just won’t stop. Google is now trying to convince privacy-conscious Swiss officials to drop the country’s tight Street View restrictions, while security-conscious Israeli officials are concerned that the technology will help terrorists.

Twenty-seven countries have been partially mapped via Street View, a Google product that provides 360-degree panoramic views from ground level. The company creates these images by sending groups of camera-studded vehicles to various parts of the world to snap pictures as they drive.

Although Switzerland is home to one of Google’s largest offices outside the United States, the country has strict privacy laws that have prevented Google from loading new Street View images of Switzerland for the past year. On Thursday, Google petitioned a Swiss court to lift this ban. The search engine company told Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court that its technology automatically conceals the identity of faces and license plates, and that it is no different from rival services.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology
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