Google extends its tendrils into new arenas so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up. This week the giant tech company is creating digital art museums, challenging the hackers of the world, letting you play doctor on your tablet, and messing around with fractals.
Google Art Project
Going to an art museum: Sure, it’s a great way to improve your cultural cachet, but it also makes your feet hurt. Fortunately for couch potato art lovers (or those of us who can’t fly all over the world on a whim), Google is bringing some of the world’s greatest museums to you through Art Project, which takes Street View technology into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Van Gogh Museum, and others.
The level of detail offered up by up to 14 billion pixels is pretty jaw-dropping. Take “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger at the National Gallery in London. It would be easy to ignore the sheet of music that sits on a table in the painting. But with the Google Art Project’s magnification, users can see that the sheet music actually has real music painted onto it. The user can zoom-in and see the individual notes and words with pin-sharp clarity. [Wall Street Journal]
For now just one painting from each of the participating museums is captured in such detail. More could come, and the project’s founder is also seeking a way to capture three-dimensional art, like sculpture.
A Chrome Challenge
For the first time, Google is taking its Chrome browser to Pwn2Own, a competition in which hackers try to break into the major Internet browsers including Firefox and Internet Explorer. And the company is making things a little more interesting, kicking in an additional $20,000 of prize money into the pool.
New sea creatures, humongous stars, and cockroach antibiotics: Those are just a few reader favorites from this year in science. As 2010 comes to a close, we bring you a dozen of the most popular 80beats posts of the year.
For more great stories from the year in science, check out DISCOVER’s Top 100 Stories of the Year.
Humanity’s legacy of millions upon millions of books represents an unparalleled reservoir of data, precisely detailing the changes in language and culture over the centuries. Now, if only a search engine giant were digitizing that history…
Oh, right. Google has been doing just that, and now scientists are beginning to tap that treasure trove of data.
Together with over 40 university libraries, the internet titan has thus far scanned over 15 million books, creating a massive electronic library that represents 12% of all the books ever published. All the while, a team from Harvard University, led by Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden have been analysing the flood of data.
Their first report is available today. Although it barely scratches the surface, it’s already a tantalising glimpse into the power of the Google Books corpus. It’s a record of human culture, spanning six centuries and seven languages. It shows vocabularies expanding and grammar evolving. It contains stories about our adoption of technology, our quest for fame, and our battle for equality. And it hides the traces of tragedy, including traces of political suppression, records of past plagues, and a fading connection with our own history.
Do yourself a favor and check out the rest of Ed’s extensive post—including fascinating examples like the “half-life” of any given year being mentioned in literature—over at Not Exactly Rocket Science. And try out Google’s search to see the prevalence of any phrases or phrases over the years.
DISCOVER: The Dawn of Urban Civilization: Writing, Urban Life, and Warfare
80beats: The Brains of Storytellers and Their Listeners Actually Sync Up
Not Exactly Rocket Science: New Languages Evolve in Rapid Bursts
Not Exactly Rocket Science: The Evolution of Past Tense: How Verbs Change Over Time
Image: Wikimedia Commons (New York Public Library)
While a certain bacterium that can thrive in arsenic has dominated the science press this week, the big story in the world at large is on the ongoing WikiLeaks saga. The release of an enormous trove of confidential documents from the U.S. State Department has provoked plenty of fall-out: there’s governmental embarrassment and anger, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now wanted in Sweden on alleged sex crimes. But we’re most interested in how the never-ending story touches several science and tech stories, some of which have unraveled here on 80beats.
Get That DNA
One embarrassing revelation of the leaked diplomatic cables was that American diplomats were supposed to be part spy; they were asked to try to gather genetic material from foreign governmental officials. Once the cables leaked, the State Department couldn’t exactly deny that this happened, but it now says that these suggestions came from intelligence agencies. And relax—the requests were voluntary.
A senior department official said the requests for DNA, iris scans and other biometric data on foreign government and U.N. diplomats came from American “intelligence community managers.” The official said American diplomats were free to ignore the requests and that virtually all do. [Washington Post]
China Source of Google Hack
Early in 2010 we reported on the large cyber-attack against Google. Though rumors swirled, the Chinese government denied its involvement; the country and the search engine giant went through months of tension before arriving at a truce in the summer. According to WikiLeaks, leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were directly connected to the hack.
China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. [The New York Times]
“Don’t track me, bro!”
If you’ve long been a fan of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” registry, allowing people to opt out of telemarketing campaigns, the good news is that FTC has taken the first steps toward such a setup for the Internet. Jon Leibowitz, the FTC’s chairman, pitched in a report this week (pdf) the idea of implementing some kind of “do not track” option that would allow people to easily say no to having their online behavior tracked and used for purposes like behavior-based advertising. The bad news is, both legally and conceptually, is that it would be a more challenging idea to implement than “Do Not Call.”
Rather than submitting their names on a centrally maintained list, consumers would use a tool on their Web browsers to signal that they do not wish to be tracked or to receive targeted advertising. Leibowitz said Google, Microsoft and Mozilla have all experimented with do-not-track technology on their browsers. [Washington Post]
Those Street View cameras aren’t just collecting pictures of streets and buildings to make Google Maps better, they’re also scooping up email addresses and passwords, Google admitted Friday.
Back in May the company announced that its Street View cars were mistakenly collecting data from unencrypted wireless networks; now they’ve acknowledged that this data included emails, url addresses, and passwords from people who were sending that data over open (non-password protected) networks when a Google car passed by.
We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices for the benefit of all our users. [Official Google Blog]
The data-collecting code was a part of the software running on Google’s Street View cars, which have so far mapped over 30 countries, and have established a presence on every continent–including Antarctica. The software was meant to just collect basic data about the presence of WiFi networks as the car-mounted cameras snapped pictures.
A huge offshore wind energy project took a leap forward today with the announcement that Google and the investment firm Good Energies are backing the mammoth underwater transmission lines that would carry clean electricity up and down the East Coast. The $5 billion dollar project would allow for wind farms to spring up all along the mid-Atlantic continental shelf.
Google and Good Energies will both be 37.5 percent equity partners in the clean energy infrastructure project; the Japanese industrial, energy, and investment firm Marubeni will take a 15 percent share. The project, proposed by a Maryland-based company called Trans-Elect, would set up a 350-mile long energy-carrying backbone from Virginia to northern New Jersey, first allowing the transfer of the south’s cheap electricity to the northern states, and later providing critical infrastructure for future offshore wind projects.
The AWC backbone is critical to more rapidly scaling up offshore wind because without it, offshore wind developers would be forced to build individual radial transmission lines from each offshore wind project to the shore, requiring additional time consuming permitting and environmental studies and making balancing the grid more difficult. [Official Google Blog].
Google announced this weekend that it has been driving automated cars around California’s roads, and that the vehicles have already logged about 140,000 miles. A fully automated car just finished a big trip–all the way from Google’s campus in Mountain View, California to Hollywood.
Larry and Sergey founded Google because they wanted to help solve really big problems using technology. And one of the big problems we’re working on today is car safety and efficiency. Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use. [Official Google Blog]
A Google car drives with the help of a variety of sensors–including cameras on the roof and in front, radars, and laser range finders–which build a detailed map of the car’s surroundings. This information is transmitted to the Google servers and processed to detect and react to any obstacles that get in the car’s way, mimicking the decisions a human driver would make.
There may never have been this many people this excited about white space.
Today the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission agreed to the rules that will allow unlicensed use of the empty space between TV channels (available now that TV has gone totally digital), and opens the door to super wi-fi networks whose reach could be measured in miles.
Unlike current Wi-Fi airwaves, whose reach can be measured in feet, the spectrum that would carry Super Wi-Fi would be able to travel for several miles because of that lower frequency. Through brick walls, even—something your Linksys really struggles with. [Gizmodo]
Skyhook, the tiny Massachusetts company that created the location software in your iPhone, sued Google this week (pdf). David is charging Goliath with trying to keep its software out of Google’s Android mobile software platform in favor of Google’s own location service, and with encouraging Skyhook’s partners to break contracts.
In other words, Google is leveraging its OS market share to push its own affiliated products and snuff out competitors — kind of like Microsoft did with Internet Explorer on Windows 15 years ago. Yikes. [Wired.com]
Google says it hasn’t had the opportunity to review the legal action, so it has yet to comment.