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Finding new sources of oil underground is an expensive and risky undertaking. Now IBM is working with energy company Repsol to look for ways in which new cognitive computing techniques could help reduce the uncertainty and improve production.

The research that the two companies are doing may one day lead to computer systems that more effectively aid all industries in making decisions.

“This is a whole new time where people and machines will be working better together,” said Brian Gaucher, IBM Research senior manager and research staff member at the company’s Cognitive Environments Laboratory.

The oil and gas industry is fertile testing ground for testing new kinds of decision-making applications. Companies such as Repsol can spend up to a billion dollars to find and then acquire a new location to drill for oil. Once a potential location is found, the company can then spend additional hundreds of millions to drill.

Today, only one in four or five wells returns a profit. So any technique that would improve these odds could save a lot of money. One of the smaller global energy companies, comparatively speaking, Repsol looks for any creative edge it can find.

The two companies are collaborating on a pair of cognitive-computing applications. One application will help Repsol engineers determine the best potential oil fields for the company to acquire. The other will look for ways to get the most oil from existing properties.

For these applications, the researchers plan to use a variety of cognitive computing techniques to filter and analyze data from multiple sources. They also will investigate new forms of user interface, so managers and engineers can interact with data in more intuitive and natural ways.

Cognitive computing technology, for instance, could do the preliminary work of reviewing seismic imaging data, relieving engineers of hours of study. It could also analyze thousands of reports, aggregating the content and drawing conclusions. A cognitive computer system could digest and fuse not only geographical and scientific data, but pertinent political and economic indicators as well.

“Having the ability to mine, in real time, news articles, and look at trends and then pull those into your decision making process could reduce uncertainty and give you tremendous insights into what is happening right now,” Gaucher said.

One technique the group is looking at is the ability to build applications on-the-fly from reusable components, in order to meet some particular need of the moment.

Computing services of the future may not be “monolithic” but rather multi-agent distributed systems, from which different context-aware applications can be assembled, Gaucher said.

“Some of these programs could live forever. Or they may live only for an hour,” Gaucher said.

Source from : (itnews.com)


If you’ve always wondered if Mark Zuckerberg has a favorite hoodie, or a favorite programming language, now’s your chance to find out.

Facebook’s chief will host his first community Q&A next Thursday at 5 p.m. Eastern, giving the public a chance to ask any questions they might have for him.

The event will be livestreamed and last about an hour. It expands on the internal Q&A sessions that Zuckerberg holds each Friday with Facebook employees.

The event is structured similar to an “Ask Me Anything” Q&A on Reddit, but could draw considerably more attention given that it involves the CEO of one of the most used services on the Internet.

You can submit questions now as comments on the event’s Facebook page, and also “like” questions posted by others.

More than a thousand questions had already been posted within an hour of the announcement Thursday. They touch on everything from privacy, to Facebook’s requirement that you download Messenger, to the absence of a “dislike” button, to Zuckerberg’s thoughts about Twitter.

Some were quite forward-looking. “How will artificial intelligence or AI play into the future of social networks and infrastructure, like our roads and even health delivery systems?” one person asked.

Others had more frivolous, but still vexing, questions. “How many Instagrams are in a kilogram?” a person wanted to know.

Source from : (itnews.com)


Andy Rubin, the engineer who developed Google’s Android OS and was lately in charge of its robotics efforts, is leaving the company, Google confirmed Thursday.

Rubin cofounded a company called Android, which Google acquired in 2005 for its mobile OS. Android has gone on to become the world’s most widely used mobile operating system.

Last year, though, Rubin was moved off the Android team and put in charge of Google’s robotics projects. His work was taken over by Sundar Pichai, who now leads Google’s Android, Chrome and other products.

The reasons for Rubin’s departure weren’t clear, though it had something to do with the structure of his team at Google, according to a report on tech news site The Information.

Rubin is leaving to lead an incubator for hardware startups, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, and he’ll be replaced at Google by James Kuffner, a research scientist and a member of Google’s robotics group.

A Google spokesman confirmed Rubin’s departure but declined to comment further.

“I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” CEO Larry Page said in a statement. “With Android he created something truly remarkable — with a billion plus happy users.”

Rubin has been overseeing several robotics projects at Google and led recent acquisitions, including its purchase of Boston Dynamics.

Source from : (itnews.com)


Several major national and international banks are planning to launch their own mobile payments apps next year.

The banks would be major competitors to handset makers Apple and Google because unlike others pushing mobile wallet technology, such as mobile phone carriers and retailers, they already have an intimate relationship with consumers and know their spending habits.

“Banks all around the world are working on this right now,” said James Anderson, senior vice president for mobile and emerging payments at MasterCard.

Anderson didn’t name any of the banks, but said MasterCard is already in conversations with them on how to add mobile payment capability to the existing apps that millions of consumers already have on their phones.

The most likely way will be through a technology called host card emulation, that was introduced in Android 4.4 “KitKat” and allows software apps to emulate the secure element chip found on some bank cards and the iPhone 6. Using software means wider compatibility with phones than if a dedicated chip was required.

The mobile payments market had been relatively quiet until recently. Google Wallet and Softcard, a competitor backed by cellular carriers, were in the market but consumer awareness and interest appeared to be low.

That changed with the launch of Apple Pay on October 20. A million cards were activated in the first three days of use and early adopters have praised its ease of use: users just need to hold their thumb over the iPhone 6 fingerprint reader and bring the device near a terminal for payment to be made.

As a result, competitors are planning their attack. Next year CurrentC, backed by some of the biggest retailers in the U.S., will launch and companies like PayPal are also hoping to expand their footprint in stores.

But an app from a bank might have an edge because it removes a potential hurdle to adoption: unease among consumers that at a third-party is getting access to details of purchases they make.

Apple has stressed that it doesn’t see any of the purchases made by its users but Google’s system is set up so that all payments run through the company’s servers — giving the company an additional layer of information into the lives of its users.

A bank already has access to this information because of its nature and is presumably trusted by its customers. If a customer has a banking app on their phone, it would suggest they also have faith in the bank’s online security system.

Source from : (itnews.com)


The U.S. Federal Communications Commission appears set to reclassify broadband so that it comes under the agency’s authority, but without explicitly prohibiting special access deals between broadband and content companies, according to a news report.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is mulling this hybrid answer to the knotty “net neutrality” issue, and his proposal would still require a vote of the full five-member commission, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. Broadband providers may also challenge in court the move to give the FCC more authority.

Supporters of the principle of equal access to all Internet traffic have pressed the FCC to reclassify broadband as common carrier under the Communications Act. Title II of the Act already defines telephone companies as common carriers, and requires them to deliver service at “just and reasonable” rates and interconnect with each other.

By extending its authority, the FCC would keep residual rights to block any deal it considers uncompetitive, the Journal said.

The FCC adopted in 2010 the Open Internet Order, which prohibited broadband providers from blocking or unreasonably discriminating against content providers or applications for network access.

The net neutrality issue came to the forefront in January this year after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit largely overruled the Open Internet Order in a lawsuit brought by Verizon. The court said the FCC has “general authority” to regulate how broadband providers deal with network traffic under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deals with promoting innovation and competition.

Wheeler proposed in May a plan that would allow “commercially reasonable” traffic management, but would not reclassify broadband.

Under the new plan said to be under consideration by the FCC chief, the back-end broadband service, through which broadband providers serve as a route for websites to distribute content, would be classified as a common carrier to give the FCC the authority to monitor agreements between content and broadband providers, WSJ said.

The FCC could not be immediately reached for comment.

The plan is, however, likely to face legal challenges. In a submission Wednesday to the FCC earlier this week, Verizon warned that “any effort to reclassify broadband Internet access service would have significant legal vulnerabilities.” Supporters of the Title II route to resolve the current debate have assumed that the FCC has the broad authority simply to declare broadband Internet access service to be a common carrier telecommunications service, it added.

U.S. lawmakers have also looked at the various options available to the FCC to ensure net neutrality, some of which are similar to the one said to be under consideration by Wheeler.

Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, wrote to the FCC earlier this month, suggesting a “light-touch” reclassification plan, that would not enforce the entirety of Title II regulations, but would at the minimum enforce a section which makes “any unjust or unreasonable discrimination” unlawful.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy wrote this month letters to Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Charter Communications, asking them to take a stand against fast lanes on the Internet. “Allowing the Internet to become a two-tiered system of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ controlled by a small number of corporate gatekeepers, would destroy everything that has made it one of the greatest innovations in human history,” the Vermont Democrat wrote.

Verizon said in a public response Wednesday that it “is on record numerous times as saying that it has no plans to undertake the hypothetical ‘paid prioritization’ business model.” The FCC has authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to ban forms of paid prioritization that it believes could be harmful to competition or consumers, it added. Comcast and AT&T are also reported to have promised in replies to Leahy not to have Internet fast lanes.

Source from : (itnews.com)


The dictum, “Please turn off all cell phones” at your local movie theater may soon be expanded to include Google Glass, smartwatches, GoPros, life-logging cameras, and a cast of thousands of other wearables.

The Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners, which represents 32,000 screens across the U.S., have issued a zero tolerance policy on wearable devices capable of recording video, due to concerns over piracy.

Both groups already had a policy that all phones must be silenced and put away at show time. But all other recording devices, which would include wearables, must also be turned off and put away, the groups said Wednesday in an update to their policy.

MPAA and NATO said they understand that some consumers have taken a liking to wearable “intelligent” devices. “As part of our continued efforts to ensure movies are not recorded in theaters, however, we maintain a zero tolerance policy toward using any recording device while movies are being shown,” they said.

That policy has a legal rationale. Under U.S. law movie patrons can be imprisoned for up to three years for recording a movie in a theater, even if it’s their first offense. But enforcing the expanded policy could be a mess.

The rules cover the entire range of wearable tech with recording devices, whatever form they may take, said MPAA spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield, in an email. And it’s up to theater managers to decide how they’re enforced, she said.

As people put more cameras on their bodies for various reasons, that could get complicated. Crazy as it may sound, there are people who may have legitimate reasons for wearing Google Glass while sitting in a movie theater. A man in Ohio, who said he was wearing Glass with prescription lenses, was interrogated by authorities earlier this year after theater employees thought he was trying to record the film.

Plenty of other businesses, including bars and restaurants, have already banned Glass. Some did it because of concerns over surreptitious video recording and others due to what they deem to be its unsociable nature, or simply “Glasshole” behavior. Some movie theaters on their own have already banned Glass, too.

Policing the broader range of camera-equipped wearable tech will be even trickier as the industry grows. Determining what qualifies as recording-capable wearable tech is getting to be a very nerdy question.

Could theater managers, if they managed to identify it, ask you to remove your Apple Watch? That device, at least in its first generation, won’t have a camera, but it can be used as a remote viewfinder for an iPhone.

And what about devices like the Narrative Clip, a tiny wearable camera that automatically takes a picture every 30 seconds? That probably wouldn’t make for a great pirated movie, but it could lend an artsy effect.

If someone did want to pirate a movie with Google Glass, it would probably have to be a short film. The device’s default video recording only lasts for 10 seconds. But that length can be extended, and some users have reported being able to record for about 30 to 45 minutes before the battery dies.

Source from : (itnews.com)


The company behind CurrentC, an in-store mobile payment system backed by some of the biggest retailers in the U.S., attempted on Wednesday to play down a growing controversy over whether its backers could accept Apple Pay.

Dekkers Davidson, CEO of Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), said its members, which include retailers such as Walmart, Shell, 7-Eleven, Dunkin Donuts, Sears, Old Navy, Best Buy, Exxon Mobil and Gap, are free to make their own decisions on payment systems.

The comments, which came in a conference call, represented the first time MCX had addressed a sudden flood of online criticism about its technology.

Formed in 2012, MCX had existed largely unnoticed until last week when two of its members — drug store chains Rite Aid and CVS — abruptly stopped accepting Apple Pay and Google Wallet, which use a wireless chip payment technology called NFC.

Those decisions put MCX’s system, called CurrentC, into the spotlight. CurrentC is based on a barcode that’s displayed on a shopper’s phone and scanned by a cashier. To many, that’s not as elegant as Apple Pay, so it was written off by many tech pundits as doomed to fail.

Though MCX initially kept quiet, pressure on the company to address the issue increased on Wednesday when the New York Times reported that member retailers were contractually bound not to accept competing mobile payment systems and would face “steep fines” if they did.

Hours later, it was also reported that the company had been hacked and the email addresses of users had been leaked.

Davidson confirmed one of its email providers had been hacked but said its payment system had not been compromised. He also disputed the report that retailers faced fines if they chose to accept competing mobile payment methods.

“Merchants make their own choices about their commitment to MCX,” he said. “They make their own choice about other forms of payment.”

On the call, which lasted about 30 minutes, with reporters asking questions through a moderator, Davidson indicated the driving force behind CurrentC was the relationships that retailers could build with shoppers. The technology used, he said, was secondary.

As envisaged, shoppers will pass certain data about themselves to a retailer when making an in-store purchase with the CurrentC app. The incentives for doing so will be set by retailers, and shoppers won’t have to share any information if they don’t want to.

“If consumers choose to be anonymous to merchants with mobile, they will be allowed to do that,” he said.

Getting a deeper insight into customers and their spending habits is valuable for retailers. Many offer loyalty cards to collect such data, and it’s the kind of thing that’s missing today when a customer swipes a credit card — or uses Apple Pay.

But when it comes to technology, Davidson told IDG News Service that the company isn’t wedded to its barcode-based system.

“We started with a cloud-based QR code because it allows us to go to market right away on any phone,” he said. “If we need, we can pivot to NFC at any time. There are also opportunities to work with low-energy Bluetooth.”

On the payment side, he said MCX was in talks with credit card companies that would allow consumers to load payment cards into CurrentC. As it was initially proposed, the system only worked with bank accounts.

CurrentC is already being tested in some undisclosed locations in the U.S. It will be launched nationwide in 2015.

Source from : (itnews.com)


There’s more to making cities smart than the Internet of Things and the collection of big data.

The move to address urban problems like pollution and traffic congestion has shone a spotlight on instrumenting things like roads, light poles and mobile devices, and seizing insights from the information they generate. But how that data is presented can affect the impact it has and the types of questions that get asked, panelists at the GreenBiz Verge conference said Tuesday.

Just as smaller sensors have expanded data collection and big-data tools have made it possible to better analyze information, visualization software is also evolving. That could help to give ordinary citizens a say in how cities are built and run.

Decisions about transportation, housing, pollution and other issues have long been made using models based on urban planning theories, said Paul Waddell, a UC Berkeley professor and founder and president of planning software company Synthicity. Now planners who build those models can use them to put structure around big data, he said. What that data can accomplish is determined partly by what visualization software can do, and its capabilities keep growing.

Synthicity’s Urban Canvas software lets users quickly visualize large amounts of data to find out how different decisions could affect things like the environment and the character of neighborhoods, Waddell said. Software like Urban Canvas can mean planners aren’t locked in to drafting one or two possible solutions and asking residents to accept or reject them, he said.

“We can do interactive design, we can do interactive visualization, and we can start to engage communities more directly in evaluating the outcomes that matter to them,” Waddell said.

Design software vendor Autodesk has developed a way to estimate the environmental effects of proposed projects along with the straight financial costs of building and operating them. It’s part of a broader effort by the company to make environmental factors visible to designers using all its products, said Emma Stewart, Autodesk’s head of sustainability solutions.

The company’s AutoCase product, becoming generally available next month, can integrate findings from multiple sources, including articles from academic journals in a variety of disciplines, and combine them with other data in a visual simulation of the project under discussion, Stewart said. Regulatory factors such as environmental laws and credits offered for green features are also built in. Those values can be modified as needed but are there for quick visualization.

Los Angeles has used some of these technologies to design and win approval for a project to restore the cement-lined Los Angeles River to a more natural state. Within a 3-D model, designers can add new elements such as pathways and trees and see the effects on other elements of the area. Using licensed data about the local climate, Autodesk software can simulate the environmental effects of giving a building a roof with a built-in garden, Stewart said.

Visualizations that showed environmental as well as financial costs have already shaped policy decisions in Phoenix and Fort Worth, Texas, where those decisions were surprises given the political culture in those cities, Stewart said.

Talking about environmental effects may also require visualizations at an even higher level, according to David McConville, president of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. He is also cofounder of The Elumenati, an engineering firm that creates tools for immersive visualizations such as planetarium shows.

For example, to discuss local decisions that could affect bird migrations, words may not be enough to describe those migrations and how they work with global flows of water and energy, McConville said. Visual depictions are required.

Data can be collected about anything, so the key to making good use of data is to decide that data is needed and why, McConville said.

“The solutions that we develop are really going to be based on the questions that we ask, so we have to be asking much more intelligent questions,” he said.

Source from : (itnews.com)


In a sign that more Chinese are relying on their smartphones to go online, local search giant Baidu said its mobile Internet traffic had surpassed traffic from PCs during the third quarter.

Baidu, China’s largest search engine, noted the shift in an earnings call Thursday, when the company’s CEO Robin Li said its traffic from mobile devices represented over half of the total user traffic.

The company’s mobile traffic has been steadily growing over the last quarters, at a time when China has become the world’s largest market for smartphones. In addition, tablet use may have also contributed to the shift.

On Thursday, Baidu said it began bundling in the third quarter user traffic from tablet devices with its overall mobile traffic figures. Tablets had previously been included with the company’s PC figures.

But even as Baidu’s mobile traffic continues to grow, the company still generates more revenue from online ads designed for PC-based Internet viewing. In the third quarter, the company’s mobile advertising made up 36 percent of total revenue, up 3 percentage points from the previous quarter.

Baidu makes nearly all its revenue from selling online ads. In the third quarter, it generated 13.5 billion yuan (US$2.2 billion) in revenue, up 52 percent from a year ago. It’s net profit in the quarter was also up by about 27 percent year-over-year, raking in about 3.9 billion yuan. To maintain the consistent growth, the company has been investing heavily in product research and promoting its company services.

The company’s search app and browser have been driving its mobile traffic, Li said during the earnings call. Its voice search already accounts for about 10 percent of the mobile searches made through Baidu. “We believe in the next five years, over 50 percent of searches will be speech or image driven,” he said.

Source from : (itnews.com)


Phones from Xiaomi still haven’t arrived in the U.S., but the company’s booming sales in China have been enough to make it the third largest smartphone vendor in the world.

Xiaomi reached the ranking, behind Apple and Samsung, in the third quarter, said research firms IDC and Strategy Analytics on Thursday.

The Chinese vendor only began selling phones three years ago but it has quickly risen to become a leading vendor in its home market, by offering feature-packed Android phones at affordable prices.

In the third quarter, Xiaomi had a 5.3 percent share of the smartphone market, still far behind second place Apple, which had a 12 percent share, according to IDC. But unlike its rivals, Xiaomi posted triple-digit year-over-year growth in smartphone shipments, of 211 percent, making it the fastest growing among the top vendors.

It is the first time Xiaomi has entered in the top five smartphone rankings, IDC said. During the quarter, the company began selling its latest flagship phone, the Mi 4, a device that has all the latest specs, but with a selling price starting at 1999 yuan (US$326).

Xiaomi this year has also begun expanding to other foreign markets, including India, where its phones have routinely sold out in online sales. “What remains to be seen is how quickly the company can move beyond its home territories to drive volumes higher,” IDC said in a statement.

As for the leading smartphone vendor Samsung, the Korean company continued to struggle amidst heated competition from Apple and Chinese rivals including Xiaomi, Lenovo and Huawei Technologies. In the third quarter, Samsung’s market share was 24.7 percent, down from the 35 percent share it had a year ago, according to Strategy Analytics.

Samsung’s smartphone shipments could pick up later in 2014, with sales of its new Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Note Edge, Strategy Analytics said in a statement. But in a Thursday earnings report, the Korean company said it expects competition in the market to remain stiff.

Rival devices are already taking a toll on the company’s earnings. In this year’s third quarter, Samsung said its operating profit from its mobile devices division dropped by 74 percent from the same period a year ago. This was partly due to reduced prices for its older models, and more consumers buying its middle and lower-end smartphones.

Apple, on the other hand, is still growing, with its third quarter smartphone shipments up 16 percent year over year, IDC said. At the end of the third quarter, the company began selling its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in select markets.

Helped by iPhone 6 sales at the end of the quarter, Apple posted its largest third-quarter smartphone shipments ever, IDC said. Older iPhone models, such as the 5s and 5c, however, made up most of the shipment volume during the period.

In total, vendors shipped 327 million smartphones worldwide, up 25.2 percent from a year ago, according to IDC. Much of the smartphone demand is coming from emerging markets, where growth is over 30 percent. Developed markets, meanwhile, are posting single-digit growth, IDC added.

Source from : (itnews.com)

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