Microsoft announces formation of AI and Research Group with over 5000 computer scientists

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For the last year or so, Microsoft has backed artificial intelligence as "the most important technology on the planet" and has released various products that make use of AI. The company's flagship AI product, Cortana, is available to all Windows 10 users - although its capabilities vary depending on which part of the world you're in. Now, the company will be bringing its artificial intelligence research under one umbrella with the formation of the Microsoft AI and Research Group that will include 5000 computer scientists.

The AI and Research Group will be headed by Microsoft veteran of 20 years, Harry Shum, who has worked with Microsoft Research and Bing prior to this appointment. The group will bring together various related teams such as Information Platform, Cortana and Bing, and Ambient Computing and Robotics teams.

According to Microsoft's post about the announcement, the company will be taking a four-pronged approach to democratize AI:

  • Agents: Harness AI to fundamentally change human and computer interaction through agents such as Microsoft’s digital personal assistant Cortana
  • Applications: Infuse every application, from the photo app on people’s phones to Skype and Office 365, with intelligence
  • Services: Make these same intelligent capabilities that are infused in Microsoft’s apps —cognitive capabilities such as vision and speech, and machine analytics — available to every application developer in the world
  • Infrastructure: Build the world’s most powerful AI supercomputer with Azure and make it available to anyone, to enable people and organizations to harness its power

Currently, there are no announcements regarding any upcoming products, but with the newly formed group we can surely expect to hear more about AI and related products from the software giant in the not-too-distant future.

Source: Microsoft

Alan Turing's computer-generated music gets restored after 65 years

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Alan Turing is considered to be one of the fathers of computer science. He played a crucial role in World War II counter intelligence and worked for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

He was also responsible for breaking a large number of Nazi ciphers, including the German Enigma code. After the war, Turing continued his work as a pioneer computer engineer, and developed what’s considered to be one of the first designs for a stored-program computer.

But it seems code breaking wasn’t Turing’s only talent.

Now the earliest known recording of computer-generated music, created more than 65 years ago, has been restored by the University of Canterbury. But the interesting thing is that it was created on computer programming techniques devised by Turing himself. 

Here's the story. In 1951, a BBC outside-broadcast unit in Manchester used a portable acetate disc cutter to capture three melodies played by a primeval computer. This gigantic computer filled much of the ground floor of pioneering British computer scientist Alan Turing's Computing Machine Laboratory.

Now, decades later, director of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing, Professor Jack Copeland, and his fellow researcher UC alumni and composer Jason Long, have restored the music. However, it has not been so easy. The researchers had to do some electronic sleuthing to recreate the historic sound accurately.

“Today all that remains of the recording session is a 12-inch single-sided acetate disc, cut by the BBC's technician while the computer played. The computer itself was scrapped long ago, so the archived recording is our only window on that historic soundscape,” said the researchers.

“What a disappointment it was, therefore, to discover that the frequencies in the recording were not accurate: the recording gave at best only a rough impression of how the computer sounded.”

They found that there was a deviation in the speed of the recording, probably as a result of the turntable in BBC's portable disc cutter rotating too fast. But, with some electronic detective work, it proved possible to restore the recording – with the result that the true sound of this ancestral computer can be heard once again, for the first time in more than half a century.

The computer music researchers were then able to calculate exactly how much the recording had to be speeded up in order to reproduce the original sound of the computer.

“As well as increasing the speed – and so altering the frequencies – we also filtered out extraneous noise from the recording; and using pitch-correction software we removed the effects of a troublesome wobble in the speed of the recording,” added the researchers.

“It was a beautiful moment when we first heard the true sound of Turing's computer.”

The complete 1951 recording, including God Save the King, nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep and Glenn Miller hit In The Mood, can be heard here over at the university’s website.

Europe’s Court of Justice rules that hyperlinking can infringe on copyright

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On Thursday, the Dutch publisher of Playboy won a major legal victory concerning photographs that had been uploaded to the internet without its permission on a file sharing site. The ruling handed down by the European Union Court of Justice could have enormous consequences for users across the internet.

The case stemmed from a complaint against a Dutch website called GeenStijl, which had posted links to leaked photos from Playboy in October 2011. The website had received a tip that the pictures had been uploaded to FileFactory. It posted a cutout of one of the images and linked to the rest. Sanoma Media, Playboy’s Dutch publisher, requested that content be removed, which GeenStijl refused to do. Sanoma then sued the GeenStijl and its parent company, GS Media, arguing that the hyperlink and part of one of the images infringed on its copyright. The case found itself before the EU court, which ruled that posting hyperlinks amounted to copyright infringement, because the website profited from the traffic that it generated.

The court noted in its ruling that the website’s editors knew that the works had yet to be published in the print magazine and that its distribution through FileFactory was unauthorized. "Whoever post[ed] those links knew or ought to have been aware of those facts and the fact that that rightholder did not consent to the publication of the works in question on that latter website."

They key point in this case comes down to the phrase "Communication to the public of their works" in Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29, On the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society:

Member States shall provide authors with the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit any communication to the public of their works, by wire or wireless means, including the making available to the public of their works in such a way that members of the public may access them from a place and at a time individually chosen by them.

The court noted that the directive does not define "communication to the public", but that EU laws do work to protect the rights of copyright owners. It also surmised that those seeking to communicate to the public must make a judgment call as to the ethical nature of what they’re doing: balancing legitimate news against copyright infringement.

Mobile apps are now bigger than the web — a trend that threatens to eat Google's core business

Apps are eating the web.

Over the past decade, there has been an inexorable movement from the open internet to the walled gardens of apps — and this trend just hit a major milestone.

According to new data from ComScore, more than half of all time Americans spend online is spent in apps — up from around 41% two years ago.

It's a stat that will be discomfiting to advocates of the open web, as well as companies whose core business is built around it — notably Google.

As content that was once freely available and indexable on websites becomes silo-ed away in closed-off apps, it makes it harder to search and link to content. This is, of course, the cornerstone of Google's original business. Google is fighting back, by making the internal contents of apps searchable. But it is not clear that Google will come to dominate app search the same way it did web search.

Below is the data from ComScore, showing how mobile dominates when it comes to platforms people use to get online — and on mobile, apps are the most popular way of accessing information.

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And here's how the amount of time spent in apps has rocketed over the last few years.

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