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Why Facebook and Microsoft say chatbots are talk of the town.

 

 

 

 

 

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Death robots: Where next after Dallas?

 

 

 

 

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Samsung suspends sales of Galaxy Note 7 after smartphones catch fire.

 

 

 

 

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Facebook tests ´secret message´ service.

  • Secret message screenshot shared by Facebook

Private messages that can disappear are being trialled by Facebook as it experiments with a new option for those using its Messenger app.

They become hidden after a certain period of time chosen by the author, the firm said.

It is part of a new "secret message" service having a limited trial, Facebook announced.

Senders must choose one device to use it on, as messages sent this way are stored on the device itself.

Those flagged to "disappear" will be deleted from the device as well.

"Starting a secret conversation with someone is optional," it said.

"Secret conversations can only be read on one device and we recognise that experience may not be right for everyone."

Facebook listed health and financial issues as examples of messages that people may wish to keep more private - while others have mentioned love affairs.

The idea is being trialled on a "limited basis", Facebook said, but added that it would be more widely available over the summer.

Video and GIFs cannot be shared secretly at the moment.

The service will also have extra features for reporting abuse - and once this is introduced, there will be a delay in the deletion of messages to enable flagging.

"Facebook will never have access to plain text messages unless one participant in a secret conversation voluntarily reports the conversation," it explained in a technical document.

Tech spec

The service is built on the Signal protocol by Open Whisper Systems, which is widely used by messaging apps, said cybersecurity expert Professor Alan Woodward from Surrey University.

"Signal is well tested and those who developed it are well regarded in the cryptography community," he said.

"But the problem with something effectively becoming an open standard in this way is that if ever a problem were found it could have widespread impact."

Prof Woodward added that the technical report released by Facebook was "not as complete as many would like" in terms of assessing the service's security.

"If I were to choose any messaging system I would look for it to be based on Signal at present.

"However, I'd like to know more about exactly how it is implemented, or at least know that those who can analyse such systems have scrutinised the code."

 

 

 

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Windows 10: What EXACTLY are the pros and cons of upgrading to Microsoft´s new operating system?

 Windows 10

In 2015, tech giant Microsoft introduced its biggest computer software overhaul to date in the form of Windows 10.

The new system is available as a free upgrade to anyone already using Windows 7 orWindows 8 .

While Windows 8, with its tablet-centric design, proved to be one of the firm's least popular updates, Windows 10 launched to glowing praise.

However (and it's a BIG however) Windows 10 will cease to be a free update on 29 July, a year on from its release to the public.

That means if you want it, you're going to have to pay. Windows 10 Home will be available for £99.99, while the Pro option will come with a price tag of £189.99.

For users that haven't yet taken advantage of the free upgrade, we've created the definitive list of pros and cons for Windows 10...

 

Here's why you should definitely get Windows 10

Cortana

Microsoft's AI assistant is set to rival Apple 's Siri and Google Now, by bringing the same useful functions to the desktop.

A major part of the new Windows 10 software, Cortana has made its way over from Windows Phones and enables users to control selected desktop functions with voice commands. It also features a universal search function that trawls both the web and the device itself.

Microsoft is also launching versions of Cortana for Apple and Android phone users so that they can sync data to a Windows 10 computer.

No Microsoft account needed

Many users were put off by Windows 8's insistence on having a Microsoft account in order to log in. The good news is that Windows 10 has relaxed the rules, so that users can sign in with their existing email address.

Good for gamers

Windows 10 has already proved popular with gamers. Valve, the company behind the Steam PC gaming platform recently announced that 37 per cent of its users now log in using Microsoft's latest software.

What's more, Windows 10 supports the Microsofts's DirectX 12 graphics interface, which is designed to boost gaming speed and reliability, as well as power consumption.

Microsoft is also introducing a range of new games, including Forza Motorsport 6: Apex, which will be free for Windows 10 users.

Virtual desktops

The ability to create virtual desktops is one of Windows 10's neatest features and helps people who have lots of windows open at the same time to keep things organised.

The "Task View" feature allows users to create several different desktops which can be themed towards particular tasks, themes or places of work.

New tablet mode solves the problems of Windows 8

While the much-mocked Windows 8 annoyed people with its inflexible tablet-centric home page, Windows 10 features a separate tablet mode that kicks in when the screen (if you're using a hybrid device) is detached from its keyboard dock (or users can disable it entirely if they choose).

The idea is to create a seamless experience for people using hybrid devices and to placate desktop users.

 

Here's why you should ignore Windows 10 completely

Updates installed automatically

One substantial change in the new software is Microsoft's decision to allow Windows 10 Home edition to download and install updates automatically.

This may prove to be an annoyance for those who would rather choose which updates to run and when to run them.

The Pro and Enterprise editions of the software will still allow users to postpone installing updates if they wish.

No more Window Media Center

Windows 10 has ditched the Windows Media Center application and the ability to play DVD content on your PC or laptop. Microsoft claims that few users were still using the home cinema hub. However, hardcore fans have put together a bootleg version for those who feel that they're missing out.

Bad for old computers and old software

Microsoft has faced accusations of aggressively pushing Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade, with some claiming that an automatic update started without their permission.

Older hardware and software that has been designed to run on earlier operating systems won't necessarily work properly if updated to Windows 10.

One woman successfully sued Microsoft for £7,666 after Windows 10 automatically tried and failed to install itself on her Windows 7 computer, leaving it unresponsive and preventing her from working.

Privacy concerns

One reason that Microsoft may be keen to nudge people towards upgrading to Windows 10 is the amount of data that it tries to pry out of new users.

The requests for data can be switched off, but this means that personalised features like Cortana, which rely on getting to know the user's habits, may not work as effectively.

Desktop gadgets ditched

Elsewhere, Windows 10 has done away with Windows 7's desktop gadgets, which might be disappointing if you were a big fan of the bite-sized chunks of info.

Desktop gadgets are small third-party tools that sit on the screen and show current information, such as news headlines.

"Gadgets could be exploited to harm your computer, access your computer's files, show you objectionable content, or change their behaviour at any time," said Microsoft in a statement

"An attacker could even use a gadget to take complete control of your PC."

Right, so with all that covered, the decision now rests with you.

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Wife cake and evil water: The perils of auto-translation.

Imagine a far flung land where you can catch a ride from the Jackie Chan bus stop to a restaurant called Translate Server Error, and enjoy a hearty feast of children sandwiches and wife cake all washed down with some evil water.

If such a rich lunch gets stuck in your gnashers, you'll be pleased to know there are plenty of Methodists on hand to remove your teeth.

And if by this point you've had enough of the bus, fly home in style on a wide-boiled aircraft. But whatever you do, please remember that when you land at the airport, eating the carpet is strictly prohibited.

No, I haven't gone mad. These are all real-world examples of howlers by auto-translation software.

Joking aside, poor translations can have big implications for firms who run the risk of offending customers and losing business, or at least looking very amateurish.

Yet we keep being promised that machine learning and natural language processing will soon make flawless, near-instantaneous translation a reality.

So how long will businesses have to wait?

Obscenities

In January, Skype rolled out its real-time translation software, which allows voice-to-voice translation in seven languages.

But even this hi-tech development was not without its teething problems, randomly turning Mandarin words into obscenities on one occasion.

The glitch was spotted by photographer Tom Carter who was in China shooting a Skype commercial and had been using it to speak to people in Mandarin.

When he said: "It's nice to talk to you" to a local scout in Yangshuo, Skype translated it into a very offensive stream of swear words.

The issue was blamed on how the Great Firewall - China's way of censoring the web - had interrupted the Skype conversation.

Neural networks

Translation programs, such as Google Translate, have traditionally been built around phrase-based statistical machine translation.

This works by analysing a back catalogue of texts that have already been translated - such as academic papers and glossaries. It analyses them in parallel in both their original and target languages, then uses statistical probabilities to select the most appropriate translation.

Its effectiveness depends greatly on the quality of the original language samples and it's prone to mistakes, often sounding clunky and mechanical.

For this reason, Alan Packer, director of engineering language technology at Facebook, said recently that statistical machine translation was reaching "the end of its natural life".

Instead, translation tech is now moving towards artificial neural networks. These are structured similarly to the human brain and use complex algorithms to select and use the appropriate translation.

But rather than just translate the words, a neural network can learn metaphors and the meaning behind the language, allowing it to select a translation that means the same thing to a different culture, rather than a direct literal translation which may in some cases cause offence.

Facebook, which carries out up to two billion translations a day in 40 languages, plans to roll out such a system later this year.

Search giant Google, too - which now offers 103 languages covering 99% of the online population - is also reported to be working on switching its translation service over to neural networks.

But it has not said publicly how soon it plans to make that transition.

'Hard problems'

But before you think auto-translation is on the verge of perfection, think again.

Professor Philipp Koehn, a computer scientist and expert in translation technology at the University of Edinburgh, tells the BBC there is still some way to go.

"There are very hard problems with semantics and knowledge representation that have to be solved first, and that we are not close to solving," he says.

"The main challenges are when there is less explicit information in the source language than what is needed for generating proper target language."

For example, Chinese doesn't have the equivalent use of plurals, verb tenses, or pronouns as in English, which makes exact translation very difficult, he says.

And English doesn't use gendered nouns, which makes things tricky when translating into languages that do, such as French, Italian and German.

Human touch

Until these challenges are overcome, mistranslations are likely to continue, whether that's Chinese bus routes changing Sichuan Normal University Campus Station to The University Jackie Chan Campus Station, or restaurant owners calling their establishments "Translate Server Error".

Although translation technology may be improving rapidly, the cost of failure is potentially huge, so many businesses are unwilling to put their faith in it entirely.

Clem Chambers is chief executive of ADVFN, a global stocks and shares information website that covers over 70 stock exchanges around the globe.

He says: "For us, when it comes to creating geographic and language-targeted websites, nothing beats having native speakers who actually have a thorough understanding of the financial markets.

"Translation tech has come a long way and can provide good literal translations, but what we need is something that really speaks the language of the local end user, with all the subtleties and colloquialisms specific to their country."

In other words, translation tech has its uses, but rely on it entirely at your peril.

 

 

 

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Facebook uses AI to understand tech - based posts.

Facebook has developed AI software to help understand what people are talking about in posts to the social network.

The Deep Text engine can understand text with "near-human accuracy", a Facebook blogpost explained.

It said the AI system was developed to help people get more out of the site and to help catch spam and other unwanted messages.

Deep Text is being tested with Facebook Messenger and to generate responses to certain search queries.

Spam stopper

With Messenger, the system is primed to spot when people are talking about preparing to travel and this can lead to software robots - known as bots - asking if they need to call a cab.

Similarly, if someone writes that they have something to sell, Deep Text-based bots will grab information about what is being sold and its price and suggest the seller uses Facebook's sales tools to make sure the ad reaches a wide audience.

Deep Text has emerged from work Facebook is doing on bots that can automatically help the site's users.

Future work will refine the AI engine's ability to get at the deeper meanings of text so it can spot subtle connections between words such as "bro" and "brother" that are often missed by other language analysis tools, said Facebook.

Rather than be directed by humans, the software has been allowed to learn about human language by itself and has built a conceptual map of how words are used and how they relate to each other.

The greater understanding of text could be useful when applied to lengthy text-based conversations that take place on Facebook to spot relevant or interesting comments.

It will also be used to clean up message threads by weeding out spam or other unwanted replies.

Facebook also said it planned to use Deep Text to improve its understanding of what people like so it can refine the information and adverts they are shown.

Currently, said Facebook, Deep Text can analyse several thousand posts per second and can handle more than 20 languages.

Mike Murphy, writing on the Quartz tech news website, said there were dangers involved in mapping people's interests ever more closely.

"As Facebook gets better at offering us personalised search results from our networks, as useful as those might be, it also keeps us in a more insular version of the web," he wrote.

 

 

 

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