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Chrome

Google Starts Using HTML5 By Default Instead of Flash For Some Chrome Users (venturebeat.com) 39

Google announced in a blog post today that it will be rolling out a feature over the next few months that starts disabling Flash and displaying HTML5 content instead on certain websites. Google notes, "This change disables Adobe Flash Player unless there's a user indication that they want Flash content on specific sites, and eventually all websites will require the user's permission to run Flash." VentureBeat reports: Google has deployed the change for half of the people who are using Chrome 56 beta, which rolled out yesterday, Google technical program manager Eric Deily wrote in a blog post. Then, "in the next few days," Deily wrote, the feature will be active for 1 percent of users of Chrome 55 stable. And by February 2016 it will be live for all users in Chrome 56 stable, Deily wrote. The idea is to lessen the dependence on a web component that can cause a drag on CPU and memory usage and shorten battery life as a result. Flash also has a track record of security issues.
Google

Google Is Testing User Ratings For Movies, TV Within Search Results (techcrunch.com) 11

Google has confirmed to Search Engine Land that it is testing a feature allowing users to rate movies or TV shows directly in the search results interface. "We're currently experimenting with the feature but have nothing to announce at this time," a Google spokesperson said. TechCrunch reports: Unlike other movie and TV rating platforms, Google's feature is not on a scale from one to five but instead offers a binary choice: like or dislike. Information about weather, ticket purchasing options and more used to be available on unique, individual websites. Today, however, Google has incorporated this information and functionality into the search results layer of its own service. Within the movie ratings feature, users will also be able to see the Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb ratings for the title, as they always have. You can view a screenshot of the rating system here.
Google

Alphabet Donated Its Employees' Holiday Gifts To Charity (fortune.com) 382

The employee perks at Google are legendary, and they've always included an over-the-top holiday gift for every employee. In the past, the company has surprised its 70,000 employees with Nexus phones, Android smartwatches, and Chromebooks. Fortune adds:This year employees speculated they might get Google's new Pixel phones or a Google Home unit, the company's competitor to Amazon's Echo. But they forgot: They don't work for Google anymore. They work for Alphabet. Instead of a shiny new gadget, Alphabet employees got an email. On Thursday Bloomberg published a bruising story about the new, cost-conscious regime of Alphabet, driven by its corporate re-organization and its ex-Wall Street CFO, Ruth Porat. Shortly after the story hit, employees were informed that their holiday gift this year was a donation to charity, Fortune has learned. Alphabet donated $30 million worth of Chromebooks, phones, and associated tech support to schools on its employees' behalf.
Transportation

Michigan Lets Autonomous Cars On Roads Without Human Driver (go.com) 165

Companies can now test self-driving cars on Michigan public roads without a driver or steering wheel under new laws that could push the state to the forefront of autonomous vehicle development. From a report on ABC: The package of bills signed into law Friday comes with few specific state regulations and leaves many decisions up to automakers and companies like Google and Uber. It also allows automakers and tech companies to run autonomous taxi services and permits test parades of self-driving tractor-trailers as long as humans are in each truck. And they allow the sale of self-driving vehicles to the public once they are tested and certified, according to the state. The bills allow testing without burdensome regulations so the industry can move forward with potential life-saving technology, said Gov. Rick Snyder, who was to sign the bills. "It makes Michigan a place where particularly for the auto industry it's a good place to do work," he said.
Communications

Google Now Lets Developers Write Apps For the Assistant On Google Home (techcrunch.com) 38

Google today announced it will open up Home to third-party developers, allowing all developers to start bringing their applications and services to the Google Assistant. Developers can start building "conversation actions" for the Google Assistant, which "allows developers to create back-and-forth conversations with users through the Assistant," writes Frederic Lardinois via TechCrunch. "Users can simply start these conversations by using a phrase like 'OK Google, talk to Eliza.'" TechCrunch reports: While the Assistant also runs on the Pixel phones and inside the Allo chat app, Google says it plans to bring actions to these other "Assistant surfaces" in the future, but it's unclear when exactly this will happen. To help developers who want to build these new Conversation Actions get started, Google has teamed up with a number of partners, including API.AI, GupShup, DashBot and VoiceLabs, Assist, Notify.IO, Witlingo and Spoken Layer. Google has also allowed a small number of partners to enable their apps on Google Home already. These integrations will roll out as early as next week. Given that users will be able to invoke these new actions with a simple command (and without having to first enable a skill, like on Alexa), Google's platform looks to be a rather accessible and low-friction way for developers to get their voice-enabled services to users. Google will have the final say over which actions will be enabled on Google Home.
AI

AI Will Disrupt How Developers Build Applications and the Nature of the Applications they Build (zdnet.com) 98

AI will soon help programmers improve development, says Diego Lo Giudice, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, in an article published on ZDNet today. He isn't saying that programmers will be out of jobs soon and AIs will take over. But he is making a compelling argument for how AI has already begun disrupting how developers build applications. An excerpt from the article: We can see early signs of this: Microsoft's Intellisense is integrated into Visual Studio and other IDEs to improve the developer experience. HPE is working on some interesting tech previews that leverage AI and machine learning to enable systems to predict key actions for participants in the application development and testing life cycle, such as managing/refining test coverage, the propensity of a code change to disrupt/break a build, or the optimal order of user story engagement. But AI will do much more for us in the future. How fast this happens depends on the investments and focus on solving some of the harder problems, such as "unsupervised deep learning," that firms like Google, FaceBook, Baidu and others are working on, with NLP linguists that are too researching on how to improve language comprehension by computers leveraging ML and neural networks. But in the short term, AI will most likely help you be more productive and creative as a developer, tester, or dev team rather than making you redundant.
Printer

Google Cloud Print Is Turning Off Epson Printers (pcmag.com) 73

When Google launched Cloud Print, it removed a lot of the hassle from using a printer. Instead of a printer only printing documents from the PC it was connected to, Cloud Print allowed any device, be it a Windows PC, Mac, Chromebook, smartphone, tablet, etc. to print to any printer either locally or remotely. However, Google Cloud Print has gone awry this week, as reports PCMag, and Epson printer owners are suffering because of it. From the article: A thread appeared on the Chromebook Central Help Forum explaining a problem where an Epson XP-410$185.00 at Amazon printer was turning itself off after 30 seconds. The printer worked without issue for two years, but now it wouldn't stay powered on. At first, this seems like a printer hardware problem, but the printer started working again once it was disconnected from the Internet. However, as soon as Google Print Cloud was enabled, the automatic power down happened again. Later in the support thread an Epson WF-4630 owner reports the same issue, as do XP-215, XP-415, XP-610, WF-545, WF-845, and WF-7610 owners.A change in Google's API for its cloud service triggered the issue, reports ArsTechnica. The change has caused a conflict between Cloud Print and printers' firmware.

Update: Epson has responded to Slashdot, pointing us to its support page that has instructions on how to fix the issue on many of Epson printers.
Businesses

Google, HTC, Oculus, Samsung, Sony Join Forces To Create Global VR Association (techcrunch.com) 58

Google, HTC, Oculus, Samsung, Sony and Acer have teamed up to form the Global Virtual Reality Association (GVRA) in an effort to reduce fragmentation and failure in the industry. GVRA aims to "unlock and maximize VR's potential," but there are little details as to what this may mean for consumers. TechCrunch reports: What many in the VR community have been thirsting for is some unification of standards in terms of software and hardware. Games bought in the Oculus store don't play on the Vive or PS VR. Sensors for the Vive don't work on Oculus. Sony doesn't play nice with anyone else's standards etc. etc. Valve, which makes the Steam store and SteamVR platform for the HTC Vive and others, is notably not a member of this collective so any hopes of a unified standard (like its OpenVR platform) emerging from this collective is likely not in the cards. From the GVRA press release: "The goal of the Global Virtual Reality Association is to promote responsible development and adoption of VR globally. The association's members will develop and share best practices, conduct research, and bring the international VR community together as the technology progresses. The group will also serve a resource for consumers, policymakers, and industry interested in VR."
Google

Google Is Removing 'In the News' Section From Desktop Search After Criticism (businessinsider.com) 72

Google today confirmed that it is removing "In the news" section from the top of desktop search, and replacing it with a carousel of "Top stories," similar to what exists on mobile. From a new report on BusinessInsider: This move had been planned for quite some time, and is being rolled out globally, according to Google. The removal of the word "news" will, hopefully, help draw a sharper line between Google's human-vetted Google News product, and its main search product. Last month, Google faced scrutiny when one of its top results for "final election count" was fake news. The top result in Google Search's "In the news" section was a Wordpress blog named "70 News," which falsely claimed Trump won the popular vote by a margin of almost 700,000. (He didnâ(TM)t). Google's search results, in contrast to Google News, are not assessed for "truth."
Youtube

YouTube's $1 Billion Royalties Are Not Enough, Says Music Industry (bbc.com) 218

YouTube said Tuesday that it has paid the music industry over one billion dollars in advertising revenue in the past 12 months. The music industry thinks that sum is not enough. From a report on BBC: "Google has issued more unexplained numbers on what it claims YouTube pays the music industry," said a spokesperson for the global music body, the IFPI. "The announcement gives little reason to celebrate, however. With 800 million music users worldwide, YouTube is generating revenues of just over $1 per user for the entire year. "This pales in comparison to the revenue generated by other services, ranging from Apple to Deezer to Spotify. For example, in 2015 Spotify alone paid record labels some $2bn, equivalent to an estimated $18 per user." In his blog post, Mr Kyncl conceded that the current model was not perfect, arguing: "There is a lot of work that must be done by YouTube and the industry as a whole. "But we are excited to see the momentum," he added.
Android

Google Further Shrinks the Size of Android App Updates (engadget.com) 50

Google says it has found and implemented a new way to make app updates on Android smaller. From a report on Engadget: They're introducing a new approach to app updates that promises to radically shrink the size of updates with "file-by-file" patching. The resulting patches tend to be about 65 percent smaller than the app itself, and are sometimes over 90 percent smaller. In the right circumstances, that could make the difference between updating while you're on cellular versus waiting until you find WiFi. The technique revolves around spotting changes in the uncompressed files (that is, when they're not squeezed into a typical app package). Google first decompresses the old and new app versions to determine the changes between files and create a patch. After that, updating is just a matter of unpacking the app on your device, applying changes and compressing it again.
Google

'The Circle' Trailer Looks An Awful Lot Like Google (cnet.com) 77

theodp writes: If you never got around to reading Dave Eggers' novel The Circle, the tale of a powerful tech company that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Google (and has an Apple spaceship-like HQ) is coming to the big screen and the first trailer is out. The film has a release date of spring 2017, and stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega. Remember, sharing is caring!
AI

Microsoft Researchers Offer Predictions For AI, Deep Learning (theverge.com) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Microsoft polled 17 women working in its research organization about the technology advances they expect to see in 2017, as well as a decade later in 2027. The researchers' predictions touch on natural language processing, machine learning, agricultural software, and virtual reality, among other topics. For virtual reality, Mar Gonzalez Franco, a researcher in Microsoft's Redmond lab, believes body tracking will improve next year, and then over the next decade we'll have "rich multi-sensorial experiences that will be capable of producing hallucinations which blend or alter perceives reality." Haptic devices will simulate touch to further enhance the sensory experience. Meanwhile, Susan Dumais, a scientist and deputy managing director at the Redmond lab, believes deep learning will help improve web search results next year. In 2027, however, the search box will disappear, she says. It'll be replaced by search that's more "ubiquitous, embedded, and contextually sensitive." She says we're already seeing some of this in voice-controlled searches through mobile and smart home devices. We might eventually be able to look things up with either sound, images, or video. Plus, our searches will respond to "current location, content, entities, and activities" without us explicitly mentioning them, she says. Of course, it's worth noting that Microsoft has been losing the search box war to Google, so it isn't surprising that the company thinks search will die. With global warming as a looming threat, Asta Roseway, principal research designer, says by 2027 famers will use AI to maintain healthy crop yields, even with "climate change, drought, and disaster." Low-energy farming solutions, like vertical farming and aquaponics, will also be essential to keeping the food supply high, she says. You can view all 17 predictions here.
AI

Apple To Start Publishing AI Research To Hasten Deep Learning (bloomberg.com) 26

In what is a major deviation in its strategy, Apple will allow its artificial intelligence teams to publish research papers for the first time. From a report on Bloomberg: When Apple introduced its Siri virtual assistant in 2011, the company appeared to have a head start over many of its nearest competitors. But it has lost ground since then to the likes of Alphabet's Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. Researchers say among the reasons Apple has failed to keep pace is its unwillingness to allow its AI engineers to publish scientific papers, stymieing its ability to feed off wider advances in the field. That policy has now changed, Russ Salakhutdinov, an Apple director of AI research, said Monday at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Barcelona. One attendee posted a photo of a slide from Salakhutdinov's presentation stating "Can we publish? Yes. Do we engage with academia? Yes."
Youtube

YouTube Pays Music Industry $1 Billion From Ads (cnet.com) 75

YouTube, the music industry's enemy No. 1 earlier this year, said Tuesday it has paid more than $1 billion in advertising revenue to artists, labels and publishers in the last 12 months. From a report on CNET: The milestone, released in a blog post by business chief Robert Kyncl, is a stab by Google's giant video site at mending fences with music industry critics. At least, it's YouTube hoping to convince some of them that the massive amount of free, ad-supported music listening that happens there is a valuable complement to music subscriptions, the industry's main area of growth right now.
Google

Google Says It Is About To Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy (blog.google) 176

Google said today it will power 100 percent of its sprawling data centers and offices with renewable energy starting next year. The company said today it has bought enough wind and solar power to account for all the electricity it uses globally each year. In comparison, 44 percent of Google's power supplies came from renewables last year. From a blogpost: To reach this goal we'll be directly buying enough wind and solar electricity annually to account for every unit of electricity our operations consume, globally. And we're focusing on creating new energy from renewable sources, so we only buy from projects that are funded by our purchases. Over the last six years, the cost of wind and solar came down 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, proving that renewables are increasingly becoming the lowest cost option. Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centers, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy.
Education

White House Silence Seems To Confirm $4 Billion 'Computer Science For All' K-12 Initiative Is No More 278

theodp writes: "2016 as a year of action builds on a decade of national, state, and grassroots activity to revitalize K-12 computer science education," reads the upbeat White House blog post kicking off Computer Science Education Week. But conspicuous by its absence in the accompanying fact sheet for A Year of Action Supporting Computer Science for All is any mention of the status of President Obama's proposed $4 billion Computer Science For All initiative, which enjoyed support from the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. On Friday, tech-backed Code.org posted An Update on Computer Science Education and Federal Funding, which explained that Congress's passage of a 'continuing resolution' extending the current budget into 2017 spelled curtains for federal funding for the program in 2016 and beyond. "We don't have any direct feedback yet about the next administration's support for K-12 CS," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi and Govt. Affairs VP Cameron Wilson, "other than a promise to expand 'vocational and technical education' as part of Trump's 100-day plan which was published in late October. I am hopeful that this language may translate into support for funding K-12 computer science at a federal level. However, we should assume that it will not."
Software

Windows 10 'Home Hub' Is Microsoft's Response To Amazon Echo and Google Home (mashable.com) 101

Microsoft's response to the Amazon Echo and Google Home is Home Hub, a software update for Windows 10's Cortana personal assistant that turns any Windows PC into a smart speaker of sorts. Mashable reports: Microsoft's smart digital assistant Cortana can already answer your queries, even if the PC's screen is locked. The Home Hub is tied to Cortana and takes this a few steps further. It would add a special app with features such as calendar appointments, sticky notes and shopping lists. A Home Hub-enabled PC might have a Welcome Screen, a full-screen app that displays all these, like a virtual fridge door. Multiple users (i.e. family members) could use the Home Hub, either by authenticating through Windows Hello or by working in a family-shared account. Cortana would get more powerful on Home Hub; it could, for example, control smart home devices, such as lights and locks. And even though all of this will work on any Windows 10 device -- potentially making the PC the center of your smart home experience -- third-party manufacturers will be able to build devices that work with Home Hub. You can read Windows Central's massive report here. Do note that Home Hub is not official and individual features could change over time. The update is slated for 2017.
Android

Google Is Rolling Out Android 7.1.1 (engadget.com) 75

Google is rolling out Android 7.1.1 for Pixel and Nexus smartphones, including the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus Player, Pixel C and General Mobile 4G (Android One). You can download it over-the-air when it becomes available "over the next several weeks" or flash it yourself. Engadget details some of the new features found in Android 7.1.1: As for what you can find from a feature perspective, Google has added support for its "image keyboard" that lets you easily find and send pictures and GIFs without leaving your messaging app of choice. Google says it'll work inside of Hangouts, Allo, and the default Messaging app. Ironically enough, the feature has been available in the Gboard iOS keyboard that Google launched in the spring, but it's good to see it coming to more Android phones now. Android 7.1.1 also includes Google's latest set of more diverse emoji, specifically focused on showing a "wider range of professions" for women. And it also contains the excellent app shortcut feature that originally launched on the Pixel -- if you press and hold on an app's icon, a sub-menu of shortcuts will show up. You'll be able to quickly send a message to a specific contact or navigate to a saved location using these shortcuts, for example. They're very much like the "force touch" shortcuts found on the iPhone, but that doesn't make them any less useful.
Google

Google Preparing 'Invisible ReCAPTCHA' System For No User Interaction (bleepingcomputer.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Google engineers are working on an improved version of the reCAPTCHA system that uses a computer algorithm to distinguish between automated bots and real humans, and requires no user interaction at all. Called "Invisible reCAPTCHA," and spotted by Windows IT Pro, the service is still under development, but the service is open for sign-ups, and any webmaster can help Google test its upcoming technology. Invisible reCAPTCHA comes two years after Google has revolutionized CAPTCHA technologies by releasing the No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA service that requires users to click on one checkbox instead of solving complex visual puzzles made up of words and numbers. The service helped reduce the time needed to fill in forms, and maintained the same high-level of spam detection we've become accustomed from the reCAPTCHA service. The introduction of the new Invisible reCAPTCHA technology is unlikely to make the situation better for Tor users since CloudFlare will likely force them to solve the same puzzle if they come from IPs seen in the past performing suspicious actions. Nevertheless, CloudFlare started working on an alternative.

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