Computers at CES?




ASUS at CES

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

There are more different types, sizes, and brands of computers at CES than you can shake a stick at, though Apple is always conspicuously absent. In fact the Apple Tablet somewhat overshadowed much of the innovations of the Las Vegas show because clearly the Apple Tablet is going to be the “one to beat”, especially given the lack of any clearly “superb” tablet offering at CES.

Although I have not done enough research to generalize much about the best new PCs I think it’s clear that the mainsteam trend is towards smaller laptops and netbooks with robust features. Costs are going down – features that would have been unheard of at any cost 5 years ago are now standard on even a modest PC. Battery life is impressive and getting better – one of the ASUS PCs shown here had a battery that lasted something like 10 hours.

ASUS also has a new interesting line of *very large* laptops with high quality speakers built into the sides of the chassis to the left and right of the screen. Although heavy, these will offer huge power and a “desktop” feel for your mobile computing. Still, I think weight is the key factor driving down PC size and predict it’ll be the netbooks that dominate the market for the next few years.

Ford’s Allan Mulally- the best/last auto man standing?

Ford CEO Allan Mulally will again keynote this year’s CES.    Last year Mulally’s keynote was exceptional both in content and innovation as well as how passionately Mulally seemed to feel about Ford’s prospects in the very troubled times of the auto industry.   With a background in Aerospace Engineering, Mulally seemed the right man at the right time to face the difficult challenges ahead for Ford.

After the talk I had a chance to ask him if Ford would need auto industry bailout money and he said “no”.    Although Ford has enjoyed some loans from the US Energy Department I do not believe they’ve requested bailout funding, and it really appears that under Mulally’s  leadership Ford will emerge successfully and eventually profitably from the near collapse of the US Auto industry.

mullalyCES09Photo by Technology Report – OK to use with attribution.

Neuroscience Expert Dr. Henry Markram on the IBM “Cat Brain” Simulation: “IBM’s claim is a HOAX”

Editors Note:   We’re hoping for more information from Dr. Modha who is also welcome to a Guest post here at Technology Report.

——   Guest Post by Dr. Henry Markram of the Blue Brain Project —-

IBM’s claim is a HOAX.

This is a mega public relations stunt – a clear case of scientific deception of the public. These simulations do not even come close to the complexity of an ant, let alone that of a cat. IBM allows Mohda to mislead the public into believing that they have simulated a brain with the complexity of a cat – sheer nonsense.

Here are the scientific reasons why this is a hoax and misleading PR stunt:

How complex is their model?
They claim to have simulated over a billion neurons interacting. Their so called “neurons” are the tiniest of points you can imagine, a microscopic dot. Over 98% of the volume of a neuron is branches (like a tree). They just cut off all the branches and roots and took a point in the middle of the trunk to represent a entire neuron. In real life, each segment of the branches of a neuron contains dozens of ion channels that powerfully controls the information processing in a neuron. They have none of that. Neurons contain 10’s of thousands of proteins that form a network with 10’s of millions of interactions. These interactions are incredibly complex and will require solving millions of differential equations. They have none of that. Neurons contain around 20’000 genes that produce products called mRNA, which builds the proteins. The way neurons build proteins and transport them to all the corners of the neuron where they are needed is an even more complex process which also controls what a neuron is, its memories and how it will process information. They have none of that. They use an alpha function (up fast down slow) to simulate a synaptic event. This is a completely inaccurate representation of a synapse. There are at least 6 types of synapses that are highly non-linear in their transmission (i.e. that transform inputs and not only transmit inputs). In fact you would need a 10’s of thousands of differential equations to simulate one synapse. Synapses are also extremely complex molecular machines that would themselves require thousands of differential equations to simulate just one. They simulated none of this. There are complex differential equations that must be solved to simulate the ionic flow in the branches, to simulate the ion channels biophysics, the protein-protein interactions, as well as the complete biochemical and genetic machinery as well as the synaptic transmission between neurons. 100’s of thousands of more differential equations. They have none of this. Then there are glia – 10 times more than neurons..And the blood supply…and more and more. These “points” they simulated and the synapses that they use for communication are literally millions of times simpler than a real cat brain. So they have not even simulated a cat’s brain at more than one millionth of it’s complexity.

Is it nonetheless the biggest point neuron simulation ever run?
No. These people simulated 1 billion points interacting. They used a formulation to model the summing up and threshold spiking of the “points” called the Izhikevik Formulation (an extremely simple equation). Eugene Izhikevik himself already in 2005 ran a simulation with 100 billion such points interacting just for the fun of it: (over 60 times larger than Modha’s simulation). This simulation ran on a cluster of desktop PCs and which every graduate student can run This is no technical achievement and certainly not even a record number of point neurons. That model exhibited oscillations, but that always happens so even simulating 100 Billion such points interacting is light years away from a brain.
see: http://www.izhikevich.org/human_brain_simulation/Blue_Brain.htm#Simulation%20of%20Large-Scale%20Brain%20Models

Is the simulator they built a big step?
Not even close. There are numerous proprietary and peer-reviewed neurosimulators (e.g., NCS, pNEURON, SPLIT, NEST) out there that can handle very large parallel models that are essentially only bound by the available memory. The bigger the machine you have available, the more neurons you can simulate. All these simulators apply optimizations for the particular platform in order to make optimal use of the available hardware. Without any comparison to existing simulators, their publication is a non-peer reviewed claim.

Did they learn anything about the brain?
They got very excited because they saw oscillations. Oscillations are an obligatory artifact that one always gets when many points interact. These findings that they claim on the neuroscience side may excite engineers, but not neuroscientists.

Why did they get the Gordon Bell Prize?
They submitted a non-peer reviewed paper to the Gordon Bell Committee and were awarded the prize almost instantly after they made their press release. They seem to have been very successful in influencing the committee with their claim, which technically is not peer-reviewed by the respective community and is neuroscientifically outrageous.

But is there any innovation here?
The only innovation here is that IBM has built a large supercomputer – which is irrelevant to the press release.

Why did IBM let Mohda make such a deceptive claim to the public?
I don’t know. Perhaps this is a publicity stunt to promote their supercompter. The supercomputer industry is suffering from the financial crisis and they probably are desperate to boost their sales. It is so disappointing to see this truly great company allow the deception of the public on such a grand scale.

But have you not said you can simulate the Human brain in 10 years?
I am a biologist and neuroscientist that has studied the brain for 30 years.  I know how complex it is. I believe that with the right resources and the right strategy it is possible. We have so far only simulated a small part of the brain at the cellular level of a rodent and I have always been clear about that.

Would other neuroscientists agree with you?
There is no neuroscientist on earth that would agree that they came even close to simulating the cat’s brain – or any brain.

But did Mohda not collaborate with neuroscientists?
I would be very surprised if any neuroscientists that he may have had in his DARPA consortium realized he was going to make such an outrages claim. I can’t imagine that that the San Fransisco neuroscientists knew he was going to make such a stupid claim. Modha himself is a software engineer with no knowledge of the brain.

But did you not collaborate with IBM?
I was collaborating with IBM on the Blue Brain Project at the very beginning because they had the best available technology to faithfully allow us to integrate the diversity and complexity found in brain tissue into a model. This for me is a major endeavor to advance our insights into the brain and drug development. Two years ago, when the same Dharmendra Mhoda claimed the “mouse-scale simulations”, I cut all neuroscience collaboration with IBM because this is an unethical claim and it deceives the public.

What IBM allowed Modha to do here is not only wrong, but outrageous. They deceived millions of people.

Henry Markram
Blue Brain Project

IBM / DARPA SyNAPSE announce new brain simulation at Supercomputing Conference

Update:  The reports of  this breakthrough at a ‘cat brain’ level may be quite misleading or exaggerated.  I’m in contact with Henry Markram, a leading brain researcher spearheading the “Blue Brain” simulation in France, and waiting for his permission to post his concerns about the claims from IBM researchers.

At the Supercomputing Conference SC09 in Portland Oregon IBM has announced a spectacular advance in our ability to mechanically simulate cognitive activity with machines – they have developed a brain simulation that approximates a cat brain in complexity.

We have profiled the SyNAPSE project here at Technology Report thanks to a guest post by one of those working there. This new development is a remarkable advance given that SyNAPSE has been going strong for under one year. With a cat brain complexity under its belt it appears only a matter of a few more years before the project is likely to have modeled interactions at the scale of human brain complexity.

The most provocative idea about brain modelling is that these models will at some point attain human-like consciousness along with the ability to communicate with humans and (hopefully) cooperate with us in problem solving. No longer just a science fiction topic, this potential “explosion of intelligence” relates to one of the hottest topics in technology – the Singularity.

More on the IBM Blue Matter project from:

Forbes
Popular Mechanics

CES 2010: Carol Bartz to Keynote at CES Las Vegas

Update:  Bartz will not be speaking at CES 2010:  http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2355792,00.asp

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz will be one of the keynotes at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Bartz will speak at 11 AM Thursday, January 7th in the Las Vegas Hilton.

Bartz was Autodesk CEO from 1992 to 1996, and took the helm of a troubled Yahoo in January 2009, just months after Yahoo founder Jerry Yang resigned the post after months of controversy surrounding his decision to avoid a Microsoft takeover of Yahoo at upwards of $31 per share.

Bartz is known as a “no nonsense” tough executive and many assumed at the time her job was to groom the company for a Microsoft takeover. However that never materialized.  Instead, Yahoo and Microsoft recently announced a joint search deal where Yahoo will effectively be dropping Yahoo search and using Microsoft BING search technology instead.  Yahoo will continue to sell advertising across both networks giving the combined Microsoft Yahoo search empire a larger advertising footprint.   Most feel this deal is more beneficial to Microsoft than Yahoo since it expands BING’s reach at only a small cost to Microsoft.   Yahoo will retain most of the advertising revenues for the next several years in this deal.

Perhaps Bartz most quotable moments to date were about a month into her tenure when she said she would “kick ass” with the Yahoo brand and also inadvertently suggested that some Yahoo engineers were not “f**king doing anything.”

Other executives expected to give keynote addresses at CES 2010 include Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, Alan Mulally of Ford (see our CES 2009 Coverage of Mulally’s keynote) , Paul Otellini of Intel, and Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo of Nokia.

Yahoo CEO Terry Semel spoke at CES 2006, and Jerry Yang gave a very uninspired talk in 2008 CES, but Yahoo had little to say at CES 2009.

Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association said after the announcement:

“Yahoo is a top global brand whose vision is to be the center of people’s online lives, and Carol Bartz is leading the development of Yahoo’s approach to delivering personally relevant, meaningful Internet experiences,”


Disclosure:  Joe owns YHOO stock

Digital Nomads

Original by Joe for the Dell Digital Nomad Blog:

As a digital nomad myself I’ve found that despite the wonders of an “almost always connected” environment there remain challenges in the motivation and attention departments. The ability to do work on the road pretty much from anywhere andactually doing work from anywhere are not – exusing the pun – even remotely the same two things. In fact it is important to be mindful of one of the classic pitfalls of being a digital nomad which is using the power of the ubiquitous workspace to put off “until later” work that is best done from the office – e.g. work that may require paper or personal documents or information histories that are unavailable online.   The ability to work 24/7 should not distract you from the fact you cannot work 24/7, and need to manage your time effectively regardless of your work environment.

Yet the productivity pitfalls for the remote workforce pale next to the productivity advantages. A workforce of digital nomads can use downtime in airports and waiting for meetings to check email, make calls, and conduct other follow ups. Unlike their counterparts who are chained to an office desk at a single location, the digital nomad travels fully equipped to handle most if not all the demands of their job from pretty much any location.  A Customer complaint needs handling in real time? Call them and email follow up online information and links to support the troubleshooting.   Here the customer will be impressed with your “”From the road” response, knowing that you are there for them all the time.   Is a server down?  Remote reboot from a laptop with EVDO card or over coffee at a WiFi hotspot at the coffee shop or airport.

An example of a digitally nomadic benefit I experienced last year came while covering CES 2008 – the massive Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show.  I often worked  from the blogger lounge, using online tools and blogging combined with Treo picture uploads to cover several sessions and product launches almost in real time.  In some ways I was working faster and covering more topics  than most of the thousands of “old school” journalists at the event.

When GM CEO Rick Wagoner released the Cadillac Provoq on the Keynote stage I was one of the first – if not the very first – to have pictures online since I could take the shot and then upload and caption it from my second row seat at the Venetian Ballroom.

In summary I’d suggest that productivity is more a function of the worker and how they are motivated than which tools they choose to use, but certainly companies large and small should always look for the best ways to digitally enable their workforce, empowering them to work effectively … anytime and everywhere.

Onlive online gaming coming to a cloud near you.

Onlive, in stealth development for the past seven years, launched as a beta today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.     We’ve not done any testing but the claims of this service are quite extraordinary and unless they fail to deliver on the promises this could actually become something of the  gaming revolution Onlive claims to be as they plan to move console users off their expensive devices and into the cloud and compete very directly with the shrinkwrapped video game market, providing instant streaming and downloads of the latest major games.    Onlive allows users to access most popular console video games, download and play them over broadband on a computer or TV using a special adapter.

Historically console games have had perceived advantages over PC based games but Onlive suggests they’ve bridged that gap and that their massive server infrastructure combine with special coding of the applications such that a normal computer equipped with broadband will see outstanding game play.

New CEO Bartz on Yahoo “Look for this company’s brand to kick ass again.”

Only in Silicon Valley could a CEO get away talking about their brand “kicking ass”, but Yahoo’s in Silicon Valley and Carol Bartz is their new tough talking CEO, who today wrote in Yahoo’s official blog “Yahoo Anecdotal” that Yahoo is “Getting our house in order“.  Among other thing Bartz says she is :

….rolling out a new management structure that I believe will make Yahoo! a lot faster on its feet. For us working at Yahoo!, it means everything gets simpler. We’ll be able to make speedier decisions, the notorious silos are gone, and we have a renewed focus on the customer. For you using Yahoo! every day, it will better enable us to deliver products that make you say, “Wow.”

When former Yahoo CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang (Yahoo was co-founded with David Filo) left the company a few months ago Carol Bartz stepped in aggressively, presumably tasked by Yahoo’s board to either turn the company around or prepare for a sale of Yahoo Search, or perhaps even the entire company, to Microsoft.

Given that turning Yahoo around is considered by most to be extremely challenging and long term,  I think we should assume Bartz is working the Microsoft sales angle even though much of the tough talk is more along today’s lines of restoring the second most recognizable internet brand to at least a shadow of Yahoo’s former glory.     Note though that even assuming a sale to MIcrosoft is in the goal, it’s probably in Yahoo shareholder’s best interests for Bartz to talk and work towards shoring up the brand, hoping to encourage Microsoft to offer more of a premium over the current share price than they might if they knew a deal was inevitable.

We can get some insight into what Carl Icahn – one of Yahoo’s largest shareholders and board members –  is looking for in this deal thanks to this excellent report on his stock holdings and pricing.   With an average share price is in the neighborhood of $20-25,  I would argue that Icahn wants Microsoft to come in somewhere north of that for him to agree to a sale.     Microsoft offered $31 officially last year before the stock meltdown and most fell they would have paid about $34, but clearly that deal is long off the table. However given Microsoft’s lackluster online performance and the chance for a crack at Google’s dominance, look for Microsoft to make an offer soon.  Look for Yahoo to probably take it.

DISCLOSURE:   Technology Reporter Joe Hunkins is long on YHOO

Carol Bartz to become Yahoo’s new CEO

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Carol Bartz is about to accept Yahoo’s offer to be their new CEO, replacing Jerry Yang after his stint of about a year where Yahoo saw their share price collapse after a rejection of offers from Microsoft that many feel were as much an ego play by Yang than a reasoned business decision.

Bartz has been CEO of Autodesk and it remains somewhat unclear why Yahoo’s board sees Bartz as the best person for the job at this challenging time in Yahoo’s corporate history. One idea bandied about on CNBC right now is that Yahoo’s plans are to sell off their search business to Microsoft and then reinvent themselves as a software company, although I’m skeptical even Yahoo would be so foolish as to think they can monetize software in the current online environment where most software is free.

Yahoo does have huge potential to leverage it’s brilliant Web 2.0 development to date (e.g. Flickr, Open Search APIs, etc), but only if they can find ways to make sure their huge internet footprint stays intact and users start to see and interact with Yahoo advertising. If Bartz can do this Yahoo’s prospects could improve significantly.

Disclosure: Long on YHOO

Ford CEO Alan Mulally at CES 2009

Ford CEO Allan Mulally really impressed the crowd and reporters after his CES Keynote about Ford in vehicle connectivity and navigation innovations including systems to merge cellular connectivity with vehicle systems, a customizable dashboard, and a humanized communication interace called “Eva” which will allow the driver to request features and “talk” to the car.

Mulally was even more impressive after his talk when he answered questions from the tech crowd about Ford’s plans.   His enthusiasm or Ford and for technology in cars came through loud and clear.

I had a chance to ask him if he thought all this innovation would require money from the government as part of the auto industry bailout.   Ford is the only one of the three key US manufacturers that has not asked for money, and Mulally indicated they did not have plans to do so based on his assessments of the quality of Ford vehicles and how their new models are gaining acceptance even in Europe, especially Germany where Ford remains a popular brand name.

Although I wouldn’t bet on Ford not asking for a piece of the bailout pie eventually it is great to see a charismatic and technologically sophisticated fellow in charge of one of American’s most complex and valuable industries.  If Mullaly can’t pull Ford’s feet out of the fire, nobody can.