Google Researchers Make Image Recognition Breakthrough

Google research has announced they may have reached a significant milestone in image recognition.   In a demonstration and paper they’ll present today at an imaging conference Google will:

…. begin with an unnamed, untagged picture of a landmark, enter its web address into the recognition engine, and poof — the computer identifies and names it: “Recognized Landmark: Acropolis, Athens, Greece.” Thanks computer.

Although they explain this is not a new Google project, the implications of a very robust computerized imaging are very significant.   I’m not clear how this research intersects or relates to the facial recognition work of Riya and other companies, but as *hundreds of billions* of images pour onto the web from all over the world and as artificial intelligence systems such as the autonomous self driving vehicles of the Darpa challenge evolve, image recognition is certainly a very key element of the innovations that are driving computing forward.

Human information processing is primarily driven by visual interpretations and cues, so this may be considered something of an Artificial Intelligence milestone.

Wolfram Alpha Search. It’s no Google.

Reporting:  Joe Hunkins

Early hype suggesting that new search engine Wolfram Alpha could be a possible “Google Killer” quickly shifted to a focus on Wolfram’s new approach to search, which they call “computational”.     Although Technology-Report had early access to the program it is now open to all here:  http://www.wolframalpha.com

Although I’ve only spent a short time looking for inspiration at Wolfram Alpha, I’d have to say I could not find any answers where I felt Wolfram would beat out a Google search combined with some quick scans of the listed resources.     Wolfram’s promise was to deliver “the answer” to complicated questions but it seems to work well only for the kinds of information it appears they have already sliced and diced into packages, and I’m not clear it even beats out a Wikipedia entry when searching for data like states or countries where a packaged approach to the information is best.

A quick comparison of Wolfram’s answer to “New York” vs Google’s vs Wikipedia’s

In a case like this I’d argue Wikipedia is the clear winner, giving the user extensive information and links to more.   Google second with good lists, and Wolfram a distant third with very limited information given the wealth of data online.

For students creating notes (or papers to hand in!) Wolfram may provide some great tools with its unique organization schema, but for most internet researchers and browsers I think Google has nothing to worry about here at all.

What is IBM Watson?

IBM announced a new technology today called “Watson” that they say can compete with human abilities in the game of Jeopardy. Although we have not yet seen examples of Watson in action, if true IBM may have a leg up in the powerful “semantic web” wars which will usher in the next generation of search tools – programs that do a much better job of understanding the meaning wrapped up in search queries.

Watson would be the first major breakthrough in semantic search in some time. Powerset, a company many felt held great promise in this field, debuted after much fanfare with a marginally useful product that only managed to work well within the somewhat narrow confines of Wikipedia content. Microsoft aquired Powerset over a year ago and to my knowledge no major improvements have been made since.

IBM’s “Web Fountain” may have something to do with their Watson effort – Web Fountain is arguably the best search in the world, though speed and scaling issues have made it non-competitive with Google.

Photo Credit:  Technology Report, CES 2009.

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

Google Chrome: It’s a very good browser, so why don’t we use it?

When Google Chrome launched several months ago I think a lot of folks assumed they’d be switching to that browser, which uses several excellent innovations to enhance online navigation.     Google even issued a nifty comic book to help explain the innovation, and blogs were buzzing for weeks with mostly neutral or favorable reviews.

So what happened?    Why is Google Chrome market share so small compared to Firefox and IE?

The first reason of course is simply  … habit ….   It’s very hard to get people – even innovative online folks – to change from one good application to another.   Contrary to a lot of silly suggestions the Internet Explorer browser was not broken and even though FireFox has slowly been gaining market share it is clear that the rapid demise of IE was greatly exaggerated.     I use FireFox but I’d hardly say it’s dramatically superior or even all that different from IE.

Although it’s hurting Google Chrome, our habituation works very well for Google in the search sphere where people tend to use Google for search without even testing against other engines – that game is over and until we see a major new semantic search innovation Google’s likely to be the search of choice for years to come.

Interestingly Google Chrome really does “feel” different to me and on balance I liked the differences, yet like millions of other onliners who loaded up Chrome I did not switch over and rarely use that browser now.  I know one of my concerns was the uncertainty that still surrounds Google’s treatment of the data I indirectly share with them using Google products.   As a regular user of Google search, Gmail, blogger, and more watching Google both become dominant and also struggle to maintain their legendarily high online revenue I do worry that Google has too great a potential to become “the boss of me”.

Still not sure what’s up with Chrome, but as with many things internet it’s good to head over to Matt Cutts’ blog to get a very well informed opinion.     Matt is one of a handful of Google’s veteran search engineers and writes what for many is the key blog discussing issues relating to search, especially Google search.

Matt’s Five Reasons to Use Google Chrome

Matt’s Ten Reasons Not to Like Google Chrome

Hmmm – I don’t think it’s fair to use the 5 vs 10 math here, but maybe Matt’s on to something.   As creatures of habit we tend to settle in to the familiar and with the new we quickly look for things that bother us.   Google Chrome may in fact be the best browser, and I think I’d want to take the Crhome side in a debate even though I’m not using it, but not sure if I’ll be able to break the old browser habits.    Will you?

Mashup Camp 8 in Mountain View

by Joe Hunkins – Technology Report

The buzz here at Mashup Camp day one of three is mostly about solution providers”, most of which are making it easier to build very robust mashups using fairly simple tool sets.     The learning curve factor varies and I’m still digesting information, but the most impressive so far seems to be IBM’s Mashup Center which reminds me of the Google Gadget project which itself was basically launched at Mashup Camp 1 by Adam Sah and has become something of a world wide widget standard.

This morning twelve solution providers gave fast “speed geek” sessions to introduce their products and now we are reviewing some in more depth in longer sessions.     IMHO this is an excellent format even though it’s a little more structured than you’d have in a more interactive setup.