Google Translates Business Reviews With AI

If you’re travelling overseas and you want to find a business, bar, restaurant or shop, you will soon be able to read high-quality translations of the reviews that are displayed in Google Search results and Google Maps thanks to an AI upgrade.

What’s The Problem?

If you don’t have much local or prior knowledge about the best shops, businesses and attractions of an overseas town / city that you’ve travelled to for a holiday or business (and if you don’t speak the language) your opportunities and experiences can be limited. Turning to Google to get insider knowledge has, up until now, meant the wasted time and hassle of copying and pasting reviews in piece-by-piece sentences, into translation tools with often confusing results.

Automatically, Intelligently Translated

The new service from Google means that AI technology in the form of the Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT), which was first introduced last autumn, can now automatically display reviews in the language that your phone / device is set to.

Not only that, but because the system takes advantage of deep neural networks to translate entire sentences and not just phrases (plus the fact that it is able to improve its translation the more it is used) means that translations are displayed that are more like the way a language is actually spoken.

This saves the viewer the time and trouble of trying to find meaning from often confusing chunks of sentences and therefore enables faster, better choices (based on the reviews) of locations / destinations.

Expansion

The GNMT system, which initially supported English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish has had its capacity expanded since the end of last year to include Russian, Vietnamese and Thai.

Positive media reports in India have highlighted the improved translations between English and nine major Indian languages – Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi and Bengali.
Competitors

Google has been building up its local reviews feature (with the help of its users) in recent years, so the improved and enhanced translation service can now present some serious competition to rival travel apps and Facebook’s ‘City Guides’.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you travel abroad for business, for example, this service from Google could prove to be a valuable source of reference for both the business and leisure part of your stay. For businesses in this country, access to this service by visitors from overseas could help to generate more business (provided the online reviews are good).

New App Lets You Book Hotels By The Minute

The new ‘Recharge’ App has launched in the US, which lets users book big city hotel rooms ‘by the minute’.

Why Book By The Minute?

The app, developed by two-year-old San Francisco-based start-up Recharge is designed to appeal to people who just need a base in the city for a short space of time. These user groups include business people who want to freshen up prior to a meeting, families who are shopping in the city but need a place to relax, or people who need a place to stay between spread-out meetings /appointments on the same day.

The app charges rooms out at anything from 66 cents to $3 a minute, depending on the quality of the hotel. The service offers an affordable, practical and flexible solution to users, and an opportunity for hotels to generate more revenue and gain new customers.

Good Hotels

Although some technical commentators have been quick to identify possible illicit uses for the service, Recharge now has partnerships with 15 high-quality properties in its home town of San Francisco (including the five-star hotel Taj Campton Place), and now many good hotels in New York including Pierre, W New York, The Knickerbocker and 1 Hotel Central.

Popular

To date, the Recharge service, which was tested for a year in San Francisco prior to its New York launch this week, is reported to have been used by 25,000 people. The average stay using the services is two hours, and 75 percent of the people who’ve tried the service have used it more than once. Many customers are reported to have used the service several times a week, and sometimes more than once in the same day.

Scope

The Recharge service is already thought to have plenty of scope for augmenting and expanding the offering and focusing on more market segments. For example, partnerships with airlines could see Recharge being offered as a perk to for first-class travellers, Recharge packages of 10 hours to stay in hotels in San Francisco or New York could be offered, and food, massages, and even personal trainers could be included with the packages.

Venture Capital And Seed Funding

Recharge has been able to get off the ground so quickly thanks to venture capital from JetBlue Technology Ventures, and seed funding investment from a number of entrepreneurs and organisations including Binary Capital, Floodgate, Google engineer Harry Cheung, and entrepreneur Rick Marini.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is an example of how an existing need in a market can be met and new services and revenue streams can be developed with the addition technology in the form of a user-friendly app. Businesses that offer services, particularly those where space / physical locations lie empty for periods of time / spare capacity e.g. offices, storage facilities etc. may take inspiration from this kind of booking / scheduling innovation. This story goes to show that many businesses may have hitherto unnoticed strengths and opportunities that could be tapped with the addition of technology.

Driverless Cars Being Tested On UK Roads

The ‘Driven’ consortium will begin an information-gathering trial of autonomous vehicles from next week, which will see manned but autonomous vehicles being tested on roads and motorways between London and Oxford.

Driven

The 10-member ‘Driven’ consortium of technology firms (which includes Nominet and the Atomic Energy Authority) who are conducting the trials over the next 30 months has AI company Oxbotica’s tech’s expertise and its links with Oxford Robotics Institute (University of Oxford) at its core.

Technical commentators have noted that this is the first time that a company or consortium has attempted tests of this kind and on this scale.

Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomous vehicle control software from the UK will be used to operate the vehicles.

Backed By A Big Grant

Much of the funding for the trial has come from a £8.6m government grant.

Why?

There are several main reasons why this trial is taking place, and why the government is investing in it. These include:

  • To learn how to successfully operate a fleet of autonomous vehicles in a way that has viable commercial applications.
  • To learn about the technical aspects of autonomous vehicles e.g. how each of the 6 vehicles involved in the test communicate with each other.
  • To learn lessons about data protection, cyber security and how driverless cars should be insured.
  • To develop and keep the expertise in AI and autonomous vehicle technology in the UK, and to develop a cluster of excellence” along the M40 corridor (Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford, Milton Keynes and London).
  • To let the public see and get used to the idea of autonomous vehicles.

Will The Trial Be Dangerous?

Although the cars taking part in the trial will be autonomous, like the autonomous Uber car trials in the US, there will be a person in the vehicle to ensure that things go to plan. The Driver Consortium has also given assurances that all safety-critical driving functions will be performed, and road conditions will be monitored for each entire trip.

Not The Only One

The Driver consortium’s government-funded test is not the only one of its kind. A consortium called Streetwise have won £12.8m in the UK government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles "CAV2" competition. This will go towards a £32m project by the consortium to get a road certified fleet of autonomous cars ready for use by 2019.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having an emerging industry, with all its talent, technology and development centres here in the UK represents a huge opportunity for UK businesses as potential suppliers, beneficiaries of the technologies and products, and spin-off market opportunities. It also represents an opportunity for UK insurers.

Whereas the UK has a skills gap in many areas of the technology market, with the right amount of support and backing from the government and other investors, this could be one area where home-grown talent is tempted to stay in what will be a world-centre of excellence for autonomous vehicle / AI technology.

27 Year Prison Sentence For Hacking. Yet More Kids Lured Into Cyber Crime

Youtube is putting on workshops around the UK to teach 13 to 18-year-olds about issues based around free speech, Internet safety and recognising ‘fake news’.

What’s The Problem?

Young people (particularly teenagers) spend the most time online, especially on social media.

The Google-owned video-sharing platform YouTube has faced criticism about not tackling ‘hate speech’ videos and inappropriate material on its website, even to the point where government and media adverts (including those of the BBC and Channel 4) were removed for fear of them being displayed next to such content.

Concerns have also been raised in the media about how vulnerable teenagers may be to the negative aspects of the Internet, such as being deceived and influenced by ‘fake news’ or drifting into cyber crime.

What’s The Solution?

YouTube, using the leverage of the awareness-raising National Internet Citizens day (the global Creators for Change initiative) and working in conjunction Upworthy (a company focusing stories about people trying to do good in the world), hopes to help create better and healthier online behaviour and experiences for the UK’s young people.

Youtube aims to do this by educating and inspiring teenagers to embrace and share the positive aspects of life online, and be equipped to spot and deal with the negative aspects in a healthy way.

Workshops and Ambassadors

YouTube will be offering educational workshops to teenagers in cities across the UK. Several prominent and influential YouTubers will be also be acting as ambassadors for "social change", to help inspire and teach teenagers to tackle social issues and promote awareness, tolerance and empathy on their YouTube channels.

Powerful Peer Pressure And Bragging Rights

These efforts to help teenagers to deal with life online in a positive and healthy way come just as a widely publicised report by The National Crime Agency points to peer pressure and kudos / bragging rights, rather than financial gain as key reasons why youngsters engage in more dangerous online behaviour, such as cyber crimes like hacking and DDoS attacks.

The NCA report highlighted many of the reasons why young people, who are honest in other aspects of their life, could easily become criminals in the online world.

The report shows how low barriers to entry (due to widely available, cheap and easy hacking tools), easy access to illegal programs, a low risk of being caught, the possibility of making friends quickly and getting admiration from peers for hacking skills, can all contribute to the lines between right and wrong becoming blurred for some young people. Some technical commentators have noted that the Internet has therefore produced a new kind of criminal.

Wrongly Perceived As A Victimless Crime

One real worry, therefore, is that the mainly young perpetrators of cyber crime don’t appear to really perceive the implications of their actions, almost seeing their crimes as victimless. The fact that crimes can be committed from a safe, home environment, and can appear to be like the computer game challenges that perpetrators have essentially trained upon, make this a unique challenge for governments and businesses.

Courts Take A Very Dim View

Courts worldwide, however, take cyber crime very seriously, as is now reflected by their sentencing. The legal outcomes can be even worse where the states / countries involved don’t have the best relationship and where political points can be scored.

For example, the son of Russian parliament member Valery Seleznev, recently received the longest-ever sentence for cyber crime in the U.S. (27 years in prison). Roman Seleznev, who was reported to be well known in the cybercrime world, was found guilty of stealing millions of payment card details from businesses by infecting their point-of-sale systems with malware.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Making the online environment more positive by inspiring, educating, protecting and equipping young people with the tools they need to cope with the challenges and opportunities of the Internet has to be a good thing for businesses.

Businesses can benefit as employers, and as recipients of services provided by bright young people who have been offered opportunities to make positive use of their online talents e.g. in cyber security. By working together, schools, cyber security agencies and companies, technology companies, government and businesses can reach young people before they ever become involved in cybercrime, and offer them opportunities to use their cyber skills as part of a productive, career helping and contributing to UK businesses, and helping to bridge the UK’s cyber skills gap.

Tech Tip – Turn Off “Quick Access” View

In Windows 10, although the ‘Quick Access’ view can help you find a recently or commonly used file or folder, you may also find it helpful and faster to have the familiar “This PC” view from Windows 7 and Windows 8. Here’s how to switch Explorer to it:

• Click “View” then “Options” on the far right. The “Folder Options” menu will appear.
• Next to the “Open File Explorer to” option, select “This PC” from the dropdown menu.
• Click “Apply”.
• Click “OK” to confirm the change.

Clever Drawing App from Google With “Auto-Correct”

Google has launched Auto Draw, an innovative AI ‘auto correct’ art app that uses predictive and shape recognition technology to help improve and complete drawings with a professional artistic flair.

Improves Your Doodles

Using the same technology as its earlier ‘Quick Draw’ experiment which employed AI to guess what a person was drawing, the new AI ‘Auto Draw’ online app allows you to create a doodle which is then improved upon by the app. You can then choose to replace your doodle with the app’s improved version. You can also choose to use your own version of the drawing, choose to use drawings submitted by other artists or even submit your own drawings to Auto Draw.

How To Use It

Auto Draw is a free online app that can be found at https://www.autodraw.com/. It can be used anywhere on any device – Chromebook, PC, desktop or phone.

Once at the website, click on the Auto Draw pen tool and draw your doodle / shape. Suggestions (better pictures) of what your shape is will then be displayed above the picture. Clicking on one will mean that your shape / doodle is replaced with the improved version. The size and colour of the shape can be changed, and text (with 15 different font style choices) can be added.

This new version of your image / annotated image can then be downloaded as a .png file or can be directly shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (because it’s a Google app).

AI Trained

Google’s Auto Draw uses Google’s neural network to power the predictive aspect of the app. Auto Draw’s AI learning was partly achieved by asking multiple web users to draw an object in under twenty seconds. The more people that drew shapes with the online app, the better the AI system got at interpreting what that drawing was and at suggesting (improved) relevant versions of it.

Poker Example

A recent high-profile example of how significant AI learning can be achieved was the Lengpudashi Poker program that learned how to play Poker and to bluff successfully to the point where it defeated 4 of the world’s leading human Poker masters. The program honed its skills by incorporating the lessons learned from playing 360,000 hands over a five-day period.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

At the very least, Auto Draw is another free drawing app that your business can use for all kinds of digital needs e.g. websites and multiple document types. However, Auto Draw also offers you a fast way to produce high quality, tidy, basic sketches / doodles that can be used / shared by your business to help communicate plans and ideas e.g. as part of business projects and communications. It means that individual artistic ability or ability to use image programs like Photoshop needn’t be a barrier for anyone who needs to produce presentable doodles / sketches. The AI aspect of the app means that is likely to get even faster and better the more that it is used.

Your Ad Blocker May Be Helping Advertisers To Target You

A French study has shown that even though your ad blocker may be stopping unwanted adverts, it could also be identifying you to advertisers, thus making you more likely to be targeted in future!

The Study

A recent online study by French researchers Inrialpes, which builds upon previous EFF research from 2010, has shown that the Browser Extensions (including ad-blocker extensions) you have, and “Login-Leak” i.e. details of the (social media) websites that you have logged-in to as identified by your browser, can mean that advertisers can piece together the information to identify you. This could mean that even though (and partly because) you have an ad blocker (extension) in place to protect you from unwanted adverts and slow page downloads, you can be easily and accurately identified by advertisers, which could lead to targeting by them.

How?

The research identified how several elements can be combined to create a clear, unique, identifiable online fingerprint of you to advertisers, even if you clear your cache or take other privacy-protecting measures. The suppliers of these elements were found to include:

  • Third party cookies that track you and can be identified when you arrive at other sites where the same advertiser’s cookies have been placed.
  • Information about your browser’s configuration e.g. version, language, timezone.
  • Data given via an estimated 13,000+ browser extensions. This could include ad blocker extensions. This data can be obtained by exploiting websites that can access browser extension resources.
  • Information gained about what kinds of plug-ins you are using.
  • Information gained using re-direction URL hijacking about websites that you are logged into e.g. social networks like Facebook,
  • Instagram and Twitter, plus other websites such as Amazon, Gmail and Airbnb.
  • Information gained via the Content-Security-Policy (a security feature that limits what the browser can load for a website).

This kind of information and the web user identity profiles that it helps to create have a value to advertisers, and to those selling advertising space.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Business time, resources, and security are important and there are steps that you can take to preserve these by making yourself less likely to be identified via the methods described. Technical commentators suggest that you can use Mozilla’s Firefox browser because it is less “leaky”, make sure that you log out of your social networks and other websites e.g. Amazon when you’re not using them, and use "private browsing" / "browsing in incognito" mode.

Virgin Now Making Customer Hubs Into ‘Wi-Fi Hotspots’

After a successful trial last year (and following BT’s lead) Virgin Media is boosting its public Wi-Fi network by making customers’ SuperHub routers double as public Wi-Fi hotspots.

What Is A Wi-Fi Hotspot?

A Wi-Fi Hotspot is a location where wireless access to a network and / or the internet can be gained (via a wireless local area network / WLAN and a router) for mobile devices e.g. laptops, notebooks, and smart-phones. These hotspots are usually in public locations and usually work up to 30 feet or so from the router.

Up To The Customer To Opt Out

Virgin Media’s customers’ SuperHub v3s are automatically being converted to act as Wi-Fi hotspot beacons for the public network, in addition to their current primary job of providing a Wi-Fi connection for the customer.

The ‘public’ who will be able to access the network via the new hotspots will only be current, paying subscribers of Virgin’s TV, broadband or mobile phone services.

Virgin Media’s customers, whose SuperHubs are being used as hotspots, are currently being informed about the change via email, and have the choice to opt out of the scheme if they wish.

Virgin Media customers can start using the hotspots by downloading the Virgin Media Wi-Fi app for iOS and Android.

Why Create Hotspots?

Virgin Media needs to expand its public network and this is an ideal way to achieve it without having to invest heavily in new infrastructure.

A similar scheme worked for BT Wi-Fi. ‘FON’ used customer hubs as Wi-Fi hotspots to expand the public network and enable other BT customers to take advantage of it, free of charge. FON however, also allowed non-BT customers to use the Wi-Fi hotspots for a charge.

Customer Connection and Security Concerns

Virgin Media have stated that the new scheme will not adversely affect customers’ own broadband connections because these have their own separate connection on the Hub, and their own additional, separate bandwidth.

Customer concerns that the hotspots could represent a personal data security risk have also been addressed by Virgin Media, who have pointed out that data from the home network is completely separate and secure from Virgin Media Wi-Fi traffic, and Virgin Media Wi-Fi users and Virgin Media Broadband users (from the same Hub) will not be able to see or access anything of each other’s connections, activities or data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you are a business that uses Virgin Media as a broadband provider through a SuperHub, you may find it helpful that you will now soon have a Wi-Fi hotspot that your other devices can use.

You may decide however, that you are not comfortable with being automatically opted-in to allowing your business Hub to be retrospectively changed into part of a network that could be used by people not connected to your business. You may also, despite re-assurances, have your own concerns and reservations about the fact that your confidential customer and employee data is technically joined to the same box as a public network. You even may wish to seek your own reassurances or choose to opt-out.

No More Vodfone Roaming Fees In Most of Europe

Vodafone has announced that it will be scrapping roaming fees for their new customers in most European countries.

What Are Roaming Fees?

Roaming fees / charges are the fees in addition to the usual phone plan charges that smart-phone users have to pay when they use an overseas network to get online while travelling abroad. These charges, enabled via international agreements between mobile operators (typically at higher rates than in the UK) and apply the moment that your phone is detected by the overseas network.

Calls and texts made / sent from your mobile while abroad are also typically more expensive. You can also be charged extra to receive a call or pick up a voicemail message while overseas and, if you pick up voicemail while your phone is registered overseas, you can be charged an overseas rate for the message being left, in addition to being charged to pick the message up.

What’s The Vodafone Deal?

The Roam Free deal from Vodafone, which applies only to new customers or those upgrading an existing pay monthly contract, means that roaming charges (for calls, texts and data) will be ditched for using your mobile abroad in 40 countries from 15th June this year.

The 40 countries are mainly European, and the list also includes some non-EU states e.g. Norway, Iceland and Turkey. The full list of countries can be found here: http://www.vodafone.co.uk/cs/groups/public/documents/webcontent/vfcon079682.pdf

Further Afield?

Roam Further means that Vodafone customers can use their monthly allowance in 60 countries outside the EU for an additional £5 per day and Vodafone will also be giving its customers access to 4G in 117 destinations worldwide. Existing Vodafone customers will have to pay £3 a day to use their phone in the EU or £5 a day to use it outside Europe.

EU Roaming Charges Dropped From June Anyway

The Vodafone deal sounds a little less special however when you consider that roaming charges will be dropped by mobile networks across Europe anyway from 15th June anyway (the same date as the offer to Vodafone’s new customers). This is as a result of a deal between networks whereby they will be cutting the roaming rates that they charge each other. As from 15th June, networks will pay each other 3.2 cents per minute for calls, 1 cent per text message and €7.70 per minute for data, which will drop in price again to €2.50 by 2021.

One good thing about the Vodafone deal (which essentially appears to be designed just to attract new customers and to encourage upgrades) is that it may offer protection against phone charges rising again for UK customers when Britain leaves the EU (Brexit).

Many technical and communications commentators believe that mobile networks are likely to raise the base prices for their contacts from June to help make up for the lost revenue of no more roaming charges.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The dropping of roaming charges from the 15th June will, of course, mean a welcome cost-cut and one less worry for business phone users who need to travel to European destinations. The Vodafone deal may be good news for business customers looking to switch to a network that offers some insulation against the extra costs of Brexit.

Scammers Burgling Airbnb Users. Again.

Scammers have used the stolen account details of Airbnb users to target properties for burglaries.

What Is Airbnb?

Airbnb is an online marketplace that allows people to rent out their properties or spare rooms. Hosts can register on the site, set a price per night for their accommodation (which is typically lower than a hotel price), upload pictures of what’s on offer, and set house rules. Potential guests go to the Airbnb website, select their travel dates, and then pick from a list of options. Guests and hosts write reviews about each other.

Airbnb guests can verify their profiles by submitting identification (such as passport details) to Airbnb and ‘good’ guests with good ratings and reviews are preferred by property owners.

The Scam

The recent four-stage criminal process has meant that scammers have:

  1. Obtained the stolen account details of verified Airbnb customers who have good reviews. These account details are believed to have been obtained in the first place via password dumps from previous hacks as well as from online scams such as phishing and malware attacks.
  2. Accessed the customer accounts using the stolen details and changed some of the key personal details, such as the name, location and photograph.
  3. Targeted properties and made bookings using the altered accounts.
  4. Burgled the targeted properties.

Not The First Time

This is not the first time that Airbnb properties have been targeted by burglars. Last summer in the US, thieves were booking Airbnb properties and then cancelling the booking last-minute as soon as the property’s security codes (garage codes, key codes, alarm codes) had been given to them. The properties were then immediately burgled.

New Security Measures

In the light of the recent scams, Airbnb has announced that it is introducing new measures to improve its scam detection and prevention methods. These improved security measures include sending text warnings if profiles are altered and requiring potential guests to use two-factor authentication when logging in to Airbnb on a device that has not previously been used to access their account. It has been reported that those property owners whose properties have been burgled as a result of the scam will be reimbursed by Airbnb, which offers hosts a $1 million insurance policy.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how vulnerable single stage, simple password verification systems are to attack, even if some form of ID verification has been carried out in the past. Businesses who collect, store, and use the personal data of customers (e.g. for booking / ordering) firstly need to make sure that the data is securely protected. Secondly, multi-stage / two-stage verification processes with each login should be used in place of simple password logins. Some organisations are now using biometric systems to make account access even more secure.