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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How many core processors are needed to recognize a cat?

July 2, 2012

by Mark Ollig

Are you thinking your humble columnist is playing a cat-and-mouse game with you?

Well, the answer to my question is: 16,000 computer core processors (on 1,000 computing machines), were used to independently identify the image of a cat.

Google’s secretive X laboratory (reportedly located in Google’s California headquarters and known as the Googleplex), has created an artificial brain using 16,000 core processors and a human-styled, artificial neural network containing more than one billion connections.

So, what does one do with this new artificial brain?

Why, you connect it to the Internet, of course.

The first online venue the artificial brain visited was Google’s very own YouTube.

The artificial brain began absorbing picture stills taken from watching a non-ending video stream featuring all those cute kitten videos, which some (alright, most of us) love to watch.


During testing, Google’s team also fed into the computer’s brain, random, still-frames of images, selectively picked from more than 10 million YouTube videos.

As hoped, the artificial brain was able to “learn” when it began to focus in on the cat images.

The artificial brain learned – on its own – what a cat looked like.

“We never told it during the training, ‘this is a cat,’ it basically invented the concept of a cat,” said Dr. Dean, who led the Google team during this project.

Well, isn’t this the cat’s meow?

Researchers on Google’s team reported this artificial brain’s recognition system “obtains 15.8 percent accuracy in recognizing 20,000 object categories from ImageNet.”

ImageNet is an enormous picture database. Currently, it has almost 14.2 million images. It is located at

Dr. Andrew Y. Ng, another Google team leader, is also director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab.

He explained as an alternative of having research teams “trying to find out how to find edges” (in regard to image recognition), he came up with this concept, “. . . instead, throw a ton of data at the algorithm and you let the data speak and have the software automatically learn from the data.”

The algorithm used is a type of sparse coding, which can be focused on unlabeled, natural images. Being this is a learning algorithm; it thus contributed to the computer core’s neural network learning ability.

“Contrary to what appears to be a widely-held intuition, our experimental results reveal that it is possible to train a face detector without having to label images as containing a face or not,” stated Dr. Ng in his abstract paper, “Building High-level Features using Large Scale Unsupervised Learning.” This paper was presented during last week’s 2012 International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In this paper, the explanation between cat and human body “facial detectors” were outlined in thorough detail – complete with some complicated formulas.

Researchers set up two experiments, one for classifying human bodies against random backgrounds, and one for classifying cat faces against random, distracting images.

In data collections consisting of positive and negative images (human and cat), the results confirm the artificial neural network learns not only the concept of faces, but also the concepts of cat faces and human bodies.

The results of these high-level facial detectors also surpassed standard baseline studies (in terms of recognition rates), achieving 74.8 percent and 76.7 percent on cat and human body, respectively.

“Our work shows that it is possible to train neurons to be selective for high-level concepts using entirely unlabeled data. In our experiments, we obtained neurons that function as detectors for faces, human bodies, and cat faces by training on random frames of YouTube videos,” stated the concluding remarks in the ICML paper.

“It is worth noting that our network is still tiny, compared to the human visual cortex, which is a million times larger in terms of the number of neurons and synapses,” said the Google researchers.

It appears Google (or anyone else) won’t be creating computer processors capable of fully emulating human-brain visual processing anytime soon.

Which means, for now, our human brain still claims visual bragging rights over a 16,000 core computer processing network – however, the machines are slowly catching up.

To read the detailed, eight-page ICML submission paper, go to

This is the cat face the computerized neural network "sees" in its artificial brain.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New surface tablets to compete with Apples iPad

June 25, 2012
by Mark Ollig

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduced two new computing tablets during a live presentation last week at Milk Studios, in Los Angeles. 

“This is the new Microsoft Surface. It embodies the new notion of hardware and software really pushing each other,” announced Ballmer, while holding one of the new Surface tablets. 

A “tablet that’s a great PC – a PC that’s a great tablet,” is how Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division, described the new Surface tablet. 

Yours truly was caught up in all the excitement while watching one of the many live blogging events taking place on the Internet as the presentation commenced. 

The new Microsoft Surface tablet comes in two model types.

The operating systems used are the Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro, respectively. 

Both Surface tablets feature connection to an attachable, 1/8-inch thin, pressure-sensitive keyboard called the Surface Touch Cover, which doubles as the tablet’s casing cover. This keyboard/casing cover is available in five colors.

The Surface Touch Cover communicates with the Surface tablet using a Bluetooth wireless connection, and clicks into the Surface tablet using a built-in magnetic connector. 

TechCrunch obtained unique access to the Surface for Windows RT tablet, and reported the Surface touch keyboard has a “soft rubbery feeling” and that “the keys don’t compress when you touch them.” I personally would prefer a more traditional keyboard that provides some tactile feedback while typing. 

The flat, glass keyboard, like what is used on the iPad, is good enough for short notes and messaging, however, yours truly could never get used to typing long emails, or a lot of content (like this column) on a totally flat surface display keyboard. 

The two Surface tablets also include touch and gesture recognition interfaces.

A kickstand for tilt-display screen viewing is included with the tablet case. 

The Microsoft Surface has two built-in LifeCam cameras; front and rear-facing, along with stereo speakers, and dual microphones. 

The Surface tablet includes access to Window applications for music, video, and multimedia interactivity. 

The Surface tablet is protected by a scratch-resistant casing that Microsoft calls a precision crafted Vapor Mg (pronounced Vapor-Mag).

Vapor Mg uses a combination of magnesium alloy and a special process to mold metal and deposit particles that creates a high polished metal finish.

Microsoft is also using Corning’s Gorilla Glass on the Surface tablet’s display screen. 

While the two surface models appear similar on the outside, there are some differences. 

The Surface for Windows RT tablet weighs roughly 1.5 pounds, is less than one-half-inch thick, and runs on the Tegra-based ARM processor chip.

The ARM acronym comes from Advanced RISC Machine, and RISC means Reduced Instruction Set Computer. 

ARM is the architecture of the processor. 

Many mobile computing devices and tablets today use ARM technology. 

A 10.6-inch ClearType HD touchpanel display screen is used on the Surface for Windows RT tablet.

The Surface for Windows RT tablet includes Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview programs.

The Surface for Windows RT Input/output ports include: Micro SD (Secure Digital) memory expansion slot, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, and a 2x2 MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) antenna, and USB 2.0 port. 

Storage can be configured in either a 32GB or 64GB capacity.
The Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablet weighs about 2 pounds, is a little over a half-inch thick, and uses the Intel Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) processor, and USB 3.0 port. 

Other Input Output ports include: Micro SDXC (Secure Digital eXtra Capacity) flash memory, USB 3.0, Mini Display Port Video, and 2x2 MIMO antenna.

On this model, one is able to use a digital pen for writing or drawing directly on its 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD display.

The Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablet offers storage choices of 64GB or 128GB. 

No word was given by Microsoft during the announcement on how long the two Surface tablets would last using battery power. 

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Epps said this about the Microsoft Surface announcement, “Hardware is only part of the dynamic. They need to explain how Microsoft manufacturing this device will change people’s experience with a tablet.”

Microsoft, to its credit, has found success with one gaming hardware device (which is more or less a personal computer), the Xbox 360 console. 

It remains far too early to predict whether Microsoft’s Surface tablets will become a serious challenger against the iPad. 

The Microsoft Surface for Windows RT tablet becomes available in stores this fall. 

The Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablet will become available reportedly 90 days later.

No pricing was released for either Surface tablet model – although Microsoft did say they expect them to be competitive with comparable ARM tablets or Intel Ultrabook-class personal computers.

More information about the Microsoft Surface tablets can be found at

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Apple keynote address doesn't disappoint

June 18, 2012

by Mark Ollig

The much anticipated 2012 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) took place last week at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. 

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook took the stage for this 23rd WWDC, attended by people from more than 60 countries.

“This is truly a worldwide conference. We have a great week planned. Over 100 sessions, 100 hands-on labs [where] you can take in your code, [and] get some help,” Cook said during the keynote address to the audience, which consisted of many software application (app) developers who write the code for Apple’s computing devices.

There were 112 informational sessions and 125 Apple labs set up for the app developers to work on their code, and to obtain assistance from more than 1,000 Apple engineers available. 

Looking out into the audience, Cook referenced the Apple App Store when he said “. . . and thanks to you, we have over 650,000 apps in that store.” This was received with much applause. 

The Apple CEO also pointed out, to the delight of the software app developers in the audience that Apple has written checks for more than $5 billion to the developers who created those apps.

Cook stated 225,000 of those apps are specifically designed for the iPad, and that customers have downloaded over more than 30 billion software apps from the Apple App Store.

He said there are now more than 400 million accounts on Apple’s App Store. 

The Apple App Store is adding 32 additional countries where it will be selling its software apps. This makes for 155 countries their App Store will be available in. 

It was confirmed Apple’s newest release for its current operating system (OS X) is version 10.8. It is called Mountain Lion. This latest version will be available from the Mac App Store as an upgrade next month for $19.99 to Mac desktop computer users. 

Mountain Lion will come with more than 200 new features. 

Of the now 66 million Mac users, 40 percent are using the current OS X 10.7 version called Lion, which was released in July 2011.

Apple’s next mobile computing operating system, called iOS 6, will officially be released for public use this fall. 

This new mobile computing operating system is being made available to WWDC developers now so they can create new apps with it for the iPads and the new 3GS, 4, and 4S iPhones, along with the next iPhone, which is also expected to be available this fall. 

The new iOS 6 will incorporate its own mapping system; replacing Google Maps altogether. 

“In iOS 6, we have built an entire new mapping system from the ground up; and it looks beautiful,” said Apple’s vice president in charge of mobile systems Scott Forstall. “This is a worldwide effort. We’re covering the world,” Forstall went on to say. 

Apple’s new mapping system (called Maps), includes turn-by-turn navigation using Siri voice assistance. Apple will also use its new “Flyover” 3D rendering images recorded from planes and helicopters. Flyover will provide panoramic views of specific locations from just about any angle.

Sharing photos to Facebook seamlessly is another new feature integrated into the iOS 6 mobile platform.

Apple’s popular Siri, a voiced, digital assistant, is also being improved. It will be more user-intuitive, and will soon be available on the iPad. Siri also has an improved voice-activated search, and is now available in China and Canada. 

Apple also announced its Facetime video-telephone communication software app is now useable over a cellular, as well as a Wi-Fi connection. 

After about 20 minutes into the keynote address, Cook introduced Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president. 

Schiller went over a few of the MacBook Air notebook computer improvements, but saved the best for last.

The audience became excited as Schiller announced a new MacBook Pro notebook computer. 

The audience cheered and applauded when Schiller revealed the brand new, thinner, next generation, MacBook Pro with a Retina display using 2,880 x 1,800 pixels (220 pixels per inch) on its 15.4-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit screen.

Those 5,184,000 pixels make this next generation MacBook Pro the world’s highest resolution notebook display screen. 

“The pixels on this display are so small, that from a normal working distance your retina cannot discern those individual pixels” Schiller explained.

Apple computers have always been pricy. 

Apple prices the new MacBook Pro with 15-inch Retina display screen at $2,199. It is equipped with a third generation 2.3GHz Intel quad-core i7 processor chip (known as Ivy Bridge). Using Turbo Boost, processing speeds go up to 3.3GHz. This configuration includes a 256GB flash storage drive. 

For fun, I found out what their highest-priced, 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display would come in at.

I chose every option available, including the most storage, which was their $2,499 Promise Pegasus 12TB R6 RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) system. 

The grand total for this next generation, fully-maxed-out, and with all the extras Apple MacBook Pro notebook computer was $8,746.94 – not including tax. 

After giving it some thought, yours truly will stick with his still-usable Hewlett-Packard Pavilion notebook computer for a little while longer. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Is Facebook becoming boring?

June 11, 2012

by Mark Ollig

Are you spending less time on Facebook?

Although I log onto Facebook most days to check for any messages from friends and family, I am finding myself spending less time using it.

When I began using Facebook, every time I came across what I thought was an interesting story, song, picture, or video, I would end up posting it to my Facebook page. 

And, yes, I would be curious on how many “likes” and “shares” it would generate. 

As all of my Facebook friends know, I posted a lot of content. 

Today, those of us spending less time on Facebook are not alone, as recent polling data indicates.
Could it be some of us are suffering from . . . Facebook Fatigue?

There is mounting evidence for this as a recent polling of Facebook users showed 34 percent labeling Facebook as “not useful,” “not relevant,” or “boring.”

This new poll was conducted May 31 through June 4 by Reuters, and research marketing firm Ipsos.

The poll received replies from 1,032 people in the US, of which 21 percent responded by saying they were not a Facebook user. 

Of the 79 percent who were users of Facebook, 50 percent said they spend about the same amount of time on Facebook, while 20 percent said they are spending more time using the online social network. 

Of those surveyed, 35 percent said they are using Facebook much less today than they did previously. 

Users who responded saying they used Facebook on a daily basis was 40 percent. 

The 18 to 34-year-olds have been found to be the most active participants on Facebook, as they account for 60 percent of its daily users.

The least-active users are the folks 55 years of age and older. The daily Facebook usage among this age group is 29 percent. 

Of the Facebook users surveyed, 80 percent replied saying they never have made a purchase of a product or service because of an online advertising link or comment made about an advertisement on Facebook.

“Comments and recommendations from friends on Facebook do carry a lot of weight, so I’m surprised by the number,” Gartner analyst Ray Valdes said to Reuters. 

This particular survey result must be a concern to Facebook, especially in light of their recent public stock issuance.
Reuters also reported Facebook online advertising sales growth as “slowing.” 

“Keeping users coming back is crucial for all social media services,” Reuters reported Valdes as saying.

Facebook generated $3.7 billion from mostly online advertising sales during 2011 among its 900 million users. By comparison, Google earned about $38 billion from its online advertisement revenues. 

Google’s online social media network called Google+ (pronounced Google Plus), currently has about 170 million total users.

More people are using the Facebook mobile app on their smartphones, which means limited screen space available for revenue-generating advertisements – this could also be a concern for Facebook and the new shareholders of its stock.
A few weeks ago, Facebook opened public trading of its stock at $38.

As I wrote this column last Tuesday evening, Facebook’s stock had closed for the day at $25.87.

Of those surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos, 44 percent said the troubled Initial Public Offering (IPO) of its stock has left them feeling “less favorable towards Facebook.”

In fact, the disappointing Facebook IPO has made 46 percent of the survey respondents less favorable towards investing in the stock market altogether.

The other popular social media network, Twitter, with roughly 500 million users (a reported 140 million active), has yet to go public with its stock via an IPO.

Facebook needs to come up with some fresh, new, user-appealing features.

Their newest feature, called Timeline, is not at all popular with many Facebook users . . . including me. 

In my opinion, the distinctiveness and content presentation of Facebook’s current online platform is beginning to wane with its longtime users. It is becoming somewhat mediocre and over-populated, with too many advertisements and “sneaky” invites from multiple online web marketing sites who want to gain access to our information, content, and list of friends. 

For now, however, I will continue to log onto Facebook each day to check the latest content uploaded by family and friends, and to post the content and comments I want to share. 

And, of course, I will keep on uploading every new Bits & Bytes column to my Facebook page and to my online blog at

Facebook could eventually end up going the way of MySpace and Yahoo, unless Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes some major platform enhancements and incorporates genuine user-desirable features. 

Mr. Zuckerberg, those of us actively using your social media network are patiently waiting to see which direction Facebook will be taking.