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Google and UN launch Searching for Syria to answer 5 most common questions about the civil war

Google and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have combined their data and technological smarts for a new initiative designed to answer the most common questions about the Syrian Civil War.

Now into its seventh year, the Syrian Civil War has resulted in at least 470,000 deaths, according to the most recent data revealed by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, with as many as five million more forced to flee their homes.

As with any cataclysmic crisis, the Syrian Civil War has touched millions around the world, with many taking to the internet to find out what exactly is happening and how they can help. This is the impetus behind Searching for Syria, which serves as a dedicated portal to answer the five most common questions posted to Google Search, using data provided by the UNHCR.

“Searching for Syria aims to…

No, Google’s Not a Bird: Bringing the Internet to Rural India

TARADAND, India — Babulal Singh Neti was sitting with his uncle on a recent afternoon, trying to persuade him of the merits of the internet.

It was 105 degrees outside, and the sun was beating down on the frazzled croplands. His uncle said he had no use for the internet, since he had never learned to read; furthermore, he wanted to nap. This he made clear by periodically screwing up his face into a huge yawn.

Mr. Neti, 38, pressed on earnestly, suggesting that he could demonstrate the internet’s potential by Googling the history of the Gond tribe, to which they both belonged. Since acquiring a smartphone, Mr. Neti couldn’t stop Googling things: the gods, Hindu and tribal; the relative merits of the Yadav caste and the Gonds; the real story of how the earth was made.

Access to this knowledge so elated him that he decided to give up farming for good, taking a job with a nongovernmental organization whose goals include helping villagers produce and call up online content in their native languages. When he encountered internet skeptics, he tried to impress them by looking up something they really cared about — like Gond history.

His uncle responded with half-closed eyes, delivering a brief but comprehensive oral history of the Gond kings, with the clear implication that his nephew was a bit of a good-for-nothing. “What does it mean, Google?” his uncle said. “Is it a bird?”

And then, theatrically, he yawned.

While India produces some of the world’s best coders and computer engineers, vast multitudes of its people are like Mr. Neti’s neighbors, entering the virtual world with little sense of what lies within it, or how it could be of use to them.

The arrival of the internet in their lives is one of India’s most hopeful narratives.

In the 70 years since Independence, India’s government has done very little to connect Taradand, in Madhya Pradesh State, in central India, to the outside world: The first paved road appeared in 2006. There has never been a single telephone landline. Electricity is available to only half the houses. When Mr. Neti was growing up, if someone in the village needed emergency medical care, farmers tied the patient to a wooden cot and carried it five miles through the forest to the nearest hospital, a journey of four hours.

By comparison, India’s battling telecoms have wired Taradand with breathtaking speed. Two years ago, Mr. Neti counted 1,000 mobile phones in the village, which has a population of 2,500. This tracks with India as a whole; last year it surpassed the United States to become the world’s second-largest market for mobile phones behind only China, according to Groupe Speciale Mobile Association, an industry group known as G.S.M.A.

With the cost of both smartphones and data plummeting, it is fair to assume that Taradand’s next technological leap will be onto the internet.

Those who work in development tend to speak of this moment as a civilizational breakthrough, of particular significance in a country aching to educate its children. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has made expanding internet use a central goal, shifting government services onto digital platforms. When Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, toured India in 2014, he told audiences that for every 10 people who get online, “one person gets lifted out of poverty and one new job gets created.”

So it is instructive to follow Mr. Neti as he tries to drum up a little interest in Taradand. Young men use the internet here, but only young men, and almost exclusively to circulate Bollywood films. Older people view it as a conduit for pornography and other wastes of time.

Women are not allowed access even to simple mobile phones, for fear they will engage in illicit relationships; the internet is out of the question. Illiterate people — almost everyone over 40 — dismiss the internet as not intended for them.

Still, Mr. Neti persists with the zeal of the newly converted.

“You can call me the black sheep. That’s what I am,” he said cheerfully. “I don’t care. It’s the internet age. One day they’ll all come around.”

Mr. Neti is, in some ways, an unlikely harbinger of technological change. His parents pulled him out of school in fifth grade to marry — his wife was 10 — and though he can read and write in Hindi, his school transcript brands him illiterate, foreclosing any opportunity to get a government job.

When he bought his first mobile phone, in 2001, he was so nervous he did not make a call for nearly a week. When he finally did, he blurted out: “Friend, I have bought this mobile. Is this your number and your name? I…

No ‘OK, Google’ on the iPhone? That’s a huge problem

Voicebots are all over my house right now.

I’m testing two different Alexa-powered speakers in my office. I use Cortana on a desktop, Siri on my MacBook and an iPhone 7 Plus, Google Assistant on a Pixel smartphone and the Google Home speaker, and both the Google Assistant and Siri on my television (thanks to the NVIDIA Shield and the Apple TV). I’m literally talking to bots all day, asking about the weather, the NBA Playoffs, and even obscure questions about Austria (where a few family members live). I’m known to suddenly say “OK, Google” during family meals when someone asks a question or makes a random comment. (Turns out, the Beauty and the Beast fable was published way back in 1740 and good old Tom Brady is the oldest quarterback in the NFL.)

Sadly, now that the Assistant is available for iPhone, I’m going to have to change my approach.

At a restaurant recently, I found out the hard way that the Assistant app doesn’t respond to “OK, Google” requests. It works exactly like any app on the iPhone that is not directly tied into the OS. That is, you can only talk to the iPhone by saying “Hey, Siri” to start a conversation. That’s not surprising at all. Android needs a few differentiators these days, right VentureBeat editorial team? Yet, the reason it’s sad is that there isn’t any reason to ever use the Assistant on iOS.

To do that, I’d…

Google Uses Kids To Promote Its Brand In The Classroom

BraunS via Getty Images

I’m not writing about the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, Marvel or Harry Potter. This blog is about how high-tech companies like Google use kids and schools to grab market shares and promote their brands and the negative consequences. On May 14, 2017, a front-page article in the New York Times reported on “How Google Took Over The USA Classroom.” According to the article, “Google, a unit of the $652 billion Alphabet, is the latest big contender in a decades-old battle among tech companies to hook students as future customers.”

Access to the world through Google Classroom.

The report focused on one particular school in Chicago. “The sixth graders at Newton Bateman, a public elementary school here with a classic red brick facade, know the Google drill. In a social-science class last year, the students each grabbed a Google-powered laptop. They opened Google Classroom, an app where teachers make assignments. Then they clicked on Google Docs, a writing program, and began composing essays… Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the United States, with about 381,000 students, is at the forefront of a profound shift in American education: the Googlification of the classroom.

Google has been out-pacing its rivals at Apple and Microsoft in school sales by bypassing district leadership and promoting its products directly to teachers. It has also been using data it collects from students and teachers using its products to enhance its ability to provide better serves – which means sell them more stuff.

In case you mistakenly think this is all being done to improve instruction and benefit children preparing them for…

Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: Caring About Tech News

Each Saturday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry.

Mike: Bonjour, Farhad! I am particularly happy this morning because this weekend I am seeing “Alien: Covenant.” It’s a film that combines nearly all of my passions: The vast expanse of space, the terror of murderous xenomorphs and the boyish good looks of Michael Fassbender.

Farhad: Fun fact about me: Never seen an “Alien” movie.

Mike: Wow, crazy. Well, they do say in Silicon Valley, no one can hear you scream.

O.K., let’s talk tech news. Earlier this week in transportation drama, I wrote a piece on how Waymo and Lyft — two of Uber’s largest competitors — are collaborating in some sort of future self-driving car initiative. It will no doubt stoke all sorts of speculation that Waymo, the self-driving car arm spun out of Google, may one day decide to buy Lyft. Who knows if they actually produce anything from the partnership — which is still light on detail — but at the very least it’s a big ding to Uber at a time the company is vulnerable to attack.

Farhad: I know it’s hard to love Uber, and also it’s quite possible that Uber stole Google’s self-driving tech (we’ll find out as the big lawsuit proceeds). But to me, Google’s actions here also deserve scrutiny.

Look at all the sides Google and its parent company, Alphabet, are playing in self-driving. Through Waymo, Alphabet is building its own self-driving tech. But through its venture capital firm, Alphabet is also a huge investor in Uber. And it is also suing Uber. Also, through Waze, its mapping app, Google is running a car-pooling service that could compete with Uber. And now Waymo is partnering with Uber’s biggest competitor.

Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing people complain about when they say Google is getting too big and powerful? In every way imaginable, Google is trying to use its huge power to completely dominate the future of driving tech.

Mike: It reminds me of how you act around the office.

Anyway, in non-Uber news, Wired dropped a huge story on Apple’s new campus, Apple Park, which basically looks like something out of a Kubrick film. My favorite follow-up story, however, came from The Outline, which had a source send them a pizza box from the company. Apple patented a circular pizza box that keeps pizza crispy and well-ventilated as employees walk from Apple’s cafeterias back to their desks.

This is exactly why Apple is the most valuable public company in the world.

Farhad: I don’t care how much rounded glass Apple’s HQ has, it won’t beat working from home.

Mike: Moving on, Instagram added face filters to its app, continuing its streak of innovatively finding new ways to rip off Snapchat for its product road map. Bravo.

Facebook had a series of embarrassing errors this week….

How to control your connected home with Google Assistant

Whether you’re onboard or not, smart homes are the future. Of course, there are still a few quirks, and some devices are downright ridiculous. (Consider the Grillbot, an automatic grill cleaner, or the Davek Umbrella, with its “Loss Alert” sensor.)

But smart technology definitely has its benefits.

With a smart garage door opener, you can open and close your garage from your smartphone and monitor its status even when you’re away from home. With a smart lock, you can issue “keys” to guests, friends, or family, and even unlock the door from afar.

Internet-ready and cloud data systems allow data “packets” to be transferred over the internet from various platforms. These packets move from device to device and essentially drive the entire smart tech industry.

However, the real benefits of connected tech come into play when you can use voice commands with them. Alexa, from Amazon’s Echo, is a great example of this.

The real star of the show is Google Assistant, though. In the past, issuing voice commands to Google Assistant to interface with smart tech was a Google Home-only feature. With the latest version, everyone can take advantage of this — even iPhone users.

What makes it stand out from the competition? It’s the way in which you interact and talk with the assistant. It’s just more human and more natural: “OK, Google. Turn on my lights.”

Sadly, Google Assistant cannot control everything … yet. The list of brands with devices that can be controlled include Honeywell, Nest, Philips Hue, WeMo, SmartThings, and more. Rest assured: this list will be expanded in time.

You can read the full list of supported devices here.

First things first, though. You need to connect your smart home devices to the Google Assistant app on your phone. This is what tells the AI what you have and how it can be used.

To connect one of your supported gadgets to Assistant, use the following steps:

  1. Open Google Assistant.
  2. Tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner to open the settings menu. Navigate to the “Home Control” option and choose it.
  3. Tap the “+” button to add devices. You’ll see a list of devices you can choose from — simply find yours. Once you choose a device, you’ll need to sign in to the related service.
  4. Once you’ve added all your devices, you must separate them by room. This allows Google Assistant to differentiate between control areas. For example: “living room” vs. “office.”
  5. Once it’s all set up, you can begin controlling your devices. Test it out with a simple command like “OK, Google, turn…

Daily Report: Remembering When Uber and Google Were Allies

Sometimes old friends make for the best of enemies.

By now, the nasty fight between the ride-hailing service Uber and Waymo, the unit of Alphabet that used to be Google’s self-driving-car project, has been well cataloged. Waymo claims Uber is using stolen technology plans in its own self-driving-car project — plans that Waymo claims were brought to Uber by a former Google employee.

This week, a federal judge in San Francisco declined Waymo’s motion to shut down Uber’s self-driving-car work, but last week, he did refer the issue of what the former employee had done to the…

Android Pay is coming to Brazil, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, and Canada

Google is expanding its Android Pay mobile payment service to more markets, saying that soon it’ll be available in Brazil, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, and Canada. The company also promised that a streamlined mobile checkout experience would be coming soon for PayPal users, building on top of Google’s existing partnerships with Visa and Mastercard.

Reports surfaced this week that Android Pay would be available in more cities. Previously, only those in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Singapore, Poland, New Zealand, Ireland, and a few others.

Android Pay launched two years ago as a competitor to Apple Pay and Samsung Pay,…

Google’s speech recognition technology now has a 4.9% word error rate

Google CEO Sundar Pichai today announced that the company’s speech recognition technology now has achieved a 4.9 percent word error rate. Put another way, Google transcribes every 20th word incorrectly. That’s a big improvement from the 23 percent the company saw in 2013 and the 8 percent it shared two years ago at I/O 2015.

The tidbit was revealed at Google’s I/O 2017 developer conference, where a big emphasis is artificial intelligence. Deep learning, a type of AI, is used to achieve accurate image recognition and speech recognition. The method involves ingesting lots of data to train systems called neural networks, and then feeding new data to those systems in an attempt to make predictions.

“We’ve been using voice as an input across many of our products,” Pichai said onstage. “That’s…

Google gives developers more monetization options with Payment API, redesigned AdMob, and Play store ads

While Google’s Marketing Next conference is next week, the company had some developer-specific ads news to share at its I/O 2017 developer conference. The company highlighted three improvements for developers: the Google Payment API, a redesigned AdMob, and

Google has expanded its payment solutions with the Google Payment API, which lets merchants and developers offer their users to pay with credit and debit cards saved to their Google Account. Payment options include a credit or a debit card previously saved via Android Pay, a payment card used to transact on the Play Store, or a form of payment stored via Chrome. They can use these saved payment options in third-party apps and mobile sites, as well as in Google Assistant.

For users, the API means faster checkout as they are more likely to be able to have a saved card when they see the option to pay with Google on supported apps or sites. For developers, the API means faster checkout, more conversions, increased sales, and fewer abandoned carts.

Google has completely redesigned AdMob, which has paid over $3.5 billion in ads revenue to developers across 1 million apps on Android and iOS. Rebuilt from the ground up, AdMob has embraced Google’s Material Design on desktop and mobile. For example, it’s now easier to pick an app, check out its key metrics, and…