Google Relying on “RankBrain” to Enhance Search Results


On average, there are more than 3.5 billion Google searches every day, and a small percentage of these are requests that have never been made before. In an attempt to handle these obscure and hard-to-find searches, Google has developed an artificial intelligence system called RankBrain. According to Google, RankBrain tackles a “very large fraction” of all the total number of Google searches, which are about 15% of the millions of queries it receives every second.

Google searches are ranked based on ‘hundreds’ of signals including location, key words, the site’s ranking and more. Its current technology relies on discoveries and insights that people in information retrieval have had. RankBrain instead uses AI to turn words into so-called ‘vectors’ the computer can understand more easily. If it sees a word it doesn’t recognize, it takes an educated guess at what it could mean, based on other words and phrases that may have a similar meaning.

The system then filters the results and presents the most appropriate links to the person making the search. Every time it makes these guesses, it monitors how the person making the searches responds to the results and can adjust its filtering process accordingly.

Google says it’s only used RankBrain to handle this massive search load for the past few months, but Google says RankBrain is actually better at predicting top search results than their own search engineers.

Facebook Digging Further Into Search


The search feature on Facebook has always been good for tracking down an old friend or a page to follow, but usually Google was the better search engine for keeping up with news or finding a story from a year back. Facebook hopes to remedy that with a new, expanded search that sifts through its 2 trillion posts from all over the world — not just those from your friends and followed pages.

Now, for example, if you were to type “Mets World Series” into the search tool on Facebook, you would be hit with top post results from the Wall Street Journal and CBS Sportsline, followed by several posts made by your friends or public groups about the Mets.

The search was updated by Facebook in hopes to spark public conversations with strangers around the world about shared topics or news stories of interest. Seeing what your circle of friends has to say is one thing, but seeing what the world is saying is another.

Google Investing in African Wind Power


Recently, Google announced its newest investment: a wind power project in Kenya that, when completed, will be the continent’s biggest wind farm. The agreement includes buying a 12.5% stake in Africa’s largest wind project, Kenya’s Lake Turkana, from Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.

The 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind park is set to about 15% of Kenya’s electricity needs, based on current generation capacity. The nearly $1 billion wind project offers the scale of infrastructure that international organizations say Africa needs for the continent to unleash its vast economic potential. Annual economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 5% in the past decade, and an increased energy production would boost growth even more.

Google so far has committed $2 billion to 22 clean energy projects, including the continent’s largest solar project in South Africa. The company sees a big opportunity in fast-growing markets with rich renewable energy resources, and the Lake Turkana project would help reduce Kenya’s reliance on fossil fuels and emergency diesel generation.

Google and Vestas have previously cooperated on the 270-megawatt Alta Wind Energy Centre in southern California and the powering of a Google data center in Finland.

FAA Will Likely Require Drone Registration Soon


The Federal Aviation Administration is getting closer to announcing rules for using recreational drones, and will likely start with the requirement to register every drone once it is purchased. However, the registration will only be able to help the FAA keep count of how many there are purchased, and to identify drones that cause collisions and break rules.

Will this signal the start of other laws to follow? Will previous owners of drones need to also register? Surely, registering the hundreds of thousands of drones already in the U.S. that are used for recreational purposes will not be an easy feat.

The number of drones has been steadily increasing over the years, as the FAA has reported pilot sightings of drones over 650 times this year. This number has jumped greatly in one year as pilots reported sighting a drone 238 times for most of 2014. An even greater influx of drones in the sky are expected shortly after the holidays as the FAA has estimated that 1 million drones are expected to be sold for Christmas.

Tesla’s Automatic Driving Capabilities Rolling Out


“Autopilot” features such as steering and parking will be available for newer Tesla Model S sedans today, but CEO Elon Musk cautions that drivers should still keep ahold of the steering wheel. If the steering wheel has no hands on it during the automatic driving, a notice displaying “hold steering wheel” will illuminate on the dashboard. Also, in more difficult navigating conditions, an audio alert will come on and if that also is ignored, the car will slow and eventually stop.

Tesla, which this month unveiled its Model X SUV, has been the U.S. pioneer in luxury electric cars charged by batteries. Its expertise in software has made it a leader in self-driving features, which more traditional carmakers have been slower to develop. Musk estimated that within three years, cars will be able to drive “from your driveway to work without you touching anything,” but regulatory approval could take years. He added that regulators would need data showing that self-driving cars work.


Google Loses Control of Its Own Web Domain


Google has been going through a lot of shaking up lately. Big changes within the company are taking place with a new parent company being established and for a moment almost lost control of its own Web domain.

A former employee managed to buy the URL through (ironically) Google Domains for $12. And while the glory of owning the world’s most-visited website may have lasted only a moment, it seems many people will benefit from the mishap.

Sanmay Ved said he looking at different Google Domains and discovered that was available for purchase. Naturally, he bought it.

However, it didn’t last long: The purchase was almost immediately followed by a cancellation email from Google Domains. About a week later, Ved was contacted by Google Security, which offered a reward. Instead of taking the reward, he asked that the money be donated to the Art of Living India Foundation charity. Google agreed, and even doubled the reward for the Art of Living’s education program, which runs 404 free schools across 18 states in India.

Volkswagen Scandal Raises Questions of Clean Diesels


As Volkswagen admitted that it had cheated on emissions testing of its “clean diesel” engines, it has tarnished the automaker’s reputation, while disrupting the entire industry and put diesel engines on trial in a country that was finally starting to embrace them. Volkswagen offered a diesel engine that had performance, good fuel economy, environmentally friendly and affordable enough to put in a small car.

Supporters of diesels have fought for decades to prove they can be clean and efficient alternatives for automobiles in the U.S. without giving up performance. And they were starting to gain ground largely because of VW’s heavily marketed clean-diesel technology that worked in a small car. It gave auto buyers environmental peace of mind.

The automaker has lost the trust of its customers in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency discovered the existence of the illegal “defeat device” software, which VW installed on 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. to make its diesel engines appear to meet air quality standards when they really did not under regular driving conditions. In Germany, the government said 2.8 million vehicles sold in Germany also have the software.

In addition to the EPA probe, criminal investigations, lawsuits and other agency investigations are under way. The scandal continued to grow with Wednesday’s resignation of VW CEO Martin Winterkorn after the admission that 11 million vehicles globally have the defeat device software, prompting agencies around the world to start checking emission levels of Volkswagen vehicles. Other automakers who sell vehicles with diesels find themselves in agency crosshairs. The EPA now sees the need for industry-wide checks and is working on new tests to detect cheating.

Google in Trouble with Russia’s Antimonopoly Agency


Russia’s antimonopoly agency has given Google until November 18 to make amendments to features of its Android platform that it deemed anticompetitive. If Google fails to make the demanded changes, it could face stiff penalties of up to 15% of its revenue gained from mobile applications in Russia.

Google’s policy that when a device maker chooses to install Android, it must also install the Google Play store app and several other Google applications. In addition, device manufacturers are restricted from installing apps and services that compete with Google’s core offerings.

The case against Google in Russia was launched by Yandex, a domestic search competitor that’s been losing market share as consumers pick up low-cost Android handsets pre-installed with Google search. If Google makes the changes laid out by the Federal Antimonopoly Service in Russia, it would allow third-party app developers like Yandex to get their own services installed on Android devices.

Google is already paring down the number of apps it bundles on new phones, which could help its case. Of course, Google is always going to want to include its best apps with Android to bring people deeper into its ecosystem of services, so whatever changes it makes are unlikely to fully wipe those apps away, not unless it really has to.

Is the “iRing” On Its Way?


With increasing pressure to diversify its products, Apple seems to be doing just that as evidence of a patent application has been spotted recently.

Of course, it is important to note that Apple issues patents on a regular basis, and some of the most publicized and plausible of these patents have never been included in any form of Apple technology. So this latest patent shouldn’t be seen as stone evidence that Apple is about to release a Smart Ring in the foreseeable future, but it does indicate that the company has at least considered the possibility.

The “iRing” is based around a finger-mounted gadget packed with motion sensors, microphones, cameras and a tiny display. With Apple having releasing the first Apple Watch earlier this year, they are likely expected to update the smartwatch next year. And if the Apple Watch never sees the success that Apple was hoping for, it has still come to almost completely dominate the smartwatch market.

An Apple Smart Ring may seem to be pretty limited in terms of its capabilities, but it certainly seems that Apple is considering such a gadget. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published the application for what appears to be such a device, and the title of the patent provided a further clue into Apple’s thinking on the subject. Titled “Devices and methods for a ring computing device,” it seems certain that Apple is thus considering an Apple Smart Ring at some point in the future.

Google and Microsoft Kiss and Makeup?


Google and Microsoft are playing nice, burying all current patent infringement lawsuits that they have had ongoing for some time, all 18 of them.

Microsoft has been systematically targeting Android handset makers with a set of undisclosed patents that were violated by the use of the Android operating system. However, current leadership at Microsoft seems to be shifting from their old ways of confrontation to making way for more collaboration. Arguably, Microsoft used to be quick to sue and drag matters out in court, but it seems newer players within the company are becoming quicker to settle and partner.

Possibly signaling the winding down of the global smartphone wars, the two companies said the deal puts an end to court fights involving a variety of technologies, including mobile phones, Wi-Fi, and patents used in Microsoft’s Xbox game consoles and other Windows products. The agreement also drops all litigation involving Motorola Mobility, which Google sold to Lenovo last year while keeping its patents.

Predictably, as Microsoft and Google continue to make products that compete directly with each other, the agreement notably does not preclude any future infringement lawsuits. The two have said they have been co-operating on such issues as the development of a unified patent court for the European Union, and on royalty-free technology for speeding up video on the Internet.