Tag Archives: google x

How big data is affecting our lives

big-data

Image source: http://www.greenbookblog.org/2012/03/21/big-data-opportunity-or-threat-for-market-research/

Since George Orwell created the sinister ‘Big Brother’ in his epic novel ‘1984’, the world has come to terms with nothing being sacrosanct, least of all, privacy. Over the decades since the 1990s, when information technology was just beginning to be recognized as the next big wave that would change the course of the world, businesses started realizing that they could now have easier access to a larger audience of potential customers by using the technologies that the web provided. From the earliest browsers, email and chat messaging services, forums and bulletin boards, online games, web portals and any other web properties requiring registration, all our transactions, monetary and otherwise, have been recorded. Big data was waiting to take the world by storm.

Fast forward to 2003. In the words of Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes every two days… and the pace is accelerating.” Indeed, the amounts of data we produce today is mind-boggling. Even more worrying is the fact that the automatic data generated by machines such as CCTV cameras, sensors, vehicles, computes and mobile devices, etc., is overtaking the manual data generated by humans, and data volume is growing to the extent that a complementary new field called machine learning is currently a ‘hot’ specialization and is generating intense demand in the job market and businesses are coveting such specialists. The irony is that this might very soon render a very large number of people across the world useless because their less than creative, machine programmable tasks, will soon be performed efficiently and effectively by machines, which have been fed all the parameters on which the tasks need to be performed and have perfected the right responses to all possible scenarios.

Big data analytics tools like Hadoop typically ‘crunch’ massive amounts of data, amounting to several terabytes, in astonishingly small timeframes like a few hours or even minutes, by breaking down the data into smaller sets, which are individually worked upon, on multiple computers, and the individual results for each of these are combined to produce a final result that relates to the entire mass of data. This idea was Google’s guiding principle in creating their path breaking search engine, and today forms the basis of big data analysis.

What is the purpose of using the tools of big data? Primarily businesses, and increasingly governments, are realizing the need to analyze ever-increasing (in volume and complexity) data to study individual and collective trends at a minute level, which helps them to come up with policies and products and services that serve their purposes while ostensibly serving their stakeholders better. The range of data encompasses phone records, commercial transactions, email, chat and browser logs, GPS coordinates, social media activities, devices that transmit data about our activities, such as smart watches, Google Glass, smart phones, tablets, etc.; the list goes on.

Businesses that have a large volume of customers, such as telecom service providers, the travel industry, retail, etc., use big data tools to analyze individual behaviour so as to take predictive actions. For example, a retail chain can analyze the log of data about a customer using her transactions to predict an event in his/her life, such as a birthday, pregnancy, etc., and target relevant promotions to that person coinciding with the event. Thus, in real time, businesses can study customer behaviour and use promotions based on future activity. In effect, they can predict our lives.

An example of a non-commercial application of big data is the analysis of our music consumption by an audio website over time and its subsequently generating playlists containing music that matches our personal tastes.

From the point of view of machine learning, a great example of the application of big data analysis would be in the case of Google X’s ambitious project of developing self-driving cars that have to process a massive amount of information in real time using their various sensors so as to be safe for use on the roads.

There are four pillars on which big data is based. These are: volume, velocity, variety and veracity. This refers to the increasing size of data, the speed at which data is being generated, the increasing complexity of data due to the various forms of it, and the amount of real world value that each of this data represents.

While critically evaluating the idea of big data, one cannot deny some of its benefits, which include creating customized products and services across various sectors, providing enterprise-wide insights that can help companies develop policies that redefine them, reducing unnecessary costs, identifying new opportunities and revenue streams, providing better security, analyzing potential risk better, making our infrastructure smarter, making healthcare more efficient, understanding customer preferences better, and many more.

Though organizations like Google, Facebook and others face numerous lawsuits our breaches of privacy, we are coming to terms with the glum fact that in today’s digital age, we can never hope to be completely anonymous, and that a record of our activities and our lives will exist and update in some form or another across the spectrum of our lives.

The recent revelations by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal how rampant spying is in this digital age, and that no one is exempt from it. Spy agencies have gone to the level of using tracking devices in USB cords, so that even if devices are not online, they can transmit data. This is indeed scary, and makes us realize that we can be manipulated in innumerable ways, and that a variety of institutions know more about us as individuals than we dare acknowledge.

George Orwell’s disturbing dystopia is indeed manifesting itself subtly but steadily.

Advertisements

Google Glass: Technology of the future

The future is here, and how! What seemed like elements of popular science fiction are now becoming reality thanks to the exploration of technological concepts never attempted before by a few intrepid adventurers on the tech landscape. Among several jaw-dropping inventions that seem to define modern life by the day, stands this small and yet powerful instrument, called the Google Glass. So what does a web giant like Google have to do with a pair of spectacles?

Well, a well-known yet highly secret division of Google, called Google X, set up specifically to create technology of the future, came up with the vision (pardon the pun) of creating a wearable computer in the form of a head-mounted display on a spectacle frame in 2011. Though the prototype weighed a spine-bending 8 lbs., the new and improved version, called the Explorer Edition, weighs less than an average pair of sunglasses.

So what can Google Glass do? Ever wondered, as you’re driving down a highway, and your GPS system isn’t working, and there are no signs to guide you, how you’re going to find your way? If that seems far-fetched, consider this: you’re driving down a road to a destination you’ve never been to before, and you need a quick visual on the route by which you can get there, and voila! Google Glass can show you a route projection that you can look at and follow right while driving! Thus, you’d see:

Google Glass

Image source: http://www.cultofandroid.com/37468/u-k-government-bans-drivers-from-using-google-glass-behind-the-wheel/

What else can you do with this futuristic gadget? Well, you can record any situation with the touch of a button, and get the best style of recorded video, one that has everything that appeals to you. You can take high resolution snaps, and app developers have even developed apps using which you can take a picture using voice commands like ‘Okay Glass, take a picture’ or even by winking! I can’t imagine that a person seemingly randomly winking at different objects or people would be seen as entirely sane or safe by others, but well, that’s the kind of futuristic technology we’re talking about.

We all need to keep reminders nowadays as there are just too many things to remember. But with Google Glass, the advantage is that now a reminder will literally beam in front of your eye, making it impossible for you to forget the task that needs to be done.

Besides this, you can see weather information, circle updates from your Google+ account, phone calls, photos and more. Android app developers, and even iOS ones, are developing apps for the Glass, including those providing news updates, facial recognition abilities, photo manipulation, translation, sharing to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Here are some images of views through the Google Glass.

Google Glass 2

Image source: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/technology/2013/02/google-glass-inside-view-reveals-functionality/

Google Glass 3

Image source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EvNxWhskf8

Google Glass 4

Image source: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/google-glass/

Google Glass 5

Image source: http://glass-apps.org/gps-google-glass-app

Google Glass 6

Image source: http://www.rgekay.co.in/2014/01/google-glass-gets-nametag.html

So what does the Glass comprise of? It has a touchpad, a camera and a display. The touchpad allows you to see a timeline where you can see phone calls, weather information, circle updates, etc. The camera has the ability to record 720p HD video, and the LED display provides clean images easily readable by the retina.

In spite of its futuristic looks and handsfree computer-like capabilities, Google Glass still seems like something that was designed not for the common man but for tech specialists, as well as those in fields like medicine. There is a documented case of a doctor who recorded an important operation for future study and analysis by wearing Google Glass while performing it. Notwithstanding such benefits, the very steep price tag of $1500, coupled with the fact that most features that you can enjoy today on an Android device are missing, make this device a miss for the layman. Google has come out with an improved version of the Explorer Edition of the Glass, called Google Glass 2, that included new accessories and made prescription glasses compatible with the frames. Google is slated to launch an Consumer Edition of the Glass sometime late this year. Let’s see what new improvements are in store and whether this becomes the next tech phenomenon to become part of our regular lives.