Google AlphaGo AI Beats European Go Champion

[ Wired ] Cade Metz:

“AlphaGo learned to discover new strategies for itself, by playing millions of games between its neural networks, against themselves, and gradually improving,” says DeepMind researcher David Silver.

According to Silver, this allowed AlphaGo to top other Go-playing AI systems, including Crazystone. Then the researchers fed the results into a second neural network. Grabbing the moves suggested by the first, it uses many of the same techniques to look ahead to the result of each move. This is similar to what older systems like Deep Blue would do with chess, except that the system is learning as it goes along, as it analyzes more data—not exploring every possible outcome through brute force. In this way, AlphaGo learned to beat not only existing AI programs but a top human as well.

AlphaGo beat European Go champion Fan Hui five out of five times. Doesn’t sound like a big deal. Deep Blue beat chess champion Garry Kasparov. Watson beat Jeopardy champions. And now AlphaGo beat a European Go champion. So? Well, think about this: the possible moves on a Go board is more than all the atoms in the universe. In other words, there’s a lot — way more than chess — to compute.

In March AlphaGo will challenge South Korea-based grandmaster Sedol Lee who is the current world champion and considered the best Go player in the world.

Google Pixel C Review by AnandTech

[ AnandTech ] Brandon Chester & Joshua Ho:

Ultimately, the Pixel C ends up being a strange mix of things that may have worked together in a much more cohesive manner had it shipped with Chrome OS like it was clearly intended to. Unfortunately, Android just doesn’t provide an acceptable tablet experience, and Google’s own applications are some of the biggest offenders.

Google makes both Chrome OS and Android. And Google made the Pixel C. Google handled both software and hardware, and ended up doing a better job with the hardware. The 10.2-inch 3:2 2560×1800 LTPS IPS LCD — that was a mouthful — is quite good, but falls short of best. I like the 3:2 aspect ratio; the original iPhone up until the iPhone 4s sported the same aspect ratio.

As for the hardware, the first thing to talk about is the SoC. Tegra X1 is very fast on both the CPU and GPU sides, and as far as Android tablets go it offers the best graphics performance that you can get. The display on the Pixel C is also very good, with accurate color rendering and a high brightness as well as deep blacks. The greyscale accuracy could use some work, and Google needs to improve on hiding their digitizer and cutting down reflections in general, but for the most part it’s a very good panel.

A display with high reflectance. A glossy display. A reflective display. These are all signs of not-so-good. Apple is better, but the industry overall needs to work on reducing reflectance on every single display where a human being needs to look at it in an environment where there is light, natural or man-made.

Here are some display test results:

  • Max Display Brightness: 495 nits. Lagging behind the iPhone 6s Plus (582), iPhone 6s (567), Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (566), and Huawei Mate 8 (522).
  • Black Levels: 0.27. Only behind the iPad Pro (0.25).
  • Contrast Ratio: 1,818. Leading the pack, followed by the iPad Pro (1,644), and the Huawei Mate 8 (1,607).
  • Grayscale Accuracy (Average DeltaE 2000): 3.19. The Pixel C is way down the list. At #1 is the iPad mini 4 (1.02).
  • Saturation Accuracy (Average DeltaE 2000): 1.88. Again, way down the list. The iPad mini 4 is again at the top with 0.87.
  • Gretag-MacBeth Accuracy (Average DeltaE 2000): 2.46. Way down the list again. The iPad mini 4 (1.32) is #1.

The Pixel C’s screen doesn’t seem to be the most accurate in terms of grayscale and color.

Brandon Chester:

In its current state, I honestly can’t give the Pixel C any sort of recommendation, even to the biggest fans of Google products. Its software needs a lot of work, and I hope that Google’s upcoming patch fixes the major problems. The Pixel C may improve with future updates, but for now it’s best to hold off and see how things change going forward.

Joshua Ho:

Overall, I’m not even sure this measures up to the iPad Air 2 which is well over a year old by this point. I cannot in good conscience recommend anyone buy this tablet until the touch screen issues and generally poor performance has been resolved, and even then that recommendation would be to a limited group of people solely interested in a touch-only Android tablet.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, A Physical-Based Digital Approach

[ Studio Daily ] ILM VFX Supervisor Roger Guyett in an interview with Barbara Robertson:

When you see the little speeder moving across the landscape, it’s a completely digital shot. But because we’d been there, when we recreated that moment, we did it from a physically-based approach. I don’t know if J.J. [Abrams] knows how we constructed the images, but he was at the location and he knew how it looked.

My son and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. Both of us enjoyed the movie. The 3D wasn’t overdone, but I’d like to watch it again at an IMAX theater without 3D. I’ll probably head on over to The Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose in the very near future.

I did see the little speeder, a hovercraft, moving across the landscape. The speeder with Rey played by Daisy Ridley at the wheel was zipping through the desert far away; it looked analog, like film, but modern high-resolution film. The overall feel of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a nice mixture of Star Wars IV, V, and V in terms of the visual experience.

Xiaomi Redmi 3

[ The Next Web ] Here are some hardware specs for the Xiaomi Redmi 3:

  • Display: 5-inch 1280×720
  • CPU: Octa-core Snapdragon 616 with 2GB RAM
  • Storage: 16GB
  • Camera: 13MP/5MP
  • SIM: 2 (or use 1 for microSD up to 128GB)
  • Battery: 4100mAh

The all-metal Redmi 3 is decidedly a mid-level Android smartphone, but the price is rock bottom: about US$100, in China.

iPad Pro Review by AnandTech

[ AnandTech ] Joshua Ho, Brandon Chester, and Ryan Smith:

The panel itself also appears to have dual domain pixels and a conventional RGB stripe. Viewing angles as a result are quite good. The cover glass also contains the AR coating first introduced with the iPad Air 2, which cuts reflectance roughly in half relative to a display that doesn’t have such a coating. This effectively doubles outdoor contrast, so it’s great for outdoor use.

You want a display to have as little reflectance as possible. Here are some test results:

  • Brightness: 426.71 nits (max). The iPad Pro came in the middle of the pack, with the iPhone 6s Plus at #1 with 582.01, and just ahead of the iPad Air 2 at 406.99.
  • Black Levels: 0.25 nits. The iPad Pro was #1 followed by NVIDIA’s SHIELD (0.29) and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 (0.30).
  • Contrast Ratio: 1,644. The iPad Pro was #1 followed by Huawei Mate 8 (1,607) and iPhone 6s (1,532).
  • White Point: 6,908K. 6500K is optimal. The Google Nexus 5X (6,541K) and Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (6,466K) were the closest.
  • Grayscale Accuracy: 1.80 (average DeltaE 2000). The iPad Pro came behind the iPad mini 4 (1.02), Google Nexus 5X (1.38), and Surface Pro 4 (1.80).
  • Saturation Accuracy: 1.37 (average DeltaE 2000). Similar to grayscale accuracy, the iPad Pro came in at #4 behind the iPad mini 4 (0.87), Surface Pro 4 (1.34), and Google Nexus 5X (1.35).
  • Gretag MacBeth (GMB) Accuracy: 1.55 (average DeltaE 2000). Second only to the iPad mini 4 (1.32), with the Surface Pro 4 (1.56) and Google Nexus 5X (1.65) right behind.

AnandTech concludes by stating the iPad Pro display as “one of the best available on the market today.”

Foxconn Bids For Sharp

[ The Wall Street Journal ] Foxconn has bid about ¥625 billion (~US$5.3 billion) to take over Sharp. Japan’s Innovation Network Corp., which owns a controlling stake in Japan Display Inc. (JDI) has also offered a bid of ¥300 billion for Sharp.

Japan wants Sharp to remain a Japanese company, but it depends on Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. and Mizuho Financial Group Inc.; together are owed between ¥500 and ¥600 billion. Will they choose money or patriotism?

Here’s my take. Foxconn builds a lot of stuff for a lot of companies including Apple. Apple procures most of its displays from LG Display (LGD). If Foxconn succeeds in bidding for Sharp, Foxconn will most likely be able to offer incredible deals integrating LCDs manufactured by Sharp to Apple and other companies like Dell, HP, etc.

Both LGD and Sharp can manufacture displays with IPS technology with oxide/IGZO backplanes, though LGD is considered to be the best IPS LCD supplier in terms of quality, engineering, and quantity as of this writing. Foxconn might also be interested in Sharp’s thin film solar panel manufacturing technology and capability.

Content Consumption & Screen Size

German-born designer and typographer Erik Spiekermann shares his ideas about content consumption as it relates to screen size:

There are physical limitations as to certain size. It’s nice to read 10 words a line, 50 to 60 characters. This is science. This is not me. This is something that we like, the way our eyes move in little segments. There are physical limitations to our eyes: the curvature of our eyeballs, the space we have in front of us, the distance from the eyes. That’s human, and no machine can ever change that.

There’s a certain size that looks good to us. There’s a certain contrast. Total black and total white is horrible. That’s why books are nice, because they’re not totally black or totally white. We like a little softer.

When you’re reading on your smartphone I think 10 words might be a little too many. I’d say it should be about 8 or 9 on a 4.5-inch-ish smartphone. For older folks with poorer vision the fonts will need to be even larger.

Optimal size depends on our vision. Optimal size also depends on screen size, not because the science of vision changes, but because our preferences and expectations change based on screen size. We hold our smartphones closer to us and expect things to be a bit more succinct. On a 30-inch monitor — with enough pixels (~2560×1600 or more) — we expect the visual experience of reading an electronic version of a magazine to be identical to reading the real one. A 6-inch E Ink grayscale Kindle? We expect something different yet.

iPhone 5se?

[ 9to5 Mac ] Mark Gurman:

The new device is internally codenamed “N69,” but the launch name will likely be the “iPhone 5se.” The “se” suffix has been described in two ways by Apple employees: as a “special edition” variation of the vintage 4-inch iPhone screen size and as an “enhanced” version of the iPhone 5s. Indeed, the upcoming “5se” features a design similar to 2013’s flagship but upgraded internals, software, and hardware features that blend the old design with modern technologies from the past two iPhone upgrades.

An iPhone 5 with the iPhone 6’s curved cover glass and internals. I don’t know. iPhone 5se sounds a bit much for Apple.

Just the other day my friend SooSang and I were reminiscing about old games. He had taken his family to a video arcade in Oakland packed with old video games like Street Fighter, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Defender, Phoenix, Centipede, Pac Man, etc. He also mentioned he has a Mac SE.

SE. I guess Apple did use that so they could use it again. I guess.

Smarter Watches

[ re/code ] Walt Mossberg:

But my $700, stainless steel Apple Watch? If that somehow went away, I expect I’d stop missing it after a few days. Sure, it does just enough for me that I don’t feel terrible about buying it, or wish to get rid of it. But since I started wearing one after it launched last April, it just hasn’t become an integral part of my life. Unlike my phone, if I left my smartwatch at home one day, I wouldn’t drive back to get it.

I consider myself a technology early adopter. I make a calculated risk or investment expecting the new technology to have a positive impact on my life. Looking back at my life: PC XT in 1986 (upgraded to 256MB max RAM a year later — man did that boost the speed!), LCD laptop in 1992, Palm Pilot Professional with 1MB RAM in 1997 (I practiced and practiced my Graffiti) , Apple iPod in 2002 (the U2 version), Palm Treo smartphone in 2003 (and some other early smartphones like the Motorola Q), the Apple iPhone in 2007 (the day it hit Apple Stores on June 29), and the iPad in 2010. But the Apple Watch? I’m not interested. Why? I’m not convinced it will have a positive impact on my life, yet.

Back to Mossberg:

If the smartwatch can’t eventually do something smarter and more useful than it does now, it risks becoming a footnote.

In terms of just looks I prefer circular — not the 270-degree ‘circles’ in the Moto 360 or the Casio — smartwatches like the Garmin Fenix 3 and the Samsung Gear S2.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Says Tech Companies Should Not Have Any Say In Encryption Debate

[ Ars Technica ] Jon Brodkin:

“I don’t think it is Silicon Valley’s decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do,” Stephenson said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “I understand [Apple CEO] Tim Cook’s decision, but I don’t think it’s his decision to make.”

In Tim Cook Shows Courage on Encryption I wrote:

Tim Cook is against designing in special backdoors for law enforcement.

Here’s a doozy via John Gruber about a New York Times article back in August 2015 reporting on AT&T’s ‘extraordinary’ relationship with the National Security Agency:

The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.

While it has been long known that American telecommunications companies worked closely with the spy agency, newly disclosed N.S.A. documents show that the relationship with AT&T has been considered unique and especially productive. One document described it as “highly collaborative,” while another lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.”

Not surprisingly AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson denies it as ‘silliness’. Hmm… I’m on U-verse.