Google packs more artificial intelligence into new Pixel phones, raises prices for devices by $10

Google packs more artificial intelligence into new Pixel phones, raises prices for devices by $10
People photograph at the launch of the new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro Phones in New York City on October 4, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 05 October 2023
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Google packs more artificial intelligence into new Pixel phones, raises prices for devices by $10

Google packs more artificial intelligence into new Pixel phones, raises prices for devices by $10
  • New phones will include allowing Google Assistant to tap into the company’s recently hatched AI chatbot, Bard, to perform tasks
  • Google is leaving it up to each user to decide whether to allow Bard to interact with its other services

Google on Wednesday unveiled a next-generation Pixel smartphones lineup that will be infused with more artificial intelligence tools capable of writing captions about photos that can also be altered by the technology.

The injection of more artificial intelligence, or AI, into Google’s products marks another step toward bringing more of the technology into the mainstream – a push company executives signaled they were embarking upon during their annual developer’s conference five months ago.
“Our focus is on making AI more helpful for everyone in a way that is bold and responsible,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s senior vice president of devices and services, said during Wednesday’s event held in New York. As if to leave no doubt about Google’s current priorities, Osterloh described the new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro phones as a conduit for having “AI in your hand.”
The next moves will include allowing the 7-year-old Google Assistant to tap into the company’s recently hatched AI chatbot, Bard, to perform tasks. The expanded access to Bard comes just two weeks after Google began connecting the AI chatbot to the company’s other popular service such as Gmail, Maps and YouTube.
Google is leaving it up to each user to decide whether to allow Bard to interact with its other services, an effort to address worries about AI sifting through potentially sensitive information as it seeks to learn more about language and people.
One of the new tricks that the Bard-backed assistant is supposed to be able to do is scan a photo taken on a phone powered by Google’s Android software and generate a pithy caption suitable for posting on social media. As Google has been doing with most of its AI gambits, the Bard-backed Google Assistant initially will only be available to a test audience before it is gradually offered on an opt-in basis to more owners of the latest Pixels.
As has become common across the industry, most of the other technology in the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro phones unveiled Wednesday will be similar to what has already been available in last year’s models.
One of the main selling points of the new phones will be improved cameras, including more AI-empowered editing tools that will mostly be available on the Pixel 8 Pro. The AI features will be able to spruce up photos, zoom into certain parts of images, substitute faces taken from other pictures in group shots and erase objects and people from images.
Google is counting on the new AI twists added to this year’s lineup to be enough to justify a price increase — with the starting prices for both the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro increasing by $100 over last year’s comparable models.
That will result in the Pixel 8 selling for $700 and the Pixel 8 Pro for $1,000 when they go on sale in stores next week. Apple also raised the starting price of its top-end iPhone by $100 when its latest models came out last month, signaling inflationary pressures are starting to drive up the costs of devices that have become essential pieces of modern life.
The Pixel 8 Pro will also be able to take people’s temperatures — an addition that could be a drawing card in a post-pandemic era as various strains of COVID evolve. But Google is still trying to get regulatory approval to enable that capability in the US A 2020 phone, the Honor Play 4 Pro made my Huawei, also was able to screen for fevers, so Google isn’t breaking totally new ground.
Despite generally getting positive reviews, the Pixel phones have barely made a dent in a market dominated by Samsung and Apple since Google began making the devices seven years ago. But they have been gaining slightly more traction in recent years, with Pixel’s share of the high-end smartphone market now hovering around 4 percent from less than 1 percent three years ago, according to the research firm International Data Corp.
Google can afford to make a phone that doesn’t generate huge sales because it brings in more than $200 billion annually from a digital ad network that’s anchored by its dominant search engine. A big chunk of the ad revenue flows from the billions of dollars that Google pays annually to lock in its search engine as the main gateway to the Internet on the iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy lineup.
The agreements that have given Google’s search engine a lucrative position on phones and computers are the focal point of an ongoing antitrust trial in Washington, where the US Justice Department is trying to prove its allegations that Google has been abusing its power to stifle competition and innovation.


‘We should kill them all:’ Outrage erupts over US congressman’s Gaza comments

‘We should kill them all:’ Outrage erupts over US congressman’s Gaza comments
Updated 21 February 2024
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‘We should kill them all:’ Outrage erupts over US congressman’s Gaza comments

‘We should kill them all:’ Outrage erupts over US congressman’s Gaza comments
  • Words ‘indicate US complicity’ in suffering, experts warn
  • Controversial video emerged as US vetoed UN ceasefire resolution for 3rd time

LONDON: A US congressman has sparked outrage after claiming “we should kill them all” in reference to Palestinians in Gaza.

US representative for Tennessee’s fifth congressional district Andy Ogles was approached by a group of pro-Palestine activists in Washington on Tuesday.

He was told by one activist: “I’ve seen the footage of shredded children’s bodies. That’s my taxpayer dollars that are going to bomb those kids.”

Ogles responded: “You know what? So, I think we should kill them all, if that makes you feel better. Hamas and the Palestinians have been attacking Israel for 20 years. It’s time to pay the piper.”

The shocking video of the Republican congressman has sparked widespread condemnation across social media, with experts warning that Ogles’s words are indicative of Washington’s complicity in suffering in Gaza.

“For those of you wondering how the Nazis, Daesh, etc. can kill people indiscriminately, now you are witnessing leaders and prominent people in the so-called enlightened democratic societies demonstrating that blind adherence to any ideology can make ordinary people into evil monsters,” lawyer, author and human rights activists Faisal Kutty said X.

“These people have all sold their souls to the highest bidder,” he added.

Ogles, known for his staunch, unconditional support for Israel, previously voted to censure congresswoman member Rashida Tlaib over allegations she had supported the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel. Ogles has also proposed legislation preventing Palestinians from entering the US.

The outrage over Ogles’s comments comes as the Biden administration faces growing criticism over its vetoing of a ceasefire resolution at the UN Security Council. It marked the third veto by the US since Oct. 7.

UNICEF has warned of a potential surge in preventable child deaths in Gaza due to malnutrition and disease. Save the Children’s Jason Lee described the situation as “astronomical” and warned that words cannot capture the scale of death and destruction in the enclave.

Israeli forces have reportedly killed more than 12,400 children in Gaza since Oct. 7, with more than 600,000 children now trapped in Rafah. Save the Children highlighted the alarming rate of amputations, with more than 10 children per day in Gaza, on average, losing one or both of their legs since October.


From Berlinale to Eurovision, anger over Gaza clouds Europe’s cultural events

From Berlinale to Eurovision, anger over Gaza clouds Europe’s cultural events
Updated 21 February 2024
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From Berlinale to Eurovision, anger over Gaza clouds Europe’s cultural events

From Berlinale to Eurovision, anger over Gaza clouds Europe’s cultural events
  • Gaza war has casted shadow over European cultural life after anger at Israel offensive flares in France, Italy, Britain
  • Artists have chosen to boycott the Berlin Film Festival in protest against Germany's alleged suppression of pro-Palestinian voices

BERLIN: Indian-American filmmaker Suneil Sanzgiri was set to showcase his film about anti-colonial resistance against the Portuguese empire at this month’s Berlinale film festival but dropped out.
Announcing his boycott on Instagram, Sanzgiri accused the German authorities of silencing voices speaking out for Palestinians in the war in Gaza. “I will not be complicit. We all have blood on our hands,” he wrote.
Sanzgiri’s is one of at least three films that were withdrawn by their creators, while other events at the festival also saw artists pulling out.
The withdrawals showed the tricky waters Germany’s cultural institutions are navigating, caught between protecting artistic freedoms while recognizing what many Germans see as a historic responsibility for Israel after the Nazi Holocaust.
Such disputes have also flared elsewhere in Europe since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants. The European Broadcasting Union has resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from the Eurovision Song Contest.
Protests erupted in the Italian city of Naples in February after state broadcaster RAI distanced itself from an appeal made by rapper Ghali to “stop the genocide” during the closing night of the popular Sanremo Music Festival.
In Britain, a network of artists has been documenting events that were axed over artists’ pro-Palestinian views. The Arnolfini art gallery in Bristol also sparked a backlash after canceling two Palestinian film events, fearing they could “stray into political activity.”
In France, a group of artists in November organized a “silent march” where they held a white banner with no slogans.

STRIKE GERMANY
In Germany, anger over the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has killed 29,000 Palestinians, has clashed with sensibilities over supporting Israel. Critics say crackdowns on pro-Palestinian voices confuse criticism with legitimate protest.
As cultural events are often state supported, critics say the government has used its financial power to prevent any criticism of Israel, a charge the government strongly rejects.
“Freedom of art and freedom of expression are among the most important basic principles of democracy in Germany, which are of course also protected by the federal government,” a spokesperson for the culture ministry said.
“The institutions and projects funded at the federal level have curatorial freedom and decide for themselves which artists they work with,” the spokesperson added.
While announcing his Berlinale boycott, filmmaker Sanzgiri voiced support for Strike Germany, an initiative launched by anonymous artists in January calling on filmmakers, musicians, writers and artists to withdraw from cultural events in Germany.
“It is a call to refuse German cultural institutions’ use of McCarthyist policies that suppress freedom of expression, specifically expressions of solidarity with Palestine,” the organizers wrote.
Some 1,600 artists have signed up, according a list on the initiative’s website, including French Nobel prize winner Annie Ernaux. Reuters could not verify the list’s authenticity.
Last month, Berlin’s CTM music festival announced several artists withdrawing in solidarity with Strike Germany.
Strike Germany calls for the adoption of a different definition of anti-Semitism that does not include criticism of the state of Israel.
The Berlinale has not shied away from the Gaza issue. It is hosting a so-called Tiny House initiative, a small space inviting disparate voices to debate the war. One of the films spotlighted Israeli settlers encroaching on land.
It is one of several cultural events in Germany clouded by anger over Gaza.
Hundreds of international writers condemned the Frankfurt Book Fair after a Palestinian writer’s award was postponed in October. In November, the entire selection committee for one of Europe’s most important art exhibitions, “documenta,” resigned after disputes over the Israel-Hamas conflict.


Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta

Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta
Updated 21 February 2024
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Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta

Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta
  • Individuals and businesses can build AI software based on Google’s new family of “open models” called Gemma, for free

SAN FRANCISCO: Google on Wednesday released new artificial intelligence (AI) models that outside developers potentially can fashion as their own, following a similar move by Meta Platforms and others.
The Alphabet subsidiary said individuals and businesses can build AI software based on its new family of “open models” called Gemma, for free. The company is making key technical data such as what are called model weights publicly available, it said.
The move may attract software engineers to build on Google’s technology and encourage usage of its newly profitable cloud division. The models are “optimized” for Google Cloud, where first-time cloud customers using them get $300 in credits, the company said.
Google stopped short of making Gemma fully “open source,” meaning the company still may have a hand in setting terms of use and ownership. Some experts have said open-source AI was ripe for abuse, while others have championed the approach for widening the set of people who can contribute to and benefit from the technology.
With the announcement, Google did not make its bigger, premier models known as Gemini open, unlike Gemma. It said the Gemma models are sized at two billion or seven billion parameters — or the number of different values that an algorithm takes into account to generate output.
Meta’s Llama 2 models range from seven to 70 billion parameters in size. Google has not disclosed the size of its largest Gemini models. For comparison, OpenAI’s GPT-3 model announced in 2020 had 175 billion parameters.
Chipmaker Nvidia on Wednesday said it has worked with Google to ensure Gemma models run smoothly on its chips. Nvidia also said it will soon make chatbot software, which it is developing to run AI models on Windows PCs, work with Gemma.


Third Saudi Media Forum kicks off in Riyadh, platforms global issues

Third Saudi Media Forum kicks off in Riyadh, platforms global issues
Updated 21 February 2024
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Third Saudi Media Forum kicks off in Riyadh, platforms global issues

Third Saudi Media Forum kicks off in Riyadh, platforms global issues

RIYADH: The third Saudi Media Forum kicked off its agenda on Tuesday with panels, workshops and masterclasses in Riyadh under the theme “Media in a World Taking Shape.”

The two-day forum, organized by the Saudi Broadcasting Authority in collaboration with the Saudi Journalists Association, has become the Middle East’s cornerstone event for media gatherings and discussion, bringing together some 2,000 industry specialists and experts from the region and beyond.

“What Saudi is witnessing now is a moment of realization of the reality of its valuable capabilities, investing and refining them for the future,” said SBA CEO Mohammed Al-Harthi.

“Saudis are halfway towards Vision 2030, already reaping its results, and this leaves them with more confidence to achieve large aspirations.

“Media is part of this acceleration and development within the Kingdom’s regulations and legislations.

“Global entities are gravitating towards Riyadh as their base, as it has become a new hub for media industries.”

Its accompanying exhibition FOMEX opened its doors to visitors on Monday, showcasing the latest technologies and innovations from over 200 local and international companies throughout the forum’s duration.

At the SMF’s opening ceremony, Saudi Media Minister Salman Al-Dosari highlighted the Kingdom’s three new media strategies.

The Media Sector Strategy looks to shape a comprehensive media system in the Kingdom while improving governance and efficiency in collaboration with 30 government entities as well as the private and third sectors.

The Saudi Broadcasting Authority Strategy aims to enable the authority to overcome digital challenges, train talent and create world-class content.

The Saudi Press Agency Strategy aims to up its online, office and correspondent activity worldwide while presenting journalistic content that aligns with modern standard practice.

Al-Dosari announced the launch of the Saudi Academy for Media to empower and train professionals in new and developing skills and technologies. He also announced partnerships with tech giants including Google, Huawei and Alibaba.

A session titled “Gaza in the Media: Between Misrepresentation and Bias” analyzed the discrepancy between global coverage, Western media’s partiality toward Israel, and inaccuracies in portraying the conflict.

In a session titled “Media in the Past and Present,” Waleed bin Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim, founder and chairman of media giant MBC, said: “Enablement comes from both private and public sectors through investment and so on. At MBC, we’re lacking creatives and talents in all spaces, so all the doors are open.”

Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas took to the stage alongside fellow experts to discuss the role of journalism during times of global crises.

Meanwhile, Okaz Editor-in-Chief Jameel Al-Theyabi gave a workshop on the future of the print press.

A special masterclass by Dick Roberts, an executive vice president at Allen Media Group, gave insights into the entertainment industry.

Another session explored tourism as a global media language while Darryl Von Daniken, director of the International Radio Festival, discussed radio’s influence on consumers and prioritizing quality over quantity.

Prince Fahd bin Mansour, representative of Saudi Arabia in the G20-Startup20 engagement group, gave a workshop on generative artificial intelligence in media.

Joyce Baz, Google’s head of PR and communications in the Middle East and North Africa, discussed AI in a panel on the future of the media.

Saudi Arabia has launched multiple initiatives to grow the media sector across the region, including the Media Zone project that provides a dedicated space to gain knowledge of media arts.

Last week, the Kingdom launched the Hajj and Umrah Mediathon to improve the quality of coverage of the holy practices.

The Hajj Media Hub was also announced, allowing media professionals to enhance their coverage and showcase their work in an immersive exhibition.

The media sector’s contribution to Saudi gross domestic product reached SR14.5 billion ($3.86 billion) in 2023, and is targeting SR16 billion this year.

Last year, there was a record 56,000 jobs in the media in the Kingdom, which is expected to exceed 67,000 this year.


Leaked documents expose Iran’s harassment campaign against British-based journalists

Leaked documents expose Iran’s harassment campaign against British-based journalists
Updated 21 February 2024
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Leaked documents expose Iran’s harassment campaign against British-based journalists

Leaked documents expose Iran’s harassment campaign against British-based journalists
  • Hacktivists Edalat-e Ali says documents show Tehran targets Iran International staff with financial bans, threats to family

LONDON: Dozens of British-based journalists have been targeted by Iran in a coordinated harassment campaign aimed at silencing the network, top secret intelligence documents revealed on Wednesday.

The leaked information, obtained by hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali, exposes how Iran International TV staff received financial bans and threats to their families during the 2019 protests.

The London-based network has said it was previously aware of the intimidation tactics but that the documents offered “indisputable proof that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and judicial officials were coordinating the harassment efforts.”

During nationwide protests in November 2019, sparked by a sudden hike in gasoline prices and met with a violent crackdown by security forces, Iran International persisted in reporting on the situation despite a government internet shutdown.

This drew unwanted attention and scrutiny from the authorities, with the broadcaster facing accusations of disseminating false news to fuel rebellion.

The leaked documents outline the intimidation methods used. A ministry letter addressed to the Tehran Prosecutor General, dated Nov. 30, 2019, disclosed that 15 family members of Iran International employees were summoned and 71 key players faced financial restrictions.

The tactics were designed to have a psychological impact, causing mental distress and insecurity for employees.

The leaked documents also exposed Tehran’s harassment of ordinary citizens who attempted to contact the network. The papers revealed that journalists and their families faced threats, with the government warning that continuing to work with “opposition media” would have legal consequences.

In February 2023, the escalating harassment campaign prompted the channel to relocate temporarily from London to Washington DC due to assassination attempts. However, it resumed operations in the British capital in September under heightened security measures.

Last year, an Iranian plot to assassinate two of the network’s anchors during the 2022 anti-government protests was thwarted by a double agent, resulting in the arrest and conviction of a Chechen national.

The US and UK both announced sanctions against a network involved in assassination plots, including those targeting Iran International journalists.