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Google Introduces Impressive Array Of New Hardware

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Google hosted a much-anticipated hardware event on Wednesday in San Francisco to refresh its premium Pixel line of phones. The company, which is fresh from buying the HTC unit that made the original Pixel, introduced Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL models. In a major push into hardware, Google also announced new versions of Google Home, its smart speaker, including a low-cost model that could be priced below $50. Google also unveiled a new version of Daydream, its VR headset, as well as a new high-end (and very pricey) Chromebook.

Forbes reported the announcements live:

9:05 am Google CEO Sundar Pichai takes the stage and begins by touting Google’s commitment to AI. “It is radically rethinking how computing should work,” Pichai said. “Computers should adapt to how people live their lives,” not the other way around, he adds. Computing will be conversational, ambient and contextual. It’s a unique moment in time, when Google can bring AI, software and hardware together, Pichai says, to lead the way forward. “The rate at which we are seeing progress in AI is amazing,” Pichai adds, highlighting how Google’s latest vision algorithms outperform human vision.

9:20 am Hardware SVP Rick Osterloh takes the stage. He says it’s, you guessed it, “early days” for Google hardware, but the company is off to a good start. “Pixel had a great year,” he says, acknowledging Google didn’t make enough phones to meet demand. But here’s the catch. “The playing field for hardware components is leveling off,” he says. That makes it harder and harder to develop new products each year, and that’s why Google is taking a different approach, he says. “Innovation will happen at the intersection of hardware, software and AI,” he says. “That’s where the big leaps forward will happen in the next 10 years.”

9:30 am Rishi Chandra, head of home products, takes the stage to update Google’s smart speaker line, claims Google has the best voice recognition in the market, in part because it has the most data. That’s allowed Google to create Voice Match, which recognizes the voices of different people in a family, Chandra says. He then introduces Isabelle Olsson, lead designer for Google Home. She introduces Home Mini, a small round speaker that comes in 3 colors. It costs $49 and is available for pre-order today.

9:35 am Yoki Matsuoka, CTO of Nest, is up next to talk about how Google and the Alphabet subsidiary are working together on smart home tech. Here’s one example, the Google assistant can activate a smart TV to show you what’s happening on a Nest smart camera, say to monitor your fromt door. Here’s another. with a single command, “Hey Google, Goodnight” arms the security system, tells you what’s on your agenda tomorrow and sets your alarm. “This really simplifies my life,” Matsuoka says.

9:45 am Chandra introduces Google Home Max, a high end smart speaker that’s clearly aimed at competing with Apple’s upcoming smart speaker. It comes equipped with Smart Sound, a new tech that adapts the sound to fit your context, for instance, raising the volume when the dishwasher is running. “It’s about delivering consistent, crisp sound experiences. Available in December, for $399. Watch out Apple.

9:55 am As expected, Google introduces a high end Chromebook called Pixelbook, with a 13.2-inch screen. Thin, convertible into tablet mode, 16GB RAM and 10 hours of battery life. If there is no wifi, it instantly tethers through your phone. Google Assistant comes built-in. It comes with a pen/stylus — circle a photo of an artist, and the Google Assistant will tell you who it is. Google Play smartphone apps run on the Pixelbook. Snap is working with Google to bring a “large screen” experience to the Pixelbook. Here’s the catch. It’s not cheap. Available in 3 configurations, starting at $999, with the pen for an extra $99. Available in the US, Canada and the UK. Pre-orders start today and in stores on Halloween.

10:05 am Mario Queiroz, head of Pixel phones, is now on stage for the main act, the Google Pixel 2, which comes in 5-inch and 6-inch XL versions. Lots of goodies: OLED display in the small version, which comes in 3 colors, including Kind of Blue, black and white. Larger version comes with a slightly curved display that goes all the way to the edges, in black or black and white. Here’s the obligatory dig at Apple. Both devices have the same capabilities. “We don’t set aside feature for the larger device,” Queiroz says.

10:18 am Google execs demo a bunch of software/hardware updates that work with the Pixel 2. You can squeeze the phone to invoke the Google Assistant. The Assistant integrates between the Pixel and Home, so you can send messages like “I’ll be home in 10 minutes” that will get played on your Google Home. Finally Google has notification dots on its apps. Google Lens help you understand the world. It can “read” emails, addresses and phone numbers; it can give you a movie or book review by “looking” at a poster or cover; it recognizes historic monuments. A preview of Lens is coming to Pixel users. Google Lens also comes with AR capabilities that let you bring virtual objects into real places through the screen; or virtual characters into real scenes.

10:30 am Queiroz is back to tout the Pixel 2’s camera. The excellent camera from the Pixel 1 had a DXO score (an industry standard for the amount of information captured by a camera’s lens and how well the lens and camera perform together) of 89. The new one has a score of 98 — the highest score of any smartphone camera. It’s a 12 MP, f 1.8 camera. It comes with a portrait mode that creates depth of field effects on both the main and selfie cameras. A new thing called “fused image stabilization” that improves the stability of videos. Pixel 2 users get free storage for all their photos and videos in the highest resolution. The results look pretty amazing, but we’ll have to test it in real life to know for sure. Pixel 2 starts at $649 and Pixel 2 XL $849, available in six countries in Australia, Canada, Germany India UK and US with preorder today. For a limited time, Google will throw in a Google Home Mini for free.

10:40 am After introducing updates to Google Daydream, the VR headset, Google moves quickly to its latest shot at Apple: A set of premium wireless headphones Google Pixel Buds designed to work and pair easily with the Pixel. Google’s AI is built in, you can speak to the headset in one language, like Swedish, and the phone will translate in real time into English. The demo worked flawlessly. It works in 40 languages. Available in 3 colors, for $159, with preorders starting today and availability in November.

10:45 am Google pulls a “one more thing.” Google Clips, a small, clippable/wearable camera that could well portend the end of struggling action camera maker GoPro. It’s packed with AI to make cool images. It will sell for $249 and will be available soon. Osterloh comes back on stage for a wrap up of the #MadeByGoogle line of products.

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How Virtual Therapy Apps Are Trying To Disrupt The Mental Health Industry

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Millions of Americans deal with mental illness each year, and more than half of them go untreated. As the mental health industry has grown in recent years, so has the number of tech startups offering virtual therapy, which range from online and app-based chatbots to video therapy sessions and messaging. 

Still a nascent industry, with most startups in the early seed-stage funding round, these companies say they aim to increase access to qualified mental health care providers and reduce the social stigma that comes with seeking help. 

While the efficacy of virtual therapy, compared with traditional in-person therapy, is still being hotly debated, its popularity is undeniable. Its most recognizable pioneers, BetterHelp and TalkSpace, have enrolled nearly 700,000 and more than 1 million users respectively. And investors are taking notice.

Funding for mental health tech startups has boomed in the past few years, jumping from roughly $100 million in 2014 to more than $500 million in 2018, according to Pitchbook. In May of this year, the subscription-based online therapy platform Talkspace raised an additional $50 million, bringing its total funding to just under $110 million since its 2012 inception.

The ubiquity of smartphones, coupled with the lessening of the stigma associated with mental health treatment have played a large role in the growing demand for virtual therapy. Of the various services offered on the Talkspace platform, “clients by far want asynchronous text messaging,” says Neil Leibowitz, the company’s chief medical officer.

Users seem to prefer back-and-forth messaging that isn’t restricted to a narrow window of time over face-to-face interactions. At BetterHelp, founder Alon Matas notes that older users are more likely to go for phone and video therapy sessions, whereas younger users favor text messaging.

“Each generation is getting progressively more mobile-native,” says John Prendergass, an associate director at Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ healthcare investment group, “so I think we’re going to see people become increasingly more accustomed, or predisposed, to a higher level of comfort in seeking care online.”

The ease and convenience of virtual therapy is another draw, particularly for busy people or those who live in rural areas with limited access to therapy and a range of care options.

Alison Darcy, founder and CEO of Woebot, a free automated chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to provide therapeutic services without the direct involvement of humans, says that with Woebot and other similar services, there is no need to schedule appointments weeks in advance and users can receive real-time coaching at the moment they need it, unlike traditional therapy. The sense of anonymity online can also lead to more openness and transparency and attracts people who normally wouldn’t seek therapy.

Along with stigma, the cost of therapy has historically acted as a barrier to accessing quality mental-health care. Health insurance is often unlikely to cover therapy sessions. In most cities, sessions run about $75 to $150 each, and can go as high as $200 or more in places like New York City. Web therapists don’t have to bear the expense of brick-and-mortar offices, filing paperwork or marketing their services, and these savings can be passed on to clients. 

BetterHelp offers a $200-a-month membership that includes weekly live sessions with a therapist and unlimited messaging in between, while Talkspace’s cheapest monthly subscription at $260-a-month, offers unlimited text, video and audio messaging.

But virtual therapy, particularly text-based therapy, is not suitable for everyone. Nor is it likely to make traditional therapy obsolete. “Online therapy isn’t good for people who have severe mental and relational health issues, or any kind of psychosis, deep depression or violence,” says Christiana Awosan, a licensed marriage and family therapist. 

At her New York and New Jersey offices, she works predominantly with black clients, a population that she says prefers face-to-face meetings. “This community is wary of mental health in general because of structural discrimination,” Awosan says. “They pay attention to nonverbal cues and so they need to first build trust in-person.”  

Virtual therapy apps can still be beneficial for people with low-level anxiety, stress or insomnia, and they can also help users become aware of harmful behaviors and obtain a higher sense of well-being. 

Sean Luo, a psychiatrist whose consultancy work focuses on machine learning techniques in mental health technology, says: “This why some of these companies are getting very high valuations. There are a lot of commercialization possibilities.” He adds that from a mental health treatment perspective, a virtual therapy app “isn’t going to solve your problems, because people who are truly ill will by definition require a lot more.”

Relying on digital therapy platforms might also provide a false sense of security for users who actually need more serious mental-health care, and many of these apps are ill-equipped to deal with emergencies like suicide, drug overdoses or the medical consequences of psychiatric illness. “The level of intervention simply isn’t strong enough,” says Luo, “and so these aspects still need to be evaluated by a trained professional.

Ruth Umoh, Diversity and Inclusion Writer, Forbes Staff.

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AI 50 Founders Say This Is What People Get Wrong About Artificial Intelligence

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Forbes’ new list of promising artificial intelligence companies highlights how the technology is creating real value across industries like transportation, healthcare, HR, insurance and finance.

Naturally, the founders of the honoree companies are excited about the technology’s benefits and, in their roles, spend a lot of time thinking and talking about its strengths and limitations. Here’s what they think people get wrong about artificial intelligence.

Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby says she’s too often encountered the idea that AI is “evil.”

“AI—like any technology in history—is neutral,” she says. “It’s what we do with it that counts, so it’s our responsibility, as an AI ecosystem, to drive it in the right direction.” 

Companies need to be aware of how AI could widen bounds of inequality, she adds: “Any AI that is designed to interact with humans—Affectiva’s included—must be evaluated with regards to the ethical and privacy implications of these technologies.”

Sarjoun Skaff, CTO and cofounder of Bossa Nova Robotics, says that the biggest misconception he encounters is that artificial intelligence is actually, well, intelligent. 

“The truth is much more mundane,” he says. “AI is a very good pattern-matching tool. To make it work well, though, scientists need to understand the details of how it internally works and not treat it as an ‘intelligent’ black box. At the end of the day, making good use of great pattern matching still belongs to humans.”

Similarly, Aira cofounder Suman Kanuganti says that the public has “over-inflated expectations” for artificial intelligence.

“Garry Kasparov sums it up nicely: ‘We are in the beginning of MS-DOS and people think we are Windows 10,’” Kanuganti says. “AI realistically is still like a 3-year-old child at this stage. When it works, it feels magical. It does some things well, but there’s still a long way to go.”

So, no, we are nowhere close to “artificial general intelligence,” or AGI, where machines are actually as smart as humans.

“We’re still a long way from AI having the general intelligence of even a flea,” says David Gausebeck.

Despite the tendency to overestimate what artificial intelligence can do, the difficulty of building an effective system is often underestimated, some founders say.

“The systems you need to implement and manage machine learning in production are often much more complex than the algorithms themselves,” says Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer. “You can’t throw models at a complex business problem and expect returned value. You need to build an ecosystem to manage those models and connect their intelligence to your applications.” 

Put another way, you can’t just “sprinkle on some artificial intelligence like a magic sauce,” says Feedzai CEO Nuno Sebastiao.

One of the most common tropes that a handful of founders brought up was the idea that artificial intelligence is primarily a job killer.

People.ai founder Oleg Rogynskyy says that AI should be seen as a creator of new opportunities instead of a destroyer of jobs.

“In a nutshell, AI does two things: It automates repetitive low-value-add work for humans (which will indeed take low-complexity jobs away), which we think of as ‘Autopilot,’  and it guides people on how to do their work or other activities better (which makes humans more effective at what they do), which we call ‘Copilot,’” he says. “While Autopilot can take simple, repetitive and boring jobs away, Copilot is absolutely the best way to guide, train and educate humans on how to do new things.”

– By Jillian D’Onfro, Forbes

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‘AI Is A Powerful Tool’

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Research forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. Murat Sonmez, member of the managing board, and Head of the Centre for the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, expands on the role humans might play.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current economic frontier. In reality, is Africa prepared for such changes?

Moving quickly and being agile are key principles of success in the 4IR. Any country can succeed if they take on this mindset. A few years ago, Rwanda saw the opportunities drones, a 4IR technology, brought to their country.

They helped save over 800 lives by delivering blood to remote villages. To scale this, the government worked with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) drones’ team to create the world’s first agile airspace regulation. Now, we see countries in Africa and around the world looking to the Rwandan model.

READ MORE | 5 Ways Tech Can Revolutionize Education

What feasible solutions can  artificial intelligence (AI) offer in terms of forecasting natural disasters, droughts food security on the African continent?

AI can help predict diseases, increase agriculture yields and help first responders. It is a powerful tool for governments and businesses, but it needs a lot of data to be effective.

For AI to be all that it can be, countries and companies need to work together to build frameworks for better management and protection of our data and ensure that it is shared and not stored in silos. Data is the oxygen of the (4IR). If countries do not leverage data and have their policies in place, they will be left behind.

There is a growing concern that the 4IR will strip people of jobs, of which there is already a shortage. How true is this?

The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms.

Latest research from the WEF forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71% being performed by humans today.

READ MORE | Roadmap For African Startups

The rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.

Consumers have real concerns around the potential harm technology can cause in areas such as privacy, misinformation, surveillance, job loss, environmental damage and increased inequality. What ethical precautions are being considered in the robotics space?

Now more than ever, it is important to incorporate ethics into the design, deployment and use of emerging technology. Innovating in the 4IR requires addressing concerns around privacy and data ownership, while attracting the skills and forward-looking thinkers of the future.

There are big challenges and bigger opportunities ahead. We have seen many companies and countries create ethical and human rights-based frameworks. What’s important is they are co-designed with members of both communities along with academia, civil society and start-ups.

A multi-stakeholder approach will result in a more holistic set of guidelines and principles that can be adopted in many different industries and geographies.

READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine

What changes need to take place for the African continent to be on par with global developments, and are there tangible goals set?

The 4IR provides governments the opportunity to be global leaders in shaping the next 20 to 30 years of science and technology. It is important they create an environment where companies can innovate.

The other tenet is to be open to working across borders and learning from each other. The global health industry has access to mountains of data on rare diseases, but it is trapped within countries and sometimes even within the hospital walls.

If we can build trust and find innovative ways to share the data while protecting privacy, we can employ tools like AI to help us cure disease faster. Countries and companies need to have the right governance frameworks and mechanisms in place for these breakthroughs to happen. It is possible to do these things now, but we need to work together to make it happen.

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