Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to Enable the Undo Button in Gmail (and Unsend that Embarrassing Email)

There isn’t one of us who hasn’t sent an email we wish we could take back (if even just to proofread it one more time). Now with Gmail you can; read on as we show you how to enable the extremely useful Undo button.

Why Do I Want To Do This?

It happens to the best of us. You fire off an email only to realize that you: spelled your own name wrong, spelled their name wrong, or really don’t actually want to quit your job after all. Historically, however, once you hit the send button that’s it.
Your email shoots off into the ether never to return and you’re left sending a follow up message apologizing for the mistake, telling your boss you really didn’t mean it, or admitting that once again you forgot to add the attachment.
If you’re a Gmail user, however, you’re in luck. After years in the Google Labs pasture Google finally pushed the Undo button out to the general user base this week. With just a minor tweak in your Settings menu you can buy yourself some much needed “I forgot the attachment!” wiggle room wherein you can undo a sent email, slap the attachment on (and fix that typo while you’re at it) and send it back out.
Enabling The Undo Button

To enable the undo button navigate to the Settings menu while logged into your Gmail account via the web (and not your mobile client).

The Settings menu is found by tapping on the gear icon in the upper right corner of the screen and then selecting “Settings” from the drop down menu.

Within the Settings menu navigate select the “General” tab and scroll down until you see the “Undo Send” subsection.

Check “Enable Undo Send” and then select the cancellation period. At the moment your options are 5, 10, 20, and 30 seconds. Unless you have some pressing need to do otherwise, we’d recommend selecting 30 seconds as giving yourself the largest possible undo window is always ideal.
Once you’ve made your selection be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the Settings page and click the “Save Changes” button to apply the changes to your account.

How Does It Work?

The new feature doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of email by introducing some sort of magic recall protocol. It’s actually a very simple mechanism: Gmail simply delays sending your email for X amount of time so you have a window within which you can decide you don’t want to send the email after all.
Once that window of time passes the email is sent normally and cannot be undone as it is already transferred from your mail server to the recipient’s mail server.

The next time you send an email after you’ve enabled the feature you’ll see an addition to the “Your message has been sent.” box: “Undo”. There’s a very important caveat here that you should take note of. If you navigate away from the page on which the undo link is displayed (even within your Gmail or greater Google account) the link is gone (regardless of how much time is left on the timer). Even if you open up the email in your sent mail folder there is no additional undo button/link for you to press.

With that in mind if you want to read over the the email to see if you really forgot to attach the document or spelled something wrong, we highly recommend opening the message in a new tab to preserve the undo link in your original tab. A quick way to do so is to hold down the CTRL key and click on the “View message” link.

With just a tiny bit of mucking about in your Settings menu you can forever avoid send-button regret where you realize, two seconds too late, the email you just fired off to your boss entitled “Here are those late TPS reports!” doesn’t, in fact, contain any TPS reports.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The icon evolution in Windows 10

Windows 10

As you may remember, a few versions back in the Windows Insider Preview program (Build 9926 to be exact), Microsoft began phasing in a new set of icons that were less colorful and lacking the dimensionality of the icons found in previous versions of the Windows operating system. In a previous article, "Windows 10's new icons: Experimental or the future of icons?," I bemoaned the change and called on Microsoft's UI developers to return to their senses when it came to icons. Apparently, so did a lot of other Windows Insiders.
When Microsoft released Build 10130 of the Windows 10 Insider Preview on May 29, the icons took a step away from the new flat looking design and back towards the previous vivid design. They didn't go all the way back, though. More like half way. Essentially, Microsoft made a design compromise, if you will.
In the post on the Blogging Windows site announcing Build 10130, Gabe Aul, who leads the Data & Fundamentals Team within the Operating Systems Group, discussed the icon design changes:
"We've updated our icon design to reflect our Microsoft design language, creating a more consistent and cohesive look and feel across all our product experiences. These icons are more modern and lightweight, while creating a better visual relationship between typography and iconography. On top of that, app icons are now more consistent between desktop and mobile so apps like Word and Excel look similar no matter what device you're using.

"Feedback played a huge role in the current icon design refresh. In earlier preview builds, we heard our design was too flat and lacked richness. We've since iterated to deliver a balance between mono line style icons on mobile, and the three dimensional depth of desktop icons. The new icon set is familiar, yet fresh and usable."
I'm really happy that the icons in Build 10130 are now more like the icons that we had in previous versions of Windows. However, I must point out that I'm equally excited to see the words "Feedback played a huge role" in his post. Of course, this isn't the first time that he's mentioned the importance of feedback in determining Windows 10 features, but this one just seemed more prominent.
Aul continued his discussion with more detail concerning the icon design:
"Between the legacy aero-style icons and new app icons, several thousand icons were designed and redesigned. We explored Swiss graphic design, Dutch product design, and modern architecture (among other design fields and styles) to inform and inspire the design process. The icon evolution will continue as we push more consistency and better functionality."
He ends this discussion concerning icons by saying that there may be more changes in Windows 10 icons as we move closer to the release of Windows 10.
He also included a graphic (Figure A) that shows Windows 8.1 icons in the top row, the flat Windows 10 icons from the previous build in the middle row, and the new icons in Build 10130.
Figure A
Build 10130's icons take a step away from the flat look.

If you want to see all the icons that Microsoft used in the various Windows 10 builds, check out the Windows 10 Icon Database site.

12 high tech devices to monitor your kids' health

CellScope is a company aimed at becoming a digital toolkit for medical needs. The first hardware product is Oto, to inspect ear infections.

Wishbone Thermometer

Wishbone Thermometer was crowdfunded on Kickstarter and marketed as the "world's smallest thermometer." It connects to a smartphone to accurately measure and track temperature data.

Sound Sleeper

Sound Sleeper is a sleeping solution for your baby and/or toddler. Use Sound Sleeper to put your baby to sleep using white noise with Play Mode, help her stay asleep with Listen Mode, which turns on when she cries, and analyze her sleep habits with Sleep Tracking Mode.

The Grush

The Grush is a gaming toothbrush, that uses interactive games to make kids brush for as long as they need to. It also measures their technique and consistency to show kids what they're doing and how it's helping.

Always There

Always There is a password-protected app that allows kids to journal their feelings, look through tips and stories submitted by other kids, and find jokes and inspirational quotes to help them cope with stress. It can also provide information to find physical help in their communities.

This smart pacifier is equipped Bluetooth and tracks your baby's temperature, so it sends the readings directly to your smartphone. It also has a location tracking feature, so if it gets lost, you can find it.
Sproutling is a wearable baby monitor that goes around a baby's ankle, and tracks sleeping patterns, heart rate, and temperature to send to a parent's smartphone. It also uses that data to predict sleep habits.
This infant seat bounces and rocks like an actual human would. It also plays soothing music for babies to comfort them. Parents can control it from their smartphones.
Origami stroller
This stroller folds and unfolds with the touch of a button, and has a little dashboard that shows the temperature, speed, and distance traveled. It also has a built-in phone charger. It will be available in fall 2016.
Sensible Baby
This is another version of a smart monitor. It tells you if your baby is sleeping on her back or stomach, what her temperature is, her sleep and breathing patterns, and how much she's moving.
Smart Diapers
These smart diapers were crowdfunded on Indiegogo. They can track urinary tract infections, dehydration, and kidney problems.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The best tool for protecting your kids (or employees) from malware and porn (TechRepublic)

Parenting has never been easy, but in the age of instant internet gratification, it's exponentially harder.
I used to think myself quite the advanced, cool father, getting my pre- or barely pubescent kids smartphones and liking their posts on Facebook or Instagram and keeping in touch through SMS while I traveled. But then they discovered the Google search box, and all hell broke loose.
I don't have bad kids. But my kids, perhaps like yours, don't understand that searching for kitten pictures may not return the results they actually want. They don't know just how much the pornography industry wants to hook them early. They don't realize just how creepy people can be when cloaked in apparent anonymity.
And so I started trying to help them grow up safely in a world that was trying to force them to grow up way too early.
In the process, I've discovered a variety of tools that help me to teach my children to be responsible with technology. Perhaps the most promising, and most recent, is the OpenDNS Umbrella service.
An industry arrayed against our children
On the internet, no one knows that you're a dog, and no one cares that you're a kid. Though we have laws designed to protect children from "adult" content (Children's Internet Protection Act) and to guard their privacy (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), they don't work. Not really.
Such laws absolutely guide well-intentioned companies like Facebook to treat children appropriately, but they generally fail to stop bad actors from acting badly.
Children, like adults, can inadvertently find themselves on sites they didn't want to visit, and pornography sites make it hard to leave. (I remember mistyping "Gartner.com" a few years back while looking for a research note and was horrified by the site I landed on, but doubly so because it tried to take over my browser, preventing me from closing the tab. If people want pornography so much, why do porn purveyors work so hard to force it on us?)
Or children, curious as they are, can go looking for things they're not equipped to deal with.
But it's not just porn. As I've written, the gaming industry uses massive quantities of data to keep players playing. A few years back, this cost me several hundred dollars as my then 13-year old son could not stop playing as he sought his dopamine fix.
So I took action.

Useful tools for parents

The first thing I did was to enable Restrictions (parental controls) on my kids' phones. This is easily done on iOS (and I would assume on Android, though I'm less familiar with it), and allowed me to disable my son's browser, stop in-app purchases for all of my kids, and select the content ratings for music, TV, and other media.
This was a great first step.
However, kids being kids, they each found their own workarounds. Somehow my game-consumed son found a way to install Graal (repeatedly), despite my disabling the ability to install new apps. (Years later I still don't know how he managed it.) Meanwhile, his cousin found a way around the disabled browser by accessing a browser in his dictionary app (!!). And so on.
So I locked down all internet traffic using OpenDNS. By filtering content at the router level, I was able to give my kids access to their browsers while keeping an eye on things. I much prefer this more open approach, and so did they. Occasionally, however, they received the dreaded warning (Figure A).
The service isn't perfect: it doesn't correctly categorize everything. And my wife wasn't always a fan, as buying swimsuits sometimes required me to whitelist a domain for her.
But overall, things were better.

Protecting kids outside the home

Except that OpenDNS only helped when my family was accessing the internet over our home Wi-Fi connection. Whenever they left the house, or if they chose to use their cellular connection within the house, they were exposed.
Which is why I'm so grateful for OpenDNS' new Umbrella service.
Introduced in 2012, I never knew about Umbrella until 2015, when a friend on Twitter recommended it. Yes, I had seen it on the OpenDNS website, but it is marketed to enterprises that wanted to provide security and for employees operating outside the corporate firewall.
Even after I had looked into Umbrella and it sounded promising, it wasn't untilOpenDNS clued me into its "prosumer" pricing on Twitter that it started to sound like a viable, cost-effective option for my family.
And it is.
Basically, Umbrella by OpenDNS sets up a VPN on iOS devices (only iOS is supported today) and directs all internet traffic through it (with minimal latency). As administrator, I just install the Umbrella app on their devices and then have the service send them an email. Clicking on a link in the email provisions the device and locks it down.
Perhaps not as simple as it could be, but still quite easy.
While Umbrella may be targeted at enterprises that want to protect corporate data, I have quickly come to love how easy it is for me to monitor my kids' online activities, and steer them away from negative influences (Figure B).
Figure B
Rather than put up a "Denied!" page, I now redirect such traffic to my church's website, a tongue-in-cheek way of reminding my kids that there are nice places to visit on the web, too.
Through the service my kids and I have had some productive conversations about internet safety. For example, my son likes to dig into game forums to learn about cheat codes for Destiny and other games, but it turns out such sites are also rife with links to unsavory sites. Umbrella has given me the chance to talk with him about steering toward safer places on the web, and his traffic over the past week suggests he's learning the lesson.
Again, Umbrella by OpenDNS isn't foolproof. But for the purpose of helping me to be a good parent to my kids, it's excellent. You can get the prosumer version for one to five users here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

7 of the Biggest Smartphone Myths That Just Won’t Die

woman touching smartphone and shiny magic comes from screen

Smartphones have only been mainstream for less than a decade, but myths have still built up over time. Some of these myths have been around for years and just won’t go away.
From software to hardware, these myths just won’t go away. Yes, every type of technology has its myths — from PCs to Windows tweaking to smartphones.

Closing Apps Will Speed Up Your iPhone

Yes, Apple’s iOS does now allow apps to work in the background, but what they can do is limited. And they can continue to run even though they aren’t in the list of “recent apps” — if you want to control your background apps, control which apps have permission to run in the background from the Settings app.No, you don’t have to close iPhone apps by removing them from the list of recently used applications. Apps in your list of recently used apps aren’t actually “running” in the background and taking any computing resources. They’re just stored in your iPhone’s RAM, so you can go back to them more quickly. If your iPhone needs more RAM, it will automatically remove apps you aren’t using. Closing apps will just make them reopen more slowly.

Using a Task Killer Will Speed Up Your Android Phone

You shouldn’t use a task killer, just as there’s no need to manually remove apps from the list of recent apps on Android. They’re frozen in the background. Yes, Android does allow apps to run in the background with less restrictions, but you shouldn’t need to close an app unless it’s misbehaving. This will actually make your Android phone slower to use.The same myth goes around for Android phones. By using a task killer that automatically removes apps from RAM when you stop using them, you can speed up your phone — that’s what the rumor says, anyway. In practice, these apps are cached in RAM so you can get back to them more quickly.

You Should Drain Your Phone’s Battery Completely Before Charging ItSure, most people don’t actually let their phone’s battery drain completely before they charge it. But some people might hesitate to top off their phone if the battery is at 80 percent — at least if they remember older rechargeable battery technology with a “memory effect.”

With modern Lithium-ion batteries, there’s no need to drain the battery completely before recharging it. Go ahead and top off the battery whenever you like, or plug it in to charge at night and leave it charging all night. Basically, you can charge your smartphone’s battery whenever you like, and as much as you like.
charging battery

You Should Only Use the Charger That Came With Your Device

Modern smartphones use USB chargers, which are standardized. As long as a USB charger can provide enough power, you can use it to charge your smartphone or any other device that supports USB charging.

Feel free to plug your phone into a more powerful charger. Your phone will only draw as much power as it needs from the charger, so it shouldn’t become damaged. In fact, your phone may even charge faster with a more powerful charger. You could plug your phone into a less-powerful charger, too — it just wouldn’t charge as fast, or it may not charge at all if the charger isn’t powerful enough.
You Should Buy a Screen Protector to Protect Against Scratches

A screen protector is a thin sheet of plastic that you fasten over your smartphone’s screen. If the screen would ever be scratched by something, the plastic would be scratched instead — preserving the screen. After all, it’s easier and cheaper to replace a sheet of plastic than your smartphone’s screen!

This was a good idea at one point in time, but screen protectors have largely worn out their welcome. Modern smartphones use Gorilla Glass or similar technologies to produce extremely scratch resistant glass. As long as you’re not too rough with your phone, you should be fine.
More importantly, many things that would scratch a screen protector won’t actually scratch a modern Gorilla Glass screen. Search YouTube and you can find videos of people slashing their phones’ screens with knives. These would go straight through a screen protector and just bounce off a typical smartphone’s screen.

More Megapixels Mean a Better Camera

A megapixel just means one million pixels, and the number of megapixels tells you how many pixels a photo you’ll get from the camera will contain. Apple’s iPhone 6 still has an 8-megapixel camera, while high-end Android smartphones often offer 16-megapixel cameras.Megapixels aren’t just a myth for smartphone cameras — they’re a myth for practically any type of digital camera. The myth is that a larger number of megapixels is always better. More megapixels look good on a specification sheet, and manufacturers can trumpet the number of megapixels their smartphone’s camera sensor offers.
In a nutshell, cramming more and more ever-smaller pixels onto a sensor isn’t always a good idea. Compared to a 16-megapixel camera, an 8-megapixel camera sensor of the same size will have larger pixels, which can let more light. More importantly, the overall quality of the sensor, lens, and image-processing software is also very important.
Never just compare the number of megapixels if you’re comparing smartphone cameras — look for actual comparison reviews where the reviewer actually took photos with each different phone and compared them. Don’t get bogged down in meaningless specifications.
iphone 6 camera

Android Phones Often Get Viruses and Other Malware

Android tends to get a bum rap for being packed with malware and viruses. In reality,very few Android phones are actually infected by malware. Android malware exists, but it tends to come from outside Google Play. If you’re installing apps from Google Play, you’re probably fine. If you’re downloading pirated copies of paid Android apps and sideloading them onto your phone, you’re much more at risk. If you live in China and are using one of the local app stores there, you’re also more likely to download repackaged apps containing malware.Technically speaking, no phones really get “viruses” — which are self-replicating pieces of software. Even if your phone gets infected by some malicious software, it won’t try to infect other people’s phones.
While Android is certainly more vulnerable to malware than iOS simply because you can install apps from outside the app store, you should be fairly safe if you don’t. Of course, Android operating system updates don’t make it to many phones, and this does sometimes leave open security holes.

If you think you have to spend a lot of money to get a capable smartphone, that’s also become a myth. Inexpensive smartphones are becoming more capable every year. Even if you don’t want an expensive contract or big up-front purchase, you can get a solid smartphone.

Ford diving into autonomous-car horse race

Ford is wasting no time revving up its new Silicon Valley skunkworks, announcing Tuesday the appointment of a company veteran to spearhead a push toward self-driving cars.
Randy Visintainer, a 29-year veteran most recently in charge of global product development, will lead Ford's autonomous vehicle development program, which is moving from being a research effort to an advanced engineering program.
The program will lean heavily on the company's Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, which CEO Mark Fields opened earlier this year with a commitment to boost staffers from 20 to around 200 by year's end.
The move is significant in that it represents a global automaker's commitment to a space currently dominated by tech-focused companies such as Google, a pioneer in the self-driving car arena, and now Uber, which recently made news by poaching a few dozen top engineers from Carnegie Mellon University, a longtime leader in robotic cars research. Uber had initially announced its intent to simply partner with the university.
A number of car companies are experimenting with variations of self-driving car tech, including Audi, which in January ferried journalists to the Consumer Electronics Showin a vehicle that handled most of the driving chores itself, most admit that their current aim is to build traditional cars with an array of driver assists as opposed to a vehicle with no driver involvement at all.
In contrast, Google is forging ahead with on-road tests of its new autonomous two-person cars this summer, although for testing purposes the vehicles will have temporary steering wheels and pedals for a test drivers while tooling around Mountain View, Calif.
While Ford execs aren't saying when they might have an autonomous car on the roads, clearly they're now solidly on that path.
"During the next five years, we will move to migrate driver-assist technologies across our product lineup to help make our roads safer and continue to increase automated driving capability," Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, said in a statement.
Other key announcements from Ford's fifth annual trend conference, held at the Palo Alto offices: the availability next year of Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection technology (the technology currently exists in European models); a ramped up partnership with Redwood City, Calif.-based Carbon 3D to accelerate the development of 3D-printed automotive parts, which are both strong and light as well as easy and quick to produce; and a retooled MyFord Mobile app that will be compatible with a range of smartphones.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

This Former NFL Player's $8 Billion Mortgage Lender Started With a Google Search

Casey Crawford went from playing on a team that won the Super Bowl to running a mortgage company that he expects to originate almost $8 billion in U.S. home loans this year.
Crawford founded Movement Mortgage after retiring from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had already invested in real estate, buying houses in the off-season and then renovating and selling them quickly for a profit. His home-loan firm has doubled the dollar volume of mortgages issued each year since its 2008 inception, he said.
“I actually Googled ‘how to start a mortgage bank,’” Crawford, 37, said in a telephone interview. “We got to build from the ground up what 21st-century customer experience can and should look like. We went from seven employees to, this month, 2,000.”
Movement Mortgage Founder Casey Crawford.
Source: Movement Mortgage via Bloomberg
Movement Mortgage is one of the many nonbank lenders gaining ground as companies including Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. cut their home-loan divisions. Four of the top 10 mortgage originators in the first quarter, including Quicken Loans Inc. and Freedom Mortgage Corp., weren’t banks, according to data compiled by Inside Mortgage Finance. These firms were responsible for 37.5 percent of loans made last year, up from 26.7 percent in 2013, the newsletter’s figures show.

New Regulations

Banks are struggling to adjust to new regulations that force them to hold more capital for some assets they have, which is restricting lending and creating an opening for more nimble competitors. Traditional lenders also are experiencing limited gains under Federal Reserve policies that have pegged interest rates near zero since 2008.
At Wells Fargo, the largest lender to homeowners, net interest margin -- the difference between what it makes on loans and what it pays for funds -- dropped to less than 3 percent last quarter for the first time since at least 1994.
Nonbanks are filling a void left by banks, especially for first-time homebuyers and minority borrowers, according to David Stevens, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association.
“The nonbanks are protecting the housing market from a much slower recovery -- or it could be a non-recovery story,” Stevens said in a telephone interview. “What led to that is a defensive posture by a lot of institutions that used to make up the dominant role for lending in this country.”
Mortgage-related fines and settlements cost institutions about $138.5 billion from 2010 to 2014, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Quicken Sues

Quicken, a nonbank and the largest originator of loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration, is now facing similar regulatory hurdles to banks -- and is fighting back.
The lender sued the Justice Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on April 17, contending the agencies were pressuring it to “make public admissions that were blatantly false, as well as pay an inexplicable penalty or face legal action,” the Detroit-based company said in a statement.
A week later, the government sued Quicken, accusing the company of submitting insurance claims for hundreds of improperly underwritten FHA-insured loans over four years. Both suits are still pending.
“The Department of Justice had been on a nearly three-year campaign of harassment and threats against Quicken Loans, with no end in sight,” Quicken Chief Economist Bob Walters said in an e-mail. “At some point you have to draw a line in the sand.”
Ed Golding, principal deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, declined to comment on specific lawsuits.

‘More Clarity’

“Part of the puzzle on access to credit is creating more clarity into what the rules of the game are around when you get an FHA mortgage insured,” Golding said.
Quicken is resisting settling with the government partly because it’s asking the company to make admissions that are false, according to Walters. The company grew quickly by using technology to process and close loans faster than banks, he said.
Being focused on lending is one reason nonbanks have expanded so rapidly, according to Crawford of Movement Mortgage, who was a tight end when he played in the National Football League, which required him to alternate from blocking to catching passes.
“It’s not one of 20 things they do,” he said.

Targeting Millennials

Crawford’s company is targeting millennials, unlike many of the banks, hedge funds and private equity firms chasing the nation’s wealthiest buyers. Its average loan amount is $190,000. Movement Mortgage has credit lines with six lenders, including UBS Group AG and EverBank Financial Corp., to fund mortgages, according to Crawford.
Nonbanks have focused on expanding their FHA-backed loans, an area in which some of the biggest lenders have scaled back, said Stevens of the Mortgage Bankers Association. Those banks prefer to target core customers, cross-selling them credit cards and auto loans while holding their savings in low-yield accounts.
The FHA has played an expanding role since subprime lending, which provided mortgages to borrowers with low credit ratings, dried up. The share of nonbanks selling mortgage bonds guaranteed by U.S. agency Ginnie Mae -- securities backed by FHA, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Agriculture loans -- is rising every month and has surged to 65 percent, up from 18 percent in 2011, according to Ginnie Mae President Ted Tozer.

Not Temporary

The pullback by banks from home lending isn’t temporary, and Ginnie Mae has to accommodate nonbanks to help expand mortgage credit, Tozer said last month at a Bloomberg Government event.
For borrowers, the source of their mortgages should make no difference because all lenders must clearly disclose loan terms and ensure ability to repay the debt, said Sam Gilford, a spokesman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“These rules apply to all mortgage lenders, regardless of whether they are banks or nonbanks,” he said.
The growth of nonbanks has reduced the risk to the financial system, making “too big to fail” lenders less dominant, Stevens said.
“In some ways, it’s healthy for the housing system, because we have less concentration of risk,” he said. “But you really have to ask yourself what caused this.”
(An earlier version of this story corrected Quicken’s reason for not settling a government lawsuit and the spelling of Sam Gilford’s name.)

The Future of Computers Is the Mind of a Toddler (BusinessWeek)

Facebook and Google are trying to create artificial intelligence that mimics the human brain. First, they need to figure out how our own minds work

Machines contain the breadth of human knowledge, yet they have the common sense of a newborn. The problem is that computers don't act enough like toddlers. Yann LeCun, director of artificial intelligence research at Facebook, demonstrates this by standing a pen on the table and then holding his phone in front of it. He performs a sleight of hand, and when he picks the phone up—ta-da! The pen is gone. It’s a trick that’ll elicit a gasp from any one-year-old child, but today's cutting-edge artificial intelligence software—and most months-old babies—can’t appreciate that the disappearing act isn’t normal. “Before they’re a few months old, you play this trick on them, and they don’t care,” says LeCun, a 54-year-old father of three. “After a few months, they figure out this is not normal.”
One reason to love computers is that, unlike many kids, they do as they’re told. Just about everything a computer is capable of was put there by a person, and they've rarely been able to discover new techniques or learn on their own. Instead, computers rely on scenarios created by software programmers: If this happens, then do that. Unless it's explicitly told that pens aren't supposed to disappear into thin air, a computer just goes with it. The big piece missing in the crusade for the thinking machine is to give computers a memory that works like the grey gunk in our own heads. An AI with something resembling brain memory would be able to discern the highlights of what it sees, and use the information to shape its understanding of things over time. To do that, the world's top researchers are rethinking how machines store information, and they're turning to neuroscience for inspiration.
This change in thinking has spurred an AI arms race among technology companies such as Facebook, Google, and China’s Baidu. They’re spending billions of dollars to create machines that may one day possess common sense and to help create software that responds more naturally to users’ requests and requires less hand-holding. A facsimile of biological memory, the theory goes, should let AI not only spot patterns in the world, but reason about them with the logic we associate with young children. They’re doing this by pairing brain-aping bits of software, known as neural networks, with the ability to store longer sequences of information, inspired by the long-term memory component of our brain called the hippocampus. This combination allows for an implicit understanding of the world to get “fried in” to the patterns computers detect from moment to moment, says Jason Weston, an AI researcher at Facebook. On June 9, Facebook plans to publish a research paper detailing a system that can chew through several million pieces of data, remember the key points, and answer complicated questions about them. A system like this might let a person one day ask Facebook to find photos of themselves wearing pink at a friend's birthday party, or ask broader, fuzzier questions, like whether they seemed happier than usual last year, or appeared to spend more time with friends.
While AI has long been an area of interest for Hollywood and novelists, companies hadn't paid much attention to it until about five years ago. That's when research institutions and academics, aided by new techniques for crunching reams of data, started breaking records in speech recognition and image analysis at an unexpected rate. Venture capitalists took notice and invested $309.2 million in AI startups last year, a twentyfold increase from 2010, according to research firm CB Insights. Some of these startups are helping to break new ground. One in Silicon Valley, called MetaMind, has developed improvements to computers' understanding of everyday speech. Clarifai, an AI startup in New York, is doing complex video analysis and selling the service to businesses.
Corporate research labs now rival those in academia in terms of staffing and funding. They have surpassed them in access to proprietary data and computing power to run experiments on. That's attracting some of the field's most prominent researchers. LeCun, former director of New York University's Center for Data Science, joined Facebook in December 2013 to run its AI group. While still teaching a day a week at NYU, he has hired nearly 50 researchers; on June 2, Facebook said it is opening an AI lab in Paris, its third such facility. Google says its own AI team numbers in the “hundreds,” declining to be more specific. Baidu's Silicon Valley AI lab opened in May 2014, and now has around 25 researchers led by Andrew Ng, a former AI head at Google. The Chinese search giant employs about 200 AI specialists globally. The interest from deep-pocketed consumer Internet companies kickstarted a research boom creating “one of the biggest advances” in decades, says Bruno Olshausen, head of the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of California-Berkeley. “The work going on in these labs is unprecedented in the novelty of the research, the pioneering aspect.”
As far as tech money has pushed AI in recent years, computers are still pretty dumb. When talking to friends in a loud bar, you pick up what they're saying, based on context and what you remember about their interests, even if you can't hear every word. Computers can't do that. “Memory is central to cognition,” says Olshausen. The human brain doesn't store a complete log of each day's events; it compiles a summation and bubbles up the highlights when relevant, he says. Or at least, that's what scientists think. The problem with trying to create AI in our own image is that we don't fully comprehend how our minds work. “From a neuroscience perspective, where we are in terms of our understanding of the brain—and what it takes to build an intelligent system—is kind of pre-Newton,” Olshausen says. “If you're in physics and pre-Newtonian, you're not even close to building a rocket ship.”
Modern AI systems analyze images, transcribe texts, and translate languages using a system called neural networks, inspired by the brain's neocortex. Over the past year, virtually the entire AI community has begun shifting to a new approach to solve tough-to-crack problems: adding a memory component to the neuron jumble. Each company uses a different technique to accomplish this, but they share the same emphasis on memory. The speed of this change has taken some experts by surprise. “Just a few months ago, we thought we were the only people doing something a bit like that," says Weston, who co-authored Facebook's first major journal article about memory-based AI last fall. Days later, a similar paper appeared from researchers at Google DeepMind.
Since then, AI equipped with a sort of short-term memory has helped Google set records in video and image analysis, as well as create a machine that can figure out how to play video games without instructions. (They share more in common with kids than you probably thought.) Baidu has also made significant strides in image and speech recognition, including answering questions about images, such as, “What is in the center of the hand?” IBM says its Watson system can interpret conversations with an impressive 8 percent error rate. With Facebook's ongoing work on memory-based AI software that can read articles and then intelligently answer questions about their content, the social networking giant aims to create “a computer that can talk to you,” says Weston. 

The next step is to create an accompanying framework more akin to long-term memory, which could lead to machines capable of reasoning, he explains.If a talking, learning, thinking machine sounds a little terrifying to you, you're not alone. “With artificial intelligence, we're summoning the demon,” Elon Musk said last year. The chief executive officer of Tesla Motors has a team working on AI that will let its electric cars drive themselves. Musk is also an investor in an AI startup named Vicarious. After some apparent self-reflection, Musk donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute, an organization set up by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Max Tegmark and his wife Meia to spur discussions about the possibilities and risks associated with AI. The organization brings together the world's top academics, researchers, and experts in economics, law, ethics, and AI to discuss how to develop brainy computers that will give us a future bearing more resemblance to The Jetsons than to Terminator. “Little serious research has been devoted to the issues, outside of a few small nonprofit institutes. 

Fortunately, this is now changing,” Stephen Hawking, who serves on the institute's advisory board, said at a Google event in May. “The healthy culture of risk assessment and the awareness of societal implications is beginning to take root in the AI community.”AI teams from competing companies are working together to advance research, with an eye toward doing so in a responsible way. The field still operates with an academic fervor reminiscent of the early days of the semiconductor industry—sharing ideas, collaborating on experiments, and publishing peer-reviewed papers. Google and Facebook are developing parallel research schemes focused on memory-based AI, and they're publishing their papers to free academic repositories. Google's cutting-edge Neural Turing Machine “can learn really complicated programs” without direction and can operate them pretty well, Peter Norvig, a director of research at Google, said in a talk in March. Like a cubicle dweller wrestling with Excel, the machine makes occasional mistakes. And that's all right, says Norvig. “It's like a dog that walks on its rear legs. Can you do it at all? That's the exciting thing.”

Technological progress within corporate AI labs has begun to make its way back to universities. Students at Stanford University and other schools have built versions of Google's AI systems and published the source code online for anyone to use or modify. Facebook is fielding similar interest from academics. Weston delivered a lecture at Stanford on May 11 to more than 70 attending students—with many more tuning in online—who were interested in learning more about Facebook's Memory Networks project. LeCun, the Facebook AI boss, says, “We see ourselves as not having a monopoly on good ideas.” LeCun co-wrote a paper in the science journal Nature on May 28, along with Google's Geoff Hinton and University of Montreal Professor Yoshua Bengio, saying memory systems are key to giving computers the ability to reason about the world by adjusting their understanding as they see things change over time.

To illustrate how people use memory to respond to an event, LeCun grabs his magic pen from earlier and tosses it at a colleague. A machine without a memory or an understanding of time doesn't know how to predict where an object will land or how to respond to it. People, on the other hand, use memory and common sense to almost instinctively catch or get out of the way of what's coming at them. Weston, the Facebook AI researcher, watches the pen arc through the air and then hit him in the arm. “He's terrible at catching stuff,” LeCun says, with a laugh, “but he can predict!” Weston reassures him: “I knew it was going to hit me.”