Archives for May 22, 2018

Bill Gates: Skip the Page Turners This Summer and Read These 5 Provocative Titles Instead

Bill Gates is known not only for his voracious appetite for books, but also for his eclectic taste. The billionaire founder and philanthropist has recommended everything from young adult romances, to weepy memoirs, to hefty tomes on the state of the world. Given the breadth of his interests, you’d think that when he heads off for summer vacation, he might opt for a few light page turners.

But apparently not this year.

Gates just released his annual list of summer book recommendations and it is exceedingly light on taut mysteries or frothy romances. Maybe it’s the tense state of the world, maybe it’s his work on some of humanity’s toughest issues, maybe it’s just a random mood, but Gates acknowledges that this year his “choices wrestle with big questions. What makes a genius tick? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where does humanity come from, and where are we headed?”

That’s pretty far from a description of my usual summer beach reads. But maybe if you want to be as smart and as impactful as Gates, you might want to start by following his lead and swapping light summer reads for some of these weighty suggestions this year.

Gates calls da Vinci “one of the most fascinating people ever” who “had an absurdly wide range of interests, from human anatomy to the theater.” This biography captures the full extent of his talents. “Isaacson does the best job I’ve seen of pulling together the different strands of Leonardo’s life and explaining what made him so exceptional. A worthy follow-up to Isaacson’s great biographies of Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs,” according to Gates.

Gates it seems has a soft spot for memoirs of dying. First, he raved about When Breath Becomes Air, the autobiography of a Stanford neurosurgeon dying of cancer. Now he’s recommending this title. “When Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, she sets out to understand why it happened. Is it a test of her character? The result is a heartbreaking, surprisingly funny memoir about faith and coming to grips with your own mortality,” he explains.

Reviewers loved this strange, dark novel, and so did Gates. “I thought I knew everything I needed to know about Abraham Lincoln, but this novel made me rethink parts of his life,” he says. “It blends historical facts from the Civil War with fantastical elements–it’s basically a long conversation among 166 ghosts, including Lincoln’s deceased son. I got new insight into the way Lincoln must have been crushed by the weight of both grief and responsibility. This is one of those fascinating, ambiguous books you’ll want to discuss with a friend when you’re done.”

If pondering your mortality isn’t serious enough for you, then why not ponder, well, everything (really). “David created my favorite course of all time, Big History. It tells the story of the universe from the big bang to today’s complex societies, weaving together insights and evidence from various disciplines into a single narrative. If you haven’t taken Big History yet, Origin Story is a great introduction,” suggests Gates. “The book will leave you with a greater appreciation of humanity’s place in the universe.”

5. Factfulness by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund

If you want to improve something, you first need to truly understand it. “Hans, the brilliant global-health lecturer who died last year, gives you a breakthrough way of understanding basic truths about the world–how life is getting better, and where the world still needs to improve,” according to Gates, who calls it “one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

Never Get Lost Again, Promises Google. Here's How They're Using AI To Deliver.

You step out of a Lyft or Uber, looking for which building your appointment is in. You can’t tell which way to go. You might be running late now. This happens to millions of people millions of times a day. Google knows–they see you jogging back and forth on the block trying to self-orient. If the blue dot problem has ever enraged you, you’re going to like what Google’s changing this summer.

All that frustration is ending, promised Anna (Aparna) Chennapradaga, VP of Product for AR and VR. She addressed the crowd at Google I/O, sharing that the new Google Maps, shipping with new Android phones this summer, will use your phone’s camera to orient for you.

Google AI focuses on vision

“Vision is a fundamental shift in computing for us, and it’s a multi-year journey,” she shared. It’s certainly a deepening of Google’s mission to be an artificial intelligence-centered company, which CEO Sundar Pichai announced a year ago at the previous I/O developer conference. He said Alphabet is betting the company on AI. Looks like no lie. Google has made incredible progress, including Duplex, which wants to book appointments for you with the world’s most human-sounding artificial intelligence known to phones. They have an entire arm devoted to AI investments, too. Alphabet’s progress on artificial intelligence vision is also impressive.

The new Google Lens does three things that can save you serious time:

1)    Orienting you faster. Google has solved what’s referred to as the “blue dot problem.” You know, you’re in an urban environment, and you get directions through Maps, but you don’t know if you need to turn right or left first on the grid to start the pattern. See how Google Lens has made this a snap in the video below:

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2)    Recognizing words.

Snap a photo of a menu, a sign or a document. Now you can highlight text on the image to get Google to translate or look up information. “Lens is not just understanding the shape of characters and the letter visually–it’s actually trying to get at the meaning and context of these words,” says Anna.

3)   Making personal recommendations. The Maps will also use your history across the Google platform to suggest information you may care about right where you are. As in, “Hey, surprise! Your old boyfriend lives here now!”–just kidding. Seriously, a new tab called “For You” tells you about places and events in your area, tailored to Google’s knowledge of you (which is vast). For example, a feature called “Match Score” gives you recommendations for restaurants predicting how much you’ll love the food.

Coming soon, Google Lens helps find gear

The new Google Lens can help you find similar products, too. Want a cheaper version of that high-end coffee mug you just spotted? No problem–Google Lens can bring you options.

“Sometimes your question is not ‘what’s that thing’–instead it’s, what’s like that?” Anna pointed out at I/O.  Lens is able to match similar couches, similar crackers, and similar cars. “Lens has to search through millions and millions and items, and we kinda know how to do that–search,” she said with a smile. “We’re using on-device intelligence and cloud TPUs. We want to overlay the live results directly on top of things like concerts, street signs, even a concert poster . . . This is an example of not just how the camera answers questions but putting the answers right where the questions are.”

Artificial intelligence that understands the relevance of what it sees

Google’s new suite of vision artificial intelligence capabilities is fueled by a desire to help computers see the world more like we do. Google continues to launch and test products that mine that idea, like VR Tours:

One of the most powerful uses of VR I see is as a tool for empathy — to look at the world through another person’s eyes, to see and share your story. Now you can easily create and share VR Tours that do just that. #TourCreator #googleio2018 https://t.co/miHJl0LtU2

— Aparna Chennapragada (@aparnacd) May 10, 2018

There’s no question we are highly visual creatures. Human vision is an extension of our brain. By integrating vision with meaning in these early products, Google’s artificial intelligence is taking a major step forward. This new paradigm has implications for literally everything you rely on your eyes for. And with Google’s developer integrations, visual positioning and integrated meaning will become a layer that developers and entrepreneurs will find ways to use for all sorts of new products. Get ready to see a whole new world a whole new way.