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CMU looking for a few good Web surfers, locking doors remotely

May 24, 2008
Times Observer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Carnegie Mellon University researchers hope Web surfers will spend their free time playing Internet-based games to help other people’s and businesses’ computers get smarter.

On Wednesday, the researchers launched www.gwap.com with five games designed to help computers with tasks they can’t automatically do.

“There are a lot of things that computers cannot do, but we’d somehow like to get them done,” said Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor of computer science. “So what we’re doing is getting humans to do it for us.”

The tasks include improving computer searches for images or audio clips. For example, if you search on the Web for “sad songs,” a search engine will generally show you links to audio files that have the word sad in the filename. But by getting people to describe audio clips as sad in online games like “Tag a Tune,” researchers can improve searches for audio files.

Users older than 13 are matched with other players on five games, with others to be added later. Among the games are:

—ESP, in which opposing players are shown a picture and try to guess what words the other player will use to describe the image. The game’s goal is to help improve image searches on the Internet by creating descriptions of uncaptioned images. The game has already been licensed by Google as Google Image Labeler.

—Matchin, in which opposing players are shown the two images and asked to choose which one they like best. The more the players choose the same image, the more points they rack up. The goal is to help computers recognize what images people would prefer to see when they are searching for pictures on the Web.

—Squigl, where two players are given a word describing part of an image and must trace what the word is describing. Points are awarded based on how similarly the players traced the image. The goal is to help computers more easily recognize images.

Players don’t communicate with one another or see one another’s answers; the games tell them just that they’ve made a match.

Von Ahn is also the creator of CAPTCHA, the program that creates distorted series of letters and numbers that users must decipher at some sites to register or to buy things. The puzzles were originally used to verify the computer users were humans but also now are used now to help digitize books by having the millions of people across the world who unscramble the words each day type in phrases from books.

Researchers said the idea of using people to do things computers can’t is catching on.

“This is just the beginning,” said Mike Crawford, the Carnegie Mellon Web site’s chief engineer. “I think there’s a lot of potential.”

— Jennifer C. Yates, Associated Press Writer



Hearing privacy concerns, Google to blur faces captured in Street View

BOSTON (AP) — After privacy complaints, Google Inc. is beginning to automatically blur faces of people captured in the street photos taken for its Internet map program. Rolling it out will take several months, however.

Although Google’s Street View service was not the first to augment online maps with photos, the detail and breadth of images on the site surprised and unsettled many users when it launched last year.

As specially equipped Google vehicles cruised city streets snapping panoramic images of homes and businesses, the resulting photos revealed people falling off bikes, exiting strip joints, crossing the street, sunbathing — everyday, in-public things but nonetheless, things they might not have wanted preserved for posterity.

Some privacy advocates, including the influential Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggested that Google blur the images of people. That move, the critics pointed out, would not inhibit Street View’s goal of helping people become familiar with the look and feel of a location before they travel there.

This week, Google revealed it had indeed begun deploying a facial-recognition algorithm that scans photos for mugs to blur. The changes are happening first in scenes in New York, before slowly expanding to the other 40 cities in Street View.

Google spokesman Larry Yu said the company is still tweaking the system. For now it tends to err on the side of blurring too many things — things a computer erroneously interprets as faces — but that is better than leaving too many faces unblurred, Yu said.

Yu said Google was responding not only to privacy complaints in the U.S., but also trying to head off legal or cultural objections that might emerge as Street View expands into other countries.

Rebecca Jeschke, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, praised Google’s decision, but she added that “it’s just a shame it didn’t happen before the tool launched.”

— Brian Bergstein, AP Technology Writer



Forget to lock the front door? Car system can do it remotely

TOKYO (AP) — Drivers in Japan can check on their pets, turn lights and air conditioning on and off and lock their front doors — all from inside their cars — with a new navigation system from Panasonic.

In addition to guiding drivers to destinations as regular global positioning system navigation gadgets do, the $3,400 Strada F-Class will link to the home through any Internet-capable mobile phone.

Users could use the phone itself to communicate with your Web-enabled home, but Panasonic says it’s easier while driving to use the Strada F-Class.

Users just touch icons on the navigation system’s screen that read “turn off the light” or “lock the door.” They can make it look as though they’re home — to ward off burglars — by turning lights off and then on, all while they’re away, said Naohisa Morimoto, an official with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which puts out Panasonic brand products.

The catch is that they need a Web-enabled camera, front door and other devices. Only about 2,000 homes in Japan have such Net-linking systems, Morimoto said. But Panasonic offers home servers for about $1,900 in Japan, and cheaper ones are available.

Panasonic hopes to sell about 8,000 of the Strada F-Class monthly in Japan after they go on sale June 13. There are no overseas sales plans.

—Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer



Camera memory card uses wireless to label photos by location

NEW YORK — A wireless memory card for digital cameras now comes with an added twist: Besides making it easier to store and share photos, the latest version of the Eye-Fi card also helps sort images by location.

Eye-Fi Explore, due out next month, taps into a database run by Skyhook Wireless. That company sends trucks up and down streets to scan for home wireless routers or commercial hotspots and record the unique identifying code and location of each.

The Eye-Fi card can sense the Wi-Fi access point that happens to be nearby, regardless of whether that access point is open or password-protected. The unique code for that access point gets matched with what’s in the Skyhook database. When you take a photo, Eye-Fi automatically attaches data about the current location, as determined by Skyhook.

“Today, that’s a very manual and time-consuming process,” said Jef Holove, chief executive of Mountain View, Calif.-based Eye-Fi Inc. “We’re saving people the time and the hassle.”

Like GPS-based “geotagging” products, Eye-Fi tag photos with latitude and longitude coordinates. That could boost geotagging, which remains limited to more tech-savvy or professional photographers.

Without the aid of Eye-Fi or a GPS device, location information needs to be entered manually.

The $129 Eye-Fi Explore comes with 2 gigabytes of storage and works with any camera using SD memory cards.

Like previous Eye-Fi models, Explore can also automatically send photos over Wi-Fi from your camera to your computer or photo-sharing sites when within range.

— Anick Jesdanun, AP Technology Writer

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On the Net: http://www.eye.fi



VeriSign wins patent for typo redirection but won’t disclose plans

NEW YORK (AP) — The company that runs many of the Internet’s core directory systems has won a patent for its controversial service that helps Internet users find sites even when they mistype addresses.

VeriSign Inc. said it has no intentions of resurrecting the Site Finder service, but it declined further comment on its plans for the patent, including bloggers’ speculation that it could now demand licensing fees from EarthLink Inc. and other companies that have since started similar efforts.

Normally, when you mistype a Web address, perhaps switching two letters, a generic error message often appears.

Site Finder sought to help guide surfers mistyping “.com” or “.net” names — which VeriSign runs — by offering a list of likely alternatives, including pay-for-placement listings for which VeriSign got a share of revenues when users clicked on one.

Although Time Warner Inc.’s AOL, Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer browser and others already offered similar services, VeriSign was criticized when it launched Site Finder in 2003 because of the influence the company already had as the keeper of the traffic-control directories containing all “.com” and “.net” names.

VeriSign agreed to suspend the service under mounting pressure. Despite the March 4 patent approval, the company says it “does not intend to relaunch related services.”

If VeriSign tries to demand licensing fees from others, patent lawyers could claim that similar services existed before Verisign’s was patented. In fact, VeriSign had cited those pre-existing services in justifying Site Finder.

Time Warner Cable Inc.’s Road Runner and Verizon Communications Inc. are among the service providers that have launched or tested such services to tap the growth in search advertising. OpenDNS also offers it to users of its free directory services crucial for translating a Web site’s domain name into its actual numeric Internet address.

EarthLink was recently criticized after security researchers discovered a vulnerability with its U.K.-based service partner, Barefruit. Officials say that the flaw was quickly fixed and that no users were harmed.

—Anick Jesdanun, AP Internet Writer
 
 

 

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