San Francisco, Apr 30 (AP/UNB) — Google parent Alphabet beat analyst earnings expectations but reported slowing revenue growth amid tougher competition in the online advertising market. Alphabet shares dropped more than 7% in after-hours trading.
Google's advertising revenue, its key moneymaker, grew by 15 percent to $30.7 billion — slower than investors had hoped. Google's digital-ad rivals include Facebook and Amazon, the latter of which has been steadily gaining ground.
The results sparked concerns that Google's enormously profitable advertising machine might be starting to sputter. Some analysts suggested it's a signal that Google might need to diversify its business more quickly.
"Does this put more pressure on Google to make more aggressive bets on cloud?" asked Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives.
Google executives highlighted the company's cloud-computing business as one of its fastest growing segments during a call with analysts Monday. But the cloud currently accounts for only a small slice of overall revenue. Google reported $5.4 billion in "other" revenue, which includes cloud, hardware and Play store purchases.
Alphabet reported a first-quarter profit of $8.3 billion, down 6% from $8.9 billion in the year-earlier period. Profit amounted to $11.90 per share, well above Wall Street estimates of $10.60.
That figure doesn't include an expected charge of $1.7 billion to account for a European Union antitrust fine. The fine was imposed in March for anti-competitive practices in Google's advertising business, referring to a specific exclusivity practice Google now says it has ended.
Including the fine, Alphabet's profit of $6.7 billion fell short of analyst estimates.
Excluding advertising commissions that Google pays to customers, Alphabet's overall revenue was $29.5 billion — also falling short of the $30 billion analysts were expecting.
Alphabet also reported widening losses in its "Other Bets" category — a broad segment that includes experimental ventures such as self-driving car business Waymo and internet-balloon subsidiary Loon. Losses grew to $868 million from $571 million a year ago.
Alphabet once again expanded its workforce, growing to 103,459 employees — adding nearly 4,700 workers in the last three months.
Beluga whale with Russian harness raises alarm in Norway
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A beluga whale found with a tight harness that appeared to be Russian made has raised the alarm of Norwegian officials and prompted speculation that the animal may have come from a Russian military facility.
Joergen Ree Wiig of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries says "Equipment St. Petersburg" is written on the harness strap, which features a mount for an action camera.
He said Monday fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean with a tight harness swimming around. On Friday, fisherman Joar Hesten, aided by the Ree Wiig, jumped into the frigid water to remove the harness.
Ree Wiig said "people in Norway's military have shown great interest" in the harness.
Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsoe, northern Norway, believes "it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk" is involved. Russia has major military facilities in and around Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of Russia.
It wasn't immediately clear what the mammal was being trained for, or whether it was supposed to be part of any Russian military activity in the region.
Rikardsen said he had checked with scholars in Russia and Norway and said they have not reported any program or experiments using beluga whales.
"This is a tame animal that is used to get food served so that is why it has made contacts with the fishermen," he said. "The question is now whether it can survive by finding food by itself. We have seen cases where other whales that have been in Russian captivity doing fine."
Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the whale began to rub itself again his boat when he first spotted it.
Russia does not have a history of using whales for military purposes but the Soviet Union had a full-fledged training program for dolphins.
The Soviet Union used a base in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula during the Cold War to train the mammals for military purposes such as searching for mines or other objects and planting explosives. The facility in Crimea was closed following the collapse of the Soviet Union, though unnamed reports shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea indicated that it had reopened.
The Russian Defense Ministry published a public tender in 2016 to purchase five dolphins for a training program. The tender did not explain what tasks the dolphins were supposed to perform, but indicated they were supposed to have good teeth. It was taken offline shortly after publication.
San Francisco, Apr 30 (AP/UNB) — A startup that tried to advance the dream of intelligent robots in the home with its toy robot Cozmo is shutting down.
San Francisco-based Anki says it's laying off its employees on Wednesday after failing to raise enough money to keep the business going.
The company said last year it's sold more than 1.5 million products, including the car-racing game Overdrive and Cozmo, a playful robotic pet. Anki introduced its newest robot, Vector, last year.
It's one of several high-profile makers of consumer robots to fold in the past year. Boston-based Jibo shut down less than a year after its squat, talking speaker made the cover of Time Magazine. California-based Mayfield Robotics also last year canceled Kuri, a roving home robot.
News of Anki's closure was first reported by Recode.
Washington, Apr 29 (AP/UNB) — The universe is expanding faster than it used to, meaning it’s about a billion years younger than we thought, a new study by a Nobel Prize winner says. And that’s sending a shudder through the world of physics, making astronomers re-think some of their most basic concepts.
At issue is a number called the Hubble constant, a calculation for how fast the universe is expanding. Some scientists call it the most important number in cosmology, the study of the origin and development of the universe.
Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Johns Hopkins University astronomer Adam Riess concluded in this week’s Astrophysical Journal that the figure is 9% higher than the previous calculation, which was based on studying leftovers from the Big Bang.
Los Angeles, April 29 (Xinhua/UNB) - Scientists at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have developed a new model to understand what Antarctica's ice sheet and the future sea level rise will look like centuries from now.
"Unlike most current models, we included solid Earth processes such as the elastic rebound of the bedrock under the ice, and the impact of changes in sea level very close to the ice sheet," said Eric Larour, a scientist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the first author of the study published on Thursday in Science.
"We also examined these models at a much higher resolution than is typically used. We zoomed in on areas of bedrock that were about one kilometer instead of the usual 20 kilometers," he added.
According to the study, scientists found that around the year 2250, some of these solid Earth processes will have started to offset the melting of the ice sheet and the consequent sea level rise. In other words, they actually slowed the melting down.
The team noted that a hundred years even further into the future -- by 2350 -- this slowdown means that the melting of the ice sheet is likely to contribute 29 percent less to global sea level rise than previous models indicated.
"One of the main things we learned was that as grounded ice retreats inland, the bedrock under it lifts up elastically," said Erik Ivins, a co-author of the study. "It's similar to how a sofa cushion decompresses when you remove your weight from it. This process slows down the retreat of the ice sheet and ultimately the amount of melting."
According to the team, the breakthrough of this study was to reach resolutions high enough to capture as many of these "speed bumps" as possible and determine their effects in Antarctica while also modeling sea level rise over the entire planet.
Antarctica's melting ice sheet is currently responsible for 20 to 25 percent of global sea level rise.
San Francisco, Apr 27 (AP/UNB) — When a robot "dies," does it make you sad? For lots of people, the answer is "yes" — and that tells us something important, and potentially worrisome, about our emotional responses to the social machines that are starting to move into our lives.
For Christal White, a 42-year-old marketing and customer service director in Bedford, Texas, that moment came several months ago with the cute, friendly Jibo robot perched in her home office. After more than two years in her house, the foot-tall humanoid and its inviting, round screen "face" had started to grate on her. Sure, it danced and played fun word games with her kids, but it also sometimes interrupted her during conference calls.
White and her husband Peter had already started talking about moving Jibo into the empty guest bedroom upstairs. Then they heard about the "death sentence" Jibo's maker had levied on the product as its business collapsed. News arrived via Jibo itself, which said its servers would be shutting down, effectively lobotomizing it.
"My heart broke," she said. "It was like an annoying dog that you don't really like because it's your husband's dog. But then you realize you actually loved it all along."
The Whites are far from the first to experience this feeling. People took to social media this year to say teary goodbyes to the Mars Opportunity rover when NASA lost contact with the 15-year-old robot. A few years ago, scads of concerned commenters weighed in on a demonstration video from robotics company Boston Dynamics in which employees kicked a dog-like robot to prove its stability.
Smart robots like Jibo obviously aren't alive, but that doesn't stop us from acting as though they are. Research has shown that people have a tendency to project human traits onto robots, especially when they move or act in even vaguely human-like ways.
Designers acknowledge that such traits can be powerful tools for both connection and manipulation. That could be an especially acute issue as robots move into our homes — particularly if, like so many other home devices, they also turn into conduits for data collected on their owners.
"When we interact with another human, dog, or machine, how we treat it is influenced by what kind of mind we think it has," said Jonathan Gratch, a professor at University of Southern California who studies virtual human interactions. "When you feel something has emotion, it now merits protection from harm."
The way robots are designed can influence the tendency people have to project narratives and feelings onto mechanical objects, said Julie Carpenter, a researcher who studies people's interaction with new technologies. Especially if a robot has something resembling a face, its body resembles those of humans or animals, or just seems self-directed, like a Roomba robot vacuum.
"Even if you know a robot has very little autonomy, when something moves in your space and it seems to have a sense of purpose, we associate that with something having an inner awareness or goals," she said.
Such design decisions are also practical, she said. Our homes are built for humans and pets, so robots that look and move like humans or pets will fit in more easily.
Some researchers, however, worry that designers are underestimating the dangers associated with attachment to increasingly life-like robots.
Longtime AI researcher and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, for instance, is concerned that design cues can trick us into thinking some robots are expressing emotion back toward us. Some AI systems already present as socially and emotionally aware, but those reactions are often scripted, making the machine seem "smarter" than it actually is.
"The performance of empathy is not empathy," she said. "Simulated thinking might be thinking, but simulated feeling is never feeling. Simulated love is never love."
Designers at robotic startups insist that humanizing elements are critical as robot use expands. "There is a need to appease the public, to show that you are not disruptive to the public culture," said Gadi Amit, president of NewDealDesign in San Francisco.
His agency recently worked on designing a new delivery robot for Postmates — a four-wheeled, bucket-shaped object with a cute, if abstract, face; rounded edges; and lights that indicate which way it's going to turn.
It'll take time for humans and robots to establish a common language as they move throughout the world together, Amit said. But he expects it to happen in the next few decades.
But what about robots that work with kids? In 2016, Dallas-based startup RoboKind introduced a robot called Milo designed specifically to help teach social behaviors to kids who have autism. The mechanism, which resembles a young boy, is now in about 400 schools and has worked with thousands of kids.
It's meant to connect emotionally with kids at a certain level, but RoboKind co-founder Richard Margolin says the company is sensitive to the concern that kids could get too attached to the robot, which features human-like speech and facial expressions.
So RoboKind suggests limits in its curriculum, both to keep Milo interesting and to make sure kids are able to transfer those skills to real life. Kids are only recommended to meet with Milo three to five times a week for 30 minutes each time.