By John P. Mello Jr.
Aug 4, 2020 4:00 AM PT
Google’s Nest line of smart home products will be combined with ADT’s security services in a partnership announced Monday by the two companies.
As part of the deal, Google will invest US$450 million into ADT to acquire a 6.6 percent interest in the security and smart home solutions provider.
The companies also agreed to each spend $150 million for co-marketing, product development, technology and employee training.
In a statement, the pair explained that the partnership will integrate Google’s hardware and services and ADT’s DIY and professionally installed smart home security solutions to innovate the residential and small business security industry.
The future ADT and Google home security solution is expected to advance smart home offerings and attract new consumers seeking premium technology, end-to-end smart home service and trusted security, they added.
Home security is one of the most popular reasons households purchase smart home devices, observed Jessica Ekholm, a research vice president with Gartner.
She cited a 2018 survey by the firm that found 66 percent of U.S. responders said they were likely to use smart home devices for preventing access to the home while they were away, while 64 percent noted they were likely to use the devices for security when away from home for long stretches of time.
“Partnering with ADT will help Google reach potential new customers that are currently opting for managed security services, thus reaching beyond Google’s Nest usual clientele,” Ekholm told TechNewsWorld.
Frank E. Gillett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, though, sees the partnership as a risky move.
“This is a very big bet by Google on physical security being a big motivation for people adopting Google products,” he told TechNewsWorld. “I find that puzzling because I don’t think consumers want another $50 a month bill, unless Google can flip ADT’s value proposition and change it from an annoying monthly fee and occasional valuable service to a constantly valuable service for which you gladly pay for.”
Tapping Into Valuable Channel
However, Gillett acknowledged the deal could give Google an advantage over its rivals in the market. “It recruits a motivated partner to emphasize Google over Amazon or Apple as a smart home control system,” he said.
The deal also gives Google access to an important channel for its smart home products.
“Today, Nest products are, by and large, sold at retail,” explained Ross Rubin,
the principal analyst with Reticle Research.
“An important channel for home security and home automation is the professionally monitored service business where ADT is one of the most recognized brands,” he continued.
“In making Nest products available through ADT,” he told TechNewsWorld, “Google can expose them to customers who are specifically interested in this kind of functionality and are actively seeking that out by contacting a monitoring service provider.”
“Google will get better access to that customer base and for ADT,” he said, “they get access to products that are more sophisticated, have a broader ecosystem than products they have distributed in the past.”
Adam Wright, smart home senior research analyst at IDC, observed that the Google-ADT deal illustrates the changing dynamics of the smart home market.
“For some time, the market has been categorized as one with clearly defined segments — do-it-yourself versus fully managed services,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“In the past 12 months or so, DIY vendors are finding added success in areas that have traditionally been exclusive to managed service providers,” he continued.
“Vendors like Nest, Ring, Samsung, and others have launched installation and professional monitoring services for their DIY home automation and security solutions, which essentially blurs the lines of differentiation between DIY vendors and managed service providers and may increase the appeal of adopting a DIY approach to smart home solutions,” Wright explained.
He argued that managed services providers need to respond to encroachments on their market by DIY outfits by pivoting their strategies to allow for a more agile, a la carte approach to their solutions and customer acquisition strategies.
That kind of strategy was behind ADT’s launch in January of Blue by ADT. The DIY smart home security offering allows customers to customize a smart home security system on their own terms, with no long-term contracts required.
“By offering DIY products alongside the full suite of managed services solutions, managed service providers will be better equipped to reach a broader range of consumers that might be at first reluctant to invest in a whole-home package,” Wright said.
“So,” he added, “for Google, this deal can provide a significant boost to its lineup of DIY smart home monitoring and security solutions by positioning it to compete more strongly against both other DIY competitors and also other fully managed service providers like Vivint, Brinks and others.”
Google’s infusion of $450 million into ADT is more important to the home security company than to the search giant, maintained Mark N. Vena, a senior analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.
“This cash infusion will allow ADT to operate as an ongoing entity without disrupting their current business,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“It will also help ADT design more bleeding edge products that integrate Google Assistant functionality at a more robust and intuitive level,” said Vena.
“For Google,” he added, “it helps them get into the residential and businesses services business. Google could probably do that without investing in ADT, but many customers might be wary of partnering with Google for security services due to Google’s somewhat compromised privacy and data protection reputation.”
“ADT is a trusted brand in this space and this would aid Google as they try to expand their brand and product line in the security services area,” Vena explained.
ADT, in turn, can benefit from Google’s reputation.
“ADT, like most professional services security companies and cable companies, has ugly and badly designed equipment,” observed Forrester’s Gillett.
“If ADT uses the slicker hardware and better applications of Google, it will drive sales for Google and customer engagement for ADT,” he said.
“ADT wants to expand beyond the 20 percent of the market that pays for professionally monitored security because it and others in the industry have been under assault from cable TV and Internet service providers,” he added. “So for this partnership to be successful, ADT will need to grow its share of the market.”
Mozilla retires Firefox Send and Firefox Notes services
Mozilla shut down Firefox Send on September 17, 2020 and plans to shut down Firefox Notes no November 1, 2020. Firefox Send was launched as an experiment in 2017 to improve the sending of files on the Internet. It was the first experiment that Mozilla created that was created as a web service and not an add-on or feature for Firefox.
The service launched officially in 2019; it allowed anyone to share files with a size of up to 1 Gigabyte and Firefox account users to share files up to 2.5 Gigabyte in size. Users with a Firefox account got extra features such as the managing of all files uploaded to the service or changing expiration times.
One of the main features of Firefox Send was that files uploaded to the service expired after a certain number of downloads or an expiration time.
Mozilla pulled the service earlier this year promising that it would return at a later point in time. The main reason for the taking down was that bad actors used the platform to distribute malware and other unwanted files. The free nature of the service coupled with automatic deletions of files after a number of downloads or a set expiration time benefited bad actors significantly.
Firefox Send’s homepage redirects to the main Mozilla homepage. A support article on Mozilla’s support website provides confirmation that the service has been retired for good. A blog post on Mozilla’s official blog reveals additional information.
According to the post on the blog, Firefox Send is being retired as part of Mozilla’s restructuring. The company laid off 250 employees this year and announced that it would “tighten and refine its product focus”.
Firefox Send was a promising tool for encrypted file sharing. Send garnered good reach, a loyal audience, and real signs of value throughout its life. Unfortunately, some abusive users were beginning to use Send to ship malware and conduct spear phishing attacks. This summer we took Firefox Send offline to address this challenge.
In the intervening period, as we weighed the cost of our overall portfolio and strategic focus, we made the decision not to relaunch the service.
Firefox Notes was launched as an experiment in 2017 as well. Unlike Firefox Send, which was a web service decoupled from Firefox, Firefox Notes was an internal feature of Firefox that added note taking to the browser. Most browsers rely on third-party extensions for note taking functionality; Vivaldi is an exception to that as it launched with note taking support.
Notes was updated several times to improve functionality. The latest version supports multiple notes, formatting options, and the exporting of notes as HTML files.
Mozilla will shut down Firefox Notes on November 1, 2020. The Firefox browser extension will remain installed but it won’t be available anymore for installation. Mozilla won’t provide updates, security or otherwise, for the browser extension anymore, and Notes syncing will not be available. The Notes application for Android won’t work anymore at that time.
Firefox users who do use Notes may use the Export All Notes option of the extension to save all notes as HTML. All that is required for that is to click on the three dots in the notes extension interface and select the option. Individual notes can also be exported.
Now You: Have you used Firefox Send or Notes? What is your take on the termination of these services?
Have you read something written by GPT-3? Probably not, but it’s hard to be sure
In August, a blog post about personal productivity surfaced at the top of Hacker News, a website and message board well known in Silicon Valley circles that focuses on computer science and entrepreneurship.
There was nothing terribly unique about the post. It offered simple, relatively common advice. Some readers discussed its merits in comments and offered their own thoughts about how to be more productive.
A few people, however, found the post a little suspicious.
“This is either something written by GPT-3, or the human equivalent,” one person commented. “Zero substantive content, pure regurgitation.”
Another person had the same assessment: “I think this was written by GPT-3.”
It turns out that they were right. The blog post was written almost entirely by a piece of software called Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, or GPT-3. Liam Porr, a computer science student at the University of California, Berkeley, used the new machine learning model to generate the post with the intention of fooling the public into believing it was the product of a human mind.
He wanted to see just how good GPT-3 is.
“With something like a language model, there’s not a good quantitative way to see how good it is, because language and writing is qualitative,” Porr said. “With this kind of experiment, I can concretely say 20,000 unique people came to my website and only three actually had the sense to say it was written by a robot.”
GPT-3 is not the first natural language program of its kind, but it has already gotten widespread attention for how good it is at mimicking simple human writing. But its release into the world, while not entirely public, has caused some concern that it could be used to quickly and cheaply generate misinformation or propaganda. While it was a harmless experiment, Porr’s post offered a concrete example of the risk.
And it adds GPT-3 to other pieces of advanced software that have been disseminated through the internet and have caused alarm. Deepfake technology, which can make doctored videos of people, has become common enough to spur congressional hearings.
But the technology has also been warmly welcomed by some technologists who are already using it to automate parts of their operations.
OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research lab, announced GPT-3 in July. To simulate human language, the autocomplete model was trained on a massive dataset — 60 million domains on the internet and the sites they navigate to, as well as other sites and text the researchers spoon-fed it.
The program can’t think for itself. Instead, it can take a simple thought from a person and guess what will come next.
People interested in experimenting with the language generator can request access from the research lab. Porr himself said it was pretty easy for him to gain access thanks to his connections to his college machine-learning community. OpenAI has also made GPT-3’s API commercially available.
Based on the numerous use cases popping up online, everyone from hobbyists to machine learning experts to a friend of a friend of a machine learning expert hasn’t had too much trouble gaining access to the simple yet powerful piece of tech.
Francis Jervis, founder of the automated luxury tenants rights organization Augrented, is one of those who gained early access to GPT-3.
Jervis uses the tool to help tenants automate eviction forms to landlords. Renters are able to enter four to five bullet points arguing against their eviction, and GPT-3 will generate a paragraph that fits into a negotiation letter template. Jervis notes that users should still fact-check the text that the language model generates.
“It’ll occasionally add in creative details, which might not be 100 percent appropriate to use in this kind of context,” he said. “This is why I wouldn’t use it for DIY legal documentation.”
Qasim Munye, who is studying medicine at Kings College London, applied for access to GPT-3 as soon as it was released and was approved a few weeks later. He built the tool into his existing app, Shortly, which helps users write short stories.
“For me it’s like, I might not want to use this tech where truth is important,” he said. “A lot of the times it will be very confidently wrong, a very wrong answer but in a confident way, so I wanted a use case where truth wasn’t important, and fiction is one example of that.”
GPT-3’s potential to be profoundly inaccurate hasn’t inhibited those with access to use it as a source for knowledge and enlightenment. Learn From Anyone, a software that creates one-on-one conversations with any famous or historical figures, is powered by GPT-3.
“Ever wanted to learn about rockets from Elon Musk? How to write better from Shakespeare? Philosophy from Aristotle? GPT-3 made it possible,” founder McKay Wrigley tweeted in July.
And there aren’t just issues of validity to be considered. GPT-3 is a model trained on a breathless expanse of the internet, including nearly 500 billion words from Wikipedia, fan fiction and Reddit. As it has been repeatedly shown, the internet is rife with bias and discrimination — something that can get baked into automated systems.
Animashree Anandkumar, professor of computing at the California Institute of Technology and director of Machine Learning research at Nvidia, a computer graphics chip company, said that as a researcher working in AI, she wants to use these types of models for the benefit of humanity, and that that means rebuilding the foundations of the industry itself.
She noted that GPT-3’s use of parts of the internet to train its systems, such as Reddit, can introduce biases.
“It was certainly not a minority person who decided to use links from Reddits,” she said, adding that she has been threatened on the news aggregation site. She pointed out that a decision like that highlights the lack of diversity in the teams that build these technologies.
“There are already many examples of hiring apps discriminating against women and minorities based on indirect cues,” Anandkumar said. “If this is used as a way to generate text, it would only be generating certain types of gendered-language and not handle applications that require an unbiased approach to gender, race, religion and many other attributes.”
OpenAI declined to comment, but did address the potential harms and biases of its AI model in a blog post.
Anandkumar said that it can’t replace a human journalist because it doesn’t know the facts of the world, and cannot differentiate fact versus fiction. She said it will be a great source for fake news, and while in fiction it can be a fun way to see what the tool generates, there are still issues there.
“If you are constantly looking at stories GPT-3 generates and it’s gendered and it has sexism and racism, that furthers as a positive feedback loop,” she said.
“I worry if we are constantly exposed to AI models like GPT-3 that are biased, that further amplify the bias and continue to propagate it, what is the impact on human psychology?”
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