Google announces PhotoScan app to digitize all of your printed photos

PhotoScan digitizes old photos in seconds.
Image: raymond wong/mashable

Google Photos is arguably the best photo service for storing your photos and videos, and now Google’s got a new app called PhotoScan that makes it stupid easy to digitize old printed photos and upload them.

The free app launching Tuesday on iOS and Android uses Google’s powerful machine learning to turn print photos into digital pics in seconds.

The real pain of digitizing print photos is what a hassle the entire process is. You either need to use a big, slow scanner or get them professionally scanned, which costs money.

Another popular option these days is to just take a photo of the print. But you often end up with all kinds of unwanted glare and reflections in your photos

PhotoScan works like magic and produces a reflection-free image.

You can scan photos that are on a table or in a frame on a wall. It even works through glass frames.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

You start by taking a photo of the picture you want to digitize, and then the app overlays four circles on top of the image. Simply move the circle outline above the four circles displayed on the photo until they turn blue, and voila, you’ve got a perfectly scanned photo.

But how’s the app actually producing a reflection-free digital scan? The answer is pretty simple: The app is actually taking four different photos when you match the circles up and then composites each photo into one final image, intelligently omitting out the areas that are overexposed (white) while cropping and auto-rotating it.

There are also tools for more advanced users who want more control over the cropping.

Cropping tool.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

From start to finish, digitizing a photo takes less than 10 seconds. And because they’re all stored in Google Photos, you have access to all of the powerful object and face recognition search features.

The quality of the scans will depend on your phone’s camera. From what I could tell, scans taken with a Google Pixel looked good, but just don’t expect anything super high-res.


Google also updated Google Photos with a few new features, including fun editing tools and filters.

Some of the new editing features let you go in and really tweak a photo to, say, make skies and water bluer, while maintaining skin tones. It’s really powerful stuff, and Google says it’s only possible using its machine learning to isolate parts of a photo.

New photo editing features.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

The new filters like “Bazaar” and “Modena” are designed to replicate old film stock.

For “Movies” in Photos, there’s a new “Lullaby” montage template that auto-creates a short video out of photos of your baby sleeping and sets it to a slow lullaby.

Google says there are more of these video montage templates planned. A Christmas template that’ll create a “holiday tradition” video of past Christmases will roll out in December, a template to celebrate pets will come out in April in time for National Pet Day and one for celebrating the outdoors will arrive for Earth Day.

Like all of the auto-generated Google Photo Movies, users will have up to 25 days to save them before they expire.

And lastly, Google’s made it easier to share photos from everyone’s devices with Google Photos. You can now send a batch of photos to friends and family via email, text or a messaging app. Recipients will receive a link with thumbnails of the photos sent and they can add their own photos to the shared folder you created.

Sharing photos via Google Photos is easier now.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

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Google to shut out sites that peddle fake news from ad network

Google is cutting fake news sites out of its ads service.
Image: Associated press/David Goldman

Amid growing criticism over the role of online platforms in spreading fake news, Google has announced plans to shut out websites that traffic in misinformation from its third-party ad service.

The search giant said Monday night that it would ban all publishers with articles intended to mislead or deceive readers from its AdSense network, the exchange through which Google sells display ads to independent sites across the web.

“Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

The company said the update was intended to match similar policies it already has in place to block deceitful ads such as weight-loss scams or false drug promises.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the policy change earlier on Monday.

The move comes as last week’s election results bring online platforms under increased scrutiny over how much responsibility they have to ensure the veracity of the news they help circulate.

Facebook, which has born the brunt of this backlash, repeatedly surfaced demonstrably false news stories in its trending topics section in the months leading up to the election a disproportionate number from right-wing conspiracy sites.

Critics say the social network should do a better job of vetting these kinds of hoaxes.

But even Google News, which supposedly tightly regulates the accuracy of stories that appear in its results, is not immune, it seems. Hours before Google made the change, the top news item when users searched for “election results” was an erroneous post claiming Donald Trump had won the popular vote.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly denied that hoaxes have any effect on public opinion among users, but it seems not everybody at the company agrees. BuzzFeed reports that a group of “renegade employees” have formed a task force to take on the scourge of fake news on the platform.

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Facebook, Google Take Small Steps To Stop Spread Of Fake News

Facebook and Google announced Monday that they were taking steps to restrict ads from fake news outlets after facing criticism that hoax stories helped swing the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.

Facebook said Monday that it would ban fake news sites from using its Facebook Audience Network, which allows websites to generate revenueby including Facebook ads. Also Monday, Google said it would work to prevent websites selling fake news from using its AdSense advertising network.

While both companies are taking a step in the right direction, the efforts won’t completely fix the problem of fake news stories bubbling up on the two major websites. “Facebook’s move doesn’t address the fake news that appears in users’ news feeds, the focus of criticism of the social network,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. It’s also not clear how the social network will identify what’s fake and what’s real.

These are both huge issues. During the election, Facebook hosted false news stories that included reports that actor Denzel Washington and Pope Francis had endorsed Trump. Both posts went viral on the social media website, according to NBC News.

On Sunday, a fake blog post suggesting that Trump had won the popular vote shot to the top of Google’s search engine for those looking up final election results. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead has been growing. 

Facebook users can still post and share fake news stories, meaning there’s still an incentive for accounts to spread hoaxes in an effort to get clicks and drive revenue. Earlier this month, Buzzfeed reported on how Macedonian teens were churning out fake, pro-Donald Trump click-bait in an effort to make money.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out that a Facebook spokesman “couldn’t specify the signals its software uses to identify fake news sites, or when it will also ask people to review the sites. He also couldn’t say why Facebook couldn’t use similar technology to stamp out fake news on its news feed.”

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has insisted his company did not influence last week’s presidential election. “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic,” he wrote in a status update posted Saturday. “The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says fake news stories on the site were too few to be an influence on the presidential election.

On Monday, Google said in a statement, “We clearly didn’t get it right, but we are continually working to improve our algorithms.”

While Google’s move will financially restrict fake news outlets, Reuters noted that it “similarly does not address the issue of fake news or hoaxes appearing in Google search results.”

Google has been “more aggressive” in weeding its search algorithms to penalize click-bait and fake news, Joe Pooley, chair of media and communication at Muhlenberg College, told The Huffington Post. 

“In some respects, this whole issue is less intense for Google,” Pooley said. “In general, Google has been better.” 

Google said in a statement that it would “restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property.” The search engine giant did not specify how it would implement or enforce the policy, according to Reuters. 

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Why dont babies sleep at night? You asked Google heres the answer | Paul Kelley

Every day millions of internet users ask Google lifes most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

Looking down into the pushchair I saw a young baby drifting off to sleep, and then flick his eyes open. At one point one eye was open and the other was shut.

What a lovely baby, I said. How old is he? Your first?

Yes. Four weeks. But he hasnt slept through the night once since he was born. I dont know what to do do you?

This mothers sleeplessness explains why Google is so often asked: Why dont babies sleep at night? To find out the answer you need to go back to the beginning.

If youre a mother, when you conceived your baby, they brought a number of changes into your life and theirs. For you there was a new lifestyle (healthy food, physical changes, no drinking) and a huge responsibility. For your baby, it was the beginning of a life where their only guide for nine months would be their genes and the environment in your womb.

Your baby will have rapidly developed a sense of time from the rhythms in the womb, including your heart beat. They will also have had two sets of timing genes. The first set ensures they sleep, just like other animals. This very large set of genes is very robust indeed: every baby sleeps, and no disease or experience will change that. The second set of genes creates their 24-hour sense of time throughout the day, including waking and sleeping.

Genes are, of course, a bit of a lottery. Although you may have a very distinct sense of sleep and the timing that suits your day (and night), your babys genes are a mixture of yours and your partners. Babies are different and have different sleep patterns, so the chance that their sleep patterns will match yours is very small.

During pregnancy, your baby experienced the rhythm of night and day, sleep and wake, only through you. These messages are confused in pregnancy because your sleep patterns change for many different reasons (physical changes, babys movements, needing to urinate more at night, tiredness and not getting enough sleep yourself). Your baby may have been soothed by the experience of you moving around during the day, and more active at night when you rarely moved. Throughout pregnancy, your good sleep will have helped your baby. We know that around the 32nd week of pregnancy, your baby sleeps too.

Thats one of the reasons why sleep needs to be a high priority for every pregnant woman; another is that sleep is vital for giving birth. Although being fatigued during pregnancy is normal, women who sleep less than six hours a night, on average, have longer labours and are 4.5 times more likely to have a caesarean delivery.

At birth the need to feed dominates a babys world and that of its parents. Feeding is hard work for a baby, and makes them tired so they sleep, rest and recover. Then the need to feed comes again, often in a pattern of every four hours or so. Babies have no established sense of night or day, and they tend to have cycles that are far shorter than 24 hours long. This is because their timing systems for the 24-hour day are not yet fully formed at birth, and they wont function consistently until a baby is about two to six months old.

So the short answer to the question is this: babies dont sleep through the night because they cant.

At between two and six months, a babys timing systems should develop so that their sleep has clear patterns. A very recent scientific discovery has shown that although a babys sleep, like an adults, is divided into a time of dreams (REM rapid eye movement sleep), and quiet deep sleep (non-REM), a baby has far more REM sleep than an adult. It appears this is necessary to consolidate a babys rapid learning about the world, including their understanding of night and day. And for a baby, sleep is vital for brain development in other ways too.

Thats all very well I hear mothers (and partners) say, but what can we do to make our baby sleep at night? Were desperate. Do we let them cry or not? Does breastfeeding help? How can we make sure they are safe?

Most sleep advice for babies applies to the whole family. The difference is that babies have to learn the timing of day and night only from signals in the environment.

Sunlight is the strongest environmental signal of all. Going outside is vital for your baby (and you) in setting your internal clocks to the same time. So the darker the bedroom, the better it is for sleep. In contrast, the light-emitting screens of televisions, phones or computer devices used before sleep, or night lights during sleep, are not a good idea.

Night is signalled by a fall in temperature, so cooler bedrooms are better. It is important to establish a regular pattern of waking and going to sleep, so the routine becomes familiar and pleasant.

Breast milk contains the hormone melatonin, which signals your sleep time to your baby, just as it did during pregnancy, if you decide to breastfeed. In the early weeks a baby is likely to doze off for short periods during a feed. Carry on feeding until you think they have finished or are fully asleep.

Guidelines are available for keeping babies safe while theyre asleep: Helping Your Baby to Sleep (NHS) and Keeping Your Baby Safe (NIH) offer good advice.

Also, trust yourself: if you cant bear your babys distress when they still wake up crying at 14 months, go to them.

And try not to worry. In the end, all of us will sleep.

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Google Music Taps Big Data to Build a Robot DJ Mind-Reader


Other than maybe the NSA, nobody knows more about you than Google. It’s got a read on where you are, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking and watching and searching for and chatting with your friends about. Which means nobody should be better equipped to soundtrack every second of your life than Google Play Music. Starting today, the company’s taking full advantage of its smarts to deliver you the sounds you want, when you want them. All you have to do is press play.

Next time you open Google Play Music on any device, the first thing you’ll see is a list of playlists you might like, plus a short description for why the app made any given selection. If you’re at work, and it’s raining, maybe you get some ambient piano to help you focus the afternoon away. Just got home, pouring some wine? Sunset music. Friday night, you’re at a bar? EDM all night. It’s a bit like Google Now, the predictive feed of everything you probably want to know about right now, except fully focused on music. Think of it as a super-smart, hyper-personalized set of radio station presets. Just open the app, tap one, and go.

To do all this, the Play Music team is tapping into the full Google Data Machine for the first time. It’s choosing playlists by looking at the music you’ve listened to before, of course, but also your search history, your YouTube plays, even what’s in your email and calendar. It considers that data alongside things like time of day, location (a bar is different from a library is different from your office), the weather, and more. So you like classical at work, but you need a boost because it’s raining and you’ve been in meetings all day, plus it’s almost time to get to the gym? Play Music might show you Epic Movie Scores, followed by your favorite workout jams.

Google thinks that it has something like a complete picture of your life at all times. And it knows enough about music to know what you might want to hear as a result.

That contextual awareness for tunes has been the long-time goal of Elias Roman, the lead product manager for Google Play Music. He’s been working on it ever since his days at Songza, which Google acquired in 2014. And as Google has programmed more mood- and moment-based playlists, and added more diverse content like podcasts, Play Music been creeping toward smarter recommendations. But now, with the full power of Google’s data and algorithms finally at his back, Roman says that his goal is for you to hit the play button on the very first thing on your home screen, every single time.

Anything less means Google’s machine-learning tools need to get a little smarter, a little sharper. “We want it to feel as easy as radio,” he tells me, showing off the Instrumental Beatles Covers playlist that shows up at the top of his own feed. (Good music to work to, he says.) Of course, you can still manage your library, make your own playlists, or search for whatever you want to listen to, but Roman wants Google to do the work for you.

Music personalization is clearly the next task for every streaming service. But where Spotify’s trying to break down your music taste into its many component parts, then assemble playlists you’ll love, Google’s going one step further. It’s not just trying to say “here’s some music you’ll like,” but “here’s the song you need right now.” It’s a bold gambit: music taste can be finicky, and there’s nothing worse than when you press play and hear the exact wrong thing. Plus, you don’t always want the same things at the same time, right? Algorithms can’t account for mood. Though Roman says they can, at least sort of. Color me skeptical.

Roman is confident that because Google knows so much about your online life, Play Music can at least be right a lot more than it’s wrong. That could mean finally combining the simplicity and just-press-play nature of the radio with your own music taste. And doing it not once a week, or every morning, but every second of every day. Because everyone’s life could use an epic soundtrack.

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Google News points users to hoax article on election results

Google News was pointing web surfers looking for election results to false numbers as of Monday.
Image: Associated press / David Goldman, File

As the media autopsies the various forces at play in last week’s election results, online social platforms particularly Facebook are coming under increased scrutiny for their role in spreading blatantly false news stories.

But it seems even Google’s news search isn’t infallible when it comes to filtering out false information.

For the past several hours, Google’s top news item on a search for “final election results” has directed users to a post from a rudimentary WordPress blog falsely claiming that Donald Trump won the popular vote.

Image: google, screenshot

The error was first reported by Mediaite Sunday evening, and it appeared to have been fixed by the following afternoon.

A Google spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.

The same evening it was reported, The Daily Show‘s Dan Amira noticed a surge in Twitter users citing the blog to insist that Trump had more total votes than Hillary Clinton.

The author of the news site in question called “70news” claims the erroneous numbers came from “twitter posts [sic]” and that results from “Wikipedia or [Mainstream media]” don’t match the site’s own because “liberals are still reeling and recovering from Trump-shock victory.”

A sidebar on the site points readers to other false stories involving a conspiracy theory that billionaire Democratic donor George Soros is funding Anti-Trump protests. An entire section of the site is dedicated to “Hillary’s Health.”

For the record, the Associated Press‘ latest election tally shows Clinton leading Trump overall by around 670,000 votes.

Google’s mistake comes as Facebook contends with its role in spreading misinformation a disproportionate amount from right-wing conspiracy sites in the months leading up to the election. The social network’s critics argue that it should do more to vet articles shared on its site for accuracy.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly insisted that these types of hoaxes do not affect user opinions.

“Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other,” Zuckerberg said in a post on Saturday.

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Google Fiber to cut jobs and halt expansion of US internet service

Ambitious and expensive high-speed internet program will stop plans to expand to new cities as business reportedly under pressure to cut costs

Googles parent company is halting operations and laying off staff in a number of cities where it once hoped to bring high-speed internet access by installing new fiber-optic networks.

The company also announced that Craig Barratt, a veteran tech executive who led the ambitious and expensive Google Fiber program, is stepping down as CEO of Access, the division of Googles parent company, Alphabet, that operates the five-year-old program.

In a statement, Barratt said Google Fiber would continue to provide service in a handful of cities where its already operating, including Atlanta, Austin and Charlotte.

But it will pause further plans in at least eight more metropolitan areas where it has been holding exploratory talks with local officials. Those include Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Dallas, Tampa and Jacksonville in Florida, Portland in Oregon and Los Angeles and San Jose in California.

Barratt didnt say how many jobs would be cut. His statement described the Access business as solid, but said it would make changes to focus our business and product strategy and incorporate new technology.

A recent report by the tech news site the Information said the business was under pressure by the Alphabet CEO, Larry Page, to cut costs after failing to meet financial goals, including a target of signing up five million subscribers.

Barratt said he would continue to serve as an adviser to Page.

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Memes are bigger on Google than Jesus

Congratulations to memes, which thanks to your Dat Bois and your Arthur fists and your problematic Pepe usage have surpassed Jesus on Google.

The son of God had a good run.

Norwegian developer Dominik Salonen noticed this development on Google Trends and shared his findings to Twitter on Wednesday.

So when was the fateful moment dank memes overtook our lord and savior Jesus Christ? According to Google Trends, memes first surpassed Jesus in early May. In August, memes staged their official takeover.

Image: google trends

Memes haven’t yet overtaken God in popularity, though things aren’t looking good:

Image: google trends

[H/T: Gizmodo]

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