The new Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California November 13, 2015. (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)
Just in time for the US presidential election, Google is rolling out a “fact check” tag to its News service.
Google News aggregates stories from various sources (including PCMag), identifying them via labels like “highly cited,” “featured,” “opinion,” “in depth,” and now, “fact check.”
Fact checking, once a job that was relegated to interns and entry-level reporters, “has come into its own,” Google News head Richard Gingras wrote in blog post.
“Rigorous fact checks are now conducted by more than 100 active sites,” he said, citing the Duke University Reporter’s Lab. “They collectively product many thousands of fact-checks a year, examining claims around urban legends, politics, health, and the media itself.”
Google’s algorithms will determine which articles may contain fact checks using the schema.org ClaimReview system; it also looks for sites that follow commonly accepted criteria for fact checks. Publishers interested in applying to have their service included can find more details online.
News junkies in the US and UK will see new tagged reports in the expanded story box on the Web and in the Google News & Weather iOS and Android apps.
“We’re excited to see the growth of the Fact Check community and to shine a light on its efforts to divine fact from fiction, wisdom from spin,” Gingras said.
Google began labeling types of articles seven years ago, making it easier for readers to access a range of content. Earlier this year, it added a “Local Source” tag to highlight local coverage of major topics.
The news comes as Facebook is grappling with a spate of fake news in its trending section. Amidst concern that its trending news team was surfacing only liberal news, Facebook ditched human curators for algorithms. But its algorithms are apparently rather gullible. Facebook later joined an organization dedicated to tackling misinformation online, alongside Twitter and more than two dozen other tech and media titans.
In other Google search news, Search Engine Land reports reports that Google will soon favor its mobile search index over desktop. “Google is going to create a separate mobile index within months, one that will be the main or ‘primary’ index that the search engine uses to respond to queries,” the blog says. The desktop index will remain but won’t be updated as often as the mobile one.
Random thoughts I have while looking at sweet potatoes:
“You’d look great as a plate of fries.”
“Honestly, who was the first to decide to put marshmallows all over you?”
“Wait. Are these yams?”
A thought I have never had: This type of potato saves lives.
As it turns out, they might actually do just that.
Welsy Anena’s mother is convinced that orange sweet potatoes saved her daughter’s life.
Not in a “thanks for the side dish, I was so hungry!” kind of way. In an actual life-saving way.
Her daughter, Welsy, had been so sick as a baby, and in and out of a Ugandan hospital sometimes in such serious condition, her mom didn’t know if she’d even make it. But when her baby started being fed orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, her health turned around and now she’s a vibrant, healthier kid. Whoa.
Her mom’s story isn’t the only one that depicts sweet potatoes as an edible hero.
You see, Welsy suffered from Vitamin A deficiency the leading cause of preventable blindness in developing countries. In Uganda, 1 out of every 3 kids under 5 suffers from Vitamin A deficiency, resulting in almost 30,000 child deaths every year. And that’s just in one country.
Orange sweet potatoes can help.
While orange sweet potatoes are common in the United States, they are very new in Africa.
For hundreds of years, Africans have had their own version of a sweet potato: white and yellow in color, very starchy and firm, and frankly, a terrible source of vitamin A.
That’s a heavy contrast from the type of sweet potatoes we find in our grocery stores in the U.S., where they are carrot-colored and known for their vitamins and nutrients, especially their vitamin A.
Researchers had an idea: If orange sweet potatoes combat vitamin A deficiency, what would happen if they could get communities to eat them instead?
Maybe it could help prevent blindness and death in kids. They’re finding out.
For the past 15 years, the International Potato Center (CIP) has been leading the way on introducing the orange-fleshed sweet potato in Africa.
It’s been an adventure and easier said than done. Africans initially scoffed at the idea of orange sweet potatoes. No way. The potatoes had a weird texture and weren’t what they were used to eating. They were also grown differently from their traditional type of sweet potatoes. All signs pointed to no. Can you blame them?
The research team from CIP took note and developed a starchier version of the orange sweet potato that still contained more vitamin A than other potatoes, but tasted more in line with what Africans were accustomed to.
Once they had the potato how they wanted it, they had to get people to want to eat it.
They created widespread marketing campaigns that, according to Smithsonian magazine, included radio advertisements and visits to villages in vehicles with sweet potatoes painted on the side.
They traveled around the region teaching about the sweet potato’s nutrition.
And showed the power of eating them through pictures and words.
They made sure to have a big presence at exhibitions and community-wide events.
Children’s songs were written and performed about the potatoes.
The campaign worked. And it’s still working today.
Today, the orange-fleshed sweet potato has reached 2.2 million households, which amounts to roughly 10 million people in Africa.
Scientists are super optimistic at the ability to reduce vitamin A deficiency through this new exposure to the potato. They project that by 2023, 30 million children could be saved from blindness and death because of it.
“We have evidence that eating 125g of orange-flesh sweet potato provides a child the amount of vitamin A required to prevent blindness from vitamin A deficiency,” wrote Joel Ranck, head of communications for the CIP, in an email.“125g is about the size of one small sweetpotato.”
It’s no wonder the research team, comprised of Dr. Jan Low, Maria Andrade, and Robert Mwanga from the CIP, and Howarth Bouis of Harvest Plus, just won the 2016 World Food Prize for their work on this initiative. Bravo!
Together they have built new excitement and hope surrounding child nutrition and preventable blindness in the 14 countries where the orange-flesh sweet potato is now available, with more countries to come.
Agnes Amony, a Ugandan farmer told Harvest Plus, “I began feeding my child on these nutritious foods following the knowledge I attained in the recommended feeding practices for children under five. My child began gaining weight steadily and I am in no doubt that these foods have saved my childs life. I am forever grateful and will never stop feeding my child on these food crops.”
Every step counts. Or, in this case, every bite.
See more on how the orange-flesh sweet potato could, in fact, change the world:
The new features are rolling out to the Google Flights website (the service still doesn’t have its own dedicated app yet) “in the coming weeks,” according to Google.
Once they do, the site will let you know how long until the current fare is expected to change when you’re browsing specific flights. The feature, which uses uses historical flight data to make its predictions, should make surprise price increases at least a little easier to avoid.
For cases when you don’t yet have a specific flight in mind, the service will also now provide “tips” for specific routes.
“Tips can include things like recommendations for alternate airports or dates,” Google Flights product manager Nabil Naghdy writes in a blog post. “You may also see a new tip telling you about an expected price jump based on historic prices for that route.”
Though Google’s flight-tracking service lacks a standalone mobile app, the company is making its mobile site a little easier to use with the ability to keep tabs on saved flights.
Similarly, Google is updating its hotel search with a new “deals” tab that shows discounted rates as well as when there are lower rates as part of a hotel’s loyalty program.
I write about gadgets, which means everyone asks me what laptop or dishwasher or whatever to buy. I struggle with this, because the answer often starts with,“It depends.” Unless youaskabout a phone. In that case, I usuallysay get an iPhone.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Android. But the phones can be… frustrating. Clever features too often seem overwrought or poorly designed, or they’re buried beneath 15 Verizon apps on the homescreen. The iPhone is the Default Phone, the one you buy when you want a phone, not a project.
The Google Pixel changes that. It offers the look and competence of an iPhone, with a truly great camera and loads of innovative software and services. It changes my answerto the question I hear most often: What phone should you get?
You should get a Pixel.
Talk To Me
Google’s new phone arrivesThursday, starting at $650 for the Pixel and $770 for the Pixel XL. You can get itin blue, black, or silver, with 32 or 128 gigs of storage, from Google or from Verizon. You should buy it directly from Google, and soon. Most models already are backordered.
Not long after I got my Pixel XL, I flewto Colombia for a week’s vacation. It was a very Google-y getaway: I had a Project Fi SIM card, I kept my itinerary in Google Trips, and, given what Verizon charges for international data on my iPhone 7, I relied entirely upon thePixel because Project Fi gives standard rates in most countries.
I’ve always loved Android because it felt so much more alive and connected than iOS. The sharing menus are smarter and more prominent, apps refresh in the background so they’re always up to date, and widgets and notifications are useful and interactive. But iOS was always so much simpler, with shallower learning curves. It’s dictatorial, but painless. The Pixel’s software doesn’t totally close that gap. It’s still too easy to clutter your homescreens with multiple versions of the same icon, and it’s still too hard to find cool features like the thing where you can swipe down on the fingerprint reader to see your notification shade. But the Pixel is the mostcoherent and cohesive Android ever.
I’ve always been an iPhone guy, honestly. I’ve used just about every flagship Android phone ever made and always returned to Apple. That’s partly because I bought an iPhone 4S in 2011 and signed up for iMessage, and leaving iMessage is a monumental pain in the ass.But mostly I liked having a phone I didn’t have to think about. The iPhone always offers great hardware, a good camera, fantastic apps, and data security. I don’t want to worry about my phone, or spend my time tinkering with it. My phone’s too important to risk any extra effort, or worse, unreliability.
But I’m switching. For real. I’m turning off iMessage, re-buying apps, and warning friends that I probably won’t get their texts for a few days. I am a little worried about Google’s long-term commitment to this new hardware push (and the customer support that comes with it), given itspropensity for killing productsthatdon’t get billions of users. But I’m totally in love with the Pixel. I love this camera, I love Google Assistant, I love that I’ll get to use it with a comfy VR headset, I love that I finally get a version of Android that is both powerful and attractive. I love that there’s a kickass Android phone that (probably) doesn’t explode.
The immediate joke everyone, including me, made on Twitter after the Pixel launch was that Google made an iPhone. Well, that’s true. As it turns out, an iPhone running Android is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.
On paper, Google, Apple and Samsung’s flagship phones appear to have the same cameras: 12 megapixels on the back. The front cameras differ in resolution: 8 megapixels for the Pixels, 5 megapixels for the S7 Edge and 7 megapixels for the iPhone 7.
But as I’ve said a million times and I’ll say a million times more: megapixels (aka resolution) aren’t everything. Having more megapixels doesn’t make a camera necessarily better. Resolution matters, but if it’s at the detriment of image quality and performance, what’s the point?
To me, the best phone camera has to be a few things:
Fast to autofocus and capture: Because you don’t want to miss a shot.
Produce realistic colors with wide dynamic range: Because reality is not a comic book
Produce sharp details with little image noise: Because details matter.
Take great low-light photos: Because we like the dark and we like photos in dark places.
The iPhone 7 checks off all of these. Its cameras and image quality are well balanced across the board. The iPhone 7 Plus also has a fancy dual-lens camera that gives it 2x optical zoom and a fancy Portrait mode. Samsung’s Galaxy S7/S7 Edge is better with low-light performance and the camera is faster to launch and autofocus, but it also saturates colors more.
The Pixel and Pixel XL’s cameras falls somewhere in-between the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7. They’re super fast. Images look incredibly crisp and have great dynamic range and low-light performance is damn good. So what’s not to like? I’m not a fan of the oversaturated colors, but that’s just me.
I left all camera settings on their defaults. In the past, I’ve always turned off HDR on all smartphone cameras before shooting with them, but I’ve now had to change that testing method since most people never bother to fiddle with them.
Not only that, but phones rely heavily on software processing to help produce the final photos. HDR+ is so vital to the Pixels’ final image quality that my reviewers guide actually warned me that turning it off would result in poorer-looking photos and slower camera performance. Yikes!
As such, all photos below were shot with HDR set to auto. I couldn’t tell you which ones actually had HDR on or off and I don’t really care because what you see is what the camera considered the best shot.
Way warmer tones
The Pixel cameras’ biggest weakness is color reproduction. Android is doing so much processing to the images that all the colors end up artificially pumped up and oversaturated. I’ve noticed it’s a common symptom that plagues most Android phones like the Galaxy S7 and LG G5 and OnePlus 3.
How is it that in 2016 no phone maker can match the iPhone’s realistic colors?
I personally don’t like the saturated colors. They don’t look real. Skies are always way too blue. Yellows are too deep. Reds all blend into each other. I’ll take photos with lifelike colors over saturated colors any day.
But if you’re into the boosted colors or crank up the saturation in post anyway, you’ll love the Pixel’s pictures.
Compare these two photos below. Just look at how much bluer the sky in the upper right corner is and how much more yellow the building is.
Here’s another example where the blues and yellows are dialed up on the Pixel:
Turning off HDR+ mutes the saturation to some extent, but not by much. And turning HDR+ off on the Pixels isn’t worth it since the camera start to lag a little.
Though most photos are way warmer than on the iPhone, sometimes the rear camera goes cooler for some reason. There just isn’t much consistency for white balance:
But, at least the dynamic range is wider on the Pixel XL. The details on the fountain grass (that’s the fuzzy plant) are softer on the Pixel XL compared to the iPhone 7, but look at how vibrant the purple leaves below it look. The same leaves in the iPhone 7 photo look totally dull in comparison.
Wider field of view
Compared with the iPhone 7, the Pixel XL’s camera has a wider field of view thanks to its wider angle lens.
In English, it means you can fit more into a photo. The Pixel XL’s wider angle lens makes it a more versatile camera for landscape photography.
It’s perfrect for taking photos of tall landscapes, like the Bank of America building below:
The Pixel XL and Galaxy S7 Edge have roughly the same wide field of view:
Both photos look pretty sharp on their respective phone displays. It’s only when you view them at 100% crops on a computer monitor that you can really see some of the differences in sharpness.
Honestly, the differences in sharpness are so minor, nobody but a nerd like me would care.
Here’s another comparison showing how much more the Pixel XL cameras can capture:
And another close-up crop showing the barely noitceable sharpness differences:
Strong selfie game
As for selfies, I think the Pixel XL does a better job than the iPhone 7:
My skin looks smoother and healthier in the Pixel XL selfie since it’s brighter:
Shoots well in low light
The Pixel XL performs quite good night shots. As expected, photos are a yellower than the iPhone 7:
You can click the below comparison to see how the Pixel XL stacks up against the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge:
Notice how the sky is more washed out on the Pixel XL photo and the Galaxy S7 Edge turns all the bricks on the building in the left red:
The Galaxy S7 Edge preserves sharper details of the Empire State Building, but the image noise is greater, too:
See that building just between the water tower and that skinny high-rise condominium on the upper right? The Pixel XL brings the green color out best, but the rest of the image is kind of a wash.
Impressive video stabilization
While the camera attention is almost always focused on still photography, the Pixel XL boasts impressive video recording capabilities. Like most smartphones, it records at up to 4K resolution.
That’s nothing special. What is crazy is how well the camera stabilizes video. Phones like the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 rely on optical image stabilization (OIS) to compensate for shake in different directions, but the Pixels uses electronic image stabilization (EIS) to outstanding effect.
EIS is normally inferior to OIS, but not so on the Pixels. Through software even the shakiest footage appears smooth even smoother than the iPhone 7. Here’s a video stabilization comparison between the Pixel XL and iPhone 7 (both originally shot in 4K and then downsized to 1080p):
Best smartphone cameras ever?
I don’t think so, but they’re so damn close. The color saturation bothers me too much, but again, that’s personal preference. And that’s fine, too, because if you prefer the artificially amplified colors, then the Pixel cameras will be perfect to your eyes.
It feels like a total cop-out to say this, but we’ve reached a point where the differences outside of color reproduction between flagship phone cameras are so negligible that most people will be very happy with the image quality.
We’re all benefitting in the end. Android cameras have finally caught up to the iPhone with comparable performance and picture quality. Years of competition have pushed all phone makers to innovate harder and faster and now we’re all winning because we don’t have to look at crappy photos and videos.
Earlier this year, Uber deployed drones in Mexico City to hover near vehicles stuck in traffic while displaying advertisements for UberPOOL, the company’s carpool service.
The ads said a few different things about the advantages of sharing rides that two and a half years of commuting time could be saved, that “the city would be for you, not for 5.5 million cars.”
The marketing stunt managed to fly under the radar for a few months, but it blew up after Bloomberg published a photo of the drones last week. Outlets called them creepy, badgering, mocking and more. This all makes sense, because they’re disturbing as hell, like something the totalitarian Combine aliens would use to demoralize humankind in Half-Life 2.
To clarify, though, Uber has no grand plans to unleash an army of marketing drones on global civilization. A representative for the company told Mashable a handful of drones were sent out in Mexico City on a single day as a creative marketing exercise, and the company doesn’t plan to do it again.
There’s something kind of refreshing about the tenacity here.
Still, even as the drones remind us of the worst parts of Blade Runner, where a technologically advanced society is rotted by omnipresent marketing and industry run amok, there’s something kind of refreshing about the tenacity here.
We live in an era of ultra subliminal marketing, when algorithms on services like Facebook and Google are deployed to learn as much about us as possible for the sake of delivering content (including ads) with ruthless efficiency. Each of us is marketed to on a daily basis; perhaps without even thinking about it.
For crying out loud: We are at a point in time when we have to consider the very real ethical implications of autonomous carsthat could collect information about (and footage of) their surroundings for the sake of filling corporate coffers.
So, yeah, the drones were a little scary. But they were totally in your face (well, Mexico City’s face), which is certainly more than could be said of the creepy online marketing that pervades our daily lives. Comforting, right? Right!
Google CEO Sundar Pichai calls the Assistant “your own personal Google” and it’s clear the company plans to make it the center all its devices. It’s basically Siri on steroids. And though it’s still very new and limited in what it can do, because it has access to infinite information from Google Search, it’s already smarter than Siri or Cortana by a mile.
1. Better English comprehension
There’s nothing more frustrating than having to repeat yourself to a digital assistant because it didn’t understand you the first time. Or you paused to think, or changed your mind mid-sentence, and the assistant just left you hanging.
Google Assistant really understands conversational English. It almost never fails to understand what I’m saying and can correct itself even when I pause mid-sentence and change my query.
Siri, despite how much better it is today compared to 2011, still has a hard time recognizing the words I tell it. It’s especially worse if you have a strong accent. Google Assistant rarely ever has issues with English accents.
The only caveat to Google Assistant is that it only understands English and Hindi. More languages will no doubt be added in the future, but it sucks if you speak Chinese or Spanish, the first and second most-spoken languages in the world.
(Note: I only tried the Assistant in English as I don’t speak Hindi.)
2. Better answers
You can’t beat the best search engine in town. (Sorry, Bing!) Using Google Assistant is essentially the same as typing in the Google search bar, except you just speak your search. Google Assistant knows 70 billion facts and it’s constantly learning more.
Google Assistant was able to answer a simple trivia question like “How old is the Taj Mahal” but Siri just showed me its location map from Foursquare. That’s not what I asked for, Siri.
3. Universal translator
Google Translate is really great, but typing out what you want translated is a pain. Same is opening an app.
With Google Assistant, you can just say “Translate ______ in [insert language]” and you’ll get instant results read right back to you.
It’s basically like having Star Trek’s universal translator.
Siri can’t translate any language.
4. Easily find videos on YouTube
It should come as no surprise the Google Assistant can find videos on YouTube better than Siri can. Google owns YouTube, after all.
Ask the Assistant to “show the Pen Pineapple Apple Song” or “Show the Nyan Cat Song” or “Show me the new Rogue One trailer” and it’ll find the exact one on YouTube.
Siri misheard “Nyan” for “Yan” and “Indiana cat” before it got it right. For what it’s worth, even though it thought I said “Yan cat” it still showed a bunch of Nyan Cat vids from Bing. Siri also opens iTunes when you ask for a song like PPAP.
5. Find upcoming events
Finding fun things to do is a chore. Nobody wants to spend time doing “research”. That’s why it was so great to see the Google Assistant help find things for me.
Based on my location and time, it was able to show me a list of upcoming concerts and museum art exhibitions.
Siri just searched Bing for some articles that I’d have to comb through. Ugh.
6. Takes selfies on command
Here’s the situation: You spot Kim Kardashian and only have a second to take a selfie. Which digital assistant can you count on to snap a fast one? Google Assistant or Siri?
I have to go with Google Assistant. If I ask it to take a selfie, it launches the camera app and starts a 3-second timer and then snaps a selfie.
Ask Siri and it just launches the camera app and switches to the front-facing camera, but it doesn’t take the photo.
Sorry Siri, but Google wins again.
7. Searches apps
Google Assistant has all the capabilities of Google Now on Tap, which means it’s capable of searching the screen for related information and serving up images, links, videos and more.