Tag Archives: AI

Ebook news digest: artificial intelligence in writing, fact-checking for non-fiction, digital media trends

2018-07-02

News on ebooks, writing and digital media

Mechanical typewriter in library. Photo by Nana B AgyeiPhoto by Nana B Agyei.

How Artificial Intelligence is Changing Writing

Daily Writing Tips makes a case for six ways AI may change the business of writing. Numbers 3 and 4 are tasks that may quickly gain AI skills, and few writers will complain.

Amazon is turning its Fire tablets into portable Echo Shows

Ars Technica reports of a major new feature in Amazon Fire HD tablets. When the Fire HD 8 or the HD 10 tablet is inserted into a new dedicated 40 dollar Charging Dock stand, the tablet becomes an access point (with a large tablet display) to the Alexa voice assistant system. The software of the tablet must be updated, but Amazon sync should do it automatically. Audiobooks may benefit from this.

Fact or friction: the problem with factchecking in the book world

The Guardian discusses nonfiction books that publishers don’t fact-check. Generally, the writer is trusted to be the authority of the subject matter (that’s why the publisher signed a publishing agreement), and therefore, knows what he or she is writing about. Naturally, there are authors who try to cut corners, but they tend to be quickly caught in the age of digital media.

‘Don’t take your mobile phone – and avoid bandits’: Dervla Murphy’s lessons from a lifetime of adventure

The Telegraph has managed to find travel writer Dervla Murphy in Ireland after she spent 50 years more or less on the road. She has fascinating stories and valuable tips for all travelers.

The Best of Helsinki – The Sights, Activities, and Local Favorites

    Here is a travel guide to the city where the President of Russia Vladimir Putin and the President of U.S. Donald Trump meet in July. The presidents have settled their meeting place to be in Helsinki, Finland. Likely reasons for the decision to meet in Scandinavia are safety, choice of venues, and reliable management of the events. In addition, most residents are out of town enjoying their summer vacations, so traffic will flow easily.

Six predictions about digital trends in 2018

Business Insider and Emarketer have analyzed Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report, and concluded that there are six trends above others. They include mobile devices driving the business on the web, breakthrough of voice control and China becoming a major player online.

BlackBerry Key2 vs iPhone: Keyboard Face-Off

Many writers like to instantly write down ideas and brief drafts when a thought pops up in the head. Often, it means typing on a smartphone touch screen. Blackberry has brought physical keyboard back to its smartphone, promising more convenient typing. Tom’s Guide compared the new Blackberry Key2 to the iPhone. Even Blackberry is not what it used to be.

From virtual reality to ebooks, the future of digital media in schools is a total toss-up

GeekWire visited a conference in Chicago that was focused on educational technology. The report from the conference is not convinced technology in schools in the US is moving to the right direction. Well, many European countries have already established methods to apply digital media to education, so it is doable.

Talk to Books artificial intelligence service finds good reads from Google Books

2018-04-16

Google has many projects where the company develops artificial intelligence services for tasks that some day will help both businesses and daily life of ordinary people. One of Google’s research projects, Talk to Books, can help book readers and writers to find a good read they perhaps didn’t know existed.

Google AI service: Talk to Books, home screen
In a nutshell, here is how Talk to Books online service works at the moment. Type a sentence that describes the problem you have or what you are looking for. It is important to type a sentence, not keywords alone. The principle how Talk to Books works is different from a search engine that only finds matches for keywords.

The big difference and big promise of artificial intelligence (AI) software is that it can, to a certain extent, determine meanings. With Talk to Books, the AI system breaks the typed sentences into vectors using a hierarchy of parameters. The system has been trained and is supposed to develop further with time. Google Research Blog explains the method in more detail.

Once the AI system behind Talk to Books has determined what you want, it searches 100,000 books in Google library, looking for content that discusses the theme you are concerned with. Then, the service spits out its suggestions to you.
Google Talk to Books answers questions with books
I tried Talk to Books. The first questions I asked were relatively short. I received poor answers. Then I wrote longer descriptions what I wanted, and lo and behold, I got answers that I actually could use (like, I logged on to a bookstore to see if a suggested book was available as an ebook – it was so interesting).
Google Talk to Books artificial intelligence service finds books
As Ray Kurzweil, a visionary and technology pioneer, who now works for Google, said responses from Talk to Books may surprise you. The system can find something you didn’t know existed but is relevant for your question.

This is obviously one of the first steps in using artificial intelligence in a way that directly helps writers and readers. I would expect that the system is built so that it improves its answers as users feed in more questions. Of course, if Google expands the catalog of books that provide answers, they improve as well. For instance, travel related questions are not worth asking at the moment.

Consider your privacy, however, when you ask questions from a Google service.

Publishing year 2017 in review: trends, analysis, developments

2017-12-16

It is not business as usual in the world of digital media. Ebooks and other digital media content products are still taking their first steps in the global and local markets. Many things in book business and digital technology changed in 2017 and will change in the coming years. It is only 10 years since the launch of Amazon Kindle, but 500 years from Gutenberg’s invention.

Book as a concept has proven it has its place – independent of the format. Year 2017 didn’t challenge that, although new ways of enjoying a book became more popular. The following key development points in publishing are reviewed primarily from the digital side of book publishing.

a speaker and audience at Frankfurt book fair

Ebook markets continue to grow

One publishing industry expert claims that the ebook market is shrinking, whereas another expert says it is growing. Both experts can be right when they only look at their own data sources. Big US publishers have lost ebook market share to small publishers and self-publishers. No one knows the actual sales numbers of indie publishers and self-publishers, but one can always estimate, and it looks like a large, growing market that is eating market share from big publishers.

Data collected from other than English-language markets indicate a healthy and innovative digital market development, for instance, in Continental Europe, Spanish-language markets and China. Even France is accepting ebooks and ereaders.

Audiobook is the fastest growing format

Book lovers in English-speaking markets are familiar with Audible audiobooks, but in many others parts of the world, Swedish startup Storytel is the reason for rapid growth of audiobooks. Storytel has been so successful that it has acquired traditional books publishers in order to secure rights for as many books as possible.

A key development that will have an effect on audiobook market is computer applications that can read aloud texts. They may be individual applications running on a tablet or smartphone, or voice assistants, like Alexa or Siri. The technology is pretty good already, and as it develops, it may lower product prices.

Attempts to automate writing may be more common than we are aware of

For years, we have heard of projects that have tried to automate the reporting of sports results and simple news reports. Meanwhile, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) software has reached a level where it can be applied to simple writing tasks. The Washington Post is already using a robot writer, and clever programmers have created an algorithm that can imitate Harry Potter fiction.

Should a writer be worried? No. Someone must produce the source material for writing robots and review their output, among other things.

Ereaders are still here and still wanted by avid readers

I am the first one to admit that I expected tablets and large screen smartphones (phablets) to replace ereaders as ebook reading devices, but it hasn’t happened. In some markets, like the US and the UK, people who want an ereader already have one or two, and the market is saturated. In many other large markets, such as Germany, France, Spain and China, the market for ereaders is growing because the market for ebooks is still growing.

A key development during 2017 was the emergence of large screen ereaders. Devices from 7 to 13 inches are now available. Some of these have a stylus for making it easy to jot down notes on documents and books. A development path from one purpose device (reading ebooks) to a device that is designed for working with documents maybe going on.

Reading has moved to mobile devices

An ereader and a tablet is a mobile device, but the big hype of recent years has been reading on smartphone screens. Wattpad, a reading and writing community of young generations, says about 90% of its users read on mobile devices.

Digital reading is most popular from 5-inch smartphone screens to 10 tablet screens. It means that fixed layout ebooks still face challenges that reflowing ebooks can manage.

EPUB3 didn’t take off (and probably won’t next year, either)

Two ebook formats dominate the digital book markets: Amazon’s proprietary Kindle format and the industry standard EPUB. The advanced, multimedia-enabled EPUB3 ebook format was announced years ago, but is hasn’t made a commercial breakthrough. In February 2017, the organization behind EPUB, IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), was merged into the W3C (the organization that sets the standards for the World Wide Web). New working groups, committees and strategies have been formed, and the result is that a high level agreement for the next standard EPUB4 is in the works. EPUB4 is defined as a subset of Portal Web Publication that merges HTML and EPUB.

The euphoria of self-publishing is settling down

In large English-language markets, a small number of self-publishers have made it big. Their books have been produced into successful Hollywood movies and publishers are competing for their next manuscripts. The laws of economics haven’t changed, however, as indie authors are discovering that it is just as difficult to write a bestseller as it was before. Interest in self-publishing may be settling down in the US, but in many other large markets, such as Spanish-speaking countries, Continental Europe or in China, self-publishing is only beginning to take off.

Newspapers and magazines that have reinvented themselves are making it

Attempts to turn a newspaper or magazine web site visitors into subscribers who pay for the digital content on a web site have largely failed. Only a few strongest brands have become successful when they have started to charge readers for digital content. Newspapers and magazines, like The New York Times and The Economist deliver so much value to readers that visitors are willing to pay for news stories, and especially, long reports, analysis and background stories of major events. Some other publications have discovered their own strategies for thriving in the digital era while maintaining their valuable printed heritage.

Smart computer applications automatically write news, scientific papers and even Harry Potter sequels

2017-12-13

Long before the term artificial intelligence (AI) was invented, clever computer programmers tried various methods to automatically produce texts for different purposes. Early attempts have been unsuccessful, but now, technology has developed so much that serious attempts for automating the writing of news reports and scientific papers are underway. What does it mean for authors?

keyboard on fire
Computer-generated brief news reports are perhaps more widely used than we are aware. For instance, The Washington Post newspaper is using a news robot called the Heliograf.

The robot working for the newspaper is not fully autonomous, but writes reports in cooperation with news editors. The editors have created templates for political news stories that feature key phrases for particular events, like elections. Heliograf is connected to a source of structured data where it can access the required data for reporting. The robot searches the database, matches the discovered relevant data with the corresponding phrases in the template, and inserts the data into the template for publishing a news report.

It is not a coincidence that the Heliograf robot was developed and taken into use after Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, took over the newspaper. With the help of the robot, The Washington Post wants to publish more news stories that can reach small local audiences that previously were out-of-reach for a major newspaper.

SciNote, an enterprise that provides scientists cloud services where they can store all their notes, papers, references, ideas – anything that has to do with their research has also chosen the human-robot collaboration method for its automatic writing application. Slate talked to the people behind the Scinote’s software technology and found out that already 20 000 scientists use the company’s cloud service.

Manuscript Writer is Scinote’s automatic tool for drafting a scientific paper from pieces of data. The data must be structured and organized by the researcher for the Manuscript Writer to be able to do its job, but that’s exactly what Scinote’s cloud service enforces researchers to do. The result from the Manuscript Writer is a draft paper for further work, review and editing.

A community known as Botnik has developed a writing application that can automatically continue your work once you feed the robot enough source material for analysis. That’s how Botnik has written a sequel for Harry Potter, TV show manuscripts, advertisements, and other texts. Below a page from Botnik’s Potter adaptation (photo by Botnik.org).
Botnik bot writer, Harry Potter variation, photo by Botnik.org

Most writers (and all internet users) use artificial intelligence applications daily without paying any attention to them. A search engine is a very clever piece of technology that constantly learns more about you and what you want in order to return better search results. Facebook and other social media services constantly follow and listen to you in order to tailor their newsfeeds and ads to match your desires.

The software algorithms used in writing robots and in social media services know what to do because they have enough data to start their work, and when they are fed with more data, they can improve the results.

Can a robot write books like The Lord of the Rings, Catch 22 or The Innovator’s Dilemma? No. At the moment, a robot can write something where the results are known in advance (a fixed number of possible outcomes), and the robot fills in the key data; a robot organizes a large set of data into a document; or produces variations derived from an existing source text.

Google Pixel 2 and Clips cameras have special potential for travel photography

2017-10-07

Google has introduced two cameras that will interest travel photographers: the camera in the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL smartphones, and the unique intelligent camera in the Google Clips product. Both cameras make use of artificial intelligence software technology, setting them apart from competition at the moment.

Google Pixel 2 smartphone with 12.2 megapixel camera and AIGoogle Pixel 2 smartphone.

Google Pixel 2

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are high-end smartphones from Google that come with a 12.2 megapixel camera. The special feature in the camera is that it lets you capture images like photos taken on a professional camera where the subject is in the foreground and the background is magically blurred. Usually, that kind of images are taken with SLR cameras that come with changeable lenses and sharp optics, but the Google Pixel 2 can do it with a fixed lens.

The Google Pixel 2 comes with optical image (OIS) stabilization feature, a rare but valuable thing to have on a smartphone camera. The feature automatically reduces shake and movement when taking a photo, resulting in sharper images and better pictures in low light.

The camera on the Pixel 2 smartphone uses artificial intelligence software technology to create the blur effect. The software recognizes the main subject in the frame, and slightly fades the background. In order to recognize what is foreground and background in an image, the Pixel 2 combines two images (the photographer takes only one frame and doesn’t notice anything) allowing the software to conclude the depth. The result looks the same as a portrait photo taken on a dedicated high-end camera.

Google is not the first company to apply this technique to smartphone photographs: the Apple iPhone X has the same feature.
Google Clips camera with intelligent photo capture

Google Clips

The Google Clips is a totally new kind of camera. After you switch it on, the camera takes photographs by itself. It doesn’t snap a continuous stream of images at preset intervals as some life-capture cameras do, but the Clips monitors what is happening around it, who is in the frame, and is the situation worth taking a picture. The magic is achieved by artificial intelligence software that decides when to take a photo. It also decides the settings for the image capture.

For instance, set the Clips on a kitchen table, and it learns the faces of a family. Then, it can take photos when something interesting in the kitchen is happening.

The Clips is a standalone camera, which means that it doesn’t need a connection anywhere to work. All the intelligence is inside the unit, and all the photos are stored in its internal storage.

It is the camera owner’s choice which images he or she decides to share once the photos have been imported to a PC from the Clips. Battery life is only three hours. The price is $250.

What is Artificial Intelligence and what it has to do with a camera?

Google Clips camera with artificial intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a software technology that seems to be able to make conclusions like a human. If ordinary software applications can only respond “yes” or “no” to a question, AI software systems are trained to take into account more variables. Speech recognition and image recognition are the first popular applications for the AI technology. Since AI systems are made of software, humans have coded them, and the quality of the systems depends on the engineering skills of the system designers.

What does this all mean to people who are photographing their travels?

First, it means that photographers who are carrying multiple cameras and/or lenses may consider leaving a camera or a lens home. Since the smartphone, in this case the Pixel 2, can take good enough close-up images of subjects, for non-professional photographers it is an easy decision to drop extra weight from the luggage.

Second, the Google Clips has new kind of potential for the future. At the moment, Google says the camera learns the faces of a family, and the product is focused on delivering photographic moments for the family. That’s fine. The potential is that once the camera and its AI system are developed further, they may be used for other applications as well.

Street photography is an obvious application for the Clips. Capturing images of street life, subjects in animal parks, events in leisure parks, or what happened during a cycling trip or kayak tour are some examples of the other applications.

The Google video for the Clips camera that highlights the family aspect of the product:

Ebook news digest: become a better writer, AI-powered camera, best ereaders of 2017

2017-05-11

News on ebooks, writing and photography

woman leaning on pile of books
5 Tips for Becoming a Better (and More Consistent) Writer
Inc.

Tips for people who would like to begin to write fiction or nonfiction, but haven’t had any idea how to start.

Wanderlust: The Case for Writing and Travel
Writers Helping Writers

Angela Ackerman makes the case for all writers to travel in order to develop their craft – not only travel writers who have to do it for work, anyhow.

European Commission’s New E-book Rules Worry Booksellers
Publisher’s Weekly

EU is a trade union, among other things, and is being developed towards a truly single market. Digital goods cross borders easily if geo-blocking (preventing access from people from other countries) is not used by online stores.

This AI-Powered Camera Only Shoots ‘Award-Winning’ Photos
PetaPixel

When something is trending in the world of technology, it triggers all kinds of strange ideas with people. A photographer claims he has built a camera with artificial intelligence (AI) software. It is fully automatic, and supposed to take only perfect pictures. Oh, dear.

The highlights of the French Riviera explained
The Gems of Nice

When you get there, remember it is Cote d’Azur (not Riviera) in French. Visual guide to Monaco, Cannes, Eze, St Paul de Vence, Antibes, Grasse, and many other beautiful places.

Where the news industry went wrong: it got hooked on advertising
Jennifer Baker

Working as a freelancer in the news business has taught this writer a thing or two, and one of them is that advertising is not the future of financing the news. We’ll see.

Best E-Book Readers of 2017
Cnet

The usual suspects continue to dominate the rankings for the best ereaders.

OpenAIRE as the basis for a European Open Access Platform
OpenAire Blog

“A public platform for the dissemination of research will become essential infrastructure to finally fully integrate research publishing and dissemination into the research lifecycle.” We wish success to this ambitious enterprise.


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Ebook news digest: ever-important editing, ebooks from grocery store, tools for digital nomads

2016-10-19

Ebook news digest October 19, 2016

aldi logo on bag, tablet
As American editors sharpen their pencils, some advice on writing short (Poynter)

We still have great difficulties in understanding how Stieg Larsson’s mega-successful Millennium series books escaped the publishing editor’s wordprocessor. There is a lot of meaningless writing in those books, although the excitement always returns, and again is a pleasure to read. Books and articles usually improve when an experienced editor reviews them. Poynter has some good tips on how you can review your own writing.

Aldi starts e-book service in Germany (Ecommerce News)

Aldi is a large grocery store chain that has expanded from its home market Germany to many other European countries, Australia and to the US. The store concept gives shopppers a simple, no-frills, almost warehouse-like feeling. But the prices at Aldi stores tend to be very competitive. In Germany, Aldi already has a digital music subscription service, and it is now expanding its service selection to ebooks as well. Aldi will offer one million ebook titles in Germany on October 20th. A 7-inch Medion tablet for 129 euros is marketed as well by Aldi.

The best apps and tools for digital nomads (BestTechie)

Not everyone, but many digital nomads are entrepreneurs or freelancers who run their own businesses. Being a nomad means moving from one place to another a few times a year, or even monthly. Time is the most precious resource for a freelancer, and that’s why most of them have understood the importance of having the best tools for the job. Tools for time management, budget management, travel management and even relationship management are valuable. BestTechie’s article has listed a few key apps for digital nomads, but if you want more, see this article.

10 Writing Prompts To Get You Started On Your Next Manuscript (Bustle)

Writing is a creative process – although Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts say that soon machines can write news reports that are as good as humans usually write. Nonetheless, writing starts from an idea about the theme. What to write, from which angle, and what is the message? Bustle introduces 10 prompts to get started on a manuscript, but we would like to recommend them for article writing instead. Writing a book is such a large project that authors think, re-think, and review several times the ideas and concepts what the book will be about. If you have a plan for a non-fiction book, maybe we can help you to take the next step.

Bus driver caught using e-reader on the job (CTV News)

Talking or texting on a mobile phone while driving is not news anymore, but it still is a dangerous thing to do behind the wheel. When a driver is caught reading an ebook on an ereader, that’s news. Even more so because the driver was the chauffeur of a bus full of people. A passenger discovered the bus driver’s reading habit and took a photo to prove it. We have a question to the police: would it be all right for the bus driver to listen to audiobooks while driving?

News report on the bus driver’s ebook reading habit: