Google-made algorithm automatically removes watermarks from stock photos

google, watermark, stock photo

distributors must be squirming in fear. Researchers from Google have developed an algorithm that completely removes watermarks from images in a matter of seconds – and it works entirely automatically.

Photography professionals will often slap watermarks on their images to protect their copyrights and prevent people from using them without their permission. However, the researchers were able to identify a glaring error in this approach and exploit it to negate the visibility of watermarks altogether altogether.

The method – which has been documented in more detail in a paper titled On the Effectiveness of Visible Watermarks [PDF] – essentially takes advantage of the fact that watermarks, by design, are applied to photos in the exact same manner.

While this makes it easier for stock photography markets to establish their brand, Googlers were able to leverage this consistency in order to develop a computer algorithm that is capable of autonomously editing out signature marks out of images.

The technique is explained more extensively in the video below:

The outcome is pretty impressive. For comparison, while manually wiping watermarks from photos could take several minutes even for Photoshop pros, the researchers were able to train a model to perform the same task much quicker – and without any intervention from humans.

The Googlers explain that the trick was to teach the computer how to accurately identify the repeating watermark structures and then fine-tune it how to replace them convincingly.

“If a similar watermark is embedded in many images, the watermark becomes the signal in the collection and the images become the noise, and simple image operations can be used to pull out a rough estimation of the watermark pattern,” Tali Dekel and Michael Rubinstein reveal.

Google Docs has finally made working from my iPad possible

A little thing that makes a big difference

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

In the seemingly never-ending debate over whether or not the iPad is a computer, there is always something that prevents some people from adopting it as a full-time laptop replacement. For some, it might be the multitasking constraints, while others might have issue with the limitations of mobile Safari. In each case, it’s more often than not something specific, which means that while the iPad might be a great laptop replacement for some, it won’t be for everyone.

My hang-up has always been with a specific app: Google Docs. In my job, I spend a lot of time composing and editing other writers within Google Docs. This is mostly driven by decisions outside of my control — I’m personally a huge fan of Microsoft Word, especially on the iPad, but at work we use Google’s apps for collaboration, so Google Docs it is.

The problem with this is that Google’s mobile Docs apps, whether for iOS or Android, have always kind of sucked, at least in comparison to their desktop counterparts. Sure, I could use Docs to compose an article or note on an iPad, or read something that’s been shared with me. I could even make edits to a document created by someone else. But Docs’ best collaboration feature, Suggested Edits, was never properly supported in its mobile apps.

If you spend any time editing other writers’ drafts, Suggested Edits is a game-changing feature. It allows you to make changes to a document without erasing the prior text or formatting. Once I’ve added a bunch of suggested edits to a draft, the writer can then review them, choose to accept or reject them, or further edit the suggestion. This can be done all at once or for each individual suggestion. It’s basically a digital version of the famous red pen that print editors used on drafts for decades. It’s no surprise that Suggested Edits completely changed our editing workflow for the better when it was introduced in 2014.

The issue with Suggested Edits was that it only worked on the desktop version of Google Docs, and not on the iOS app. The best that Google offered was a way for me to see suggestions other people made and approve or reject them — there was no way for me to suggest changes to a document from my iPad. (Trying to access a Google Docs file in Safari or Chrome on the iPad presented roadblocks as well, as Docs is even less capable in a mobile browser than it is as a mobile app.) This basically meant that while I could do many parts of my job — read, write, email, Slack, etc. — with my iPad, I could never rely on it fully.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

That all changed this week when Google finally released full support for Suggested Edits in the mobile Docs apps. With this update, I can now read, approve, reject, and even add edit suggestions to a Docs file, all from my iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard. I can now say that I can do the majority of my job with my iPad and I don’t necessarily need a laptop anymore.

I’m not interested in giving up my laptop anytime soon — it’s still more comfortable to work on than an iPad and it’s more efficient to use when I’m juggling a bunch of tasks at once. I also occasionally have to work with RAW image files, which is still too much of a chore with the iPad.

But it does mean that I can now leave my laptop at the office and still get all of my work done on my commute home or later in the evening. I don’t need to schlep a full laptop around — my iPad and its keyboard are enough to do the vast majority of tasks I need to accomplish.

Right now, there are still plenty of reasons why someone would prefer to work on a laptop instead of an iPad. But it seems that each day, those reasons are becoming less and less pronounced. For me, Google Docs was the tipping point. For someone else, it might be the improved multitasking slated to arrive with iOS 11. Or it might be a powerful video or image editing app that has yet to come out.

Once you get over your specific roadblock, it becomes easier to see why devices like the iPad, with touchscreen input, always-on cellular connectivity, and far superior portability, feel much more like the bold future of computing than a traditional laptop with its worse battery life and portability and legacy operating system.

It all comes down to using the iPad for what we’ve traditionally considered “work”: sitting down at a desk, doing things with files, and collaborating with others. Once enough of these frustrations have gone away, it’s the things the iPad is better than a laptop at that’ll make the real difference.

Tiny robots crawl through mouse’s stomach to heal ulcers

a mouse feeling fine
Tiny robots can heal him

Mark Bowler/Nature Picture Library/Getty

Tiny robotic drug deliveries could soon be treating diseases inside your body. For the first time, micromotors – autonomous vehicles the width of a human hair – have cured bacterial infections in the stomachs of mice, using bubbles to power the transport of antibiotics.

“The movement itself improves the retention of antibiotics on the stomach lining where the bacteria are concentrated,” says Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego, who led the research with Liangfang Zhang.

Learn more about the future of robots: See our expert talk at New Scientist Live

In mice with bacterial stomach infections, the team used the micromotors to administer a dose of antibiotics daily for five days. At the end of the treatment, they found their approach was more effective than regular doses of medicine.

The tiny vehicles consist of a spherical magnesium core coated with several different layers that offer protection, treatment, and the ability to stick to stomach walls. After they are swallowed, the magnesium cores react with gastric acid to produce a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors around. This process briefly reduces acidity in the stomach. The antibiotic layer of the micromotor is sensitive to the surrounding acidity, and when this is lowered, the antibiotics are released.

Suppress stomach acid

Without this reduction, antibiotics and protein-based pharmaceuticals can be destroyed before they do any good. This mechanism means that drugs normally used to treat bacterial infections, such as ulcers, normally have to be taken alongside proton pump inhibitors that suppress gastric acid production. Long-term use of proton pump inhibitors can lead to some nasty side effects including headaches, diarrhoea, fatigue and even anxiety or depression. So being able to use tiny vehicles instead is a big step forward.

After 24 hours, the stomach acid of the mice returned to normal levels, and as the micromotors are mostly made of biodegradable materials, they were dissolved by the stomach, leaving no harmful residues.

“It’s a really nifty and impressive application. Micromotors are still new, but their impact will be big,” says Thomas Mallouk at Pennsylvania State University.

Samuel Sanchez at Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems says the new work is “pushing the field of micro-motors forward” and shows the benefits of using micromotors over traditional approaches.

The next steps are to look at a larger animal study, followed by eventual trials in humans. “There is still a long way to go, but we are on a fantastic voyage,” says Wang.

Journal reference: Nature CommunicationsDOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00309-w

Medical microbots

Micromotors have huge promise in many different areas. Earlier this month, for example, researchers demonstrated that they could be used to propel drugs through the blood-brain barrier. Most drugs never make it from the bloodstream into the brain – the blood-brain barrier is just too good at its job. However, by using micromotors fuelled by glucose, the team increased penetration by 400 per cent. This could have big implications for treating diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

The tiny vehicles also look like they will be effective for neutralising biological and chemical weapons like sarin gas. Normally, large machinery is required to help mix the neutralising compounds in a way that renders the weapons useless, but this machinery is often not available in the field. Wang found that using around 1.5 million micromotors – about 15 millilitres’ worth, was as effective as using a clunky mechanical mixer.

iOS 11: The 11 best features of Apple’s new software

iOS 11 is the first Apple mobile software to have separate iPad features CREDIT: APPLE

pple is due to release the latest version of its iPhone and iPad operating system next month alongside the iPhone 8.

The new software, unveiled in June, features a host of upgrades including iPhone-to-iPhone payments and a “do not disturb while driving” mode.

The new iOS update is already available to developers in a beta test version and is set to launch next month as the software for the iPhone 8.

 Here are the 11 best features in the new iOS.

Peer-to-peer Apple Pay

Apple is adding a highly anticipated feature to Apple Pay, its payments system, that allows users to pay one another within iMessage. The peer-to-peer payments can be made and verified through biometric security, such as Touch ID or Face ID. The service will be available across iOS devices and the Apple Watch when iOS 11 is released next month.

New-look control centre

Apple is refreshing its iPhone Control Centre in iOS 11. The redesign has a simpler look, fitting on a single page with sliders and key functions.

Control Centre Apple iOS 11
Control Centre in Apple iOS 11 CREDIT: APPLE

Using 3D touch, users can press for further details and more depth of options and information. The overall look is de-cluttered compared with iOS 10.


Apple is adding to Maps a speed limit guidance and lane navigation while driving.

Maps in iOS 11 will also include detailed floor plans of airports and shopping centres, allowing users to better plan their trips. This will be coming to London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports initially.

In addition to the update in Maps, Apple is rumoured to have created an augmented reality tool that could guide users around by superimposing directions onto the real world.

Do not disturb while driving

Apple will introduce a new driver safety feature in iOS 11. The feature, called “Do Not Disturb While Driving”, can detect when owners are driving and triggers the new mode.

It turns the user’s iPhone screen black and gives them the option to send automatic replies telling contacts they are on the road.

Do not disturb while driving
Do not disturb while driving CREDIT: APPLE

Smarter Siri

Apple’s Siri virtual assistant is getting a makeover in iOS 11. The new Siri, with more natural male and female voices, can translate speech, including English, French, German Chinese, Spanish and Italian. It can also be used for task management, to take notes and to scan QR codes.

The intelligent assistant will monitor what users do across their devices to learn how we use apps and services. In iOS 11 Siri can spot interests, such as what news articles you read, and make recommendations from these.

The HomePod speaker will go one sale in the UK in December 
The HomePod speaker will go one sale in the UK in December  CREDIT: APPLE

The upgraded Siri will also power Apple’s HomePod speaker, which will go on sale in the UK in December.

Redesigned messenger

Apple’s iMessage will now synchronise messages across devices, so deleting a message in one app will delete it across all devices. It will also feature a new toolbar for emoji and stickers within iMessage.

Another major update is the addition of Apple Pay as an app to iMessage. Users can instantly send payments through iMessage. If another users sends a message asking for a payment, Apple Pay can immediately recommend making the payment so you can quickly reimburse friends.

Better camera and photos

The iPhone camera is getting a series of updates in iOS . It will be improved with better compression for captured videos and pictures that will offer the same image quality at half the size on the user’s device.

Apple Photo
Apple Photo  CREDIT: APPLE

Apple has implemented changes to its portrait mode, including better low light photography through its dual cameras. Live photos will now enable “Loop” and “Bounce” effects to create continuous video loops.

The Photos App will also be able to create memory movies based around memories, photos of pets or friends.

Updates for iPad

Apple has taken inspiration from macOS in iOS 11 for iPad. The updated software includes drag and drop, a new way to switch between apps and a tool bar that are all reminiscent of their equivalent functions on Mac computers.

The tool bar can predict what apps it thinks users are going to want to open next, and drag and drop lets them open side bars easily.

iOS 11 for iPad also includes a files section that pulls all files on a device from Apple and third party apps. It can bring files from OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox and puts all files into the one place for easy organisation.

Apple Music

Apple has redesigned the Apple Music app, which now has a clear hint of Spotify inspiration, for its upcoming software.

Users are able to see recommendations, what their friends are listening to and create profiles that friends can follow. It also now has support for Shazam.

Augmented reality support

iOS 11 includes a kit for developers to make augmented reality (AR) products for the iPhone and iPad. Users will be able to use the camera to see virtual content built on to of real-world settings for gaming, shopping or creative design.

App Store

For the first time in its nine-year history Apple has redesigned its App store. The new-look download shop includes sections for featured apps and games, with articles and videos exploring more detail of their development, story and design.

The pros and cons of a cellular Apple Watch

Do we really need an Apple Watch with LTE? We address the rumors with a pros and cons list

apple watch heart rate

As summer wends on, so too do the rumors of upcoming Apple products. This time it’s the Apple Watch that has gotten the spotlight, with word that the next version of the wearable might include cellular connectivity.

That’s been held up as a missing piece of functionality by those competitors that do include LTE support in their own smartwatches, but it’s hardly been an unequivocal demand amongst current owners of the Apple Watch. Is this a natural evolution for the product, or a case of trying to find some additional features to drive sales?

The case for cellular

The benefits of cellular connectivity on an Apple Watch are pretty clear-cut. Rather than having to carry both your Watch and your iPhone around with you, you could leave the house with simply your Apple Watch. There’s already some functionality that works without your phone being present—Apple Pay, for example, or fitness tracking—but this expands that roster even further.

Apple Watch 2

There’s a particular benefit to fitness users: runners can, for example, stream music from Apple Music or another service, rather than fussing with syncing music to the Watch’s local storage. They can also continue to get notifications while they work out, including, presumably, iMessages and emails—though whether that’s a benefit or a distraction will probably differ from person to person.

More recent reports suggest that the Watch won’t be able to make phone calls on its own, though VoIP apps may be a possibility. I’d assume that FaceTime Audio calls would be perfectly fine, and that may cover the bulk of eventualities; add Skype into the mix, and it’s about as good as having a normal phone.

From a strict sales perspective, it’s also possible that some customers have held off buying an Apple Watch until it does include cellular connectivity, so the addition of that major piece of functionality could spur sales. (Presumably there was a similar intent from adding GPS to the Apple Watch in Series 2, though it’s unclear whether or not that truly did buoy sales of the Watch.)

The case against cellular

But here’s the biggest question for me: does the Apple Watch as it is currently really call out for cellular connectivity? Ask most current owners of an Apple Watch how much they really use it for, and I guarantee that the answers are far more limited than the full capabilities of the Watch. But little of that has to do with the lack of cellular connectivity on the Apple Watch—I don’t think most Apple Watch users are annoyed that they can’t get their notifications when their phone isn’t nearby, because most of the time their phone is nearby.

That’s before we even add in actual engineering challenges. Cellular radios are a substantial drain on battery life—while I’m sure Apple will attempt to make that as efficient as possible, the Watch’s longevity is probably still going to take a hit. And adding another chip to the Watch seems likely to make it at least somewhat bulkier, though it’s impossible to rule out Apple finding a way to somehow shoehorn it into the existing design.

Finally, there’s also the financial question. Not only would I expect a cellular-enabled model to be more expensive than current offerings, but no cellular provider is going to give away data for free, so there’s likely to be an additional monthly data cost as well. Many providers let you add a tablet to your plan for $10 per month; I can’t see it being any less than a $5 monthly charge for the Apple Watch.

It’s not so much that the cost is outrageous compared to what tech customers are use to spending, but there’s a strong question of whether all of those tradeoffs are worth the seemingly meager bonus from adding cellular connectivity to the Apple Watch.

More models

My gut tells me that if the Apple Watch Series 3 is announced this fall, it will follow the pattern of the iPad: there will be a base level Watch that includes Wi-Fi-only—perhaps a revamped version of the Series 2, if Apple follows its previous pattern—and then cellular connectivity as an additional add-on. Then again, the Apple Watch has had a surprising amount of variability in its product line in the not quite two-and-a-half years since its release, so perhaps Apple will change the dynamic once again.

But all the rumors swirling around this particular topic have gotten me wondering if perhaps they’re drowning out other potential additions to the next version of the Apple Watch. GPS was the marquee feature of the Series 2 Apple Watch, but it also came with better waterproofing and a faster processor. It seems likely that if a brand-new model of the Apple Watch is incorporating a feature as significant as cellular connectivity that Apple might have yet more surprises for the Watch up its sleeve. As it were.

Amazon expands SDK to bring Alexa to more manufacturers and devices

It’s about to become less of a puzzle to join the dots

Amazon expands SDK to bring Alexa to more manufacturers and devices
What? They’ve named a vapid humourless robot after ME?

AMAZON HAS announced a whole series of developer tools to make it easier to add its voice assistant Alexa into consumer products.

Amazon has always seen the Echo range as a flagship product, not a be all and end all to the Alexa ecosystem, and as we’ve already seen this week, many manufacturers are starting to take up the challenge.

The Alexa Voice Service Device Software Development Kit (SDK) is already being used by over 50 companies and is now open to all and is even posted to GitHub.

In a blog post, the company explains: “The AVS Device SDK provides C++-based libraries that enable your device to process audio inputs and triggers, establish persistent connections with AVS, and handle all Alexa interactions. The SDK also includes the capability agents that leverage the AVS API to handle core Alexa functionality, including speech recognition and synthesis, and other capabilities such as streaming media, timers and alarms, notifications, weather reports, and thousands of custom skills.”

“The SDK also includes the capability agents that leverage the AVS API to handle core Alexa functionality, including speech recognition and synthesis, and other capabilities such as streaming media, timers and alarms, notifications, weather reports, and thousands of custom skills.”

There are tutorials and a prototype app for Raspberry Pi available so you can build proof-of-concept for how to incorporate the chatty cloud companion into your gadgets.

“We are excited to bring the AVS Device SDK to developers to make it easier to add voice to their products and get to market faster,” said Priya Abani, director Amazon Alexa. “As we continue to open up new tools and resources to help commercial developers build more Alexa-enabled devices, we’re offering customers more choice around where to access Alexa.”

Amazon’s strategy is smart, to say the least. The company knows that by making Alexa a cornerstone of people’s lives, they will make money through other parts of the business – shopping, streaming, advertising and of course Amazon Web Services (AWS) which remains the only profitable arm of the business according to recent figures.

Similarly, it’s Amazon Fire tablet range locks customers into the Amazon ecosystem and these two in combination are where Amazon hopes, quite reasonably, will be the key to furthering its dominance of its markets.

Alexa is leaps and bounds ahead of its nearest rival Google Assistant at present, but with Apple planning to up its Siri game along with the launch of the iPhone 8, we can expect to see these missing features like multi-account and multi room music added quite soon.

Video: New Genesis app lets owners control cars via Google Assistant

Hyundai’s upscale brand is taking a cue from its parenting company and giving its customers more of the added connectivity they love. Several months after the automaker released a Blue Link app for the Google Assistant, its luxury subsidiary Genesis Motors has made its lineup of cars compatible with the popular voice assistant as well.

Through the new Genesis app for the Google Assistant, all G80 and G90 owners hooked into Genesis Connected Services can use voice commands to start up their car, adjust climate controls, lock and unlock their doors, send a destination to their vehicle’s navigation system, and operate the horn and lights all from the comfort of one’s home. The app can be remotely operated using Google Home, Google Assistant for the iPhone or Android smartphone, and simple text commands.

With the new Genesis app for Google Assistant, car owners can remotely set their vehicle's climate controls.

With the new Genesis app for Google Assistant, car owners can remotely set their vehicle’s climate controls.

Genesis Connected Services is already usable through both Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant as well as the Genesis smartwatch app. The integration of Google Assistant should hopefully attract more luxury buyers with both an inner tech junkie and desire to control their car’s basic functions while still sprawled out on the sofa.

The Genesis app for the Google Assistant is currently available through Genesis Connected Services packages. All Genesis vehicles come with three years of free Connected Services, after which there are paid plans for its continued usage.