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Google Search Gets Smarter, China Rolls Out 5G Services & More News

This week in tech news: Google search gets smarter, WhatsApp sues tech firm for cyber espionage and China rolls out 5G services to narrow tech gap.

Tech news you need to know, in three minutes or less.

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Google search gets smarter so queries don't have to

The world's most popular Internet search engine said its latest refinement uses machine learning to improve how it handles conversationally phrased English-language requests. "We're making a significant improvement to how we understand queries, representing the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of search," Google search vice president Pandu Nayak said in an online post.

The company said the new effort is based on what it calls Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT), which seeks to understand query words in the context of sentences for insights, according to Nayak. Google software, like humans, has to grapple with understanding what people are trying to say even though they might not be expressing themselves clearly, or even be making sense. Some BERT models for figuring queries out are so complicated that they need to be handled by high-powered computer processors specifically designed for the cloud, according to Google.

Keywords for Google search have always been important. But, the change would be that, when the update rolls out, Google's robots will take every word into account. At the same time, Nayak admits that the technique isn't ideal yet. But it's not ideal, and the change means some results will miss the mark more than they do now.

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WhatsApp sues Israeli firm NSO over cyberespionage

WhatsApp on Tuesday sued Israeli technology firm NSO Group, accusing it of using the Facebook-owned messaging service to conduct cyberespionage on journalists, human rights activists and others. India has 400 million WhatsApp users, making the country its biggest market. At least two dozen journalists, lawyers and activists in the country were targeted for surveillance in the weeks before May 2019, WhatsApp confirmed to the Indian Express newspaper on Oct. 31. The culprit? Pegasus—a technology developed by the Israeli cyber-security firm NSO.

The complaint said the attackers “reverse-engineered the WhatsApp app and developed a program to enable them to emulate legitimate WhatsApp network traffic in order to transmit malicious code” to take over the devices. “While their attack was highly sophisticated, their attempts to cover their tracks were not entirely successful,” Cathcart said in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, noting that the investigation found internet-hosting services and accounts associated with NSO. The firm has been adamant that it only licenses its software to governments for "fighting crime and terror" and that it investigates credible allegations of misuse, but activists argue the technology has been instead used for human rights abuses.

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China’s telecoms operators launch 5G tariff plans as network roll-outs push ahead

China’s three major telecommunications carriers (China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom) have introduced their monthly 5G data plans, as the world’s largest smartphone and internet market barrels ahead with its shift from 4G to the next-generation mobile technology amid trade tensions with the United States. China Mobile, the country's largest carrier, announced its 5G services were available in 50 cities - including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen - with packages starting from 128 yuan (US$18) a month.

The ultra-fast mobile internet service - which is 100 times faster than existing 4G networks - allows consumers to download full-length films within seconds, or use apps with virtual reality. The technology will also pave the way for driverless cars, further automation in factories, and allow users to remotely control appliances such as coffee makers and ovens via the internet. China is expected to be a front-runner in the adoption of 5G services with over 170 million 5G subscribers by next year, according to estimates by China Telecom. South Korea will be in second place with a predicted 75,000 users, followed by the US with 10,000, analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein said in a research note last week.  

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