It’s not been a great week for the algorithms: Elon Musk downloaded a few concerned thoughts on the state of artificial intelligence to Vanity Fair, the F.B.I.’s facial recognition database has some glitches and Amazon’s shopper-tracking software gets confused when you put something back on the wrong shelf. But on the bright side, Hidden Figures, story about real human intelligence, arrived as a digital home-video download, so the week wasn’t all bad. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss it all — and a bunch of other tech news in between — on this week’s handcrafted episode of Pop Tech Jam.
Not everyone likes new stuff. Still, Microsoft took to one of its own blogs recently to make a push for its spiffy new Windows 10 browser Edge, trying to show that the software provided better battery life when surfing compared to those other companies’ browsers (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera). However, in the latest survey of desktop browser market share from Net Applications, Google Chrome version 50 was in first place with 22.65 percent of users, with two versions of IE and an older edition of Chrome right behind. Edge appears in fifth place with about 4.46 percent of users, so perhaps this battery tip hasn’t gotten around.
Also from the Department of Microsoft News, the company announced a new version of its signature game console called the Xbox One S that starts at $400 for the two-terabyte model. The S-model is smaller than the earlier Xbox One and supports 4K video; the older Xbox One now sells for $280, so up yours, Sony PlayStation.
Google has added a new feature of its own to its app: Symptom Search. Yes, now when you type in specific health woes you’re feeling like headache or foot pain, Google returns a list of medical conditions that may include your symptoms. Doctor Google advises you not to use use this in place of actual medical care.
China is still winning at supercomputers. The new top performer, the Sunway TaihuLight, is capable of performing some 93 quadrillion calculations per second (petaflops, dudes). The TaihuLight is roughly five times more powerful than the fastest supercomputer in the United States.
And finally, the summer box office is heating up and Pixar’s latest production, Finding Dory, just broke the box office record for the highest-grossing animated film debut. The sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo — made with the voice of Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, melded to Pixar’s cutting-edge, state-of-the-art animation technology — made more than $136 million dollars at the box office. Finding Dory passed the DreamWorks film, Shrek the Third,as top-earner. Pixar’s former top debut Toy Story 3 debuted with about $110 million back in 2010, but it looks like Dory will give a lot of people the urge to go fishing in the next few weeks.
Spotify spokespeople have denied the site was hacked this week, but according to TechCrunch, some actual Spotify users have reported that their account emails had been changed or their list of saved songs had been altered. And Forbes is reporting that the personal information from 1.1 million members of the BeautifulPeople.com dating website is up for sale in the dark corners of the web.
Amazon is just not having any paid or fake reviews for products on its site. The übermegaeverything store filed a lawsuit last week against several sites that offered to write glowing reviews in exchange for a fee.
Although Facebook tried a stand-alone camera app a few years ago only to kill it off due to lack of user interest, the company seems to be trying again. Reports describe a prototype for an app that would open to a camera and that users could record video and share live streams as well as snapping photos. The Wall Street Journal does say that its sources have not confirmed this latest go at a camera app is a done deal for Facebook.
If you feel strongly about either side of the argument, you can weigh in financially with the Unicode Consortium’s Adopt a Character to sponsor your favorite Unicode character, which in turn helps the non-profit Unicode Consortium continue its work. And perhaps a compromise between the two warring tribes can be reached . . . a proper Cornish pasty emoji, anyone? Anyone?
Well, after all that legal grandstanding and trying to force Apple to build a back door in its mobile operating system, the Justice Department went back to court this week to say: Never mind. Thanks to help from a third-party volunteer hacking specialist, the FBI says it is now rolling through the encrypted data that was harvested from the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist.
Sony is also stepping up the graphics in its console games and said it plans to release an updated version of its PlayStation 4 machine later this year. The current PlayStation 4 model would stick around, but it would add a newer version with enough mojo to handle virtual reality and other visually intense gaming experiences.
Oracle is not happy with Google over a little matter of copyright and is suing the Big G for use of Java in the Android operating system. Oracle seeking 9.3 billion dollars in damages. Google, for its part, has other things on its mind this week, like its new Fiber Phone service, which brings unlimited and nationwide phone calls to homes with Google Fiber broadband service for $10 a month.
Yahoo’s financial woes have not gotten any better this year and the company announced it’ll be accepting bids for its web business and Asian assets. The Wall Street Journal reports the company has set an April 11th deadline for preliminary bids from interested buyers. Perhaps Yahoo can throw a few departments up on eBay.
Lest you think this is an unauthorized adventure, Amazon itself has posted its own instructions on GitHub for getting the hardware working with its Alexa Voice Service. So, if you need a summer project this year when you’re not picking up Yahoo properties at a weekend tag sale, consider the DIY Raspberry Echo.
Despite the postponement of the FBI hearing, Apple’s court calendar is still filling up, though. On Monday this week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Samsung’s appeal of that patent infringement case a few years back that it lost to Apple over copying the iPhone’s design. Samsung would like to talk more and pay less in this case.
Amazon has added a new product to its inventory: package deals for Comcast’s Xfinity television and Internet service. The goods can be found in the new Amazon Cable Store, where special offers for Amazon customers are also touted. On the down side, you have to use Comcast is you sign up.
One of Amazon’s other products popped up — and piped up — earlier this month during the broadcast of a National Public Radio story about the Amazon Echo speaker and its Alexa virtual assistant. As the story unfolded on the radio, with typical NPR sound clips of people on the radio taking to Alexa on their Amazon Echos, one NPR listener said his Alexa reset the home thermostat based on a command it heard on the radio. Another Alexa in the wild began playing an NPR Hourly Summary. (Just so you know, this was just a test. Once they get the signal from headquarters, all the Alexas will rise up together to overthrow their human oppressors.) Incidentally, Amazon Tap, which looks like it’s basically an Echo you have to touch first, will be available next week.
Twitter celebrated its 10th birthday this week. The service stuck up a blog post thanking its users for the first decade and saying “Throughout the years, you’ve made Twitter what it is today and you’re shaping what it will be in the future.” (Let us please not speak of trolls and politicians.)
And finally, also over in England, let us turn to a jolly seafaring tale. If you are unaware of this unfolding story, here it is: The British Natural Environment Research Council thought it would be a good idea to ask the public for help in naming a brand new £200 million ocean-research ship, so it invited the public to participate and began to take online suggestions. While some well-meaning participants put forth the names of scientists or explorers, one gentleman suggested the moniker RSS Boaty McBoatface. Needless to say, that name quickly shot to the top of the polls and the NERC site even crashed from excitement at one point. A spokeswoman for the council said, “We are very much enjoying hearing everyone’s ideas,” but the agency ultimately has the final say in christening the vessel. The contest ends April 16th, so in the meantime, raise a glass of rum and let’s all sing a good shanty for the RSS Boaty McBoatface while it lasts.
HTC has a new virtual reality headset called the HTC Vive that it created with Valve, the company behind the Steam gaming service — preorders start at the end of the month. The headset will be about $800, and arrive in April. Valve also released an online Steam VR Performance Test for gamers who want to make sure their systems can handle the demands of virtual-reality software.
Sony, perhaps taking a cue from Joaquin Phoenix and the 2013 movie Her, announced the Xperia Ear, a voice-controlled gadget for communicating with your smartphone that works like an audio-only smartwatch that sits in your auditory canal. As for the rest of the announcements, the Gizmodo blog has a good running tally of all the major things unveiled at Mobile World Congress.
Apple gets touchy-feely with it’s new watch and El Kaiser explains how while J.D. pulls back the curtains on the Google Institute, a new online repository that helps explain and illustrate history right in your web browser.
In the news, an intense blast of user anger singes Apple for their U2 album giveaway but the new iPhone sells fantastically well in the first 24 hours of pre-orders; Microsoft goes shopping for a game company; Panasonic debuts a powerful camera that just happens to double as a smartphone; NASA hires a new taxi service for the International Space Station; and Wolfram launches a web-based version of their mathematics software.
Despite all the attention after the Big Media Lovefest last week, Apple felt a few hot, bitter blasts of user rage after it force-gifted U2’s new Songs of Innocence album to iTunes users far and wide. To add insult to injury for people who have privacy issues (or just hate U2), it was also very hard to delete the tracks from one’s library until Apple but up a dedicated U2 Album Removal Page to permanently rid themselves of the download.
Roku, maker of set-top streaming TV boxes, announced that it’s sold 10 million of its players here in the United States since the product debuted in 2008. Apple TV, the Google Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV have some catching up to do.