Tag Archives: MIT Media Lab

PTJ 185 News: Punt, Pass and Kick

Ten years old and busting some moves on the field: Twitter caught a deal to stream 10 NFL games globally this coming season. The bird-themed microblogging service paid a reported 10 million dollars for the rights to stream these Thursday night gladiator matches for the cord-cutting population. Are you ready for some football — with lots of commentary and trolls?

Amazon has the 8th generation of the Kindle waiting in the wings, but the news didn’t come from the rumor blogs. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos teased the news himself over Twitter this week. Amazon also looks to be taking a piece out of PayPal by extending the reach of its Amazon Payments service. The company has announced its Amazon Payments Partner Program will be available to e-commerce platform providers in several countries..

The Federal Communications Commission is taking a cue from the Food and Drug Administration and has come up with information labels for broadband and mobile service that look just like those black-and-white nutrition labels you see on food.  Although the agency is not making these labels mandatory for service providers, the FCC’s current Net Neutrality rules do require the ISPs to be more transparent in their dealings with consumers.

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WhatsApp announced this week that it’s turned on full end-to-end encryption. The move locks up communications between the service’s billion users tight enough so WhatsApp employees and government watchers can’t peek. Your move, guv’ment.

That expected Sony PlayStation 4 update arrived this week. That’s the update with the remote play function for Windows and Mac and other social features.

Microsoft’s annual Build conference for developers was out in San Francisco last week. The event seemed to please developers, as Microsoft announced programmers could use the Ubuntu Linux BASH shell on Windows and the Xamarin dev tools are now free. Presentations at the Build conference also highlighted intelligent AI apps, bots, digital ink and this year’s Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which features enhancements to Cortana and other elements of Windows 10. (Not reported at the conference, however, was the trial run of Outlook Premium service.)

NASA is getting in on Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality system. The agency announced a new exhibit called “Destination: Mars” scheduled to open this summer at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Guests will get a holographic tour of Mars from retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin and explore several sites on the red planet that were reconstructed using real imagery from NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover.

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Umbrella-shaped Google parent-company Alphabet is not endearing itself to some of its customers. Reports around the web say Nest, (the smart-home component of the Alphabet empire), is kicking and bricking a bunch of older devices deliberately. The smart-home devices in question were made by Revolv, That company recently announced in its site that it was shutting down as of May 15 and its app and smart-home hub will no longer work.

Google just pushed out a pretty chunky over-the-air patch for the Android system as part of its April Security Bulletin.  Apple has issued a patch for iOS 9.3 that was intended to correct that little crashing Safari links problem. However, an independent security researcher has posted a video and description of a bug he says the new 9.3.1 patch brings with it. As several sites have pointed out, until a proper patch arrives. the quick fix for now is to turn off Siri from using the phone’s Lock Screen. Cue iOS 9.3.2…

The Starz cable TV channel has joined the stream team. If you want to watch Outlander, Black Sails or any other Starz content on your Android or iOS device without having to get a cable subscription, you can get it for $9 a month a la carte.

ThinkGeek.com had its usual roster of stellar fake April Fools products last week,  including a Star Trek White Noise Machine. Quilted Northern went viral with a video about rustic-weave artisanal toiler paper. The Epic Fail award for 2016, however, goes to Google, for slipping in an animation featuring one of those yellow Minions characters dropping a microphone that unfortunately got into many serious and professional messages send by Gmail used. Google has apologized.

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And finally, two items of note from Department of Making Things Easier to Understand. First up, the MIT Media Lab has created a new site called Data USA, which tries to make public government data on a variety of subject easier to view and mentally process. Second, Facebook announced this week it was using artificial intelligence software to create automatic alternative text that describes the contents of photos for blind and visually impaired users with screen reader software on their iOS devices. The auto alt text is rolling out in English for iOS users first, but more languages and platforms are expected soon. But how will Facebook’s picture describing software software be able to withstand the the “Chihuahua or Muffin” meme?

Back to the Future

Technology doesn’t just happen: It evolves out of a lot of science, math, creativity, ingenuity and late-night hours often fueled by caffeine and Skittles. Much of the technology we use today started out as great ideas years ago (like GPS, for example). To get an inkling of what’s down the road, take a peek at some of the work being done in labs today.

Judging by its website, Google’s Research division looks like it’s well-staffed and consistently busy. To help develop its products, the company employs a huge number or researchers in many specialized fields, including natural language processing, algorithms, data mining, quantum artificial intelligence, machine translation and more. Many of these researchers and scientists write papers on what they’re working on — and some papers you can even read yourself. Some of these treatises  are thick with stiff academic writing style and deep math, but others are more accessible to the novice. Still, if you’re interested, you can find hundreds of papers on the site. Google’s research team also keeps a regular blog highlighting some of their projects, like AlphaGo:

Microsoft has its own research site showcasing the work of the engineers and scientists working on its past and future products in its labs around the world. In addition to information about projects its researchers have developed, the site has a page of free apps and downloads for developers and interested parties to sample. For example, experience ChronoZoom, an app (shown below) that lets you visualize the history of everything right in your browser, or tinker around with Kodu, an icon-based programming language for building PC and Xbox games.

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If you want a more down-to-earth practical page of progress, check out Microsoft Garage, the company’s outlet for experimental projects that includes mobile apps, or Google’s Gmail Labs page where you can experiment with other people’s experiments designed to make your Gmail experience easier. (Google once had a whole other Google Labs division for making cool stuff outside of Gmail, but that was discontinued in 2011.)

Some  corporate research sites can be a little self-promoting —  or even outdated as the scientists move on — but you can also find seeds of the future sprinkled around university sites. Check out the MIT Media Lab, Stanford Computer Science Research, Purdue University’s Computer Science department pages, the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory and the hundreds of other out there.

True, certain projects can be way over the heads of the average user and some may come to nothing. In others, though, you may be able to see around the corner into what’s coming up — or maybe even get a few ideas of your own.

PTJ 175 News: In the Air

Several Twitter peeps have flown the coop recently, as the company attempts  to jump-start its growth by making the service easier to use and more appealing to Everyday People. Jack Dorsey, the company chief, did a few layoffs when he took the top spot last fall, but the revolving door continues to spin into the new year. (The bird-themed microblogging service has also gotten dinged inside and out for its lack of diversity and has been trying to improve things, although it got mixed reactions for hiring a white dude as its VP of diversity and inclusion — albeit one that was a founding member of a global LGBT leadership organization.) Twitter also busted a move this week and hired former American Express exec Leslie Berland as its chief marketing officer. Old School, meet New Media.

The Re/Code site is among those reporting that Twitter seems to be trying to keep its big famous users happy by majorly reducing the amount of ads those celebrities and notable figures see in their feeds. One site that seems to be showing more ads than before is Instagram. Facebook’s photo service did announce last year on its blog that it would be stepping up the ad game, and advertising statistics show the company has boosted ad impressions quite a bit the last five months of 2015.

vrSony and Samsung are doing a little corporate remodeling of their own. Sony announced it’ll be merging the hardware and software parts PlayStation game console business into one big company called Sony Interactive Entertainment. Out at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Samsung executives said the company has plans to open a production studio here in New York to create virtual reality films. Samsung, as you know, makes the Gear VR headset for those emerging immersive experiences.

Spotify launched a video channel this week in its Android and iOS apps. The video channel features clips from the BBC, VICE news, ESPN, Comedy Central and others, if you’re tired of merely listening to Spotify.

Security blogger Brian Krebs recently explained how his PayPal account was hacked with the help of PayPal itself — and now Australian developer Eric Springer has a frighteningly similar story on the Medium and Ars Technica sites. This time, though, it’s Amazon’s customer service department inadvertently cooperating with an imposter and compromising account security.

fireAlso in Amazon Land, the übermega everything store apparently hasn’t given up on its mobile dreams, even though its own Fire Phone was a gargantuan FAIL. As a site called The Information reports, Amazon has been talking to Android handset hardware manufacturers about weaving Amazon apps and surfaces deep into the phone system. However, it may want to be careful, as Google has bounced Amazon products out of the Google Play store before when it felt Amazon was getting too pushy.

Google has had some less-than-saintly moments itself, but the company is donating millions of dollars to help refugees from the conflict-torn Middle East. Google’s philanthropic division is partnering with a non-profit group called NetHope on Project Reconnect, an initiative to provide 25,000 Chromebooks loaded with educational and language-learning software, which will then be distributed to groups working with refugees who made it to Germany.

Microsoft’s Cortana would also like to help you out, but it does involve getting into more of your data. In a blog post earlier this week, Microsoft announced that an upcoming update to Cortana will allow the virtual assistant to root around in your email to help you keep your promises. You WILL KEEP THEM, says Cortana.

Apple has some recent software updates of its own: The company’s tvOS 9.1.1 update for the fourth-generation Apple TV box adds the Podcasts app  to the home Screen. While Apple released a version of the Remote app that works with the 4th gen box last month, the upcoming 9.2 update for tvOS is expected to restore Bluetooth keyboard support to the latest model and add new features like app folders .

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Even though iPhone sales have dipped, rumors about a new model coming soon are floating in the breeze. The 9 to 5 Mac site reports that Apple is readying a model called the iPhone 5se that basically takes the old iPhone 5s form factor with the 4-inch screen and adds in the faster A9 and M9 processors. (It may possibly be revealed the week of March 14th, when several Mac blogs also seem to think an updated version of the Apple Watch may also arrive.) And beware the prank link going around that exploits a known text message bug that when opened in Apple’s Safari browser, crashes the iPhone or Mac and forces a reboot.

Periscope announced this week that it can take feeds from a GoPro Hero 4 action camera and stream it over Wi-Fi to the Periscope app on the iPhone. Get ready for some wacky ski and snowboarding live channels to hit the Web soon…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and conventions are popping up all over. In addition to the Creation company’s official and (officially massive) fan events around the country, ReedPop, the organizer behind New York Comic Con, is celebrating the show too — and right in New York City, the home of the first-ever full-on Star Trek convention back in 1972. ReedPop’s 2016 convention, called Star Trek: Mission New York, will be held September 2-4 at the Javits Center in Manhattan; more information and ticket sales dates will be announced soon. (Yes, that is Labor Day weekend and will compete with the Dragon Con science fiction and fantasy expo down in Atlanta the same weekend. Tough choices here, geeks.)

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And finally, two passings of note this week. Marvin Minsky, a founding member of the MIT Media Lab and a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, died in Boston on January 24th. And actor Abe Vigoda, whose incorrectly reported death by People magazine in 1982, actually passed away January 26th at the age of 94. Mr. Vigoda, a celebrated actor, became an Internet meme later thanks to the confusion over his status; updates to the sites abevigoda.com and isabevigodadead.com have been sadly updated.
Rest in peace, gentlemen.