Mansour Wakim

How to build The Matrix

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Rizwan Virk
Contributor

Rizwan Virk is executive director of Play Labs @ MIT, a serial entrepreneur and author.

Released this month 20 years ago, “The Matrix” went on to become a cultural phenomenon. This wasn’t just because of its ground-breaking special effects, but because it popularized an idea that has come to be known as the simulation hypothesis. This is the idea that the world we see around us may not be the “real world” at all, but a high-resolution simulation, much like a video game.

While the central question raised by “The Matrix” sounds like science fiction, it is now debated seriously by scientists, technologists and philosophers around the world. Elon Musk is among those; he thinks the odds that we are in a simulation are a billion to one (in favor of being inside a video-game world)!

As a founder and investor in many video game startups, I started to think about this question seriously after seeing how far virtual reality has come in creating immersive experiences. In this article we look at the development of video game technology past and future to ask the question: Could a simulation like that in “The Matrix” actually be built? And if so, what would it take?

What we’re really asking is how far away we are from The Simulation Point, the theoretical point at which a technological civilization would be capable of building a simulation that was indistinguishable from “physical reality.”

[Editor’s note: This article summarizes one section of the upcoming book, “The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are in a Video Game.“] 

From science fiction to science?

But first, let’s back up.

“The Matrix,” you’ll recall, starred Keanu Reeves as Neo, a hacker who encounters enigmatic references to something called the Matrix online. This leads him to the mysterious Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne, and aptly named after the Greek god of dreams) and his team. When Neo asks Morpheus about the Matrix, Morpheus responds with what has become one of the most famous movie lines of all time: “Unfortunately, no one can be told what The Matrix is. You’ll have to see it for yourself.”

Even if you haven’t seen “The Matrix,” you’ve probably heard what happens next — in perhaps its most iconic scene, Morpheus gives Neo a choice: Take the “red pill” to wake up and see what the Matrix really is, or take the “blue pill” and keep living his life. Neo takes the red pill and “wakes up” in the real world to find that what he thought was real was actually an intricately constructed computer simulation — basically an ultra-realistic video game! Neo and other humans are actually living in pods, jacked into the system via a cord into his cerebral cortex.

Who created the Matrix and why are humans plugged into it at birth? In the two sequels, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” we find out that Earth has been taken over by a race of super-intelligent machines that need the electricity from human brains. The humans are kept occupied, docile and none the wiser thanks to their all-encompassing link to the Matrix!  

But the Matrix wasn’t all philosophy and no action; there were plenty of eye-popping special effects during the fight scenes. Some of these now have their own name in the entertainment and video game industry, such as the famous “bullet time.” When a bullet is shot at Neo, the visuals slow down time and manipulate space; the camera moves in a circular motion while the bullet is frozen in the air. In the context of a 3D computer world, this make perfect sense, though now the camera technique is used in both live action and video games.  AI plays a big role too: in the sequels, we find out much more about the agents pursuing Neo, Morpheus and the team. Agent Smith (played brilliantly by Hugo Weaving), the main adversary in the first movie, is really a computer agent — an artificial intelligence meant to keep order in the simulation. Like any good AI villain, Agent Smith (who was voted the 84th most popular movie character of all time!) is able to reproduce itself and overlay himself onto any part of the simulation.

“The Matrix” storyboard from the original movie. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood)

The Wachowskis, creators of “The Matrix,” claim to have been inspired by, among others, science fiction master Philip K. Dick. Most of us are familiar with Dick’s work from the many film and TV adaptations, ranging from Blade Runner, Total Recall and the more recent Amazon show, The Man in the High Castle.  Dick often explored questions of what was “real” versus “fake” in his vast body of work. These are some of the same themes we will have to grapple with to build a real Matrix: AI that is indistinguishable from humans, implanting false memories and broadcasting directly into the mind.

As part of writing my upcoming book, I interviewed Dick’s wife, Tessa B. Dick, and she told me that Philip K. Dick actually believed we were living in a simulation. He believed that someone was changing the parameters of the simulation, and most of us were unaware that this was going on. This was of course, the theme of his short story, “The Adjustment Team” (which served as the basis for the blockbuster “The Adjustment Bureau,” starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt).

A quick summary of the basic (non-video game) simulation argument

Today, the simulation hypothesis has moved from science fiction to a subject of serious debate because of several key developments.

The first was when Oxford professor Nick Bostrom published his 2003 paper, “Are You Living in a Simulation?” Bostrom doesn’t say much about video games nor how we might build such a simulation; rather, he makes a clever statistical argument. Bostrom theorized that if a civilization ever got the Simulation Point, it would create many ancestor simulations, each with large numbers (billions or trillions?) of simulated beings. Since the number of simulated beings would vastly outnumber the number of real beings, any beings (including us!) were more likely to be living inside a simulation than outside of it!

Other scientists, like physicists and Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking weighed in, saying they found it hard to argue against this logic.

Bostrom’s argument implied two things that are the subject of intense debate. The first is that if any civilization every reached the Simulation Point, then we are more likely in a simulation now. The second is that we are more likely all AI or simulated consciousness rather than biological ones. On this second point, I prefer to use the “video game” version of the simulation argument, which is a little different than Bostrom’s version.

Video games hold the key

Let’s look more at the video game version of the argument, which rests on the rapid pace of development of video game and computer graphics technology over the past decades. In video games, we have both “players” who exist outside of the video game, and “characters” who exist inside the game. In the game, we have PCs (player characters) that are controlled (you might say mentally attached to the players), and NPCs (non-player characters) that are the simulation artificial characters.

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Intel and Cray are building a $500 million ‘exascale’ supercomputer for Argonne National Lab

Posted by | cray, Gadgets, Government, hardware, Intel, science, supercomputers | No Comments

In a way, I have the equivalent of a supercomputer in my pocket. But in another, more important way, that pocket computer is a joke compared with real supercomputers — and Intel and Cray are putting together one of the biggest ever with a half-billion-dollar contract from the Department of Energy. It’s going to do exaflops!

The “Aurora” program aims to put together an “exascale” computing system for Argonne National Laboratory by 2021. The “exa” is prefix indicating bigness, in this case 1 quintillion floating point operations, or FLOPs. They’re kind of the horsepower rating of supercomputers.

For comparison, your average modern CPU does maybe a hundred or more gigaflops. A thousand gigaflops makes a teraflop, a thousand teraflops makes a petaflop, and a thousand petaflops makes an exaflop. So despite major advances in computing efficiency going into making super powerful smartphones and desktops, we’re talking several orders of magnitude difference. (Let’s not get into GPUs, it’s complicated.)

And even when compared with the biggest supercomputers and clusters out there, you’re still looking at a max of 200 petaflops (that would be IBM’s Summit, over at Oak Ridge National Lab) or thereabouts.

Just what do you need that kind of computing power for? Petaflops wouldn’t do it? Well, no, actually. One very recent example of computing limitations in real-world research was this study of how climate change could affect cloud formation in certain regions, reinforcing the trend and leading to a vicious cycle.

This kind of thing could only be estimated with much coarser models before; Computing resources were too tight to allow for the kind of extremely large number of variables involved here (or here — more clouds). Imagine simulating a ball bouncing on the ground — easy — now imagine simulating every molecule in that ball, their relationships to each other, gravity, air pressure, other forces — hard. Now imagine simulating two stars colliding.

The more computing resources we have, the more can be dedicated to, as the Intel press release offers as examples, “developing extreme-scale cosmological simulations, discovering new approaches for drug response prediction and discovering materials for the creation of more efficient organic solar cells.”

Intel says that Aurora will be the first exaflop system in the U.S. — an important caveat, since China is aiming to accomplish the task a year earlier. There’s no reason to think they won’t achieve it, either, since Chinese supercomputers have reliably been among the fastest in the world.

If you’re curious what ANL may be putting its soon-to-be-built computers to work for, feel free to browse its research index. The short answer is “just about everything.”

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Unity adds preview support for Nvidia’s ray tracing tech to push gaming realism

Posted by | Gaming, GDC, nvidia, Nvidia GTC 2019, unity | No Comments

Ray tracing has been a major topic of conversation at both GDC and GTC so it seems fitting that that the overlapping conventions would both kick off with an announcement that touches both industries.

Today at GTC, Nvidia announced that it has built-out a number of major partnerships with 3D software makers including some apparent names like Adobe and Autodesk to integrate access with Nvidia’s RTX ray-tracing platform in their future software releases. The partnerships with Unity is perhaps the most interesting, given the excitement amongst game developers to bring real-time ray tracing to interactive works.

Epic Games had already announced Unreal Engine 4.22 support for Nvidia RTX ray-tracing, and it was only a matter of time before Unity made the plunge as well, but now the tech is officially coming to Unity’s High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) today in preview.

The technology is all focused on how games render lighting more realistically, showing how light interacts with the atmosphere and the objects it strikes. This technique has already been in use elsewhere but rendering all of this can be pretty resource-intensive which has made the advancements of the past few years to cement this as a real-time system such an entrancing prospect.

Nvidia has certainly been tooting the horn of this technology, but there have been some doubts whether this is just another technology that’s still a few years out from popular adoption amongst game developers.

“Real-time ray tracing moves real-time graphics significantly closer to realism, opening the gates to global rendering effects never before possible in the real-time domain,” a Unity exec said in a statement. In their announcement, Nvidia boasted that their system enabled “ray traced images that can be indistinguishable from photographs” that “blur the line between real-time and reality.”

While the prospect of added realism in gaming is certainly something consumers will be psyched about, engine-makers will undoubtedly also be promoting their early access to the Nvidia tech to customers in other industries including enterprise.

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Apple Business Chat drives in-seat drink ordering at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland

Posted by | Apple, Apple Business Chat, Apps, chatbots, imessage, Mobile | No Comments

With LeBron James hundreds of miles west plying his trade for the Los Angeles Lakers these days, Cleveland Cavalier fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about this season — but Aramark (the stadium food and beverage vendor) and the Cavs have teamed up with Apple Business Chat to let fans order drinks right from their seats.

It’s a nifty system, first introduced to Phillies fans last summer. In this iteration, Cleveland fans can access a menu, order drinks and get them delivered directly to their seats using iMessage on their iPhones.

You start by opening the Camera app and scanning the QR code on your seat back. That brings up a prompt in Messages to “Hit send to start your order.” From there, you can interact with the order bot to order your beverages. To make it easier, you access a menu and make your selections.

When you’re finished, the bot prompts you for your seat number. You pay for your order with Apple Pay, and the beverages will be delivered directly to you without having to miss any of the game action.

It’s not clear how long you have to wait for the drinks to be delivered, but it beats standing in long lines and brings an entirely digital ordering process to fans. Kevin Kearney, district manager for Aramark’s Sports and Entertainment division, sees this as a way to integrate the mobile experience into the fan experience at the game in a highly accessible way.

“The integration of Apple Business Chat with the ordering process is not only fan-friendly and easily accessible, it’s reflective of fans’ changing expectations and behaviors and we’re looking forward to Cavs and Monsters (Cleveland’s AHL affiliate) fans giving it a try,” Kearney said in a statement.

The program is being piloted for the remainder of the season as the teams and Aramark see how the process works and how fans like using it. It may not take away the sting of LeBron leaving town, but it is a convenient way to get drinks while taking in a game.

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America Movil acquires Nextel in Brazil for $905M

Posted by | America Móvil, brazil, latin america, M&A, Mobile, nextel brazil, nii | No Comments

Latin America continues to remain a focus for investors that are eyeing up its large population and growth potential. In the latest development, America Movil, the Latin American carrier that is part of the Carlos Slim empire, today announced that it would acquire Nextel in Brazil, owned by NII (formerly Nextel International), for $905 million. NII in turn said that once the deal is closed, it has received approval “to dissolve and wind up NII.”

This is a move to scale up an existing carrier in competition with existing large players like Telefonica (which co-owns Vivo with Portugal Telecom), Telecom Italia and Oi (owned by Telemar). America Movil already has an operation in the country, Claro, which it plans to merge with Nextel to “consolidate its position as one of the leading telecommunication service providers in Brazil, strengthening its mobile network capacity, spectrum portfolio, subscriber base, coverage and quality, particularly in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the main markets in Brazil.”

America Movil — based out of Mexico — has been on a consolidation spree, swallowing up other smaller holdings in a variety of markets in the region. In January, it acquired Telefonica’s assets in Guatemala and El Salvador respectively for $333 million and $315 million.

The Nextel Brazil deal will include buying a 70 percent stake in the carrier from NII, as well as a remaining 30 percent stake from AI Brazil Holdings BV, NII said today. AI Brazil Holdings is controlled by Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, the company that owns Warner Music, Deezer and a number of other assets and investments. It had reportedly also been interested in increasing its share in the carrier, before agreeing to sell its stake altogether.

The acquisition is the final chapter for the struggling business, which had originally been the international division of Nextel but had spun out as a separate company before Sprint acquired Nextel in the US in 2005. NII’s focus had been mobile carrier operations across a range of developing markets but it struggled and had been through multiple bankruptcy processes.

“The announcement of this transaction marks the culmination of an extensive multi-year process to pursue a strategic path for Nextel Brazil and provides our best opportunity to monetize our remaining operating assets in light of the competitive landscape in Brazil and long-term need to raise significant capital to fund business operations, debt service and capital expenditures necessary to remain competitive in the future,” stated Dan Freiman, NII’s Chief Financial Officer, in a statement. “Management and our Board of Directors believe the transaction is in the best interest of NII’s stockholders.”

The deal represents a final chapter of sorts for the Nextel brand, which had been a trailblazer in the mobile market through its push-to-talk, walkie-talkie-style mobile service. This was was an early mover in the bigger wave of messaging services that competed with basic carrier SMS, and some came to think of it as the first mobile social network. Over time, though, the iDEN digital network that carried the service became outmoded and most carriers that offered iDEN-based services (including Nextel) discontinued them to focus on 3G and subsequent mobile technologies.

More generally, the acquisition underscores how a number of investors, willing to ride the waves of economic and political ups and downs in Latin America, continue to view the growth opportunities in the region.

NII — which is based out of Reston, VA — was traded on Nasdaq and had a market cap as of last market close, of just $322 million. The company currently has 3.3 million subscribers. But while it was reportedly looking for a buyer of the business in Brazil, its last remaining asset, for some time, this final price — at nearly three times its market cap — is a sign of how some might see locked up value in Nextel Brazil that exceeded all that.

Last week, Paypal and Dragoneer collectively committed $850 million towards MercadoLibre, a marketplace in Argentina. The week before that, SoftBank announced that it would set up a new $2 billion fund to invest in tech companies out of the region, and to help existing portfolio companies to expand there. (By coincidence, the SoftBank venture will be led by Marcelo Claure, who is also executive chairman of Sprint, which swallowed up the US part of Nextel years ago and eventually got acquired by SoftBank.)

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Apple launches new iPad Air and iPad mini

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, hardware, iPad, ipad air, iPad Pro | No Comments

Apple has refreshed its iPad lineup. The company is (finally) updating the iPad mini and adding a new iPad Air. This model sits between the entry-level 9.7-inch iPad and the 11-inch iPad Pro in the lineup.

All new models now support the Apple Pencil, but you might want to double-check your iPad model before buying one. The new iPad models released today work with the first-gen Apple Pencil, not the new Apple Pencil that supports magnetic charging and pairing.

So let’s look at those new iPads. First, the iPad mini hasn’t been refreshed in three and a half years. Many people believed that Apple would simply drop the model as smartphones got bigger. But the iPad mini is making a surprise comeback.

pic.twitter.com/Iqz1MHTg1p

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) March 18, 2019

It looks identical to the previous 2015 model. But everything has been updated inside the device. It now features an A12 chip (the system on a chip designed for the iPhone XS), a 7.9-inch display that is 25 percent brighter, a wider range of colors and works with True Tone. And it also works with the Apple Pencil.

Unlike with the iPad Pro, the iPad mini still features a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, a Lightning port and a headphone jack. You can buy it today for $399 for 64GB. You can choose to pay more for 256GB of storage and cellular connectivity. It comes in silver, space gray and gold.

Second, the iPad Air. While the name sounds familiar, this is a new device in the iPad lineup. When Apple introduced the new iPad Pro models back in October, Apple raised the prices on this segment of the market.

This new iPad Air is a bit cheaper than the 11-inch iPad Pro and looks more or less like the previous generation 10.5-inch iPad Pro — I know, it’s confusing. The iPad Air now features an A12 chip, which should represent a significant upgrade over the previous-generation iPad Pro that featured an A10X. The iPad Air works with the Smart Keyboard.

You can buy the device today for $499 with 64GB of storage. You can choose to pay more for 256GB of storage and cellular connectivity. It comes in silver, space gray and gold.

The $329 iPad with a 9.7-inch display hasn’t been updated today. It still features an A10 chip, 64GB of storage and a display without True Tone technology or a wider range of colors.

 

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U.S. federal court jury finds Apple infringed three Qualcomm patents

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Intel, iPhone, lawsuit, Mobile, patent litigation, Qualcomm, san diego, smartphones, United States | No Comments

Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm has chalked up another small legal victory against Apple in another patent litigation suit.

A jury in a U.S. federal court in San Diego found Friday that Apple owes Qualcomm about $31M for infringing three patents, per Reuters.

As we reported earlier the San Diego patent suit relates to the power consumption and speed of boot-up times for iPhones sold between mid-2017 and late-2018.

Qualcomm had asked to be awarded up to $1.41 in unpaid patent royalties damages per infringing iPhone sold during the period.

The chipmaker has filed a number of patent suits against the iPhone maker in the U.S., Europe and Asia in recent years. The suits are skirmishes in a bigger battle between the pair over licensing terms that Apple alleges are unfair and illegal.

In a statement on on the San Diego trial outcome Qualcomm executive vice president and general counsel, Don Rosenberg, said:

Today’s unanimous jury verdict is the latest victory in our worldwide patent litigation directed at holding Apple accountable for using our valuable technologies without paying for them. The technologies invented by Qualcomm and others are what made it possible for Apple to enter the market and become so successful so quickly. The three patents found to be infringed in this case represent just a small fraction of Qualcomm’s valuable portfolio of tens of thousands of patents. We are gratified that courts all over the world are rejecting Apple’s strategy of refusing to pay for the use of our IP.

The iPhone models involved in the patent suit are iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and X, which were found to infringe two Qualcomm patents, U.S. Patent No. 8,838,949 (“flashless booting”), and U.S. Patent No. 9,535,490 (data management between the applications processor and the modem); and the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X which were found to infringe Qualcomm’s U.S. Patent No. 8,633,936 (high performance rich visual graphics with power management).

The patents are not contained in modems and are not standards-essential to cellular devices, Qualcomm said.

Reuters suggests the jury’s damages award could have wider significance if it ends up being factored into the looming billion dollar royalties suit between Apple and Qualcomm — by putting a dollar value on some of the latter’s IP, the San Diego trial potentially bolsters its contention that its chip licensing practices are fair, it said.

At the time of writing it’s not clear whether Apple intends to appeal the outcome of the trial. Reuters reports the iPhone maker declined to comment on that point, after expressing general disappointment with the outcome.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment.

In a statement provided to the news agency Apple said: “Qualcomm’s ongoing campaign of patent infringement claims is nothing more than an attempt to distract from the larger issues they face with investigations into their business practices in U.S. federal court, and around the world.”

Cupertino filed its billion dollar royalties suit against Qualcomm two years ago.

It has reason to be bullish going into the trial, given a preliminary ruling Thursday — in which a U.S. federal court judge found Qualcomm owes Apple nearly $1BN in patent royalty rebate payments (via CNBC). The trial itself kicks off next month.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also filed antitrust charges against Qualcomm in 2017 — accusing the chipmaker of operating a monopoly and forcing exclusivity from Apple while charging “excessive” licensing fees for standards-essential patents.

That trial wrapped up in January and is pending a verdict from Judge Lucy Koh.

At the same time, Qualcomm has also been pursuing several international patent suits against Apple — also with some success.

In December Apple filed an appeal in China to overturn a preliminary ruling that could have blocked iPhone sales in the market.

While in Germany it did pull older iPhone models from sale in its own stores in January. But by February it was selling the two models again — albeit with Qualcomm chips, rather than Intel, inside.

This report was updated with comment from Qualcomm

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No Man’s Sky has a big new update due out this summer

Posted by | Gaming, Hello Games, No Man's Sky, TC | No Comments

After a conspicuous stretch of silence ending with a mysterious teaser tweet on Thursday, No Man’s Sky creator Sean Murray revealed that another major free update is on the way. The new content, which is the first since last year’s Visions update, will hit the massive space exploration game this summer.

The bundle of new content, called No Man’s Sky “Beyond,” will tie together three different updates, though Murray is only giving up the details of one so far. The one we know about is something that Murray is calling “No Man’s Sky Online” which “includes a radical new social and multiplayer experience which empowers players everywhere in the universe to meet and play together” and weaves together three standalone updates into “a vision for something much more impactful.”

No Man’s Sky BEYOND, a major free chapter, coming Summer 2019.

With three updates in one:
1) No Man’s Sky Online
2) ?
3) ?

We’re working out butts off on something special
More Info soon ❤https://t.co/YtKimYyj6U pic.twitter.com/Txi8orUIs9

— Sean Murray (@NoMansSky) March 15, 2019

The short preview video doesn’t reveal much, but it shows a ship we haven’t seen before in what looks like either a reimagined space station (that would be nice!) or some kind of brand new multiplayer hub area.

Murray emphasized that the multiplayer update wouldn’t add things from other major multiplayer games like microtransactions or subscriptions and that he has no intention of turning No Man’s Sky into an MMO. (Still, if a lot of people are playing online together in a massive world, isn’t it uh, kind of an MMO?) The blog post noted that the team would release more details on the other two big pieces of new content in the coming weeks.

“These changes are an answer to how we have seen people playing since the release of NEXT, and is something we’ve dreamed of for a long time,” Murray added.

After a very rough launch and its accompanying critical lambasting in 2016, No Man’s Sky’s team has consistently added huge free content updates to the game. That dedication to building out the world the development team initially promised has brought “millions” of new players into the fold and inspired a thriving online and in-game community.

That community will be happy to hear that according to his latest blog post, Murray doesn’t intend to walk away from the game any time soon.

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CoParenter helps divorced parents settle disputes using AI and human mediation

Posted by | AI, android apps, Apps, artifical intelligence, artificial intelligence, children, divorce, iOS apps, kids, Mobile, parenting, parents, Startups | No Comments

A former judge and family law educator has teamed up with tech entrepreneurs to launch an app they hope will help divorced parents better manage their co-parenting disputes, communications, shared calendar and other decisions within a single platform. The app, called coParenter, aims to be more comprehensive than its competitors, while also leveraging a combination of AI technology and on-demand human interaction to help co-parents navigate high-conflict situations.

The idea for coParenter emerged from co-founder Hon. Sherrill A. Ellsworth’s personal experience and entrepreneur Jonathan Verk, who had been through a divorce himself.

Ellsworth had been a presiding judge of the Superior Court in Riverside County, California for 20 years and a family law educator for 10. During this time, she saw firsthand how families were destroyed by today’s legal system.

“I witnessed countless families torn apart as they slogged through the family law system. I saw how families would battle over the simplest of disagreements like where their child will go to school, what doctor they should see and what their diet should be — all matters that belong at home, not in a courtroom,” she says.

Ellsworth also notes that 80 percent of the disagreements presented in the courtroom didn’t even require legal intervention — but most of the cases she presided over involved parents asking the judge to make the co-parenting decision.

As she came to the end of her career, she began to realize the legal system just wasn’t built for these sorts of situations.

She then met Jonathan Verk, previously EVP Strategic Partnerships at Shazam and now coParenter CEO. Verk had just divorced and had an idea about how technology could help make the co-parenting process easier. He already had on board his longtime friend and serial entrepreneur Eric Weiss, now COO, to help build the system. But he needed someone with legal expertise.

That’s how coParenter was born.

The app, also built by CTO Niels Hansen, today exists alongside a whole host of other tools built for different aspects of the co-parenting process.

That includes those apps designed to document communication, like OurFamilyWizard, Talking Parents, AppClose and Divvito Messenger; those for sharing calendars, like Custody Connection, Custody X Exchange and Alimentor; and even those that offer a combination of features like WeParent, 2houses, SmartCoparent and Fayr, among others.

But the team at coParenter argues that their app covers all aspects of co-parenting, including communication, documentation, calendar and schedule sharing, location-based tools for pickup and drop-off logging, expense tracking and reimbursements, schedule change requests, tools for making decisions on day-to-day parenting choices like haircuts, diet, allowance, use of media, etc. and more.

Notably, coParenter also offers a “solo mode” — meaning you can use the app even if the other co-parent refuses to do the same. This is a key feature that many rival apps lack.

However, the biggest differentiator is how coParenter puts a mediator of sorts in your pocket.

The app begins by using AI, machine learning and sentiment analysis technology to keep conversations civil. The tech will jump in to flag curse words, inflammatory phrases and offensive names to keep a heated conversation from escalating — much like a human mediator would do when trying to calm two warring parties.

When conversations take a bad turn, the app will pop up a warning message that asks the parent if they’re sure they want to use that term, allowing them time to pause and think. (If only social media platforms had built features like this!)

 

When parents need more assistance, they can opt to use the app instead of turning to lawyers.

The company offers on-demand access to professionals as both monthly ($12.99/mo – 20 credits, or enough for two mediations) or yearly ($119.99/year – 240 credits) subscriptions. Both parents can subscribe for $199.99/year, each receiving 240 credits.

“Comparatively, an average hour with a lawyer costs between $250 and upwards of $500, just to file a single motion,” Ellsworth says.

These professionals are not mediators, but are licensed in their respective fields — typically family law attorneys, therapists, social workers or other retired bench officers with strong conflict resolution backgrounds. Ellsworth oversees the professionals to ensure they have the proper guidance.

All communication between the parent and the professional is considered confidential and not subject to admission as evidence, as the goal is to stay out of the courts. However, all the history and documentation elsewhere in the app can be used in court, if the parents do end up there.

The app has been in beta for nearly a year, and officially launched this January. To date, coParenter claims it has already helped to resolve more than 4,000 disputes and more than 2,000 co-parents have used it for scheduling. Indeed, 81 percent of the disputing parents resolved all their issues in the app, without needing a professional mediator or legal professional, the company says.

CoParenter is available on both iOS and Android.

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‘Ape Out’ and ‘Baba Is You’ demonstrate the depth of simplicity

Posted by | game review, Gaming, Nintendo Switch, TC | No Comments

The games we see advertised the most aren’t necessarily the best representatives for what has become an incredibly diverse medium. Yearly AAA installments and massive open worlds are all well and good, but simplicity is rarely on display — which makes two recent releases, Ape Out and Baba Is You, all the more delightful.

Both are, in a way, very simple games, but from that simplicity arises complex and enjoyable gameplay concepts that can entertain (or frustrate) for hours. It’s a refreshing reversal of games that appear complex but ultimately have very little depth.

Ape Out is certainly the more simple of the two, at least in gameplay terms. You’re an ape — a great ape. A gorilla, to be precise. And you have gotten out.

The smooth top-down action has you navigating a procedurally generated office patrolled by gun-wielding ne’er-do-wells. To prevent further ape blood from being spilled, you can either punch them — usually fatal, as you are strong — or grab them, which causes them to fire their gun. Then you can throw them into a wall. That’s pretty much it!

A few things elevate the game beyond the apparently arcade-level concepts here. First is a distinctive visual style that combines a sort of watercolor or chalky effect with starkly monochrome characters and surroundings, making gameplay elements highly distinctive and recognizable while giving a definite look to the whole world.

The controls are also smooth and largely predictable, letting you confidently move through the world without worrying whether you’ll catch on something or whether your lunge will reach a guy — if you’re not sure, it’s exciting rather than frustrating. Well-spaced checkpoints make you master an area before passing on, but don’t feel punitive, and new enemies and obstacles are introduced gradually and logically.

But the music is the most striking bit. A base beat of jazz drums accompanies each stage, growing in intensity as you progress to the next level (it can take as little as 20 or 30 seconds to do so), and every action adds a beat or cymbal crash to the mix. The responsive music makes it feel like a real soundtrack to your acts, while also spurring you on to greater ones.

As Penny Arcade pointed out, Ape Out is fun and original from the moment you pick it up. There’s no boring tutorial, problematic dialogue, poorly characterized protagonist, obscure and frequently revised gameplay elements, and no “ludonarrative dissonance.” In other words you never think “wait, would an enraged ape really do that?” (By the way, it’s definitely violent — but in an absurd comic style, not graphic and horrible.)

Baba Is You is simple in a different way. Its graphics and simple grid-based movement place it in company with The Adventures of Lolo or similar block-pushing games from the ’80s and ’90s. The complexity of this game, however, comes from a mind-bending twist along the lines of Portal and The Witness: the rules of the game are actual blocks that you move around as well.

It sounds weird, but that’s the game: In addition to rocks, water, walls and various other items, there are blocks defining the actual rules of that level with a crude, blocky logic, such as “flag is win” and “rock is push,” meaning you win if you touch the flag and rocks can be pushed.

Perhaps the flag is embedded in an inaccessible fortress of walls, though. No problem. A couple pushes mean that now “rock is win” — so just go touch a rock and the level is complete. Or perhaps if you can reach it, the rule “wall is stop” can be shifted, letting you walk right through them to the flag.

The simple, cute graphics let you focus on the seemingly limited, yet actually maddeningly diverse, ways of combining and shifting the blocks of the level. “Eureka!” moments are elusive things, as the creator seems to have a knack for predicting how you might think and putting roadblocks in the way of obvious solutions. But there is that amazing feeling that you’re a genius when you come back to an “impossible” level and see it with new eyes, solving it in a handful of seconds. That’s the complexity of simplicity — a single breakthrough that takes half an hour to arrive at.

I won’t lie, though: Baba Is You is hard. It’s hard as hell. In the forums are puzzle fiends shame-facedly admitting they can’t beat the 6th level, or facepalming after a hint is offered. It’s easy to develop a mental block and never get past it — but fortunately the game is fairly open, letting you take on the first few puzzles of various themed areas of the map rather than making you clear one before moving on to the next. This isn’t a game you’ll be done with in an afternoon.

Both Baba Is You and Ape Out cost less than $20 (on PC and Switch right now), in the sweet spot between the shovelware under $10 and “full” retail games twice the cost. Both are unique and created with obvious care and attention to detail. And neither ever requires more than two or three minutes of your time — though you can, as I did last night, lose hours just as easily as you would in a AAA title. This is simple done right.

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