Mansour Wakim

This prosthetic arm combines manual control with machine learning

Posted by | artificial intelligence, EPFL, Gadgets, hardware, machine learning, Prosthetics, robotics, science | No Comments

Prosthetic limbs are getting better every year, but the strength and precision they gain doesn’t always translate to easier or more effective use, as amputees have only a basic level of control over them. One promising avenue being investigated by Swiss researchers is having an AI take over where manual control leaves off.

To visualize the problem, imagine a person with their arm amputated above the elbow controlling a smart prosthetic limb. With sensors placed on their remaining muscles and other signals, they may fairly easily be able to lift their arm and direct it to a position where they can grab an object on a table.

But what happens next? The many muscles and tendons that would have controlled the fingers are gone, and with them the ability to sense exactly how the user wants to flex or extend their artificial digits. If all the user can do is signal a generic “grip” or “release,” that loses a huge amount of what a hand is actually good for.

Here’s where researchers from École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) take over. Being limited to telling the hand to grip or release isn’t a problem if the hand knows what to do next — sort of like how our natural hands “automatically” find the best grip for an object without our needing to think about it. Robotics researchers have been working on automatic detection of grip methods for a long time, and it’s a perfect match for this situation.

epfl roboarm

Prosthesis users train a machine learning model by having it observe their muscle signals while attempting various motions and grips as best they can without the actual hand to do it with. With that basic information the robotic hand knows what type of grasp it should be attempting, and by monitoring and maximizing the area of contact with the target object, the hand improvises the best grip for it in real time. It also provides drop resistance, being able to adjust its grip in less than half a second should it start to slip.

The result is that the object is grasped strongly but gently for as long as the user continues gripping it with, essentially, their will. When they’re done with the object, having taken a sip of coffee or moved a piece of fruit from a bowl to a plate, they “release” the object and the system senses this change in their muscles’ signals and does the same.

It’s reminiscent of another approach, by students in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, in which the arm is equipped with a camera in the palm that gives it feedback on the object and how it ought to grip it.

It’s all still very experimental, and done with a third-party robotic arm and not particularly optimized software. But this “shared control” technique is promising and could very well be foundational to the next generation of smart prostheses. The team’s paper is published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence.

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This game uses troll tactics to teach critical thinking

Posted by | cambridge university, deception, Europe, fake news, finland, Gaming, internet troll, Media, media literacy, online disinformation, social media, social media platforms, TC, Twitter, YLE | No Comments

The best medicine against online disinformation is an informed society that’s thinking critically. The problem is there are no shortcuts to universal education.

Enter Finnish Public Broadcasting Company, Yle, which is hoping to harness the engagement power of gamification to accelerate awareness and understanding of troll tactics and help more people spot malicious internet fakes. It has put together an online game, called Troll Factory, that lets you play at being, well, a hateful troll. Literally.

The game begins with a trigger warning that it uses “authentic social media content” that viewers may find disturbing. If you continue to play you’ll see examples of Islamophobic slogans and memes that have actually been spread on social media. So the trigger warning is definitely merited.

The game itself takes the form of a messaging app style conversation on a virtual smartphone in which you are tasked by the troll factory boss to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment. You do this by making choices about which messages to post online and the methods used to amplify distribution.

Online disinformation tactics intended to polarize public discourse which are depicted in the game include the seeding of conspiracy theory memes on social media; the exploitation of real news events to spread fake claims; microtargeting of hateful content at different demographics and platforms; and the use of paid bots to amplify propaganda so that hateful views appear more widely held than they really are.

After completing an inaugural week’s work in the troll factory, the game displays a rating and shows how many shares and follows your dis-ops garnered. This is followed by contextual information on the influencing methods demonstrated — putting the activity you’ve just participated in into wider context.

Yle, which is a not-for-profit public service broadcaster with a remit to educate and inform, released a Finnish version of the troll factory game back in May but decided to follow up with this international version (in English) after the game got such a strong local reception, including being picked up by people in natsec and education to use as an educational resource, according to Jarno Koponen, head of AI & personalization, at Yle Uutiset News Lab.

“The initial response in Finland was so encouraging: Something like this is needed,” he told us. “Something that makes information operations tangible and visible. We believe that it’s our duty as a public broadcasting company to promote methods, in Finland and abroad, that help citizen’s to better understand our everyday digital environments from their own standing point.

“We want simultaneously to collect more feedback on what’s working in the game-like storytelling, in order to use those findings to develop better products in the future, and to share those finding with for example with other public broadcasting companies in the world.”

Koponen said the team also wanted to test a specific hypotheses about the power of games to debunk junk — after a recent Cambridge University study showed gamified methods work in fighting fake news.

“Based on our data, news articles or more traditional social media analysis doesn’t reach and thus have effect on people en masse,” he said, when asked why Yle chose a game wrapper for its anti-disinformation message, rather than a more traditional educational format such as a documentary film.

“Social media is in your pocket and goes wherever you go. The means to educate you about social media need to be in your pocket too. Especially young people are a hard audience to reach. Thus we need to actively develop new storytelling methods to provide for them nonpartisan information and insight about the world around us. We experimented with different forms from data visualisations to interactive simulations and found game-like experience being the most effectual and engaging.”

“We’ve so far collected direct feedback from our users in social media (from Twitter to Reddit) and on our website,” he added. “Some of the descriptive comments were: ‘This is horrible, but thanks for making us aware of this’ or ‘Scary but illuminating’. It was picked up in social media especially by people and organisations working with younger people from teachers to public libraries, as well as information security and national security professionals.”

Asked whether he thinks social media platforms should be doing more to clear bots and inauthentic content off their platforms, Koponen called for increased transparency from platforms but added that media literacy remains key to influencing how tech giants behave too.

We believe that more transparency is needed on behalf of the social media platforms. However, the more aware the citizen is, the better equipped she’s to decide on her own behalf what works and what doesn’t. We believe that promoting media literacy is key in having meaningful impact on the practices and policies of social media platforms.”

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UK police arrest a number of climate activists planning Heathrow drone protest

Posted by | climate change, drone regulations, drones, Europe, Gadgets, Heathrow, robotics, social media, United Kingdom | No Comments

U.K. police have arrested a number of environmental activists affiliated with a group which announced  last month that it would use drones to try to ground flights at the country’s busiest airport.

The group, which calls itself Heathrow Pause, is protesting against the government decision to green-light a third runway at the airport.

In a press release published today about an operation at Heathrow Airport, London’s Met Police said it has arrested nine people since yesterday in relation to the planned drone protest, which had been due to commence early this morning.

Heathrow Pause suggested it had up to 200 people willing to volunteer to fly toy drones a few feet off the ground within a 5km drone “no fly” zone around the airport — an act that would technically be in breach of U.K. laws on drone flights, although the group said it would only use small drones, flown at head height and not within flight paths. It also clearly communicated its intentions to the police and airport well in advance of the protest.

“Three women and six men aged between their 20s and the 60s have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance,” the Met Police said today.

“Four of the men and the three women were arrested yesterday, Thursday, 12 September, in Bethnal Green, Haringey and Wandsworth, in response to proposed plans for illegal drone use near Heathrow Airport.

“They were taken into custody at a London police station.”

The statement says a further two men were arrested this morning within the perimeter of Heathrow Airport on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance — though it’s not clear whether they are affiliated with Heathrow Pause.

Videos of confirmed members of the group being arrested by police prior to the planned Heathrow Pause action have been circulating on social media.

Roger Hallem , our brave drone pilot being arrested preemptively . We will not give up and we urge all right minded people to rise up with us . Don’t sleep walk into oblivion . Protect your children as if their lives depended on it . It does @ExtinctionR @GretaThunberg pic.twitter.com/10gpVtVVEF

— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 12, 2019

In an update on its Twitter feed this morning Heathrow Pause says there have been 10 arrests so far.

It also claims to have made one successful flight, and says two earlier drone flight attempts were thwarted by signal jamming technology.

More flights are planned today, it adds.

UPDATE: 3 attempted flights, at least one successful. 10 arrests so far. More flights planned today.

James, having completed his flight, is about to hand himself into police. Currently in Heathrow Terminal 2 Departures for interviews/photos.

— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 13, 2019

Heathrow using signal jamming to frustrate early flights 💚🌲🌍🌲💚#HeathrowPause #ClimateBreakdown #ActNow https://t.co/F4b8NvcLj1

— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 13, 2019

Thank you James Brown for your courage. @HeathrowAirport when will you adhere by your own rules and close the airport? https://t.co/fJFlLx2dGb

— Heathrow Pause (@HeathrowPause) September 13, 2019

A spokeswoman for Heathrow told us there has been no disruption to flights so far today.

In a statement the airport said: “Heathrow’s runways and taxiways remain open and fully operational despite attempts to disrupt the airport through the illegal use of drones in protest nearby. We will continue to work with the authorities to carry out dynamic risk assessment programmes and keep our passengers flying safely on their journeys today.”

“We agree with the need for climate change action but illegal protest activity designed with the intention of disrupting thousands of people, is not the answer. The answer to climate change is in constructive engagement and working together to address the issue, something that Heathrow remains strongly committed to do,” it added.

We’ve asked the airport to confirm whether signal jamming counter-drone technology is being used to try to prevent the protest.

The Met Police said a dispersal order under Section 34 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 has been implemented in the area surrounding Heathrow Airport today.

“It will be in place for approximately 48 hours, commencing at 04:30hrs on Friday, 13 September,” it writes. “The order has been implemented to prevent criminal activity which poses a significant safety and security risk to the airport.”

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Nintendo shows off exercise-powered RPG for Switch, Ring Fit Adventure

Posted by | fitness, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, Health, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch | No Comments

Nintendo has been at the crossroads of video games and fitness since the famous Power Pad for the NES, and the Switch is the latest to receive a game powered by physical activity: Ring Fit Adventure. And it actually looks fun!

In the game, you’ll jog in place to advance your character, and perform various movements and exercises to avoid obstacles and defeat enemies. Your quest is to defeat an “evil body-building dragon” who has disrupted the peaceful, apparently very fit world of the protagonist. Sure.

The game comes with a pair of accessories: a ring and leg strap, each of which you slot a Joy-Con into. The two controllers work together to get a picture of your whole body movement, meaning it can be sure you’re keeping your arms out in front of you when you do a squat, and not phoning it in during leg raises.

ringfit1

The ring itself is flexible and can tell how hard you’re squeezing or pulling it— but don’t worry, it can be calibrated for your strength level.

Interestingly, the top button of the controller appears to be able to be used as a heart-rate monitor. That kind of came out of left field, but I like it. Just one more way Nintendo is making its hardware do interesting new things.

ringfit2

There look to be a ton of different movements you’ll be required to do, focusing on different areas of the body: upper, lower, core and some sort of whole-body ones inspired by yoga positions. Ingeniously, some enemies are weak to one or another, and you’ll need to use different ones for other scenarios, so you’re getting a varied workout whether you like it or not.

Meanwhile, your character levels up and unlocks new, more advanced moves — think a lunge instead of a squat, or adding an arm movement to a leg one — and you can get closer to the goal.

ringfit3

There are also minigames and straight-up workouts you can select, which you can do at any time if you don’t feel like playing the actual game, and contribute to your character’s level anyway.

The idea of gamifying fitness has been around for quite a while, and some titles, like Wii Fit, actually got pretty popular. But this one seems like the most in-depth actual game to use fitness as its main mechanic, and critically it is simple and easy enough that even the most slothful among us can get in a session now and then at our own pace.

Ring Fit Adventure will be available October 18 — no pricing yet, but you can probably expect it to be a little above an ordinary Switch game.

You can watch the full-length walkthrough of the game below, but beware — the acting is a little off-putting.

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Google Photos adds a time-traveling version of Stories, plus more sharing and printing options

Posted by | Apps, Google, Google Photos, Media, memories, Mobile, photo printing, photo sharing, photos, Social, social media, stories | No Comments

Google Photos is getting its own version of Stories. But instead of focusing on what you’re doing now, as Stories on other platforms like Instagram and Snapchat offer, Google Photos is adopting the format to help you take a trip down memory lane. The feature is one of several updates coming to the photo-sharing service that focuses on helping you reconnect with your old photos that often get forgotten after upload.

Its unique take on Stories is, perhaps, the most interesting update, as it’s the first time we’ve seen the format used as a way to rewind time.

In Google Photos, the feature is more appropriately called “Memories,” and is designed to help users relive their life in a more meaningful way.

Memories

The company said it came up with the idea by watching user behavior on its app.

“We see users browse their photos and scroll all the way down to look at pictures from five years ago,” explained Google Photos lead, Shimrit Ben-Yair. “We see them searching for moments and having a good experience with that. But we thought, how can we make that even easier?”

The Memories feature, she continued, is meant to accomplish that by helping users “better reminisce digitally.”

Most users will already know how to use Google Photos Memories, given the broad adoption of Stories across various platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Messenger, YouTube and even surprising places like Netflix. As with some other implementations, the feature places small, rounded icons at the top of the Google Photos gallery, which you can tap to launch and advance through.

Except, in this case, each Story circle is taking you back in time — for example, a year ago, two years ago, three and so on.

Memories

 

However, the feature isn’t just a variation on “Rediscover this Day,” because it’s not as tightly tied to a particular date. It’s more like a showcase of what you were doing around the same time as in years prior — like around the same week. It lets you look back without having to swipe through the badly shot photos and duplicates.

To help users from reliving more sensitive memories — like deaths they’re still grieving or breakups they’d rather forget, for example — you’ll also be able to block certain people or places from showing up in the Memories feature, to better personalize your highlight reel.

Another key difference is that Google Photos’ Memories are not put on public display.

“Even though it is the Stories format — which we lean into because we feel it creates a more immersive experience for reliving your life — this is only your library. It’s your private content,” noted Google Photos Engineering lead James Gallagher, when demoing the feature, pre-launch, to TechCrunch.

In a few months’ time, however, Google Photos plans to let you share these old photos — or any others you come across in your library — in a more direct and more personal way. Through an enhancement to the sharing feature, you’ll be able to send a photo directly to friends or family, where it’s then adding to an ongoing and private conversation that will eventually become a stream of all your chats and shares.

Photo prints

And Google Photos is expanding its options for getting photos off your phone and into the real world.

It’s partnering with Walmart and CVS for 4×6 photo prints that can be picked up in about an hour at more than 11,000 U.S. locations. These prints will cost the same as if you ordered through the retailers directly ($0.25 from Walmart and $0.33 from CVS). You’ll also be able to turn photos into wall art of various sizes, in the U.S. This follows Flickr’s recent expansion into the area of prints and wall art, which rolled out last month.

Photo prints

In Google Photos’ case, you’ll be able to select canvas prints in three different sizes, 8×8 ($19.99), 11×14 ($29.99) and 16×20 ($44.99), which can be customized with either black, white or photo wrap borders. The canvases also come with a wire hanger on the back to make mounting easier.

This feature will generate revenue, though Google outsources the actual work to a network of printing partners across the U.S. It joins an existing feature that lets users turn photos into photo books in just a few steps.

Canvas prints

One final feature, though not necessarily related to reminiscing, is an improvement to search that will now help you find photos or screenshots with text — like a recipe.

This feature, prints and the Memories feature are rolling out now. Direct sharing is coming in a few months.

The additions are part of many enhancements to Google Photos since its spin-out from Google+ just over four years ago. The company has rapidly improved its photo-hosting and sharing service with AI functionality to clean up users’ vast photo libraries and automatically create photo edits and mini-movies, among other things. And it continues to improve with features like support for Lens’ visual search and an expanded array of AI-powered photo fixes, for example.

Thanks to these features and its integration with the Android operating system, Google Photos now has more than a billion monthly users.

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Yelp adds predictive wait times and a new way for restaurants to share updates

Posted by | Apps, Mobile, Yelp | No Comments

With a new feature called Yelp Connect, Yelp is allowing users to go beyond customer reviews and see “what the restaurants have to say for themselves.”

That’s according to Devon Wright, Yelp’s general manager of restaurant marketplaces. He explained that with Yelp Connect, restaurants will be able to post updates about things like recent additions to the menu, happy hour specials and upcoming events. These updates are then shown on the Yelp homepage (which is already becoming more personalized), in a weekly email and on the restaurant’s profile page.

Consumers, meanwhile, can follow restaurants to see these updates, but Yelp also shows them to users who have indicated interest in a restaurant by making a reservation, joining its waitlist or bookmarking its profile.

Of course, restaurants are already posting this kind of information on social media, but Wright said Yelp allows them to reach “a high-intent audience” — people who aren’t just browsing for updates from their friends, but are actually looking to go out for a meal.

Guang Yang, the group product manager for Yelp Reservations and Waitlist, also noted that restaurants can set end dates for their Yelp posts, which could make them more comfortable sharing things like limited-time menus.

Yelp Connect will cost $199 per month for U.S. restaurants, but is available for a limited time at a price of $99 per month.

Wright described this is part of a broader evolution at Yelp, where “you don’t just want to discover a great restaurant, you want to transact [with] that restaurant.” So the company has added things like reservations, with Connect serving as “the final piece of that journey,” allowing restaurants to continue reaching out to consumers after their visit.

Yelp Waitlist Predictive

In addition to launching Connect, Yelp is also announcing an upgrade to its Waitlist feature, which allows consumers to see the current estimated wait time at a restaurant, and to join the queue directly from the Yelp app.

Yang said Yelp can now use real wait time data from a restaurant to predict the average wait at a given time — so if you want to get dinner tonight at 7pm, Yelp can tell how long you’ll probably have to wait. (These estimates are based on a party size of two; you’ll enter your real party size and get an updated estimate when you actually join the waitlist.)

Yelp is also using these predictions to power an additional feature called Notify Me. If you want to get seated at a certain restaurant at a certain time, you can hit a button to get a notification that will prompt you to join the waitlist at the right time — if you want to eat at 7pm, and the average wait time at 7pm is an hour, then you’ll get a notification at 6pm.

Yang said the algorithm is “pretty sophisticated,” and even incorporates some of the common situations that can confound these estimates, like kitchen closing times, or popular restaurants that have long a waitlist as soon as they open.

Still, he acknowledged that there will be times when the actual is different from what’s predicted, which may be challenging when you’ve told all your friends to meet you somewhere at a given time. But in those cases, he said most restaurants “acknowledge and understand, ‘Oh, something happened, wait time changed,’ ” and they’ll make accommodations if you show up later.

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Loot boxes in games are gambling and should be banned for kids, say UK MPs

Posted by | Damian Collins, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, entertainment software association, epic games, Europe, fifa, game design, Gaming, gaming disorder, instagram, Jagex, loot box, nancy pelosi, online games, online platforms, Snapchat, social media platforms, UK government, United Kingdom, world health organization | No Comments

UK MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes under current gambling legislation — urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children.

Kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock look boxes, MPs have suggested in a recommendation that won’t be music to the games industry’s ears.

Loot boxes refer to virtual items in games that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance. The MPs argue the mechanic should be considered games of chance played for money’s worth and regulated by the UK Gambling Act.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) parliamentary committee makes the recommendations in a report published today following an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies that saw it take evidence from a number of tech companies including Fortnite maker Epic Games; Facebook-owned Instagram; and Snapchap.

The committee said it found representatives from the games industry to be “wilfully obtuse” in answering questions about typical patterns of play — data the report emphasizes is necessary for proper understanding of how players are engaging with games — as well as calling out some games and social media company representatives for demonstrating “a lack of honesty and transparency”, leading it to question what the companies have to hide.

“The potential harms outlined in this report can be considered the direct result of the way in which the ‘attention economy’ is driven by the objective of maximising user engagement,” the committee writes in a summary of the report which it says explores “how data-rich immersive technologies are driven by business models that combine people’s data with design practices to have powerful psychological effects”.

As well as trying to pry information about of games companies, MPs also took evidence from gamers during the course of the enquiry.

In one instance the committee heard that a gamer spent up to £1,000 per year on loot box mechanics in Electronic Arts’s Fifa series.

A member of the public also reported that their adult son had built up debts of more than £50,000 through spending on microtransactions in online game RuneScape. The maker of that game, Jagex, told the committee that players “can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month”.

In addition to calling for gambling law to be applied to the industry’s lucrative loot box mechanic, the report calls on games makers to face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms, saying research into possible negative psychosocial harms has been hampered by the industry’s unwillingness to share play data.

“Data on how long people play games for is essential to understand what normal and healthy — and, conversely, abnormal and potentially unhealthy — engagement with gaming looks like. Games companies collect this information for their own marketing and design purposes; however, in evidence to us, representatives from the games industry were wilfully obtuse in answering our questions about typical patterns of play,” it writes.

“Although the vast majority of people who play games find it a positive experience, the minority who struggle to maintain control over how much they are playing experience serious consequences for them and their loved ones. At present, the games industry has not sufficiently accepted responsibility for either understanding or preventing this harm. Moreover, both policy-making and potential industry interventions are being hindered by a lack of robust evidence, which in part stems from companies’ unwillingness to share data about patterns of play.”

The report recommends the government require games makers share aggregated player data with researchers, with the committee calling for a new regulator to oversee a levy on the industry to fund independent academic research — including into ‘Gaming disorder‘, an addictive condition formally designated by the World Health Organization — and to ensure that “the relevant data is made available from the industry to enable it to be effective”.

“Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money. Their business models are built on this, but it’s time for them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users,” said DCMS committee chair, Damian Collins, in a statement.

“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the Government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.

“Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products. Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game play has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. It’s time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.”

The committee wants independent research to inform the development of a behavioural design code of practice for online services. “This should be developed within an adequate timeframe to inform the future online harms regulator’s work around ‘designed addiction’ and ‘excessive screen time’,” it writes, citing the government’s plan for a new Internet regulator for online harms.

MPs are also concerned about the lack of robust age verification to keep children off age-restricted platforms and games.

The report identifies inconsistencies in the games industry’s ‘age-ratings’ stemming from self-regulation around the distribution of games (such as online games not being subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, meaning voluntary ratings are used instead).

“Games companies should not assume that the responsibility to enforce age-ratings applies exclusively to the main delivery platforms: All companies and platforms that are making games available online should uphold the highest standards of enforcing age-ratings,” the committee writes on that.

“Both games companies and the social media platforms need to establish effective age verification tools. They currently do not exist on any of the major platforms which rely on self-certification from children and adults,” Collins adds.

During the enquiry it emerged that the UK government is working with tech companies including Snap to try to devise a centralized system for age verification for online platforms.

A section of the report on Effective Age Verification cites testimony from deputy information commissioner Steve Wood raising concerns about any move towards “wide-spread age verification [by] collecting hard identifiers from people, like scans of passports”.

Wood instead pointed the committee towards technological alternatives, such as age estimation, which he said uses “algorithms running behind the scenes using different types of data linked to the self-declaration of the age to work out whether this person is the age they say they are when they are on the platform”.

Snapchat’s Will Scougal also told the committee that its platform is able to monitor user signals to ensure users are the appropriate age — by tracking behavior and activity; location; and connections between users to flag a user as potentially underage. 

The report also makes a recommendation on deepfake content, with the committee saying that malicious creation and distribution of deepfake videos should be regarded as harmful content.

“The release of content like this could try to influence the outcome of elections and undermine people’s public reputation,” it warns. “Social media platforms should have clear policies in place for the removal of deepfakes. In the UK, the Government should include action against deepfakes as part of the duty of care social media companies should exercise in the interests of their users, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper.”

“Social media firms need to take action against known deepfake films, particularly when they have been designed to distort the appearance of people in an attempt to maliciously damage their public reputation, as was seen with the recent film of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi,” adds Collins.

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Zyl raises $1.1 million to resurface old memories from your photos

Posted by | Apps, Comet, Europe, France Newsletter, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, photo, Recent Funding, Startups, Zyl | No Comments

French startup Zyl has raised $1 million (€1 million) in a round led by OneRagtime. The company has developed an app that uses artificial intelligence to find the most interesting photos and videos in your photo library.

Now that smartphones have been around for a while, many people have thousands of unsorted photos on their iPhone or Android device. And chances are you don’t often scroll back to look at past vacations and important life events.

Zyl is well aware of that. That’s why the company does the heavy lifting for you. The app scans your photo library to find important memories and photos you may have forgotten. It has even registered patents for some of its algorithms.

But identifying photos and videos is just one thing. In order to turn that process into a fun, nostalgia-powered experience, the app sends you a notification every day to tell you that Zyl has identified a new memory — they call it a Zyl. When you tap on it, the app reveals that memory and you can share it with your friends and family.

You then have to wait another 24 hours to unlock another Zyl. That slow-paced approach is key as you spend more time looking at Zyls and sharing them with loved ones.

mockup 3.1

It’s also worth noting that Zyl processes your photo library on your iPhone or Android device directly. Photos aren’t sent to the company’s server.

Up next, Zyl plans to enrich your collection of Zyls with more photos and videos from your friends and family. You could imagine a way to seamlessly share photos of the same life event with your loved ones, even if they are currently spread out over multiple smartphones.

With today’s funding round, the company wants to improve the app and reach millions of users. Zyl already has impressive retention rates, with 38% of users opening the app regularly during five weeks or more.

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Daily Crunch: Apple unveils new iPhones

Posted by | Apple, Daily Crunch, hardware, Mobile | No Comments

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Here’s everything Apple announced today at the iPhone 11 event

The biggest announcement was a new lineup of iPhones, including the iPhone 11, with a new dual-camera system, as well as two iPhone Pro models with three cameras each. Cameras galore!

In addition, the company announced new iPads and Apple Watches, as well as pricing and launch dates for Apple Arcade (launching September 19) and Apple TV+ (November 1).

2. California passes landmark bill that requires Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees

The bill says that if a contractor’s work is part of a company’s regular business, then they must be designated as employees. And thus, these workers will get access to more protections such as minimum wage, the right to unionize and overtime.

3. Peloton plots $1.2B Nasdaq IPO

In an amended S-1 filing released Tuesday afternoon, the developer of internet-connected stationary bikes and treadmills announced a proposed price range of $26 to $29 per share, allowing the company to raise as much as $1.2 billion in its public offering.

4. Uber lays off 435 people across engineering and product teams

Speaking of Uber, the company laid off about 8% of the workforce, with 170 people leaving the product team and 265 people leaving the engineering team.

5. Mozilla launches a VPN, brings back the Firefox Test Pilot program

The Test Pilot program allows users to try out new features before they are ready for mainstream usage.

6. Aerospace Corp CEO Steve Isakowitz to talk how to raise non-dilutive capital at Disrupt SF

Aerospace Corp is not that widely known outside space circles, but its 59-year-old R&D legacy is remarkable. The nonprofit works with the U.S. Air Force and other government space programs to identify emerging technologies from the commercial sector that could apply to future space programs.

7. What the iPhone 11 says about Apple’s present — and future

Let’s wrap this up with some thoughts on what yesterday’s announcements mean for Apple’s strategy — particularly the company’s growing focus on content and services, and its new thinking on how to position the iPhone. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

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iFixit gives Fairphone 3 a perfect 10 for repairability

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Europe, Fairphone, GreenTech, hardware, ifixit, iPhone, Mobile, phil schiller, repairability, smartphone, smartphones, sustainability | No Comments

Here’s something the hermetically sealed iPhone can’t do: Score a perfect 10 for repairability.

Smartphone startup and social enterprise Fairphone’s latest repairable-by-design smartphone has done just that, getting 10/10 in an iFixit Teardown vs scores of just 6/10 for recent iPhone models.

The Fairphone 3, which was released in Europe last week with an RRP of €450, gets thumbs up across the board in iFixit’s hardware Teardown. It found all the internal modules to be easily accessible and replaceable — with only basic tools required to get at them (Fairphone includes a teeny screwdriver in the box). iFixit also lauds visual cues that help with disassembly and reassembly, and notes that repair guides and spare parts are available on Fairphone’s website.

iFixit’s sole quibble is that while most of the components inside the Fairphone 3’s modules are individually replaceable “some” are soldered on. A tiny blip that doesn’t detract from the 10/10 repairability score

Safe to say, such a score is the smartphone exception. The industry continues to encourage buyers to replace an entire device, via yearly upgrade, instead of enabling them to carry out minor repairs themselves — so they can extend the lifespan of their device and thereby shrink environmental impact.

Dutch startup Fairphone was set up to respond to the abject lack of sustainability in the electronics industry. The tiny company has been pioneering modularity for repairability for several years now, flying in the face of smartphone giants that are still routinely pumping out sealed tablets of metal and glass which often don’t even let buyers get at the battery to replace it themselves.

To wit: An iFixit Teardown of the Google Pixel rates battery replacement as “difficult” with a full 20 steps and between 1-2 hours required. (Whereas the Fairphone 3 battery can be accessed in seconds, by putting a fingernail under the plastic back plate to pop it off and lifting the battery out.)

The Fairphone 3 goes much further than offering a removable backplate for getting at the battery, though. The entire device has been designed so that its components are accessible and repairable.

So it’s not surprising to see it score a perfect 10 (the startup’s first modular device, Fairphone 2, was also scored 10/10 by iFixit). But it is strong, continued external validation for the Fairphone’s designed-for-repairability claim.

It’s an odd situation in many respects. In years past replacement batteries were the norm for smartphones, before the cult of slimming touchscreen slabs arrived to glue phone innards together. Largely a consequence of hardware business models geared towards profiting from pushing for clockwork yearly upgrades cycle — and slimmer hardware is one way to get buyers coveting your next device.

But it’s getting harder and harder to flog the same old hardware horse because smartphones have got so similarly powerful and capable there’s precious little room for substantial annual enhancements.

Hence iPhone maker Apple’s increasing focus on services. A shift that’s sadly not been accompanied by a rethink of Cupertino’s baked in hostility towards hardware repairability. (It still prefers, for example, to encourage iPhone owners to trade in their device for a full upgrade.)

At Apple’s 2019 new product announcement event yesterday — where the company took the wraps off another clutch of user-sealed smartphones (aka: iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro) — there was even a new financing offer to encourage iPhone users to trade in their old models and grab the new ones. ‘Look, we’re making it more affordable to upgrade!’ was the message.

Meanwhile, the only attention paid to sustainability — during some 1.5 hours of keynotes — was a slide which passed briefly behind marketing chief Phil Schiller towards the end of his turn on stage puffing up the iPhone updates, encouraging him to pause for thought.

Apple 2019 event

“iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 are made to be designed free from these harmful materials and of course to reduce their impact on the environment,” he said in front of a list of some toxic materials that are definitely not in the iPhones.

Stuck at the bottom of this list were a couple of detail-free claims that the iPhones are produced via a “low-carbon process” and are “highly recyclable”. (The latter presumably a reference to how Apple handles full device trade-ins. But as anyone who knows about sustainability will tell you, sustained use is far preferable to premature recycling…)

“This is so important to us. That’s why I bring it up every time. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of this,” Schiller added, before pressing the clicker to move on to the next piece of marketing fodder. Blink and you’d have missed it.

If Apple truly wants to push the boundaries on sustainability — and not just pay glossy lip-service to reducing environmental impact for marketing purposes while simultaneously encouraging annual upgrades — it has a very long way to go indeed.

As for repairability, the latest and greatest iPhones clearly won’t hold a candle to the Fairphone.

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