As an iPhone owner since 2013, the announcement of the next iPhone is usually an exciting moment for me. To be more precise, the anticipation leading to the announcement is what’s stimulating; the actual moment of truth tends to be disappointing since 2017. About a year ago, I wrote about how there has not been any dramatic change since the introduction of the iPhone X. The 2021 iPhone, rumored to be called iPhone 13, will not change that trend if all the leaks get confirmed next month.
This made me look towards the Android ecosystem, where some inspiring changes are happening while iPhone power users yawn. Top examples of this are Samsung’s folding devices, like the newly announced Fold3 and Flip3, and Google’s futuristic AI features, namely the on-device speech recognition on the new Pixel 6 or Duplex’s ability to make and receive calls for you.
How many times have you heard that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is humanity’s biggest threat? Some people think that Google brought us a step closer to a dark future when Duplex was announced last month, a new capability of Google’s digital Assistant that enables it to make phone calls on your behalf to book appointments with small businesses. You can see it in action here:
No joke. Google Assistant will start making phone calls to small businesses to make appointments on you behalf. It's called Google Duplex. The AI caller even adds uhmms and hmms #io18pic.twitter.com/r5Ie33YFEc
The root of the controversy lied on the fact that the Assistant successfully pretended to be a real human, never disclosing its true identity to the other side of the call. Many tech experts wondered if this is an ethical practice or if it’s necessary to hide the digital nature of the voice.
Facebook has been receiving criticism once again for how they handled users’ personal data. Here is a quick summary: in 2013, a 3rd party developer acquired large amounts of data from about 50 million users through an old platform capability (which was removed by Facebook itself one year later to prevent abuse); this data was then used to target US voters during the 2016 Presidential Election. The issue is complex in depth and it highlights a bigger underlying problem: users’ privacy expectations are not aligned with the commitment from most tech companies.
Zuckerberg said in a recent interview with Wired, “early on […] we had this very idealistic vision around how data portability would allow all these different new experiences, and I think the feedback that we’ve gotten from our community and from the world is that privacy and having the data locked down is more important to people.”
I can nonetheless relate to that idealistic vision between privacy and technology. The more information the Google Assistant knows about the music I like, the better it can personalize my listening experience. Richer actions become available too, like allowing me to control the Nest thermostat or the lights by voice. At the end of the day, I’m trusting Google with my music taste and the devices installed in my house, and I get the benefit of convenience in return.
Last Saturday I found out about AlphaGo, Google DeepMind’s computer capable of beating the European champion at the game Go; it uses “deep neural networks that have been trained by supervised learning, from human expert games, and by reinforcement learning from games of self-play“, and it’s still unknown if humans can beat it.
Watching the project’s website I noticed the copyright at the bottom and thought: is DeepMind actually aligned with Google’s business goals? A quick look to their mission statement refreshed my memory:
Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
I returned my Chromecast. I played with it for about a week but I found its Achilles’ heel the moment I casted my first video. This is how it happened.
I have a secondary TV where I wanted to be able to watch Hulu and other media channels without spending too much money. After some investigation, I found that one of the cheapest solutions was Chromecast, at only $35.
Two features in particular caught my attention: Chromecast is a small dongle that connects to the HDMI port of any TV, and any device with Android, iOS or Windows can be used to stream a video to your TV. Since I normally stream videos to my Xbox 360 using my Dell Venue 8 Pro (the Play feature included in Windows 8.1 is awesome), I thought it would be very convenient to do a similar thing with Chrome and its Google Cast extension. I didn’t need anything else!
It has been a while now that Google announced it would close Google Reader, one of the most popular RSS readers, and since then lots of services and apps have rushed into what looked like a race to be the “best alternative”.
Digg launched its own version, Feedly also started working nonstop on its own independent infrastructure (which successfully launched), and it was rumored that even Facebook was working on some sort of reader.
Now, why did Google finish its Reader? According to Richard Gingras, Senior Director of News & Social Products at Google:
As a culture we have moved into a realm where the consumption of news is a near-constant process. Users with smartphones and tablets are consuming news in bits and bites throughout the course of the day — replacing the old standard behaviors of news consumption over breakfast along with a leisurely read at the end of the day.