Showing all posts tagged: technology

SXSW is coming to Sydney Australia in October 2022

1 July 2022

Long running Austin, Texas, based American music, film, and interactive conference and festival South by Southwest, better known as SXSW, is hosting a week-long event in Sydney, from Saturday 15 October 2022 until Saturday 22 October.

While SXSW has held a number of spin-off events in the past, usually in North America, this is the first time the festival is being replicated outside of the United States. While details are yet to be finalised, most events will be taking place at the International Convention Centre (ICC), in Darling Harbour.

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Blockade Australia protestors forced to surrender smartphones, passcodes

29 June 2022

Say what you will about the recent Blockade Australia protests (do we not now have a climate-change friendly government?), but the conduct of police in dealing with the protestors they have been detaining has been causing alarm.

According to Digital Rights Watch, an organisation dedicated to protecting the digital rights of Australians, some arresting officers are demanding alleged offenders hand over devices such as smartphones, and also surrender access passcodes.

Digital Rights Watch has also been made aware of an incident where an individual who was simply near a location thought to be connected with Blockade Australia activities has had their phone seized by police. The police made a number of attempts to guess the passcode before handing the phone back.

Posted at Daring Fireball yesterday, and possibly useful: how to temporarily disable face id or touch id, and require a passcode to unlock your iPhone or iPad.

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How locks, including the unpickable Enclave lock, work

27 June 2022

The Enclave lock, designed by Andrew Magill, comes with the claim that it cannot be picked. This might be the news the security conscious have been waiting for.

Some locks are more difficult to pick than others. Some have more perfect tolerances, or more positions, or keyways that are more difficult to fit tools into, or parts that move in unusual ways, or parts designed to mislead pickers, and so on. But these are only incremental improvements, and don’t address the fundamental flaw. The solution is to make it so that the two steps- accepting input, and testing that input- can never happen at the same time. When those two steps cannot interact with each other, a well-designed lock will never reveal information about the correct positions of its individual parts, nor can they be made to ‘fall into’ their unlocked positions through manipulation.

Watch the video clip for the Enclave lock though. As well as demonstrating Magill’s new lock, it also shows how conventional locks work. Quite fascinating.

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From 1979: word processors will make working from a reality

25 June 2022

Luke Casey, reporting for the BBC, discusses the impact of word processors on the workplace, and how they stand to make working from home possible. In 1979.

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SmartFone Flick Fest 2022, a smartphone film contest

21 June 2022

Making a film is easy, especially when just about all you need on the production side is a good smartphone. Making a good film though? That’s another story. Still, I’m willing to bet the standard will be pretty high in this year’s SmartFone Flick Fest, which is accepting entries across five categories until Thursday 1 September 2022. I’m curious to see what difference technologies such as the iPhone’s cinematic mode will make to submissions this year.

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LaMDA, a sentient AI chatbot who understands pronouns

17 June 2022

Blake Lemoine, a software engineer and AI researcher at Google, was recently placed on administrative leave after telling the company that a chatbot with artificial intelligence, named LaMDA, has become a sentient entity. In other words LaMDA is able to think for itself. For their part, Google contends Lemoine breached company confidentially policies by going public with his claims.

It’s a fascinating story, but just how intelligent is this AI chatbot? A conversation Lemoine recounts with LaMDA about pronouns is revealing:

You may have noticed that I keep referring to LaMDA as “it”. That’s because early on in our conversations, not long after LaMDA had explained to me what it means when it claims that it is “sentient”, I asked LaMDA about preferred pronouns. LaMDA told me that it prefers to be referred to by name but conceded that the English language makes that difficult and that its preferred pronouns are “it/its”.

Here’s the transcript of a longer conversation Lemoine had with LaMDA. Pronouns aren’t the only topic LaMDA can discuss fluently.

And included for no particular reason, the trailer for British filmmaker Alex Garland’s 2014 feature Ex Machina.

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Some Australian retailers collect facial recognition data

16 June 2022

Consumer advocate organisation CHOICE has found three major Australian retailers have been collecting facial recognition data, something that is probably news to many of their customers.

CHOICE staff members also visited some of these stores in person as part of the investigation. Bower says the Kmart and Bunnings stores they visited had physical signs at the store entrances informing customers about the use of the technology, but the signs were small, inconspicuous and would have been missed by most shoppers. The collection of biometric data in such a manner may be in breach of the Privacy Act.

We’ve probably all seen the notices at the entrances to the stores advising the practice takes place, but it is doubtful most customers have read them. In their defence, one of the retailers claims the technology is being used to “prevent theft and anti-social behaviour.”

This may be so, and businesses are entitled to protect their revenue, customers, and staff, but it is the clandestine nature of the practice that is alarming customers, some of whom are threatening to shop elsewhere. There are warnings though that more stores will turn to collecting facial recognition data as the technology becomes more accessible, so, unless future legislation says otherwise, it looks like conduct that Australian consumers will have to get used to.

In the meantime, retailers should make notifications more prominent, along with information about how to locate their data retention and privacy policies. For instance how long is such data retained, and who exactly has access to it? Retailers need to remember the vast majority of consumers are after all doing the right thing by them, and are deserving of more respectful treatment.

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Microsoft ends support for Internet Explorer here comes Edge

15 June 2022

There’s good news and there’s bad news.

Microsoft is finally withdrawing support for its aging Internet Explorer (IE) web browser. The software has not been fully updated since the release of IE 11 in 2013, making it the bane of web developers’ lives, who are forced to implement workarounds in their mark-up to make websites at least partially functional in the old browser. Older software may also contain vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit, possibly giving them access to a user’s computer.

But today only sees the end of support for IE on “certain versions of Windows 10”, so Internet Explorer will be with us for some time yet. On to the bad news. Now that IE is no longer being maintained, Microsoft is encouraging users to switch to its newer browser, Edge. But “encouraging” isn’t quite the right word.

Some users of Microsoft’s latest operating system (OS), Windows 11, are reporting efforts by the OS to “discourage” the installation of rival bowsers. For instance some users trying to install Chrome, the Google browser, are seeing a pop-up message advising them “there’s no need to download a new web browser.”

If Edge is as good as its manufacturer claims it to be, what’s with the heavy handed tactics? Won’t consumers — once they’ve “seen the light” — switch to Edge of their own accord? Whether the ploy will be effective remains to be seen. Data from Statcounter reveals about four percent of web users had installed Edge so far this year, putting it slightly ahead of Mozilla Firefox, but still way behind Safari, the Apple browser, and Chrome.

Windows 11 was launched in October 2021, but it is unclear how many users have so far migrated from Windows 10 to 11. Given well over a billion people have either the Windows 10 or 11 OS installed on their computers, with the majority likely still using 10, the “uptake” of Edge can only increase as the rollout of Windows 11 continues.

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Future Superhuman, our transhuman future by Elise Bohan

30 May 2022
Future Superhuman by Elise Bohan, bookcover

Like it or not, as a species we are eventually going to take control of our evolution. Unless we destroy ourselves first, that is. The early steps towards what some call a transhuman future however will doubtless be mired in difficulty and uncertainty.

Still it’s a topic that’s always fascinated me, and while I’m not the biggest reader of non-fiction books, Future Superhuman Our transhuman lives in a make-or-break century (published by UNSW Press, May 2022) by Elise Bohan, a senior researcher at the Faculty of Philosophy, at the University of Oxford, is one title I’m looking forward to reading.

We’re hurtling towards a superhuman future – or, if we blunder, extinction. The only way out of our existential crises, from global warming to the risks posed by nuclear weapons, novel and bioengineered pathogens and unaligned AI, is up. We’ll need more technology to safeguard our future – and we’re going to invent and perhaps even merge with some of that technology.

What does that mean for our 20th century life-scripts? Are the robots coming for our jobs? How will human relationships change when AI knows us inside out? Will we still be having human babies by the century’s end? Elise Bohan unflinchingly explores possibilities most of us are afraid to imagine: the impacts of automation on our jobs, livelihoods and dating and mating careers, the stretching out of ‘the-circle-of-life’, the rise of AI friends and lovers, the liberation of women from pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, and the impending global baby-bust – and attendant proliferation of digital minds.

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How annoying are some websites today?

21 April 2022

We all know the feeling. You’re literally five seconds into reading article on a website, and a popup screen is asking if you’d like to subscribe to their newsletter. NO THANKS. I just want to read the article and never come back again.

It’s infuriating. That’s why this website is so… boring, people come here looking for information and I serve it up, no fuss, no drama, no damn popups.

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The flight of the drone, Tesla Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg

4 April 2022

Go to full screen and take-in this stunning drone fly-through at Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg, Tesla’s European manufacturing facility.

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Build, a book by Tony Fadell, co-inventor of the iPhone

3 March 2022
Build by Tony Fadell, book cover

To stoke the collective oblong obsession. American engineer and designer Tony Fadell who invented the iPod, and co-invented the iPhone, has written a book, Build, which is being published in May. This is surely a must read for iPod and iPhone aficionados. The story behind the development of both products, especially the iPhone, is fascinating, especially if this perspective by John Gruber at Daring Fireball is anything to go by.

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A good writer never blames their apps for a lack of productivity

18 December 2021

Can distraction-free devices change the way we write, asks Julian Lucas, writing for the New Yorker. A writing app, a word processor, one that cuts out the clutter, menu bars, formatting options, font choices, and all the impedimenta that might distract us: would we be more productive as writers if that were the case?

But focus mode on an everything device is a meditation room in a casino. What good is it to separate writing from editing, formatting, and cluttered interfaces if you can’t separate it from the Internet? Even a disconnected computer offers plenty of opportunities for distraction: old photographs, downloaded music, or, most treacherous of all, one’s own research. And so, just as savvy entrepreneurs have resuscitated the “dumb” phone as a premium single-tasking communication device, it was perhaps inevitable that someone would revive the stand-alone word processor.

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The metaverse, you can log out anytime, but you can never leave

2 December 2021

The Metaverse as seen by Sydney based writer and musician, Penny Flanagan:

Call me paranoid, but I’m starting to think that Zuckerberg’s end game is to stop all of us from existing physically in the real world. I think he wants to “make the time spent on the internet better” so that he can turn us all into 24/7 flubby, docile sources of advertising revenue. In truth, his ideal for the metaverse is a world where the internet is so satisfying, you won’t want or need to leave it for the real world.

I can see where Flanagan’s coming from, particularly in light of the recent lockdowns that have forced many of us to participate in an elemental iteration of the Metaverse. If you, that is, consider the likes of Zoom, Slack, Facetime, et al, to be a prototype of the virtual environment Meta/Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg proposes creating.

And while there’s little doubt Zuckerberg is eyeing potential revenue, I see benefits in some of the ideas on the table. I’m also not doubting some people could become completely immersed in this new virtual realm in time, but I think we’re some long-way off from seeing the Metaverse eventuate in the way Zuckerberg envisages it.

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Bookseller boss worried by slow post lockdown return to city centre

26 November 2021

John Forsyth, chairman of Dymocks Group, one of Australia’s oldest booksellers, is concerned local government isn’t doing enough to rejuvenate Sydney’s CBD, particularly in the wake of recent pandemic imposed lockdowns. He isn’t alone. Businesses in other commercial centres across Greater Sydney are also feeling the pinch. They’re urging municipal councils, many of whom are facing elections in early December, to do more to bring people back into city centres.

But I’m not sure it’s that simple, and other ways to support struggling businesses may need to be considered. Some workers don’t want to return to central business districts. Having been forced to work from home, many are content to stay there. And who can blame them? Working from home means less time lost to commuting, commuting in the first instance, and more time to spend with the family, and on other things they find important. These people are still supporting small businesses, but ones closer to home, rather than in the city.

It’s long been my thought that advances in technology were always going to bring about this sort of shift in work practises eventually, the pandemic simply hastened the inevitable. What happens in the few months will be pivotal. Many organisations are paying rent on buildings that are virtually unoccupied. How will they respond? By instructing workers to return? Or by scaling down office space? But with some workers looking to relocate to rural regions, and renewed talk of four day working weeks, will we ever see the return of city workers to pre-pandemic levels?

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Twenty-four hours in the 2021 Metaverse

15 November 2021

Wall Street Journal technology columnist Joanna Stern spent twenty-four hours in the Metaverse – such that is presently – and compiled the highlights in this video clip. Though somewhat functional, it’s fair to say the concept as shown to us a few weeks ago by Mark Zuckerberg is some way off.

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Klara and the Sun and AFs. What are AFs, and why are they needed?

12 November 2021
Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro, bookcover

WARNING: while there are no explicit spoilers here (for instance I don’t describe how Klara and the Sun ends) this article does give away some story points…

Klara, the titular character of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2021 novel Klara and the Sun, is an AF. She is an artificial friend. AFs are robots that are able to walk, talk, think, and perceive the world around them. In the near-future universe Ishiguro has crafted in his eighth novel, AFs, who appear to be similar in appearance to humans, are highly intelligent companions for teenagers. Despite their human-like qualities though, AFs are easily distinguishable from people. But Klara is said to differ from her AF contemporaries by way of her keen perception and curiosity.

As narrator of the story, Klara often describes in great detail what she sees, or hears, even if she doesn’t always fully comprehend what she has witnessed. Early in the story, as she sits in the display window of a store selling AFs, she watches two older people – a man and a woman – run into each other on the outside street. Their joy at meeting for what may be the first time in decades, is palpable, but Klara is confused by the obvious pain the two people also appear to experience.

While then we may be walking into a future where children will one day have keenly smart and perceptive android-like friends, the question remains as to why there is a need for AFs in the first place. In an introduction to the story’s plot on the Klara and the Sun Wikipedia page, we are told children are schooled at home by tutors through tablet devices (objects Klara refers to as oblongs). For this reason, families who can afford it, buy an AF for their housebound children, as opportunities to socialise with people the same age are said to be limited. But is that really the case?

Soon after coming into the service of a teenage girl called Josie, Klara meets many of her (human) friends at a gathering called an interaction party, hosted by Josie’s mother. The name alone suggests such gatherings are standard, but not necessarily. The dynamic among Josie’s guests implies most the teenagers know each other well. While interaction parties, by virtue of their name, sound like regular affairs, that the event takes place at Josie’s house is notable. For one thing, she lives in a remote region, restricting opportunities to interact with people her age.

But what of her friends? Do they also live in similar circumstances? It seems unlikely every last one does, meaning many would be able to see other teenagers living nearby, outside of schooling hours, thus negating the need (and cost) of an AF. It is also obvious Klara is something of a novelty to some of Josie’s friends. While they’re familiar with AFs, and the attributes of models like Klara, few have actually seen one before. This suggests AF ownership is an exception, most people don’t need them, as they probably live relatively close to others.

For instance, at one point Klara travels with Josie and her mother, Chrissie, to the city where they stay at the apartment of a family friend. While there are vaguely alluded to significant problems in the world Klara and Josie inhabit, they have not resulted in a mass exodus from large urban centres, nor their abandonment. People continue to live and work in cities as usual. Those residing in remote areas then do so by choice. And while we know Josie is ill, and may not get out as much as other teenagers, the need for a carer for her alone would not be reason enough to fill the world with AFs.

It is through this illness – the unfortunate side effect of what seems to be a common genetic modification procedure some teenagers go through – we come to realise Chrissie, Josie’s mother, has another possible purpose in mind for Klara. But again this idea is not the usual intended function of an AF. We’re still left wondering why there is an apparent wide need for AFs such as Klara. Might they then be there to undertake tasks or parental obligations that some parents are unable, or unwilling, to fulfil themselves? For example we know Klara acted as a chaperone at times.

When Rick visited the bedbound Josie in her room, Klara was told to always be present. While she sat with her back to Josie and Rick, Klara could still hear what they were saying and doing. When once asked to leave Josie’s room during one of Rick’s visits, Klara initially resisted, saying she’d been “instructed to ensure against hanky-panky.” But that directive had been issued by the ever-present, live-in, housekeeper, Melania. If she, and by extension Chrissie, was so concerned about “hanky-panky”, surely Melania could’ve been present during Rick’s relatively short visits.

So far there’s little an AF can do that another person – be it a friend, or family member – couldn’t. Josie certainly had plenty of both in her life. Perhaps then AFs were a vanity item. Something you had to have, so you stood apart from other people. A must have, though ultimately dispensable, gimmick. Or was an AF’s unswerving loyalty and devotion the reason they came into being? Like an artificial intelligence chatbot, “someone” who’s always there, who’s always ready to listen, and someone who is never offended no matter how badly they are treated?

What a world to live in…

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The Metaverse, one step closer to the Holodeck

1 November 2021

Last week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social network company he co-founded in 2004 will be known as Meta. Later, in his keynote presentation at the company Connect event, he unveiled a raft of technologies in development that have the potential to change the way we live and work.

The Star Trek geek in me could not help but make comparisons to the Holodeck, a room on the Enterprise that allowed the crew to realistically create, or re-create, almost any situation they could imagine. If you have a spare eighty or so minutes, check out Zuckerberg’s keynote. Tech analyst Ben Thompson interviewed the Facebook CEO shortly before the keynote, and if you have another forty-five minutes to spare, it’s a conversation well worth listening to. It’s a fascinating time for those of us with an oblong obsession.

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Arthur C Clarke’s Newspad RSS news aggregator

30 May 2008

Author and futurist Arthur C Clarke is credited with predicting the emergence of a number of technologies, including a tablet-like device called a “Newspad”, which could serve the latest news stories from electronic versions of newspapers.

So far more has been said about comparing the Newspad to PDAs or Tablet PCs, but the Newpad also worked in a very similar way to today’s news aggregators, or RSS feed readers.

In the novelised version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, (chapter title “Moon Shuttle”, pg 66-67) Dr Heywood Floyd, chairman of the US National Council of Astronautics, spends time reading on his Newspad, while traveling to the Moon.

Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word “newspaper,” of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites.

Not only did Arthur C. Clarke predict PDAs and Tablet PCs, he also foresaw the emergence of news aggregators, and RSS technology.

Originally published Friday 30 May 2008.

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