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One Giant Flop...The ‘game changer’ for mixed reality stumbles
Saturday 25 August 2018, 09:00AM
Have you ever heard of Magic Leap? If not, you’ll be surprised to learn that this American start-up company, founded in 2010, has raised an enormous US$2.3 billion for a previously non-released technology platform development programme employing more than 1,500 employees. For those that do know about Magic Leap’s existence, you’ll also know that whilst there has been much hype about the potential of their technology, supported by the occasional ‘life changing’ CGI image or two, the actual method and product has been shrouded in total secrecy for the past seven years of development. Magic Leap is a ‘mixed reality’ platform. The company prefers to differentiate this as ‘spatial computing’. In essence it’s the ability to enhance your surrounding ‘real’ environment with the integration and interaction with menu systems, 3D objects and animations. The current technological limitation and delivery method is for the user to wear a headset tethered to a wearable device which projects content into your field of vision... ideally with as much spatial accuracy as possible to prevent breaking the illusion that it’s actually ‘there’. It’s fair to say that the intensity of ‘real-time’ information processing and tracking, paired with a wearable computer powerful enough to deliver this experience seamlessly has to this point been lacking. Microsoft’s offering, The HoloLens, has been in the market for several years, and whilst it has its primitive uses in commercial training with an increasing potential in education, it certainly has underwhelming consumer value. So, is Magic Leap the next case of Emperor’s New Clothes? And what have they been doing with all of this time and money? According to the company founder and CEO, Rony Abovitz, with a company statement that is unlikely to calm the investors’ nerves, “When we’re not here talking about mixed reality and the future of computing, we’re busy putting robots in your kitchen and making music you can touch.” Well that’s alrighty then. No further explanation needed. Please carry on. And so they did. Right up to August 8 when the Magic Leap One headset and developer’s kit was unleashed to a poised world… most notably without a convincing domestic android nor ‘touchy-feely’ semiquavers in augmented sight. So the first technical journalist reviews are out. Now brace yourselves. Guess what? After billions of dollars spent and promises of floating ginormous sea mammals in your school gymnasium – and why is this the visual pinnacle of our future? – they’re far from encouraging. The Verge’s Adi Robertson wrote a hands-on review of the launch product, describing the experience as a ‘flawed glimpse’ of the potential in this field of technology. "Based on an afternoon with Magic Leap, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition is a functional, thoughtfully designed headset with some very real advantages over competitors like the Microsoft HoloLens. But it doesn’t seem like a satisfying computing device or a radical step forward for mixed reality." "While not as restrictive as Microsoft’s HoloLens, the Lightwear (headset) has a limited field of view that constrains the experience. Some objects appeared cut off unless I turned my head or took a few steps back. I don’t suggest anyone run out to buy one – maybe not for years. I found many of Magic Leap’s technically impressive demos to be little more than a novelty.” And MIT Technology Review was also less than complimentary. “Yet while the experiences in the demo room are fun and visually impressive, none of it is truly mind-blowing.” “I want to feel like those robots are actually coming after me. I want the life-size whale coming out of the gym floor. And I want to forget that I’m weighed down by a headset and pocket-sized computer, peering at this visually enhanced world one rectangle at a time. For this to happen, the hardware will have to get still smaller and better.” “More to the point, cool as the gadget is, the question remains: can Magic Leap turn it into a money-making business?” So where is this going? I’m not sure even Magic Leap know. They’re certainly keen to promote a magical idea of a technically-enhanced future, but with little direction on what this will actually achieve. And will they be the ones to do it even if the roadmap to a digitally enhanced future is imagined? Whilst Magic Leap have constrained any serious questions or information from within the company with strict non-disclosure agreements with all employees, and some clearly PR-orchestrated positive statements… various leaks from within the company have confirmed what we’ve secretly been wondering all along. “Either management doesn’t appear to have a clue, or they are in on a very giant scam.” “Unless you’re drinking the Kool-Aid you’ll quickly see how much of a facade this company is.” Ouch. Perhaps they’ve been too busy working on a mixed-reality experience for their investors? One in which cryptocurrency literally falls off the swooning purple trees straight into their clean, glowing hands, neatly obscuring their regal butt-naked frames. The Garden of Eden this is not. Check out the unforgettable first experiences created by Magic Leap Studios at www.magicleap.com
Facebook to verify identities, require labels for political ads
Saturday 7 April 2018, 03:50PM
Facebook announced Friday (Apr 6) it will require political ads on its platform to state who is paying for the message and would verify the identity of the payer, in a bid to curb outside election interference. The social network, which is under fire for enabling manipulation of its platform in the 2016 election, said the new policy would require any messages for candidates or public issues to include the label "political ad" with the name of the person or entity paying for it. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said the change will mean "we will hire thousands of more people" to get the new system in place ahead of US midterm elections in November. "We're starting this in the US and expanding to the rest of the world in the coming months," Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page. "These steps by themselves won't stop all people trying to game the system. But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads." A separate Facebook statement said the changes would help improve transparency and accountability of the network around political campaigns. "We believe that when you visit a page or see an ad on Facebook, it should be clear who it's coming from," the statement said. To get authorized by Facebook, "advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location," the statement said. "Advertisers will be prohibited from running political ads – electoral or issue-based – until they are authorized." Facebook made the announcement as Zuckerberg prepared to appear before Congress next week to answer questions about the harvesting of personal data on 87 million users by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consultancy working for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. The move also comes amid concerns that Russian-sponsored entities delivered Facebook ads designed to create discord and confusion ahead of the election and that firms like Cambridge Analytica created messages based on psychographic profiles gleaned from the platform to influence voters.   Sandberg's apology Separately, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg offered fresh apologies to users for failing to do enough on privacy and data protection. "We know that we did not do enough to protect people's data," Sandberg told National Public Radio. "I'm really sorry for that. Mark is really sorry for that, and what we're doing now is taking really firm action." Sandberg said Facebook first became aware in 2015 that Cambridge Analytica had obtained user data from a researcher who put up a poll on the social network. "When we received word that this researcher gave the data to Cambridge Analytica, they assured us it was deleted," she said. "We did not follow up and confirm, and that's on us -- and particularly once they were active in the election, we should have done that." Sandberg was asked by NBC television's "Today Show" if other cases of user data misuse could be expected. "We're doing an investigation, we're going to do audits and yes, we think it's possible, that's why we're doing the audit," she said. Sandberg said Facebook also should have been more proactive in dealing with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. "That was something we should have caught, we should have known about," she told NPR. "We didn't. Now we've learned." The firestorm over the improper data shared has sparked calls for investigations on both sides of the Atlantic. In Brussels, a European Union spokesman said Facebook confirmed that up to 2.7 million people in the EU may have been affected by the personal data scandal. "We will study the letter (from Facebook) in more detail, but it is already clear that this will need further follow-up discussions with Facebook," spokesman Christopher Wigand said.
Pixel upgrade, Google earbuds, highlight Google’s push into hardware
Friday 6 October 2017, 09:16AM
Google on Wednesday unveiled new versions of its Pixel smartphone, the highlight of a refreshed line aimed at weaving artificial intelligence deeper into modern lives. The company also introduced its new Pixel ear buds that the company says are capable of real-time translation of conversations in different languages Google software and artificial intelligence were common threads in the gamut of new devices it unveiled to step up its challenge on the hardware front to rivals such as Apple and Amazon The new Pixel 2 and larger Pixel 2 XL are the first Google-made phones to be released since the California tech giant announced the acquisition of key segments of Taiwan-based electronics group HTC. The upgraded smartphones will be available for order as of Wednesday in six countries starting at $649 (B21,000) for five-inch display Pixel 2, and $849 (B28,000) for the six-inch Pixel 2 XL. The new aluminum-body smartphones along with Google's upgraded connected speakers and new laptop computer all aim to infuse artificial intelligence to make the devices more user-friendly, built around the Google Assistant -- the rival to Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and others. Google vice president Rick Osterloh said Google's new devices "are simple to use and they anticipate your needs." Osterloh told the product launch event in San Francisco: "You interact with your devices naturally with your voice or by touching them." Google, by bringing in a team of engineers from HTC, aims to emulate the success of Apple iPhones by controlling the hardware as well as the software used in the premium-priced handsets. The revamped camera in the smartphone retains a single lens, but seeks to improve images via "computational photography," an artificial intelligence tool that can enhance pictures. Analyst Ian Fogg of IHS Markit said in a tweet that the new smartphone "adds incremental improvements on the great v1" while noting that "Google's challenge is to solve production limits which hurt the original." Fogg said the use of computation to improve images with a single lens "is technically impressive."   Mini speaker, mini camera  Google announced a slimmed down version of its connected speaker called Google Home Mini starting at $49 (B1,600) in the United States, stepping up its challenge to market leader Amazon. The new Google Home Mini is available for pre-order in the seven countries where the device is offered, and will go on sale in stores October 19, the company said. The new speaker, which responds to voice commands using artificial intelligence, is less than half the price of Google's first generation speaker and makes this "more accessible to more people," said Google hardware designer Isabelle Olsson. A premium version of the speaker -- a $399 (B13,000) Google Home Max unveiled Wednesday -- offers more power and audio quality for music aficionados. The new Google Clips camera -- one of the surprises of the event -- "looks for smiles (and) moments, because the software is in the camera," said Google product manager Juston Payne. "It's like having my own photographer shooting and choosing my best moments for me," Payne said of the $249 (B8,0000 device.   A new Pixelbook laptop was touted as a "high performance" computer powered by its Chrome operating system and designed as a rival to Microsoft's Surface and Apple's iPad Pro. With a 12.3-inch display, the device is a convertible PC that can be used as a tablet and is sold starting at $999 (B33,000) for US customers.   Real time translation A demonstration given as Google unveiled a host of new products infused with its digital “Assistant” smarts got people playfully referring to Pixel Buds as an internet-Age version of alien "Babel Fish" depicted in famed science fiction work "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." In the literature, inserting a Babel Fish in an ear enabled a person to understand anything spoken in any language. Pixel Buds, synched to freshly-introduced second-generation Pixel smartphones, promised real-time translations of conversations involving any of 40 languages. A demonstration at the event included a two-way conversation with one person speaking English and the other Swedish. "That was one of the best tech demos I've seen in a long time," said Current Analysis consumer devices research director Avi Greengart. "If it works like that in the real world, that is a 'Wow, we are living in the future' moment." VentureBeat reporter Dean Takahashi reacted to the demo by firing off a tweet saying "The Babel Fish is here." Pixel Buds were priced at 159 dollars and will be available in the US beginning in November. Ear buds can be controlled with touches, swipes, or spoken commands, allowing users to among other things select music, send texts and get directions, a demonstration showed.   'AI-first world'  Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said the new devices showcase the tech giant's artificial intelligence. "We've been working hard continuing our shift from a mobile-first to an AI-first world," he said. "We are working on software and hardware together, because that is the best way to drive computing forward." The launch comes in the wake of Apple's announcement of a new line of iPhones, and Amazon's upgrades to its Echo speakers powered by its Alexa digital assistant "It is a portfolio designed to take Google into more parts of your life, particularly in your home," Reticle Research analyst Ross Rubin said of the array of devices the internet giant unveiled on Wednesday. "Amazon is focusing on a range of price points and designs; Google is focusing on a range of experiences."