May 9, 2018

Link: It Doesn’t Look Like Anything to Me ☍

Alex Cranz for Gizmodo:

Google could soon have a feature that lets your phone impersonate people—because consumer-facing artificial intelligence isn’t terrifying enough. Called Duplex, it’s intended to make people’s lives easier by handling standard phone calls that are necessary, but not especially personal.

In examples Google demonstrated on stage during the I/O keynote, Google Assistant called a hair stylist to arrange an appointment and called a restaurant to get information about a reservation, using a voice that sounds a little less robotic than the standard Google Assistant (whether that voice is the user’s or a standard Google Duplex voice has not been made clear). And sure that’s ostensibly kind of neat. Intellectually speaking, I am very impressed with this technology! A voice that can contact human beings and impersonate them reasonably well, including using filler words like “um,” is a remarkable feat of AI engineering.

I also find the technology behind this quite impressive, but it also does give me a bit of an unsettled feeling. I understand the filler words are intended to give a more human feel, but it seems to be too much in the uncanny valley. More importantly, if it works as advertised, it’s that good that many people may not know it’s not human. Furthermore, we talk about technology addiction or communications suffering—what does having our phones make phone calls do for that dynamic? What if companies implement this technology and phase out call centers? While it might be better, you could also end up in a situation where the AI is just like the infuriating automated phone menus that take you in loops.

This isn’t sour grapes because Siri is lacking—if Siri could do this, I’d be equally creeped out. I think that there’s a lot of tech writers and pundits that think smart assistants are the next big thing, when many people may use them a bit more casually. I could be wrong, but right now, examples like this feel too wrong for me. On the other hand, there are excellent use cases in the realm of accessibility.

May 3, 2018

Link: If You Use Twitter, Change Your Password ☍

Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal:

When you set a password for your Twitter account, we use technology that masks it so no one at the company can see it. We recently identified a bug that stored passwords unmasked in an internal log. We have fixed the bug, and our investigation shows no indication of breach or misuse by anyone.

The original title for this post was “Keeping your account secure,” which is a fun way to avoid stating that passwords were made easily-accessible. I’ll yield Nick Heer’s take:

Interestingly enough, this was posted with the title “Keeping your account secure”, as opposed to a more accurate headline, like, “Oops, we stored your password in plain text”, or “We know the president’s password, for real”.

The euphemistic and misleading headline upsets me. What’s even more worrying is Agrawal’s reaction in a tweet:

We are sharing this information to help people make an informed decision about their account security. We didn’t have to, but believe it’s the right thing to do.

I have a problem with this because it makes it sound that this is the fat-free, low-carb, better-for-you option when phrased that way. Any business that holds user data and suffers some sort of data breach or mishandling has an obligation to those who have a relationship with it, to disclose that information in a reasonable amount of time. Although there’s always the debate with how social networks view users as a customer or product, I think Twitter did the only thing they should have done with disclosing this information.

I’ve already deleted an account on one social network this week, don’t make me consider a second, Twitter.

May 1, 2018

News: Apple Reports Q2 Results

Apple announced financial results for its fiscal 2018 second quarter ending March 30, 2018. In the conference call, Apple posted a quarterly revenue of $61.1 billion and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $2.73…

April 28, 2018

Link: Sarah Jeong Tried Leaving Facebook. She Couldn’t. ☍

The Verge’s Sarah Jeong shared more than a few experiences in her time of using Facebook in college through today and many of the thoughts echoed true for me:

In the early days, I loved Facebook. I loved being able to keep tabs on hundreds of college classmates all at once, of being able to tag all my dorm mates in the photos we took on our garbage 7 megapixel cameras, of creeping on crushes, of keeping up with every person I met at a party or in a classroom without doing very much work. I was terribly awkward and a little lazy and as a result, I never developed the skills that my parents’ generation cultivated in order to maintain their social networks.

Of the twelve years since I created a Facebook account, I only spent one year truly off the platform. And during that year, I think I glimpsed what Facebook is, and what hold it has on us. For years, deriding the fripperies of social media has practically become a national pastime, an easy piece of snobbery. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a frequently heard response would be, “Well, why not quit?” or “Don’t give your data to tech companies.”

Link: Why I Bought an iPhone 8 Plus After Using the iPhone X ☍

Dan Frakes:

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the iPhone X is the best phone for everyone right now. In fact, it’s not even the best one for me. After five months of long-term testing an iPhone X, it was recently time to return my review unit, so I had to buy a new phone for myself. (I had handed my previous personal iPhone down to a family member.) After weeks of indecision, I bought an iPhone 8 Plus instead of an iPhone X.

You’ve likely read at least a handful of “iPhone X vs. 8” articles by now, and maybe dozens of iPhone X reviews. So rather than give you a rundown of the spec-sheet differences between the two models, I’m going to focus on the differences I actually noticed in the course of using both models extensively—the iPhone X for five months, and the 8 Plus for a couple months before that and for a few weeks since.

I purchased an iPhone 8 Plus over an iPhone X for a few reasons—I could get it unlocked, it seemed like it was an interation of a proven design, the lower price was attractive, and I could try the Plus-sized devices. I really like the iPhone 8 Plus, and know that something iPhone X-like will inevitably be in my future in the coming years. In the meantime, most of the reasons I like mine fall in line with the comparisons in the article.

(I also wish that Apple would release the PRODUCT(RED) models alongside the others, as I would’ve opted for that, but also didn’t want to wait six months for a different color of a six-month-old iPhone.)