Beauty spot or landscape blot? Computer trained to judge scenery

 

Wordsworth found it in a host of daffodils; Nan Shepherd in the nooks of the Cairngorms. For Monet it popped up all over the place, from the windmills and canals of Amsterdam, to the sailing boats of Argenteuil. What lends a scene beauty has long been left to the poets and painters to define, but that may be about to change. In a new study, researchers trained a computer to tell scenic views from blots on the landscape. One day it could help with decisions over what land to protect, and how better to design new towns and cities, the scientists claim.

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Microsoft’s new iPhone app narrates the world for blind people

 

The app works in a number of scenarios. As well as recognizing people it’s seen before and guessing strangers’ age and emotion, it can identify household products by scanning barcodes. It also reads and scan documents, and recognizes US currency. This last function is a good example of how useful it can be. As all dollar bills are the same size and color regardless of value, spotting the difference can be difficult or even impossible for the visually impaired. An app like Seeing AI helps them find that information.

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‘Turn it off’: how technology is killing the joy of national parks

 

Andrew Studer was admiring a massive lava fire hose at Hawaii Volcanoes national park when he spotted something unusual: a small quadcopter drone flying very close to the natural wonder pouring hot molten rock. “There were other visitors sitting out relaxing in somewhat of a meditative state, just trying to enjoy this phenomenon,” said Studer, who recently captured a viral image of a drone hovering near the lava. “I do feel like drones are extremely obnoxious, and I’m sure it was frustrating for some of the people there.”

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I’m an ex-Facebook exec: don’t believe what they tell you about ads

 

For two years I was charged with turning Facebook data into money, by any legal means. If you browse the internet or buy items in physical stores, and then see ads related to those purchases on Facebook, blame me. I helped create the first versions of that, way back in 2012. The ethics of Facebook’s micro-targeted advertising was thrust into the spotlight this week by a report out of Australia. The article, based on a leaked presentation, said that Facebook was able to identify teenagers at their most vulnerable, including when they feel “insecure”, “worthless”, “defeated” and “stressed”.

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One for the Thumbs

 

I spent two decades writing reviews for technology products that featured a mandatory score on a five-point rating scale1. The idea of applying a numerical rating to a product appears to be an early 20th century invention, most famously adopted by film critics. I was never a fan of the idea, to be honest. Step away from the objective world of precise measurements and things get squishy awfully fast. You end up using the precision of numbers to measure the imprecision of sentiment. Beyond telling you if I like the product or not—if Roger Ebert likes the movie or not—does the difference between a 3.5 and a 4 really tell you much? (When I started at Macworld, the magazine had just instituted a completely bonkers rating system where every product was scored twice, both out of five stars and out of 100 points (actually out of 10 points with a mandatory tenth rating, wasting a lot of perfectly good periods), so you’d end up with ratings like 4 stars/8.7. If you’re reviewing hard drives I suppose it’s arguable that you might need to differentiate between a 7.3 and a 7.4, but in most cases that level of precision is pointless and arbitrary.)

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A ‘listening’ hairbrush and emotional cars: the futuristic trends of CES 2017

 

There are already countless electronic devices that connect and report data to smartphones – activity trackers being the most obvious example – but what is particularly interesting about this year’s CES is the way companies are looking to exploit this idea for financial gain. It felt as though some product developers at the conference had simply wandered around their houses deciding on impulse to implant Wi-Fi into objects. Take the Onvi Prophix toothbrush. It has a camera that streams live video to a smartphone app, enabling the user to see inside their mouth as they are brushing.

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Anti-surveillance clothing aims to hide wearers from facial recognition

 

The Hyperface project involves printing patterns on to clothing or textiles, which then appear to have eyes, mouths and other features that a computer can interpret as a face. This is not the first time Harvey has tried to confuse facial recognition software. During a previous project, CV Dazzle, he attempted to create an aesthetic of makeup and hairstyling that would cause machines to be unable to detect a face.

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From customisation to DIY handbags – how customers became designers

 

Maks Fus Mickiewicz, senior journalist at trend analyst the Future Laboratory, believes this shift to consumer power is only going to get more pronounced. “Fashion brands are realising that to stay ahead of the game they need to move away from imposing their aesthetic on others,” he says. “That’s not how the world works anymore. There’s a new dialogue with consumers.” Mickiewicz says it’s the tech industry that should be studied for next steps. “Technology companies develop software but there’s an openness to it being updated and changed,” he says. “It’s about fashion companies letting go of the idea of the creative genius at the top.” The most fun you’ll ever make? That’s a slogan that could go beyond teddy bears.

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The future of shopping: drones, digital mannequins and leaving without paying

 

The American DIY chain Lowe’s is testing LoweBot, a customer service robot that speaks several languages, helps shoppers find items and provides information on products. First trialled as OSHbot two years ago, it is currently being tested in 11 Lowe’s stores. US electricals retailer Best Buy has Chloe, a robot that is a glorified grabber arm for CDs and DVDs, while Aldebaran Robotics, part of the Japanese telecoms firm Softbank, has created Pepper, a humanoid robot which has been deployed in some Nescafé stores in Japan. Some US shopping centres are even adopting robotic security guards – a cross between a CCTV camera and a Dalek that can detect people who may be loitering in the wrong place and read car number plates in car parks. But it’s not all been straightforward: a robot guarding a shopping centre in California recently ran over a toddler after its navigational scanning systems failed to detect the small boy.

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What’s the future of interaction?

 

The proliferation of connected devices, especially the Internet of Things, was spurred by access to cheap parts. Anyone can now affordably slap a chip, accelerometer, gyroscope, and 3D-printed shell together to build something smart. But they still face one major challenge: how to give users control of their brand-new thing. Some manufacturers opt for a smartphone app; others build a touchscreen control panel right into their gadget. The touchscreen is easy, affordable, and involves no user learning curve. But still, the touchscreen presents its own problems.

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