Posts with «region|us» label

Apple pulls verification requirement for US education shoppers

Earlier this week, Apple began requiring that students and teachers in the US verify their identity through authentication service UNiDAYS before they could take advantage of the company’s discounted education pricing. The move closed a long-standing loophole that had allowed almost anyone to save money on an Apple device as long as they weren’t caught in a random check.

However, mere days after implementing that requirement, Apple has just as quickly removed it. Per MacRumors, you can once again buy discounted Macs, iPads and other Apple products from the company’s US education website without the need to verify that you’re currently a student or a teacher. The outlet suggests the company may have made the change after some educators and school staff members complained they couldn’t verify their status through UNiDAYS properly, and therefore couldn’t obtain a discount on a product they wanted to buy.

It’s unclear if Apple plans to reimplement the requirement once it sorts out any potential issues with the system. For years, Apple has used UNiDAYS in many other countries, including the UK, to ensure only those who qualify for its education discounts can get them. We’ve reached out to the company for comment and more information.

Google may already be making another Chromecast with Google TV

Google tends to release new Chromecast models only sparingly (you can still buy a years-old 1080p unit today), but it may be more aggressive with the Google TV model. 9to5Googlesources claim the company is already developing a new Chromecast with Google TV. Documentation and code sleuthing have reportedly revealed the codename "Boreal," while 9to5 understood the Android TV media hub would launch later in 2022.

The purported leak doesn't mention specifications, although newer processing power with broader video support might be necessary. XDA and others have heard Android TV will require AV1 video format support after March 31st, and that's conspicuously absent on the existing Chromecast with Google TV. The company might also use the opportunity to address common complaints, such as the modest storage.

Provided the leak is accurate, the question is whether or not this is a straightforward replacement for the existing Chromecast or a higher-powered separate model. Given that the existing Chromecast already supports 4K HDR, though, a replacement seems more likely. It's clear any changes would be substantial enough to warrant a new internal nickname — Google doesn't typically hand out names for minor revisions.

'Dying Light 2' will include free PS5 and Xbox Series X/S upgrades

After multiple delays, Dying Light 2 will finally arrive on February 4th. If you haven’t had a chance to purchase a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S yet, developer Techland is making the decision of whether to buy the game now or later easy. In an announcement spotted by Eurogamer, the studio shared this week it will provide free current-gen upgrades to those who buy Dying Light 2 on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

What that means is that you’ll have the chance to play the game with improved graphics at a later date. Like many recent PS5 and Xbox Series X/S releases, Dying Light 2 will ship with multiple rendering modes, thereby allowing you to configure the game to prioritize either graphical fidelity or better performance. 

If you want the best possible graphics, you can choose between separate “Quality” and “Resolution” modes. As you can probably tell from the name, the latter will attempt to render the game at 4K. Less obvious is the Quality mode, which adds raytracing to the experience. And if all you want is a smooth framerate, the included “Performance” mode will render Dying Light 2 at 60 frames per second or greater. You can see the different modes in action in the video above.

The news comes in the same week Techland announced the cloud version of Dying Light 2 for Switch will be delayed by up to half a year. The studio said it made the decision to push back the release to ensure it could provide the best possible experience to Nintendo fans.

Sony will release a movie made using the PlayStation game-builder ‘Dreams’

Sony Pictures Classics has picked up the rights to an animated movie entitled A Winter’s Journey, which will be made in part using the PlayStation game-creation tool Dreams. According to Deadline, the film will blend live actors with CG and hand-painted animation and is an adaptation of Franz Schubert's set of 24 songs for voice and piano called Winterreise. It tells the story of a lovelorn poet who embarks on a dangerous journey that takes him across mountains and snow in 1812 Bavaria. 

Dreams was originally created by Media Molecule, the studio behind LittleBigPlanet, for the PS4. The studio pitched it as a way to create "art, movies and video games" from the start, and we once described it as "an engine, learning suite and distribution platform rolled into one." Since then, people have been using it to create their own games, realistic renders of nature, immersive experiences of their favorite movies, among other things. A Winter’s Journey, however, will reportedly be the first time Dreams will be used on a feature film.

The movie has yet to get a release date, but shooting is expected to start in June in Wrocław, Poland, with actors that include John Malkovich and Jason Isaacs. It'll likely take some time before it's ready to premiere. As for Dreams itself, it's currently on sale in the US PlayStation Store for $10, and it includes a rotating list of the most creative games made using the tool.

Federal Reserve study offers no answers on creating a digital dollar

Don't expect the US Federal Reserve to issue a digital dollar any time soon. CNBCreports the Reserve has published its long-in-the-making study of a central bank cryptocurrency, but took no stances on whether or not it should pursue the technology. The paper instead explored the potential benefits and pitfalls of digital currencies, and asked for public comments.

The Fed cautioned that existing cryptocurrencies tend to be highly volatile, consume lots of energy and frequently have significant transaction limitations. A central bank-backed format might overcome some of those problems, the Reserve said, by serving as a "bridge" between payment services, making finance more inclusive and providing "safe and trusted" money. The Reserve also believed the digital money could improve cross-border payments and protect the role of the US dollar on the world stage.

However, the government also warned that official digital cash would need to account for possible changes to the financial world, such as encouraging more runs on financial companies. It would also need to maintain privacy, protect against crimes like fraud and be resilient. The Reserve floated the possibility of offline capability to enable transactions when internet access isn't available, such as during natural disasters.

The agency stressed its report was a "first step" in discussing the possibility of a central bank cryptocurrency, and that it would give the public until May 20th, 2022 to offer feedback and answer questions. For now, though, the Reserve will remain neutral and will only work on a digital currency if longer-term research supports the concept. It's resisting the pressure to act quickly, even if other countries are already moving forward.

Hitting the Books: What autonomous vehicles mean for tomorrow's workforce

In the face of daily pandemic-induced upheavals, the notion of "business as usual" can often seem a quaint and distant notion to today's workforce. But even before we all got stuck in never-ending Zoom meetings, the logistics and transportation sectors (like much of America's economy) were already subtly shifting in the face of continuing advances in robotics, machine learning and autonomous navigation technologies. 

In their new book, The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines, an interdisciplinary team of MIT researchers (leveraging insights gleaned from MIT's multi-year Task Force on the Work of the Future) exam the disconnect between improvements in technology and the benefits derived by workers from those advancements. It's not that America is rife with "low-skill workers" as New York's new mayor seems to believe, but rather that the nation is saturated with low-wage, low-quality positions — positions which are excluded from the ever-increasing perks and paychecks enjoyed by knowledge workers. The excerpt below examines the impact vehicular automation will have on rank and file employees, rather than the Musks of the world.

MIT Press

Excerpted from The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines by David Autor, David A. Mindell and Elisabeth B. Reynolds. Reprinted with permission from the MIT PRESS. Copyright 2022.


THE ROBOTS YOU CAN SEE: DRIVERLESS CARS, WAREHOUSING AND DISTRIBUTION, AND MANUFACTURING

Few sectors better illustrate the promises and fears of robotics than autonomous cars and trucks. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are essentially highspeed wheeled industrial robots powered by cutting-edge technologies of perception, machine learning, decision-making, regulation, and user interfaces. Their cultural and symbolic resonance has brought AVs to the forefront of excited press coverage about new technology and has sparked large investments of capital, making a potentially “driverless” future a focal point for hopes and fears of a new era of automation.

The ability to transport goods and people across the landscape under computer control embodies a dream of twenty-first-century technology, and also the potential for massive social change and displacement. In a driverless future, accidents and fatalities could drop significantly. The time that people waste stuck in traffic could be recovered for work or leisure. Urban landscapes might change, requiring less parking and improving safety and efficiency for all. New models for the distribution of goods and services promise a world where people and objects move effortlessly through the physical world, much as bits move effortlessly through the internet.

As recently as a decade ago, it was common to dismiss the notion of driverless cars coming to roads in any form. Federally supported university research in robotics and autonomy had evolved for two generations and had just begun to yield advances in military robotics. Yet today, virtually every carmaker in the world, plus many startups, have engaged to redefine mobility. The implications for job disruption are massive. The auto industry itself accounts for just over 5 percent of all private sector jobs, according to one estimate. Millions more work as drivers and in the web of companies that service and maintain these vehicles.

Task Force members John J. Leonard and David A. Mindell have both participated in the development of these technologies and, with graduate student Erik L. Stayton, have studied their implications. Their research suggests that the grand visions of automation in mobility will not be fully realized in the space of a few years.15 The variability and complexity of real-world driving conditions require the ability to adapt to unexpected situations that current technologies have not yet mastered. The recent tragedies and scandals surrounding the death of 346 people in two Boeing 737 MAX crashes stemming from flawed software and the accidents involving self-driving car-testing programs on public roads have increased public and regulatory scrutiny, adding caution about how quickly these technologies will be widely dispersed. The software in driverless cars remains more complex and less deterministic than that in airliners; we still lack technology and techniques to certify it as safe. Some even argue that solving for generalized autonomous driving is tantamount to solving for AGI.

Analysis of the best available data suggests that the reshaping of mobility around autonomy will take more than a decade and will proceed in phases, beginning with systems limited to specific geographies such as urban or campus shuttles (such as the recent product announcement from Zoox, an American AV company). Trucking and delivery are also likely use cases for early adoption, and several leading developers are focusing on these applications both in a fully autonomous mode and as augmented, “convoy” systems led by human drivers. In late 2020, in a telling shift for the industry from “robotaxis” to logistics, Uber sold its driverless car unit, having spent billions of dollars with few results. The unit was bought by Amazon-backed Aurora to focus the technology on trucking. More automated systems will eventually spread as technological barriers are overcome, but current fears about a rapid elimination of driving jobs are not supported.

AVs, whether cars, trucks, or buses, combine the industrial heritage of Detroit and the millennial optimism and disruption of Silicon Valley with a DARPA-inspired military vision of unmanned weapons. Truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, auto mechanics, and insurance adjusters are but a few of the workers expected to be displaced or complemented. This transformation will come in conjunction with a shift toward full electric technology, which would also eliminate some jobs while creating others. Electric cars require fewer parts than conventional cars, for instance, and the shift to electric vehicles will reduce work supplying motors, transmissions, fuel injection systems, pollution control systems, and the like. This change too will create new demands, such as for large scale battery production (that said, the power-hungry sensors and computing of AVs will at least partially offset the efficiency gains of electric cars). AVs may well emerge as part of an evolving mobility ecosystem as a variety of innovations, including connected cars, new mobility business models, and innovations in urban transit, converge to reshape how we move people and goods from place to place.

TRANSPORTATION JOBS IN A DRIVERLESS WORLD

The narrative on AVs suggests the replacement of human drivers by AI-based software systems, themselves created by a few PhD computer scientists in a lab. This is, however, a simplistic reading of the technological transition currently under way, as MIT researchers discovered through their work in Detroit. It is true that AV development organizations tend to have a higher share of workers with advanced degrees compared to the traditional auto industry. Even so, implementation of AV systems requires efforts at all levels, from automation supervision by safety drivers to remote managing and dispatching to customer service and maintenance roles on the ground.

Take, for instance, a current job description for “site supervisor” at a major AV developer. The job responsibilities entail overseeing a team of safety drivers focused in particular on customer satisfaction and reporting feedback on mechanical and vehicle-related issues. The job offers a mid-range salary with benefits, does not require a two- or four-year degree, but does require at least one year of leadership experience and communication skills. Similarly, despite the highly sophisticated machine learning and computer vision algorithms, AV systems rely on technicians routinely calibrating and cleaning various sensors both on the vehicle and in the built environment. The job description for field autonomy technician to maintain AV systems provides a mid-range salary, does not require a four-year degree, and generally requires only background knowledge of vehicle repair and electronics. Some responsibilities are necessary for implementation — including inventorying and budgeting repair parts and hands-on physical work—but not engineering.

The scaling up of AV systems, when it happens, will create many more such jobs, and others devoted to ensuring safety and reliability. Simultaneously, an AV future will require explicit strategies to enable workers displaced from traditional driving roles to transition to secure employment.

A rapid emergence of AVs would be highly disruptive for workers since the US has more than three million commercial vehicle drivers. These drivers are often people with high school or lower education or immigrants with language barriers. Leonard, Mindell, and Stayton conclude that a slower adoption timeline will ease the impact on workers, enabling current drivers to retire and younger workers to get trained to fill newly created roles, such as monitoring mobile fleets. Again, realistic adoption timelines provide opportunities for shaping technology, adoption, and policy. A 2018 report by Task Force Research Advisory Board member Susan Helper and colleagues discusses a range of plausible scenarios and found the employment impact of AVs to be proportional to the time to widespread adoption. Immediate, sudden automation of the fleet would, of course, put millions out of work, whereas a thirty-year adoption timeline could be accommodated by retirements and generational change.

Meanwhile, car-and-truck makers already make vehicles that augment rather than replace drivers. These products include high-powered cruise control and warning systems frequently found on vehicles sold today. At some level, replacement-type driverless cars will be competing with augmentation-type computer-assisted human drivers. In aviation, this competition went on for decades before unmanned aircraft found their niches, while human-piloted aircraft became highly augmented by automation. When they did arrive, unmanned aircraft such as the US Air Force’s Predator and Reaper vehicles required many more people to operate than traditional aircraft and offered completely novel capabilities, such as persistent, twenty-four-hour surveillance.

Based on the current state of knowledge, we estimate a slow shift toward systems that require no driver, even in trucking, one of the easier use cases, with limited use by 2030. Overall shifts in other modes, including passenger cars, are likely to be no faster.

Even when it’s achieved, a future of AVs will not be jobless. New business models, potentially entirely new industrial sectors, will be spurred by the technology. New roles and specialties will appear in expert, technical fields of engineering of AV systems and vehicle information technologies. Automation supervision or safety driver roles will be critical for levels of automation that will come before fully automated driving. Remote management or dispatcher, roles will bring drivers into control rooms and require new skills of interacting with automation. New customer service, field support technician, and maintenance roles will also appear. Perhaps most important, creative use of the technology will enable new businesses and services that are difficult to imagine today. When passenger cars displaced equestrian travel and the myriad occupations that supported it in the 1920s, the roadside motel and fast-food industries rose up to serve the “motoring public.” How will changes in mobility, for example, enable and shape changes in distribution and consumption?

Equally important are the implications of new technologies for how people get to work. As with other new technologies, introducing expensive new autonomous cars into existing mobility ecosystems will just perpetuate existing inequalities of access and opportunity if institutions that support workers don’t evolve as well. In a sweeping study of work, inequality, and transit in the Detroit region, Task Force researchers noted that most workers building Model T and Model A Fords on the early assembly lines traveled to work on streetcars, using Detroit’s then highly developed system. In the century since, particularly in Detroit, but also in cities all across the country, public transit has been an essential service for many workers, but it has also been an instrument facilitating institutional racism, urban flight to job-rich suburbs, and inequality. Public discourse and political decisions favoring highway construction often denigrated and undermined mass transit, with racial undertones. As a result, Black people and other minorities are much more likely to lack access to personal vehicles.

“Technology alone cannot remedy the mobility constraints” that workers face, the study concludes, “and will perpetuate existing inequities absent institutional change.” As with other technologies, deploying new technologies in old systems of transportation will exacerbate their inequalities by “shifting attention toward what is new and away from what is useful, practical, and needed.” Innovating in institutions is as important as innovating in machines; recent decades have seen encouraging pilot programs, but more must be done to scale those pilots to broader use and ensure accountability to the communities they intend to serve. “Transportation offers a unique site of political possibility.”

Vi from ‘League of Legends’ arrives in ‘Fortnite’

Fans of Riot’s Arcane have a long wait ahead of them before season two of the animated series arrives. In the meantime, you can at least play a few matches of Fortnite with a new character from the show. Epic Games will add Jinx’s sister Vi to the battle royale’s in-game Item Shop today (January 22nd) at 7PM ET. You can buy her outfit alongside a handful of themed items, including a punching practice emote.

Unfortunately, Vi won’t come with her signature Hextech gauntlets. Instead, Epic will offer Jayce’s Warden Hammer, which the company maintains is Vi’s “weapon of choice while her gauntlets are being repaired.” If you purchase the skin through the Arcane Vi Bundle, you’ll also get the rad Piltover’s Finest loading screen.

What’s more, if you missed the chance to buy Jinx’s skin when it debuted back in November, you now have another opportunity to add it to your collection. Epic will relist the outfit, alongside the Jinx Arcane bundle, at the same time it adds the Vi outfit to the Item Shop.

Recommended Reading: Speaking Simlish

Sul Sul

Twenty Thousand Hertz

This podcast chronicles the fascinating story of how Simlish, the language spoken by characters in the popular game franchise The Sims, was created. And not only the how, but why it worked well and how it became a popular choice for musicians. 

How 'Encanto' explains America

Tom McTague, The Atlantic

"Having watched the new release (twice) with my little one recently — and then listened to its soundtrack on repeat ever since — the message seems fairly clear: America is broken (but don’t worry, all is not lost)," McTague writes.

Caroline Spiegel’s porn revolution

Annie Goldsmith, The Information

The sister of Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel is preaching the gospel of audio porn through Quinn, an app that offers an aural take on erotica. 

US labor board says Amazon illegally fired union organizer in New York

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has determined that Amazon illegally fired former worker Daequan Smith for trying to unionize its warehouses in Staten Island, New York. Smith, who was one of the organizers for the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), was fired in October 2021. The group filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the NLRB after his dismissal, accusing the company of illegal retaliatory firing over Smith's outspoken support for unionization. Now, according to Bloomberg, the board has found merit in the group's allegations and plans to issue a formal complaint against the e-commerce giant if the case doesn't settle. 

The Amazon Labor Union is made of up of former and current company workers and is an independent group not connected with major national unions. While the group failed to unionize Amazon's fulfillment centers in Staten Island last year, it refiled an application with the NLRB in December — a hearing is scheduled for that request next month. 

Smith wasn't the only ALU organizer that Amazon had fired. ALU president Chris Smalls also lost his job after he held a walkout at Amazon's JFK8 facility over the e-commerce giant's handling of COVID-19 safety at the warehouse in 2020. Amazon explained back then that Smalls "received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines."

The company has been adamantly anti-union and had once told Engadget in a statement that it doesn't "think unions are the best answer for [its] employees." It added: "Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes — quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle." After reaching a deal with the NLRB in December, though, Amazon agreed to informs workers that they have the legal right to join, form or assist with a union through notices posted in workplaces, as well as on its mobile app and internal website.

As Bloomberg explains, NLRB brings complaints to agency judges if it finds merit in claims made by workers. The board's top prosecutor, Jennifer Abruzzo, one said she will "aggressively" seek court injunctions to get illegally fired employees back to work. ALU vice president Derrick Palmer, whom Amazon had disciplined for joining Smalls' COVID-19 protest, said Smith being reinstated would be a huge support for the group: "It would be monumental for him to go back to the same building that he was terminated from and speak his truth and let workers know that it’s OK to speak out."

'We Met in Virtual Reality’ finds love in the metaverse

Mark Zuckerberg's vision of a sanitized, hypercapitalist metaverse will likely never be as compelling or idiosyncratic as VRChat, the virtual reality community that's been home to anime fans, Furries and a slew of other sub-cultures since 2014. That's my main takeaway from We Met in Virtual Reality, the first documentary filmed entirely in VRChat, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival today.

There's no chance Zuck's metaverse would let people wear trademarked avatars without paying a ton, attend exotic clubs to receive (or give) virtual lapdances, or allow users to build whatever the hell they want. VRChat, as portrayed by director Joe Hunting, is basically a proto-metaverse where anything is possible. And for many, it has served as a crucial social hub during the pandemic, a place where they can forget about the world, relax with friends and maybe find love.

But of course, that's been the nature of practically every online community. We're social animals — people have always been able to connect with each other over BBS, IRC, Usenet and the plethora of forums and chat services that populated the early internet. I spent most of the '90s hanging out in anime and gaming chat rooms, the sorts of places that today's connected youth would probably find quaint. Still, the people I met there helped me survive the worst parts of middle and high school. Those relationships, and the internet itself, shaped me into who I am (for better or worse).

We Met in Virtual Reality proves that the unbridled, experimental sense of online community is still alive and well today, despite relentless consolidation from Big Tech. But now, instead of staring at tiny CRT monitors, people are slapping on VR headsets to explore fully realized environments. Hardcore VRChat users are also investing in powerful computing rigs as well as upgrades like finger and whole-body tracking. In the '90s, I was grateful to get another 16MB of RAM so that I could have more than one browser window open. Today, VRChat devotees can communicate using American Sign Language, or have their anime avatars show off their belly dancing skills.

Hunting approaches his subjects with the eye of an anthropologist, without any judgment towards their sometimes ridiculous avatars (do all the anime ladies need to have jiggly, Dead or Alive-level boob physics?). We Met in Virtual Reality begins as a chill hangout flick — we follow a group of friends as they have virtual drinks and go on joyrides in crudely-built VR cars — but it quickly moves beyond the novelty of its setting. One person credits their VRChat girlfriend for helping them to "unmute" after being silent for two years. An exotic performer explains that being able to dance for people in VRChat helped her grieve with a family tragedy and manage a bout of alcoholism.

Joe Hunting

The film chronicles how that exotic dancer, a young woman based in the UK, formed a romantic relationship with another VRChat user in Miami. These sorts of cyber relationships aren’t anything new, but the VR platform allowed them to do much more than trade links and memes over IM. They could exist in a space together, go on dates to new environments every night. I won’t spoil where things end up for the couple, but I can say that it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective outside of VR.

We Met in Virtual Reality effectively conveys why people would gravitate towards VRChat, especially during a pandemic. But it doesn't fully capture the wonder of exploring these environments yourself. Seeing people hop on a virtual rollercoaster isn't nearly as thrilling as doing it, where your entire field of vision is covered and you can easily get vertigo. But I don't blame Hunting too much for that; his job was to boil down the VR experience so people can enjoy it on a 2D screen, and the film is mostly successful in that respect. The film was shot using a virtual camera that could mimic all of the functionality of a typical shooter, from focus points to aperture levels. So even though it's produced in an alien environment most people aren't familiar with, it still feels like a traditional documentary.

Hunting has spent the past few years making VR documentaries, starting with a few short films, as well as the series Virtually Speaking. It’s clear from We Met in Virtual Reality that he’s not just dropping into the community for a quick story. Instead, he sees the humanity behind the avatars and virtual connections. These people aren't just escaping from their lives  with VR — their lives are being made richer because of it.