Google Home Max: Okay Google, louder!

We finally got our hands on the Google Home Max at IFA 2018 in Berlin. We got a chance to listen to the smart speaker and it’s certainly louder than the other models in the Google Home series. You can read all about our first impressions here!

(This is a preview – click here to read the entire entry.)

…read more

Sony Mobile is officially cool again

IFA was packed full of announcements and new gadgets again this year. Now that the tech fair has come to a close and the votes for the most impressive brand have been counted, we have the results of last week’s poll. You might be surprised at the results.

(This is a preview – click here to read the entire entry.)

…read more

Decentralisation: the next big step for the world wide web

The decentralised web, or DWeb, could be a chance to take control of our data back from the big tech firms. So how does it work and when will it be here?

The story that broke earlier last month that Google would again cooperate with Chinese authorities to run a censored version of its search engine, something the tech giant has neither confirmed nor denied, had ironic timing. The same day, a group of 800 web builders and others – among them Tim Berners-Lee, who created the world wide web – were meeting in San Francisco to discuss a grand idea to circumvent internet gatekeepers like Google and Facebook. The event they had gathered for was the Decentralised Web Summit, held from 31 July to 2 August, and hosted by the Internet Archive. The proponents of the so-called decentralised web – or DWeb – want a new, better web where the entire planet’s population can communicate without having to rely on big companies that amass our data for profit and make it easier for governments to conduct surveillance. And its proponents have got projects and apps that are beginning to function, funding that is flowing and social momentum behind them. In light of the Snowden revelations and Cambridge Analytica scandal, public concerns around spying and privacy have grown. And more people have heard about the DWeb thanks to the television comedy Silicon Valley, whose main character recently pivoted his startup to try and build this “new internet”.

What is the decentralised web?
It is supposed to be like the web you know but without relying on centralised operators. In the early days of the world wide web, which came into existence in 1989, you connected directly with your friends through desktop computers that talked to each other. But from the early 2000s, with the advent of Web 2.0, we began to communicate with each other and share information through centralised services provided by big companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon. It is now on Facebook’s platform, in its so called “walled garden”, that you talk to your friends. “Our laptops have become just screens. They cannot do anything useful without the cloud,” says Muneeb Ali, co-founder of Blockstack, a platform for building decentralised apps. The DWeb is about re-decentralising things – so we aren’t reliant on these intermediaries to connect us. Instead users keep control of their data and connect and interact and exchange messages directly with others in their network.

Continue reading… …read more

The YouTube stars heading for burnout: ‘The most fun job imaginable became deeply bleak’

Why are so many YouTubers finding themselves stressed, lonely and exhausted?

When Matt Lees became a full-time YouTuber, he felt as if he had won the lottery. As a young, ambitious writer, director and presenter, he was able to create low-budget, high-impact films that could reach a worldwide audience, in a way that would have been impossible without the blessing of television’s gatekeepers just a few years earlier. In February 2013, he had his first viral hit, an abridged version of Sony’s announcement of its PlayStation 4 video game console, dubbed with a cheerily acerbic commentary. Within days the video had been watched millions of times. “It hardly seems viral at all, by today’s standards,” Lees says, yet it was one of the most viewed videos on YouTube that month. The boost to Lees’ ego was nothing compared with the effect it had on his career. When YouTube’s algorithm notices this sort of success, it starts directing viewers to the uploader’s other videos, earning the channel more subscribers and, via the snippety advertisements that play before each one, higher income. Overnight, Lees had what seemed like the first shoots of a sustainable career.

Excitement soon gave way to anxiety. Even in 2013, Lees was aware that his success depended not so much on smash hits as on day-by-day reliability. “It’s not enough to simply create great things,” he says. “The audience expect consistency. They expect frequency. Without these, it’s incredibly easy to slip off the radar and lose favour with the algorithm that gave you your wings.” By the end of the year Lees had grown his channel from 1,000 subscribers to 90,000, and caught the attention of one of his influences, Charlie Brooker, who invited Lees to collaborate on writing a Channel 4 special. For a month Lees worked 20-hour days, dividing his time between the TV script work and, ever conscious that missing a day’s upload could cause his videos to tumble down the search rankings, his YouTube channel.

Continue reading… …read more

Joseph Stiglitz on artificial intelligence: ‘We’re going towards a more divided society’

The technology could vastly improve lives, the economist says – but only if the tech titans that control it are properly regulated. ‘What we have now is totally inadequate’

It must be hard for Joseph Stiglitz to remain an optimist in the face of the grim future he fears may be coming. The Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank has thought carefully about how artificial intelligence will affect our lives. On the back of the technology, we could build ourselves a richer society and perhaps enjoy a shorter working week, he says. But there are countless pitfalls to avoid on the way. The ones Stiglitz has in mind are hardly trivial. He worries about hamfisted moves that lead to routine exploitation in our daily lives, that leave society more divided than ever and threaten the fundamentals of democracy.

“Artificial intelligence and robotisation have the potential to increase the productivity of the economy and, in principle, that could make everybody better off,” he says. “But only if they are well managed.”

Continue reading… …read more