Computers have learned to make us jump through hoops | John Naughton

Machines are supposed to be tools that serve human ends, but the relationship is slowly shifting – and not in our favour

The other day I had to log in to a service I hadn’t used before. Since I was a new user, the website decided that it needed to check that I wasn’t a robot and so set me a Captcha (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart). This is a challenge-response test to enable a computer to determine whether the user is a person rather than a machine.

I was presented with an image of a roadside scene over which was overlaid a grid. My “challenge” was to click on each cell in the grid that contained a traffic sign, or part thereof. I did so, fuming a bit. Then I was presented with another image and another grid – also with a request to identify road signs. Like a lamb, I complied, after which the website deigned to accept my input.

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The charge of the chatbots: how do you tell who’s human online?

Automated ‘voices’ that were supposed to do mundane tasks online also now spread hate speech and polarise opinion. Are they a boon or a threat?

Alan Turing’s famous test of whether machines could fool us into believing they were human – “the imitation game” – has become a mundane, daily question for all of us. We are surrounded by machine voices, and think nothing of conversing with them – though each time I hear my car tell me where to turn left I am reminded of my grandmother, who having installed a telephone late in life used to routinely say goodnight to the speaking clock.

We find ourselves locked into interminable text chats with breezy automated bank tellers and offer our mother’s maiden name to a variety of robotic speakers that sound plausibly alive. I’ve resisted the domestic spies of Apple and Amazon, but one or two friends jokingly describe the rapport they and their kids have built up with Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home Hub – and they are right about that: the more you tell your virtual valet, the more you disclose of wants and desires, the more speedily it can learn and commit to memory those last few fragments of your inner life you had kept to yourself.

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European lawmakers ask Amazon to stop selling Soviet-themed merchandise

  • 27 MEPs write to Jeff Bezos about hammer-and-sickle gear
  • T-shirts and other goods said to offend victims of Soviet regime

Members of the European Parliament have called on the Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, to stop selling Soviet-themed merchandise on the global online shopping platform insisting that it is offends victims of the regime, according to an open letter.

Related: The man who made Russian fashion cool

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Does Apple’s sales slump mean the company has finally peaked?

The firm’s $1tn valuation has fallen 20% and fewer people are buying its latest iPhones

At the start of October Apple was on top of the world. The company had hit a record-breaking valuation of $1tn (£770bn), just released its fastest – and most expensive – iPhone and its chief executive, Tim Cook, was hammering rival Facebook over yet another privacy scandal.

Two months on and the shine appears to have worn off the largest company in the world. Its valuation has fallen by nearly 20%. This is partly because key suppliers have issued their own profit warnings, suggesting fewer people are buying the company’s phones than expected.

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Gaming as a force for good: Chips with Everything podcast

Jordan Erica Webber meets the academics disproving the unsociable gamer stereotype and discovers how one game is helping scientists learn more about dementia

Video games are one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the world, but they also get a lot of hate. Violence, antisocial behaviour, loneliness – these are just some of the things that people blame on games.

So what does the research say? Well, according to some academics, video games can be a force for good.

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