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11 Tech gadgets NOT to buy this holiday season

(TECH NEWS) Save yourself some money and frustration this holiday season with our what NOT to buy tech guide.

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okto man with ring gadgets

Seriously, take our advice

If you’re like us, over the next few weeks you’ll be frantically searching the web for gifts for the important people in your life. Tech toys are always a winner… unless when they aren’t. From smartphones for vaping to smart shoes you’d be smarter to avoid, these new products are truly the tech equivalent of a gift card. We’re not saying we know what gift will be a hit this year, but we certainly can suggest a few that won’t.

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1. Oombrella

oombrella
From a company with a hard to pronounce name comes a product with a name that’s just as tough. While we commend Wezzoo for working to improve the classic umbrella, the Oombrella may end up being just as useful as Karen’s ability to tell when it’s already raining in Mean Girls. Also, maybe not the smartest idea to mix smartphones and rain?

2. Xcooter

xcooter
If you want the weird looks you’d get from a hoverboard without the slight edge of cool, the Xcooter may be the scooter for you. Compact and energy efficient? Perhaps. The future of transportation? Probably not.

3.Overpriced Smart Appliances

samsung-family-hub-refrigerator
There are certainly a few smart appliances that are getting much-deserved buzz, like the June Oven or Google Home, but the industry as a whole remains clunky and overpriced. These gadgets tend to be living proof of the saying, “Why fix it if it ain’t broke,” with LCD screens that replace magnetized refrigerator doors to display photos or coffee makers that you can activate with your smartphone. Someday, there will be a great line of smart appliances worth the price point, but for now you’re better off appreciating what you’ve already got.

4. Sprocket

hp-sprocket
HP claims “printing off social media photos has never been easier from your smartphone,” but maybe there’s a reason for that? Isn’t the point of taking a photo on your phone that it’s quick, easy, and compact? The Sprocket adds an extra gadget to your already full pockets, and then leaves you with a small, printed photo that you probably will untag yourself from online in a few days anyway.

5. Google Pixel

google-pixel-silver
In a year full of talked-about phone releases, the Google Pixel was actually a breath of fresh air. The first phone by Google is the highest rated smartphone ever, and is being praised for the long-lasting battery, headphone jack, and the fact that it doesn’t catch fire. Unfortunately, its popularity means you probably won’t get yours before Christmas if you’re trying to buy it from Google directly (or certain carriers). You’re better off waiting until the holiday hype dies down.

And yes, this one is on the list because our boss doesn’t have his Pixel yet.

6. Jupiter IO

jupiter-io
Speaking of problematic smartphones that may catch fire, the Jupiter IO has a built in vaporizer and unites two technologies we never knew needed to be combined. The $499 device seemed like a Funny Or Die skit when we first heard about it, but makers Vaporcade confirmed earlier this year that it is in fact real. Just because it exists doesn’t mean anyone actually needs or wants it though.

7. Digitsole Smart Shoe

digitsole
Snazzy, hyped up shoes can be a great gift for the sneakerhead in your life. Nike recently released a limited number of self-tying Nike Mag shoes inspired by Back To The Future and the internet went crazy, leading them to become the world’s most expensive shoes. Digitsole’s Smart Shoes had a less triumphant release, and understandably so. They can warm your feet and track your steps, but they unfortunately can’t look stylish while doing so. Unless you can shell out for a elusive pair of Nike Mags, you may want to avoid self-tying shoes this gift-giving season.

8. Samsung WELT

welt
In German, “welt” means “world.” For you, it probably translates to an unsuccessful gift. The Samsung WELT is a smart belt with a very unfortunate name that may turn out to be just slightly a better gift than socks or underwear. Tech companies have long been trying to develop smart belts, and while the WELT has gotten the most buzz thus far, at the end of the day it’s still just a belt.

9. Tipron

tipron
Tipron is a home robot that can project an 80-inch screen from a distance of three meters, great for all those times you were projecting a movie and wished the projector could move on its own. The main reason to avoid gifting Tipron this holiday season is the limited number of applications it actually offers. The creators claim one use would be to walk into your bedroom and project the news or your Twitter feed on the ceiling as you wake up. For now, we recommend saving $2,000 and just rolling over to find your phone like a normal person.

10. OKTO Smart Ring

smart-ring-okto
I know I’m not alone in that I still get a little bothered when I see someone talking on a Bluetooth earpiece, so the OKTO Smart Ring may be just what we don’t need. It is definitely a better bet than some of the new wearable tech out there, but with limited usage and the risk of damage when you wash your hands, perhaps a good pair of headphones with a mic would be a smarter gift.

11. Garmin’s Fitness Tracker

garmin
Smartwatches are consistently getting better, but the Garmin Forerunner seems to be stuck in one place. Garmin generally makes a good product, but there are dozens of smartwatches with loads more functions for practically the same price. One person who might appreciate this is your dad though, who’s likely been wearing a watch with a similar range of features for half a decade.

Bonus: It’s not a tech gadget, but no one in the galaxy deserves to be gifted a clip on man bun. The only thing that would make this worse is if it doubled as a vaporizer.

#techtoavoid

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Brian is a staff writer at The American Genius who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, and majored in American Culture Studies and Writing. Originally from California, Brian has a podcast, "Revolves Around Me," and enjoys public transportation, bicycles, the beach.

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Silicon Valley created tech for your family that’s too addictive for theirs

(TECHNOLOGY) Tech inventors are big on innovating and advancing tools, but a growing parenting trend in tech circles seems hypocritical.

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tech addiction in children

I consider myself an older Millennial. I was slowly but surely introduced to technologies as they became mass-marketable, but they didn’t affect every moment of my day-to-day life. I learned how to use computers in elementary school, I chatted on AOL as a preteen, and when I was 16, my parents gave me my own cell phone “for emergencies.” I promptly dropped it under the car seat, where it remained for a year, before I or my parents even noticed that it was missing.

In less than a generation, our relationship to cell phones has transformed completely. For one thing, my first cell phone didn’t have a touch screen. It didn’t have an internet connection. Hell, for an entire year, I didn’t even use the damn thing.

Fast forward to 2018, when your children can learn to use an iPad at the same time that they learn to use a toilet.

Interestingly, the tech whizzes who designed much of the technology that now pervades nearly every moment of our lives seem wariest of the negative impact screen time might have on kids. The NYT reports that the trend amongst Silicon Valley parents is to severely limit or even ban cell phone use by their children.

Parents in all echelons of the tech industry are limiting their kids’ exposure. Steve Jobs kept iPads out of the hands of his young children. The Gates offspring didn’t receive cell phones until high school (just like me, in 2001), and Tim Cook discourages his nephew from using social networks.

These concerned parents describe the addictive potential and negative consequences of screen time in increasingly pessimistic terms.

Athena Chavarria, a former Facebook employee, believes that “the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

Chris Anderson (yes that Chris Anderson), former editor of Wired and founder of GeekDad, says that when it comes to screens, “On a scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.”

Parents are even making contractual agreements to make sure their kids don’t use screens while under the supervision of their nanny or babysitter.

Like basically every human idea or invention ever, connected, screened devices reveal that our ability to create new technologies far outpaces our ability to understand the consequences – positive or negative – of that tech.

Those closest to the situation – the inventors themselves – are often the first ones to sound the alarm when they realize that their hard-won advancements may not have been such a great idea after all.

Said Chris Anderson of the addictive nature of cell phones, “We thought we could control it. And this is beyond our power to control.”

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Amazingly fun tech toys that are secretly educational

(TECHNOLOGY) STEM toys for children are fun *and* educational – here are some that have caught our eye.

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STEM tech toys for kids

There’s a new trend amongst startups – and amongst kids’ toys: educational playthings that teach your little ones STEM skills like programming and coding.

Toys that double as learning tools are nothing new, but digital, connected technology still is, and so is the idea that your toddler can get a leg up in the tech industry by getting an early start.

Parents, universities, and economists seem concerned that acquiring STEM skills will soon be the only way to guarantee a good job, despite reports from the U.S. Census Bureau that 3 out of 4 STEM majors end up in non-STEM fields anyway.

So if your kid is more into, say, baseball or dancing than computers, you might be wasting the pretty pennies these high-powered educational toys will cost you.

Kids, with their alarmingly short attention spans, are as likely to toss these toys back into the toybox as any other. But if your wee one seems to have a knack for all things technical – or if you’d just rather see them learn how to build a device than passively stare at one all day – then check out TC’s guide to STEM toys.

Even though these toys are marketed towards the younger set, I found myself a little envious, wishing I could take a few for a test drive – especially since many of them are modern, high-tech reboots on old standbys from my childhood.

Lego’s Boost Creative Toolbox uses the same classic Lego blocks, but allows you to animate and program your creations.

Several products cross-market with some of my childhood favorites; Dash Robotics has teamed up with Mattel to make Jurassic World robots, and Kano makes a Harry Potter Coding Kit that teaches kids to program a wand that can interact with digital content. There’s even Electro Dough which is basically electrically-conductive Play-Doh that can light up and make sounds. I want!

In fact, a lot of the toys combine arts ‘n’ crafts with STEM lessons. Adafruits makes a marker with electronically conductive ink that can light up circuits and interact with computer programs, and an electronic pencil that synthesizes music. Root Robotic’s little bot can draw pictures and compose songs.

For the more straightforward tech nerds, Makeblock, Evo, Robo Wunderkind, and Wonder Workshop all make programmable robots – a big step up from the “artificially intelligent” Furby’s of my childhood. Sphero’s Bolt is a ball-shaped robot, while Airblock makes a programmable hovercraft.

There’s the Pi-top Modular Laptop that teaching kids coding, and there are even opportunities for kids to build their own electronics; Kano offers a build-it-yourself computer.

The holidays are just around the corner – but whether STEM educational toys will be the next Tickle Me Elmo remains to be seen.

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Tech News

A deepfakes creator for text so realistic it can’t be made public yet

(TECHNOLOGY) You know about video deepfakes, but the technology exists for doing convincing deepfakes for text. It’s so good that they aren’t ready to release it to the public yet…

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deepfakes text

Artificial intelligence is being used to complete more and more human tasks. But as of right now, news stories you read online – including all the articles here on American Genius – have been written by real human beings.

Until recently, even the most intelligent computers couldn’t be trained to recreate the complex rules and stylistic subtleties of language. AI-generated text would often wander off topic or mix up the syntax and lack context or analysis.

However, a non-profit called OpenAI says they have developed a text generator that can simulate human writing with remarkable accuracy.

The program is called GPT2. When fed any amount of text, from a few words to a page, it can complete the story, whether it be a news story or a fictional one.

You already know about video deepfakes, but these “deepfakes for text” stay on subject and match the style of the original text. For example, when fed the first line of George Orwell’s 1984, GPT2 created a science-fiction story set in a futuristic China.

This improved text generator is much better at simulating human writing because it has learned from a dataset that is “15 times bigger and broader” than its predecessor, according to OpenAI research director, Dario Amodei.

Usually researchers are eager to share their creations with the world – but in the case, the Elon Musk-backed organization has, at least of the time being, withheld GPT2 from the public out of fear of what criminals and other malicious users might do with it.

Jack Clark, OpenAI’s head of policy, says that the organization needs more time to experiment with GPT2’s capabilities so that they can anticipate malicious uses. “If you can’t anticipate all the abilities of a model, you have to prod it to see what it can do,” he says. “There are many more people than us who are better at thinking what it can do maliciously.”

Some potential malicious uses of GPT2 could include generating fake positive reviews for products (or fake negative reviews of competitors’ products); generating SPAM messages; writing fake news stories that would be indistinguishable from real news stories; and spreading conspiracy theories.

Furthermore, because GPT2 learns from the internet, it wouldn’t be hard to program GPT2 to produce hate speech and other offensive messages.

As a writer, I can’t think of very many good reasons to use an AI story generator that doesn’t put me out of job. So I appreciate that the researchers at OpenAI are taking time to fully think through the implications before making this Pandora’s box of technology available to the general public.

Says Clark, “We are trying to develop more rigorous thinking here. We’re trying to build the road as we travel across it.”

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