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Animojis, FaceID and facemapping, oh my: hello iPhone X

(TECH NEWS) The iPhone X boasts a plethora of new features but will any of them be worthy of Jobs’ level praise?

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iphone x

SAY HI TO IPHONE X

Apples’s new iPhone X–pronounced iPhone Ten, but you can call it iPhone X if you’re nasty– boasts some new-to-iPhone features like edge-to-edge OLED display, no home button, facial recognition, and cutesy animojis.

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No home button means no more TouchID to unlock your phone. Instead, iPhone X utilizes FaceID, a facemap embedded as a passcode. Users will use facial recognition to unlock their device and approve ApplePay purchases prior to touching the pay pad.

CAN I SEE YOUR ID?

A small area on the top of the screen was reserved for new hardware, including the front camera, an infrared camera, flood illuminator, and dot projector.

In sufficient light, the hardware will project 30,000 dots across your face, creating a high-resolution 3D map.

Apple claims FaceID will work even with the addition of accessories like hats and glasses, and still recognize users if they get a haircut or change up their facial hair. The algorithm used to recognize facial features will auto-update with minor changes, and even adapt to low lighting so you’re not locked out of your phone while checking texts before bed.

FEEL LIKE A SPY

One version of the facemap with textures in the algorithm will be held for identification and approval in a secure enclave. Mostly I’m imaging the Cameron Diaz/Lucy Liu/Drew Barrymore version of Charlie’s Angels where they steal someone’s biometric info to break into a building. With the new iPhone, the Angels would have to replicate someone’s entire face, not just their retina.

While the possibility of false recognition for TouchID was 50K-to-one, Apple says that shoots up to a fairly improbable one million-to-one with FaceID. What about identical twins? They didn’t say. Currently, iPhone X is limited to one face per device, so hopefully that will keep sneaky kids, siblings, and friends from snooping on your phone.

ANIMOJI MANIA

The facemap features offer more than just practical security measures. Aside from unlocking your phone, iPhone X has “animojis.” Users can record and send ten second videos of themselves as one of twelve emojis. So far you can choose from either the monkey, robot, cat, dog, alien, fox, pig, panda, bunny, chicken, unicorn or the inexplicably prolific poop emoji.

The hardware maps 50 muscle tracking points and mimics in real-time how the users moves and speaks onto the chose emoji.

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s basically the same thing as Snapchat’s facial filters and masks. In fact, the animojis will integrate with Snapchat, and Apple plans to open up their resources so other developers can use the facemapping in their own apps.

FACEMAPPING FUTURE

Apple’s Senior VP of software Craig Federighi joked, “if you were by chance wondering what humanity would do when given access to the most advanced facial tracking technology available, you now have your answer.” However silly it may seems, animoji’s abilities don’t end at cutesy and self-indulgent.

As Wired points out, while animoji currently mimics your emotion, someday it may be capable of predicting emotion as well.

This isn’t just scifi panic speculation, either.

Last year Apple acquired Emotient, a facial tracking software company that predicts human emotion by watching how faces move.

Utilizing machine learning, the software associates frowns, smiles, raised eyebrows, and glances with various emotions. Facebook, Google, and Amazon have already invested heavily in research around affective computing. It’s only a matter of time before Apple reveals it’s doing the same.

I GET SO ANIMOJITIONAL

For now, animoji remains a fun addition to an otherwise predictable array of not-so-new features. Other brands like Samsung and Android have offered edge-to-edge OLED displays for a while now, and face unlock is nothing new. It’s the animoji bonus features that might set Apple apart from the crowd for now.

Will it be worth $999 to animate myself as an expressive, moving fox head? Probably not. But I’m sure looking forward to all the horrifying, fascinating ways people will animojis, and crossing my fingers for some hilarious glitches.

#iPhoneX

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

Tech News

Not just for gaming: How virtual reality can save PTSD patients

(TECH NEWS) Thanks to its ability to simulate situations safely, virtual reality technologies are proving effective in therapy for PTSD patients.

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Woman wearing a VR headset in warm sunny lighting, PTSD patients treatment

Over the last year, a great many people have developed a new and sometimes dangerous relationship with a new emotional state, anxiety. I know that personally I’d never had a panic attack in my life until the middle of the pandemic. For many these emotions have taken the form of actual disorders. Actual mental influences which affect everyday life on a large scale. One of the most common forms of which is PTSD.

This disorder has many different aspects and can affect people in a number of different and debilitating ways. Finding treatments for PTSD patients and other anxiety disorders – especially treatments that don’t involve drugging people into oblivion has been difficult.

A lot of these disorders require exposure therapy. Putting people back into similar situations which caused the original trauma so that their brains can adjust to the situation and not get stuck in pain or panic loops. But how do you do that for things like battlefield trauma. You can’t just create situations with gunfire and dead bodies! Or can you?

This is where VR starts coming in. Thanks to the falling cost of VR headsets, noted by The Economist, psychologists are more capable of creating these real world situations that can actually help people adjust to their individual trauma.

One therapist went so far as to compare it to easy access opioids for therapy. This tool is so powerful that of the 20 veterans that they started with, 16 of them no longer qualify for the categories of PTSD. That’s a 75% success rate with an over-the-counter medicine. I can think of antihistamines and painkillers that aren’t that good.

I’ve grown up around PTSD patients. The majority of my family have been in the military. I was even looking at a career before I was denied service. I have enough friends that deal with PTSD issues that I have a list of things I remember not to invite certain people to so as not to trigger it. Any and every tool available that could help people adapt to their trauma is worthwhile.

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Tech News

Tired of email spam? This silly, petty solution might provide vindication

(TECH NEWS) If you struggle to keep your inbox clean thanks to a multitude of emails, the widget “You’ve Got Spam” could provide some petty catharsis.

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Email icon with 20 possible spam emails on phone screen.

We’re all spending a lot of time behind our computers and inside of our inboxes these days, so it makes sense that some people—not naming names—might be sick of seeing several unsolicited emails a day from marketers and other unsavory businesses.

While we can’t recommend a mature, adult solution that hasn’t already been beaten to death (looking at you, “inbox zero” crowd), we can recommend a childish one: Signing solicitors up for spam.

If you do decide to go the petty route, “You’ve Got Spam”—a free email widget from MSCHF—has you covered. Upon installing the widget, you can configure it to respond automatically to incoming cold-marketing emails with tons of subscriptions to spam sources, thus resulting in overwhelming the sender with a crowded inbox and cultivating a potentially misplaced sense of catharsis for yourself.

The widget itself is fairly simple: You only need to install it to Gmail from the MSCHF website. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. When you receive an email from a person from whom you can safely assume you’ll never be receiving favors ever again, you can open it and click the “You’ve Got Spam” icon to sign the sender up for spam lists galore.

See? Petty, but effective.

The developer page does fail to make the distinction between the promised “100” subscriptions and the “hundreds of spam subscriptions” discussed on Product Hunt. But one can assume that anyone who dares trespass on the sacred grounds of your squeaky-clean inbox will rue the day they did so regardless of the exact number of cat litter magazine subscriptions they receive.

Of course, actually using something like “You’ve Got Spam” is, realistically, a poor choice. It takes exactly as much effort to type, “We’ll pass – thanks!” as a response to anyone cold-emailing you, and you’re substantially less likely to piss off the actual human being on the other side by doing so. Services like this are heavy on the comedic shock value, but the empathy side tends to lack a discernible presence.

That said, if you absolutely must wreck someone’s day—and inbox—MSCHF’s “You’ve Got Spam” is a pretty ingenious way to do it.

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Tech News

Clubhouse finally made it to Android, but has its time passed?

(TECH NEWS) Social media felt the impact of Clubhouse, but the internet moves fast, and even though it is finally on Android, it’s time may be waning.

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Woman holding book and a phone, with headphones, participating in Clubhouse.

Clubhouse finally got an Android release, and while many people clamored for such a thing months ago, others argue that it’s too little, too late.

If you aren’t familiar with Clubhouse, it’s an audio-only “social platform” that encourages discussions through live chat rooms. Users can drop into various rooms and listen to people talk, request the option to chime in, and follow a variety of rooms (or “topics”) to stay engaged over time. Users can even create their own rooms that feature them as speakers.

Clubhouse also has a certain allure to it in that the app requires new users to put their names on a waitlist that creates an “invite-only” culture of exclusivity.

But while iPhone users have had access to Clubhouse since its inception, Android users have been not-so-patiently waiting for their own release—and, now that Clubhouse for Android is available, it may have outstayed its welcome.

Part of the problem is the launch itself. The Android Clubhouse app launched with limited functionality; Android users weren’t able to follow the topics they like, change their account information, and so on. This made the release feel underwhelming, further highlighting Clubhouse’s affinity for Apple users.

A more complicated problem is the prevalence of audio options in other social media services. Slack, for example, recently released their audio-only rooms, and services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have placed a spotlight on voice-only mediums of expression.

Initially, Clubhouse was the only app to incorporate audio as a strong central focus, but the ubiquitous fascination with voice-posting has expanded to comprise most major communication platforms. As such, Clubhouse’s sought-after exclusivity is no more—something that was also arguably damaged by expanding to Android.

It should be noted that interest in the app itself is decreasing, and not just on Android. Social Media Today reported that, in March of 2021, Clubhouse downloads were down 72 percent from February’s 9.6 million downloads. The publication also pointed out that difficulty finding rooms was a substantial issue that is unlikely to do anything but worsen with a surge of Android users, necessitating some back-end fixes from the owners.

As it sits, Clubhouse is still very much in use, and Android users are poised to reignite interest as iOS users stagnate. Whether or not that interest will persevere in the current social media ecosystem remains to be seen.

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