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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

Introduce AWS Panorama to add machine learning to any camera

(TECH NEWS) Amazon Web Services has announced a new hardware device that will add machine learning to any camera – AWS Panorama.

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Security cameras on a gray cement wall that can be outfitted with AWS Panorama to give machine learning.

At its learning conference, AWS re:Invent, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a new hardware device that will add machine learning to any camera. Named the AWS Panorama Appliance, AWS claims the tool will improve industrial operations and workplace safety.

The device lets you add computer vision (CV) to your existing on-premises internet protocol (IP) cameras, which is the standard type of digital video camera most companies use today. In doing so, cameras that weren’t built to accommodate CV can now be turned into smart cameras that do.

So, how does it work?

You register your AWS Panorama Appliance with AWS Cloud and install it on your network. Automatically, the device will identify camera streams and start interacting with the existing industrial cameras.

How will it help?

According to a press release, “Each AWS Panorama Appliance can run computer vision models on multiple camera streams in parallel, making possible use cases like quality control, part identification, and workplace safety.”

  • Manufacturing Quality Control
    AWS Panorama can automate monitoring and visual inspection tasks. For instance, it can detect defective items in a manufacturing line, and send you an alert in real-time. With this information, you can address and resolve the issue to improve product quality.
  • Reimagined Retail Insights
    Leveraging AWS Panorama’s control vision, you can get insights about the retail environment to improve operations and customer experiences. For example, the appliance can count customers and calculate the length of queues.
  • Workplace Safety and Social Distance Monitoring
    It can monitor site activity to ensure operating compliance is always in place, and notify you about any potentially unsafe situations. For instance, if a forklift is outside a designated area. You can take preemptive steps to remove it so it won’t come in contact with pedestrians.
  • Supply Chain Efficiency
    AWS Panorama can track barcodes, labels, or completed products. By doing this, it can help optimize work operations.

Alongside the AWS Panorama Appliance, AWS unveiled the AWS Panorama Device SDK (Software Development Kit). This software kit enables third-party manufacturers to build their own AWS Panorama-enabled devices.

According to AWS, with Panorama SDK, manufacturers “can build cameras with computer vision models that can process higher quality video with better resolution for spotting issues.” Although the SDK isn’t ready yet, AWS says it will be ready soon.

AWS Panorama Appliance is still in preview in US East (N. Virginia) and US West (Oregon) regions, so it isn’t available everywhere yet. However, you can apply for an AWS Panorama Appliance Developer Kit on their website to start building and testing your computer vision applications.

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Tech News

Create a pandemic-friendly sign-in with this touchless technology

(TECH NEWS) In an era where touchless communication is paramount, Wellcome brings touchless employee and visitor sign-in technology to the workplace.

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Logo page for Wellcome, a touchless technology sign-in.

Touchless technology is becoming more and more common these days and for good reasons — health and safety. Due to the COVID pandemic, social distancing is crucial in helping decrease the amount of positive coronavirus cases.

Unfortunately, some work environments require in-person employees, contractors, and visitors. And now, some businesses are even starting to bring more of their workforce back into the office. While we can hopefully assume they all have some safety protocols in place, the front desk interactions haven’t changed much. This makes it difficult to manage and see who’s in and out.

But to fill in that gap, meet Wellcome. Wellcome is a touchless sign-in platform for employees and visitors. According to their website, the app “helps you manage the workplace effectively, making it safe and easy for everyone” who’s in the office.

And the platform does this by implementing the following features in its tool.

Employee Touchless Check-in
By uploading a list of employees to the Admin, employees automatically receive an email with a one-click “Wellcome Pass”. This pass can be added to their Apple or Android digital wallet.

Once at work, employees scan their pass on an iPad at the reception desk. Then, they will see a customizable confirmation screen with the company’s health and safety guidelines messaging. This reminder can help ensure everyone is following the rules and staying safe.

Visitor Touchless Check-in
For visitors without a Wellcome Pass, they can still scan the QR code on the iPad using their device. The QR code will direct them to a customized check-in form where they can select their host and fill out a health questionnaire on their mobile device.

COVID-Safe Visitor Screening
Based on how a visitor answers the health screening questionnaire, it will grant or deny them access to the office. This health COVID screening will help HR managers “protect the office by restricting access to visitors that might be infected.”

Host Notifications
Via email, Slack, and/or SMS, Wellcome will immediately notify the host when they have a visitor and send them the visitor’s contact details. It will also let them know if their visitor was granted or denied access based on the health screening. If a visitor is denied access, the host is instructed to not meet the visitor, but contact them another way.

Contact Tracing
If there is a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case at work, Wellcome makes it easy to identify and notify anyone who may be at risk. To do this, the HR manager just needs to search by a person’s name and date range in the Admin. Search results will pull up anyone that could have come in contact with the infected person.

The Admin will also notify all employees and visitors that need to self-isolate and get tested. If needed, Wellcome also lets you download and submit a tracing report.

Manage Office Capacity
Wellcome tracks workplace capacity and occupancy data to help maintain social distancing. If occupancy reaches the capacity limit, the Admin will be notified to “take steps to reduce occupancy in order to stay within the required limits.”

In the Admin Dashboard, reports are available to view the status of current capacity. It can also predict what the occupancy will be each day so companies can plan ahead.

Book Workdays
Employees have the option to pre-book when they want to come into the office. The app displays how many slots are available for each day, and it can send out a calendar reminder. Through the Admin, HR managers can see who will be coming into the office. This is Wellcome’s other way of making sure capacity limits are always within range.

Also, setting up Wellcome is pretty simple. All you need is an iPad. You install the app on it and leave it at the reception desk for employees and visitors to check-in.

For companies who have employees and visitors in and out of the office. Wellcome does sound appealing, and it looks like they will benefit a great deal from the platform. And, if you’d like to check it out, Wellcome lets you use the app free for 14 days. Afterwards, you can select a plan that works best for you.

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Tech News

Scoring productivity: Is this new Microsoft tool creepy or helpful?

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft launched a new tool that helps monitor user data, but it’s not a work monitoring tool – it’s trying to judge productivity.

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Black and white data screens monitoring productivity.

Last month, Microsoft launched their new tool, “Productivity Score”. According to Microsoft, this new tool will help organizations understand how well they are functioning, how technology affects their productivity, and how they can get the most out of their Microsoft 365 purchase.

But to do all of this, the tool will keep track of how each employee is using Microsoft products. For instance, the tool will monitor how often video or screen sharing is enabled during meetings by employees.

It will keep a metric of how employees are communicating. It will show if employees are sending out emails through Outlook, sending out messages through Teams, or posting on Yammer. It will also keep track of which Microsoft tools are being used more and on which platforms.

So, Microsoft’s new tool is a scary work surveillance tool, right? According to Microsoft, it isn’t. In a blog post, Microsoft 365’s corporate Vice President Jared Spataro said, “Productivity Score is not a work monitoring tool. Productivity Score is about discovering new ways of working, providing your people with great collaboration, and technology experiences.”

Spataro says the tool “focuses on actionable insights” so people and teams can use Office 365 tools to be more productive, collaborative, and help make work improvements. And, while this all sounds good, privacy advocates aren’t too thrilled about this.

Microsoft says it is “committed to privacy as a fundamental element of Productivity Score.” To maintain privacy and trust, the tool does aggregate user data over a 28-day period. And, there are controls to anonymize user information, or completely remove it. However, by default individual-level monitoring is always on, and only admins can make any of these changes. Employees can’t do anything about securing their privacy.

So, user data privacy is still a large issue on the table, but privacy advocates can breathe a sigh of relief. Yesterday, they got a response from Microsoft they can smile about. In another blog post, Spataro responded to the controversy. “No one in the organization will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365,” he said.

Although Productivity Score will still aggregate data over a 28-day period, it will not do so from an individual employee level. It will do it from an organizational one as a whole. Also, the company is making it clearer that the tool is a “measure of organizational adoption of technology—and not individual user behavior.”

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