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Apple’s new AR platform looks a lot like a gateway to VR

(TECH NEWS) Apple unveiled their new augmented reality ARKit at the WWDC and it seems like a stepping stone on the way to virtual reality.





Apple’s new augmented reality platform ARKit is pretty cool itself, but even cooler is what its launch implies: Apple has unleashed some truly cutting edge tech.

That cutting edge tech, with a little more development, could open the door for virtual reality.

What’s ARKit?

ARKit lets app makers map digital objects into 3D space by drawing on detailed camera and sensor data. The platform does what Apple calls “world tracking”: it finds points in your surrounding environment, then tracks them while you move your phone.

Rather than building a 3D model of a given space, ARKit can pin objects to a certain point of reference so as to accurately adjust scale and perspective.

ARKit can locate flat surfaces, allowing users to set up digital props on tables, floors or chairs — something Wayfair has been doing for a while now. With ARKit, developers won’t have to build their own tracking and imaging systems since they’ll have access to the tracking capabilities of the iPhone and iPad.

Word on the street is that ARKit is a step in Apple’s plan to develop augmented reality glasses.

That’s all fine and good, but let’s dive a little deeper into what else could be unfolding.

Paving the way to virtual reality

So the phone can track someone walking around a virtual object. Now, what if you put that phone into a VR headset? One could assume this would allow a user to walk around in a virtual environment. It’s not far-fetched at all; Google’s all-in-one VR headset was wired around Tango technology. Here’s another curious thing: Apple is rumored to be switching to VR-friendly OLED screens. Hmm.

Could there be an iPhone-based headset in the near future?

Rumors have been swirling around the topic for years now. Although Apple CEO Tim Cook has openly stated his preference for AR over VR, this new platform could counter his own arguments. The way Cook sees it, “VR isn’t going to be that big compared to AR. How long will it take? AR is going take a little while, because there’s some really hard technology challenges there. But it will happen. It will happen in a big way. And we will wonder, when it does [happen], how we lived without it. Kind of how we wonder how we lived without our [smartphones] today.” Cook doubts VR’s success because he thinks people don’t want to be cut off from reality.

AR is different, he says, because it simply enhances the world we already live in.

Let’s use Cook’s smartphone analogy. Like the smartphone, as AR becomes more sophisticated, it will become the new normal. People will start wanting more. When we become accustomed to our flashy augmented details accessorizing our daily lives, virtual reality won’t seem like such a big leap.

Apple has also recently made several interesting hires, including several former Microsoft employees with backgrounds in 3D user interfaces and machine learning for human activity recognition.

We don’t know exactly what’s cooking, but it certainly smells like VR.

Now let’s step back and focus on what we know. Apple’s got a new augmented reality platform. But is ARKit any more out of this world than other big names in the AR space? Yes and no.

Not exactly an underdog

Google and Facebook have also been hard at work on their own augmented reality platforms, but Apple’s has several advantages.

First, ARKit will be available on a vast array of devices, as opposed to Google’s Tango, which requires special hardware to be built into each Android device.

As for Facebook’s AR platform, despite boasting some impressive machine learning and adorable cartoon characters, developers are confined to Facebook’s Camera app. Apple, on the other hand, will allow developers to play around with adding augmented reality to independent iOS apps. For this reason, Apple claims to have “the largest AR platform in the world.”

So what will it mean when developers can build AR-first apps?

Even the much hyped-about Pokemon Go only use AR as a fun little bonus feature, not its main selling point. Snapchat and Facebook added AR into their platforms, but the popularity of these features comes from both companies’ large user bases, not from AR itself.

With ARKit, augmented reality will be way more accessible since developers can put their apps in front of large audiences for cheap.

This could eventually mean AR features become integrated into everyday apps we already use, like video chats, games and maps — henceforth beginning the gradual transformation of what we view as normal.

ARKit sounds promising, but it’s not hands down the best of the best.

It can definitely benefit from some of its competitors’ features, such as extra cameras built to capture depth data and wide-angle images, which would give ARKit the ability to construct 3D models of entire rooms — something Tango can already do relatively easily.

Failing to launch

Virtual reality, despite many attempts from major tech companies, has yet to really compel consumers enough to take off in a big way. It’s a fascinating concept that just needs to be executed correctly.

If Apple can fine-tune various elements of the AR apps already out there and then transcend into virtual, we might finally have a VR platform with that “wow” factor we’ve been waiting for.


Helen Irias is a Staff Writer at The American Genius with a degree in English Literature from University of California, Santa Barbara. She works in marketing in Silicon Valley and hopes to one day publish a comically self-deprecating memoir that people bring up at dinner parties to make themselves sound interesting.

Tech News

Snap a business card pic, Microsoft app finds ’em on LinkedIn

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft Pix is teaming with LinkedIn in a neat way that will benefit networking, especially if you have any lazy bones in your body.



microsoft pix

Have you ever been watching some sort of action-adventure movie where there’s a command center with all sorts of unbelievable technology that kind of blows your mind? Well, every day we come closer and closer to living within that command center.

You may think that I’m talkin’ crazy, but check this out – there is a new technology that can scan a business card, and find the business card’s owner on LinkedIn. (Can I get a “say what????!”)

This app is courtesy of Microsoft and goes by the name Pix (it’s not new, but this function is).

The way it works is simple: Bill Jones hands you his business card, you fire up the Pix app (currently only on the iPhone. Sorry, Droids), you snap a picture of the card and the app takes the details (phone number, company, etc.) and finds Bill on LinkedIn. Bingo.

It also will automatically take that information and will create a new profile for Bill Jones within your phone’s contacts. After you scan the business card through Pix, Microsoft will ask if you want to take action.

At this point, Pix will recognize and capture phone numbers, email addresses, and URLs. If your phone is logged into LinkedIn, the apps will work together to find Bill’s profile. Part of me wants to think that this is kind of creepy but a larger part of me thinks that it’s really cool.

According to Microsoft Research’s Principal Program Manager, Josh Weisberg, “Pix is powered by AI to streamline and enhance the experience of taking a picture with a series of intelligent actions: recognizing the subject of a photo, inferring users’ intent and capturing the best quality picture.”

“It’s the combination of both understanding and intelligently acting on a users’ intent that sets Pix apart. Today’s update works with LinkedIn to add yet another intelligent dimension to Pix’s capabilities.”

Pix itself originally launched in 2016 as a way to compete against AI’s ability to edit a photo by use of exposure, focus, and color. This new integration in working with LinkedIn is a time saver, and is beneficial for those who collect business cards like candy and forget to actually do something with them.

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Tech News

Walmart and the blockchain, sitting in a tree

(TECH NEWS) Say goodbye to #foodwaste with Walmart’s new smart package delivery proposal featuring everyone’s favorite pal, blockchain.




Following the trend of adding “smart” as a prefix to any word to make it futuristic, Walmart now proposes “smart packages.” The retail giant filed for a new patent to improve their shipping and package tracking process using blockchain.

Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released the application, which was filed back in August 2017.

Officially, the application notes the smart package will have “a body portion having an inner volume” and “a door coupled to the body portion” that can be open or closed to restrict or allow access to the package contents.

In other words, they’ve patented a box with a door on it that also has lots of monitoring devices.

Various iterations lay claim to all versions of said box include smart packaging utilizing a combination of monitoring devices, modular adapters, autonomous delivery vehicles, and blockchain.

Monitoring devices would regulate location tracking, inner content removal, and environmental conditions of the package like temperature and humidity. This could help reduce loss of products sensitive to environmental changes, like fresh produce.

Modular adapters perform these actions as well, and also ensure the package has access to a power source and the delivery vehicle’s security system to prevent theft.

Blockchain comes into play with a delivery encryption system, monitoring, authenticating, and registering packages. As it moves through the supply chain, packages will be registered throughout the process.

The blockchain would be hashed with private key addresses of sellers, couriers, and buyers to track the chain of custody. Every step of the shipping process would be documented, providing greater accountability and easier record keeping.

This isn’t Walmart’s first foray into the world of blockchain. Last year they teamed up with Nestle, Kroger, and other food companies in a partnership with IBM to improve food traceability with blockchain.

Walmart also took part in a similar food tracking program in China with last year as well.

And let’s not forget Walmart’s May 2017 USPTO application to use blockchain tech for package delivery via unmanned drones. Their more recent application builds on the drone idea, which also proposed tracking packages with blockchain and monitoring product conditions during delivery.

In their latest application, Walmart notes, “online customers many times seek to purchase items that may require a controlled environment and further seek to have greater security in the shipping packaging that the items are shipped in.”

Implementing blockchain and smart package monitoring as part of the shipping process could greatly reduce product loss and improve shipment tracking.

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Tech News

Experts warn of actual AI risks – we’re about to live in a sci fi movie

(TECH NEWS) A new report on AI indicates that the sci fi dystopias we’ve been dreaming up are actually possible. Within a few short years. Welp.



AI robots

Long before artificial intelligence (AI) was even a real thing, science fiction novels and films have warned us about the potentially catastrophic dangers of giving machines too much power.

Now that AI actually exists, and in fact, is fairly widespread, it may be time to consider some of the potential drawbacks and dangers of the technology, before we find ourselves in a nightmarish dystopia the likes of which we’ve only begun to imagine.

Experts from the industry as well as academia have done exactly that, in a recently released 100-page report, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, Mitigation.”

The report was written by 26 experts over the course of a two-day workshop held in the UK last month. The authors broke down the potential negative uses of artificial intelligence into three categories – physical, digital, or political.

In the digital category are listed all of the ways that hackers and other criminals can use these advancements to hack, phish, and steal information more quickly and easily. AI can be used to create fake emails and websites for stealing information, or to scan software for potential vulnerabilities much more quickly and efficiently than a human can. AI systems can even be developed specifically to fool other AI systems.

Physical uses included AI-enhanced weapons to automate military and/or terrorist attacks. Commercial drones can be fitted with artificial intelligence programs, and automated vehicles can be hacked for use as weapons. The report also warns of remote attacks, since AI weapons can be controlled from afar, and, most alarmingly, “robot swarms” – which are, horrifyingly, exactly what they sound like.

Read also: Is artificial intelligence going too far, moving too quickly?

Lastly, the report warned that artificial intelligence could be used by governments and other special interest entities to influence politics and generate propaganda.

AI systems are getting creepily good at generating faked images and videos – a skill that would make it all too easy to create propaganda from scratch. Furthermore, AI can be used to find the most important and vulnerable targets for such propaganda – a potential practice the report calls “personalized persuasion.” The technology can also be used to squash dissenting opinions by scanning the internet and removing them.

The overall message of the report is that developments in this technology are “dual use” — meaning that AI can be created that is either helpful to humans, or harmful, depending on the intentions of the people programming it.

That means that for every positive advancement in AI, there could be a villain developing a malicious use of the technology. Experts are already working on solutions, but they won’t know exactly what problems they’ll have to combat until those problems appear.

The report concludes that all of these evil-minded uses for these technologies could easily be achieved within the next five years. Buckle up.

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