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Be My Eyes app offers eyes to those that need ’em

(TECH NEWS) Even with the best coping techniques, some people need help from time to time — enter Be My Eyes for the seeing impaired community.

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It’s nice to see a free app that connects helpful volunteers with folks seeking assistance.

“See” being a relative term here, because the free Be My Eyes app is designed to assist people who are visually impaired or blind. The anonymous and free app allows visually impaired users to connect, via video, to sighted volunteers who can then provide “visual assistance” to help with tasks such as identifying objects or describing environments.

Visually impaired users seeking assistance simply call in and the app finds the first available volunteer, usually within 45 to 60 seconds. The app automatically connects to a sighted volunteer who speaks the user’s language. There are currently volunteers representing 90 languages in 150 countries.

Be My Eyes also tracks the time zones in users’ locations so that visually impaired users can access the service 24 hours a day without worrying that they’ll disturb volunteers at night.

After dark, the app will even find a volunteer in the opposite hemisphere. Users are encouraged to ask for assistance whenever they want and as often as needed.

Sighted volunteers receive a notification when a visually impaired user seeks assistance. The volunteer can then decide whether or not to receive the call. If they aren’t available, the call is simply forwarded to the next appropriate volunteer.

Visually impaired users say they’ve used Be My Eyes to get help with finding lost items, reading instructions, navigating new places and public transportation, shopping, and more.

The app itself was invented by a visually impaired innovator, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a member of the Danish Association of the Blind who began losing his sight at age 25.

Says Wiberg, “It is flexible, takes only a few minutes to help and the app is therefore a good opportunity for the busy, modern individual with the energy to help others.”

Wilberg presented his idea for Be My Eyes at a startup event in Denmark in 2012. He was able to recruit a team of developers, who rolled out the app in 2015.

Some critics have pointed out that the app tends to reinforce the stereotype that visually impaired people, and people with disabilities in general, are helpless and dependent on others to get by. Presumably, blind people have developed inventive strategies for solving everyday challenges long before Be My Eyes was ever invented.

According to the reviews from sighted volunteers, many wait weeks at a time to get an inquiry. The Be My Eyes network currently has about ten times more volunteers than users, which begs the question: Do blind people actually want to use this app?

If you’d like to try it out, as either a visually impaired user or a sighted volunteer, you can download the app for Android at the Google Play Store or for iOS at the App Store.

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Ellen Vessels, Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she's not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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Tech News

Make it harder for Facebook to track you around the web

(TECH NEWS) Facebook remains in hot water, but you can make a simple choice that puts you in control of your data. Check it out.

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facebook container

Firefox has long been an industry leader in security, which is why it’s no surprise that they’re the first large browser to roll out an anti-tracking add-on geared toward making life difficult for everyone’s favorite social media platform: Facebook.

Facebook Container is a deceptively powerful add-on, allowing you to prevent Facebook from tracking and analyzing your browsing behavior while you navigate around the Internet. After installing it in Firefox like any other add-on, you log into your Facebook account inside of the container; from that point on, any Facebook tracking will be confined to the Container tab in which you’re using FB.

The primary purpose of the add-on is, of course, to limit the amount of information that Facebook can extrapolate from your browsing history. There’s still plenty of information that you can give to Facebook simply by scrolling through your News Feed page, but at least they won’t know what size of underwear you’re buying.

Another obvious ramification of using Facebook Container is its ad-blocking capabilities. Unlike a traditional ad-blocker, it won’t force-hide ads; instead, it will hide your activity, meaning you’ll see fewer targeted ads based on your browsing activity and habits. This is likely to cut down on frustration from users who feel inappropriately targeted or singled out by the social media giant’s often-invasive ads.

In addition to its numerous qualities, it also comes with a few downsides—though for the privacy-minded, they’ll probably not feel like game-changers. The main issue is that sharing buttons and those cute little “Like” buttons you see all over the Internet won’t work when you use the add-on since you’ll be logged out of FB everywhere else in Firefox.

Naturally, using the social media buttons outside of the Firefox add-on kind of defeats the purpose of using the add-on to begin with, so this shouldn’t be a huge problem.

You also won’t be able to log into websites that use your FB login information as a credential automatically, which—as Mozilla puts it on the product page—is “to be expected.”

If you’re the kind of person who says “I’d delete my social media accounts, but I need it to stay in contact with so-and-so,” at least once a week, this add-on for Firefox may be for you—and, even if you aren’t a Firefox user, their browser updates over the past six months make switching worth a try.

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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.

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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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This app takes a picture of who stole your device, we are in love

(TECH NEWS) Prey is the ultimate answer to combat a stolen device – going on the offense is sometimes the best defense.

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In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to worry about your phone or computer being stolen – and, in the event that it was stolen, your device’s “Find My Device” app would be enough.

Unfortunately, prophylaxis is the best (and often only) defense against smartphone thieves, which is why an app called Prey is a head above the pack.

Prey takes the process one step further: it takes a picture of the person who stole your phone and uploads it to a server for your viewing “convenience” (we’re assuming that not much about your current situation is convenient if your smartphone’s gone). This both alerts you to the identity of the person if you know them, or at least gives you a face to show to law enforcement.

Prey’s packed with other features as well, including the ability to entirely wipe your device or pull up coordinates on a world map.

Perhaps the coolest side effect of Prey is its ability to generate far more data for a police report than related apps.

While Find My iPhone and similar services can generate a location and allow you to wipe your device, Prey can use the front and rear cameras for thief identification, retrieve files, take screenshots, and pull up local IP addresses and Wi-Fi networks.

Unlike proprietary device GPS apps, Prey works on all four of the major operating systems (and even Linux, if that’s the kind of person you are), making it much easier for you to streamline your recovery efforts should you lose more than one device at a time.

We wouldn’t wish losing a bag full of your precious electronics on many, but it’s not impossible.

As with any technology, there’s a downside to Prey, and in this case, it’s the sheer potential for damage, should Prey’s data access be compromised. The ability to find one’s location and details such as IP addresses and networks is extremely concerning, especially in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica incident – and while Prey asserts that your device’s data won’t even be examined unless you request the service, it’s still a troubling potentiality.

If you’re worried about losing your device(s) and you’re looking for that extra nail in the coffin should you need it, you can check out Prey’s pricing on their website.

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