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Google launches AI secretary to wait on hold for you

(TECH NEWS) Hold for Me is a new optional feature for Google Pixel phones that uses an AI to hold during long wait times so you don’t have to.

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Man waiting on Google phone call.

Calling is usually the best way to get the information you need, but spending hours to get a representative to answer the other end of the line is frustrating. While we wait, we are forced to listen to awful elevator music. Your ears get all sweaty from having to hold the phone up to your ear, and the wrist pain is no joke. Yes, headphones help keep your hands free, but there is no resting for your ears. They have no choice but to listen to those annoying repetitive sounds and automated messages. For those tired with this first world nuisance, Google has something that might help alleviate the pain.

The company has released, Hold for Me, their latest Google phone app feature that allows Google Assistant to do all the waiting for you. Currently, this feature only works on Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G devices in the U.S.

So, how does it work? You call a toll-free number. When you’re placed on hold, Google Assistant waits in line for you. Powered by Google’s Duplex technology, their algorithms can recognize “hold music”. It understands the difference between a recorded message and a customer support representative. While Google Assistant holds for you, your call is muted. Finally, you’re free of all that dull and annoying music!

At any time, you can “check real-time captions on your screen.” When someone is on the line, Google Assistant will notify you with a sound and vibration. And a screen prompt will say, “Someone’s waiting to talk to you.” It tells the representative to hold for you. Oh, how the roles have changed! This gives you time to answer your phone. However, I wouldn’t keep them waiting for too long. We don’t want to give them a reason to hang up after all that time.

“Hold for Me is our latest effort to make phone calls better and save you time,” said Google’s Andrew Goodman and Joseph Cherukara. It’s a good effort, but if you don’t want it, don’t worry. Hold for Me is an optional feature. It can be enabled in the phone settings, and you can choose to activate it during a call.

Veronica Garcia has a Bachelor of Journalism and Bachelor of Science in Radio/TV/Film from The University of Texas at Austin. When she’s not writing, she’s in the kitchen trying to attempt every Nailed It! dessert, or on the hunt trying to find the latest Funko Pop! to add to her collection.

Tech News

Hiding from facial recognition is a booming business

(TECH NEWS) ‘Cloaking’ is the new way to hide your face. Companies are making big money designing cloaking apps that thwart your features by adding a layer of make up, clothing, blurring, and even transforming you into your favorite celebrity.

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Facial recognition companies and those who seek to thwart them are currently locked in a grand game of cat and mouse. Though it’s been relentlessly pursued by police, politicians, and technocrats alike, the increasing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, workplaces, and housing complexes remains a widely unpopular phenomenon.

So it’s no surprise that there is big money to be made in the field of “cloaking,” or dodging facial recognition tech – particularly during COVID times while facial coverings are, literally, in fashion.

Take Fawkes, a cloaking app designed by researchers at the University of Chicago. It is named for Guy Fawkes, the 17th century English revolutionary whose likeness was popularized as a symbol of anonymity, and solidarity in V For Vendetta.

Fawkes works by subtly overlaying a celebrity’s facial information over your selfies at the pixel level. To your friends, the changes will go completely unnoticed, but to an artificial intelligence trying to identify your face, you’d theoretically look just like Beyonce.

Fawkes isn’t available to the general public yet, but if you’re looking for strategies to fly under the radar of facial recognition, don’t fret; it is just one example of the ways in which cloaking has entered the mainstream.

Other forms of cloaking have emerged in the forms of Tik Tok makeup trends, clothes that confuse recognition algorithms, tools that automatically blur identifying features on the face, and much more. Since effective facial recognition relies on having as much information about human faces as possible, cloaking enthusiasts like Ben Zhao, Professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and co-developer of Fawkes, hope to make facial recognition less effective against the rest of the population too. In an interview with The New York Times, Zhao asserts, “our [team’s] goal is to make Clearview [AI] go away.”

For the uninitiated, Clearview AI is a start-up that recently became infamous for scraping billions of public photos from the internet and privately using them to build the database for a law enforcement facial recognition tool.

The CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, claimed that the tool would only be improved by these workarounds and that in long run, cloaking is futile. If that sounds like supervillain talk, you might see why he’s earned himself a reputation similar to the likes of Martin Shkreli or Ajit Pai with his company’s uniquely aggressive approach to data harvesting.

It all feels like the beginning of a cyberpunk western: a story of man vs. machine. The deck is stacked, the rules are undecided, and the world is watching. But so far, you can rest assured that no algorithm has completely outsmarted our own eyeballs… yet.

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5 pending House bills that could break up Big Tech

(TECHNOLOGY) As Big Tech flails about with lobbying, legislators are forging ahead with bills to regulate their mere existence – can you name any of the five pending bills? If not, keep reading.

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The US House of Representatives has its sights set on Big Tech heavy hitters like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple as it considers a group of five bills to tackle these giants in anti-monopoly legislation.

This has good sides and possible down sides. More competition in the market drives prices down. Amazon says if it has to separate out core functions it will make it harder on small businesses who rely on their platforms and could compromise free two-day shipping. It is impossible to predict what changes may or may not come to pass at this stage, but it is clear that change is inevitable. As a leaked document from Facebook in October of 2020 made clear, preparations have been underway for a while.

In late June 2021, the DC federal court threw out two antitrust suits against Facebook.

US District Court Judge James Boasberg needed the suits to answer two critical questions they couldn’t provide sufficient clarity on. What were the two asks the suits couldn’t meet? Define a social network– specific bounds and features outlining the market in consideration. Determine Facebook’s share in said market – the lawsuit cited 60+% percent, but the judge declared their arguments “vague,” which in this instance can be taken to mean insufficient to develop case law.

Also in June 2021, the House Judiciary Committee considered 5 bills and gained nigh unheard of bipartisan backing, outlined below.

You can sign up for updates for legislative actions on each of the bills directly from Congress.gov by clicking each of the headings.

1. Ending Platform Monopolies Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Jayapal as House Bill 3825.
  • “To promote competition and economic opportunity in digital markets by eliminating the conflicts of interest that arise from dominant online platforms’ concurrent ownership or control of an online platform and certain other businesses.”
  • This bill would provide definitions for unlawful conflicts of interest, enforcement actions and limitations on board membership and other service by interested individuals.

2. American Choice and Innovation Online Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Cicilline as House Bill 3816.
  • “To provide that certain discriminatory conduct by covered platforms shall be unlawful, and for other purposes.”
  • Does “and for other purposes” make your skin crawl a little? Don’t worry, the other section headers include Judicial Review (guidance for judges), Bureau of Digital Markets (creating an oversight entity), Enforcement Guidelines, and Suits By Persons Injured.

3. Platform Competition and Opportunity Act

  • Introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Jeffries as House Bill 3826.
  • “To promote competition and economic opportunity in digital markets by establishing that certain acquisitions by dominant online platforms are unlawful.”
  • This bill would outline what constitutes an unlawful acquisition, provide guidance to judges, and define enforcement actions and procedures.

4. Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act

  • Not to be confused with its 2019 predecessor, this bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 11th, 2021 by Representative Scanlon as House Bill 3849.
  • “To promote competition, lower entry barriers, and reduce switching costs for consumers and businesses online.”
  • This bill would define what unfair method of competition means, look at portability and interoperability of services, and authorize the establishment of a technical committee to oversee the development and implementation of the Act’s policies.

5. Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act

  • Introduced in the Senate on February 4th, 2021 by Senator Klobuchar as Senate Bill 228.
  • “To promote antitrust enforcement and protect competition through adjusting premerger filing fees, and increasing antitrust enforcement resources.”
  • This bill make it more expensive for corporate mega-mergers to occur and provide funding to the Federal Trade Commission ($418m) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice ($252m).

How these bills will evolve as they move through the legislature is anyone’s guess. Whether any of them will make it to the President’s desk at all is even questionable at this stage. Big Tech is imminently going to see changes in regulation and oversight, as these major players touch all of our lives in some facet or another.

I am going to be keeping a close eye on the progress of this legislation. We’ll keep you posted.

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Tech News

The billionaire nerds’ space race is the launch of a new era

(TECHNOLOGY) As billionaires begin launching their own bodies into space, a new era of tourism is being born, and a plethora of ancillary industries will inevitably follow.

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“I know nothing with any certainty but the sight of stars make me DREAM.” – Vincent Van Gogh

For the entirety of the recorded history of mankind, we have dreamed of the stars. Some ancient cultures used them to tell stories, believing that the turning of time created more. Others developed complicated maps and time tables using their positioning. No matter who you are or where you come from, there is something about those twinkling points of light that strikes a sense of wonder at your heart. Whether it’s a twinkle in the eye or on the horizon, we can’t help but be enveloped by their essence.

Under all the hustle and bustle, a private race has been going on for the last two decades. A couple of billionaires with urgent aspirations have been racing towards one of the next biggest steps for human space travel. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both started within a few years of each other back around 2001. Since then, both companies and their founders have been pushing and striving for their goals.

Although culturally, most recognize Elon Musk’s SpaceX as the reigning royalty of private space exploration, after 16 years of research, Virgin Galactic recently reached the next milestone. Founder, Sir Richard Branson, is the first civilian on a commercial space flight – he declared, “We are at the vanguard of a new industry determined to pioneer twenty-first century spacecraft, which will open space to everybody – and change the world for good.”

Virgin Galactic launch: Sir Richard Branson becomes first billionaire in space

Sir Richard Branson made astronautical history on Sunday afternoon by becoming the first billionaire in space.The 70-year-old Virgin Galactic founder lifted …

Now personally, I see this as a severe over-simplification of the next steps for us but we can definitely see the beginning of a new industry taking shape. With both grace and expediency space travel – as tourism – is taking off. There are many possible avenues these companies to take. We can only sit back and watch currently as these titans continue to grow.

On the heels of Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin has just completed their own manned flight with their respective billionaire, Jeff Bezos. Who, in stroke of compassion, has invited the renowned Wally Funk to join him on their inaugural flight.

Blue Origin’s rocket launches to edge of space, carrying Jeff Bezos and crew

CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” team watches the liftoff of Blue Origin’s historic launch that is carrying Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his crew.

As we near this new era in travel we have many things to not only be thankful for but also to figure out. This long-awaited moment has now been experienced by the super-rich. Virgin Galactic’s prices were last reported at $250,000 per seat. Other reports for some companies put one of the seats for Blue Origins maiden flight $28 million. Enough money to be thrown around to cover so many things.

We all knew this was going to be expensive.

The price of advancing the human race was always going to be capitalism. Let’s see where the planet’s billionaires take us. Hopefully it’s better for us all as we continue to manifest our dreams amongst the stars.

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