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Tired of Zoom? NVIDIA announces AI-powered contender

(TECH NEWS) NVIDIA’s AI-based video technology offers helpful features like face alignment, gaze correction, and noise cancellation to optimize video calls.

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Woman on video call with coffee, NVIDIA video conference tech coming soon

For the most part, Zoom has dominated video conferencing, but it might soon face competition thanks to NVIDIA. Recently, NVIDIA announced its new GPU-Accelerated AI Platform, NVIDIA Maxine, that it says will “vastly improve streaming quality” and offer incredible AI-powered features.

NVIDIA Maxine is a cloud-native video-streaming AI platform so data doesn’t need to be processed on local servers. Instead, NVIDIA’s servers process the information so users can use the cool AI features without having to purchase any new specialized hardware.

“NVIDIA Maxine integrates our most advanced video, audio, and conversational AI capabilities to bring breakthrough efficiency and new capabilities to the platforms that are keeping us all connected,” said Ian Buck, vice president and general manager of Accelerated Computing at NVIDIA, in a press release.

Maxine’s “breakthrough efficiency” can be seen in its AI-based video compression technology. The AI tech reduces the bandwidth used on a call to one-tenth of the H.264 video compression standard without compromising video quality. In doing so, less data is transmitted back and forth so slow internet connection and limited bandwidth won’t be a problem anymore. Hopefully, this helps bring an end to the dreaded “you have a poor connection, blah, blah, blah” message.

Some of the features that make NVIDIA Maxine standout are face alignment and gaze correction. These two features allow for a better face-to-face conversation. For instance, people will no longer appear to be staring off into outer space. With face alignment, the software will automatically adjust people so it looks like they are facing each other. And, with gaze correction, it will help simulate eye contact. According to NVIDIA, “These features help people stay engaged in the conversation rather than looking at their camera.”

Also, if developers choose to do so, they can allow users to choose an animated avatar. These avatars offer a realistic feel because they are driven by a person’s “voice and emotional tone in real-time.” Plus, the auto frame feature automatically follows the person in the frame so they are always in view. This is great when you’re doing a presentation or demo.

The feature that stands out to me is the noise cancellation filter that removes background noise. Anyone with a toddler or dog will be a big fan of that one! Continually pressing the mute and unmute button could finally become a thing of the past.

Maxine also has a “conversational AI”. With NVIDIA Jarvis (not to be confused with Iron Man’s Just A Rather Very Intelligent System), developers can integrate virtual assistants to take notes, set action items, and answer questions in human-like voices. Additionally, this AI offers translations and closed captions all in real-time.

By taking a look at what NVIDIA Maxine has to offer, there is no denying Zoom has a lot of work to do if it wants to stay on top. Although it did dabble with real-time captioning back in June, Zoom’s offering was very limited. And, Maxine is on its way up.

Early access to the NVIDIA Maxine platform is available to Computer vision AI developers, software partners, startups, and computer manufacturers creating audio and video apps and services.

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

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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Tech News

How blockchain could dramatically improve democracies

(TECH) Blockchain is changing the face of democracy with a magical fix to basically all the problems.

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Despite our best intentions to be active, informed citizens in democratic practices, not everyone has time, figuring out how to be engaged can be confusing, and reps don’t always vote how you want. Plus, confidence in Congress is hilariously/depressingly low with all the scandals and thinly veiled corporate interests.

Well hooray for the future, because now we have blockchain technology to propel us out of the murky waters of representative democracy and into a more efficient liquid democracy.

A liquid democracy platform, also referred to as delegative democracy, has voters select a personal representative as a proxy for their vote. In our current set up, elected representatives vote for things on your behalf, and the best you can do other than running for office yourself is call in and ask them to vote your way.

With a liquid democracy, everyone votes on each piece of legislation.

You can assign a delegate to vote on your behalf by proxy when you’re not available. Personal representatives can be removed and reassigned at any time unlike set terms for elected officials.

The delegate can even select a proxy for their votes, creating a directed network graph, where voters and politicians are connected on a publicly verified blockchain. Anyone can be selected as a delegate as long as they’re a legal resident of your jurisdiction registered to vote.

Quick refresher course: Blockchain is essentially a decentralized digital list of records with timestamps and transaction data information. Each individual record is considered a block, which is cryptographically secured and resistant to modification.

Blocks contain a cryptographic hash of the previous block, creating a chain. Once recorded, data cannot be altered without network majority consent. As an open, peer-to-peer distributed ledger, blockchain is a permanent and efficient way to record transactions.

Used by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 for cryptocurrency exchange to create Bitcoin, blockchain has now expanded to the healthcare industry, banking, and now potentially democratic practices.

David Ernst, one of the leaders of the liquid democracy movement, founded United.vote, a platform established to get the ball rolling. The site helps connect voters to personal representatives, and provides a scorecard that tracks how elected politicians’ votes compare to constituents wishes.

“What if instead centralizing authority into the hands of a few strong men, we expanded political power to many, many more voices,” Ernst suggested at the 2017 CyFy conference.

His plan to expand power is liquid democracy via the United.vote platform, which he notes is backwards-compatible with our current system. Ernst is also running as an independent candidate for California Assembly District 19.

He was partially inspired by the Flux Party’s 2016 campaign in Australia, who tried to implement an issue-based direct democracy similar to liquid democracy. Although the party only got 0.15 percent of the vote nationwide, Ernst stands by the idea.

A liquid democracy via blockchain would theoretically increase accountability, participation, and representation.

Through direct participation and personal representation, elections would no longer be necessary.

Instead, voters simply choose someone to represent them, and can select a different person for individual issues. Delegation can be changed at any time, so you’re not stuck with someone if they end up being a total weasel.

So far, only a little over one thousand people have signed up for United.vote, but Ernst stated, “If I got elected, but only 20 people were actually using [the platform], I would still follow those people.”

Although the concept may be ahead of its time (and possibly a wishful Utopian dream), Ernst is confident that these changes can fix democracy.

This editorial was first published here in February 2018.

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