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The wait is over! mmhmm launches on Mac today

(TECH NEWS) The long anticipated release of mmhmm is finally here! Let’s talk about the features coming in from this virtual presentation startup.

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mmhmm logo on bright patterned background, saying "Funner Zooming" in white text on top

Last month, we wrote about mmhmm, a virtual presentation startup that turns boring Zoom meetings into entertainment like presentations. Brought to you by Evernote founder, Phil Libin, the tool has cool features that make you look more than just a bland head-in-a-box. And, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that we’re a little bit tired of being one.

One month into beta, mmhmm already had 100k people on its waiting list. And, for those of you who’ve patiently waited, the wait is finally over! mmhmm has launched today on Mac and is available for download. So, to get a little more information on how mmhmm came about and what new things we can expect down the pipeline, we chatted with Phil himself.

When asked whether he expected such a big turnout for the beta, Phil said it was totally unexpected, and he said they weren’t trying to instill FOMO by not letting everyone get a peek. “The purpose of the beta was very scientific. Every day we invited a few hundred people, just enough so that we could have a statistically significant test; whether the previous features and bug fixes were working or not.” By running the beta the way they did, Phil said they were able to build a “good product quickly”.

Another thing that helped move things along quickly for mmhmm was that timing was just right. Before the pandemic, we were able to perform our roles in our daily lives at work, school, social functions, etc, but the pandemic took that away. Phil said that everyone “knew how to be a little bit of a performer. We just lost that when we all went on video because it’s just like a new language of how to be engaging on video.” And, the video tools available to us were no fun. So, Phil took what he learned from Twitter’s Cofounder Ben Stone — fuseful. “It’s a combination of fun and useful. So the idea is like, we do these things that are like funny, but they actually serve, you know, an important purpose,” Phil said.

Thus, the idea of mmhmm was formed. This new tool aims to take back a little bit of what we lost, such as being able to present alongside another team member; and debating if our slideshows, or our faces are more important to display. And, a lot of people were here for it, especially investors. “Everyone that we pitched it to believed in the size of the opportunity. They also all wanted to use it immediately,” Phil said. This helped in acquiring funding easier.

So, let’s get down to the features!

Copilot: Interestingly enough, the copilot feature has come in handy for more than just office presentations. The feature, which lets two people work and present together has been used by teachers in a very interesting way. Educators in South Dakota are using it for storytime. With the book in the background and the educators in front, they can read a book to children in both English and Lakota languages. And, while they speak, the book is synchronized in the back just like if you were turning a page. “Things couldn’t be done like this before,” Phil said.

Dynamic Rooms: The library of beautiful, animated backgrounds has grown. There are now more places for you to visit (or, rather display) in the background. This is partially due to mmhmm’s acquisition of Memex. Memex creates cool filters that you can apply to videos. “We’re going to have so much more interesting effects and backgrounds,” said Phil. “In fact, a lot of our dynamic rooms were made by the Memex guys.”

Laser Pointer: This laser comes in multiple colors and even rainbow mode. This feature lets you add a pointer effect to your mouse so you can point to specific pieces of information on your slide.

Away (or more like the Terminator’s “I’ll be back”): Selecting this feature will bring up a screen with a cute graphic of an mmhmm character juggling and text that reads, “Be Right Back”. You can say goodbye to empty cameras when someone goes offscreen.

Big Hand Mode: This feature is mmhmm’s way of perfecting gestures. This mode lets you nonverbally communicate without interrupting the presentation. The feature uses gesture recognition. By turning it on, your hand turns into a big foam hand you normally see at sports events. How cool is that!? “[You can] quickly communicate visually without interrupting. To agree with someone, you can just like give a thumbs up you know, or thumbs down,” Phil said. Unfortunately, this feature is only available on the new Apple M1 powered Macs just announced. Fingers crossed we see it on older Macs soon.

So, mmhmm is here. For now, it’s only available on Mac, but Phil says it will eventually be available on Windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android. The holdup is that they are looking at “what is uniquely good” about each device so they can develop work that will make it really great.

The basic version of mmhmm is free. But if you want more fun and flexible features, you can subscribe to unlock the fun! For those lucky enough to be on the beta, you will have access to three months of the premium features for free. New subscribers will get a 7-day trial. Every day after that, users will be able to use the advanced features for one hour each day. To get rid of the time limits, you can subscribe for $9.99/month or $99.99/year. And, all teachers and students will get the premium version for free for one year.

“The mark of a successful product is when you see it being used in ways that the creators just didn’t imagine. That’s a good sign that you’re succeeding,” Phil said. Will you step up to the challenge to do something the creators couldn’t imagine?

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

Chatbots: Are they still useful, or ready to be retired?

(TECH NEWS) Chatbots have proven themselves to be equally problematic as they are helpful – is it time to let them go the way of the floppy disk?

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Man texting chatbots leaning against a brick wall.

All chatbots must die. I’d like to say it was fun while it lasted, but was it really?

I understand the appeal, truly. It’s a well established 21st century business mantra for all the side hustlers and serial entrepreneurs out there: “Automation is the key to scaling.” If we can save time, labor, and therefore money by automating systems, that means we have more time to build our brands and sell our goods and services.

Automation makes sense in many ways, but not all automation tools were created equal. While many tools for automation are extremely effective and useful, chatbots have been problematic from the start. Tools for email marketing, social media, internal team communication, and project management are a few examples of automation that have helped many a startup or other small business kick things into high gear quickly, so that they can spend time wooing clients and raising capital. They definitely have their place in the world of business.

However promising or intriguing chatbots seemed when they were shiny and new, they have lost their luster. If we have seen any life lesson in 2020, it is that humans are uniquely adept at finding ways to make a mess of things.

The artificial intelligence of most chatbots has to be loaded, over time, into the system, by humans. We try to come up with every possible customer-business interaction to respond to with the aim of being helpful. However, language is dynamic, interactive, with near infinite combinations, not to mention dialects, misspellings, and slang.

It would take an unrealistic amount of time to be able to program a chatbot to compute, much less reply to, all possible interactions. If you don’t believe me, consider your voice-activated phone bot or autocorrect spelling. It doesn’t take a whole lot to run those trains off the rails, at least temporarily. There will always be someone trying to confuse the bots, to get a terse, funny, or nonsensical answer, too.

Chatbots can work well when you are asking straightforward questions about a single topic. Even then, they can fall short. A report by AI Multiple showed that some chatbots were manipulated into expressing agreement with racist, violent, or unpatriotic (to China, where they were created) ideas. Others, like CNN and WSJ, had problems helping people unsubscribe from their messages.

Funny, shocking, or simply unhelpful answers abound in the world of chatbot fails. People are bound to make it messy, either accidentally or on purpose.

In general, it feels like the time has come to put chatbots out to pasture. Here are some helpful questions from azumbrunnen.me to help you decide when it’s worth keeping yours.

  1. Is the case simple enough to work on chatbot? Chatbots are good with direct and short statements and requests, generally. However, considering that Comcast’s research shows at least 1,700 ways to say “I want to pay my bill,” according to Netomi, the definition of “simple enough” is not so simple.
  2. Is your Natural Language Processor capable and sophisticated enough? Pre-scripted chatbots are often the ones to fail more quickly than chatbots built with an NLP. It will take a solid NLP to deal with the intricacies of conversational human language.
  3. Are your users in chat based environments? If so, then it could be useful, as you are meeting your customers where they are. Otherwise, if chatbots pop up whenever someone visits your website or Facebook page, it can really stress them out or turn them off.

I personally treat most chatbots like moles in a digital whack-a-mole game. The race is on to close every popup as quickly as possible, including chatbots. I understand that from time to time, in certain, clearly defined and specific scenarios, having a chatbot field the first few questions can help direct the customer to the correct person to resolve their problems or direct them to FAQs.

They are difficult to program within the expansiveness of the human mind and human language, though, and a lot of people find them terribly annoying. It’s time to move on.

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Tech News

Get all your digital organization in one place with Routine

(TECH NEWS) Routine makes note-taking and task-creating a lot easier by merging all your common processes into one productivity tool.

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A desk with a laptop, notepad, smartphone, and cup of coffee settled into an organized routine.

Your inbox can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Without organization, important emails with tasks, notes, and meetings can become a trash pile pretty quickly. Luckily, there are a lot of tools that aim to help you improve your efficiency, and the latest to add to that list is Routine.

Routine is a productivity app that combines your tasks, notes, and calendar into one easy-to-use app so you can increase your performance. Instead of having to switch between different apps to jot down important information, create to-do lists, and glance at your calendar, Routine marries them all into one cool productivity tool. By simply using a keyboard shortcut, you can do all these things.

If you receive an email that contains an actionable item, you can convert that email into a task you can view later. Tasks are all saved in your inbox, and you can even schedule a task for a specific day. So, if Obi-Wan wants to have Jedi lessons on Thursday, you can schedule your Force task for that day. Likewise, chat messages that need follow-up can also be converted into tasks and be scheduled.

To enrich your tasks, notes can be attached to them. In your notes, you can also embed checkboxes, which are tasks of their own. And if you have tasks that aren’t coming from your inbox, you can import them from other services, such as Gmail, Notion, and Trello.

To make sure you can stay focused on the events and tasks at hand, Routine makes it easy to take everything in. By using the tool’s keyboard-controlled console, you can access your dashboard to quickly see what tasks need to be addressed, what’s on your calendar, and even join an upcoming Zoom session and take notes about the meeting.

Routine is available for macOS, iOS, web, and Google accounts only. Overall, the app centralizes notes and tasks by letting you create and view everything in one place, which helps make sure you stay on top of things. Currently, Routine is still in beta, but you can get on a waitlist to test the product out for yourself.

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Tech News

The paradox of CAPTCHAs: Too smart for humans vs AI?

(TECH NEWS) AI is catching up to our cybersecurity technology and often tricking humans too — so what’s next for CAPTCHAs and the internet?

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Person using phone with laptop to verify CAPTCHAs and code.

We’ve all encountered it before: The occasional robot test that feels impossible to beat. If you’ve felt like these tests, also known as CAPTCHAs, have gotten harder in the last couple of years, you aren’t wrong—and the reason is as ironic as it is baffling.

Simply put, AI are just as good as—and often better than—humans at completing CAPTCHAs in their classic format. As machine learning and AI become more advanced, the fundamental human attributes that make consistent CAPTCHA formats possible become less impactful, raising the question of how to determine the difference between AI and humans in the future.

The biggest barrier to universal CAPTCHA doctrine is purely cultural. Humans may share experiences across the board, but such experiences are typically basic enough to fall victim to the same machine learning which has rendered lower-level CAPTCHAs moot. Adding a cultural component to CAPTCHAs could prevent AI from bypassing them, but it also might prevent some humans from understanding the objective.

Therein lies the root of the CAPTCHA paradox. Humans are far more diverse than any one test can possibly account for, and what they do have in common is also shared by—you guessed it—AI. To create a truly AI-proof test would be to alienate a notable portion of human users by virtue of lived experience. The irony is palpable, but one can only imagine the sheer frustration developers are going through in attempting to address this problem.

But all isn’t lost. While litmus tests such as determining the number of traffic cones in a plaza or checking off squares with bicycles (but not unicycles, you fool) may be beatable by machines, some experts posit that “human entropy” is almost impossible to mimic—and, thus, a viable solution to the CAPTCHA paradox.

“A real human being doesn’t have very good control over their own motor functions, and so they can’t move the mouse the same way more than once over multiple interactions,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, a former click fraud expert from Google. While AI could attempt to feign this same level of “entropy”, the odds of a successful attempt appear low.

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