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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

4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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Tech News

Internet of Things and deep learning: How your devices are getting smarter

(TECH NEWS) The latest neural network from Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows a great bound forward for deep learning and the “Internet of Things.”

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Woman using smart phone to control other devices in home, connected to deep learning networks

The deep learning that modifies your social media and gives you Google search results is coming to your thermostat.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a deep learning system of neural networks that can be used in the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Named MCUNet, the system designs small neural networks that allow for previously unseen speed and accuracy for deep learning on IoT devices. Benefits of the system include energy savings and improved data security for devices.

Created in the early 1980s, the IoT is essentially a large group of everyday household objects that have become increasingly connected through the internet. They include smart fridges, wearable heart monitors, thermostats, and other “smart” devices. These gadgets run on microcontrollers, or computer chips with no processing system, that have very little processing power and memory. This has traditionally made it hard for deep learning to occur on IoT devices.

“How do we deploy neural nets directly on these tiny devices? It’s a new research area that’s getting very hot,” said Song Han, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at MIT who is a part of the project, “Companies like Google and ARM are all working in this direction.”

In order to achieve deep learning for IoT connected machines, Han’s group designed two specific components. The first is TinyEngine, an inference engine that directs resource management similar to an operating system would. The other is Tiny NAS, a neural architecture search algorithm. For those not well-versed in such technical terms, think of these things like a mini Windows 10 and machine learning for that smart fridge you own.

The results of these new components are promising. According to Han, MCUNet could become the new industry standard, stating that “It has huge potential.” He envisions the system has one that could help smartwatches not just monitor heartbeat and blood pressure but help analyze and explain to users what that means. It could also lead to making IoT devices far more secure than they are currently.

“A key advantage is preserving privacy,” says Han. “You don’t need to transmit the data to the cloud.”

It will still be a while until we see smart devices with deep learning capabilities, but it is all but inevitable at this point—the future we’ve all heard about is definitely on the horizon.

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Tech News

Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)

(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.

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Open laptop on desk, open to map privacy options

It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.

Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.

One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.

In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.

Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.

It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.

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