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What the hell is Zero UI and what does it say about our future?

(TECH NEWS) You’ve probably started hearing people talking about “Zero UI” more and more. What does it mean? Let’s find out together.

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The new buzz word

Everyone got a Google Home or Amazon Echo for the holidays and now I keep hearing the term “Zero UI” pop up. What does it mean? Prior to researching for this story I had no idea either, so don’t feel like a dim bulb – let’s learn together!

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Natural language and gestures

Zero UI focuses on interacting with technology in more natural ways, moving away from a screen-focused experience. Technology is now learning our language rather than vice versa.

So instead of providing stilted commands to our phones and devices, we can speak in a more human way or simply gesture.

Andy Goodman, who coined the term, explains “humans have always had to interact with machines in a really abstract, complex way.” Zero UI utilizes haptics, voice control, artificial intelligence, and voice control elements to make the whole experience more human.

In command, in control

Right now, voice control is at the forefront of the Zero UI goal. Although voice commands have been around for quite a while now, we’re seeing the most promising results in futuristic home technology through more integrated uses of it.

It turns out I’m not just imagining hearing Alexa’s name more frequently than usual this year. Amazon reported millions of Alexa devices were sold this holiday season. Sales for the Amazon Echo family were up nine times from last year and the Google Home devices spent some time on backorder in stores. Zero UI devices are quickly gaining traction with consumers.

As devices begin to interact with us in a more normal way, they move from a trendy piece of technology to an integral part of our lives.Click To Tweet

Goodman believes the future of Zero UI requires designing in a multi-demensional way–literally. He explains designers need to consider not just the 2D, linear way consumers use their products, but instead consider every possible interaction.

Devices must adapt to our stream-of-consciousness ways of interacting with them if they want to stay relevant. This includes not just voice commands, but more intuitive body language recognition systems.

Beyond the screen

Goodman notes zero UI devices will “need to have access to a lot of behavioral data, let alone the processing power to decode them.” Additionally, non-linear design is going to require completely different sets of skills than current app design. Designers will need to think beyond the screen when it comes to programming devices in order to create a highly adaptable device.

A quick note

While Zero UI does sound promising, Goodman assures that it’s not meant to be taken literally as a term.

User interface of some kind will always be present. It’s really a matter of moving away from screens, not the complete elimination of user interface.

#ZeroUI

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jack Smith

    January 20, 2017 at 6:39 am

    The problem for Echo/Alexa is the foundation difference. Google built theirs based on inference and NOT commands.

    So with Google Home you just talk naturally and say what you want. Wife can say it one way and I a completely different way and get the same result.

    We have had the Echo since it was launched and now have several of the Google Homes. We keep the Echo in the kitchen and then Google Homes in our bedroom and then the kids have their in their bedrooms.

    My fav feature right now is the ability to stay warm under the covers and control the TV. Just started working last week without me adding a skill or anything.

    Actually wife discoverd when watching a movie and kid walked into our room. Not sure if she was joking as she now does in situation that Google Home is NOT available. So like sitting at a traffic light she will say “hey google change light green”. She said “hey google pause” and the movie paused. When kid left she said “hey google rewind” and it went back some set amount.

    The Echo is a great piece of technology but the Google Home is just different as it seems to have more of a brain inside.

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Tech News

Brave: A whole new browser with user privacy in mind

(TECH NEWS) Brave is boldly going where most web browsers are not: actually private internet browsing, with slick features in tow.

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You’re probably paranoid about your internet privacy. And if you aren’t: you should be. Hackers can hack your camera, your doorbell and even your lightbulbs without much effort.

And even the most paranoid end users are still painting a picture themselves as a consumer to advertisers. Though it’s through legitimate means (although that fact is iffy according to the EU), it’s still invasive enough to make you want to live off the grid. But these days, that’s almost impossible, considering so much of our modern work and personal lives exist online.

That’s why the newest browser to enter the field is going where no other web browsers have gone before. Brave is the first web browser to offer complete and automatic tracker ad and tracker blocking.

No more will you have to find an Adblocker – one that doesn’t happen to be malware – and install that separately from your browser. Or futz around in settings hoping to configure it correctly to block the cookie tracking in the way you want. Brave starts that way, out of the box. Another bonus? Brave offers private browsing with teeth. For computer based browsing, you can open a private window with Tor to keep your connection completely encrypted and secure.

And if you’ve ever used Chrome, you’ll have a great head start on understanding how to use this browser. Brave runs on Chromium, which is why it’s end-user experience is reminiscent of Chrome. And because it runs on Chromium, it also means it supports most Chrome extensions right out of the gate. (Although, those browser extensions can put your data at risk and counteract some of what Brave is trying to do for you.)

Of course, all talk around privacy and ad blocking in the internet browser community is a hot button item. One perpetual ethical question: is it okay to block ads, especially from publications trying to raise revenue? Brave thinks so. That’s because of one of its features designed to support quality content: the Brave Wallet. Its Patreon meets Ko-Fi. Creators can sign up with the program and users can decide to give tips via cryptocurrency to their creator page, all done through the toolbar. You can also earn cryptocurrency through consuming Brave’s ads and choosing to send that to a trusted creator.

Another question: will people hop on the Brave train now that everyone is getting serious about privacy? Firefox, Safari and Edge are all implementing better privacy features in their current and future updates. What’s going to be the thing that causes people to stick with it?

For this end-user of Brave, one thing that keeps me going so far is being told how effective it is. I’ve only used the browser for two days across all my devices and I’ve blocked over 3,000 different trackers. And there’s a certain amount of trust I’m willing to place with a browser that claims to be hypervigilant about my privacy.

Brave truly is the browser answer in our Brave New World.

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Why building apps without knowing how to code is increasingly common

(TECH NEWS) No-code app building tools are becoming more available to the everyday user, which could lead to more inventive, and original apps.

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“Learn to code” is a common, frustrating refrain often hurled at job-seekers, entrepreneurs, creative professionals, and others. Depending on who’s saying it, the intent could range from well-meaning to willfully hurtful.

It does, in a way, make sense. Computer programming is the foundational language that modern life is built on. And while many people use technology that they don’t understand every day—from microwaves to cars—there’s something a little different about programming. It’s omnipresent for just about anyone, just about everywhere, whether they use it for work or not. And more people use it for work than ever. It’s the single most sought-after skill in the job market.

But “learn to code” isn’t practical for everyone. Not everyone with an app idea has the time to learn how to build an app from scratch, or the money to hire people to do it for them. That’s where the low-code/no-code movement comes in. It’s all about giving the people the tools they need to execute on an idea without having to learn an entire new skill set. When you bake a cake, you probably don’t grind wheat into flour, and when you build an app, you don’t have to start with Python.

No-code isn’t really a new idea.

The fact that computers have menus and icons is the result of early programmers realizing that non-programmers would have to use a computer sometimes. You could look to tools like RPG Maker that let people build their own video games back in 1992. RPG Maker was like a Lego kit for making a video game. And not only is it still going strong, it proved itself prophetic. It turns out that giving people tools and a sand box is a great way to enable creativity.

This has been the long arc of the Internet, too. There was a time when participating in the World Wide Web in a meaningful way meant learning to program. Places like Geocities gave you real estate to set up a website. But you had to build that site yourself. We’ve moved away from that as the Internet commodified. Sites like Facebook and Twitter remove customization in the name of uniformity.

But creative tools persist. Consider “WYSIWYG,” or “What You See Is What You Get” web editors. These are tools like WordPress that reclaimed some of that Internet customization. They give you assets to build a website, and you plug them in where you want.

It’s a middle ground between building from scratch, and having everything handed to you. It’s the sweet spot of accessible creativity. (If you’ve never heard anyone say “WYSIWYG,” that’s probably because these web development tools are so common that they don’t really need a special name anymore.)

Right now, one of the biggest areas of no-code design is in app development. These app dev tools are similar to building a WordPress site. They give you the raw materials, and you customize and assemble them however you want to. Adalo, a no-code platform for building apps, lets your bring assets and ideas to the table, and gives you a framework to organize those ideas into an app.

They aren’t alone. AppOnboard, a no-code software development suite, recently purchased Buildbox, a leading no-code game development platform. Their combined resources represent a stunning library of assets, full of potential.

What does this mean for coders? Probably not much. Specialized skills are still in high demand. But for the rest of us, a slow democratization of development is taking place, and it’s exciting to watch it take shape.

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Pope Francis’ plea to tech giants: Children must be kept safe online

(TECHNOLOGY) Children should be safe online, Pope Francis pleas with tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook to help curb child exploitation

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Whether you’re looking for pornography or not, it seems to be a law of the universe that stumbling across porn on the internet is inevitable. This ease of accessibility is controversial, especially when children are involved.

Recently, Pope Francis weighed in on the debate over regulations, calling tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook to be held accountable for their protection (or lack thereof) of children from pornography.

Pope Francis argued that companies should prioritize keeping children safe, rather than increasing profits. He referenced studies that show children’s first exposure to porn happens when they are 11, as well as studies that reveal potential risks to children’s emotional and sexual growth when exposed to pornography.

It’s not just children viewing pornography that’s worrying, however. With the explosion of digital messaging, the FBI reports an influx of sexual predators online. Minors are getting groomed and exploited by predators and the availability of child porn on the internet is increasing. Not to mention, with the push for privacy on the internet – such as Facebook’s encrypted messages – it can be difficult to track down sexual predators.

While tech companies might not intend to be involved in child porn, their technology is being used for these purposes anyway. As such, Pope Francis insists these companies should be held accountable. Some suggestions presented at the “Promoting Digital Child Dignity” conference included strengthening artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to safeguard against child pornography and implementing age verification for certain platforms.

Some believe this push for child protection might stem from the Catholic Church’s own troubled history with sexual abuse: over the decades, there have been thousands of cases of child molestation. Pope Francis promised “decisive action,” when he took power in 2013. According to the BBC, this has included releasing a letter condemning clerical sexual abuse and creating a panel to deal with offenses within the church.

Pope Francis’ recent remarks were not the first time he’s suggested technology creators have some hand in protecting children. Rather than simply accuse companies of taking advantage of children, however, Pope Francis extended a plea: “I make an urgent appeal to them to assume their responsibility towards minors, their integrity and their future.”

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