What Amazon Reviewers Think of Samsung’s $45,000 TV
It has an 85-inch screen, a 120-watt speaker system, and a quad-core processor. And for a limited time, the Samsung UN85S9 85-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED TV is on sale for $5,002 off on Amazon.com. Granted, it will still set you back $39,997.99.
Does it get good reviews from Amazon users? Of course it does—if by “good” you mean “brutal.” A few excerpts:
Five stars: “Very satisfied”:
My wife and I bought this after selling our daughter Amanda into white slavery. We actually got a refurbished. It's missing the remote, but oh well-- for $10K off, I can afford a universal, right? The picture is amazing. I've never seen the world with such clarity. …
- James Thach
Five stars: Great Investment!
… Let's just say the Samsung UN85S9 85-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED TV looks a lot better on the wall than any college diploma could.
- Anuj K.
Five stars: Simply Amazing
I needed an additional television for my breezeway walking from the side courtyard to the master quarters. Ever since Carlton renovated the Elephant exhibit, I only have the noise of the waterfall and the Harp player outside.…
Five stars: Did you see it comes with FREE Batteries?
- Cheryl Gustafson
Three stars: Nigerian money right in time!
After I got the $20 million from a Nigerian prince in exchange for assisting him in money transfers (so glad I opened that email), I was looking for a good TV and found this …
- IWon "the Ramesh"
The reviews aren’t all positive, however.
One star: “So sad”
It makes those abused-animal commercials with the Sarah Mclachlan music playing so much sadder when the one-eyed pug is four feet tall.
- Jon S
The Samsung Smart TV seems like it would go perfectly with that $500 Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable, no?
This Video Game Could Improve Airport Security
A half-empty water bottle, a bottle of shampoo, a pocketknife keychain—baggage screeners see these items every day. But after spotting so many minor infractions, most of them accidents and nearly none of them a threat to national security, do TSA screeners become desensitized to rarer and more dangerous items? According to data pulled from a popular video game, the answer may be yes.
You may already know the game Airport Scanner, a smartphone app that lets you X-ray virtual luggage for contraband. But Airport Scanner is more than a chaotic and endless array of upgrades and high scores. Beneath it all, researchers at Duke University saw a massive data set containing valuable clues as to how visual recognition works.
In the game, players become accustomed to flagging luggage that contains anything from the TSA’s prohibited items list. This includes everything from the seemingly innocuous (wine bottles) to the obviously dangerous (crossbows). However, some items appear more frequently than others, and analysis of the data showed that while gamers got quite efficient at identifying the more usual threats, the identification rates plummeted when it came to tagging the ultra-rare-items.
This has obvious implications for the industry on which the game is based. We’re always reading about how people try to sneak totally insane things through airport security, but how often does each screener have to I.D. an explosive cannonball? Not all that often, and if data from the game is any indicator, this represents a blind spot.
The study is also interesting on another level. If you’re going to run tests based on rarity of items, then you need to show participants a massive number of images before you’ll have any real clue as to how they react to ultra-rarity. But thanks to the standard Apple User Agreement and some generosity on the part of the Kedlin Co., the research team was able to work with data from 20 million virtual suitcases generated from Airport Scanner—and that was just between December 2012 and March 2013. Over the last year, the team has gained access to 1.5 billion trials.
“This is the first visual search experiment to include targets so rare they parallel actual cancer rates,” said Adam Biggs, one of the paper’s authors. “It’s a mammoth amount of data.”
Interestingly, this silly little video game may already be helping make our airports safer. Biggs and his colleagues work closely with the TSA and have conducted research to determine what kind of cognitive differences there might be between the searches of a trained professional and the kid killing time on his iPhone.
However, as to whether the TSA has implemented anything specifically based on his research, Biggs laughed and said, “Nothing that I’m positive I can talk about.”
On a personal note, I can tell you that after playing a few rounds of Airport Scanner, I will approach the slowly-moving security line with newfound patience—because that kind of pressure is enough to give a person an anxiety attack.
Xbox One, PlayStation 4 Games Punish Players for Swearing. WTF?
It sees you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good, for Xbox’s sake.
Microsoft’s new video game console, the Xbox One, has been greeted by privacy hawks as a “twisted nightmare.” The impressive Kinect technology that powers it can sense your motion, recognize your voice, even monitor your heart rate by training its infrared cameras on you. But the real nightmare may be when the console makes you wash your mouth out with soap.
A YouTuber named randomfrankp has uploaded a video that appears to show NBA 2K14 slapping him with a technical foul for cussing. That is, his player on the court gets penalized because randomfrankp said the F-word aloud in his living room.
(Warning: “Foul” language.)
Deadspin, for its part, has unearthed a second example of Kinect-powered scolding: a FIFA 14 player getting an in-game letter from his soccer team beseeching him to “Please be aware that you are an ambassador for this football club and the language you have used puts us all in a bad light.”
These instances of video-game tsk-tskery may set off your fakedar, in this age of Internet hoaxes, but game-maker 2K says they’re real. And as fans of the NBA 2K series know, this isn’t even new.
“This was a feature we incorporated to NBA 2K13 that we felt brought both realism to the game, and a more civilized online environment for our players,” 2K told me in a statement. “The result was so positive we have continued it in NBA 2K14.”
And sorry, Sony fanboys. The Xbox One isn’t the only spy in your living room. The PlayStation 4 version of NBA 2K14 will also penalize you for cussing, via the microphone on the PlayStation Camera. Your living-room Big Brothers are always listening.
What’s happening here isn’t entirely new. Video games have acknowledged gamers’ profanity long before they could actually hear it. Old text-based adventure games, which required you to type commands like “Unlock the door,” would make jokes if you included profanity. Cuss at 1986’s King’s Quest III, and the game would write back, “Obviously, you were raised by a naughty wizard.” (Almost 30 years later, cuss at Siri and she’ll say, “Hey! I don’t think I deserve that.”)
What’s new is video games reacting not to specific game input, per se, but what’s passively happening around the act of gaming. Which is a bit absurd. To give your player a technical foul for you swearing assumes your player is also running down the court saying, “How do I do a head fake, again? Oh yeah, hit A.”
This is also the first instance that I know of, at least, of a game punishing you for cussing, rather than making a joke out of it. (If you can think of an earlier one, put it in the comments.)
2K’s innovative use of the sensory arrays accompanying the new generation of consoles is well-intentioned, and kind of funny, but we don’t play video games to be scolded; we play them to escape the world of scolds.
An exasperated randomfrankp put it best: “I can’t curse in my own house. I spend $530 for an Xbox One, and you’re gonna penalize me?”
The Internet Has Run Out of Four-Letter Dot-Com Names
None. Zero. Nada.
That’s how many four-letter dot-com domain names are left unregistered on the Internet, according to new research by WhoAPI.com, a Croatian startup that analyzes domain data.
We’re not just talking about four-letter names that spell actual words, like cars.com or pets.com (R.I.P). We’re not even just talking about pronounceable four-letter combinations, like eBay, Yelp, Etsy, and Hulu. We’re talking every possible four-letter combination, from aaaa.com to zzzz.com. That’s a total of 456,976 combinations. WhoAPI checked all 456,976 of them, and confirmed that not one remains unregistered.
Gone. Done. Over. Past.
They’re not all being actively maintained, of course. Many are for sale across the Internet by various domain-name resellers, but none are just sitting around waiting to be claimed.
Short domain names have long been prized because they’re easy to remember, even if they don’t spell anything in particular—think xkcd.com. All the two- and three-letter combinations were snapped up years ago, but the WhoAPI report is the first I’ve seen to definitively declare that the four-letter combinations, known in the industry as LLLLs, are all occupied as well.
Drat. Heck. Rats. Grrr.
For those still bent on obtaining a four-character URL, Lifehacker a few years back suggested replacing one letter with a number. WhoAPI did not check all of the additional combinations that formula makes possible. There are also short domain names available on top-level domains other than .com, including .biz, .net, and many more.
For the rest of us, the good news is that domain names have become less important over the years as people navigate the Web via Google search rather than by typing URLs into their browser bars. And for what it’s worth, it should be a while before all the five-character combinations are claimed: 26 to the fifth power is 11,881,376.
Previously in Slate:
Drone U Podcast: What a Greek Mythological Creature Tells Us About Autonomous Systems
Every week on Future Tense, we highlight a talk from Drone U in which a leading thinker speaks about what our drone future may look like. Drone U is produced in cooperation with the New America Foundation. (Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University.)
This week, Drone U features a podcast from Arthur Holland and Dan Gettinger, founders of the Bard Center for the Study of the Drone. Holland and Gettinger explain why an interdisciplinary center for the study of autonomous technology is absolutely necessary for the future of “drone literacy.”
It’s easy to get carried away with what drones can do—take this week’s flurry of interest in Amazon’s PrimeAir, for example—but Holland and Gettinger argue for taking a step back. To productively discuss drones, they contend, the public must be grounded in the historical, ethical, and social dimensions of this technology. What, for example, can studying the mythical Greek harpy teach us about autonomous systems?
Join us on Dec. 11 for the next episode from Drone U.
Netizen Report: Microsoft Announces Plan to Protect Chinese Skype Users
Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Vietnam, where social media users will soon face new threats of penalties for political speech. Comments that qualify as “propaganda against the state” or “reactionary ideology” will cost 100 million dong (USD $4,740) in fines—unless they merit criminal charges. Other fine-worthy acts include uploading a map inconsistent government claims of sovereignty and operating e-commerce sites without proper licensing. These penalties reportedly aim to rein in speech that doesn’t quite necessitate prison time, but it is anyone's guess what it will mean in a country that has jailed 46 bloggers in this year alone.
Le Quoc Quan, one of the country’s most prominent bloggers, has been in prison for nearly a year. A human rights lawyer and advocate, Quan was arrested on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and convicted after a brief trial in October. This week, a U.N. Human Rights Council working group reviewed the case and surmised that “the real purpose of [Quan’s] detention and prosecution might eventually be to punish him for exercising his rights under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to deter others from doing so.”
Great, Now Malware Can Jump the “Air Gap” Between Computers
The gold standard for protecting computer systems—as everyone from the U.S. military to Osama Bin Laden’s ghost well knows—is disconnecting them from the Internet. Called an “air gap,” because prior to wireless networking it literally meant making sure there was no cable physically connecting a computer to the public Internet, this is one of the most drastic, inconvenient, and difficult-to-maintain computer security measures out there. It’s usually reserved for systems that require the very highest levels of security, because it leaves you with a computer system that may be limited in what it can do, but at least it’s absolutely safe. But according to a recent paper by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics, that gap can be bridged by high-frequency audio signals.
The researchers, Michael Hanspach and Michael Goetz, were able to transmit data between air-gapped laptops up to 19.7 meters (more than 60 feet) apart at a rate of approximately 20 bits per second by using acoustic methods originally developed for underwater communications. In other words, the computers communicated via their built-in speakers and microphones by transmitting inaudible acoustic waves. The paper announcing this prototype comes just weeks after security consultant Dragos Ruiu hypothesized that the “badBIOS” malware he was studying was able to penetrate air-gapped machines in the same manner. Even without Hanspach and Goetz’s confirmation of its feasibility, Ruiu’s claim was enough to unsettle some. At the Defense One conference last month, United States Naval Academy cyber security professor and retired Navy captain Mark Hagerott said the discovery of air-gap jumping technology would “disrupt the world balance of power.”
Forget Google Glass. Sony's Patented the "SmartWig."
Want to move on to the next slide in your presentation? Just raise an eyebrow and let your SmartWig flip to the next graph on your behalf.
Well, not yet perhaps, but this is one of the ideas behind Sony’s surprising plan to explore the idea of a wig-based interface, apparently as an alternative to the Google Glass. It’s an attempt to get a piece of the wearable-technology market, in which firms are competing to sell new cyborg, hybrid, computer-y devices.
The basic idea is to hide a sensor, processor, and communication interface under a wig. The patent filed recently also describes tactile feedback, GPS, ultrasound transducer, camera, laser pointer, and remote control devices. But could it, as Sony hopes, become a “technically intelligent item and fashion item at the same time”? Mobile phones have become fashion accessories, so why not SmartWigs?
Because at the moment wigs are seen as a matter of vanity, even when they’re worn by lawyers and judges in the United Kingdom. Where men once took on a hairpiece when things started to go awry upstairs, the shaved-head look has now become a fashion statement in reaction to hair loss. That said, women’s wigs have been more successfully used as a fashion accessory since the 1980s. Wigs transform someone’s appearance so dramatically and obviously that it’s hard not to notice when someone is wearing a wig. But to save their face, politeness demands that we not remark and certainly not laugh.
But, as a discreet and wearable 3-D helmet, the SmartWig could be very useful for someone who is blind, deaf, or otherwise needs to be guided through an alien environment in which their senses are impaired. The faux follicle tech revolution is also great news for gamers who don’t want others to know what they are playing at.
Perhaps if they have a serious purpose, such as a discreet form of assistance for people with disabilities, it will be easier to take them seriously. After all, psychologists and neuroscientists have been making sensory smart wigs for many years and the TV show Masters of Sex recently showed us how wiring up the heads of naked subjects makes watching them go at it through a glass screen somehow scientific.
But do we want to give a commercial company such close access to our scalps? So far we know very little about how the SmartWig will be pitched, aside from the scant information gleaned from Sony’s patent filing. Scientists have worked out how to sidestep putting messy gunk on the outside of our heads when trying to find out what’s going on inside by attaching electrodes and have made brain sensors that pick up signals from neurons in the brain or can tune into its magnetic fields. What will our SmartWig be able to do once we’ve become accustomed to it?
More scarily, U.S. government defense agency DARPA has turned humans into pattern recognition machines to help computers work out the significance of what people are seeing before they work it out for themselves. If Sony takes this road, the SmartWig wearer could become a humanoid mobile sensing device for commercial or military purposes. We might even find the NSA tuning into our wigs. Just whose smarts will the SmartWig use?
It might help me if my bouffant can tell me what is behind me or to see in the dark with a beam of light projected from my fringe, but I’m not sure I want to be seen wearing a wig in public. For now, at least, I’ll continue to jab at a button with my finger when I’m delivering a PowerPoint presentation … at least until neural dust reads my mind from the inside.
Of Course Applebee's Is Going to Replace Waiters With Tablets
Score one for the machines. On Tuesday, Applebee’s announced plans to install a tablet at every table in its 1,860 restaurants across the United States. Customers will be able to use the devices to order food, pay the bill, and ignore their dining companions by playing video games.
Chili’s unveiled basically the same plan three months ago. But that doesn’t mean Applebee’s hasn’t been plotting this move for years. In fact, Applebee’s was the name that came up when my former Slate colleague Annie Lowrey first wrote about the tablets-for-restaurants idea in April 2011. Her story focused on Palo Alto-based startup E La Carte, which is in fact Applebee’s partner on the just-announced deal. Chili’s opted for a rival vendor, Ziosk. Applebee's went light on details in announcing the terms of its deal, but here's how the economics of the proposition looked when Lowrey wrote about it in 2011:
The Presto [E La Carte’s tablet] aspires to be the food-services version of the airline check-in kiosk or the ATM or the self-checkout at your local pharmacy. It makes a person's job a computer's job, and that cuts costs. Each console goes for $100 per month. If a restaurant serves meals eight hours a day, seven days a week, it works out to 42 cents per hour per table—making the Presto cheaper than even the very cheapest waiter. Moreover, no manager needs to train it, replace it if it quits, or offer it sick days. And it doesn't forget to take off the cheese, walk off for 20 minutes, or accidentally offend with small talk, either.
The restaurants deny that the tablets represent an attempt to replace human employees with computers. Applebee’s is saying that it won’t change its staffing levels when the devices come online next year. And Chili’s is optimistic that the tablets will pay for themselves by bringing in extra revenue from impulse orders and at-the-table gaming. Not only will you not have to talk to a waiter when you want to order something, you won’t have to talk to your kids, either!
Then again, of course these businesses are saying they won’t use the tablets to replace employees. Announcing layoffs along with the tablet move would be begging for a backlash. The fact is, if the tablets work, they’ll make the ordering process more efficient and cut the amount of human labor that these restaurants require. At that point, do you suppose they’ll keep the extra waiters around out of charity?
Google's Creepy Patent to Automate Your Social Media Voice
This blog post is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate that explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. On Dec. 9, 2013, Future Tense will host an event on patent reform in Washington, D.C. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.
Who has time anymore to manage their social media feeds? All the status updating, replying, and posting of smart takes on the day’s news is exhausting. Well, Google want to help you out with that: The company recently submitted a patent for software that learns how users respond to social media posts and then automatically recommends updates and replies they can make for future ones. Consider it outsourcing, for your social life—an amped up, next gen blend of automated birthday reminders and computer generated, personalized remarks (more successful Turing Test than random word salad).
Google’s already accustomed to predicting how our collectively sordid minds fill in blanks. In an age of “hyperintermediation,” it was just a matter of time before Google proclaimed it was aspiring to automate our social interactions, perhaps, ultimately, directing our email, instant messages, and texts, too.
In one sense, Google’s plan is old hat. Silicon Valley has long elevated efficiency to the highest social ideal and been guided by the mistaken conviction that the key to happiness lies in eliminating obstacles that impair productivity.
In another sense, Google’s patent takes Silicon Valley’s disregard for classical values and virtues to a new level of obnoxiousness. Using it for lightweight social interactions—cooing over the 500th baby photo posted by a friend—would be one thing. But imagine using the response prompting software to generate a choice phrase that tells your brother “you’re” sad he has cancer. Or, considering folks using it to extend “their” congratulations for other people’s accomplishments—getting promoted, married, or making a life-changing decision.
Patent applications don’t always lead to anything. The Patent Office might take years to make a decision, and we don’t know what judgment it will render. Even if Google is issued a patent, the project could very well become a bust due to artificial intelligence barriers preventing the software from being developed, or folks having the good sense to find the service absurd. And, of course, we don’t know that Google actually intends to build the technology. Just because Google is unhappy about being patent trolled over Android doesn’t mean isn’t willing to play the competitor blocking game. But the very desire to automate personal sentiment through plagiarized algorithmic authorship exemplifies disregard for too many things: the art of conversation, the sincerity of conviction, the effort required to make caring gestures, and, frankly, the respectful acknowledgement that underlies meaningful gestures of etiquette.
In Eggers’ book, a technological behemoth “that’s like the unholy lovechild of Google and Facebook” aspires to profit handsomely from turning the ideal of privacy into the vice of selfishness. To meet this goal, it launches an assault on social norms. According to the new standard, if you keep anything yourself—whether it be an update on an ill relative or detail about an outdoor excursion—you’re behaving like a child hoarding a favorite toy. And, if you don’t respond immediately to the swarm of communication sent your way, you’re guilty of being antisocial.
The Circle has been widely criticized for getting Silicon Valley wrong. But if companies like Google get their way, someday the world will be far bleaker than Eggers imagines. He’s only worried about atrophied exchanges between folks impaired by social media. That’s nothing compared to digital doppelganger chatting away endlessly in contrived conversation.